I am given to long peripatetic walks through outlying districts. Past rust-encrusted fences and cement-block lots, along fetid, long-stilled waterways next to crumbling skeletons of once-thriving commerce abandoned bathtubs half-filled with dirt over a once-upon-a drawbridge by a door-less port-a-potty down a street where two forgotten row-houses leftover from some long-ago together hold a single family and one of the children now six runs across the empty street and an older sister turns excitedly to an exhausted mother and exclaims: “He crossed the street on his own! It’s his first time” and there he beams from across the wide, empty asphalt expanse of a road that no one travels.
When moving through outlying districts, it is better not to catch anyone’s eye. Look away. I continue past the scene pretending not to notice the life-event of the small boy who lives in two row-houses either leftover or stunted and forgotten then I trundle Giacometti through a wide intersection with a broken stoplight and a far-off view of the city looming down an ant-strewn highway screaming toward the center of the earth the sound of the sea the smell of car exhaust the sky glass blue.
A tractor-trailer truck idles, lost and waiting either empty or full. Warehouses pull up out of the ground and splinter with Chinese lettering open maws expose massive corrugated boxes filled with plastic ducks or fireworks or cheap gold-look earrings just offloaded from some cargo ship and brought here to the bored man with a cigarette and a clipboard standing outside the yawning hole.
I can feel his eyes on me as I pass, my hair now plastered to my head and my shirt soaked through. I look at the ground.
A cemetery appears on my left splayed out like a knock-down fighter laid low by Jack Johnson before Jack Johnson was arrested for transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes even though the White woman was his wife. Johnson fled to Montreal and then Paris, South Africa and Mexico, before returning to serve his jail sentence in Leavenworth.
The cemetery goes on and on and on drunken gravestones staggering up one hill and over and then in the distance another staggering ramble and after that smaller and fog-shrouded yet another.
My breath comes in rasps a bug skitters by a far-off siren moans someone’s fate the sun overhead punches into my skull my sweat-soaked shirt now sticking jelly to my skin I am walking I am crossing I am passing I am underwater I am. Am I here? Or somewhere else?
When I’m tired, I walk along the four white walls of my apartment, the ceiling overhead pristine except for the dead web in one corner hanging ineffectually. I lie on my back and stare and stare, the lights shimmering through my window onto clean surfaces: water. Maybe this is best, I think — to ramble into eternity here in the small room.
Here, I can be anything. Here I can be everything I never will be.
Tom Block is a playwright, author of five books, 20+ year exhibiting visual artist and Founding Producer of New York City’s International Human Rights Art Festival (ihraf.org). His plays have been developed and produced at such venues as the Ensemble Studio Theater, HERE Arts Center, Dixon Place, Urban Stages, Theater for the New City, IRT Theater, Theater at the 14th Street Y, Athena Theatre Company, Theater Row, A.R.T.-NY, Drama League, Wild Project and many others. He was the Founding Producer of the Amnesty International Human Rights Art Festival (2010), a Research Fellow at DePaul University (2010), LABA Fellow (NY, 2013-14), Hamiltonian Fellow (2008-09) and recipient of funding/support from more than a dozen foundations and organizations. He has spoken about his ideas throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Turkey and the Middle East.