The Sleepers (Before the Deluge) by Jessica SLOTE

Jessica SLOTE

The Sleepers (Before the Deluge)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: Warm, Humid, Stormy Conditions Continue  

(8:00 AM Tuesday EDT). As with yesterday, widespread cloud cover is expected to limit instability with CAPE of at least 1500 J/kg, although the region will be placed near the right entrance quadrant of an upper level jet streak, while an approaching 500 hPa jet streak will lead to 0-6km shear increasing to at least 40-45 knots in the western half of the area. …discrete thunderstorm cells may develop in the immediate NYC area and northern New Jersey towards 2-4pm this afternoon, some which may become strong or locally severe with strong wind gusts and downpours producing localized flash flooding.

Front Terrace of the Main Branch of the New York Public Library at 42nd Street, July 15—When you step outside the building, you have the impression of entering a murky fish tank—like a deep-sea diver wearing heavy equipment that weighs you down so you can walk along the bottom of the sea. It feels difficult to breathe. The air pressure must be low. The sky is low and grey melding with the color of the buildings, the street, and the stone portico. The scene includes individuals (not throngs) sitting at the various tables scattered on the library’s front plaza. At this moment, most are solitary figures engaged in solitary occupations: listening to music (presumably) on headphones, writing in a notebook, reading a book. There’s also a man videotaping the conversation of a couple, a stylish woman and well-dressed man, who are talking about something animatedly. In between takes, they slump. In fact, they are the most animated figures in the scene.

However, scattered among the animated or, shall we say, the conscious, are the unconscious, the sleepers. There are four of them and they anchor the scene. Slumped over, each in their own distinctive way, they have succumbed completely as it were to the appalling torpor of the day.

One is a young black man, perhaps about 20. He sits at a long table, his head in the crook of his arm— propped up on a black backpack, his face a beautiful mask: a sleeping Adonis. Big peach eyelids cover those eyes, and whatever they are seeing in his abandon. He wears a baseball cap, lid flipped up, with a C logo. He’s all in black, t-shirt, pants with cuffs rolled up, black socks with those sports slippers: Nike logo. He’s deep in slumber. Circling around him you get to the message on the back of his t-shirt: “I WAS THERE.”

A second sleeper has chosen a different pose. Flung out on his back, his face to the heavens, his head propped up on his elbow, he lies prostrate on a stone bench. He could be a model for a stone sarcophagus. One leg bent at the knee, pointing skyward, the other sprawled to the side. He sports electric blue reflector shades, which conceal the facts about his eyes sleeping and awake. Next moment, he sits up. Older guy, hard to say age, he’s white, short spiky hair of indiscriminate color like the day, he’s also dressed all in black. Now, turns out, he’s got a cup of coffee by his sarcophagus. He sips it, smokes a cigarette, returning to the world of the animate.

A third, woman, Asian, has collapsed onto a newspaper that lies on a small round café table. She’s also all in black (study for a painting, The Sleepers) (hoodie, pants, socks, and electric green sports shoes). Even though her hat covers part of her face, and there’s just one strand of black hair curving over her cheek, you can see that she is Asian. Beside her, adding a stroke of color, is the ubiquitous Victoria’s Secret pink-striped shopping bag. Face down, pressed against the newsprint, veiled to the observer’s eye by cap and hair, she’s punched out—for unknown reasons, for an unknown amount of time— on the time clock of the conscious.

There was another, a fourth, but I’ve forgotten her now. The four of them together, in their weighted sleep, tethered the scene like four buoys, floating on the surface, anchored by weights. Perhaps the entire portico would float up and drift away—in this torpid turpitude—but for the four sleepers, the unconscious ones among the barely conscious.


NYC July 2014