In the Beginning
There was the famous photographer, Walker Evans, who started by photographing old signs and ended by filling his bathtub with them and washing himself in the kitchen sink. There was the Harlem man whose pet tiger cub grew so big that first his family and finally he himself fled the 12th-floor, three-bedroom apartment in the housing project, returning every day to fling raw chickens through a crack in the front door. Love displaces everything. All over the city the signs peer from beneath modern facades, fade in the sun and rain high up on sides of buildings: BEST QUALITY TWINE. Ghosts on brick, cockeyed atop demolition dumpsters, tin worn delicate as paper, pale lettered—mint, red, black: ELEVATOR APARTMENTS AVAILABLE: INQUIRE ON PREMISES. If you stare at them words are faces; everyone who ever spelled them out, ever debated whether to buy twine or rent an apartment fades up into view wearing shadowy Homburgs, black veils, parcels in their arms, the winter air freshening for snow. Or imagine the face of a tiger waiting behind a thin metal door, your furniture demolished, your family living on friends' floors, your neighbors smelling urine and fur and losing their tolerance, a policeman rappelling outside your windows with a dart gun. Imagine a hunger for the invisible world so deep it must have existed before you were born.
Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press from Floating City by Anne Pierson Wiese. Copyright © 2006 by Anne Pierson Wiese.