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- August 31 – Le G. – Early Morning
- September 4 – Le G. – Early Morning
- September 5 – Le G. – Early Morning
- September 6 – Le G. – Early Morning
- September 7 – Le G. – Early Morning
- September 8 – Chelsea Streets – Early Morning
- September 11
- September 13
- September 14 – NBC News – Midmorning
WONDER OF THE WORLD
August 29, 2001
Back in the States and seething with misanthropy. The age scuffs by in its cheap
shoes, nattering on a cell phone. Often the conversations you involuntarily overhear
begin with “I’m at” such-and-such a place. Fully half the time they get it wrong, as in
“I’m on Fifth Avenue and 22nd Street.” But they’re not, they’re on Broadway and 21st.
Either these folks comprise a vast race of liars, or they genuinely have no idea where
Attempt to make your way through an immense pile of New York Times back
issues that have accumulated in your absence. Separate out the Metro sections for
tidbits you might have missed. Item: Canal Surplus goes out of business, holds an
auction of the store’s goods. One of the owners, Millie Skoler boasts “we did Tina
Turner’s curtains in chain mail, for her house in France.” That bit’s worth jotting down.
But it would take the afternoon and into the evening to pore through every issue.
Defeated by its sheer mass, you dump the rest into the laundry cart and thence the
recycling bin unbrowsed.
Come to think of it, it’s high time to take your WTC files downstairs to the
storage locker. Maybe even out to Sea Cliff. Clear space for a new story. Been there,
Turn on the TV. Scan through the channels. Settle, ephemerally, on CNN-FN:
“Still to come on The Money Gang – talking to your children about layoffs – how to tell
them you’re not going to work in the morning.” Click to black.
August 30 – Le G. – Early Morning
Conversation with Melinda wherein you show her a story just published in an
Italian anthology of North American writers. Whenever your words leap over the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 149
printed in English.
Melinda gets it right away, says “It’s like having another soul, isn’t it?”
A young woman sits on the banquette side of Table 10. She wears a black tee
shirt with a glittery red white and silver American flag bonded across the chest.
Superimposed upon the stars and stripes, in pink Olde English lettering, the word
August 31 – Le G. – Early Morning
New atmosphere blowing in, you can feel it. If you had a corn on your big toe, it
would be pulsing now.
What was fetid and misty turns dry and bracing, the fall colors more crisply
defined in the angled light. This is a moment where a palpable recollection of summer
is still possible. But the first whiff of burning leaves sets that swampy Eden at a great
With three full cycles to go, this is no time to think of summer, which in any case
didn’t understand that it had overstayed its welcome – like the abject lover some of us
have been and known.
Your hand still moves across the page, but the drag is lessened. The ink flows
downhill now. These words are no respecters of person. Or position. They arrange
themselves accordingly. Possessed by will or whim, they jostle one another, full of
youthful self-possession, seeking their own level.
You remember, as a kid, the big slide in the Washington Square playground,
climbing what seemed like forever, and then pausing on the brink of the silvery slope,
polished by myriad denim’d behinds including yours. Do children still drum their feet
at the apex, to proclaim their supremacy, warn all below I’m coming!? They must.
Labor Day – afternoon light – previews of the abandoned city. You walk the too-
long blocks between Ninth and 11th Avenues. The unremitting vistas give way onto
open spaces of the waterfront. Stroll by the new water park and dog run near the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 150
comes. The Seminary grounds are closed today. Would’ve been soothing to stretch out
on the grass and look straight up, the only evidence of earth an angled roof’s corner, a
spray of still-leafy branches at the periphery of the blue.
Peer through the windows of Le G. It’s packed and far too clamorous for your
mood even if you could squeeze in. Outside, the bench has been monopolized by a
huge man wearing a red polo shirt and shorts. He sips an iced coffee, his joint-of-
mutton-sized arm draped languidly across the back of the empty seat. You reverse
direction again, spot a friendly-looking stoop to perch on just west of Ninth on 21st
Street. Few cars going crosstown, so when the lights turn red on the avenue, near
silence washes the block, only the click of dogs’ toenails on the sidewalk, the voice of a
passerby on a cell phone – “I think you’ll survive…” – then the rush of traffic emulating
the roar and ebb of waves against a strand.
Gwen and Katie are down in the Village having a swim at the Carmine Street
pool. Seemed a golden opportunity for you to work uninterrupted. And you gave it a
game try. But the moment they got on the elevator, you realized you should’ve joined
them, savored together the last indescribably gorgeous day of official summer. Once
upon a time in the West Village, the pool was a lot rougher and tumbler than it is now.
You were about Gwen’s age that day when, wrapped up in your own dream world, not
paying attention, you walked into the path of a bigger kid chasing someone and he
knocked you flat on the concrete surface, with its rough, sandpaper grain – didn’t even
look back. When you jumped in the water, the sting of chlorine on your scraped knee.
That sensation’s in the memory bank for keeps, stored right next to your nearly
simultaneous first glimpse of an ankle bracelet’s chain against bare, wet skin. Huh,
how come none of the girls in your school wore them?
It’s Gwen’s pool now. She’s growing up a second-generation Manhattanite, even
as, incrementally, you’ve begun to detach. And just a few minutes ago, the realization
went critical: you could leave at any time. The city doesn’t claim you like it once did.
But aren’t you supposed to love the place you grew up? Honor it like thy father and
When you wrote Divided, you wove materials from the city that lived entirely
inside you together with the city that could be objectively known and shared with
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 151
you’d always been. But there was another consequence. So long as your internal city
existed unvoiced, it remained protected, like the contents of a valise held tight beneath
the arm of an anxious traveler. When you opened the lid, everything leaped out,
became autonomous, took on a life of its own. Even if you wanted to, you could never
fit it all back in.
Walk across its crosswise shadow then pass beneath the High Line, the disused
elevated railway that runs parallel with and just west of 11th Avenue. Rusting
steelwork of a freight corridor that linked the industrial buildings of Manhattan’s west
side from Canal Street all the way to the train yards in the thirties. Overgrown now
with all sorts of flora. You’d give a lot to get up there with Gwen, hike that urban Long
Trail. Check the views from a vantage utterly unto itself. There’s got to be someone
you know, or will meet, who’s got a window out onto that world.
With the transformation of the far west side into the new gold coast, the High
Line’s become a cause celèbre. The hardcore speculators want it gone. An eyesore –
waste of valuable real estate. Preservationists and “green” developers are pressing to
rehabilitate it, create a park-promenade – add value to the luxury conversions they’ll
string along its route like pearls. With luck though, neither outcome will occur, and the
High Line will survive another boom-bust cycle or two, oxidizing with dignity, an
undomesticated territory in a city trying too hard to be safe. Maybe it’s your mood, but
the fate of the High Line doesn’t register much on your personal Richter scale. Not
when set against questions like how is Gwen’s generation going get a living here?
Which doesn’t mean you feel blasé about it. As much as the High Line was, like
the Carmine Street Pool, just part of the landscape to someone growing up in the
Village, it seemed, even then, to belong to a bygone, and more heroic order of city. The
sight of the elevated tracks tunneling through massive buildings that seemed to wrap
themselves almost joyfully around its right-of-way struck you as so weird and
magnificent that it opened a permanent zone of astonishment in your mind – a zone
where the possible city meets and dances with the one objectively known.
Once, when you were about ten, walking with your father over near the Hudson,
you watched a man drive a large black and silver motorcycle repeatedly through a
puddle in the cobblestones, the steep angle of his wheels sending up a curl of water
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 152
why the man kept doing the same thing over and over again and he explained that each
pass through was a take and they needed to do it until the director was satisfied that
they’d got it right. When the shoot was over, you walked over to see what was so
special about the puddle. Not particularly deep, but filmed with oil – and reflecting the
underside of the High Line, and above it, the sky with its rushing clouds. You’ve no
idea what movie they were making, but it must have been a terrific shot.
The flap and scrape of three pairs of feet in flip-flops, above which ascend six
hairy male legs. Wait till they’re well past, then look up from your book in the opposite
direction. A slender rollerblader spins on the corner of Ninth like a ballerina on a music
box spindle, waiting for the light to change. A blonde woman turns the corner, passes
by slowly, weighed down by a bulging Gristedes bag in each hand. She’s enormously
pregnant, black stretch pants pulled low over an evenly-bronzed belly. They’re
returning to the city: from the Hamptons and all points east, north, south and west.
The city hasn’t been abandoned after all. Only you have left it.
A parking space opens up right in front of where you’re sitting. Good until 9
a.m. on Thursday. Back in the days when you had the VW van, you’d have jumped at
the chance. You don’t own a car any more, but if you did, you’d hop in it now and
drive down to the Carmine Street Pool and wait for Katie and Gwen to come out, hair
wet and eyes wide with surprise. Daddy what are you doing here? You’d all drive
somewhere. Somewhere you don’t live now.
slump, but suggests that it is confined to the most upscale sectors and does not
represent a general trend.
Next Monday, in less than a week, the first barrage of fall semester packets is due
from your Goddard students. Your intellects tells you it’s a great gig – who else would
pay you for being eclectic? Your gut says the walls are closing in.
You wuz waiting for Lefty, when Godot showed up.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 153
September 6 – Le G. – Early Morning
First day back at P.S. 11. Her turf since pre-K, Gwen knows the drill. Up the
stairs at a bound.
Always a bad idea to read the paper. The walls of social life, held up from
collapsing by tie-rods of fear.
In walks Juan, one of your favorite Gaministas, if an occasional one. He’s
Argentine, small and lean, good-looking in an owlish way behind his spectacles,
restores antique French furniture for a living. He asks if you’re done with the paper
and, with a certain relief, you hand it over. Juan scans the front page and shakes his
head. Glad, he says that he and Maria are leaving for Germany soon after the baby
comes. Baby? His whole affect changes, grows softer. Yes, it’s going to be a girl. Due
in March. They’ll move first to the town where Maria grew up, between Cologne and
Aachen. Then eventually, to Barcelona. The U.S., he says, is just getting too weird.
The Book of Margins. You’ve cracked it a couple of times since Frazier gave it to
you over a year ago, but only now are you getting deep in.
“Reading a text involves several degrees of violence; this is sufficient warning
that there is danger in the house.” So says Jabès on page forty-two.
Any armored surface, no mater how seemingly impregnable, has its chinks, and
something soft lies beneath.
Sulieman brings your coffee this morning. He’s Senegalese, immensely tall,
wants to model and is beautiful enough to, apart from a scar on his cheek which could
be easily retouched. Sweet disposition too. You pay at the register and he hands you a
dollar and some coins in change. On the graying border of the banknote someone has
written, very neatly and in caps: THIS IS A LUCKY DOLLAR BILL.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 154
Nightfall and Gwen climbs up on the stepladder, leans her elbows on the kitchen
windowsill, peers out, says “I’m beginning to see the new view.”
The faulty public address system makes it sound like the conductor is saying:
Transfer here for the N, Q, R and ancestral trains.
• • •
What can be done normally is done normally. Early afternoon, Katie goes to her
Wednesday shrink appointment as usual. You want to stay close, so you and Gwen
accompany her uptown, stroll through Central Park.
Walk past the Delacorte Theatre and find a spot to sit on the grass with a view
across the pond and up at the castle. You point out to Gwen, probably not for the first
time, the rockface you and the other kids used to slide down, hoping you could stop
short before plunging into the murky pond. It seemed a wilder age. In summer, kids
used to jump off the cliffs of Inwood Park and into the Hudson for a swim. Nobody
wore bicycle helmets. Fourth of July in Little Italy: by night, a racket of small ballistics
that felt for all the world like the outbreak of an urban guerilla war.
The sky just as crystalline as yesterday. Around you, frisbee players, gamboling
children and a couple exhibitionistically breaking up. Nowhere is there any sense of
urgency, of trauma. The downtown vibe has not washed this far north. From this
vantage, the city of suffering and death has been negated. Above the treeline, the
facades of the buildings to the south miraculously screen off the city beyond. Un cordon
Time to pick up Katie. Shoes still off, you walk the breadth of the lawn, toward
the path, passing on your way a couple lying on a blanket – literally the most beautiful
man and woman you have ever seen. They sunbathe, pass a magazine back and forth,
she runs the back of her foot up his calf. They intertwine limbs. Like first parents,
before the Fall.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 155
Your two Germans call, Wolfgang and Tobias, to make sure you’re still on the
planet. Wolfgang offers up a grim joke – he wants to reassure himself that your sense of
humor is intact. Things heat up on the media front. Suddenly all the questions never
broached about the WTC when it was up are getting asked amidst the rubble. Answers,
they must have answers, now that it’s too late. You perform the ridiculous: get a cell
and load. Primed for satellite bounce. Look down Fifth Avenue. So many places not to
see the towers from.
• • •
You turn out the light in Gwen’s room, pull down the shade – her window faces
south toward the great cloud of dust – then sit down on her bed to say goodnight.
You are conscious of the moment. That you should say something reassuring.
But you have never lied to her. When her mother was in the hospital with a skull
fracture, Gwen asked if she would be OK and you said: I think so. Because in fact you
did think so. But didn’t know for sure.
Tonight you say that you’ve no idea what’s going to happen, but that you’ll do
your best to take care of her. To make sure she’s safe. But you don’t know what’s going
to happen. You turn on the nightlight and get up to go. She calls you back, reaches out
to give your hand a squeeze, says: “They can’t bomb our love.”
John D. calls: “We pushed a button,” he says – sent thirty thousand Divided’s
into production with lightning speed via books-on-demand. A second conventional
printing run ordered too.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 156
At 33d and Park, the Pinocchio Café has scores of little flags and “God Bless
America” signs pasted to the window.
You sit on a chair in the Green Room. Across from you, on a couch, taking a
break, the women who do wardrobe and makeup for the Today show. They watch the
huge TV, nosh from the coffee table piled with breakfast goodies and comment on the
broadcast, repeatedly using the word “He” to describe “the Mastermind,”
“Who is ‘He?’” you ask.
“You know,” says the woman who, a few minutes ago, powdered your face,
“Yeah,” says the woman who pressed you jacket, “you know, Saddam bin
• • •
Antsy waiting, you wander about. The door to Matt Lauer’s office stands ajar.
Inside, surrounding his computer monitor, all sorts of memorabilia. Propped on the
floor, a poster of the iconic photo of Muhammad Ali, lips stretched back in his earth-
shaking mouth-guard grimace, gesturing Get up so I can flatten you again to the prostrate
Al Roker, beloved weatherman, walks past wearing a bright yellow sou’wester.
He opens the stairwell door. You give him a wave, and he waves back, heads
You find a small, tranquil office, low lights, nobody inside. Cool heels. Call
home. Katie’s fine. Everything’s fine. Lots of media calls. More than you can shake a
stick at. Check the monitor. Judith Miller, New York Times Middle-East correspondent
and author of a bestseller on biological warfare waxes expert with an earnest Katie
Couric. You flag down one of the associate producers. “Tell them I have to leave in
fifteen minutes.” Your cough’s getting worse.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 157
You’ve turned the volume off on the monitor, but when you look up at it again,
Al Roker is reporting live from “Ground Zero,” his dark, immeasurably kind features
resplendent, framed by the sou’wester’s hood.
Footsteps. The associate producer. “OK, Mr. Darton, you’re up next.” You pop
another Fisherman’s Friend, cough into your sleeve like Camille. She holds the door
open and you trip downstairs, almost gaily, into the studio.
• • •
On air in a minute. You’ve lost the wrapper, so you plop your coughdrop into
the water in your Today show mug. Matt Lauer sits perpendicular to you, studying the
notes in his lap with singleminded intensity. In a cocoon of light across the vast,
darkened space, Katie Couric, behind a desk, reports breaking news. A technician runs
a lavaliere wire up your jacket and clips the mic to your lapel.
Lauer’s eyes snap up, but he doesn’t look at you, rather peers out into studio.
“When that architect’s quote comes up at intro – about the world trade center being a
symbol of world peace – I want the towers behind it.” Damned if you can see who he’s
“The towers – how?” asks a voice from the blackness.
“Give them to me in slow motion. Exploding, falling – whatever!”
• • •
Murat drives the limo that takes you home from Rockefeller Center. A former
Turkish Airlines pilot, downsized two years ago. He wants you to know, so that you
can tell the media – he assumes you have their ear – that these planes were flown by
expert pilots, highly trained, brilliant. This was a professional job. “A plane that big,
that speed – a tiny bit this way, you’re half a mile off.”
Murat is a self-assured, even-toned man. Speaks with quiet authority. Seems to
have adapted successfully to piloting a Lincoln Town Car. His priority’s the same as
before: putting his kids through college.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 158
Perhaps he’s right, perhaps this was precision piloting. But you can’t shake the
robotic look to the second jet’s trajectory as it hooked steeply round. You saw it hit, and
in the instant thought: guided missile.
• • •
Fools with flags. Everywhere.
• • •
Noontime and aboard the Amtrak bound for Rhinecliff. Elizabeth and Jonathan
have offered your family refuge for the weekend. Katie will cook brisket. There’ll be
convivial guests for dinner – someone will make a pie. You’ll rest and recover.
Katie and Gwen join Elizabeth, Jonathan and their boys Isaac and Nathan on a
strawberry picking expedition. You stay put. Cough getting worse.
The woman who looks after E. & J.’s Palladian retreat when they’re in the city
arrives, bearing a hardcover copy of Divided. “It was the last one at the Poughkeepsie
Barnes & Nobles” she says, almost breathless with urgency. “Would you sign it?”
This is the moment when, for the first time since Tuesday, reality hits you in the
back of the knees. In order to keep your mind clear, you’ve some part of you asserted
that your relationship with the WTC was just like anyone else’s, no more nor less. Now
the evidence is thrust before you: the familiar, half-forgotten cover that bears your
name – physical evidence of your deep implication, suddenly catastrophesized. Not a
heavy book, not flimsy either. The thing in your hands all that is.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 159
Jonathan goes online to check Divided’s progress on Amazon. He almost whoops
with glee. It’s up there among the top sellers – number four or eight, something like
that. You’re too exhausted to imagine caring. Elizabeth gives you eucalyptus to add to
your bathwater. You lie recumbent in their huge limestone tub – whose shape suggests
a Roman sarcophagus – and breathe the steam.
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