Seeded Lawn: No Access
I hope you’ll take some time to enjoy this very funny and profound excerpt from Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch’s new full-length collaboration Conversations over Stolen Food. (Their previous collaboration is Ten Walks/Two Talks, which was chosen as a Best Book of 2010 by Time Out Chicago, The Millions, The Week, and Bookslut.) I was reminded of some of the wonderfully absurd exchanges found in Kafka’s work–particularly the early parts of The Trial. Of course what Cotner and Fitch are up to is also very different. I invite you to take a look how. -James Yeh
“Seeded Lawn: No Access”
(from Conversations over Stolen Food)
Jon Cotner & Andy Fitch
We recorded forty-five-minute conversations for thirty straight days around New York City. Half these talks took place at a Union Square health-food store which, for legal reasons, we call “W.F.” Other locations included MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Opera House, Central Park, Prospect Park, and a Tribeca parking garage. Here’s the Union Square Park conversation.
2:26 p.m. Thursday, January 12–Union Square Park
A: …sign says Seeded Lawn: No Access. Though pigeons and sparrows ignore it.
J: Yeah they’re gobbling the grass seed, as anxious squirrels track down a misplaced acorn supply. Soon you’ll meet Ron Padgett to discuss…
A: At De Roberti’s pastry shop…
J: your research.
A: a classy choice on his part.
J: Already you have much in common.
A: My um favorite intimation of infinity comes while eating a napoleon on warm—hot summer nights at De Roberti’s, with a water glass and The Supremes playing. This happened once, or I made it up, but I’ve taken solace from the moment since.
J: Do you know in some ways (since we talked later than ever last night, then today met early) I feel we’ve talked through the night?
A: I just slept and worked on my dissertation.
J: I’d got no chance to sleep. Your fan agitated the cat, who kept…
A: Oscillations? Noise?
J: me up four straight hours…
J: from 5 a.m. until 9.
J: [Bird calls] almost raised a screen to free the cat. Still I feel this sensation of of talking through the night. Of course the setting’s different. We’ve met in open air…
J: again. You squint at sun.
A: I like squinting so top teeth hang from your lip. Your gums breathe extra oxygen; your crinkled nose looks cute in photographs. It’s both a smile and squint at once. It glints as does this broken glass spread in concentric circles—where we sit with backs to the Declaration…
J: Yes, I didn’t get this statue’s title. We’re pressed for time. You’ll meet Ron and I should head home to Brooklyn.
A: Now have you prepared? For your big night?
J: Well I stopped by the…by a Duane Reade on First and asked the enormous salesgirl where they put condoms, not wanting to ask about lube and…
J: found the Astroglide you’ve recommended.
A: You hear by the way, as we speak, somebody playing Led Zeppelin licks? [Pause] Hey la-dy.
J: Yeah I know little classic rock, which separates me from most people our age. The producer…the people making Astroglide boast of authentic wet…
A: Did they say you can get some on your mouth?
A: [Muffled] dry lips one winter.
J: I haven’t read far down the package. Do you notice sun glinting off strands of straw?
A: How great.
J: Isn’t that great? And I find this light, though brighter than streetlamps and park lamps last night, much more hospitable. I’ll squint yet could look endlessly.
A: You’ve screened your eyes like you’re at the masthead. I enjoy as well this winter light: not gold, nor does it penetrate things. Of course less color comes out in winter.
J: We’ve started a migration onto the field. [Bird calls] pair of friends our way.
A: The woman carries a green, high-tech bottle. Does…
A: everybody under twenty-five own these bottles?
J: Often they’ll hang strapped to one of many backpack straps. The bottles, called Nalgene bottles, which…
A: That’s the material? Nalgene? But um before we leave the Astroglide topic, I recommend not applying it yourself.
J: Why would I do that?
J: Amanda called from Boston’s South Station. She sounds excited to return to New York.
A: Will she have her first Fung Wah experience?
J: This is Amanda’s first Fung Wah bus, yes. I revealed Fung Wah to her. Before she took Greyhound.
A: She’ll save…
J: Which now costs twice as much as a Fung…
J: Wah. Greyhound has stopped trying to crush its Chinese competitors.
A: I’m glad they didn’t succeed.
J: They’ve recognized Fung Wah’s inherent superiority and resumed charging outrageous prices.
A: So will Fung Wah resume playing matchmaker? Trying to seat single young men beside young single women, as…
J: They had that great promotion, a great unadvertised…promotion. On multiple trips from Boston to New York, from the moment I sat until we pulled along the curb at Canal (139 Canal Street), I’d talk nonstop with a pretty girl. Conversations continued along city sidewalks. I still see one woman now and then.
A: Has this turned terribly uncomfortable?
J: Yeah, the relief sculpture on…
A: This monument…
J: juts into my lower back—a second contrast from last night.
A: We’ve lodged against allegorical figures raising an infant, star-haloed, up toward the sun. Our nation…
J: You’re right.
A: lies represented by a babe.
J: With the thirteen stars encircling his head.
A: Do you find it intentional that of forty-eight to fifty triangular stones on which we could have placed our feet, that you touch Massachusetts…
A: while I took New Hampshire? The pleasant…
J: And Alex shot film scenes in New Hampshire, though people think he stayed in Minnesota.
A: Perhaps speak less…
J: I’d guess we should eliminate that.
J: Oh, did he pull out tickets?
A: Yes but not, I don’t think for us.
J: He gave those guys tickets?
A: Well they are the ones yelling.
J: He took out more tickets. He seems not to have enough tickets right now. Maybe he’ll ticket the Zeppelin guitarist.
A: Let’s spin around this statue. Did he look…
J: He’s he approached the guitarist and several guys packing beers in a black duffle bag. [Pause] We could say we didn’t see the sign.
J: apologize profusely.
A: at most two signs hang in this park.
J: Then we ought to stay put. Moving implies we’re guilty.
A: Right, he’d have to break the law by com…
J: I should stop looking at him. He…
A: [Muffled] conflict of interest.
J: glanced and caught me looking at him.
A: Just now? You’re doing it again.
J: Or…yeah I can’t stop. But so um what a pleasant site. Do you see that pigeon sleeping amid incandescent strands of straw?
A: The little Brancusi there? I do.
J: She took a nap after gobbling all the grass seed.
A: Did you skip lunch Jonny? From checkout lanes I scanned…
J: I’ve stopped eating at W.F. That store’s probably responsible for my sickness. I hate cold food yet more—I detest cold food and detest just as much eating food warmed from a microwave. Such food has become inedible to me. [Dog barks] Brooklyn long as possible, then crossed Washington Square before meeting you. I’ve found those animal flashcards you donated last…
A: I’d love a brief quiz.
J: spring. Well I don’t have them on me, but I read through a card for the brown bear.
A: You remember no questions?
J: Um ok, I can ask a question: What is the largest brown bear?
A: The Alaskan Brown Bear?
J: The Kodiak.
A: Aren’t they the same? Kodiak did come to mind as well…
A: and Kodiak Island.
J: It sometimes weighs seven-hundred…
A: Or used to. I think they’ve lost weight since—screams to the left now. That’s probably in our favor.
A: The greater the public disturbance…
A: the less concern our mild…I’d wanted to say truancy (using it in an abstract way) but…
J: You could call this a minor transgression. We’ve lodged literature where it ought to be, right? The realm of minor transgressions? Though here’s another brown bear fact: Does it have good vision? [Pause]
A: Great scent.
J: its most powerful senses. So so as I’d crossed Washington Square Park I pretended to be a brown bear. I paid less attention to what I saw but tuned into sounds and smells. Thanks to this metamorphosis I made a delicate auditory observation.
A: Which was?
J: A saxophonist played in one corner of the park, and a trumpet player started fifty yards south, and listening to the saxophone I couldn’t hear the trumpet, so I walked towards the trumpet player, and at the midpoint separating them that trumpet blended with saxophone…
J: rhythms. I stood listening. Then I continued toward this trumpet…
J: and lost the saxo…
Parks Enforcement Officer: You guys have IDs?
J: What’s that?
P: I got to see your IDs.
J: But why would our…
P: Because you’re on Union Square’s lawn. You cannot sit on this lawn.
J: But I didn’t know that.
A: Yeah we didn’t know.
P: Well I got to see some ID.
J: Oh my.
A: How should, how could we sense not to sit here?
P: Excuse me?
A: How how—this is always the case? How would a…
P: Always: there’s signs all around the park.
J: Right, we didn’t see your signs. When we’d crossed through…
A: Where are these signs? [Tape stops]
J: [Muffled] guess we might talk now.
A: I can’t believe you stopped the tape. He he’s gathered other licenses as well.
J: Yes the couple who followed—sir could we just leave?
J: Can we leave now?
P: After I write y’all a summons.
J: A summons?
A: But no…
J: Sir we didn’t see a sign. Our…
P: Alright sir, you should…you can fight this if you want to.
J: Could you warn us and we’ll leave?
A: You’d never asked us to go…
J: Off, officer please. [Officer radios headquarters; tape stops]
A: [Muffled] the worst—sitting in court all day.
J: Yet we’ll have to plead our innocence.
A: We can bring the recorder, design some…
J: Kristin lives near this courthouse?
J: Well should we stand and gesture like we’re ready to go? We can pin the mic to your collar.
A: No let’s not do that.
J: Ok I’ll hide [Tape stops]
J: Will they fine us officer?
P: Excuse me?
J: Is there a fine?
A & J: How much?
P: Fifty dollars.
J: Fifty dollars, but we’ll plead innocent and and wait in line all afternoon, without…
P: What to fight this ticket you mean?
P: Well you can fight the ticket.
J: Yeah I’ll fight it—I’ll fight it with my dying breath.
J: Don’t you understand how silly this is? We’re all…
Man from California: Yeah come on. How about you…
J: human beings; it’s the sunniest day…
M: give us warnings so we’ll…
J: of winter. Just give us a warning.
P: Honestly speaking with you guys? Honestly speaking with you? This never came from me. This summons is about…this comes over my head right here.
J: But our—over your head? Who…
M: Came over…
J: would enforce it?
A: [Muffled] screaming?
P: This comes over my head right here, why I’d issue a summons. I could really care less about this right here.
J: Then officer you should…
J: let us go.
M: Right now.
J: And make your own decision.
P: Let you go?
M: Since we’d all promise…
P: My superior’s here.
J: No he’s not.
P: What I need to lie for? [Silence]
J: Where is he? We should talk with…
M: Yeah, let’s speak to him.
J: Let’s speak with your superior.
M: Can you still make the flight?
Woman who lives in London: No.
J: Could you radio him over, so we can talk? I mean we’ll…it’s sunny. We came to celebrate the lunch hour. We’re busy industrious New Yorkers, and the last thing we need is to to waste entire days in court pleading innocence with our dying breaths. Instead we all should laugh about this. If you catch us back on the lawn of course arrest us. [Pause] It would be great to speak with your superior.
W: God I have to get going. [Muffled] no just leave him…
P: The ticket’s automatic since I’ve started writing. I guess you don’t believe me.
J: But did you inflict that upon yourself or does it truly come from above?
P: Honestly? Seriously? I could care less about this right here.
A: [Muffled] so far with the mic.
W: Though at least let me come on a Monday.
W: Dude I just…
M: Look we’re not even from New York. Why would you give us tickets? We’ll never return here—our…
P: [Sigh] Alright don’t pay it then. So don’t pay it.
M: Well can I have my ID then?
P: Yeah you’re gonna get it back.
M: Let me have it now. [Pause] Please?
J: He’d rather write the ticket first.
J: You’ll have a souvenir. Where did you two travel from, California? I’d noticed the California…
M: Yeah I’m from California. But she…
W: I live in London.
J: Oh London, yeah?
M: She’s not even a citizen of the United States! Come on this…
A: I think you could be set; I think you ought to walk away fast.
W: He has my vis—he took my ID.
A: Oh. Then maybe…
J: Don’t worry: I promise not to litter officer. That that’s my cup. Spare…
P: You got a good personality, you know?
J: Though it hasn’t saved me from your ticket. I guess the ID’s fake anyway. I should run…a joke. That’s an authentic Missouri license man.
A: This might push us to engage in um deviant behavior. If you have to issue a ticket-quota I may as well do drugs or something.
J: So so many people doing drugs in this park. So many thefts and rapes going on…
P: So find ’em for me, alright?
J: across this city.
P: So help me out.
J: What do you mean?
A: We’ll stay too busy checking our backs. We never know which cop’s gonna nab us.
P: If there was so much drugs in this park you wouldn’t be in the park. Why would you surround yourself around that?
A: Because big lawns spread…
P: That’s a good question, right?
J: Officer I’m fiercely committed to sobriety.
J: Where plant-life looks the same all year. How nice to to come experience—oh he, what now has, hair? He noted your brown hair.
P: It’s on the license.
J: That hair’s been brightening in the springtime sun. You might want to call it brown slash blond. [Pause] What does the violation say, Andy?
A: Park Rules Number 9.
J: What’s that short piece of prose?
A: Um that it was found, or I’ve been found, on Union Square’s…
J: The fifth…he scheduled your hearing for the fifteenth of February.
A: Today is…
J: The eleventh?
A: So we’ll go on Sunday? Saturday?
P: That’s a Wednes…
A: Oh oh this is January. Not…
P: What he say?
J: I thought the hearing took place a few days from now. So we could plead anytime before then?
P: It’ll probably come after the fifteenth.
A: How does that work?
J: Why would…
P: It has to be a Wednesday. It depends how crowded the courts are.
J: But should I go some—can I go next week and protest my ticket?
P: You could try but I doubt it.
J: Because I’m visiting New York and won’t be here.
P: Oh, you can’t be there? [Pause] You really want to fight this ticket?
P: Well what’s your argument? I’ve just, I’m curious…
A: We didn’t see fence…
J: There’s no fence.
A: or a sign I mean.
P: There is a fence. You’re looking at the fence. What…
A: The sign—where’s the sign?
J: New Yorkers sun themselves by by hopping fences.
P: How you know since you don’t live around here?
A: Is it only spring that…
J: I’ve lived here once. Now I’m visiting.
P: Then for sure you’d seen the sign.
J: There’s no sign.
P: Right there: Keep Off Lawn. Look at this other side: Keep Off Lawn.
J: Yeah, two two signs for…
P: Alright so that can be your argument. You want it to be your argument?
J: Yes exactly…
A: Or could you recommend…
J: and I’ll bet it holds…
A: any arguments…
P: That hold up?
A: [Muffled] particularly successful?
A: Do you have recommendations for…
P: For your defense? Well if I’d botched a summons—which of course I didn’t.
J: I’m sure you didn’t.
A: The ticket looks clean.
P: Let me let me see your license.
A: Because of some mistake?
P: Still really there ain’t no mistakes here.
J: Park rules. [Pause] Where’s the supervisor? We’d like to talk. Do do you know where…
P: You think I’d call my superior to discuss this?
P: Hold on.
J: Did he make a mistake?
A: He just added to my license number.
P: No that wasn’t a mistake.
J: I think you’re free. [Police sirens] He made a mistake.
P: My boss knows y’all here. He expects me to come back with four summonses.
J: So you radioed before you wrote the tickets out?
P: He’d seen y’all before I saw you.
J: How does—really? Would he he have come after us if we had run away? Oh well.
P: Have a nice afternoon…
P: and get that defense ready.
J: Well officer: I’m sure we’ll never make a defense. I’m also sure I won’t mail any…
P: Go ahead.
J: Thanks I’ll just recycle the ticket. [Pause] Supervisor my rear. I’d bet the supervisor’s his fucking superego. I think the guy’s brainwashed.
A: I thought he stayed low-key in fact. As soon as he started writing the summons, when it all turned inevitable, I liked him more.
J: Yeah from…
A: He seemed not to enforce law in normative ways. He’d…
J: He didn’t…
A: kept very pragmatic about it.
J: Or wasn’t spiteful.
A: Not in the slightest. I’d guess our…how about we sit Jon.
J: You don’t want to find some sun? I feel we might catch cold here. Though sun still remains off limits, right? Each bench in sun’s illegal? We should…
A: No need for the continued defense.
J: Yeah sorry. You’ve started shivering. I can’t afford to get sick again.
A: Nor [Tape stops]
J: So today’s conversation…phenomenologically it lasts much longer than usual.
A: This bank calls itself Maine for some reason, “Almost Maine.”
J: Well let me tell you: outside W.F.’s predictable atmosphere we run risks.
A: With lunch my basic—have you worried about…
J: I prefer to stand.
A: flu from this bird feces?
J: Wow look at that. This is absolutely disgusting.
A: Today I felt sloppy. I’d put half my lunch in a bag, or coat I mean, folded it and paid for fruit.
A: Yes a shoddy move I never should have attempted.
J: What did you stow in the jacket?
A: Tandoori chicken. Rolls. Yesterday—for cold medication—I brought a paper and crinkled things around it in line, as if reading. Items small and expensive…
A: make newspapers firm like cardboard.
J: We had…
A: [Bird calls] watch this girl spill coffee.
J: been discussing my obser observation made in Washington Square Park: how, equidistant from the saxophone and trumpet players, I heard sounds fuse harmoniously.
A: Oh I’d wanted to say (as the cop approached) that in Union Square I sensed, just before you brought it up, a similar effect with the different sounds—the gravelly urban-motion sounds coming left and right. But talk more about your Washington Square experience.
J: Hearing sounds converge I felt like a brown bear. I noticed one…I’d detected food smells on the breeze. My nostrils caught aromas from styrofoam containers, and tobacco scents from distinct cigarette brands. Though my eyes blurred as a a brown bear I saw, on hexagonal paving stones, pools of gold light brighter than sun. That concluded my experience as…
A: So I should regain a sense of smell tomorrow? Does…
J: I never lost my sense of smell. We have two separate sicknesses.
Art by Dushko Petrovich.
Dushko Petrovich is a founding editor of Paper Monument, and he’ll be showing his paintings at Soloway in May.
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