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Days wasted in thrall to fear.
The culture was, like a vessel, already filled with fear. Saturated, sponge-like.
Who killed Kennedy? and on and on from there. Now we brim over.
You notice you’ve arrested your breathing. You stretch. Which hurts, so you
stand. Attempt to do some Qi Gong moves, facing south. Your eyes focus on nothing
in particular, but you cannot help notice, through the window, the Fuji blimp as it
passes over, or appears to pass over the former site of the World Trade Center. In its
silence, its slowness, its smooth trajectory, the airship is a dread image.
Of course there are sirens, choppers, planes – some military – overflying the city
seemingly at random, but certainly outside their pre-9/11 flightpaths. Caught on the
20th floor, somewhere between the flying machines and the ground, you see in your
mind, half hallucinated, Broadway as the Mohican trail – the high ridge of Manhattan
Island – heading north to another Algonquin settlement that would become Montreal.
Finished with your Qi Gongs. Your extremities are still chilled, but your internal
organs feel palpably warmer.
• • •
Not fear of God, just fear.
• • •
Newton York City: the bruised apple which so fell off the tree.
Morning visit with Elizabeth at her new office on the twenty-second floor of a
hulking garment district fortress of a building on Seventh Avenue between 27th and
28th. The columns and floors that once bore the weight of sewing machines and
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 260
the hall “consulting.”
Outside the window a jet, literally, screams overhead, twin engines, passenger.
It gains altitude, banks over lower Manhattan and Brooklyn then makes what looks like
a routine approach to LaGuardia. The morning sun flashes off its skin and for an
instant, you’re sure it is igniting.
Waiting for the other shoe to drop. But what does this mean when you’re
dealing with a creature of innumerable legs?
You venture downstairs and breakfast at the Utopia Diner. Cell phones
detonating everywhere, including in her bag. You have arrived not at Utopia, but
rather Rabelais’s Ringing Island, L’Isle Sonante, where the migratory birds flock to live
sumptuously while warbling to the carillon surround.
She orders breakfast, you a decaf. As always, your conversation ranges over a
wide, unpredictable terrain. Elizabeth tells you of the horrific deaths that befell her
childhood invisible companions. And how in her doctoral thesis, she turned their
“tomb” into a “tome.” The letters click in your head like tumblers falling to a true-cut
key and pulling out your red razor point pen you draw for her, on a napkin, what
happens if one removes the closed, rounded of part of the B, leaving in its place an E –
thus TOMB, quite graphically becomes TOME. And, moreover, in a language that
reads left to right, the energies liberated from the once-entombed B advance boldly
across the page. When you get up to leave, she doesn’t claim the napkin, so you tuck
the napkin in your journal book – somehow it feels like an artifact.
Return home to discover your journal book is not in your backpack. Good lord,
so much this past year you never had time to transcribe. Could you have somehow left
it at Utopia? Pound the elevator button. The wait is maddening. Once downstairs, you
sprint out the back door, diagonally across Eighth Avenue toward the coffee shop.
Purposely, you slow your pace as you enter. There is something about being
past fifty that imposes its own sense of dignity, however fraught or ridiculous the
circumstances. You spot the waitress and her eyes light up when she sees you. “I was
going to call if you didn’t come back in ten minuets,” she says, reaches beneath the
counter and delivers the book into your hands. Whereupon it hits you that, more
important than anything written inside, the book contains the plastic sleeve you use as a
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 261
note from your mother – the epitaph on Wilde’s tomb at Père Lachaise: “For his
mourners will be outcast men, and outcasts always mourn.” What was it in that turn of
phrase that moved her so?
In your manifest relief, you offer up a quip of thanks and the waitress’s eyes light
up another magnitude which lends her face the look of one of those encaustic portraits
placed over mummy cases in Ptolemaic Egypt – more alive almost than the living. You
leave, grateful to Jack for teaching you to tip well.
Down the street home. Imagine – the Utopia being a “Greek” coffee shop – that
the waitress is Greek too, and despite her youth, in some way ancient, fundamental.
Chandra Levy, the vanished Congressional intern, it echoes last week’s gasp on
forewarnings to the President: HE KNEW.
You recall Marshall’s blurb of Divided… in particular his statement that you
“knew where the bodies are buried…”. Not this time, you don’t. Now, as the
sweepers sweep up the last remnants of the WTC, the forensics crews comb the Fresh
Kills landfill for evidence, however minute, of the nearly two thousand people who, for
all intents and purposes, completely evaporated on September 11 – who were, as the
Bloods and Crips once said, and maybe still do, “smoked.”
But didn’t you have a preview of this too, when Nancy’s plane went down off
Newfoundland, what was it, three plus years ago? How little was left of so many. Such
a mass of missing material. No – not missing so much as finely dispersed. It is not as
though the mass was converted to energy, that it entered amaterially “into the world of
light.” Rather the conditions of the crash made it impossible to identify even coherent
body “parts.” In short, one buried less than what one could hold in one’s hand. Hard
in the absence of form, to tell a story.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 262
Out came a book last week, After the World Trade Center: Rethinking New York City
and in it, your essay on the parallels between the Yamasaki, the towers’ architect and
Atta, the urban planner gone bad, who purportedly engineered their destruction.
Called upon to participate in a booklaunch cum panel at Barnes & Noble, you
found yourself inspired to dismissive utterances about the prospects for any sort of
democratic planning process. You said, ex cathedra, something along the lines of: “It’s
a done deal.” No audible gasps, but during the Q&A, you were peppered with
questions by people who assumed you had some sort of inside track or back channel.
In truth you’ve no evidence beside a bit of common sense which tells you that the
process, if one can use such a term for the already programmed, is far too important to
permit of genuine public engagement. If the state can’t control the symbolic discourse,
well then, what the hell’s it good for?
Then came today’s Times announcing that Beyer, Blinder + Bell have got the
redesign contract from the PA and the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. Wham
bam. What to say? But truly, cannot anyone endowed with smell catch wind of the
Delphic vapors wafting from the blown-out Omphalos? A (Mohammed) Atta of roses?
You reel through these sorry days almost giddy with contempt for your fellow New
Yorkers. Pops into your head from time to time, this saving mantra – a Chumbawamba
lyric, spit out in fury, the Yorkshire syntax punching out the final T’s:
May 24 – Le G. – Early Morning
In walks Mike B. and takes his seat at Table 3 – his spot – just to the right of the
door, if you’re facing out. Interesting pin he’s got on his bag, first time you’ve noticed
it. People he knows make them – highly crafted, custom work. Real cloisonné. He
hands it to you for a closer look: a skull in profile, wearing a red bandana. Against the
black surround, the motto: RIDE HARD, DIE FREE.
the President “stood today in the well of Germany’s reconstructed Reichstag and told
Parliament that the terrorist groups the United States and its allies are hunting down
constitute a ‘new totalitarian threat,’ and in a clear reference to Hitler, compared the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 263
racial purity.’” How extraordinary that this speech transpires where it does. For what
was the destruction of the World Trade Center if not the flashpoint, the liminal
moment, the symbolic assault that serves to pre-justify a host of horrors unleashed by a
nation that sees itself as victim? At least until the Reich itself comes crashing down.
Steve sits down at the table to your left. You talk about summer travel plans, his
family’s and yours. His crew is headed for Ireland, but before that, Germany starting
off in Ulm. “Oh,” you say, “the city famous for its young men hanging around
brooding?” He looks at you quizzically and you make the quip you’ve been waiting
years to utter: “The Ulm-louts.”
Unflappable, Steve smiles to show he registers the joke, then responds with a
German tongue-twister that does you one better:
und Um Ulm Herum
In Ulm, around Ulm, and around about Ulm. It’s a spiral. It spins out, then
Enter George S., marketeer extraordinaire. Must be taking the morning off from
his company’s campaign to sell rice to Latinas. Wow, what a tee shirt: brand new,
khaki colored, with a brilliantly colored image of Ho Chi Minh’s visage, superimposed
on a red and gold Vietnamese flag, silkscreened onto the left breast, presumably over
the heart of the wearer. George can truly be called a world traveler. Before Vietnam
came Peru, or was it vice versa. Wants to visit Bhutan and no doubt he will. He’s tall
and slim and the teeshirt suits him well. As he walks toward Table 9, you call out: Dare
to struggle, dare to win. George is a young fella, too young to remember the day, but he
must know the slogan from somewhere, for he turns round and smiles.
• • •
Before the World Trade Center, the parallel supports of the Brooklyn Bridge.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 264
Evening, Metropolitan Museum. Walk down the corridor where they hang the
temporary photos and prints. An image of New York in the ‘30s reminds you of one of
Erich Mendelson’s pictures – jogs your memory. Didn’t his book America contain a
section called “World Center – Money Center”? Have to look that up.
Fleet’s in and the city teems with sailors, their whites blinding and infant-like.
Last night you saw a whole passel of them meandering around the meat district.
Abstractedly passing the old Hellfire Club and the Anvil, where one night, as though in
a dream, you saw the knuckles of one man imprint their shape on the belly of another –
from within – as if some miraculous pregnancy of the fist were occurring. KY,
Surgilube – whatever gets you through the night.
But the sailors, eight of them, straggle diagonally across Hudson Street’s blend of
cobblestone and macadam patching, no doubt unaware of the dramas that have
unfolded on the streets and bars and subterranean dens over which they walk. You
notice that one sailor is a woman, and that she is holding hands with one of the men, a
connection between them at once casual and tender. You overtake the group, walking
New York speed – how many knots? – and flash on the signature line Tillie Olsen gives
Whitey in Tell Me a Riddle: “Hey sailor, what ship?” You almost call it aloud, but then
see the appliqués on their uniforms. Fresh off the Iwo Jima, they’re half your age.
Children. Innocents abroad.
Again, the media unconsciously utters politics’ secret name. Bush flies eastward.
In Moscow, he meets with Putin. There seems a striking parallelism between them.
Our obese, slack-jawed, medicated, incarcerated society, bursting at the seams
with things, is on its way, despite audible tick-tocks, to surviving another Memorial
Day, without blowing up. Onward! Onward to the summer palace!
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 265
Good writers are those that keep the language efficient. That is to say, keep it accurate,
keep it clear….
The fogged language of swindling classes serves only a temporary purpose….
A people that grows accustomed to sloppy writing is a people in process of losing grip on
its empire and on itself. And this looseness and blowsiness is not anything as simple and
scandalous as abrupt and disordered syntax.
It concerns the relation of expression to meaning.
So says Ezra Pound in the ABC of Reading.
• • •
Who’s afraid of Ezra Pound?
• • •
Or for that matter, Banquo’s ghost. Remember me! No, that was Hamlet’s old
• • •
New York needs a reincarnation of Joseph Mitchell like a hole in the head. What
would be useful would be our own Pepys, or Baudelaire or Benjamin, or some
admixture of the lot. We need to get small again, to fade into the twilight’s gray dawn,
to pick up again each morning the tools of an old laborer: le crépuscule du matin.
• • •
Out of the blue Gioia, fellow seeker born under the sign of the twins, calls to
inform you that Mercury’s in retrograde – something you could just as easily have told
her had you thought about it since you feel in your bones. Sound comes as though
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 266
and you get the sense that no one can understand what you’re saying at all.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 267
LA LA LAND
May 30 – Le G. – Early Morning
Your birthday, 52.
Official WTC “Closure Ceremony,” 9 months – “Moving On” quoth the Post.
Keep to your book. Wherein you read that in 1498 Columbus declared the earth
to have “the shape of a pear, which is very round except at the stem end where it is very
prominent like… a woman’s nipple.”
9:05 a.m. Outside the café, a large vehicle, like a mobile home, docks at the curb.
Across its broad flank the logotype proclaims “Fifth & Sunset.” A side door opens,
beneath which a kind of folding stepladder descends and eight people pour out
videlicet: one blonde model in a black dress; one photographer; one photographer’s
assistant; one make-up person cum stylist, prettier than the model, with enormous
hazel eyes, but too short and cursed with a slight overbite; one stylist’s assistant. The
other two, a man and a woman, though not wearing suits, appear to represent “the
client.” Across the breadth of sidewalk they sweep and into the café.
Closer up, you can see the stylist wears a lacy white peasant blouse. Her
assistant, a gangly young man – his scraggly beard and pony tail give him the look of a
grown-up child raised on a commune – is charged with spraying and combing the
model’s sumptuous tresses. Thus in a virtual eyeblink, the room fills the attar of
hairspray – particles hazing the air as the photo crew bounces megawatt illumination
off every available surface.
Mario ventures outside and cranks up the awning for maximum sun exposure.
Your eyes meet and he shrugs his shoulders, smiles. This too shall pass. You pick up
your coffee and book and move deeper into the room to escape the flood of light. Too
nuclear even for a depressive carrying genes from the Levant. The model perches on a
chair at Table 2, just left of the door. She pretends to drink a café au lait and nibble on a
croissant while the photographer, a sharp-featured, swarthy bloke in an orange tee
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 268
clack the shutter. Between shots, his assistant rushes in to hold a light meter next to the
For a quarter hour or so, the photographer shoots polaroids. Then a final
combing. But wait – the polaroids reveal the dress to be too voluminous at the waist.
Into the frame swoops the stylist and cinches with a spring clamp the excess fabric at
the small of the model’s back, then pulls an “evercare” lint-removing wand out of her
jeans pocket and gives the fabric a fairy-light once-over. The serious clacking begins.
You return to Michelet wherein Barthes proposes that:
Based on the alliance of the two sexes, the People gradually becomes…a superior means of
knowledge. Quite like Woman, and in virtually the same direction, the People is above History,
it opens Nature and grants access to the supernatural goal of a paradisal, reconciled humanity.
The conjunction of adverse sexes into a third and complete ultra-sex represents the abolition of
all contraries, the magical restoration of a seamless world which is no longer torn between
The People set no frontier between yes and no. Michelet, moreover, has given the same
image of this higher ambiguity: that of the little girl cradling her doll, smiling at her doll, yet
knowing all the while that her doll is a wooden figure.
Within ten minutes it is all over. The shoot has moved on to the next location.
With the awning still rolled up, morning light streams in on the empty table where the
model sat, and on her still-full bowl of café au lait, the foam appreciably deflated, and
the fingerprinted, unbitten croissant.
It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. But the weather report promises
afternoon thunderstorm and an evening laced with hail.
• • •
Wolfgang departs tomorrow, migrating back to Germany for the summer and
early fall, not to return until nearly Thanksgiving. The only time you’ve ever spoken to
him across the ocean was when he called on September 12. As a semi-New Yorker, he
knew that the city had not been reduced to ruins, and assumed you’d survived. But he
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 269
you assured him it had.
This morning at 11 you ring him up. He is having trouble with the reception on
his portable phone, so he moves toward the transmitter in the kitchen, and in so doing,
looks out his window. With the air of someone not yet entirely awakened from a
deeper-than-planned siesta, he describes the scene along the West Side highway: a
cortège – a truck bearing the final beam, masses of people, bagpipers, and the site itself,
Gioia calls to wish you happy birthday in Sicilian. You discuss the temptation of
Adam with a fig – this is the truth of the matter and she reads you a Sephardic saying
just she’s discovered:
through the little eye… when it reaches the heart, hold on tight!
Enticed by the smell of baking, you put aside your Goddard work, walk down
the hall and into kitchen. On the counter, K. is turning out the second layer of your
cake. There they lie side by side: two dark and perfect discus moons.
• • •
After dinner, the traditional “blackout” and presentation of the cake. You blow
out the five candles, wishing mightily for what you cannot reveal, lest it not come true.
Katie, who also by tradition cuts the cake, asks how big a slice you want. “Large,” you
say and she takes you at your word. Large and wonderful is what it is.
• • •
11:57 p.m. No storm, no hail. The night is misty, but calm.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 270
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