Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch

Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch

An Excerpt from Ten Walks/Two Talks

Ten Walks/Two Talks (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010) combines a series of sixty-minute,
sixty-sentence walks around New York City with a pair of roving dialogues. Here we
present excerpts from the first two sections: “Early Spring” and “Early Winter.”

—Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch

Early Spring
Friday Morning

I spun out from Kristin’s at 8:14 against the enlivening gravelly air. Business
people passed by harried and alone. Cement trucks corkscrewed past. Across Greenwich
a woman exiting a cab clenched her butt. She was into herself and wore all white.
Around Harrison dusty workers smoked beneath a giant blue Putzmeister crane.
Why do fenced-off construction sites make me feel small, lonely and connected to the
world? Skyscrapers along the New Jersey coast all looked the same color as my personal
checks. One storefront rivaled Milton’s description of Chaos. Placards put Jesus in
blindfold next to a blind, grinning Mao. Only after a cart filled with recyclables had
passed did I realize how oblivious I’d been of its presence. Pomeranians slowed to stare
at poodles across the street.
Crowds converged on Citicorp’s building as if by gravitational pull. A boy
squatting with a laptop smiled (which completely hid his lips). Crossing Canal,
listening to a couple murmur inside one car, it felt like I was still sleeping. Ahead of me an
architect explained that what people call her quirky designs are just attempts to avoid all
this lifelessness. Somebody blind scanned the intersection with his cane. Fingers peeked
from a homeless person’s quilt. Behind this someone else lay covered. The fresh morning
smell had changed to damp boots.
I gazed into the dusty stillness of a sedan’s rear dashboard and then there was a
bible there. I passed a UPS warehouse in which you could just make out the workers’
breaths. West African security guards joked with shippers, who stayed slightly more
serious. Nothing rode on the conveyor belts. All of this repeated itself for blocks: 136
parking spaces. Afterwards Fed Ex began which somehow seemed less interesting.
From Perry a jogger passed in shorts and I remembered I’d soon see a lot of flesh
in public. Kids grouped around a crossing guard might have all been models. Preoccupied
women strode past in leather pants. Two bags of piss leaned against a tree. Two rotund
men in shades wore their blue and white headdress like Yasser Arafat’s. Everybody else
paused walking a dog. A basset pup wouldn’t sniff a magnolia, no matter how aggressive
its owner’s commands.
Crossing Jane I looked just as a mother yawned; I felt a part of this. A dad and
son drank blue Elixir concoctions through straws. Amid bobbing tulips I saw that
Congress opened Alaska for 24 billion barrels of oil. At Taylor’s Bakery blonde women
sipped chai as their daughters sampled rice-krispie squares.
Shimmering lawns surrounded St. Luke in the Fields, restored my faith in the
variety of birds. I got lost remembering songs by The Smiths. A sophisticated southern
woman held up a coffee-stand line asking why she’d only been charged a dollar fifty. A
prep cook shielded his gold-toothed smile. Construction guys turned to watch a redhead
pass. The shortest carried bags of gears on his shoulder. As I crossed he said Except she’d
only be wearing ski boots.
In an alcove on Jay a cop and his daughter shared a chocolate doughnut with pink
jimmies. A knife knocked chicken cubes along a deli counter. I stepped through scattered
proof pages chopped in thirds. My biggest criticism of nurses, one read, is that they often
treat the patient to fit the pattern. Your nurse thinks, “I’ve got four patients to bathe
before coffee break.” The feeling she communicates is, “You’re going to brush your teeth
whether you like it or not.” I flipped the scrap over. “After I returned home from the
hospital that winter [1978], I would crawl up stairs on my hands and knees; I was too
unsteady to walk.”
Without conscious effort I turned west on Duane, avoided the TV mounted at
Chambers. Brothers did push-ups along the pavement with someone about sixty smiling
above them. An onion stood against a scooter wheel beside the entrance steps to Salaam
Bombay. The garbage bins overflowed with nan.
An old man on a treadmill wore headphones, cotton slacks, wingtips. I wondered
how it felt to wear one woman’s heels. Across from Baluchi’s somebody told her
boyfriend All this shit happened before your ass. Everything reflected off nearby
windows, where waiters dished out chutneys.

Early Winter
Central Park, 9:10 p.m.

A: Have you noticed this man going at lampposts with what I’d consider a Thai boxing
style—lots of knee, knee, knee-thrusts?

J: It’s certainly not jujitsu.

A: Just as…

J: I could imagine he gets invaluable practice. The lampposts allow him to hone some

A: This afternoon I tried (while on the phone with Kristin) spinning like a ballerina:
lifting one foot so that your knee stands, so that your thigh hangs parallel to ground…

J: Right.

A: lifting…or holding a foot perpendicular and twirling? I forgot centripetal force…

J: Did you stretch new muscles?

A: I felt like the vessel of a greater motion.

J: Lots of fences splitting the park and…

A: I’ll hate…

J: roped-off yards.

A: I hate to make you see this, yes; The Mall of American Elms, one one of my favorite
places, lies fenced and ugly. Of course we could slip that fence behi…

J: Yeah who knows how those trees endured the plague which…

A: Yes. Yes.

J: brought down their brethren.

A: Do cities provide impenetrable islands? Did blights have no path to get here? Or could
they travel, let’s say, on hikers’ soles? [Pause] You’d asked about this violet light, which
strongly resembles a One Hundred Famous Views of Edo print, or hei-do as Yuki taught
me to say it.

J: Ooh. Putting stress in the right place, yeah?

A: A place I can’t describe. A place I could mimic but not define for anyone. The print
shows I believe plums blossoming, and plum blossoms don’t look this color yet the sky
does in the print. Perhaps lavender suggests this time of night. As always in winter
months I’ve I value Asian, specifically Japanese art, for training us to recognize the
splendor of bare branches.

J: That’s why I go back to Asian poetry and painting, to to track the beauty of each
season but not catch myself…and escape the trap of longing for summer in the heart of

A: Right.

J: I mean think about it: if trees hung full we’d be walking under canopies, a canopy of
leaves and wouldn’t see this violet sky, which seems unique to Manhattan or a major
industrial city. I never saw it in St. Louis growing up, or Boston.

A: I’d see it in Wisconsin some nights of fresh snowfall. You’d find reflective qualities
similar to this, a refractive luminosity, and I don’t know if sky gets generated from…

J: I do sense a…

A: haze? A haze of lamplight diffused…

J: Exactly.

A: diffused somehow? Then reformed as mauve canopy?

J: Think…

A: Hard to explain.

J: that since all fumes…

A: Jon can we try the acoustics in the—what do we call this?

J: An amphitheater.

A: Yes the amphitheater. But now go ahead…

J: Yeah, I feel we’ve stepped back to 5th century B.C. This amphitheater looks archaic.

A: I’ve never taken those stairs behind it.

J: Nor have I stood on the stage. Circumstances haven’t seemed appropriate. Often
you’ll pass roller-bladers…we won’t be able to get inside.

A: Oh, we can just climb up.

J: Oh is that right?

A: I thought we could slip through but…and what is this?

J: This looks…

A: A little vineyard?

J: An an arbor. Wow.

A: Do you mind?

J: No not at all. How wonderful. I’d think damp fumes—just look at this grape vine.

A: The trunk itself could be a gargoyle.

J: It does resemble stone, doesn’t it? It seems that sturdy and dense. Perhaps these vines
yield fruit. They’re hearty.

A: They may.

J: I’ve seen some some roller-bladers, risk their lives jumping from stage…

A: Oh right: we’d wanted to cross that stage.

J: down to pavement. Not, I don’t think we can. The doorway…

A: We just climb up.

J: I saw a locked door. What did you see? [Pause]

A: Sorry to pull hard. But look at the Time Warner Center (where we began) through…

J: If you stare above this dome the sky looks white.

A: Now that is definitely urban sheen.

J: Blocking out blackness from the heavens?

A: Though the heavens don’t look black, right?

J: Well they twinkle with…

A: Yeah, yeah. Illuminating.

J: Do do you remember when we walked Santa Fe’s hills bathed in moonlight?

A: I felt naked yet had three layers on.

J: It got so cold, do you remember? And the next afternoon we hiked a mountain behind
St. John’s but…

A: The sheet of ice…

J: often slipped because of ice, then called it a day.

A: We are going to climb up now. [Silence] Now—acoustics stay impressive here, but
better at the lip of of the stage.

J: Expertly designed. Our voices do acquire uncharacteristic fullness…

A: Right since…

J: as though we’ve trained in opera.

A: Maybe we should keep walking.

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