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- June 3 EEric Darton NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 273
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- June 7 – Le G. – Early Morning
The entry above might be the end of it. That’s it you thought last night. But the
morning tells you to go on.
In the café you nod to a woman you have seen many times but never conversed
with. You’re no expert in these things but she possesses an incredibly “Mayan” face.
Yet her affect looks thoroughly modern North American. You’re not even sure what
that means. Something in her manner tells you she’s a complicated person. When she
smiles to say goodbye to the waiter, she looks about twenty. Other times, she could be
any age at all but young.
You can’t resist. Put the saucer on your coffee, and walk fast to school in time to
see Gwen running down the sidewalk toward you. She nearly collapses into your arms:
“Must beat Mikey” she gasps. No sweat, her classmate’s just rounding the corner. It’s
nearly quarter to nine. You point up the school steps. “Go!”
Calypsonian Kelvin buttonholes you. Sotto voce he confides that he’ll start
recording tonight. Ten tracks one right after the other – songs about The World Trade
Center, Bin Laden, youth in prison. For a moment you breath a bit, oxygenated by the
idea that right here in front of you is a man, a father, a moralist, a popular song writer
all in one.
He confides that he hasn’t told anyone else he’s about to record. Wants to keep
the energy concentrated. But it begins tonight.
You tell him your ears are ready.
• • •
In this world there are a great many white people producing fuckall and
consuming a great deal. Whether consciously or not, I suppose a great many people of
all sorts wonder, in one way or another, when this will end.
A contractor’s pickup truck stops for a traffic light. The truck’s cargo consists of
a large cardboard carton printed “Assembled Vanity.” The light changes and the truck
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 271
The question arises in your mind whether in your now fifty-two year lifetime,
you have drunk enough coffee to float a battleship. One suspects that the totality of
your coffee consumption could only support the displacement of a destroyer, or even a
frigate. But there’s hope. You’re only middle-aged.
• • •
What a chilling, galling parallel arises between what Michelet says of the Jacobin
terror and the oligarchy of our moment, which has “made this people wretched, giving
its name to what is done by a tiny minority, when [they] have destroyed in that people,
by shameful habits of fear, all moral energy.”
Yesterday’s Post and Times headlines on the end to the “cleanup” both perform a
variation on …and the rest is silence. Not so much silence, perhaps, as the real estate
machine cranking up into a higher whine, a less audible gear, easily masked by the
shouts and cries of the city. Thus, at any rate, are the trade towers transformed into
Hamlet. And the ceremony itself – a play within a play – enacted according to the rules
of the most formal and deadly theatre for the masses.
Times Metro section leads with “Many Relatives, Wary and
Anguished, Shun Sept. 11 Fund” – in short, they’re rejecting the government’s buyout
offer. Something about the Gray Lady’s timing here, saving this bit of hardly breaking
news for the day after the Ground Zero “closure” grabbed the whole front page banner.
They’re good scouts these Timesmen.
• • •
You arrive late au Gamin, to find, sitting across from one another at your
accustomed table, a middle aged white man and a very thin black boy perhaps seven
years old. Take Table 6 instead. What precisely is the relationship between them? The
little boy is restive. He drinks iced orange juice in a stemmed wine glass. Says he feels
cold. The man suggests he rub his arms. He gives his arms a desultory rub. The man
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 272
while. The boy presents his arms and the man says, “you’re just one big goosebump
aren’t you.” The pulls a sprig of rosemary from the planter by the window next to him
and hands it to the man. “It smells good,” the man says. Their food arrives: fresh fruit,
croissants and pains au chocolate. The child eats hungrily and in between bites, recites
a counting game. For the moment he is content. But so clearly can you feel the echoes
of his earlier restiveness and it dawns on you how at odds the fundamental tone of this
place is with the energies of a child. How at that stage, the very act of being sat down
constitutes a capitulation, a cause, however indirect, for rebellion and resentment – a
full body-mind chafing. You apprehend it now as clearly as you must have at that
boy’s age – an age you can no longer connect to, except via the rarest bolts of sense
• • •
On a single square section of cement on the 21st Street sidewalk, just across from
Gwen’s schoolyard, several impressions nearly a quarter inch deep of ginkgo leaves.
The wind must have been blowing from the east the day the cement was laid, because
the nearest ginkgo stands some ten meters west of where your shadow passes over the
fan-shaped declivities. Toward the curb, just adjacent to the leaf-imprinted square, a
honey locust in full bloom.
John Sanford sends a note saying he “caught that good hour on the History
Channel, and your comments were a delight.” From this one can shep nachas.
A slight pang of guilt because you forgot to call him on his birthday, the day
after yours. Nor can you imagine that somehow you neglected to send him a copy of
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 273
Field trip to the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street with Gwen’s 4th grade
class. After the kids have paid their collective debt to pedagogy – prompted to a
semblance of engagement by an earnest young docent – you repair en masse to lunch at
Katz’s deli. High up on the wall, above the pictures of the owner cheek by jowl with a
Gadarine tribe of celebrities, a blowup of a crumbling letter handwritten by a sergeant
in a helicopter unit and emblazoned across the top: U.S. Armed Forces Republic of
Vietnam. The sergeant extols Katz’s salami, first shared with him by a buddy,
recounting both its physical properties and other manifest virtues, not least how well it
tolerates the heat of the jungle and absence of refrigeration. The soldier – who knows
his fate? – encloses a check, to cover a shipment of salami, plus postage.
As you semi-shepherd the straggling ranks of Gwen’s classmates toward the F
train at Second Avenue and Houston, a man walking down the subway stairs
recognizes you from the Today Show. He’s read Divided… and is himself writing a
book on “oddball New York.” When you get on the train, Tatania’s dad, Joseph, an ex-
ray technician at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt, starts talking about how he saw you on TV too.
Then, for the two stops until West 4th Street he narrates his personal 9/11: how after
the news broke he was told, for over an hour, that patients were on their way, yet they
never came in. Meanwhile, he grew so agitated, his supervisor gave him leave to take
off and go down to school to be with his kids. On the way to the subway, a
subconscious message told him to stay and he turned around and went back to the
hospital. The beginning of two long days. The helicopters landed in Morningside Park
and brought the firemen and cops, “the ones who made it,” to 114th and Amsterdam
via ambulance. Joseph doesn’t know why but he put the concrete fragments he took
out of a policeman’s hair into a jar and saved them on a shelf. “The techs who
volunteered, who could handle it, worked with the parts, put them in parts bags in the
morgue, there wasn’t enough room downtown.” Then, almost as an afterthought, “It
was very sad.”
West 4th Street arrives suddenly, almost without your noticing, but you manage
to emerge from your trance and take up parental duty – planting the side of your foot
against the car’s open door long enough to make sure all the kids make it off the F.
Herd ‘em upstairs and thence onto the uptown E. Out into the air of 23rd Street. Walk
toward school. Watch them climb the steps. Head back to the corner with Joseph. Just
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 274
compliment. When your face popped up on the TV screen, he called out “Look Taty,
he’s an expert.” Tatiana said, “He’s not an expert, he’s Gwen’s dad.”
Great moments in marketing, however unintended. On the subway platform,
leaning against the column, looking absently down the track, a young woman – late
teens, early twenties, skinny as a rail. Baby Phat glittering script on red fabric across her
You dream the Broadway meridian has been turned into a canal, complete with
flat boats. The water is choppy, azure and very beautiful.
The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.
– R.L. Stevenson, epigraph A Child’s Garden of Verses
In the café the TV that’s been jerryrigged over the kitchen washbasin is tuned to
Univision, Channel 41. In the epic struggle unfolding on the playing field, Uruguay
and France stand tied at zero each. Losing the battle for aural space to the sportscaster’s
rapidfire Spanish and the roars of the crowd, the lyrics of the Tom Waits CD on the
overhead speaker turn to gibberish. All you can make out is something about the
damage done by a slug from a “two dollar gun.” Don’t know this song, but Waits has
that other beautiful line, “it takes a sweet little bullet from a pretty blue gun to put those
scarlet ribbons in your hair.”
K. sits himself in the chair opposite. A fast talker, he’s eager to tell you about his
memoir. Also wants to answer your questions about anything you want to know.
Anything. OK, you say: Who killed Kennedy? A Dallas cop, firing from the Grassy
Knoll. Big John took Oswald’s bullet fired from the book depository. Right, you say,
but who was the client? Trafficante from Miami. Ah, you say, Trafficante was the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 275
K. might be a very good actor, trained even in deception, a real neighborhood
Defoe, but you suspect you’ve scraped against the bottom of his knowledge. So many
people hated Kennedy, he says, it was a miracle he lasted as long as he did.
K. senses he’s disappointed you, that something has gone wrong in the
conversation because you are not dazzled by his litany of forensics. You’ve no interest
in who pulled the trigger, or hired the killer. You want to know the names of the
people who wished Kennedy dead and possessed the power to will this vision into
concrete form. You want to know the ultimate client. The confluence of interests acting
in concert. K. takes another run at impressing you, tries to bolster his shaken sense of
mega-knowledge. He volunteers that Alexander Haig was “deep throat.” That in the
missing eighteen minutes Nixon debates with himself, and concludes that no, he won’t
shut Haig up, but will choose instead to go down in history as the ultimate schmuck.
K. delivers this nugget with the triumphant air of a child who has just
deliberately crashed his remote control car. What he doesn’t know – how can he? – is
that for you, Watergate is a profoundly boring story – archetypally boring – told and
retold since time began. It is all about the asshole and what can be jammed up it –
hidden, retained. There is no Eros here, no vulva, no cock, no balls, no clitoris, no
vagina, no foreskin slide, no fecundation. History without a uterus. Sans ovaries. Non-
history. From which nothing spirit-blooded grows. You try somehow to alchemically
transform the contempt that has settled on you like a coat, just as deadly dry, into
something with momentum, something sanguine, oxygenating.
K. goes outside to smoke and finish his chamomile tea. He comes back in to put
his bowl on the counter, then fires up his pickup truck and departs for his house in the
Hamptons, which one of them you’re not precisely sure. He waves through the cab
window. You return the gesture, feel the burden lift as you raise your arm.
Ray, who’s had his nose in the paper at the table to your left gets up to leave.
You shake hands. He’s off to Ireland. He lays his Post face up on the table: “Tanks
Smash Arafat.” You turn the paper over: “SHAQULED: O’Neal proves too much for
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 276
Mario turns off the TV. The match was a draw. France and Uruguay nought-
Paltry, paltry, paltry all your narrations in the face of the actual. And animated
by the unlikely conceit that someone will have ears to hear after the roar of the great
fires have shrunk to a whisper. Katherine sits down at the table Ray just vacated and
you ask her to watch your computer while you go to the loo. “I’ll guard your cyber life
with mine,” she says. “Only worth a scream,” you reply. “No one’s real life. Just
zeroes and ones in there. Mostly zeroes.”
• • •
full and long
and I a
hater of windows
You walk into the café to find the entire staff: Mario, Roberto and Tomás
(representing Mexico), Kimsey (Germany) and Julie (the Philippines), standing ranged
along the bar peering raptly at the tiny TV screen. Twenty minutes into the match the
score is England 1, Argentina 0. You pump coffee into a takeout cup and squeeze into a
spot between Mario and Kimsey on the metaphorical bench. The camera pans over the
bleachers as the England supporters sing “Rule Britannia.” Their boys are playing well.
Not so the Argentines, who miss a penalty kick. Mario literally whoops.
You fall into the rhythm of the play, buoyed by a sense of surprise at how much
of the Spanish commentary you understand. Suddenly it hits you in what Gwen would
call a “duuuh!” moment. Out there in the city and the world beyond: Sulieman from
the Ivory Coast, who found a better job at a Bistro up near Harlem; Gabriel from
Colombia, fired because he kissed another waiter (his Israeli girlfriend) on the job;
Karim, canned for – allegedly – pilfering the till; Adan, repatriated to Madrid; Anna of
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 277
vanished Gaministas dispersed to the four winds – all of them are doubtless glued to
their TVs at this very moment. Some of them bleary with fatigue, having watched the
2:30 a.m. match too – like Eric B., who doubtless won’t be rolling in this morning. The
cup is the world, and we are bearing witness as it overflows.
You glance around the café. A handful of customers sit at their tables looking
abandoned. Several others crane to get a view of the telly. Mario, usually two jumps
ahead of everything, lets a tartine burn in the grill. You couldn’t precisely say what’s
going on here this morning constitutes a form of resistance to hegemony. Rather it feels
more like diversion of energy into something else, if only a something else of the mind,
as if our shared focus on the World Cup opens up a space amidst the jagged
topography of economics, political violence, bigotry and greed. A field which, if not
level, contains no land mines. Only play.
Time runs out. Britannia rules, for now. Mario hits the button and the screen
goes dark. The café breaks out of its trance. You ask Julie what’s next for Argentina.
She says they’ll have to beat Sweden in order to advance. How’s Sweden doing then?
She doesn’t know. But a fellow at Table 11 overhears you. Very buttoned-down he
looks, crisp-collared shirt and jeans, like a career soldier on leave making a game run at
civilian drag. He puts aside his Times long enough to tell you that Sweden lost to
England last week, but beat Nigeria this morning. Aha. So many pieces of distributed
No one’s claimed Table 4 yet, so you do. A copy of the Gray Lady lies on the
windowsill within easy reach. Bush’s latest “security” moves take up four columns of
the front page, Bloomberg’s power play on the city school system fills the other two.
But everyone reading the Times here this morning has their nose buried in the D-section
and the Copa coverage on page eight. Surveying the room you notice for the first time
that the huge American flag put up beneath the counter in the days just after the towers
fell has disappeared. When did that happen?
Long ago your belief in the powers of reason were definitively beaten into
submission. But you still trust your nose. Over the odor of burnt tartine, it picks up
another, deeper scent which, in the instant, you label hope.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 278
You have a nodding and sometimes waving acquaintance with the fellow who
runs the Laboom Te-Amo magazine-cum-smokeshop between 22nd and 23rd Streets on
the West side of Eighth Avenue. This man is, by look Middle-Eastern, whatever that
means. When you hear him speak, he speaks Arabic, and that’s pretty much all you
know about him.
And even that you only know because of an occasional gig you did a few years
back, subbing for a friend whose job it was, every morning, to compile an index of
articles in the Times for a database in California. So when she went on vacation, it fell to
you to be abroad pre-crack of dawn in search of the latest edition – this signified by a
series of dots in the upper left hand corner of the front page. Laboom, of all the
newsstands in the neighborhood, almost always had what you were looking for: the
three or sometimes four-dot final. Since then, you’ve generally avoided going inside.
The place smells redolent of tobacco smoke, and, in truth, it’s got a bad vibe. Often,
though, when you pass, you see the owner apparent – you’ve named him M. Laboom –
leaning against the piles of newspapers stacked on counter, staring out the window at
the passersby along Eighth Avenue.
This morning you nod-wave, and he nods and waves back. But his rejoinder
somehow takes on the gesture of a sweeping away, as if he were banishing some
annoying cobweb, or a swarm of gnats. You almost feel he senses, after the fact, that his
wave contained something other than a wave, but it’s done, so there is no taking it back.
You wonder if, next time you encounter one another through the glass, he will try to
make some gesture of compensatory friendliness. Or will he, and you, silently agree to
declare his last wave an anomaly and, as though it never happened, pick up the cue
from the time before.
• • •
I set forth wine and summon my wife.
Spreading high and wide, bamboos and trees are silhouetted against the blue sky,
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 279
Fields and garden plots wind around and wander off into the rain and mist.
In calculating a festival, I mistakenly use a calendar of the previous dynasty.
While cooking, I hear the distant call of other people’s chickens
Zither and books I have arranged at my leisure to the left and right,
Only now do I realize that one’s Wuling does not have to be in Qi.
So wrote Gong Xian, recluse of the Warring States Period, who lived in Wuling,
in the state of Qi.
An actor friend of Bronwyn’s, a fellow named Court, in town for a performance,
joins the Saturday morning salon at Gamin. He’s been reading your first novel Free City
at Bronwyn’s behest and has all sorts of kind things to say about it. Lovely to hear.
Jesus – 1996 – it’s been a geologic age since you wrote it.
A real gathering this time. Steve and Ellen are there, as is Geoffrey G. And Katie
too, Gwen being off at her Quaker retreat this weekend. Even Tobias drops by, though
after salutations, he sits at Table 11 and buries himself in the soccer news. David’s
missing. Usually here by now, but he’s been feeling weak and, for him, it’s a long walk
up from 16th Street and Sixth. You can’t help worrying how he’s getting on, given how
chalky he looked last week. But since David has surpassed all expectations on how
long he could survive on so compromised a heart, you choose – on this abundantly vital
morning – to imagine that next Saturday, he’ll be back and sitting across from you.
It’s a free-form and multifarious confab that you’re physically in the center of, so
periodically you shift your attention to the separate conversations going on to your
right and left. And occasionally focus deeper into the room in order to wave at folks
you recognize but barely know: Michele who always ties her little spaniel up outside
while she’s getting take-out coffee, and scolds him for barking with a wagging index
finger, to which he pays no attention at all; to Ann and Allen, and a half dozen other
people whose names you can’t recall.
Eventually Ellen and Steve drive off in their Mercedes – it’s got a butter-colored
leather interior – to pick up their girls at German school. Then Geoffrey heads out to
spend the day with his girlfriend, and it’s down to you, Katie, Bronwyn and Court.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 280
alarmist, about the coming domestic state terror, the one not limited to suspect
immigrants. You don’t recall exactly what Court says, but he’s looking at you even as
he directs his voice to her. “You could feel the hand on your shoulder any time. If it
happens, the only thing you can do is deal with it with as much equanimity as you can.
Otherwise, you just live in a constant state of fear.”
It’s really tossed off the way he says it, and in the moment you think: But what
about Gwen? His words keep reverberating, along with the paintings you and Katie saw
at the Met last night – brushwork by Buddhist monks, former Ming princes and court
officials, now on the lam from the Manchus – accompanied by poems. One, by Shitao
(Zhu Ruoji), you went so far as to write down.
Words from a sympathetic heart are as fragrant as orchids;
Like orchids in feeling, they are agreeable and always joyous;
You should wear these orchids to protect yourself from the spring chill;
When the spring winds blow cold, who can say you are safe?
Came 9 p.m. and the great herding out of the museum-goers by phalanxes of
museum guards eager to get home. Waiting for the bus in your linen jacket, you felt
seriously underdressed. In fact, you imagined the exact moment the microbes go the
upper hand and you caught a cold. But this morning you woke up strong and with a
clear head. So much for your intuition.
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