Birdwatching with Jonathan Franzen
I was between meetings with my editor and agent, walking down E 12th St. about to enter a cafe for an almond croissant, when I spotted a Columba livia (of the Columbiformes order, colloquially known by pedestrians as a “pigeon”) standing on the sidewalk gazing into the havoc of industry brought upon by humans, the good earth embalmed under slabs of concrete and funk. I always carry my binoculars, a moleskin, and one sharpened No. 2 pencil in my satchel. Did people stare at me as I stared at this fine specimen of urban worry? I could not tell. Peripheral vision, like 20/20, is overrated. Under the lens of my binoculars, past those of my unwittingly hipster glasses, through my cornea into the timeless cave painting of light on my retina, along my optic nerve like some whip of meaning, and into this very large head, I witnessed a stillness—enough to make one dry weep—unknown to our younger generation currently glued to various vapid interfaces with apps on their supposedly “smart” phones. From the ashes of Goethe and Heine, the timelessness of vision’s sad lament of nature could be felt in my bones, and jeans. I needed new pants. This diet was going nowhere.
Note to self: remove binoculars in the apartment. Eating has become difficult, both technically and morally. In regards to the latter, as my colleague and Jonathan Safran Foer noted in Eating Animals (2009), the fast food industry is really bad. They kill chickens. There’s a KFC on 2nd Avenue at E 14th St., and while I’m enlivened by vegan politics—feeling solidarity towards any well-mannered and educated liberal whacks with supposedly “Anti-American” proclivities—I will concede to being seduced by their extra crispy breading. Biting into the succulent white meat until my incisors are met with slimy bone brings back our collective memory of being cavemen with spears and an empty stomach. I brought the “chicken” (Gallus gallus domesticus, of the Phasianidae family) to my second New York home and placed a leg on a pristine dinner plate, as I don’t believe in eating of out a bag (or women’s crotch; my partner remains loyal to an oral-less life). My first bite mark—and this may seem somewhat narcissistic—resembled what Michelangelo might have done with a chisel, each masterful carve directed at a kind of religious absence, the painful cutting away at unanesthetized stone as ontological epiphany. I barely chewed, swallowed whole, and felt bad.
Suddenly, a chirp. A small aggravating bird (Twittaer updaetia) kept tweeting outside my window. Its unsolicited update seemed to be saying “@franzen nice pants, fatso.” I imagined it being retweeted and favorited among those who consider themselves experimental writers, the unfortunate under-published, people with Pushcart nominations who work at bookstores, or a librarian with cervical cancer, a fallen staple from their tepidly peer-reviewed chapbook metaphorically lodged between their toenail for eternity, or at least until they fucking dropped dead. I was tempted to throw a Gallus gallus domesticus bone at the lil’ twitterer, but chose to be the better person. The world could continue its noise of thoughtless connectivity, its wifi signals blooming like giant dark rainbows into the sky, pushing against God’s underbelly. Freaking six-year-olds could “tap to reload,” “swipe to refresh,” or “shit their pants.” I don’t care. Why reinvent the novel when you can make a million dollars. Why start a twitter account when you have three agents. (These are rhetorical questions.) Why wipe the grease from your fingers when you can suck them towards your infancy, going backwards in time like the pit of your ex’s facebook. Why feel judged in an apartment whose modest furnishings reflect the austerity and capitalistic weariness of the author. I need new pants but I’m locking myself in. J.Crew delivers.
Tags: jonathan franzen