How I Get from A to B

I take comfort in the fact that the number of possible routes between two points in this city is so large, it would take millions of years to walk a small fraction of them, non-stop, even sacrificing sleep. It makes the path I choose unique. It helps that some of the moves are vertical. This morning, coming from the dentist, half of my face still numb, as I take the elevator down to the lobby the doorman intercepts me with his news. I’m the very first one to know. Guess what just happened? There’s this delivery man with a bag of food, tells me please call upstairs tell them the food they ordered is here ready to be picked up, and I said what? You are the delivery man, you deliver. If they need to take the elevator downstairs to get the food they might as well go all the way to the restaurant and pick it up themselves. I’m flattered to be singled out for the story and touched that the doorman treats me like a part of this establishment, but it also reminds me the reason he knows me so well is that I have spent thousands of dollars already in the dental office upstairs. That’s a good one, I say with half of my mouth since the other is still asleep. Who does he think he is? And he says have you ever heard something like that? And I say no, never in my whole life, and we laugh a good foyer laugh just as new people enter for him to share the story with; he is so happy he has his own special story for the day. So this is my point A in the journey back across the Manhattan grid. I have a point B a few miles away, and I’m thrilled to know that the permutations in the sequence of right turns, going straight, and left turns is so large I would spend my lifetime doing nothing else, and I would need many more lifetimes I don’t have. There are decisions to make along the way, and at each intersection there is a moment of divination. For instance, if I see a tall man, over 7 feet, or a woman with blue shoes, I will take a right turn, otherwise I’m allowed to go straight. I always take the street with the smallest number of construction sites. I will avoid streets with a stretch limo approaching. I will never make two lefts in a row unless I see a sightseeing bus.

A city is a vast open labyrinth of storefronts. Lucky is he who has the time to stroll, to dwell on the succession of reflections his passing invokes on the way he has chosen from A to B, especially on a brilliant day, with the significance of the brilliance being in the intensity and luminosity of the reflections. When I set out to take a picture of myself reflected in a storefront it amounts to a decision on how precisely to overlay my own picture on top of the display which is in turn overlaid by the irregular shapes and colors of the street-scape behind me. What I see is controlled by the position I take in front of the window, a position which normally has no consequences since every day I pass by hundreds of storefronts, but today, today is the day I happen to have a camera and that makes me pick a particular brilliant moment to record in my own digital imprint, a moment which would otherwise be forgotten. (One day, on a recent trip to Italy, I took pictures of storefronts in the town I was staying in, enjoying this kind of control over composition, but then left my camera at a restaurant. By the time I realized it, with panic, I was already back at my hotel, at the very opposite of the town. I tried to explain the situation to the concierge of my hotel, trying to ask her to inquire on my behalf if my camera had been found. But what I said to the concierge made absolutely no sense to her, since in Italian camera, as I found out afterwards, means room. I’d told her, in essence, that I had lost my room, and she must have concluded, from the way she looked at me, that I had lost my mind, aswell). But if we want, we can take the resulting picture as a metaphor for superposed identities, of the conscious (the recognizable face of a man) versus the subconscious (the landscape he sees, all now confined in a storefront, and superposed on the flashy display of merchandise, along with all his peripheral vision, and everything else he notices without wanting to); of the émigré in a vast urban setting versus the former self; the left, articulate part of the brain versus the other one which dwells on gestalts; the two pieces making up a Rorschach test. Others might see it as an escape; they’d argue that I’m trying to escape reality by immersing myself in a virtual one, the one of apparitions, of charmers, of shady characters, but to those I say: why, if what you say holds true, would I confine my existence to a storefront? Why wouldn’t I, again, if what you say is correct, immerse myself into the vast landscape that is devoid of the borders of the storefront windows of bodegas and hairstylists and Starbucks and antique furniture places and fashion boutiques, and the ubiquitous nail parlors, but, on the contrary, stretches way beyond the imagination — certainly mine?

Joachim Frank