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- May 2 EEric Darton NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 240
- May 3 – Le G. – Early Morning
- Cinco de mayo
- May 6 – Le G.
- May 10 – Le G. – Early Morning
You nap, and half dream you are a dolphin cavorting, leaping out of the water.
Somehow as you reenter you find your medium, while still liquid, has turned very hot
You wake briefly, then continue your nap. Into your ears comes a slogan:
Contempt – it’s a killer.
There is the horror, the double trauma – that is as yet the only word for it. If only
one had been left standing! And standing beside the horror, invisible, inexpressible, a
wonder, too nauseous to manifest as exhilaration, that now power, whatever its claims
to power, is absolute. There are no equivalents, but the pulverizing of the towers – one,
then the other – takes on the consciousness-altering aspect of an event as pivotal as the
French Revolution, or, for the ancients, the fall of Troy. On the surface as it must, social
life proceeds as seems “usual.” yet something has been born: we live in the presence of
a new myth which we do not yet possess the language to describe.
• • •
Because the skyline is empty of those towers, must the jails be filled? And the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 239
Today comes the federal report to Congress on the towers’ collapse. Jet fuel was
the culprit, it declares. But the Times reports “the investigators have concluded that
they are unable to provide a comprehensive analysis.” Well then, case closed.
First royalty check arrives for Divided…. Mixed as your feelings, underpinned by
a visceral gladness, a thankfulness also, that someone – anyone – wrote this particular
In your grandest, wildest, most revisionist daydreams you imagine that when
the book was first published, it sold well, so well that it provoked a fierce public debate
which culminated in a collective decision to abandon the towers as a site of human
Me neither – maybe sneak a look from the observation deck – but work there? Forget
Memo to employees: after much discussion we have decided to move our operations to a
smaller, saner structure…
To the People of New York and New Jersey: while the permanent closure of the World
Trade Center represents a huge write-off, in light of what we now know, it is clearly the better
part of virtue to cut our losses…
• • •
Isn’t this what writers are after at bottom? To change awareness, to change
behavior? Control, control, everywhere and always desire for control.
• • •
You talk to Marshall on the phone. He points out the degree to which your fate
has been bound up with the WTC. “In your picture on the book jacket,” he says, “the
towers are coming out of your head like horns.”
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 240
We are rats. We gobbled down the 20th Century because it smelled good – like
cheese – and now we have the most dreadful stomach ache, realizing it was mostly
poison. We can’t digest it. We can’t throw it up. Spasms in emulation of a dance.
• • •
One cannot reject an image the way one can an idea. This morning at Bruno’s
with Alane and Stephen H., he spoke about watching the towers burn, how they looked
to him less like buildings than fuses.
And then the image came of sand castles.
• • •
At D’agostinos supermarkets the checkout clerks still pack your groceries in
yellow plastic bags imprinted with a blue silhouette of the Manhattan skyline
dominated by the almost twin towers. They must have ordered millions of them way
back, before. What to do now? Print a new bag with a revised skyline? Not bloody
likely. Just keep bagging and give it time.
These, then, are the WTCs that remain – triggering with every usage less and less
a psychic jolt while carrying on as a mundane, load-bearing devices imbued with a
soupçon of wish-fulfillment. These WTC’s may be disposed of without guilt, or hoarded
as sacred artifacts – or anything in between. Whatever need be.
The E train signs still announce the World Trade Center as the line’s downtown
terminus. And the conductors say “E train to World Trade Center” before they
announce the next southbound station, as the chimes chime, and the doors slide shut.
We are and are not letting go.
• • •
From Wolfgang’s window this afternoon, you ply the ruins through his
binoculars. Amazingly tidy – transitioning, at the level of image, from a field of
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 241
field. What next? Bleachers? A scoreboard?
May 3 – Le G. – Early Morning
Janus faces abounding. A perfect vertical split down the NYT front page. On the
left, WTC cleanup: “Mournful Task Ending, Forever Unfinished.” At the right: “U.S., in
Surprise, Announces Global Talks for Mideast; Israel Backed by Congress.”
Back to back races this weekend Saturday: ici, the Kentucky Derby. On Sunday:
Chirac vs. LePen for the soul of France.
And in New York on the 5th of May, twin parades: “The Pride of Cuba” and
“Salute to Israel.”
• • •
Early evening. Walk home across 25th Street with a slight buzz on. Champagne
on an empty stomach. At the Basic Books party, light poured through the twin
skylights, one with a water tower looming above – part threat, part exhilaration – into
their new HQ. Basic’s parent company moved from the Harper Collins slab up on 53rd
off Madison, down to a once-funky building at 28th and Park Avenue South into offices
that once housed Marvel Comix.
Timed to coincide with a sales event known as Book Expo America, the party
swelled as the elevators emptied a constant supply of business-clad, men and women
sporting silly plastic badges of affiliation. Not beautiful, these folk, nor sharky smellers
of trace blood in a vast sea. Neither timid mammals, nor scavengers. But they’re alert,
intent on something. They’ll know what they’re looking for when they find it – they’re
just not sure what it is yet. Near the buffet, a workmanlike jazz quintet emitted a
precisely calibrated field of energy.
You wandered about from room to room but continually returned to the view
upward through the skylights. Was the quintet to be the whole show? No special
effects? No Spiderman to alight on the panes, or else crash through?
Not in the hour and a half you hung out. Chatted with many people. Tried to be
animated, yet circumspect. Your circumspection is hard won and not entirely reliable.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 242
marketing honcho, a nice fellow, introduces you some folks as “the author who wrote
the World Trade Center book for us a couple of years ago.” You shake hands, nod,
smile and sip your champagne. Of course, that’s what he’d think: you wrote it for
them. That’s probably what you’d say in his shoes. Or something like it.
A single set of pigeon tracks impressed into the sidewalk on the north side of
25th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. The pigeon who landed in the wet
cement, appears to have been as tipsy as you are now. Its tracks meander westward
over a distance of three seams, then end abruptly at what must have been already dried
pavement. You’d eaten nothing at the party, anticipating Katie’s chicken in orange
sauce and broccoli. If you weren’t so hungry, you’d detour a block south to 24th Street,
where, just west of Eighth Avenue there are leaf imprints by the hundred etched in the
concrete. When you first pointed them out to Gwen years ago, she deduced that the
cement must have been poured on a blustery fall day. Lord, she’s a bright one. Ah, you
said, but which year?
You’re halfway to Eighth Avenue before you register that back near the corner of
Sixth, you walked past, without really noticing it, the storefront of the sewing machine
supply company Bea once worked for. Was that the secretarial job where depression
caught her up so completely in its grip that she had to go on disability, or was it United
Family Services Association down on 23rd Street. When you were a teenager, she’d
worked for the United Way – “I gave at the office” – up in the east 40s near the UN and
Pfizer, with its amazing mural.
Your champagne head prompts you to converse with her, however unilaterally.
You tell her you wish she were alive to see your writing validated as she’d always
believed it would be. You say you’re not so sure you’d want her to be alive to see
what’s happening in Palestine. How fervently she believed in the dream of a Jewish
state. How it pained her to witness that dream turning, ever more inescapably, to
nightmare. You’d want to spare her seeing what’s going on now in the world as a
whole. But still, on balance, you wish she were here, Not least to hear Gwen’s touch
when she plays Mozart’s minuets.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 243
Check email and find that Topiary has sent you a jpg of an image you’d asked
her to shoot with her video camera last week when she interviewed you: her copy of
thorough going-over, evidenced by the thicket of annotated post-its sprouting from its
pages. Looking closer you saw the post-its bore a brand logo in blue, purple-tinged
letters: Zoloft. Laugh out loud. This is your book. This is your book on meds. These
days so much is silly. Wonder where she got the pad. Is some friend or relative a
shrink? It’s possible too that she herself is a devotee of the pharmaceutical cult. She
doesn’t seem the type, for mood adjusters, whatever that means. But yes, anything is
possible. Anything goes. No – everything.
“War Emblem Takes Lead Early and Never Looks Back.” That’s the Times
headline on the horse that won the Kentucky Derby, the horse owned by a Saudi prince,
the horse so fast it “drained any drama from the race.”
Only the other day a friend emailed you that he might fly down to catch the
Derby with his father and brother. Your friend is a poet. His father ex of some
intelligence service we don’t speak about. Your friend’s older brother carries on the
family trade. After his retirement, père went to work for a man named Cummings, a
private arms dealer. So personable a fellow was Cummings that he was given a
nickname, not to say nom de guerre: “the smiling merchant of death.” Not too long
past, Cummings’s daughter shot her lover cum polo coach – an Argentine as you recall
– with a pistol, several times at point blank range over breakfast on the family estate in
the rolling hills of a place that is, or might as well be Langley. The post mortem showed
the fellow had been in the act of swallowing a mouthful of cereal. Ms. Cummings
received the best defense money can buy. Sentenced to six months. Wheels within
God lead us past the setting of the sun
To wizard islands, of august surprise;
God make our blunders wise.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 244
– Vachel Lindsay, “Litany of the Heroes,” stanza 16
This morning comes and sits at the table next to you at Gamin a man named K.
you’ve never seen before. But he avers he’s observed you at your spot these many
years. He’s watched you write in longhand, then decant into your laptop. Turns out
that as a young attorney in the ‘60s, he handled the closing on the Radio Row properties
for the Port Authority. If you laid all these coincidences end to end, they’d form a chain
longer than the ships at the bottom of the Bermuda Triangle.
You continue reading Barthe’s Michelet, who described the execution of
Robespierre and the beginnings of the White Terror, the bals de victimes, “orchestrated
orgies of false grief” where “horror and absurdity fought it out on equal footing,” or as
Plutarch had it, “played Cretan against Cretan.”
Is it just my nose or does the whole city smell of horseshit and piss wafted in
varying degrees of pungency on the spring breeze? Not as bad this afternoon, almost
not noticeable, but walking down 22nd Street, another sudden gust.
Another séance on the WTC site being held at Columbia University. Uptown
then to attend the session wherein Stephan’s design students will, among other
proposals, present their collaborative thesis project for a trade center museum-
memorial. The event is nested within a two-day academic confab held in Alfred Lerner
Hall, a name that doesn’t ring any bells. Not that you’ve ever been precisely a
Columbia denizen. Brand new this hall is – its architecture at least one part knockoff
Beaubourg (Fauxbourg?) – replete ubiquitous diagonal ramps and steelwork on full
display. Alfred Lerner’s hall stands where Ferris Booth’s used to. The latter, as you
recall, served as a locus of the student strike in ‘68. According to a plaque embedded in
the sidewalk near the entrance, Ferris Booth Hall was dedicated in 1960. Replaced in
forty years and renamed? Wow, that’s fast.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 245
Once inside, several of the students – you’ve only met them once – recognize you
and wax effusive in their thanks for your help. You warm to their praise, but like so
much else, it washes off you in the instant. The proceedings begin. A couple of designs
make explicit use of shadows: in particular, those cast by the WTC towers at the
moment they were struck by their respective planes. Which, of course, would be two
events separated in time, so only apparent parallels here. Your crew’s turn comes.
Several students in turn articulate an aspect of the total design, and though some are
stronger, more legible speakers than others, as a whole they carry off their moment in
the sun with focus, confidence and a sense of genuine collegial engagement. Had the
WTC been thought and felt through half as well as these guys’ thesis, it’d be standing
But talk of shadows flips you back to when you first saw Etyan Kaufman’s
bridge proposal at Protetch, at the beginning of the year. What struck you then, even in
your daze, was how the twin spans emulated the shadows of the towers, entwined and
stretched across the river.
Your duty of attendance fulfilled, you offer the requisite congratulations and
vanish as soon as politesse will allow. When you get home, make a bee-line for Gwen’s
room and pull A Child’s Garden of Verses – your old copy with the scotch-taped spine –
from beneath Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on the night table. Sit on her bed and
read, once again, “My Shadow”:
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow –
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an India-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.
He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 246
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!
One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an errant sleepyhead,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.
You show the poem to Katie and she says something quite profound about
Stevenson and the Other. And reminds you that he came from a family of engineers,
• • •
Afternoon to the café to write, but can’t and instead get seduced by the Times,
whence you learn that under the radar, the government has bought us a new Navy.
Billions and billions served. Up. Now, at last, everything will be alright.
A story on the latest mad pipe bomber. The day before he was arrested, the FBI
issued this description: Fiftyish, disaffected hippie-type, a certified Unibomber II.
Turns out the confessed bomber’s age is 21. Almost generically clean cut, Luke Helder
is a member of a rock band named Apathy. His pattern of bombs, distributed across
five states is mapped out as an enormous smiley face. These last few days, when you
overload on the deadly manifest silliness of it all, your mind tosses up the refrain from a
pop song of the late ‘60s:
That’s all you remember. No, the trick is to hypnotize yourself – it’s all still in
In shades of green
Under dreaming spires, to Itchycoo Park
That's where I've been
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 247
What did you do there? I got high
What did you feel there? Well I cried
But why the tears then? Tell you why
It's all too beautiful, it's all too beautiful…
Right – and the group was called Small Faces.
• • •
Ah, some real news. Someone or other has polled the authors of the world and
we have spoken. The greatest, best, most absolutely perfect novel of all time is Don
Quixote. Now if only Cervantes could be reconstituted from a sneeze, sat down in a
multiplex – he’d have to leave his rapier in the lobby – and asked afterward what he
thought of Spiderman. $125 million in its first weekend. More better superlatives. You
do the math and something like one out of twenty Americans saw it within 48 hours of
its release. Numbers like this Goebbles would have never dared to dream. Carpet
bombing. What sort of city arises from the ashes of so many devastated minds?
• • •
In the café’s bathroom rack there is still a plentiful stock of light blue postcards
put out by the NYC Department of Public Health and Project Liberty urging the
traumatized to call 1 800 LIFENET because “Even heroes need to talk.” Another card in
the series avers that “New York needs us strong,” and insists, in the same bold white
letters: “We’re all in this together.”
• • •
9:15 pm. Peasoup fog. From the bedroom window, the Empire State, a third of a
mile northeast as the crow flies, completely invisible, illuminated top and all.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 248
Steve, master of irony, presents you with an article he’s clipped out of
yesterday’s New York Sun. Thus you discover that in the 1890s Kaiser Wilhelm, in a fit
of jealous pique at America’s colonial expansion, planned an invasion of the U.S. by a
hundred thousand German troops. Initially, the first targets struck were to be the major
east coast naval installations, but in 1906 the scheme was modified so the assault began
with bombardment of New York City. Ah, the plans, the plans!
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