Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Shortly before Clyde died, for he was already so advanced in age that I could hardly remember a time when he was not elderly, confirmations of my state seemed to fly on the wings of the proverbial dove.
Of course, there was the infernal sun, that blank orb hanging low and red over the horizon of the building during that interminable autumn. I would rise sometimes in the afternoon, and rolling over in my bed I hear quite clearly but still somewhat muffled, the sound of Homer moving about in his room. He was constructing some sort of miniature model of New York City, the downtown portion at least, a part of town I do not think he ever visited.
My intercourse with Homer was very reserved. My forays into his domain were confined to clandestine raids whenever he left his room. He was quite clever. Somehow he had procured a soldering gun, and with bits of scrap metal, was fashioning a birds eye view of the bulb end of our city, complete with streets fashioned from glittered strips of chrome.
One day I walked by his door, which was ajar. I could see his small white head, the top part flat, the light outline of his eyebrows just visible above the emerging superstructure of the downtown skyline.
But it is his hands that hold my fascination: they are small, delicate, white, and have a super-sensual tactile edge (as most blind people do). His hands have not only replaced sight, but have apparently filled the gap in his already stunted essence and enabled him, miraculously, to live quite beyond his means. I can see it when I glance through the crack at his stunted form: those white hands, dexterous and nimble, perform a dance that can only really be compared to compensatory calisthenics. He has taken grasp, caress, fondle, probe, and made them preposterously successful stand ins for sight, smell, taste and touch.
Now for the empirical part of my day, the one time when I actually allow the gradation of my experience to be tested, so to speak, against the sliding scale of external reality.
In simple words: I go outside.
And this is not so simple as it sounds. When one loses sight of humanity’s standards of weights and measures, it becomes near impossible to even approximate what a demanding humanity may desire from even banal encounters. How do I hold myself erect? Do I walk with head held high, boldly or should prudence hold way, and keep my neck bent? Gestures become the paramount concern when you have lost a certain ingrained pattern that others, on more certain ground, and with more to take for granted, take as autonomic.
So there are routines that can bridge the toothy gap of expectation. Find a suit coat and some trousers that reasonably match. Check for stains at a chink in the window. From the old hat rack, now growing an exotic form of mold that appears to be ivy with an intricate herringbone pattern, I pick out a hat that somehow matches my ensemble.
The rim has seen better days. It’s battered around the back, but will do in a pinch. Like everything in my environment, it too seems to suffer from the disease of dual magnetism. On one side it is covered by a web of mold, on the other, a degree of brittleness that makes it a likely candidate for near total disintegration.
But somehow that unlikely coupling works. The ensemble, while vitally lacking a sense of fresh style, nevertheless conveys that swaggering character that I wish to project to the world: devil may care, joie de vie, catch as catch can, a type of higgly piggly stylish disregard for societies conventions that is truly my calling card.
Tipping my hat rakishly over my broad forehead, I slipped through the alimentary channel at the rear of the house and emerged, de novo, in the backyard. I’m in a rush. I have an appointment to keep.
Watch dapper me strolling down the boulevard. No longer the instrument of doomed fate, no longer the plaything of the fickle gods, but untethered, unbound!
When I first see Clyde at his stand I always initially mistake his concerned stare as some sort of indictment. But then I realize that it is merely the strain of conspiracy that is wearing on him.
“Why, good morning Mr. Vandemark, well,” he clucked nervously, “I suppose its good afternoon.” He glanced at the wall clock inside the news stand. I was expectant, and not wanting any delaying small talk, Clyde immediately handed over my New York Times. I bid him good day and retreated down the avenue. I was brimming with energy, carelessly knocking passer-bys, who towered below me, as I made my way homeward, expectant in my confirmation. Every now and then a sense of child-like glee, glancing at the racing form protruding from page 14, wondering if it was an up arrow or a level line, whether it would confirm my world, or deny it…