Sunday, April 26, 2009

10th Avenue

The new leaves are half grown, so that the lunch kiosks on 10th Avenue flicker under a dappling canopy. People stand, all slanted to each other: to stand in straight lines would be too formal. Or it would make them look too eager for their turn. Or it would obstruct their view. Whatever the reason, they arrange themselves off kilter to each other, and to the booths, and I negotiate through the loose crowd, noting that I'm aware of each person's field of view, and each person's claim to personal space, as I thread my way through. This is the sort of thing it's very difficult to program, a problem of genuine complexity: I don't think anyone can yet make a robot that could make its way gracefully through a crowd. It would either bump egregiously or simply halt, overwhelmed by the shifting choices and priorities. Yet this is the sort of problem-solving that we scorn, because any human being can do it: whereas something like medical diagnosis, which machines are actually better at than people, we raise to a mystical status. It's a ritual we allow only our most prestigious shamans to perform. No one would want to just plug their data into a mere machine and get their diagnosis, even though the machines do have a better track record, and it could be done for pennies per consultation.

Well. The clouds loom up in jumbled towers. This spring, this rising of sap and blood: it makes me feel a little old, old and tired. The gears still catch: I still know which spring this is, I still see the women shedding clothes with pleasure, I still hear the birdsong with wonder. But I can picture the time when the teeth will no longer mesh, and the wheel will spin free, and I won't know know which spring it is. Then it will be time to die. For now, spring strikes me as a subdued amazement. Another one has been granted to me. They come much more frequently than they used to, but they're all that much more precious: I don't know how many I have left, but I know I've seen more than half that I'll ever see.

For now, I will enjoy this extraordinary gift I have, of being able to thread my way through flocks of my kind without ruffling their feathers. Faces striking for beauty, or shrewdness, or stupidity, flash by me, each one landing a body blow. The wind stirs the leaves, and everything trembles. I can't begin to tell you how much I love you, and how grateful I am for this gift, for all the gifts. But when you want me, I'll be ready to go.

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