May 5, 1980
Passaic River water rises and falls at my feet. The soggy soil so saturated it doesn’t even qualify as mud, each wave washing a little bit more of it from under the rocks where I sit.
Kids giggle from somewhere beyond my vision like wilderness nymphs – each voice filled with joy and mischief.
The whole world is a circus parade of noise, tree trunks instead of elephant trunks, geese honking instead of clowns.
Each sound attempts to invade the silence within me.
It seems inhuman to be quiet as I am here.
Mankind is heavy with hot air we need to expel in the form of words.
People look at me as they pass, puzzled by why I am sitting here and how I can tolerate staying still for so long.
I have hypnotized myself with the ebb and flow, watching the trash roll in and then out, leaving a strange bowl of mixed fruit below me, rocks for apples, trash filling in with other uneatable items.
This is hardly the still-life paintings I study at school.
Life can’t be frozen into a single frame without ceasing to be life.
The rats know this and begin moving the moment I stop moving, easing out of their holes to salvage the wreckage left by the waves, the comic relief before the high wire act that sends squirrels and birds down, each rat struggling to keep his balance on the slice logs and branches trapped in the muck, each fighting with others over precious bits of refuse each sees as having value.
All heads jerk up at the sudden roar of a jet coming or going to and from Newark Airport.
They have the same look at the gray-suited Wall Street-bound commuters have at the hoot of horn from approaching trains, each wonder if they have already missed their connection to some important meeting, each looking relieved when the sound bears them now ill on board or in the case of the rats, select their choice bit of trash.
When the kids appear, they rush through the dry grass near the school yard across the river – kids and grass each fed by the same polluted water, full of withering potential.
The church bells chime announcing early mass as gray-haired, grim-faced, back-bent Polish pilgrims staged up the church steps to find seats before the prayers start.
To my right, something plucks the water surface, sending out rings. I barely see the fishing line, and cannot see the fisherman hidden in the trees.
Theirs is a thankless chore, suffering Prometheus’s fate, casting out, reeling in, unhooking, to throw back what they caught since any fish caught here would be lethal to eat.
A man in a suit pauses half way across the bridge to stare at me or perhaps at the fisherman. I’ve seen the man before from the used car dealership down River Drive. But I’ve never see him walking before, except across the dealership lot after climbing out of some car he intended to sell.
I remember him having the shiniest shoes I’ve seen since boot camp.
For some reason, he seems sad today.
He shakes his head at me, the rats, the fisherman, the fish, before he moves on, each step ringing with the keys to cars he had yet to sell.
And for some reason, I can’t explain, I feel sorry for him.