Walking down West 79th Street the one morning many weeks ago, on the way to session, I’d little on my mind except my own troubles: my sense of distance from other human beings, my lack of relationship skills… Cold and damp, the air seemed to enhance my ennui, albeit a pleasant one in the midst of rare moments of feeling somehow ready to spend $6 a MINUTE being with a genius who takes no notes, drowses occasionally, and dresses in $30 socks and an assortment of loafers the count count of which would make Imelda Marcos blush with shame…. Great work, if you can get it.
Close by the facades of an unbroken line of buildings I trod, purposeful but un-hurried, my stomach full, my bladder emptied, heading to the safest place I know. Suddenly a doorman stepped out of an entry lobby, thrusting the heavy glass door open as an older 70-something, well dressed gentlman strode out and turned right, heading down the block in front of me. “Good monring, Mr. Roth,” the uniformed man said cripsly. No answer, no acknowledgement followed from the tenant, not even simple eye contact made. I didn’t see the older man’s face head-on, but I didn’t need to. Philip Roth’s footsteps would be mine now, the air he exhaled could fill my own lungs. I made sure to follow, behind but almost alongside, non-chalant, giving no sign of recognition, even though I ached to violate. The question being what.
How does it feel to have the world tailing you? How surprising that the master of the past and the essence of the Upper West Side, lives in an anomalous modern post-war building, 20 years old. It just doesn’t fit: Nathan Zukerman in a glitzy tower.
As the eminence grise stopped at the nearby newstand-cum-candy store I passed by him, stifling the urge to stop and stare. At the end of the block, I waited for the light as a middle-aged blond woman with a cane, elegantly dressed, approached the intersection and waited for the light. How did she know, this beautiful lady, when to stop, when not to cross? Her eyes were wide open but sightless, all the more strange for one unbalanced as I, supposedly un-cursed with her malaise, at least not yet.
Two strangers stepped to her side as she edged the curb, making sure she’d not make a false move and get splattered in the road by a garbage truck. Roth had dawdled in the newstand. He hadn’t rushed over to help. I stepped ahead and wandered on. Blindness befuddles us. Sometimes there’s a helper. God bless his genius in helping us see.