Friday, August 3, 2007

BARTLEBY and Brooklyn

I relish in my dreams. Wet between the toes and tossed into the far depths of my makeshift bed, I sleep until the sun stops trying to get me off the floor. Why so despondent and complacent? I could just as easily run around and spend my money; i.e. look busy. Here in Brooklyn--or any of the respective 5 Burroughs--one must run around. Yet I enjoy the finer simplicities of life; i.e. reading, music, writing. I agree that as one who is lucky enough to be financially stable due to knowing the right people and sheer chance, I am not able to speak for the 9 to 5ers. Yet, one must not discount the urge to stay still. To take oneself out of the race for a minute and gain perspective.
Herman Mellville's "Bartleby The Scrivener" uses Bartleby to display the strange attraction to and application despondency can have in our modern society. When asked by his boss to complete a task, Bartleby replies, "I would prefer not to". Stunned by the conviction in his voice, the boss can do nothing but muse why Bartleby is so unmotivated. The boss doesn't wish to do away with Bartleby; in fact he becomes a charity case where those around him become emotionally involved with him.
Why does Melville use this character at all? What is the attraction? Perhaps it is a hint of Marxism--i.e. the alienation of the worker--or perhaps, less pointedly, it is a comment the faulty sense of accomplishment we have in moving in the rat race. Since we have no need to hunt anymore for ourselves, there is little need to stray further then the grocery store. I am not ignorant to our physical and social desires, but one must not dismiss idleness for idiocy or sloth.

Red Wheelbarrow

Williams Carlos Williams
The Red Wheel Barrow
" so much depends
a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

A red rose, under the shadow of a headstone, remembers her. She was in her late forties when she passed away. Born in Arlington, Virginia, she was born into the arms of a sailor. Her mother died of complications during child birth, leaving her father to raise the child on his own. His job required much of his attention and many times the baby was left to the care of a Mexican woman who was very bulbous, yet gentle.
Eventually, the child grew and started school, where she was able to make friends and feel as if she had a family. Father would drop her off at the elementary school at 7:30 AM sharp everyday and arrive to pick her up from her after-school daycare at 7:00 PM. The school was old and small, but to the child took on the appearance of a great fortress. Inside the halls would sparkle with new polish and the rooms would appear countably infinite. Depending on the weather, the children would be allowed two recesses. During this time the young girl would run to the far reaches of the playground, where a large oak reached its arms into the old Virginian sky.
Under the tree she was a fairy goddess--sprinkling pixie dust on all the plants and imaginary creatures around her. The boys in her class would watch her from a distance and snicker. Though they teased, the reason for their behavior was the obvious result of their unavoidable attraction to the beautiful young girl. She had much her mother's features. Her hair was dark and aqueous like the sea in the dead of night. Her eyes were the dripping, full moon that the sailors prayed to in those dark evenings. Though the boys were too young to understand their desire for the girl, it glowed deep in their bosom, quickening their heartbeat and heating their breath.
The girl lived with her father in a trailer house. The lot was a good distance from where the school was in the city. More often then not, she would run out into the trees and play, much like she did at school, however this time far from the prying eyes of school children. Her father was never home, so she was able to enjoy her conjured haven from sun-up to sun-down every weekend. Her adventures were grand and inventive; filled with visions of fantasy and science fiction. One day she would be riding unicorns and the next she would be a space queen defending her planet--there were no bounds in the world she had created and time was magic. A day would be a year, an hour would be a second--time was a tool that she had mastered, shaping it with her soft hands however she pleased.
The forest was vast, much like the classrooms of the school and very often the girl would find herself lost, only finding her way back home by mere chance. On one occasion the sun fell below the horizon much earlier then she expected and she wailed and screamed until an old man in his trailer was able to lumber from his yard towards her cry. The forest is quite large, even to a man's measurement. That is to say, the young girl was not on a playground anymore, her fantasy land--though prodigious--paled in comparison to the size of the great forest she played in.
Two Saturdays before the 4th of July, 1994, the little girl crossed the threshold dividing her small trailer from the twisting, imbibing foliage. The sky was muddy and looked like the charcoal sketches that hung in the hallway of her school. The humidity was intense, soaking one to the bone, as if it was a rain storm. The little girl, with her hair in two little pig tails, skipped between the trees, white shirt and shorts soaked through. Her dad left early to work at the bay as he routinely did on Saturdays and she had the entire day to herself. Further into the forest she went; usually it was a goal of hers to get far enough from the lot that she could not see the flag pole and flag that stood tallest from her old neighbor's back porch. Feeling spritely, she went further into the trees than usual and found herself in near darkness under the oaks riotous branches. Feeling comfortable with her location, she sat down cross legged and began to conjure the characters in her newest fantasy.
The sun sailed across the sky like a leaf across water, until it disappeared against the muddy shore of the horizon. The little girl, under the thick canopy above her was unable to discern the time of day and thus stayed long into the evening. When she felt that it was appropriate to leave she was completely turned around and ended up walking orthogonal to what would have been the right path home. Rather then panicking when learning that the sunlight she believed be hovering above the trees had been reduced to a cloud covered moon, she only quickened her skipping. The panic only began to stir in her chest, when a rain drop could be felt on her petite nose. Suddenly the sky above erupted with thunder and rain fell like explosions on the ground, lifting dirt in little clouds. The girl began to run, raising her pale, thin arms above her head in attempt to block the onslaught of God's fury. Eventually she reached a fence of chicken wire that separated the forest from a quaint little shed. The shed, pastoral and falling apart appeared to be the remains of Virginian settlers long ago.
When hopping the small fence, the girl tore her shirt along the side, exposing her right side up to the armpit. Across the field she ran, rain relentlessly pummeling the poor child, until she reached the awning of the shed. Up against the wood she leaned, not caring for the worms and bugs that burst from the cracks upon her impact. Once she caught her breath, she observed a small pen of chickens near the corner of the shed. Three of them, all pushed up against the driest corner--scared just like her. It made her giggle a bit. The sound of her laugh surprised the stillness of the forest and one of the chickens fluttered a bit in the commotion. On the other side of her sat an old red wheel-barrow, handle laid out in the mud while the rest of it remained dry. As the rain settled, she walked over to the wheel barrow and sat down inside of it. For seeming as old as it did, it was quite shiny and the wheels seemed to have a good amount of spin.
While spinning one of the wheels, the little girl thought she heard foot steps from inside the shed. Suddenly she became aware of the fact that someone probably lived there and that she should announce herself. "Hello?" She spoke as she left the wagon and walked towards the entrance of the shed. As she walked along the chicken pen, a large man emerged from the shed. He was muddy, much like herself, but different muddy. Like a man who had been muddy for a long time. His hair was long and tangled; his skin was coarse like the leather bible her father kept by the living room sofa. "I'm lost" she stammered. Oncer in arms each of her, he squatted down and stared at the little girl, his breath smelled like old coffee and chewing tobacco. "What happened here?" he asked her, meaning the torn shirt along her side. "Oh. I was caught on that fence over there". "Have you seen my wheelbarrow," the man changed the subject, turning her away from the fence. "Yes, it's pretty," she replied. "Come look". He took her by the hand and led her back beside the chicken pen to the wheelbarrow. In his hand, she could feel every line and every callous as if his palm had been dried mud--so distinct and hard. "Here. Sit down." He placed her on the wheelbarrow and squatted down in front of her. "I can get you a new shirt. New clothes. I have a little girl who is just your size. You can borrow hers." His eyes peered through his bearded face like fiery coals. "How about you take off yours and we'll swap em'" Hesitant, yet fearful the young girl obeyed the man's wishes, slowly disrobing on the wheel barrow. "It's a good ol' wheel barrow", the man explained while she stood naked, clothes bundled up in his arms. "You don't have to worry. It won't break."
Though she lived late into her forties, she had lived a life comparable to those much older. She had seen a lot; traveling as a pilot's wife to many of the more exotic places in the world. She worked as a volunteer most her life, not needing a paying job, since her husband insisted on being the breadwinner of the family. Unfortunately, his death preceded hers by many years in a unforeseen crash over the Atlantic. Her father, coincidentally enough, died not more then ten miles from where her husband did, in a fishing accident, losing his arm in a machine and bleeding to death on board. Having no other relatives or friends, her funeral consisted of the preacher, the grave diggers, and an old man. Once she was laid to rest in the ground and the grave diggers left, the old man placed a single red rose on the freshly tossed dirt. In remembrance of the red wheelbarrow.