Camels and Pigeons
AT 14:44 THE CLOSEST I’VE COME to leaving the apartment is smoking this Camel on the fire escape. Ignoring a sporadic drizzle, it’s unseasonably warm for New York in March. I am contented.
I stare down, through an iron framework that deftly clutches to our building. Hovering five storeys above W 108th, through a lattice of rusty, flaking steel, I watch the figures flitting below. Columbia-bound kids, spinally damaged UPS, expressionless nannies dragging their tiny clients by even tinier hands.
On rooftops opposite, there’s all manner of pigeon rendez-vous. They scatter and flock again, endlessly reinventing their pigeony cliques. Suppose sometimes even vermin will bend to human nature.
I hate my new-ish-found habit. Three months ago I’d still try to legitimise: “I only smoke when I drink.” Those were the days.
Shamefully, I think I attribute smoking to some sense of writerly-duty. How unspeakably lame. I’ll conjure an image of a tortured Bukowski, hair scraggly-over-brow, several thin Bidis going at once. The first dancing out the side of twitchy lips; another between fingers of an idle left hand, while the right scrawls noisily; the very last, smouldering and likely forgotten, in a shallow copper ashtray. It’s a nicer image than that of his cancerous deathbed, a lifetime of savvy/provocation/wit… just dissolving.
A DirectTV dish pokes up and out of the building opposite. Its shape is unquestionably that of a question mark. ‘?’ It asks: ‘The fuck you looking at?’
The studio is on the top floor. If a fire broke out between me and the ground, what outfit would I compose for an appropriately dramatic/cinematic/adrenaline-y escape. Winter is nearly kaput, so a light jacket seems most sensible. Something that goes with everything. Something timeless, for a new and minimal life. I settle on a drab olive, knee-length raincoat (waterproof, yes, but probably not fire resistant). Toots-wise, my Dad’s hand-me-down boots are the obvious choice. Their ancient cherry leather is cracked and scarred beyond salvation, and worth more than anything I’ve ever owned.
I like to think that I’d fly down those latticed steel steps two-at-a-time, my coat billowing behind. A flourish of stylish survival. Not unlike those grainy wartime newsreels of muscled naval officers flying down submarine stairs, sliding on the handrails. Those standard-issue boots never touch the steps.
Problem: my boots still have plenty of soul, but little sole remains. I’d be prone to slipping and flipping, arse-over-noggin, right over the rusted handrail. I’ve heard New York described as unforgiving, and I bet her sidewalks are no exception.
Actually, fuck the fire escape. I’d rather take my chances leaping out the window and onto a FDNY jumping castle. Do they still inflate those outside high-rise fires? Did they ever? And what about those comically small trampolines? Ones with a crosshair emblazoned dead centre––like that’s really going to help your aim. Either option seems like a pleasant bounce back to childhood. When we could find the greatest joy by jumping, up and down and up and down.
Better than needing a ciggie.