Walking this morning and being struck by the effort that goes into the organization of something that looks spectacular, but means nothing finally to most people. I wonder why so many families drag babies in pushchairs onto a replica of a Russian frigate, a small three master that is really only a collection of yellow-painted timbers and a lot of old rope. There is nothing to see, too many people milling and trying to discover what they have missed, jostling to get from one end to the other of the tethered vessel, staring at ropes and wondering if that is really all there is to it.
Sometimes, walking streets and stones and grassy paths, I think I know this city, that I am woven tightly into the fabric of this corner, where I walk and watch the changing seasons. The pavement cracks, the weeds, unpulled and thriving, the cracked drainpipe that leaks green and ferny into the gutter, the places where bollards cluster so nothing wider than a cat can pass, I know them all. The smells of cooking, urine and waste bins, the canary singing at a window, the exchanges with the old West Indian woman who never ventures past the doorstep, the homeless men sitting in the sun, brief words of commiseration, a smile, Enriquetta who shuffles her cataracts and her sciatica to the market and back, to and fro, back and forth, a weary, cane-tapping tide, all familiar threads of the fabric.
Breaking into the rhythm are the knots of women, shoe-horned into their stylish suits, walking stiffly in uncomfortable shoes, shrill-voiced and high-decibel laughter. Men, condescending in sports clothes, or suited in ugly, ill-fitting gear, officials, on their dignity, gather round. Clipboards, briefcases, or trendy bags, milling, talking at one another, opening a worthy event that draws the crowds, a replica of something long dead, a ship sunk years ago. They don’t see what is here and now, the cloddos in the sunny doorways, the papers blowing, the gum on the pavement, things not worth organizing an event for.
I live beneath the surface, and that means invisibility and expendability. These smiling, scented and powdered people are the veneer, the sheen on the crust of misery. A child reaches out to a green beetle, bright as an emerald. Its sharp-suited mother grabs its hand, drags it away and crushes the emerald with the toe of a shoe. Soon, even the child will not know why the bright green creature should not be more than a smear on the pavement.
Blessed are the rich and the loud, for they shall inherit the earth. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, kiddo. They already have it. All that does not reflect their bright, shining faces, they stamp on and destroy. They are the veneer on this world of green beetles and rampant wild flowers, the ferns climbing through the damp of a broken drainpipe. They are the cleaned up façades of lurid yellow stone, polished metal and brand spanking new electric blinds. They make a social event of an obscure passion, the planks and paint that creak in the waves mean only the people they will meet, the laughter, hollow and grating, with slick and smart, spic and span people like themselves. And they will endure, for really, the veneer is all that matters.