jolie laide

jolie laide

I started this when I lived in Brooklyn and struggled for grace in a city that grants moments of beauty and ugliness breathtakingly close to one another. Now I live in a place where things are a different kind of ugly and the beauty is pedestrian. I struggle with that.


I'm not red-eyed so much as greyed-out. Everything is muzzy and moving slow, this open air platform on a brackish bog near the airport, rising cricket song, damp air, there should be frequent trains at 10AM but there are none.

I am back in New York. Here, when I go to the movies it is in an old cinema palace, a renovated opera house, a retro-fitted industrial building. Here, when I go to a restaurant it is in an old grocery store, a former pharmacy, an outdoor patio that used to be the service apron of an auto mechanic. Buildings are recycled, re-purposed, and their old lives leave a patina, breathe in layers, sometimes too noisy, sometimes too overwhelming, sometimes too decrepit, sometimes too sad, but the presence of thousands of footfalls, of history, of use, is inescapable.

There, I cannot tell what has come before. What lays under the concrete is a mystery. This is now a black field of asphalt, cars nosing as sheep, grazing and aimless. It's a new shopping center, a bleak clean mall, a cluster of stores washed up on the banks of a lake of parking spots. I go for a run, until I run out of sidewalk. That's no great achievement, it doesn't take long. Pickup trucks slow, there is stare, honk and yell, this is not what people around here do, even though blooming by the roadside is lavender, jasmine, mulberries, anise, and a rough crop of hills I would like to be running alongside of, if only they would let me.

The train is finally here, sighing as it pulls through, exhaling itself open, and now I am back, because this is where there is a place for me, where I can pull a building around my shoulders as a comfort, where the street drama means noise and life and struggle, where I understand the lines on people's faces.


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