NOW IS TIME FOR A SUDDEN CHANGE OF PLANS
Instead of seeing you this Sunday, I leave for Philadelphia. I take the train, and on the way this time of year there are certain sights I expect: (1) telephone poles descending like a staircase into the frozen marsh; (2) scratched into the eastern wall of first tunnel, the words "HEAD FEDS"; (3) sunlight coming in low and from a great distance to strike the train windows and make my reflected face invisible. Long ago I hoped to see these things but because I have not been disappointed hope has been replaced, calmly, by the certainty that they will be there: always. In two ways this makes the sunlight and the telephone stairs and the warning of HEAD FEDS completely unlike you; it also makes them "constant," I suppose, though of course they must always be changing -- time is not just breathing on glass, after all. They change like the birthmark on your chest, above your left breast, which you say you have had since birth. But isn't it true that skin dies, always? The cells that made your birthmark when you were born have collasped and grown again billions and billions of times over. Does that mean you have had billions and billions of birthmarks, each secretly different from the last? I happen to know you call yours Billy (though I don't know why). If Billy's parts are constantly broken and built by time, who is the real Billy?
A BRIEF PERIOD OF QUESTION AND ANSWER
Q: How does Philadelphia unfold to reveal itself: like a flower, or a love letter?
A: A flower.
Q: Which alley is the best in Center City?
A: On Sansom Street. I can't tell you where, so the tourists don't find it and put it on a t-shirt.
Q: What is the best t-shirt you saw a Philadelphian wear?
A: "REDUNDANCY DEPARTMENT OF REDUNDANCY?"
Q: And where is that located?
A: 2nd sub-floor, City Hall. Below the jury duty waiting room, below the floor of justice, just above the wiretapping chambers. Ask for Arnold.
Q: What will he know?
A: Everything. You can learn anything in Philadelphia.
Q: Just by asking?
WHAT YOU MIGHT BE DOING, EXACTLY AT THE MOMENT I ENTER THE MEN'S ROOM AT SUBURBAN STATION
1) Reading Pynchon: "They are touching now, without urgency, still, neither of them, quite over the surprise...."
2) Eating chicken.
3) Not watching the moon hovering outside your window, like a UFO.
4) Going to the bathroom.
5) Examining Billy in the mirror.
Does he look smaller than he used to? Larger? Worried? Does he seem less sure of himself? Burnt out? Is he losing his hair? Has he lost his way? Or is he finding it? What is the difference?
NOW IS TIME FOR A SUDDEN CHANGE OF PLANS, II
Instead of seeing you this Sunday, I leave for Philadelphia. I take the train, and on the way this time of year there are crows rising up like black spots on the sun and telephone crucifixes gripped tight in the ice and a few hundred other human beings passing through it all: smaller, larger, worried, balding, sleeping, dreaming of you. Meanwhile Philadelphia is working hard to raise as many tall buildings as possible; so tall that they will cast thick shadows like paint over homes and shops and turn the Center City skyline into teeth on a key. What does it open? In Kensington, Jose M. is sticking a needle into his skinny arm exactly at the moment I enter the men's room in Suburban Station. Or is he? For the years I knew him he would wait until nightfall before creeping to his brother's room. What he did to him is a lot like sticking a needle into a skinny arm; is that what he is doing now? The skin might be gone but the hole is not; no matter how long the shadows fall they never hit Kensington from Center City, which is where I am instead of where I should be, which is with you: lying in your bed, lying in your arms, neither of us sleeping nor exactly sure of what we were before -- neither of us watching the moon outside your window, hovering like a UFO, poised to discover what we are.