Entering The Lion's Den

What follows is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to Monté while he was in basic training. I was retelling my experience riding a bus into New York City to attend the MIX '97 gay/lesbian film/video festival to enter my video Pard' Me in their Gong Show event. Whenever I'm on the verge of entering Manhattan Island, I get in a very weird mood. It's kind of like esoteric poetic musing over a thin veneer of control that masks an impending panic attack. To understand you must read on...

I rode along for quite some time with my eyes closed. When I opened them again I realized we were in New Jersey. I could tell because all I could see beside the road were typical urban businesses. It went on mile after bloody mile. Car dealers, truck dealers, carpet stores, electronics stores, car washes, home stores, welding shops, gas stations, office supply stores, building product stores, car care centers, office complexes, auto malls, diner after diner after diner... I rapidly slumped into my fatalistic anti-urban neurosis. "Is this what our civilization has degenerated into?" I asked myself. At one point in our development, not so very long ago, we had to struggle just to survive. Creating and maintaining our shelters and clothing, and the constant search for sustenance consumed our every waking moments. Now our biggest worry is which diner, of a city of diners, each more gaudy and garish than the next, should we dine in tonight? Where should we buy the plush carpet for the family room we're redecorating... again? Where can I get a perm and a dye job?

As we rounded the bend and headed straight for Manhattan, I sank deeper into my trance. Vast citadels, massive ziggurats of low and moderate income housing, littered the landscape. Ten thousand towers of Babel, crying to heaven in cacophonous unison, "Why are we here? Why have so many of us gathered in this place, only to fill our empty and meaningless lives with an endless search for material possessions and needless services?" Every window that flashed across my sight was another story. Each and every person among the millions of people living and working in this hierarchy of ant hills and termite colonies, was in and of himself an individual. Millions of unique lives, each living out his own existence, distinctly and differently from the millions of insects around him. The sheer volume of personal experiences, of stories and dreams, of hopes and tragedies, overwhelmed my imagination. Each person separate from the next, yet all so much alike, living in this ocean of humanity, eating in diners, shopping for carpet, getting their hair done.

As the city drew closer, the grid of commercial enterprises gave way to a collage of dilapidated structures who's origins and purposes were ambiguous. An old school house, upon closer inspection, was being used to store God knows what. Layer upon layer of structures, built upon lower and older layers of structures, rose from the primal depths like mounds of rubbish in an endless landfill. Terra firma, a patch of earth or green grass, became only a memory; a vanishing icon of the world I'd left behind.

Before us lay Manhattan Island. It spanned the horizon, stretching both end to end as far as the eye could see, and also reaching up to the sky as high as man can reach. Spiked steel spires, piercing the cloud of smoke and exhaust that perpetually blankets the landscape. A grid of man-made stalagmites, consuming energy and excreting waste. Armies of men and women pervading the assemblage of structures, migrating daily from New Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut, and upstate, filling the city, like a bloated behemoth that would dwarf a million dragons, growing not in size but in density. More people were on this rock than one space should be possible of sustaining, and yet here they were. Huge jet airliners above brought in more people. I myself, trapped in a rolling box, among yet more people being brought in. A constant influx of bodies, a never-ending expansion of population.

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