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- May 13 – Early Morning
- May 17 – Gioia and Ken’s House, Bearsville, NY – Evening
- May 20 – Le G. – Early Morning.
Fresh-laid white cement near Gamin, a three-panel strip across the breadth of the
sidewalk. New macadam on the street too. You recall that a few days ago they were
sawing up the roadway, excavating and laying new pipe there. Then, some time when
you weren’t around to watch, a single pigeon tracked diagonally across the wet cement,
heading more or less northwest, toward your house and the Empire State Building
Years ago when Gwen was very small, they laid some fresh cement for a
temporary sidewalk up by the luxury corporate chicken-coop on the next corner, the
one you call the Mexico City, because of the skinny cinderblock columns, and the
enormously thick floor slabs. You’d found a stick and held Gwen’s hand as she incised
her name G-W-E-N. She was delighted, but she kept looking round, hugely afraid
you’d be caught. Nearly every day then, for a year, she passed her name until the
temporary sidewalk got jackhammered up for a more permanent one. On the ground
floor now, for months on end, a glass-fronted concrete chasm. Despite the allure of
“Prime Retail Space,” an occupant has failed to materialize.
Thus the great toad of Manhattan real estate inflates itself more slowly these past
months – many projects near completion, with notably fewer groundbreakings – in
Chelsea at any rate. One spanking new pile of bricks at 23rd and Sixth, named The
Caroline, anchors the string of new apartment towers entraining up the avenue through
the whittled-down flower district. Plastered ubiquitously around the neighborhood –
on scaffolding signs, banners and even ads on nearby phone booths – the emblem for
this high-rent MacPalazzo is striking indeed. It’s a portrait-shaped depiction of the
comely head and upper torso of a bare-breasted woman caught in the act of raising her
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 249
of her eponymous building. She’s rendered as an “antique” engraving – part karyatid,
water nymph, ship’s figurehead – run together with a hundred other strains of mythic
womanhood. It’s soft core porn, for sure, and hokey past-o-rama too – a literally naked
ploy to confer upon “Manhattan’s Finest and Fastest Renting Building” the mantle of
“A Timeless Classic.” True, all true. Yet in this place and moment her presence stirs up
something more. Here, at this non-descript and treeless intersection, flanked at every
hand by vast, bleak chain stores or grungy little shops all draped in tattered banners,
red and gray and blue, a goddess of the hearth has risen, bearing promises of limitless
abundance, shelter and fecundity. “Ah,” you nearly shouted when you first saw her
image, “Ashcroft will never visit here – he couldn’t stand the energy!”
flailing mind. But suddenly, for a half a block, your heart felt lighter. Eros, however
compromised, lives on – a hop, skip and a jump from where the tricky gusts occasioned
by the windplay among the Flatiron building, Met Life tower and Madison Square Park
could blow a woman’s skirt up high as her head, sudden as an inverting umbrella in a
nor’easter. Back when the twentieth century was a teenager, long before Marilyn seized
the opportunity of a subway sirocco, cops patrolled this crossroads twirling their
batons, shooing away clusters of loitering men. It was here that the officer’s timeless
order to “Move it along now,” transmuted into modern slang with longer legs:
• • •
Vic P., one of your Goddard students has written a brief, intense memoir of an
acid trip he took in 1983. Lovely piece. Meticulous evocation of a cultural moment
articulated in the relationship between the narrator and a fellow tripper, a lover of no-
wave music who turns out to be quite compellingly mad. In his accompanying letter
Vic recalls these experiences as feeling, even at the time like a narration. And now,
nineteen years on, that narration takes material form. And something in Vic’s way of
telling alerts you to the degree to which your writing of this moment of your city and
yourself has taken on ever more the qualities of concrete hallucination.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 250
• • •
Burst, Phoenix-like out of the swamp of your Goddard packets. Out onto the
street. Hail, and across three lanes he sweeps and screeches. Hop inside. Through the
slid-open partition window, the driver looks to be, aside from a couple of day’s growth
of beard, a clean-cut young fellow. You lean over to read the name on his “picture.”
The allegedly bullet-proof plexiglas has a nearly sandblasted quality, but through its
distress, the letters appear to spell Kevoucle, Hamid. As he trips the meter and
accelerates, a grotesquely distorted recording blasting from the speakers just behind
you nearly precipitates you out of your seat. “Hi!” – a chorus of shrieks – “We’re the
Radio City Music Hall Rockettes!” – this amidst an amped-up clatter of tap shoes – “We
get a kick out of New York City and you should too, but remember to buckle your seat
belt…” Typical Giuliani: the terrorism of everyday life.
Hamid Kevoucle seems not entirely sure of the distinct functions of accelerator
and brake, yet somehow you navigate the raucous global wholesale streets east by
northeast toward Gloria’s oasis of tranquility in Murray Hill. Pull over at the corner of
Park and 35th. The instant he hits the button to stop the meter, the Rockettes renew
their assault. They insist vehemently, the cadence of their phrases enforced by infernal
stomping, that you take your receipt. They demand you clear out your belongings, and
most terrifying of all, threaten to “See you at the show!” You step out onto the street,
your nerves shot. You’ve given Hamid Kevoucle a substantial tip, not for being a good
driver which he isn’t, but because it is the only way you can acknowledge his having to
endure that harsh, unvarying sonic assault sixty times a day, six days a week.
• • •
In the space of your writing, you establish your own sovereign republic. The
moment you stop moving the pen, the reaction sets in: the white terror of the counter-
revolution. You’ve never moved a pen around for therapy’s sake. But now it’s a matter
of keeping your marbles from skittering off the table.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 251
It is not remembered what Nero fiddled. It is remembered that he fiddled.
• • •
Rain again. Never know a lusher, more verdant urban spring. On 22nd Street,
the boughs of the pear trees hang so low over the sidewalk you have to duck.
Impressed in a single square of pavement near Leo House, what appear to be the
pawprints of a kitten.
Ma ma ma, Ma ma sa, Ma ma Makossa…
• • •
Haven’t been following the story systematically, but lord, the extraordinary, ad
hominem attacks on Pavarotti, for presumably dissing NYC. Claiming congestion, he
cancelled a performance of Tosca, and did not appear in person to apologize. In the
Post, above a picture of the tenor bundled up in coats and mufflers the headline: The Fat
Man Won’t Sing. Inside on the editorial page, a grotesquely obese caricature: he’s being
transported by crane over the heads of the other cows in the stockyard. Ever alert to the
main chance, the Times leveraged, and at the same time endorsed the Post’s hostility,
repeating the “Fat Man” headline uncritically at the top of its own story.
Such terrifying effusions of hatred. Such a tidal wave of free floating rage. One
searches for a rational underpinning, however distorted. Is the abundantly corporeal
Pavarotti a stand-in for the wispy, and now dematerialized Bin Laden? Bearded, yet
otherwise the physical obverse of the Great Enemy of Civilization? Or is he taking the
heat for repressed murderous impulses toward the gargantuan Sharon? A tinge of anti-
Catholic backlash in the air? First they came for the priests, then the tenors. In any
case, the hate seems nearly anti-Semitic in its virulence. Clearly the media finds his
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 252
The swan has the power to withhold his blessing.
But as in so many other things, a dissonance between this whipped-up scandal
and life on the ground. Nobody you’ve spoken to raises the subject, and folks you
bring it up with don’t seem to care much about Pavarotti one way or t’other, assuming
they’ve registered the flap at all. Odds are, as is nearly always the case in this attention-
deficit culture, a week from now, some new object of hatred will be fixed upon with
vituperative abandon, shaken and shrieked at, and then abruptly let fall.
Baudrillard got it wrong. Objects in rearview mirror get small real fast, and then
• • •
A ‘50s novelty song swims into your head: Purple People Eaters. “One eyed, one
horned, flying purple people eaters…”
• • •
Afternoon at Gamin. Look up from your book. Across the room, a customer
pumping himself a take-out coffee. At his feet, a miniature, black and white bull dog.
Cutest thing. With three legs.
In the latest issue of Downtown Express, an ad for a “World Trade Center
Pregnancy Study” conducted by Mount Sinai Hospital. Another ad asks “9/11 Health
Problems?” This one from the Chemical Sensitivity Foundation of Brunswick, ME.
The Tribeca Film Festival draws “tens of thousands” for “films, fun and music.”
AmEx celebrates its return to Battery Park City with a full page ad in the Times and
sponsors a concert series to the tune of a million dollars. At the opening ceremony
Mayor Bloomberg draws out his AmEx card and vows to use it exclusively.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 253
Hundreds of children brandish “shaft of light” swords in emulation of the battles
in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, an event the Times describes as symptomatic
of the “healing.”
The last bargeful of debris is removed from Pier 25.
Witness the birth of the WTC industry. No, it was born with the first helicopter
livecam on the scene. Why then did it take you so long to come up with this
formulation? You were there, heard the words yourself, echoing in the dark cave of the
studio way back when on September 14 – Matt Lauer’s imperative to his technician:
“Give me the towers in slow motion – exploding, falling – whatever!”
Turn to the Times. The moon’s dust, it seems, “Hides a Throbbing Heart.” This
bombshell headlines the science section. Soon to be revealed, la lune’s greatest secret:
“far beneath its cold craters and rocky landscape lies a heart that is warm and yielding.”
This new narrative of molten innards, of lovely ductile stuff could “boost a theory that
the Moon was born in the aftermath of a violent collision between early Earth and a
speeding cosmic wanderer.”
In the compromised poetics of journalistic wish-fulfillment, the Moon transforms
into a love child, ripe for love in turn. Wears its love like heaven. Agua de luna. Or, as
they say Down Under: “she’ll be right.” In these abrasive, lapidary days – days never
oily enough, never ensanguinated enough, even the Gray Lady yearns to discover a
heart beating within its barren soul.
• • •
It’s an awful feeling: more shoes to drop off this centipede. It’s not over.
Whoever brought the towers down isn’t finished.
Comes, through channels, a weird tale from the land of eminences grise, of
“Buzzy” Krongard, CIA director and bigtime investor. Until quite lately “Buzzy”
served as a prime shareholder in Deutche Bank AB Brown. On September 6-7, 2001, the
bank placed 4,700 put options on United Airlines and took a similar position against
American. The smart money? The crazy money? She’ll be right. No worries. Just
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 254
mourning, the public outrage, the medals for the widows and orphans and the official funerals
with caribinieri presenting arms and standing to attention.
Dario Fo, Accidental Death of an Anarchist (postscript)
• • •
Massacres of the impotent.
• • •
Let it go, Eric. Just let it go.
Woke up this morning so sick with the oppression and death around and within
that you could scarcely move. Held the image of Gwen’s face before you, not how she
will look singing “Eleanor Rigby” in the chorus tonight, but just as it is when she is
awake and observant, like an icon. Oval.
On the way to school she sang, or rather worked over, “On Broadway,” her latest
vocal conquest. They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway; They say there’s always
magic in the air; But when you’re walking down the street; And you ain’t had enough to eat; The
glitter rubs right off and you’re nowhere (on Broadway).
Her speaking voice is high and light, like that of a much younger child, so it’s a
surprise to hear her hitting the low notes so effortlessly. Wonder what Ben E. King
In her backpack, along with her lunch and schoolbooks, she carries a letter Katie
wrote, signed by both of you informing her teacher that she’ll write a report on the
article on the pulsating moon, rather than the horrible, war-mongering spew the kids
are supposed to parrot in TIME for Kids. Basta. A tiny basta in the grand capitulation.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 255
“I won’t quit till I’m a star on Broadway” she sings. Looks up and over at you,
expectant. Lag time. You remember your line: “All up and down Broadway…” Try for
that drawl, that baritone.
• • •
Time to write. Nose to the wheel, shoulder to the grindstone. But your café
compulsion leads you astray. Head back to the newspaper rack. Nothing there yet of
today’s droppings. Take a seat at Table 4. Down the street comes Mario, the Post and
Times in his hand. Asks with his eyes if you want them and you affirm. Face up, in
front of you now, the tabloid headline, white against black, a good two and a half inches
high: BUSH KNEW.
Inside, “9/11: The Recovery – By the numbers:
Pounds, tons – whatever.
• • •
Vanished with the wreckage, human and otherwise, the material evidence of ten
hijackers. Were they considered part of the debris (only those who performed the task
know how tenderly weighed)? On what balance sheet do they tally?
Is it possible, is it necessary, to invent a new mathematics for this terrordome?
Some better description, some bridge between the quantity and quality of things?
• • •
p.m. back home and walking through your lobby toward the elevator. Joe, the
mailman beckons, “Over here Mr. D.” He calls you this habitually and though you’ve
told him your given name a dozen times, he seems to enjoy the formality. “Here’s
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 256
wrinkle is that Joe now associates you with the trade center having recognized you on
the Today Show. He’s one of a small, but discernable group who now perceive you as
plastered over with a banner reading: As seen on TV.
This time it isn’t a special piece of mail Joe wants to hand you, rather he pauses
in his work and pulls out his wallet from which he draws a twenty. Painstakingly he
folds the bill this way and that, then hands it to you for examination: voila! the image of
the White House on the greenback side, transformed into twin towers. He refolds it
another way and there’s a pentagon. “Spooky,” he says.
• • •
In your nap comes a dream rhyme:
children can’t wait to get to heaven.
Gwen sits by the hearth, stares into the blaze. Do you remember, she asks, the
poem about fire she wrote in second grade. Indeed you do not. So she recites it:
On after the stage of light?…
Then lines about the smell of smoke that “still roams about,” though the fire has
died by morning. She speaks of the “hard work of trees,” who repair to a kind of forest
nightclub where flames, cast as women, leap and twirl.
…Don’t try and stop them
It’s their destiny
Those yellow endless dancers
Will just dance through the night.
“Gwen, you remember all that – from two years ago?” She nods.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 257
New York Post front page: “Cheney’s Terror Warning: IT’S NOT IF – BUT
WHEN.” Beneath his visage, steely blue eyes. His mouth caught speaking, slightly
more out of one side than the other, which lends him the aspect of a deadly serious Bob
“In a dire warning yesterday, VP Dick Cheney told Americans that Osama bin
Laden’s terror network is ‘almost a certainty’ to launch another deadly assault against
the U.S. In his chilling assessment, Cheney said: ‘It’s not a matter of if, but when.’
Meanwhile it emerged that possible targets may include apartment buildings, malls,
restaurants and banks; see pages 4 & 5.”
What appears to be the muddled language of a hysterical tabloid actually
contains a very clear message: Cheney et al are threatening more terror. It matters little
whether the assault comes in the form of “blowback” or direct action by the state. The
source of the violence to come is less important than the certainty of its coming, and the
authority of the vates. The language is played so close to the edge; so near to unmasking
itself, to becoming not a confession of guilt, but an exhibition of triumphant psychosis.
Our job is not to question what the President did or did not know. It is only to tremble
in anticipation of the blow. This is no a Zen use of the stick. Nor even Teddy
Roosevelt’s. It constitutes a monopoly on the infliction of fear.
Mike B. walks into the café. You exchange salutations. He holds a small book in
his hands, one he is enjoying: Achilles, a novel by Elizabeth Cook. Mike pats himself
down, cannot seem to find his reading glasses. He heads back home leaving you
holding the volume. You open it: Achilles, newly arrived in, or at the mouth of hell, is
anxious for news of his son Neoptolemus, last seen at the siege of Troy. Odysseus
assures Achilles: “All harm came from him. No harm came to him.” You read the
sentences over and over. Mike returns with his glasses. You hand him back his book,
express interest in reading it when he’s done.
Turn to the Times, which reports the veep’s prophesy on page 17 under the
headline: “Cheney Expects More Terror for U.S.” Here, the picture shows him with his
mouth closed, head tilted, as though listening to an interlocutor soft-focus in the
foreground right. Beneath this photo, and separated by another headline is one of
Condoleezza Rice looking deeply weary, pressing her fingers to her furrowed brow.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 258
You show this picture to Steven next to you at Table 5 joking that it looks like the
old ads for Anacin offering fast fast fast relief. Steve’s wife is a physician specializing in
headaches, and thus, if only via osmosis, he has some understanding of these matters.
He scrutinizes the picture, nods sagely, and says Rice’s pose is typical of a migraine
Return to the Post. Page 5. To drive home the message the editor has clustered
photos illustrating an example of each of the “soft targets” Cheney has listed as most
vulnerable. Anti-clockwise from left: a shot from above of a mall’s “main street” in full
consumer cry; a bank vault, the door ajar, permitting a peek within; a young couple in a
restaurant, unaware of the camera, swept up in the narcosis of one another’s gaze and
caress; a trim woman in a suit selects what appears to be a can of Spam from a
supermarket shelf, and last, representing “Apartment buildings,” a doorman wearing
an interpretation of Olde English livery modified toward the military, has pulled a
heavy grated door open and bids us enter. The silliness of the pastiche, culminating
with an invitation to tour a metaphorical Tower of London, makes you nearly giddy.
Out onto the street you go, into the bone chilling gusts of a spring that feel straight out
• • •
Afternoon nap. A dream in which you work for Con Ed and are rebuilding the
power station at #7 WTC. Wearing one of those miner’s hats, you walk down a ramp
into the cavernous foundation. Light from an opening to your left, a breach in the
concrete wall. You pass through the portal and find yourself standing in the WTC’s
“bathtub.” As you enter, the vast space is completely roofed over with translucent tarp,
which in the manner of dreams, evaporates, and you find yourself standing in an open
air immensity – the great foundation before the towers came.
• • •
‘If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 259
Do you suppose,’ the Walrus said,
‘That they could get it clear?’
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