Why I Am a Writer
I had just spent a pleasant couple of hours catching up with an old college friend and the daughter of another friend at Bryant Park in Manhattan and after dropping them both off at the S Train in Grand Central was walking back along 42nd street when I spotted this young light-skinned black man with a cane who seemed somewhat disoriented. When I got a little closer I saw he had on a button, the kind you used to get in High School for joining the G.O. It was large and round and what it said was, 'I am Deaf and Blind. Can you assist me'. Not that I regard myself as more of a humanitarian than the next guy but I had about an hour or so to kill before I had to meet my daughter on the upper West Side to take her out for her birthday so I took his arm and stupidly began asking if I could help him get somewhere. Of course he couldn't hear me, but he extended his palm and indicated that I should write what I was trying to say on his palm. "Can I help" I wrote out in large capital letters with my finger. He immediately took out a sheaf of white 6 x 9" paper and a pen a wrote down. I want to go to the library. I was overjoyed that I could communicate with him and I wrote "Sure" on his palm and grabbed his arm and proceeded to the main library which was only a block and a half away. Once we got inside I had a sinking feeling that I did not know what to do with him. I had just assumed that there would be some kind of special provision for vision impaired people and that I could then unload him on some kind individual and be on my way. All there was however in the main anteroom were two ladies, one with red hair and one with orange hair and the one with orange hair was holding an ipod. "Where do you want to go" I signed on my new friend's hand. He took out the white sheaf of paper and wrote "I want to see John Rathe in information services". "OK" I signed. This is where it got complicated. Well not really, it had occurred previously on the street but I had been able to overcome the difficulty that I am about to describe by attention and perspicacity. The white sheaf of paper he was writing on had been written on just about every sheet back and front, so whatever he was writing now he was writing over something he had written before making it next to impossible to make out what he was trying to say. "He wants to
see John Rathe in information services I informed the ginger haired lady with the ipad. She looked confused. "I don't know. There are a lot of libraries in the city. Are you sure you in the right library?" "This is the main library I signed to my new friend. He didn't get it at first so he erased his palm with his other hand and I wrote it again. "This is the main library. Are we in the right place?" He gave me a big smile and thumbs up. "We are in the right place" I said to the pair of helpfully unhelpful volunteers at the desk. The lady with the ginger hair showed me the ipad. She had looked up information services for the library and there was no John Rathe. I scrolled down to Katherine Wu and then back up to the top. Nope. No John Rathe and it looked to me like the bulk of information services people were down at 110 Madison Avenue which the little old lady speculated was the Morgan Library. This led to another somewhat frustrating round of superimposed squiggles and paint by number questions. "We are in the right place" I finally insisted, not sure at all that this was the case. "Well you better go up to the third floor and talk to the librarian". The elevator is right past the gift shop to the left". On the way to the elevator I stop and take his right hand and write "My name is Ken". He shakes my hand with a big smile and takes out the pad and writes "My name is alvkninmr." in any case I decided it was after subtracting the extraneous letters, Alvin. So Alvin and I go up to the third floor. Now I am not a small person and now, having to guide my friend Alvin I was essentially a double person, so people were having a hard time getting in and out of the elevator. Finally we get to the third floor and I head to the main reading room where there is a duplicate the ginger and fred couple sitting at a desk except this is a young man and an older woman. After a conversation much like what had taken place on the first floor they finally directed me inside to the main reading room desk. I went up to the nice middle aged man behind the desk and said. "We are looking for John Rathe". He did a double take as if I was was speaking Norwegian. Finally he says "Ohhh! You mean John Rath-thay. He's at the reference desk thru that door to the left." So we go thru the door and to the left, directed by a security guard and go up to the desk. John Rath-thay is not not there but will be here in five minutes. Sure enough, three minutes later a middle-aged man which a reddish beard going to gray shows up and sites behind the desk. "We are looking for John Rath-thay". "You found him." he said not evincing any expression but just stating a fact that obviously, I having come to the library had looked for and successfully found. Well honestly, at that moment I felt like I was a magician. That I had conjured John Rath-thay from thin air. That I was the one who had made him appear at just this place and at just this point in time. "He was looking for you." I say, "Do you know him?" "Yes, but he was here a long, long time ago." "Can you help him. He is going to need some paper" I said. "The paper he has is all written on." "Oh, he's going to need a lot of paper, John Rathe says and commences to produce it. Now clearly, despite John Rathe's statement, to Alvin he was someone of immense familiarity. Someone that he might likely have interacted with just yesterday, but John Rathe is telling me that he hasn't seen Alvin for a very long time. I was at something at a loss as to what to say. Clearly I was confronted with two very different realities, Alvin's which had taken place just yesterday and John Rathe's where the interaction that had caused Alvin to seek him out specificially had taken place 'a long long time ago'. I realized that this was precisely the situation I always found myself in. That people and things that I had met or encountered a long long time ago in real time were to me, as present as if the interaction had been just yesterday. This is just the way my mind works. I produce them at will and interact with them just as I had John Rathe, magically. I then realized that this was because I too was somehow blind and deaf and that is why I experienced the world this way. For other people the world had gone on spinning, things had happened, marriages, divorces, trips, children, walks in the park these had all transpired in some reality that had passed me by and so I could just still magically produce them just as they once were just by scribbling some letters on a palm or a piece of paper or a computer. That because some part of me also was blind and deaf, these images remained as fresh as if they had just occurred,--yesterday. "Nice to meet you!" I wrote on Alvin's palm and turning to John Rathe I said "I really have to go. I have to meet my daughter." "I understand" he said. "Will you take care of him?" I asked. "I will take care of him". I walked out of the library on to 42nd street smiling and shaking my head. "John Rath-thay"