The Operating System


IMAG0315Except for last night I can’t remember the last time I really thought about pairs of shoes dangling over a telephone wire but there were so many over this one, and I overheard a young couple in front of Vanessa’s talking about the shoes last night, wondering who might have died at the scene. As a kid I’d see them in our neighborhood from time to time figured that it was something that boys did, maybe for bullying, maybe for sheer boredom, although I never saw it happen, nor did I ever think of the shoes as something to commemorate a death. A friend of mine tells me that he always thought that shoes over a phone wire meant drug dealers. A Wikipedia article on shoe tossing makes all these suggestions as well, although nothing really seems to be confirmed. The article is one of the most cryptic and poetic things that I have ever read on Wikipedia, in part because of its lack of confirmation for this urban folklore, in part because everything is almost matter-of-not-quite-fact. My favorite paragraph, for instance:

Others claim that the shoes are stolen from other people and tossed over the wires as a sort of bullying tactic, or as a practical joke played on drunkards.[5] Others simply say that shoe flinging is a way to get rid of shoes that are no longer wanted, are uncomfortable, or do not fit.[6][verification needed] It may also be another manifestation of the human instinct to leave their mark on, and decorate, their surroundings.[5] It has been reported that workmen often throw shoes if they are not paid for waxing floors.[citation needed]

Last night I ended up at Vanessa’s because I had decided to go on a very long walk through Manhattan, something I’d been doing a lot lately. I had spent 5 hours in a cramped public tax assistance office with little exposure to natural light and I very much needed the air. I took the train over the bridge to Canal street and started walking and ended up in Chinatown at the restaurant off Eldridge and Broome for a pit stop fix of one-dollar dumplings. I am finding myself more restless these days, maybe because I’ve been anticipating so many changes and because everything is on the cusp of happening but nothing is quite there yet, but on Friday night a friend told me that things are always like that, anyway. That must only be a part of it, maybe augmented my a recent sense of mid-20s crisis, maybe in part because I have been thinking about an old friend from high school who recently died. We weren’t terribly close in school but after I finished college he began to send me and I think many others emails, sharing his work, sharing his newfound mission to make art and change the world. He so much wanted to change the world, and I think at that time I was too sad to really trust in it. He would send us things over the course of several months, artwork, poems, his thoughts, apologies for sending so much information, although at some point I stopped saying anything back. I remember the point at which I wrote him, telling him how I just wanted to keep food on the table, and I think that was the last personal email exchange that we had, although I am starting to doubt that memory. I was thinking about him when the couple mentioned the shoes last night.
I opened one of his old emails today and found a long text file filled with poems. I was thinking about the apocrypha of the everyday things that surround us, of the things that we remember, maybe even choose to remember about people when they find out that they’re gone. In general I have been thinking a lot about the myths that encapsulate people, especially that the ones that we wish to be close to, or maybe, the ones that we wish we could have been closer to. And I’ve been thinking about how so often the myth stands for more than the actuality of things. The mysterious circumstances of things, of people. I don’t know how to be entirely clear about this. I am not so sure how precariousness falls into what I am trying to articulate, but maybe we make these myths for ourselves to create a barrier, to get through things. I have also been thinking, for a long time, about what it means to wander, to frequently be in tangent to something else, to not quite ever be secure. Wandering as a way to process our surroundings, the places where we get stuck, have been stuck. One way of saying, yes, I am alive, and thinking, now, where do I go. I look at the shoes on the wire and I think of how this could mean so many things for the one who throws them: I am restless, I am stuck, I am trying to move on, I am trying to maintain some distance from the ground, I am too old for this, I am trying to reaffirm my sense of aliveness, we live here, we are anonymous, we are going to keep moving, for now.
Maryam Parhizkar writes/researches/makes music/studies/teaches/works in New York City. She is increasingly convinced that you could approximate the weight of anything by note of sound quality. You can find her on tumblr. There is more to come. 
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