On Our Life as a Plastic Bag (A Theme Song for Washington Heights)


Each morning we turn the corner onto Broadway and are newly amazed by the cataclysmic arrangements of trash and debris on the streets and sidewalks. Plastic bags and dead leaves circle south in violent little eddies, while chicken bones, boxes, mannequin torsos and car batteries can be found heaped up on the curb. A barren, post-apocalyptic aura permeates the scene at this hour, when the drug dealers and corner huggers are still asleep, and the sound of the wind is never interrupted by the distant, thudding boom of car stereos, as it always is during the night.

As much as we like to exalt in the architectural ruins of Washington Heights, as we consider the plastic bag fighting to be released from a parking meter, we are keenly aware of this other advantage the neighborhood provides, namely a daily reminder of the utter futility of life, the ridiculous measures we must take just to hold on to some small degree of it even as it slips through our fingers, and the certainty that as good as things seem for some, it can be guaranteed to be even worse for others. Here, the city street possesses a stark and decidedly unpretentious honesty that leaves you wanting to cry and scream for mercy, but which like a riptide gives you no choice — that is, if you want to survive — but to resign yourself to its strength and — only then! — to laugh in its face.

From the table to the place
From the fable to the race
From the stable to the space
It’s the same

If you’re walking through your days
If you’re sleeping with your ghosts
If you’re moving to the coast
It’s the same

I’m so tired of this life…

Music: “From the Table to the Place,” courtesy of Saturnine, Mid the Green Fields (VictoriaLandRecords 1998).

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