Jackson in New York
Michael Gottlieb

How often the dead seem to have stopped aging long before they finally leave us. They were old and they were always old. They reached their sum of years at some time-certain long ago and after that merely progressed incrementally without apparent external alteration until inexorably they came to reach their final declension. Just so. Hadnít Jackson always been a small anxious man haunting the dark corner of a dark Saturday bar, scribbling away during anotherís reading? Muttering or apparently peevish or distracted or distrait. But there he was, to all appearances unchanged, and you were happy just to see him. And then he wasnít there as often, and he seemed to grow even smaller. Finally he wasnít there at all anymore.

Now months and month have gone by. Has it been a year? More than a year? And I for one am back in New York, walking streets that I havenít set foot upon in years. Every day amid crowds on Broadway, up Sixth Avenue, across Eighth Street and St. Marks, the Bowery and Lafayette. Streets where there never used to be such crowds, now streams of people flow day and night. Fourth Avenue Ė a street that is supposed to be deserted after dark, Seventh Avenue in the 20s on a weekend, or Ninth Avenue or Rivington.

The crosswalks, the buses, the check out line at Duane Reade, the Number 1 train, the crowds peopled in a way that they seem to be only in New York Ė with a variety you only see here. Every single model, type, version of man, one wants to say. If they all are to be gathered together, can possibly be represented in any one single location, then this must be the place.

Maybe that is why this keeps happening to me. It only makes sense. It is a typological thing. I keep thinking I am running into Jackson. I see his shoulders in a crowd in front of a newsstand in Midtown. For a moment he is walking towards me past a shoe store on 23rd Street. It is his profile, cast down in a characteristic reflective pose that I catch sight of in the dark interior of a grim garage on Greenwich Street. A small man, or an old man, beetling away from me or wavering by a subway grate. I keep seeing Jackson, even though I donít mean to and I donít want to. He appears now, over and over again, unbidden.

The first time I was shocked, and shaken. By the third or fourth time I began to wonder if there was something wrong with me. More recently I have come to accept these visits. Thereís Jackson again.

And each time he shows up, for that moment before he disappears and transmutes into some stranger, he forces me, quite involuntarily, to bring him back to life Ė for there he is, in the flesh Ė and it is indeed Jackson again, smiling, crinkling his eyes, that full head of hair, those sweaters and scarves, creakingly or acerbically delivering a not unfair judgment in that high, wavering, entirely certain voice. And he is still here, sharing the streets of his city for a second or two until he decides to retire, until the next time he decides to remind me that he hasnít really left at all.

January 2006