RANDY COHEN WEEK.
(Please: Randy Cohen is a genius of America. He is a writer of rarefied satires (personal and political) and, accordingly, his work rarely appears in popular periodicals. He has written for the New Yorker, the Nation, and Late Night with David Letterman and, a few years ago, he was fired as head writer of The Rosie O’Donnell Show. He currently writes and edits the News Quiz for Slate, the on-line magazine. (Do visit!) He has also written books, but because the world is as it is, his classic collection, Diary of a Flying Man (Knopf), is out of print. As meager recompense, this week we are reprinting selections from it, for no good reason at all.)
DIARY OF A FLYING MAN.
Mankind’s oldest dream has become my reality: I can fly. This morning, running after a five-dollar bill blowing along the pavement, I simply lifted into the air. What profound transformation will my life undergo? Unfortunately, the five turned out to be a torn page from Sunday’s fashion supplement, “Traditional Tweeds: The Courtroom Choice for Ex-City Officials.” And just before I soared skyward, I stumbled and got an oil stain on my trousers. At least I hope it’s only oil and not PCBs.
Testing the limits of my astonishing new power, I flew to the dry cleaners to pick up my pants. They still have a faint stain on the knee, like a ghostly silhouette of Donald Manes.
My first flight to work reveals the city as more than a chaotic pile of limestone and steel. I watch enraptured as streets and skyscrapers organize themselves into what is undeniably some patternlike shape! City scandals undermine morale in many agencies, even here at the Pools and Playgrounds Planning Board. To lift our spirits, the boss, Mr. Kauffmann, posted a sign: “More Than Days Without a Work-Stopping Felony Arrest.” As he updated the count to eleven, I smiled, delighted that in a mere three hours I’d be flying to lunch.
I can cruise comfortably only at a walking pace. With effort I can attain running speed, but just for short bursts. From now on, only light beer. If I could sustain higher velocities, that would change everything. Of course rain would still be a problem, particularly when I’m carrying groceries: those plastic bags really dig into your hands! What was wrong with plain old paper bags? Why can’t things stay as they are? Ah — my unprecedented aerial gift has made me introspective.
Mr. Anselmo, my landlord, is complaining about my coming and going from the roof. The thumping disturbs the top-floor tenants and I’m causing leaks in the tar paper. Now I’ll have to walk to that parking lot near the piers. It’s inconvenient, but what can I do? To take off from the ground, I need to run about a block and a half. Well, if I leave fifteen minutes early, I can still fly to work.
Windy day. Got a bit airsick during the commute, so I did the last half by subway. Home. In the mail was a summons to jury duty. Threw it away. After all, I am a flying man.
Mr. Kauffmann caught me doing personal work at the office. One of my bench designs. This one has armrests shaped like a sphinx with the head of Bess Myerson, and legs with the trim ankles of a former Miss America. Its feet are shod in high-heel pumps. It’s the best yet in my “Under a Cloud” series. Someday, each corner of Broadway, from Inwood to Battery Park, will have a bench honoring a former Koch official. That’ll show Kauffmann. Besides, once the indictments are handed down in the BenchTech investigation the city will start handling bench designs in-house, maybe from our office.
Flew to Yonah Schimmel’s for those delicious cherry-cheese knishes. They were all out, so I had apple.
Cruising uptown, I was surprised to see so many rooftops littered with old refrigerators crammed with review copies of best-sellers, eventually to be sold at the Strand, I suppose. Even in our throwaway age, recycling thrives. A few blocks later I glanced down and saw a crew of uniformed firefighters hand-fitting mosaic tiles on the rooftop love grotto of an assistant deputy mayor. On city time! A big one glanced up and hollered, “What are you looking at, creep?” I hope he didn’t recognize me. Maybe I can use my fantastic skill to nail some of these guys.
Out flying around. Forgot to turn on phone machine. I wonder if anybody good called.
Flew to cash machine on way to work. It was out of order, so I flew to another. It took three more stops before I finally got my money. I couldn’t even use a customer service phone to complain: some busted, some stolen. I shall write an angry letter. My fabulous ornithoid prowess makes me less passive in the face of institutional authority.
Then, far below me, near the Williamsburg Bridge, I spotted some cops napping on the job. With their little sleep masks in place, three or four assistant police commissioners dozed in hammocks slung between their squad cars. Sleazy! Circled until I felt dizzy, which made it really hard to take notes.
I dropped my notebook on a guy! It just grazed his shoulder, but he was furious. I gave a phony name, Chadwick Lancaster, but you could tell he didn’t believe me. I wish I could think faster. As I flew away, he gave me the finger. I snapped back, “Oh yeah? Same to you, stupid!” Has my unbelievable supernormal talent taught me nothing? “Accidentally” dropped a half-gallon of skim milk on the roof of a taxi. Then I bombed a limo with a thirty-two ounce jar of applesauce. I am not bound by the laws that govern ordinary mortals.
As I glided home after work, some guy clambered onto the roof of a Jews for Jesus van and harangued me with a bullhorn. He asked if I was Jewish, and the easiest way to avoid an idiotic conversation was to say no, but then I felt guilty.
A creature of the skies, I’ve learned to observe the urban ecology. At the edge of a vacant lot a pack of feral hamsters reduces a cat to its skeleton in seconds. Or else it was a bunch of kids in Davy Crockett hats stripping a car. Above eighty-five feet my sense of scale is unreliable.
Hovered over Central Park watching a riding mower cut a vast Mercedes-Benz insignia into the Sheep Meadow, like a huge chlorophyll billboard. Adjusting my Nikon, I nearly crashed into a tree. I’ve got to get one of those autofocus cameras.
My excursions among the spires lift my spirits, reminding me that nature endures, even in the metropolis. On fire escapes and window boxes the first vegetables of summer are ripening. Say what you will about bio-engineering, those beach ball tomatoes look delicious, although if one fell it could crush a Subaru. Five crime sightings today. One payoff, three kickbacks, a bribe. The new telephoto lens is bulky, but it takes a great picture.
If I had a way to carry luggage, I could fly to Fire Island for the weekend. An in-flight snack would be good, too. Smoked almonds. And some kind of beverage.
When the infrared photos came back from the lab, I saw that Thursday’s sighting was not a bagman, Just the kid from the deli delivering a roast beef sandwich. I’ll emend the log book.
Got really tired flying to work today, so I snatched a ride on the roof of a bus. Cost to me? Zero.
Early evening, soared over Queens. There was a deb party in Shea Stadium. A bar was set up in each dugout; buffet tables lined the base paths; heedless teen socialites capered on the pitchers mound. But I thought the stadium was closed all week for resodding? Then I saw a borough president trundling a wheelbarrow full of cash across right field out beyond the 410 feet sign and into his official car. I’m going to rip this town wide open! And I got all the evidence I need before the wide-angle lens fell into the bullpen.
At the office I tripped over a trash can, churning up records of Kauffmann’s involvement with a cabal of civil court judges. They’re conspirators in a crooked franchising scheme to install cigarette machines atop jungle gyms in city playgrounds and underwater in city pools. That’s it. I’m going to the papers.
My meeting with the reporter wasn’t all I’d hoped for. She does want the story, but she can’t get to it for a while. Next week she’s assigned to the wicker supplement. And after that, she’ll be filling in at “Buying and Owning.”
A social disaster! Had a big date with Leslie, a new designer at the office. I whispered, “Let me fly you to the stars on wings of love,” and then I jerked her off her feet and dropped her on the coffee table. That’s it. I’m cutting out pie altogether, and tomorrow I start working out with weights.
No Nautilus machine can help me now: my powers are fading. How can I resume ordinary life having known the embrace of the air? I am desolate.
Awoke with odd flickering at the edge of my field of vision. Gradually I realized what was happening: I’m developing X-ray eyes. Already I can nearly see through a sheet of newspaper. This will irrevocably rend the drab fabric of my life. Kauffmann resigned! He wants to spend more time with his family for reasons of health while going into private consulting at a major university to do the teaching he loves. Perhaps I misjudged him.
False alarm. Just a malfunctioning fluorescent lamp. Otherwise, my vision is what it’s always been: OK in right eye, slightly astigmatic in left.
No mistake this time: I can move objects with the force of my will — telekinetic power. So far I can’t budge anything heavier than a few pounds, and my range is restricted to about four feet, but still! After breakfast I slid the Sgt. Pepper CD (Can it really be fifty years? Oh. Twenty years) across the coffee table. I brace for the unimaginable metamorphosis my life is about to undergo. May I use my new power wisely!