Ghost Books

A NYC Phenomenon

Everyone who lives in New York ends up with a ghost book. The city writes one for you in every receipt, every Metrocard. It’s loose, it’s made of what gathers alongside your main project, your main reason for being there, and you might be there for a very important reason, most people have one, you see them striding along the platform towards it, you see them punching in access codes, and while they’re striving a story is being told through all the small accumulations if you’re attuned to it, it’s there in receipts, the scroll of credit card debts, the ghost book gets written whether you pay attention or not. You might have to look back years later at all the evidence to see what New York truly taught you, the point of the big long book, because it might not be immediately evident, it might be sly. I thought I was coming to NY to work on a big project, interview people, andI did, and the whole project didn’t collapse, like it almost did, and we were able to fashion a book, and people read it, and that was fine and meaningful but more and more I could see the ghost book when I went through these big Ziploc bags of receipts, there was all this beauty that surrounded the project, I had to mark how I changed, it was the only story. I didn’t want to dress this stuff up and repurpose it and try to force it into fiction, like a recycling job. The only plotline that mattered was my own, the A to B of me, the survival of me, the way I went out into the city and created the positive image and then sat back, a year later, exiled from the virus, and sifted into the ghost traces. I wanted to tell myself what had happened, tell a story to myself, everyone had their ghost book, it’s what’s happening alongside life, alongside what we are consciously looking for and it’s very sacred, it’s a list of what forms us, what we hear, the people who step into our lives, sometimes in a coffee shop, sometimes a shitty Starbucks, looking bedraggled or just normal and it’s only hours later, after this great ornate improvisation of talk has taken place, while we get out, through speech, through listening, we get out above and beyond the normal sounds of thecity, if you can get it to drop away, talk, make the statue made of nothing, capture some of the words either in this book or on tape, and then leave and leave behind that experience, that excuse, and maybe even leave behind that person, with all that remains being the recording and the freedom in its sounds, the freedom of two strangers speaking to each other in New York, the freedom I have through the dictates of this project to ask a few questions, as if I needed the excuse, but what a fucking plot, a person has to ask a few questions and he does so, again and again, and life comes at him, surging around him, and choices get made and love forms, and mistakes, but life is going past, and he works to finish something and say something about NY and for somereason he doesn’t want it to fade this time, he doesn’t want the ghost to go, the impression to leave.I always love the phrase: he’s got the receipts. What about the flesh/ what a weird way to begin. Go out and ask a few questions and try not to blow that meagre portion of money and try not to fuck it up or get shy or stop working or sit in an apartment on the UWS on that leather couch with the lamp that was hot to the touch. Don’t sequester. The apartment: I’d come to in Jaunary with a few bags. It wasa bad, strange, beautiful apartment, full of the belongings of the owner, even her harmonicas, even old photos of a cat I didn’t know, and old photos where the cat’s eyes glowed, and it wasn’t a big apartment but there was room for her grand piano, an object I revered and stayed away from, never set a drink on, avoided until the day I hurt my back while out on the street, on 93rd heading towards the B and had to creep back along the street, moving at the pace of the elderly, who see all, swarmed by kids from the TK school, by delivery men with Amazon packages, really scared, really a part of the NY sidewalk, resting my palm on the stone with jungle sense, could I make it to the next building, could I make it home with this jagged lightning of pain up my spine. I had to reassure the doorman as I walked across the lobby, I’d got to know these guys so well, but at this point I was holding my breath, misaligned, and when I got back to the apartment I lay on the floor for something like two weeks, with my head underneath the piano bench, looking up at the certificate plastered beneath, asleep near the burn of the radiator,with the window open so I could hear the oncoming divorce of the couple next door, and this gave me a sense of the stresses of the city, it was there in the voices coming from the open window next to mine, dramatic, operatic, and so specific in the details, so that I learned where to get my clothes drycleaned by Why didn’t you pick it up at 81st, why couldn’t you pick up the fucking dry cleaning? Because he shuts at 7, he shuts at 8, and all that pleading, I’m late because of the interruptions on the 2, all that anger towards the local and the door slamming, them knowing I could hear from my obviously open window, so maybe there was a sexual thrill from the performance of breakdown, I was just there, in pain, on my back, listening to their breakdown, and yes they had sex once, and all of it mixed in the sounds with traffic, voices, the shush of alder outside, or whatever it was, the shush of get off your back. This could not be a ghost book of take out receipts.And perhaps that was the first time the ghost book alerted me to its presence. It showed me a pathetic beginning: a bunch of takeout receipts for someone stuc


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