Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Weirdness All Around

St. Patrick’s Day was pretty much off my radar yesterday -- I even forgot to wear green. But when I went out just after lunch to buy some tickets for a new Broadway play (“Mary Stuart,” about Mary, Queen of Scots) the streets were already filled with stumbling, guffawing 21-year-olds. Needless to say, I stayed in last night!

Do you ever have one of those days when you keep seeing weird stuff, and it occurs to you over and over again how bizarre the world really is? Of course, bizarreness is in the eye of the beholder, but that was the day I had yesterday. To wit:

-- New York is abuzz about a woman in the Bronx who was hit by an arrow as she was getting out of a car. The police think she wasn’t a target but was hit accidentally by an arrow fired from a nearby rooftop or park. How’s that for an obscure urban danger?

-- The snowy Swiss alps are enduring an onslaught of nude hikers. Locals are not amused.

-- On Flickr, there is an entire group dedicated to “sexy women with chocolate on their teeth.” (Admittedly it has only six members and three photos, all of the same woman.)

I guess it’s fitting that I should stumble onto this strangeness, as I’m reading “Joe Gould’s Secret,” a book I recently picked up at our company book sale. Joe Gould was a Greenwich Village character who wandered around homeless and claimed to be writing the longest book in the world, titled “An Oral History of Our Time.” Joseph Mitchell profiled him in 1942 for The New Yorker and then wrote this book -- pretty much an iconic portrait of New York eccentricity.

If Gould, a Harvard graduate, really did as he claimed, he would have been a blogger of sorts. He described how he got started on his oral history:

“In a second-hand bookstore, I had recently come across and looked through a little book of stories by William Carleton, the great Irish peasant writer, that was published in London in the eighties and had an introduction by William Butler Yeats, and a sentence in Yeats’s introduction had stuck in my mind: ‘The history of a nation is not in parliaments and in battlefields, but in what the people say to each other on fair days and high days, and in how they farm, and quarrel, and go on pilgrimage.’ All at once the idea for the Oral History occurred to me: I would spend the rest of my life going about the city listening to people -- eavesdropping if necessary -- and writing down whatever I heard them say that sounded revealing to me, no matter how boring or idiotic or vulgar or obscene it might sound to others.”

Sounds like a blog to me! Gould also fancied himself a poet. Here’s my favorite example of his work, titled “My Religion”:

In winter I’m a Buddhist
And in summer I’m a nudist

See what I mean? Weirdness all around.

(Photo: Empire State Building from my apartment window on St. Patrick’s Day.)


  1. Does it count as "weirdness all around" if you are only a bystander? Not to rain on your parade or anything, but YOU didn't get hit with an arrow, or hike nude in the Alps. And technically, you're only reading Joe Gould's weird approach to literature and poetry. Is the awareness of somebody else's weirdness, or witnessing of weirdness in others from a distance, actually weirdness in the first-person?

    Example, yesterday, I had a pretty straightforward day. I rode to work, worked 8 hours, rode home. I had a coffee break at some point in there. (Actually, I did meet with an elected official who did not blame me for all sorts of junk unrelated to my job...weird!) Pretty much a 'Day in the Corps' as they say. coworker was walking back to our building from city hall in the morning, and she saw a cleanly severed rat head sitting on the sidewalk. She declared it the weirdest thing she'd seen in a long while, because the poor fellow looked like he was imbedded in the concrete, peeking up through the sidewalk at the rest of us, when really, he was pretty much toast.

    My point?...does her day of weirdness actually transfer to me and become my day of weirdness? Can one be Vicariously Weird? Isn't Vicariously Weird actually the most simple definition of boring?

    Not that either of the 'Reed Boys' could ever be considered boring!

    Would you like a home-brew? Weirdness in a glass!

  2. That's probably the longest comment I've ever received.

  3. Joe Gould typified NYC weirdness at its best. And yes, I do think he had the Blogger mentality, only about 6 decades early. So many images in that book stick with me and I will never again wander through Washington Square without remembering Joe. I knew you would enjoy that book, even the sad moments.

  4. Utahdog: Ha! Well, what can I say? That IS pretty weird.

    To the main point in your first comment, being a bystander is still experiential. The weirdness is happening to you, even if you're only reading about/observing it.

  5. Mama said there'd be days like this!

    Wow, hit by a a random arrow. There's some kind of fateful intersection around that story. I wonder if she will fall in love?

    Nude hiking is highly overrated. If you fall, there's nothing between you and the rocks and scratchy bushes. Also I'm certain it isn't a pretty sight.

    Hope things soon return to "normal."

  6. the arrow incident happened while I was visiting nyc

    people always say weird stuff happens but that took the weird cake.

    sorry there wasn't time to try and get in a visit with you will in the city. maybe next time.... the only window we had open was when you would have been at work.

    gould's poem cracks me up!! thanks for sharing

    weird works!

  7. p.s. in following up on the joe gould, you probably know but didn't mention there's also a 2000 film called joe gould's secret by stanley tucci....I probably won't get a chance to read the book, but I'm definitely going to check out the movie!

  8. Kim: Actually I'd forgotten that movie, but now that you mention it, I do remember some talk about it...

  9. Hearing about Natasha Richardson conforms it - this IS a really bizarre week.

    You called it, oh yeah.

  10. Great question Reya!
    "I wonder if she'll fall in love"..."
    Someone shoot me!

  11. Its a shot in the dark but - isn't weirdness (apart from violence) what makes life more interesting?