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- November 29
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- March 19 – Le G. – 9:00 am
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- April 9 – Le G. – Early Morning
- April 12 – 22nd Street off Eighth Avenue – Early Morning
The Post narrates murder in the voice of a demon:
“Now he was about to become the first casualty in what experts are calling
‘robotic warfare.’ As he pulled out of his farm in northwest Yemen on Sunday with five
of his cohorts, he was dead center in the crosshairs of American ingenuity.”
Once he, Abu Ali, suspected senior Al-qaeda member, appeared in those
crosshairs, a button thousands of miles away, probably in Tampa, FL, was pushed, most
likely on orders from Langley, VA. Why at that particular moment, who knows? Only
the gray men do. Perhaps in less time than it took you to write that sentence, an
unmanned Predator drone, cruising high above the desert fired its Hellfire missile and
Abu Ali, his companions and the SUV they were unfortunate enough to be riding in,
became vapor. In any case the bits were rendered very small. Too small to know who
was actually in the car. If it was a car.
Post allows Clifford Beal of Jane’s Defense Weekly to wax well beyond
customary tabloid norms on the “human factor” in warfare. It’s vanishing fast, says
Clifford. “The next step is when you have the authority to kill given directly to the
robotic vehicle. These drones could be programmed to have a particular target set in
their computers.… To have a drone that engages and kills people – that is quite a
threshold to cross…”
Which is something to think about when you step out the door of Le G. into the
microparticulated air of Ninth Avenue, humming with traffic. Not too cold for the time
of year. Stop to ruffle the neck hairs beneath the collars of Bauer and Brusché, a pair of
pugs who’ve jumped up onto the seat of the bench they’re leashed to while their owners
breakfast inside. Sit next to them. Hunker down so that your heads are more or less the
same level. Watch the street life from their POV. Up here, B. and B. are as tall as most
of the passing dogs. And they’re excited by the way the smells waft by differently up
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 327
can lap at it. Anyone who wants to can find us right here, you say to them. Isn’t that right?
There are times when you look downtown from the living room window and the
sun, setting, inspires two otherwise nondescript modern towers – once puny neighbors
of the WTC – to play divinely-inspired visual tricks. A coppery glow reflects off the
western face of the Millennium Hotel. It exactly matches the color of the surrounding
sky. The side that faces you is cast into shadow, its color blending seamlessly into the
that of the broad flank of One Liberty Plaza just behind it. Taken together in this
lighting, it appears as though it’s all a single structure – a giant arch with a rectangular
cutaway. There’s something exhilarating about seeing the unremitting bulk of the great
dark building made lighter, even for the length of a sunset, thanks to the sovereign
sleight of rays.
A crooked dark outline to the left. A second one on the right. Two mantis-like
cranes discovered on the southern skyline now.
News item on the radio that a cop with a Latino-sounding surname you didn’t
catch has been suspended without pay for refusing to bust a homeless man for
“trespassing” in a parking lot. The mayor, backing up the PD brass, achieves a
stunning rhetorical epiphany and announces that arrest is a method by which the city
delivers services to the homeless.
Citizens! Find that cop and give him a medal – no, a medal and a stipend for life!
• • •
his poem about sugar.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 328
Dream in which you kill a lynx that is mauling your infant. The lynx turns out to
be your lover and the infant, well, the infant is an illusion.
Jack’s birthday, 83.
“Suppose,” asks the Lotus Sutra, “you are on the peak of Mount Sumeru and
someone pushes you off. Think on the power of that Bodhisattva perceiver of the
World’s Sounds and you will hang in midair like the sun…”
Ding! Out of the corner come the second round WTC designs, mouthguards in
place, looking fierce. Jabbing. Keeping their guards up. All the front pages carry big
images of the contenders. What an easy thing it is to build castles in Spain. And all’s
quiet on the grand illusion front.
Convictions and charges in the “Central Park Jogger” case are thrown out. Sent
to jail as teenagers, those who served between seven and thirteen years are exonerated.
Confessions coerced. You were working at Johnny Colon’s East Harlem Music School
at the time, and recall how strong the sentiment on the street was to crucify these
youths. No one you spoke with in El Barrio, at least in the immediate aftermath,
expressed any doubt that the suspects had done what they’d been accused of. Or even
allowed for the offchance they might be getting railroaded.
Some of the tone of what you heard might be chalked up, in one way or another,
to your being a English-speaking white guy. But the vituperation directed at these kids
seemed so reflexively punitive, so unmediated – as though a wellspring, repeatedly
tamped down, had finally erupted. The presumed anomie of these almost-men was
scary enough, but the hatred shown them by their elders made you nauseous.
• • •
By faster and slower beats – the city of your heart, catastrophesized.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 329
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 330
Another Goddard residency over and done with. Goodbye winter wonderland.
Snowshoeing with Bill George you learned to associate letters with types of tree: fir =
friendly, flat; spruce = spiky, sharp; pine = prickly.
And you also saw, for the first time ever, someone blow soap bubbles that
instantly freeze, turn a pale white, and when touched, shatter into puffs of dust. On the
way down out of the hinterland to the airport in Burling – though it’s more like
sledding than driving on the icy roads – the driver tells you that the bubbles, a molecule
thick, freeze at around seven degrees Fahrenheit. He’s the sort of person you’ve come,
over the years, to expect to meet out and about Vermont, a person whose knowledge
and capabilities bear no relationship at all to what they do for a living. To pass the time
the cab driver raps, not too speedy, but without any pause. You imagine that the sound
of his own voice may establish a rhythm that keeps him from driving faster than he
How you got on the subject of soap bubbles, you forget even now, an hour later,
on the plane, but somehow that bit of scientific arcania slid with frictionless ease into
his theory of the Bermuda Triangle. The water is silty there, he says, and as it composts
it creates methane – gassifies the water so it loses density. “They pumped compressed
air into one of those tanks – like a wind tunnel for planes, except for ships – and they
found you can sink a two-by-four if the water is gaseous enough.”
Methane rising into the atmosphere also goes to explain the disappearance of
planes in the triangle. “Feed one of those engines a big blob of methane and it’ll gag.
It’ll barf. You’re not just giving it gas, you’re giving it a whole different kind of fuel.”
At last a pause. One of your carmates – there are five of you, jammed in like pilchards,
bags and all – a gal from the Psych program, gets a word in edgewise. “Wow. I’ll bet
you were the type of kid who drove your mom crazy.”
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 331
“Yeah,” he says, “I was. Most kids put holes in the screen door. I made the
His barrage of engineering folklore diminished the terrors of the drive to the
point where, getting out, a part of you wished you could hang out and listen to him all
day. The last of the bags unloaded, he slammed the trunk and got back behind the
wheel. You offered your collective thanks again through the steamed glass and he
cracked the window for his parting benediction. “If you not having fun,” he called out,
the cab already moving, “try changing the batteries.”
• • •
At the USAir gate, you confront a tribe of ancient Vermonters charged with
performing security checks. A woman with silver-blue hair wands you while a fellow
who could pass for Methuselah inspects the shoes you’ve removed as though they
might contain the code to the elixir of life. Finally cleared, you find a seat in the lounge
with a pack of homeward bound Goddardites. But you can’t follow a word they’re
saying, you’ve tuned out of that language, already back in your cave with Katie and
Still, there’s a big picture window out onto the runway. One after another, in
close order, eight fighter jets from the Air National Guard, fling themselves into the sky.
They bank round in formation and scream over the airport at an altitude of maybe three
hundred feet. Practice time for the Green Mountain Boys. How far we have come.
Coldest winter in recent memory. Absolutely cloudless sky, blue at dawn, by
midday nearly white. Frigid air. Steam in waves off the top of the World Financial
Center, like the sea claiming its shore.
Last week new cement poured for the subway entrance on the corner – the one
trashed over a year ago by an out-of-control SUV. Yesterday the workmen built a set of
wooden railings on top of the concrete forms and painted them standard-issue MTA
olive green. Hard to imagine this is anyone’s idea of a permanent entrance, but who
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 332
Insane security at the midtown office building where you go to pay your health
insurance. Your backpack, containing in it’s little pocket, a razor sharp Nontron
jackknife – pride of Périgord – passes through the X-ray without a hiccup. Deadly
The gift store at the corner of 55th and Seventh sells a slightly higher than
average grade of tourist-aimed tchotchkes. Three large windows face onto the avenue.
One display just below eye level is devoted to a collection of crystal World Trade Center
towers. These come in a wide variety of sizes and more or less accurate proportions,
details and configuration – some even include the low-rise adjacent buildings. All
possess a certain loveliness – ethereal, like Bruno Taut’s Stadtkrone. But the pièce de la
résistance is a off to one side: a Limoges pillbox in red white and blue enamel, with the
towers sprouting from the lid – the north one topped by a gilded aerial, as finely
wrought as porcelain will allow. And painted across the “plaza” in gold: We Will Never
Lie down for a nap, wherein you dream a black and white political cartoon.
Several Frenchmen in berets, piloting tugboats, sorrowfully haul the Statue of Liberty
French coffee – café allongé – and clear thinking – that’s the ticket!
Nothing needs to be built there. The Bathtub is beautiful as it is: clean, austere
Two young women in animated conversation at Table 3. Tales of Power Yoga
and the single life over glasses of wine and no food. You can mostly tune it out, but the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 333
was like drama drama drama!”
Sitting here an hour and haven’t done fuckall besides look out the window. Here
comes the sweeper churning up dust like a dirty white mechanical dragon. It hangs a
Ralph onto 21st Street and you rotate your head leftward to watch it disappear beyond
the window mullion. The stretch felt good. Go the other way now. Neck’s stiff as a
We must disarm who’s sane.
We must kill who’s sane.
• • •
p.m. Head downtown to the Bathtub to give the rap to twenty-five geography
students and their professor who’ve come all the way from Montreal to see a hole in the
ground. Across from you on the E train, an ad poster for what they used to call a made-
for-TV-movie: “Helen of Troy.”
Interesting graphic. On the bottom third, a dark, blurred phalanx of hoplites
with spears charges at you. Behind the footsoldiers and dwarfing them, rise the
armored figures of Menelaus and Paris. Between them, a toga’d Helen, half again
larger than the men who contend for her. Clean-shaven is bold Menelaus, dark-
bearded his Trojan foe. Both stare out with grimly sealed mouths. Helen’s lips are
parted. But her eyes – in fact the whole top half of the face that launched a thousand
ships – has been cropped off. Thus your eye is pushed back down to her bare
shoulders, the charging hoplites below, then up and around again to her open mouth
and half face, flanked by male leads. And so the cycle goes until you pull your focus
toward the tag-line, nearly as large as the title: Desire is War. The “epic miniseries” was
produced by USA Network. Begins Sunday, April 20th at 8 p.m. A month. A lot can
happen in a month.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 334
The students and their professor are waiting for you at the southeast corner of
the Bathtub and since it’s too cold to talk outside, you head into the World Financial
Center. The group seats itself on the tiered, pink stone steps leading down to the Palm
Court, which you often slip up and call the Winter Palace. Not today, but on many an
afternoon the monumental roundness of this stairway, polished within an inch of its
life, serves as a kind of giant wedding cake atop which Korean newlyweds dance before
their retinue of camcorders. The whole structure of this place, with its geometric grove
of heroically out-of-latitude palm trees overhung by a great glass canopy, has been
flawlessly restored, so that lacking a sightline to the trade center site, one could easily
imagine that nothing happened here in the nature of an unbuilding.
The Canadians are a happening bunch – bright-eyed young-uns, quick studies.
So the dialogue among you flows, well, like the tide that’s trying to push its way under
this very building and into the big Bathtub just to the east.
Out again to walk the perimeter. Bid au revoir to the geographers. Like the
WFC, the surrounding area is pretty much deserted, apart from occasional knots of
tourist-cum-pilgrims documenting their every step. And you wonder if by now, more
images have been made of the hole, than ever were of the towers when they stood.
You’d love to have a platform, high enough so everyone around could hear you say:
We are a coastal folk, a riverine tribe, a people of the bay. Nothing changes that.
Back home again by E. That poster again. And finally you retrieve the rest of the
line that Marlowe gave Faustus: …and burnt the topless towers of Ilium.
To and from the café the morning after the “First Strike” on Baghdad, no one on
the street looks directly at anyone else. You all plod obliviously on. Would that it were
a symptom of shame. But it’s worse. Nothing, not even September 11th could shake
the spell. Communism arrives as universal stupefaction.
Cab ride to the oral surgeon who pulls your lower right wisdom tooth – adieu
sagesse! He office is in Murray Hill, just down the street from Gloria’s, where you do
not pay a surprise call, since at the moment you sound like Thurston Howell III from
Gilligan’s Island. Briefly you entertain stopping at a payphone just so that when Katie
answers you can say “Hello, Lovey.” Homeward you walk in a mild, cool drizzle, jaw
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 335
night, successfully “decapitated.” Things move fast these days. Granted your mouth is
not Ur of Chaldees, but it’s for certain that Dr. Sherman was able to excavate your old
friend #32 in less than the time it took to recite Ah, Sunflower in your head. Jeez, was
there something in that shot beside novocain?
You reach Fashion Institute and pace a long, unhurried diagonal southwest
across 27th Street. The block is closed to cars during school hours, and the bikes glide
fluidly around you, so you are free to look at the students, furtively smoking in the chill
beneath the steel arched entrance, or hoofing it, like gentle, timorous bipedal
herbivores, shoulders drawn up against the rain, across the street between their dorms
and classrooms. And you look at the ground. A car has leaked oil along the whole
length of the block between Seventh and Eighth Avenues and you are walking on it.
Not enough to be slippery, rather it has converted the wet macadam into an array of
gorgeous, disturbing, spectral effects. You flash on HP Lovecraft and his “color out of
space,” and think: this is the stuff of what we’ve become without having any idea what you
mean by that. And you are grateful for novocain. Plus whatever else was in the shot.
At the café just before heading uptown for the peace march it occurs to you that
Le Gamin is actually a form of Paradise. One has to do no more than ask for a bowl of
fruit and it appears. Or wine. You find yourself among friends, and the conversation is
good. Those who bring you your food and beverages are not virginal, true, but they are
beautiful. And though you have to pay for what you eat and drink, you did not have to
blow yourself up, nor anyone else, to get here.
This weekend, in a loft on West 25th Street, a dozen kids, aged roughly three to
twelve – Gwen among them – learn how to fend off the unwonted advances of adults.
The people from Prepare self-defense teach them a variety of techniques for how not to
get in a jam, along with some impressive hold-breaking moves if they do. Comes time
for the demonstration. You and Katie file into the room and sit on a bench against the
wall. To your right and left, proud parents fire up their camcorders. The kids are cool –
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 336
grown-up who tries to mess with them. But surprise, a great lump rises in your throat
when the instructor delivers her final instruction. “The most important thing,” she
says, “is to trust yourself when someone – anyone – gives you…” And the kids chorus
back “An ‘uh-oh’ feeling.”
Ironwork for railings of the subway entrance the SUV took out arrived last week.
Today, they are assembled and painted rustoleum orange. One side is bolted together
all catywumpus. Apart from this, when it’s painted olive green and corner uprights
crowned with globe lamps, it will look more or less like what was there before.
Standing near the turnstiles, a knot of soldiers in full camo cradling machine
guns. A woman, black, trim and well-dressed shakes her head as she walks by, turns
and addresses them, loud enough to cut over the ambient din: “You know, you guys
scare me to death.” Swipes her card. Beep. Passes through.
Past two nights, a kind of roar underlying the tone of the city – as if of a carpet
bombing some distance off – still virtual.
At the café, a young male customer wears blue denim jeans which have been
bleached to a kind of beige linen color up to about eight inches from the hem. His shoes
are a butter colored leather, similar in shade to his jeans and the soles are a pale
margarine. It’s a fashion statement, yet one that makes him appear to have been
walking, perhaps unawares, through a toxic dump.
For years you’ve had a daydream of buying an old Vietnam-era Huey helicopter
and painting it pink. In some variations, the chopper was purple, with or without green
dots. You’d also own a house with big spread round it, in the stone wall-bounded
green fields of Menemsha, and the Huey would have a regular run transporting your
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 337
plays in your head, the scene has shifted to the lush countryside north of La Dordogne.
But how would a Huey get there, all the way from New York?
Crazy man talking on 22nd Street: “My television carries a club, and it beats me
if I don’t turn it on.”
The Utopia of the 50¢ cup of coffee. 100% Colombian, the sign says. Or the
Utopia of the coffee and bagel combo – one buck. It’s been a year since you stood in this
spot – at least a year, maybe more. Only two ahead of you. The arrogant fool at the
head of the line gestures to a jelly donut with his pinky – commences a very long order.
You scan the shelves full of cut plain, margarined and creamcheesed bagels in every
variety. Donuts ‘r’ us. Unfocus your gaze and stare at white reflections off the
diamond quilted chrome in the creeping-up sun.
Abdul’s cart is kind of a kiosk with wheels, room only for one person to stand
inside, but proof against the elements. It appears, at the northwest corner of 24th and
Eighth, towed behind a van, every workday, rain or shine. Abdul and the van driver
unhook the cart and push it manually up the wheelchair cutaway and onto the sidewalk
and position it near the curb’s edge, over the subway grating.
How long has this ritual been going on? Maybe five years now. Every blue
moon or so, you stop there, when you’re headed someplace other than Le G., but not if
there’s a long line, which often materializes even as you’re walking down the block.
One minute nobody’s waiting, but an instant later, poof! a twenty person queue –
Fashion High students mostly, who stream up the subway steps and stop to pick up
breakfast before bounding across Eighth Avenue against the flashing red and oncoming
cars to make it through the doors before the late bell tolls.
When there’s more than, say, four waiting at Abdul’s, the time vs. price curves
favor Kyung’s deli across the street. The coffee costs a quarter more and tastes about
the same, but Kyung’s crew has the drill down to a science. No matter how many
people are on line, you always make it out of there in under thirty seconds. And so
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 338
get flipped onto a bun, wrap itself in tinfoil and fly into a brown bag?
Real estate factors in, but then the whole neighborhood’s an exercise in the great
wonderment of pricing. On 23rd Street, at the Korean bagel shop, coffee costs a dollar.
Can the rent really be that much higher? Their coffee’s blah. At Bruno’s down the
block, a first rate Colombian may be had for the Kabalistic mystery sum of $1.08. When
Starbuck’s comes – and it will as surely as pollens blow across from Jersey in fall – who
knows, two bucks a hit?
The fellow just ahead or you, with gym cut shoulders and a short, sculpted
haircut, wants his coffee light and sweet, five sugars. Then it’s you.
“Hi,” says Abdul, “Haven’t seen you for a long time.”
“OK,” he says, “Black, no sugar, right?” Broad, open face.
“You’ve got a remarkable memory.”
He smiles. Flips the lever on the huge canister, almost a vat, that holds the day’s
supply of coffee. Far as you can recall, the cart’s gone soon after lunchtime. Don’t think
you’ve ever seen it there after two. Abdul’s about to bag your cup, using that twisting
motion to make sure the lid doesn’t catch on going in, but you wave your hand. “No,
I’m good. I’ll just walk with it this way.”
Carefully and very quickly he wraps a paper napkin around the cup as he hands
it over. Proof against excessive heat.
• • •
Finish coffee somewhere between the 66th Street and 72nd Street stops on the #1
train – rush hour. What to do but shove the lid into the cup, crush it and shove the
ensemble into a pocket in your backpack. Make a mental note to throw it out next time
you see a garbage can.
Opposite you a woman sits. Despite her well-sprayed coif, there’s a stolid and
Central American air about her, even as she applies her eye makeup. Then you see, on
the back of her small round mirror, a self portrait of Frida Kahlo.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 339
At 168th Street, the conductor announces over the PA that, due to a schedule
adjustment, the train will go express to Dykman Street bypassing several local stops. A
collective groan from those who now have to get off and wait on the platform for the
train presumably just behind. The conductor, though unseen, is clearly a woman and
her tone mixes New York street with public employee ennui. “Next stop Dykman,” she
repeats, and then, effortlessly, fluidly: “Dykman es la proxima parada.”
• • •
You deliver your spiel on Utopian New York to a classroom of frighteningly
with-it Horace Mann students then head back toward the subway. Cross the grounds
with their manicured playing fields. What a place. Hogwarts-on-Bronx!
The Utopia of everyday life, painstakingly made, bit by bit, out of a passing
conversation, a snatch of song, instant to instant, so easily crushed.
A lot of people you know are very close to despair.
You’ve spoken recently with two friends who’ve lost children: one kid was
nearly an adult. Motorcycle accident. The other a baby, perfect but for being stillborn.
The horrors of our war – the knowing of the death of other’s children – seem to resonate
profoundly with their deep sense of helplessness.
And the moment, the moment is like the season – caught in the mud between
winter and spring.
Some time during the night or early morning hours, person or persons unknown
donated a heart-sized padlock to the mise en scene of Le Gamin. Which is to say that
they fastened the lock to the metal scissor gate over the largest front window – high up
enough to be hard to reach – and clicked it shut. Neglected to leave the key, rendering
said gate unretractable. Disgruntled worker or ticked-off customer? Prankster making
an ironic comment: “Ya like locks? – here, have another one!” Who can say? But the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 340
gate and scratching his chin.
Whereupon the following ensues: Mario trots up to the Russians at the hardware
store on 23rd Street and borrows a hacksaw. He places a couple of wet bar towels
under a milk crate on sidewalk, so it won’t skid when he stands on it. He starts sawing.
When his arm gives out, you take over. For half an hour or more the two of you work
at cutting through the hasp, one holding the lock steady while the other saws. Every
few minutes you trade places. At last, the smooth metal gives way before its toothed
cousin, the gate rolls back and the window’s liberated at last. Mario grabs the crate and
towels, rushes inside to man the grill. It’s Saturday, pushing nine-thirty, and there’s a
café full of crêpe-famished yuppies to feed.
• • •
Damascus has fallen! No, Moscow – no, Buenos Aires – no, New York! We
won’t stop till every city is leveled free. And the more ancient the better.
Furiouser and furiouser. News comes of a CIA operative halfway round the
world who saw “Saddam” enter a café near the Tigris, and called in an airstrike. There
goes the local version of Le G. Did they even know what hit them?
You flash on the title song for Baghdad Café – a kind of sleeper movie about a joint
somewhere in the desert of the American West. Mid-‘80s? It had this haunting theme:
I-I-I-I-I am c-a-a-a-ling you…
April 9 – Le G. – Early Morning
Baghdad has fallen, so they say, as in the days when city walls were literally
toppled. One thinks of a fallen woman or Edenic Man entire. Nor is the Fall without
Eros – for some. Forest Sawyer of CNBC, scarcely able to contain himself, describes the
“penetration” of the capital by the 3rd Division, and “just behind it, pushing up toward
Baghdad… that great rolling 4th Division, which is just magnificent in its capabilities.”
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 341
in the dock at the war crimes trial.
Mark S. come in, stops by on his way to Table 9. He too has made the mistake of
watching TV. The media is caged in by bars it cannot see, he says. So familiar the
homophone. Notsee. Notsee. As if the words themselves are guiding our ears toward
what the eye can Nazi.
Return to your book, Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down. Ass on
chair, mind deep in England, mid-17th Century. Time of their Revolution.
Miracles have not ceased, asserts John Everard in his day, “but our eyes are
blinded and we cannot see them.”
Look up and out the window.
April 12 – 22nd Street off Eighth Avenue – Early Morning
A green delivery van maneuvers into a tight parking space on 22nd Street. As
the white reverse lights flash on, hidden speakers blast forth a parrot-like shriek:
Attention please, this car is backing up! All down the deserted, rain-slicked block you hear
the electronic voice repeat its warning to the multitude of invisible passersby.
When Faustus asked Mephistopheles, he answered:
Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscrib’d
In one self place: for where we are is hell.
And forms of heaven inhabit earth in real time, don’t forget it, bro. Mario’s is
captain of the cornucopia this morning, dishing up the fresh fruit and toasting tartines,
wearing his olive gimme cap embroidered Variety in red. Around him, extracting and
serving the multiplex nectars derived from roasted coffee beans, Mario’s Angels, three
graces of terrestrial paradise found: Shana – dark, dark skin, compact as a prizefighter,
exquisite toothgap, enormous wounded eyes. Eyoko – skin close in shade to Shana’s,
but tiny, wiry and lithe, Jamaican cheekbones to die for, and she hugs you like a bear.
Kimsey – Le Petit Prince reborn in woman’s form, elegant, Modiglianiized – five ten or
so – tall enough peer into a higher-up heaven. And what do these goddesses have in
common? Their utterly distinct and impeccably brilliant smiles. No false beacons here.
Only radiations of the inner light.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 342
• • •
p.m. With our bums on couches before our tellies, words come at us, sincere
beyond all satire: “Looting in Baghdad continues after the market wrap-up.” What will
Gwen’s generation say of us? That our eyes were watching something, but it surely
Again TV. A tense standoff. A knot of men – hard to tell how big the crowd is –
chants “Go home America.” They scarcely look like rebels, their tribe is of the urban
middle-aged. But clearly they are furious and the Marines confronting them are scared.
One young soldier loses his cool, fires a short burst into the air. As though sucked into
the vacuum created by his fusillade, he approaches one Iraqi as close as he dares and
shouts into his face, fairly screams: “We’re here for your freedom, understand! We’re
here for your fucking freedom.” CNN bleeps the expletive, but the lips of the Marine, a
light-skinned African American, read clear as a bell – as if correcting an error of
omission. Operation Iraqi Freedom doesn’t quite say it all. Operation Iraqi Fucking
Freedom – that’s the ticket.
• • •
You’re turning into a misanthrope – overwhelmed at times with contempt. It’s a
lousy feeling. Two young women – rich and slumming – sit nearby at the café this
afternoon. They order quantities of food, but do not appear interested in eating any of
it. Via some horrible trick of tonality their conversation cuts through the clamor, at least
fragments of it do, and you’re already jumpy enough to be distracted by the least thing,
not to mention the cascade of tropes they exchange – the most terrifyingly
unspontaneous conversation you have ever heard.
Low-rent Gatsbys that’s what we’ve become. Gap Gatsbys. When they meet us,
must not the rest of the world ask: from what factory do these awful people come?
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 343
wouldn’t care if they all blew away.
So rapid the change of temperatures, you feel your body grind its gears between
the winter and the summery spring. Today you’re fighting everything. Where-o-
where-o-wheros, did I ever leave my Eros?
Photo in the Times – this little fellow whose family we killed, whose arms we
blew off, whose body we burned. We left him his eyes, beautiful and limpid. Presented
to our gaze so we can demand that he weep for us all.
• • •
Central Park, early afternoon. Out of nowhere, you sense a kind of freedom
coming – an incipient movement unlike you’ve felt in years. More wide open even than
the late sixties, if that’s possible. There will be mobs. And these mobs will be filled
with everything but fear.
Here comes a man down the path, sweating, dragging two enormous plastic
bags. Talking to himself, or at any rate not to you. How is it he came all the way from
Africa to collect bottles?
• • •
Wolfgang’s, late afternoon. Directly after you greet one another, he hands you a
copy, signed, of his latest: The Culture of Defeat: On National Trauma, Mourning and
Recovery – its publication at the present moment being either the best or worst timing
Fascinating photo on the dust jacket: a hollow bronze Napoleon, in the aspect of
Caesar replete with laurel wreath, lying supine on the ground – the Paris Communards
having toppled him from the Vendome column. Behind the fallen statue, what appears
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 344
Vendome. So you look closer and discover that your 21st Century eye was fooled by
the long exposure needed to capture the image in 1871. The hedge is actually a crowd
of people gathered round the fallen statue, their forms blurred by their movements, yet
ultimately distinguishable as human beings. Some may be the very ones who knocked
the Emperor from his pedestal. Soon, in the reaction, many of the branches on this
hedge will be whacked off, left lying on the ground as still as statues. What you see
before you is the preview of that reckoning: the static life of symbols triumphing over
the fugitive, unsustainable energy of the masses.
Any fallout from the book yet? Too early to tell. But the Times has asked for an
op-ed piece. What’ll he write about? A widely-circulated news photo of victorious
American generals sitting at a long rococo table in Saddam’s palace in Baghdad.
Missing from the picture, a defeated foe across the table ceding power in a formal
surrender. Where has the enemy gone? Underground, he implies. This war is not
over, rather just beginning.
When you leave, Wolfgang walks you down the hallway. Shake hands as the
elevator door opens. Descending, it hits you that you didn’t once look out his window
at the progress of the hole, and words, addressed to nobody, leap into your throat,
caustic as espresso bile: It all seems so oh-one now.
Easy, boy. In a little over a week, Gwen’s Easter vacation. Christ’ll rise. And
you’ll fly south to a country with no standing army.
Sleet in the morning. Beating the petals off the tulips. The city’s return to the
perpetual October that won’t let us go. Persephone doesn’t stand a chance against the
forces bent on sucking the budding life back into the earth.
Outside the café window, bright orange plastic tape tied to sawhorses
demarcates a lingering, desolate Con Ed excavation. The tape ends dance in the gusts,
like the ribbons of a thwarted maypole.
History’s not over, it’s just impoverished, dependent, no teeth in its head, can’t
stand on its own two feet. Hears the bell for the next round but can’t get off the stool. It
lives at the pleasure of the economy now. So feeble the straw, not even
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 345
a corporate fiefdom. No struggle equal to the name. No Moor’s last sigh. No
backward glance. On to the next effigy!
Can’t gauge how the overthrow of Saddam is playing out in the great heartland,
but here, conspicuous by their absence, public expressions of triumphalism. Some of
this can be put down to the hits the city has taken – there’s a undertow of grief below
the roiling manic surface – but wherever people are seeking their diversions, it does not
seem to be in the euphoria of the victory dance.
And then too, a strange parallel between the evaporation of the Iraqi regime and
the collapse of the WTC. In the cradle of civilization, there is less, much less to be found
– of mass-killings, biological weapons, resistance, or liberatory upsurge – than could
have been imagined only a few weeks ago. Like the towers, Baathist rule produced
another hollow core, supported by as little structure as mechanics would allow. One
wonders, as with the Soviet Union, what held it up so long? Does the dominant
prizefighter embrace his partner, support him, if only to have something to punch?
A beautiful black woman – overweight by white standards – passes by the café,
walking down Ninth Avenue, Proof against the rain that drives against her from the
south, she wears a brightly checked deerstalker hat.
Times metro section, beneath an article on hawks “employed” by the local
BID to scare off the legions of pigeons in Bryant Park, you read that the final run of the
Concorde from New York to Paris will occur in six weeks, on your birthday. Sure, tu ne
supersonic flight. Too late now, no techno-Icaran moment for you. Era shock. The
supremely avian defeated the relentlessly terrestrial. One species fails, another thrives.
The profile of the Concorde vanishes brick by brick behind a wall of Hummers.
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