4. The Time a Panther Prowled the City, or On Less Pictures and Taking Pleasure in Everyday Magic

Last week, I saw the strangest thing on a walk in the East Village.

The sun was setting, leaving purple and orange rays across the sky. I waited at a crosslight on 10th street, and a chilly breeze picked up, so I zipped my fleece. At Tompkins Square Park to my right, a mother and daughter threw a blue frisbee around, and a ramshackle orchestra of middle-aged men played classical music.

On the other side of the street, a dark, muscular pit bull trotted in my direction, its owner talking to someone on the phone. Calling the dog’s coat black would be an understatement. Calling it the "color of night" would be melodramatic. But I do want to get across how dark that dog was.

It looked like a panther, one that shouldn't have been in New York, but rather, somewhere deep in the South American jungle. It should have been hunting things, lounging on branches, doing the things that you'd think panthers do. It looked up once at me with bright yellow eyes, its tongue hanging out.

I watched the creature pass by. Time slowed down as it drifted along with its owner somewhere into long and slanted New York evening shadows.

I thought about running after them and taking a picture but decided not to. It was a moment of perfection, an otherworldly experience, seeing a wild feline in the concrete jungle.

If I had taken a picture, the moment would have been lost. Not because of the mundane technicalities involved, but because I'd have a chance to compare my memory with reality later. I'm sure if I had the picture now, I'd inspect it and see that the panther wasn't black, but in fact, dark gray or brown. Then it wouldn't be the panther of my mind’s eye anymore, and that magic city moment would be gone.

Memory is a funny thing. We can treat it as truth, but it’s often some colored version of reality, shaded to varying degrees. It’s hard for us not to trust our memories. In fact, we place great weight on them, and when they deceive us, or disappear from us, it’s confusing. At times, there’s a tug-of-war in us that we want to remember something a particular way.

I wrote a short story titled “Memory Simulations for a Grandmother,” which touches on this. It grapples with neurodegenerative disease, relationships, and virtual memories. Dark Matter Magazine will be printing it in 2021, which I’m very excited about. The story draws from neuroscience and computer graphics programming.

Some other publication news:

Until next time.