NOT WHAT YOU THINK – Around New York, Clarifying Identity

A cloudy, damp Sunday in Washington Square—noon,
but no one’s around. I’m early for a film shoot,
my lunch the foil-wrapped remains of last night’s
Indian meal—flatbread and half-eaten hunk
of tandoori chicken. Two neatly dressed people,

on their church’s mission to feed the homeless, offer me—
in my old jeans and windbreaker, with food that appears
snatched from the trash—a sandwich, water, an orange.
Instead of telling them It’s not what you think,
I accept a bottle of their water, and they are happy.

A student and sort of good-looking, every Wednesday
I went to a Central Park South hotel to read
to a nearly blind businessman—legal contracts,
novels, a book on equitation. Once he paid me
at the elevator, just as its doors opened. I’ll see you

next week, he said as I stepped inside, pocketing the bills.
The elevator man gave a knowing smirk and nod.
I could have said It’s not what you think, but that would mean
understanding what it was that it wasn’t. And what if he saw
that my pay for the session was only four dollars?

We’re filming a satanic ritual for a music video—lit
candles in a circle on the floor, monks in hooded robes,
me rising from my knees in a posture of inspired power.
The Chinese-restaurant delivery guy is reluctant to enter
the space. We should reveal it isn’t what he thinks.

Someone who has my name goes to the same dentist,
who luckily realized this before drilling. Someone else
with my name acts in movies. We’re confused with each other
on the Internet. Excuse me, a woman says, after stopping me,
I thought you were someone else. I inform her, I am.

We’re about to shoot a true-crime re-creation for cable—
another actor will fake a savage attack on me.
The director jokes: Do you really want to beat up
this nice old man?
I say to myself: Wait a minute.
I never thought I was either old or nice—the man part

I got used to when a college girlfriend called me one,
I think because I wore a corduroy jacket and smoked
a pipe. A photo you’d swear is me appeared in last week’s
paper, but it’s actually someone else—someone I know,
who I never thought looked anything like me.

There’s a video on YouTube called “Do You Know Who
I Am?” and that is in fact me, though I’m acting and not
being me. Or am I? I think I have it straight now,
who or what I may be. Though what you think, or I do,
maybe isn’t. Or is.

NOTES
Stanza 1. This was an NYU graduate-student film, in which I was playing God.
2. Their church was Seventh Day Adventist.
3. This took place on an upper floor of the Hotel Navarro. On another occasion I startled Joan Sutherland when I got out of the elevator. She gave a small, unmusical shriek. Equitation is the art of training and riding horses.
4. Two dollars an hour for reading aloud was not a bad rate of pay in 1962.
5. The video was for Born of Osiris, practitioners of “progressive death metal” music. See it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jy2MLw_JMJk
6. The man with my name lives in Rhinebeck, New York. The dentist did not tell me this, but the heating company, without the same strictures of confidentiality, let it slip. The confusion is in the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Being “someone else” is a logical paradox.
7. The program is “Investigation Discovery: Fatal Encounters.” Episode: “The Sausage King.”
8. The newspaper is the Woodstock Times.
9. The song is by the Fabulous Thunderbirds. I play a laid-off GM worker in Detroit. I have never been to Detroit or worked for GM, though I have been laid off twice. My performance begins at 7:38 of the video, which is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXzruDAC-ks

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One comment

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