Walking Cross-Town. With an unsorted heap.

Hampl is not far from this mind. Hampl was there on my train ride to the city on Thursday and there with me as I walked across Manhattan to the office. And Hampl’s here with me today, early Saturday morning, as I sit in darkness, in silence, but for the tapping of keys, with birdsong easing through the open window bringing in the dawn.

Life is not a story, a settled version. It’s an unsorted heap of images we keep going through, the familiar snaps taken up and regarded, then tossed back until, unbidden, they rise again, images that float to the surface of the mind, rise, fall, drift—and return only to drift away again in shadow. Call them vignettes, these things we finger and drop again into their shoebox.

He shifted his legs as I took the empty seat across from him. Early 30’s. Two to three day beard. He smiled offering me “Good morning.” I’m settling in. How startling it is to be greeted with a ‘good morning’, a smile, a greeting on a morning commute. 

She was on the right side of 50. Anxious. She had to go. I mean really Go. She paced in front of the toilet. It was occupied. She knocked on the door. She knocked again. She stepped back and stood in the vestibule, waiting. She lifted her right foot, and then her left, and quickly repeated the sequence. She then grabbed her mid section and grimaced. She walked back to the toilet and knocked on the door again.

I exit Grand Central Station. He’s standing just outside the doors. No cup in hand. No sign. No request for change or coffee. Clothes hang from his body, over sized and tattered. Sneakers are soiled. He looks at me. His eyes are full. He doesn’t break the stare. He uncomfortably shifts from one foot to the other.

I’m a few blocks from the office. Times Square is teeming with tourists who crowd sidewalks, lingering, milling in front of store fronts. A large neon sign that runs the entire length of the building flashes clips of breaking news. I catch fragments. Trump. Cohen. Russia. A cool breeze blows down Broadway. She’s wearing a hat with ear flaps and a pink coat. She can’t be more than three. Her mother is down on her knees on the sidewalk, kleenex in hand, wiping her little red nose, first one nostril and then the other. The girl’s arms hang down by her sides. She’s sporting a wide grin. Trust. Goodness. Innocence. Future. Hope.

This snapshot sticks, my thumb is on the advance key of the slide projector, click, click, click, click – with the same photo in black and white.

And here it floats, 3 days later. Rising to the surface, falling, drifting.

These things we finger and drop again.

And again, and again, and again.


  • Post inspiration: “Life is not a story, a settled version. It’s an unsorted heap of images we keep going through, the familiar snaps taken up and regarded, then tossed back until, unbidden, they rise again, images that float to the surface of the mind, rise, fall, drift—and return only to drift away again in shadow. They never quite die, and they never achieve form. They are the makings of a life, not of a narrative. Not art, but life trailing its poignant desire for art. Call them vignettes, these things we finger and drop again into their shoebox.” (By Patricia Hampl, The Art of the Wasted Day (Penguin Publishing Group. April 17, 2018)
  • Photo: Jack Delano, Washing Eggs to be sold at Farmer’s Market (August 1940) (via Newthom)
  • Related Posts: Commuting Series


  1. every moment is like watching or being immersed in a slideshow. sometimes the slide pops up again and again. sometimes it gets skipped and slides on by unnoticed. wonderful writing, dk –

    Liked by 3 people

  2. You enthralled me with this one, pal. I love these vignettes. So many stories happening around us at any given time. An amazing pastiche…we must simply be open and aware to appreciate it.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you Lori. Appreciate it. “Pastiche” yet another addition to the dossier of unknown words need to know. Thanks!

      an artistic work in a style that imitates that of another work, artist, or period.
      “the operetta is a pastiche of 18th century styles”
      synonyms: imitation, parody; informaltakeoff
      “a pastiche of eighteenth-century style”
      imitate the style of (an artist or work).
      “Gauguin took himself to a Pacific island and pastiched the primitive art he found there”

      Liked by 3 people

  3. I enjoyed reading this post today. I was just looking at a photo of me taken in 1949, and the memories came flooding back to my 74-year-old mind. Thank you for sharing this post you capture timeless beauty and share it with the world. Well done. ☺☺

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Reblogged this on The Writers Desk.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great addition to your commuting series!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. And each slide, placed through those old plastic viewers, tell a story far deeper than the Kodak colors. Does it matter if the projections match the reality? I don’t know – it’s the delight of being able to return and look again, tell the story differently if we choose to – or not..

    Liked by 2 people

    • So true Mimi. Reminds me in the same realm of:

      “When connections are real, they simply never die. They can be buried, or ignored or walked away from, but never broken. If you deeply resonated with another person or place, the connection remains despite any distance, time, situation, lack of presence, or circumstance. If you’re doubtful then just try it – go and visit a person or place and see if there’s any sense at all of the space between now and then. If it was truly real, you’ll be instantly swept back into the moment it was before it left – during the same year and place with the same wonder and hope, comfort and heartbeat.”

      – Victoria Erickson

      Liked by 2 people

      • And a bit of this: “Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them.”

        Rainer Maria Rilke

        Liked by 1 person

  7. There you go, Treading Gently, Lightly, cross-town again, Friend of my mind!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. You bring the everyday of the city to life. It feels more like Taking Time to Notice Cross Town … and I like it 💛

    Liked by 3 people

  9. …love sharing your empathy and imagination as you move through life’s traffic.


  10. I just love these posts of yours, David.
    Maes me pat a tad more attention to my own surroundings…

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I enjoyed this post. Wouldn’t be interesting to compare a smattering of vignettes done in this style by people from very different cultures – say one from Egypt, another from iqualuit, Canada, one from Ecuador, and another from the jungles of Africa, or remote Western Australia? Their snap images would be so different from each other. (Love the picture of the girl washing the eggs.)

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Beautiful writing and reflections from you and in the notes. Life is fleeting. Be present to it all. ☀️☘

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m sitting here at my writing table, typing with the window open, listening to the birds sing “find me, love me” and thinking of each of their stories, all of us living beings have these quick slides – birth to innocence and wiped noses and then FLASH adulthood and wanting/needing/ and then FLASH, the end which most likely is again the beginning. But all I know is that your words inspire me.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Always enjoyable to read your words, David; reflection is a nice place to be.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. True-to-life words. Though I don’t entirely think in pictures I am able to revisit forgotten memories within the frame of a photo. Everything can be scintillated down to pixels capturing a moment and all the moments that came before and followed after are segmented by such slivers as these. I sometimes wonder what will happen to my photo albums after I am gone. Are entire worlds abandoned to landfills after death, absent a caring family member or posterity to rescue them? In this way, digital ephemera is an advantage, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I happened to watch a Netflix film today (Kodachrome) where Ed Harris was photographer and swore by film and not digital as film can be preserved for centuries while digital could be wiped out. Loved the film.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. There is so much truth in these words. There is so much life in these vignettes. I am intrigued at how the moments we take up again and again sometimes reveal new truths after a startlingly long time. It always amazes me that something that happened decades ago suddenly reveals something new to me about the time, the place, or the situation. Sometimes I have to palm my forehead and wonder how I didn’t see it in that moment’s original version, but I guess we live and learn David. And that is the point.

    This post is another gem. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel the same way and have same experiences Ilona with small fragments of experiences circling back and I wonder why does this moment come back and why now. Thank you Ilona.


  17. Bautiful miniature…. And if anyone can write a book with the title THE ART OF THE WASTED DAY, they sure have my attention 🙂
    And then there are the ppl who can take up a tiny morsel and craft something beautiful…
    O how I love the fact that I am now allowing myself to waste time, time to garden just to sort out the bee-hive of my thoughts, time to read when I ought to iron HH’s shirts… I have been taken back to my ‘confirmation’ only last week. Found my conf-photo by pure chance, but very poignent as we attended a confirmation today…. The stories related to that event, so long ago and seemingly forgotten just flooded back in and made me wonder, smile, think, and yes, the dia slide projector figured heavily in those times too. Sheer beauty! Thank you David.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Kiki. I can see gardening and puttering and losing yourself in thoughts. I can. Thank you.


    • And your gardening reference reminded me to another Hampl-ism:

      Beyond all the obvious differences we in the West loved to tote up—our freedoms, their oppression—there was this beguiling whatever quality to social relations in Czecho, people hanging out, listening to music, cooking, slow coffee-drinking afternoons skimming into wine-drinking evenings, late, late into the night. The chuta life—cottage life—weekends tending gardens, lying low. Living.

      ~ Patricia Hampl, The Art of the Wasted Day (Penguin Publishing Group. April 17, 2018)

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Just reading your thoughts, David. When you exited the Grand Central, was the man holding the door open for anyone?

    Liked by 1 person

  19. He’s baaack! Walking cross-town with his looking glass, painting impressionistic scenes that come alive in a moment. I like it.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. In support of the woman and the bathroom, I’ve got a friend, a mother of five, whose body was so damaged by multiple births and subsequent surgeries that now, decades later, she cannot even take public trans for fear of wetting (or shitting) her pants. This is a professional woman, a good soul. A good poster girl for ‘never let anyone cut into you with a knife if at all possible.’ Ugh. xo

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Thank you for creating and sharing a wonderful post David.
    these portraits you have shown us… they fill me, with wonder.
    who ARE these people?….
    How, did they arrive at that, destination and Why? and I wonder at us, how… society in general, usually doesn’t care about those answers.

    Liked by 1 person

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