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  • Harry Jensen

May 14, 2020

Today, I decided to be a new man. To realize and celebrate my rebirth, I had my roommate give my hair a nice trim, and I read through a lot of old letters that I haven’t read yet.

I am atrocious at reading letters. Whenever someone sends me anything more than a Hallmark card, I get overwhelmed by the preciousness of it all and I panic. Rather than open it, I will squirrel a letter away in a special place where I can avoid it politely. Today was one of my biannual plunges into this pile.

Among unread letters from college friends and grandmothers lay a page of notes that I took at the one and only rune workshop that I have attended. If it weren’t for Ms. Lane’s zeal for “reclaiming our Anglo-Saxon roots,” I would have returned for further classes to hear her thoughts on translating texts in languages she can’t read.

“I own my radical ideas,” explained our hobbity leader. “And linguists discount magic.”

A letter from a friend I did stand-up with was dated to almost a year ago, and I have been looking forward to reading it. There’s always the chance that the writer has something dire and you’ve missed it, e.g. “I can’t breathe!” But usually the letters are filled with sweet sentiments, and when I call the author many months later to say that I appreciated it so very much, they get to enjoy the thrill of their own loveliness twice.

In the letter, my friend was again imploring me to move with him to Chicago. “New York is dead,” he said, and as I read these words, I thought of him sleeping in his family home in Brooklyn.

The other batch of unread letters are letters sent to my father — they’re unread by me, anyways. A great deal of these are dated from New York in the ‘80s, letters from friends he met in or moved to Brooklyn with. My dad moved from Minnesota to the Big Apple to work in publishing after college, and scraped by on cockroaches and orange peels, from what I remember of his tales. He wrote, and he lasted a few years before he returned.

I have gotten in contact with a few of the people from these letters recently, beseeching them shamelessly to implant themselves in my social network and carry me to prosperity. It is nice to hear from people who knew my father, especially those who treat me less like a child and more like a sloppy copy of the guy they knew for shambling around Manhattan in search of occult bookstores and loose change.

I want to go to New York, too, but the idea gives me vertigo sometimes. My dad went there in the same time of his life, stayed, and left. I feel a little like I’m walking in my Dad’s oversized shoes, and I am dragging them into a life that I can already look back at as gone, smaller than a moment. Being so much like my Dad and having so many of the same pursuits, I sometimes have the dizzying sensation that my life is both unfolding and all wrapped up.

But, heck, I’m a new man and I've still got my own future ahead of me — I’m not actually dead! And neither is New York.

"he's sad, he's got too big clothes"

by Cecilia Bahls and Harry Jensen


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