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- March 2
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- March 27 EEric Darton NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 226
- April 1
- April 3 – 79th Street Crosstown Bus – Midafternoon
Tricks of the city. You drop Gwen off at school and walk down the street
toward the café. Along the way you discover that a tree you’ve passed a hundred
times, scarcely noticing it, now exhibits evidence of a visible spine. Up its trunk runs a
pattern of perfectly spaced white dots. You look again, more closely now, because hey,
even these days, pear trees don’t have vertebrae. And then you look around and for an
answer to this mystery. Which is not far, nor difficult to find. A few feet east of the tree
stands a traffic sign: children crossing. The pole of the sign is made of metal, painted
green and perforated along its length at about two inch intervals. And it is through
those perforations that the morning light projects the pattern onto the tree. What a
merry joke they’ve played on your eye and mind – these two verticals, planted in a kind
of instrumental, perfunctory way have conspired to show you how, under the sun,
everything works together. Aporias ‘r’ us.
• • •
Every three Fridays, acupuncture. Cold hands and feet as you lie down. You do
not precisely dream during these sessions, in the long, tranquil interval between the
stickings in and the pluckings out. But you do fall into a state of very profound reverie
and this time an unaccustomed voice speaks to, perhaps through you – clearly. “I
froze,” it says, “so that the winter did not.”
No bottom hit for the body to come up from. No lion driven out by the lamb.
The petering-out nonwinter of the graying flags.
Notes to yourself does not really describe what you’re up to here. More like
reports from the several fronts of yourself.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 220
This past Sunday night tripped south to Bombora house, Melinda’s subterranean
gallery in the once-upon-a-Meat District. On the sidewalk, a boulder maybe four feet
across and two feet high marks the entrance. Horizontal steel doors pulled up, it’s a
short, steep flight down slate steps. Cement bar and woodburning stove to take the
edge off the cave damp. Melinda squats to feed in bits of busted up pallets, her slim
hips made formidable in the armor of her silver Yemeni belt. Her inks on great sheets
of paper nailed to the walls. Low benches and pillows for sitting, and floor coverings of
teal-green cowhide. Watch out – an I-beam painted bright orange runs laterally across
the low ceiling. Dangerous, because one doesn’t cognate steel, unforgiving, beneath so
joyous a hue. Like almost everyone does at least once, you learned to duck the hard
Melinda asks you to read and you step to the center. No, the musicians in the crowd
aren’t falling asleep, they seem to be nodding in sympathy to your cadences. Then off
to the perimeter, warmed by their appreciation. You sit and watch as Frank Lacey takes
the circle – now talking through his trombone, now chanting wild-eyed words.
Underpinned by trapdrums, he paces out rap hatched in the 70’s, those forgotten daze
when Dubya’s père ran the CIA. Between stanzas, the drummer leaps up to push him,
rough, but slapstick-style, halfway across the room as Lacy, vatic, shouts and whispers
the refrain: “When Bush comes to shove… when Bush comes to shove.”
Back he time trips to ages even more remote – the early ‘60s – recites Haile
Selassie’s storied admonition to the General Assembly …Until the philosophy which holds
one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned;
that until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation; that until the
colour of a man's skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes; that until the basic
human rights are equally guaranteed to all, without regard to race; that until that day, the dream
of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but
fleeting illusions, to be pursued but never attained.… then, without dropping a beat, he
launches into an apoplectic panic, fresh penned that very day: “Getoutadodge,
getoutadodge” – conjures a parable of the Armaghetto, exterminated by synchronous
earthquakes and nuclear detonations. Back, forth and across the tiny chamber, he races
– flees up the stairs and into the street. The drummer keeps drumming. He rushes,
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 221
again. Returns. Finishes. Stepping out of the sacred circle he tangles feet in the power
cord of Elyssa’s camcorder, so seeing something else is he, not what’s in front of him,
dreadlocks flinging like a wood bead curtain in a violent storm, sweat streaming – a
parcel of prophets rolled into one fevered man.
Upstairs for some cooler air, just behind Marina. In your buzzy state you
wonder how the boulder got here. Did she boost it from Central Park and carry it down
here in a van? It strikes you, illogically, that she must have transported it from
Australia. But in a way it makes sense – everybody brings something. The boulder lies
bathed in the aura of a pin spot she’s mounted way up on her roof. But if you don’t
look at the logic, but stay with the lightplay, the rock seems a projection, yet when you
place your hand on it, the thing is solid enough. Up from below come Melinda and
Frank. They perch atop the rock, cheeks pressed together, posing. Marina’s got her
digital camera, which for some reason, she hands to you. The couple puckers silent
movie kisses and you snap the last shot before the memory runs out.
You didn’t wish anything at that moment. It waited days – until right now – to
coalesce into the urge to tell your father: see, the Village is still there, fifty years and
counting since you and Bea conceived a New York son. Thirty-four years since you left – headed
for the hills. When you were young, you gravitated here, scented the energy in the atmosphere,
knew this was the place to be. The Village is where you emigrated to, took point for all your
siblings. See Jack, the Village continues here, Bohemian rhapsodies play out, pushed to the very
margin. Yet the city keeps on and your bloodline lives it through. Or rather lives it for you.
We might have shared this spotlight – this space even – so like the ones you took me to in
years when I’d look up into the face of the conversations you were having with “some artist,” or
“some writer” or “some drunk.” We might have walked down the steps together, first one, then
the other, if only you could have gotten to the bottom – and found a way to stand your ground.
• • •
Monday night we’ll get huge shafts of light, straight up from the Battery Park
City landfill. Hallelujah, Nuremberg come.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 222
Evening, and Katie sits in the Morris chair watching Lexx, a quasi-farcical
Canadian science-fiction show. Just for the sake of her company, you occupy the same
space, though it would be easier to write in relative silence, at your desk in the
bedroom. Turned toward the computer and away from the TV, bits of plot filter
through the cracks in your concentration: aboard the ship in outer space, a venal,
capricious American President is about to fire a ray that will obliterate the earth. Stan,
captain of the Lexx tries to dissuade him. A snatch of dialogue sneaks past your baffles:
Unaccountably you are filled with optimism. Pass the newsstands barely
glancing at the headline massacres, the front-page images of your fellowmen dressed in
fatigues, the iconic jutting of the ruined tower columns.
Brilliant blue, nearly frigid, plenty of wind gusts, a March lion. Halfway down
22nd Street, the cold prevails and you pull up your hood, put on your gloves. As per
usual the hyperattuned electric door of the Rite Aid slides open as you pass.
Deborah looks better than you’ve seen her in months. There’s some color in her
cheeks at last. Still, something’s not right with her. You hope it’s just New York
stressing her out, not something organic eating someone so young. What is it like to
leave your family in Morocco and come here alone to pursue an indefinite something
that might be possible here? She asks how you’re doing and you improvise a tapdance.
She laughs – you’ve adduced, if only for an instant, her eyes’ glimmer.
Sit down at Table 4 and wait. Outside, passersby snort vapor. March acting like
March. What a conservative you are! Saturday, while Katie and Simon watched, you
clambered all over the Central Park rocks with Gwen – told her that, if she liked, you’d
both learn climbing in New Paltz or the Gunks. Today you feel like a hundred. With
her atop the outcropping, not a day over fifty-one.
Last Saturday, you brought a bottle of champagne to Jennifer’s big five-0 party.
An ambivalent affair at best, oddly self-abnegating, yet absent the bracing rigor of Zen.
The birthday girl came way late, seemed to vanish for whole stretches of time, nothing
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 223
the mound of rubble. When the wind blows right, the fucking thing still smells like
something Attila dragged in.
Larsen’s half-century bash was another story altogether. He catered it, danced to
the Doors with his teenage daughters – in a psychedelic surround improvised out of his
Nyack living room. And what had you done to mark your own threshold into official
middle age? You’d resisted treating it as anything more significant than any other
birthday. Which was delightful: a wonderful roast beef, gorgeous chocolate cake in the
presence of little trio. How right it seemed at the time. Yet you question it now. Are
you waiting until sixty to permit yourself some kind of blossoming? Or just deferring
what you can’t handle? Still looking for some kind of critical mass to arise from within?
• • •
Crossing 25th on the way home you run into Maria, Juan’s wife, very pregnant.
She’s hurrying west on some pre-partum errand, fuelled by adrenalin, high color in her
clean, firm cheeks. Any time now.
• • •
Night must fall. Break out of a script meeting with Tobias to watch the advent of
the “towers of light,” the great plugging-in of the amaterial memorial. From his office,
the two of you walk south to 22nd where the highway shifts direction and the sightlines
open onto an unobstructed view of the Lower Manhattan massif. It was from this
vantage six months ago that much of the neighborhood witnessed the collapse.
It’s a relatively clear evening and the dual bluish beams carry quite a distance
upward before fading out. But there’s a good deal of ambient light, so the effect is
static, indefinite. Difficult to see the shafts as fully distinct from one another. Choppers
circle about their overspill. Tobias thinks they look like anti-aircraft spotlights.
Perhaps. On the way back to his office, you pass two fellows, workers from a
warehouse, who’ve paused to stare up at the display. As they turn away, one says,
“probably looks better from Jersey.”
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 224
On the front page of every newspaper, the towers of light shoot into the heavens.
Each daily captures them from a different angle, but any hint of vagueness has been
fixed in the mix, enhanced to brilliant ultramarine, their twin-ness rendered undeniable.
Diffuse edges sharpened to accord with the simulations that preceded the actuality – no
fuzzy bleedings together here. Light as policy. Amped beyond all possible ages of
reason. Or remorse. Wonders of the insubstantial world.
Last evening the towers of light hit the low cloud cover and the beams spread
out into a horizontal streak at the height of about eighty stories.
Tonight, from the living room window you notice another optical peculiarity.
You doubt yourself so you call in your wife and daughter and ask them “what’s wrong
with this picture?” Without prompting they see it too. Looking south, the “towers of
light” are leaning. Just slightly to the left, about two degrees.
After a day of heavy downpours, the weather begins to clear, but the cloudcover
remains low. In these atmospherics, the beams lose their bluish tinge, fatten and
solidify, and rise to about the same height the towers stood, before the light diffuses as
it hits the cloud bottoms. For a moment, a credible apparition of the missing buildings,
augmented by lighthouse beacons shooting out horizontally from their topmost floors.
Then the cloud ceiling turns ragged and the lighthouse effect transmutes to
something like billowing vapor – or smoke. A cloud passes lower still and the upper
stories are engulfed in roiling white mist. Every scudding cloud mass transmutes a new
and spectral effect. Sometimes the beams seem nearly extinguished in a swath of
density, but then the west wind blows the obstruction clear and furnishes a new
phantasm. A deep, tall cloud moves across the field, diffusing light at its center and the
towers appear to shrink floor by floor, even as their upper stories expand into a brilliant
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 225
You could watch this spectacle for hours, so mutable and ghastly are images that
unfold. It is hard to imagine this as a simple interaction of nature and design. Instead
you conjure the image of a protean hand stepping through a series of rapid-fire cues,
playing with what Brobdignagian lighting board can do: Here is what they would have
looked like if they’d been hit at the 50th floor. Crossfade. This if had the planes struck lower,
around the 30th. Transition – the scene with one tower remaining, chopped down to 40-odd
A dense cloud passes between you and the lights, and the beams vanish
altogether. What you see appears as rolling black hills, and behind them, defining their
contours, a milky mist that fades upward to black.
A low, translucent cloud moves in and restores the towers to thirty stories with
only blackness above. But then, separated by a great distance, as though belonging to
an entirely distinct cosmos, a burst of white appears where the beams emerge from
behind their vapor shield to flash against a still higher stratum of clouds. Suddenly the
drama has resituated itself, to a nearly empyreal realm. Here the dream towers burst
into flame at an altitude where – at least in the mythic imagination – only the gods may
Spring gusts. Tender air. Eager young dachshund leashed in front of Bruno’s
café. Double broadsheet of the New York Times swoops down low across the pavement,
settles on top of him, like a tent.
Year of the Horse (of a different color). Crocus like, the slogans of Merry Old
New York poke through your surface:
New York is a Summer Festival
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 226
At the café, Bruce asks how you’re doing. “Ça marche,” you say, more
diffidently than you’d intended. “Some ouch?” he asks. Either he doesn’t know the
phrase, or mishears it in the ambient din. Or is tremendously intuitive.
“Oui,” you reply, “some ouch.”
Dig we must, for a grieving New York.
Ground Zero as anti-Delphi. An omphalos, a rupture into the underworld from
which much hallucinogenic gas, but little wisdom, escapes.
You train Wolfgang’s binoculars out his window toward Ground Zero, the hole
they are digging to China. If you shift right and northward a bit, you can see the
batteries of lights set up just across West Street on the landfill. They are arranged in the
shape of two offset squares, approximating the configuration of the towers’ footprint. If
you didn’t know these were lights, you could imagine they were pilings. That’s the
freaky thing, how much they resemble the plan of exterior columns, the load bearing
structure of something you’ve seen before.
• • •
We really don’t mind if the descriptions don’t fit. As long as they don’t fit
• • •
You always saw the WTC as an unwitting monument of the Vietnam era. The
great splitting of the culture and the gulf between. Retrofitted now in its destruction to
a symbol of permanent war. Murky origins in the late 1950s; “escalation” through the
sixties; the official ribbon-cutting in April 1973 – the day the Provisional Revolutionary
Government of South Vietnam readmitted American journalists. This is something to
look into more, if you looked into it more. Better someone else.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 227
• • •
Marilyn, just back from a trip to Europe, tells you she spotted Divided…
prominently displayed in the bookstores at Kennedy Airport. Visceral thrill to hear
that. Apart from all else, all ironies, how this modernist child still adores his airports.
To think a part of you lives on those shelves, at the nexus of so much turbined
horsepower, yearning to take to the air, awaiting the traveler’s outstretched hand.
You sit across from a prep school boy masticating a huge wad of gum, blowing
ever huger bubbles. One obscures most of his face, expands far beyond the point you
imagine materially sustainable. At last it pops, enveloping his nose. He tries to corral it
all back in with his tongue, but it’s spread too far, so he peels off the extruded portion
and feeds it manually into his mouth. A small bit of gum remains on his nose, caught in
the hazy sunlight. It must cause him a slight itch, because after a few moments he
reaches up and, with the back of his hand, abstractedly brushes it away. He continues
chewing avidly, occasionally darting out his pink-sheathed tongue. Eventually, he
blows another, more modest bubble.
• • •
We are called upon now to become inhumane, to renounce any empathic
resonances that may move the air within our cavities. We are called upon louder, we
are beeped at, shrieked at, to stir ourselves to the point where the vibration of our own
mechanism drowns out the noises of others who move their mouths silently like fish.
The death urge we have incarnated in our government knows it need not fear our
hindsight – which has never amounted to much – but they do not wait for the cataracts
to build on their own accord – each generation seeing less. They want us blind right
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 228
Mark and Bruce over to dinner. They are vastly taken with your view
downtown. Sometimes, even when they’re in the same room, they speak for one
another. “Ah, the towers of light,” Bruce, says. “Mark thinks they look like something
out of Batman.”
• • •
Mark and Bruce have gone home. Gwen, up way past her bedtime, passes out
while you’re reading her Harry Potter – an episode about an ugly, racist wizard riot
against Muggles using the pretext of a Quittich Cup match.
The New York Times online. Double click on “Bombers Gloat in
“It is the most effective strategy,” says Abdel Aziz Rantisi of Hamas, “For us it is
the same as their F-16.”
“The gates of resistance are totally open,” he says.
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