Losing them, fixing them, forgetting to put them in
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There is a man I talk to in the Astor Place subway stop. He lives there, and he’s missing a tooth. Today his hair was wound around sticks.
“I heard you have a machine that writes down thoughts inside of people’s minds,” he said. “I heard Satan gave it to you.”
“You think I’m Satan?” I asked him.
“No, I know who Satan is,” he said.
“My uncle is Satan.”
“I have a computer,” I said. “It writes down thoughts that are inside my mind. Then I make them into poems.”
“You better be careful,” he said. “If you do that kind of work, you have to see a doctor regularly.”
“I do see a psychologist.”
“What’s his name?”
I worried he might kill her.
“Is your computer a female?” he asked.
“My wife bought it.”
“Then it’s a female.”
My friend Fred’s in from L.A. this week, and he’s been working on me to get a Macintosh computer. Actually, after midnight, coming back from the Second Street Bar, Fred tells me a secret about his computer. “I’ve been having trouble with my girlfriend,” he says. “On the computer, I can make an image of her and have her say, ‘Oh, Fred, you’re right, I agree with everything you say.’ ”
In California, people want to interact with their machines. They have a mouse they hold in their hands to move the computer deeper and deeper into a world of cognition. Here in New York City, we write on our machines like typewriters. We just want to tell them what we think.
Toward answering machines we have much more affection. After all, answering machines have people inside them — our dearest friends. When I come home, and the small red light is blinking — once for each call — I tear off my coat, and stand by the gray wooden stand, concentrated. Unfortunately, Gum, one of our cats, sits on the “record” button sometimes, and the voices are interrupted by long, awkward spells of cat-rustling and silence.
This reminds me, Violet and I made a collection of our best tape-machine messages, which is available from us for $2.50 (322 E. 11th Street, #23, NYC 10003). It tells the story of our marriage and honeymoon. Perhaps in the future, literature will be entirely replaced by answering-machine messages.
Even old books could be rewritten. The Odyssey, for example, could be expressed as a series of long-distance phone calls to Penelope.
The radio is my other love. Radio has lots of people inside it, speaking Yiddish, Spanish, and other languages.
The radio is a friend, but a false friend. The man on the radio who seems to know you so well cares nothing for you. If you moved to China, he would speak on. One day this thought came to me, mixed with fear, and I ceased listening to Howard Stern every morning.
The telephone is a reliable person, because it’s one person at a time. The only problem is that sometimes the guy on the other end is doing his income taxes or watching “Championship Wrestling,” and after you explain your whole theory on Harry Truman, he says, “Uh huh . . . what?”
I love all machines that have people inside. My computer has only me inside, so I love it less, but I need it, to explain what I’m thinking to other Americans.
If you have a small number of thoughts, you can buy a notebook, but if you think a lot of thoughts, you need a computer to put them on a big roll, like paper towels.
The machines with people in them are the haloed ones. The other machines don’t concern me — such as our can opener, which we use to feed our cats. It has a somewhat threatening shape, as if you could perform a gallbladder operation with it.
One of the moving facts about tenement life is that other people’s things are also yours. When we went camping last week in the Pine Barrens, a whippoorwill, who sang loudly, poorly, and at great speed, reminded us of our drummer, who plays upstairs with a similar spirit most weekdays at three.
And the pinwheel. Our bathtub is in the kitchen, and you can’t help looking out the window when you’re in it. Across the courtyard, next to blue drapes with big white stars, was a silver pinwheel leaning from the window. The pinwheel spun and light shot out of it in silver slivers. It spun like a ballerina, and though ballerinas tire me, this pinwheel did not. In a bathtub, summer or winter, it is a triumph to see anything spin.
We never would’ve bought a pinwheel — it seems rather a luxury — but we had one for free, and it’s the greatest machine: one that moves light, and can outlast its owner.
In Tibet they have prayer wheels; they recognize there is something solemn in spinning. Gandhi taught spinning cotton. Sufis spin themselves.
In America no one spins except pinwheels, and in Six Flags Over Georgia, on the Whip.
As you can tell from all this past tense, the pinwheel has passed on. We think of it when we bathe, and sometimes imagine we still see it. Violet wrote an elegy to it, which was published in Mudfish.
The pinwheel gave us the news that there are things we loved when we were two that we still do.