Coda For the Twenty-First Century, Part 1

by: Chris Campanioni

Chris Campanioni leads us into the New Year with a multi-part, multi-form contribution that commemorates the year past and looks forward to the one ahead….

At The Graveyard

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Around that time I started hanging out at The Graveyard.

Not the cemetery, but the club. Corner of Orchard and Ludlow, down one flight of stairs, three knocks at a time, clandestine. Listening to the stereo’s sound system, the evening’s playlist, right up against the thumping bass, mouthing the lyrics or sometimes shouting them, or sometimes doing nothing but turning inward. Really making contact with the noise.

Because when words die, they make music. And I know I’ve said that before, but it’s true. Every writer wishes he or she were a musician, because without their sound, without their rhythm, without all of the things attached to each letter, content or context or contact, words mean nothing.

But texture, real feeling, the way you can sometimes hold life in your hands, clutch it with each finger, every available appendage, marvel at its beauty….that’s music. That’s the symphony of life. That’s love.

So I went to The Graveyard every week. Three times a week, sometimes more. Only staying to hear the noise. Only sitting at a table to stay silent, mouth shut, eyes closed, imagining all the people swirling around me like ghosts, like floating apparitions from the corners of each wall, trembling in the dark, swaying in between the strobe light and the sea of black.

To which our bodies will return.

The Cost Of Living

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I suppose I was attracted to New York City because of what it afforded me – no matter how much it actually cost to live among the swarms of men and women at the center of the world. The cost of life; the cost of living. What attracted me was the space itself, the space and pace, and the rush of living above one’s means, above and below at the same time, so much desire rippling underneath the skin like a secret river.

We want and our want conquers doom at the same time that it condemns us. An act of love, passion, prophecy, hope. Possibility, of course. Always something to do or see, and especially, to be.

And risk. Risk is the important thing; without it, everything else evaporates. Triumph, change, beauty. All of it hinges on the element of risk, the inherent danger, the impossibility of knowing. Unknowability. You have to be on edge. You have to be very nearly falling off.

That kind of desperation is always erotic, borne of necessity and the will to endure. You think you are one way until you learn about yourself, really discover yourself. Until you really know what you are, and what you are willing to do. Until you understand the person who came before.

I was lonely and so afraid of being alone, and the city is always open; the city is always full – of what, hardly anyone ever knows – but it is brimming. It is boiling and about to spill over. Always on the verge of a happening.

Or maybe it was because I had grown up with a view of it, on the outside, parked along the Hudson, looking in, always looking in and at the same time out, at the skyline, the way the sun reflected off the steel giants. It sounds like rain falling but it is only ever the sun. Sun reflecting on steel.

I had grown up wanting so badly to be one of the millions hissing below the giants, merging in between, passing through as anyone else. Anyone else. And now I know for certain.

You can get lost here; you can so easily lose yourself.

And it’s a necessity. It’s the first act through which you might find something greater. Losing it, giving it up.

I had been sleeping – even through winter, even through the glacial freeze – with the windows open, hearing the harsh shriek of tires and the discordant honks, sirens rushing sideways, trying to imagine the street, the people ambling through evening, trying to picture all of it swelling as a current outside of me.

Everything was outside; everything was waiting to be seen and held and I needed only to rise, blink once or twice, walk toward it.1

  1. Header art by the incredibly talented graffitti artist, Gilf. []

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