19 October 2006


As you returning readers may remember, I disdain posting stories of a personal nature on this blog. I try not to but from time to time I do put them up, for several reasons, the most important being that I think it's funny. The story, I mean. But also that I state over and over my dislike of autobiography of any kind and yet still give into it every now and then--that; I think that's funny. The idea that other people could possibly have any interest in what I had for lunch is so alien and absurd to me, that... well, you know. Don't you? Fortunately, this text is not about today's luncheon.

So, there's this bar in New York City called The Phoenix. Its name refers to another, very famous bar tautologically called, The Bar, which opened in 1978 at 2nd Ave and 4th St. This place, The Bar, was a hangout for ACT-UPers and fellow travellers back in the day, and I have many stories, which I will not share here, regarding that particular establishment. Well, it burned in 1998 making for a neat twenty-year arc, and Fluffy, the Cat, the house mascot was never seen again. Did she die in the fire? No one knows, but a new bar rose from the ashes, if you will, as The Phoenix, up on 13th St and Ave A.

The Phoenix is a fun enough place, but the thing I loved about this bar was the graffiti, and one graffito in particular, which someone had taken the time to inscribe on the wall, in pen, on the left side over the left urinal in the "Men's Room," and it went exactly like this:
I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for one
moment only. I would like to be
that necessary and that unnoticed.
I can't help you if you think this scrawl describes something sweet and romantic, I was revolted by the sentiment from the day I laid eyes upon it. My friend, Kikkoman, and I loved this poemlet so much that a ritual began where whenever one of us took a leak and came back, we tried to work it into the conversation. You know, he'd come back from the bathroom and we'd talk about some guy I was seeing and what a pain he was, and Kikkoman would say, "I know exactly what you mean, I've dated lots of guys like that, but the thing you always have to remember in these situations is that I would like to be the air that inhabits you for one moment only. I would like to be that necessary and that unnoticed."

Graffiti fascinates me. What does it take for someone to remember to bring a writing tool (hopefully, a Sharpie permanent marker) with him into the toilet and for the express purpose of displaying a secret message to strangers? People write anything from song lyrics to movie quotes to political opinions to personal attacks to URLs to poems--for a while some enterprising person was transcribing lengthy passages of Baudelaire in East Village Men's Rooms, which was lovely. What is it about the public/private in-between space of the toilet that makes a person write? I understand some of the reasons, especially if you've been drinking:
a) personal anger ("Dave Mastrogiovonni is a fucking asshole!!!" or "Stan B. gave me crabs!")
b) political anger ("Fuck Bush")
These are a kind of public service announcement as people might want to know about Dave, Stan, and/or Bush. Then you have:
c) humor ("Fags suck")
d) art/quotation (Baudelaire)
e) commentary ("Whoever wrote this needs to get a life!")
The coda to our story is a real life example from this last category. Time passed, as it does reliably, and the walls of the Phoenix Men's Room were finally repainted, obliterating the years of scribbles and snide remarks. I think Kikkoman and I had a conversation at Phoenix that went something like this:
K: So, did you hear? They painted the bathroom walls.
L: No! Is it...?
K: Yes. It's gone.
L: Oh. How sad I feel.
K: It saddens me as well.
L: You don't have a Sharpie permanent marker on you by any chance?
K: In fact. I do. (Hands L. the Sharpie)
L: Will you cover me?
K: (Standing) Nothing would make me happier.
So, yes, gentle reader, imagine as Kikkoman and I crept down to the toilet, and whilst he kept watch (not that it really mattered), I reinstated the sacred text back into the approximate spot where it had glowed all those years. It felt exactly like putting a tiny Lego of the universe back into its proper place.

You realize by now how I felt a special protectiveness towards those scant lines of earnest drivel that I'd repeated so many times over the years. It is not that I had changed my mind about the content itself, which if anything had become more repellent with every thrilling repetition, but those lines had become an old friend to look for and find every time I took at slash at that bar. So imagine my irritation when I went to that urinal just a couple days later and found someone had written "BORING FAG" in huge letters over the text and not next to it, as dictated by tradition, with a helpful arrow.

What amuses here is that the original stood unmolested for so long, but the copy exercised some humorless twit so much that he had to deface this text with his much-less-interesting, wit-free remark. There are two kinds of readers for this little poem, those who agree with it and those who don't, and it took the erasure and reiteration by me for the message finally to find its mark. And die. Now that's comedy.

But I am sure you're quite bored with this little exposition on my favorite graffito, O Reader, so I'll close. But do me this favor next time you look at someone's bathroom scribble, remember that I would like to be the air that inhabits you for one moment only. I would like to be that necessary and that unnoticed.


Demosthenes said...

Ah yes, I remember that stall entry. A favorite past time of mine is to read the manic scribbling of the demented and insane while I hang steak. In a drunken stupor I would orate permutations of the poem , much to by neighbor’s amusement:

I would like the air to be you
that inhabits one moment only.
I would like the necessary
to be that unnoticed.

I would like you to be the air
one moment that inhabits only.
I would like the unnoticed
to be the necessary.

And then it was time for White Castle’s.

devout_skeptic said...

That was very enjoyable. You should do the personal a little more often. Only a little I said.

GayProf said...

See? This is why we can't have nice things.

That poem sounds more like a curse.

fearless comrade said...

You don't suppose Margaret Atwood hangs out at the Phoenix? Maybe she just stopped in to take a piss. And maybe if she sat down like a lady then she could have written out the whole poem:

Variations on the Word Sleep

I would like to watch you sleeping,
which may not happen.
I would like to watch you,
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head

and walk with you through that lucent
wavering forest of bluegreen leaves
with its watery sun & three moons
towards the cave where you must descend,
towards your worst fear
I would like to give you the silver
branch, the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center. I would like to follow
you up the long stairway
again & become
the boat that would row you back
carefully, a flame
in two cupped hands
to where your body lies
beside me, and you enter
it as easily as breathing in

I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.

Luciferus said...


So much to say and so little time.

This has become my favorite entry on this blog. For several reasons.

The most important reason being that a trusted reader, a fearless comrade in fact, recognized the source of the Phoenix Graffito, as I should have in the first place. You see, I remember the beginning of the poem/poison that gave this little scribble life. Though the graffitist got the last lines of Atwood's poem wrong, and though I have no idea if that original (repeating) scribe believed fervently in the surface notion of this poem or, on some other hand, in the deeply angry and impatient, yet understanding, mode from which I see it was written, I think it may not much matter.

The incorrect quotation of the last stanza of this poem has more to do with the reaction of its readers, which is a measure of its power. My revulsion was a calculated one to Atwood, but to my boy, or woman, or man-woman who put the words on that stall in the first place: I will never know if they were idiot or siren.

All I can say, to draw a theme somewhat closer, is that this poem knows a little bit more about "The Ladies Who Lunch" than I think Sondheim could ever know.

And that's the fact, Jack.

But to GayProf, all I can say, is that you are right as ever: this poem is a curse.

ohnochriso said...

That kind of makes me sad. I read that grafitti so many times.