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- Bu sahifa navigatsiya:
- April 25 – Quepos, Costa Rica
- April 27 – Manuel Antonio National Park
- April 30 – Early Morning
- May 11 – Le G. – Early Morning
- May 19 – Downtown C Train
- May 23 – Gioia Ken’s – Bearsville, NY
- June 1
Is that who you think it is, boarding your plane in Posh Class? No one else looks
like that, even from across a room, and the entourage cinches it. Janet Reno. Going to
Costa Rica? Not likely, probably just as far as Miami. You’re never scared flying, but
having her on the plane gives you a chill. Not that you believe in ghosts, but what
happened to the souls of all those Branch Davidians? And how quiet do they rest?
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 346
April 25 – Quepos, Costa Rica
Awakened before dawn by a bird calling You’re where? To which a distant call
responds We’re here! Then, nearby: You’re there? And the reply: Here! Here!
Katie dreamt that New York City had somehow shrunk down to a taxicab in
which she was riding. The cab was too crowded and speeding in the wrong direction.
She ordered the driver to stop, threatened to call the police. It halted for a moment and
she and several other passengers bolted out before the cab roared on.
• • •
Early morning. Walk the trail through the forest as silently as you can and there
you find it, where it lives, midway up a tree, its great forked tail feathers impossibly
long. No dream. Beyond what you could dream. Quetzal is imperturbed. Bird of
freedom doesn’t care if you are here or not. Yet somehow, you feel a kind of blessing –
the witness of the thing itself.
Thousands of crabs along the path to this beach, maybe hundreds of thousands,
red-legged and scurrying out of your way. Monkeys too, and lizards the size of the
average Chelsea pooch.
Here the Pacific lives up to its name. Never have you been so close to the
equator – so directly in the sun. Floating.
Gwen swears that when she’s older, she’ll come to live in Costa Rica. And the
truth is, you’d bet more than even money she will.
Back and into the teeth of a New York state of siege. The cherry tree, however,
the one in the center of the lawn between 25th and 24th Streets, in full blossom. Planted
there at the dedication of Penn South, back in sixty-two. You don’t remember much
from that day, besides how different a vibe – though it would be years before you could
use that word – JFK had from the other men in suits crowding around the dais.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 347
So gradual this spring, and now it’s sneaked up after all.
• • •
Only a week, but how many latitudes ago was it that you and Katie reposed on
chairs outside your hotel room in the pitch dark listening to the volcano – Arenal –
harrumph and bluster? And passed the binoculars back and forth to more clearly see
the material signs of the earth’s utterance? Every few minutes, a burst of enormous
boulders, bright as embers danced down the mountainside like a cavalcade. Then half a
beat later, came the rumble.
• • •
Scan the late morning crowd at Le G. What a difference in the quality of faces
here and in CR. There, you often see a kind of stolid opacity to the countenance, which
shifts and brightens immediately on pleasurable stimulus or engagement. Whereas we
look either stultified or over-animated pretty much all the time, cycling through far too
many expressions for them to add up to a fully-cohered emotion. We twitch intensely –
the lights full on. But who, or what, is at home? Some kind of energy emanating,
though it sure doesn’t warm and comfort like inner light.
That said, you can’t shake the graffiti you read in the baño of a modest, self-
respecting seafood restaurant in San Jose. Two subjects of scrawl, the first, anti-war:
“No sangre por petrolio.” And “Ticos: Liberernos de Bush – un Gringo Avergonzado.”
The second railed against the Nicaraguans who, in desperation of poverty, have
streamed across the border. “Ticos las mujeres de Nicas,” “Nicas es las peors pestas del
mundo,” “…hijos de putas…” – on and on.
Gwen goes to school by herself these mornings, at least from the corner of 23rd
and Eighth. Also back and forth from French lessons on Seventh Avenue, ramping up
for the next year’s big 6th Grade trek to middle school all the way across town. But this
time you continue on across 23rd Street hand in hand. At graduation her chorus will
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 348
together, with lyrics inverted on the fly: “This is the aging of the dawn of Aquarius.”
Near the steps of PS11, she asks what Aquarius is and you do your best to explain.
What if Baghdad were your city? If you knew it as Abode of Peace, Mother of
the World, Gift of the Gods, Abode of Beauty, Round City or Um Al-Basatin, Mother of
Orchards? What if you grew up walking the Al-Jumhuriyya bridge over the Tigris,
rather than the Brooklyn Bridge, or the George Washington, with its little lighthouse
below. What would you be writing now?
News comes that the Great Stone Face, the old man of the mountains in
Franconia, New Hampshire has crumbled into unrecognizability. The profile wrought
by action of the elements has now been erased by them. Subject of a Hawthorne story,
emblem on license plates and tourist souvenirs, and most recently minted on the back
of a gazillion government-issue commemorative quarters. Associated with the motto
Live Free or Die, what symbol takes its place?
Is it possible for a people to be broken not by defeat, but by prolonged and
• • •
echt-spring day apart from the haze. Walk toward the Amalgamated Bank on
Union Square, then you’ll head south to meet Elena for lunch. The city in a desultory
mood, conserving its energy, waiting for the ax to drop. New Yorkers are endowed
with many qualities, but grace has never been one we’ve cultivated. Why start now,
except to begin to learn what we’re in need of most?
A doubledecker tourist bus glides down Fifth Avenue, its ten passengers all
sitting in the open top, nearly prostrate with lassitude. Downtown, they will see the big
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 349
continue on, passing along once-mighty Wall Street, so timid now?
Everywhere these days, peculiar asymmetries of density – where and how folks
cluster. In one place, a restaurant or store say, an unaccountable crowd. Half a block
on, in a similar location, an equally inexplicable few to none.
The green spaces in Union Square park are all fenced off, where previously, this
time of year, people used to sunbathe. Once, an eon ago, bearing Gwen in the baby
carrier backpack, you trod barefoot across the beat-up grass. The prickle on your soles
must’ve tripped some neural circuit, for an image came fast and sharp into your mind,
the image from which Free City would grow: A woman, abandoned in the extremis of
her labor pangs, observes herself as though from above, while soldiers, sent to arrest
her heretic lover, splinter the door with halberd shafts. You remember propping Gwen
up in the backpack, feeding her salad bar tortellini with tuna, and asking her
rhetorically, since she couldn’t have been more than two, if so crazy and out-of-
nowhere an image was worth writing down. Still you pulled out your book and made
Pigeons peck on the lawn, but nobody, neither office worker nor slacker,
stretches out on the grass this high noon. No one sits in whatever form of lotus, eating
from the clear plastic salad bar box set before them. No complaints. No pulling the
fence back to clamber over. You and the others confine your sitting to the benches and
look over at the grass, lush from so much rain. Who would think anymore of
transgressing even so feeble a boundary to claim the pleasure on the other side. Well,
you might think it. Perhaps the fellow the next bench down does too. But doing a
thing, so long as it’s not hurting someone else – that ancient vernacular New York
anarchism – seems a dead letter now. Don’t want to freak anyone out. There’s a kind
of conspiracy of acquiescence taken hold since the towers fell, as though any breach of
order might be construed as a sociopathic act. The T word. No degrees of shading any
more. Only absolute states.
So, city of mother Bea and father Jack, of grandparents Meyer and Helena, of
aunts Gladys and Nell, when will you finally be allowed to close the book? Katie seems
more and more amenable to leaving, and if you gave Gwen the high sign, she’d have
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 350
from here, but any expedition is fine by her.
Or are there more pages to this book, or another one after that? The truth is you
can’t bear to imagine what will become your city, much less the country you never
really owned. But can you bear to leave?
Union Square at noon. The benches not nearly full. There seem fewer of us.
Where have we gone?
But the billion dollar question is: What will we do when the Republicans come to
The answer, probably, is Nothing. Nothing much. A generation from now doubt
anyone would dream of holding a convention here, except perhaps a fraternal order of
rat catchers. But in the near term, it is absolutely necessary to the Bushies that New
York offer itself up as conquered territory, powerless to assert its autonomy, or even
symbolically oppose those who hate it most.
The regime must show it has nothing to fear from this pacified, once-maverick
dynamo of immigrant energies – the city that for centuries lived by, and generated a
raw egalitarianism unmatched anywhere else. Clausewitz said something to the effect
that imposition of will constitutes the appropriate measure of victory, not physical
destruction per se. Thus New York stands to experience not just lockdown, as after
9/11, but a week’s worth of political tourism by our imperial lords.
That said, if you can swing it, you’ll be in France with Katie and Gwen. Who
needs the heartache? Still, if out of harrowed ground resistance were to grow…
Over and above your depression, a burst of refreshing schadenfreude breaks:
the spectacle of the New York Times attempting to appear large and in charge in the
wake of the Jayson Blair scandal. The paper of record has become the subject of its own
front-page news and its reportage is truly surreal – as if Mao were caught red-handed in
some politically forbidden act and defended himself with self-criticism. What makes
the tone of the piece weirder still is that – whether for reasons of journalistic protocol,
corporate solidarity, an identification with Queen Victoria, or simple schizophrenia –
the Times refers to itself in the third person. Then there’s this gob-smacking assertion:
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 351
uphold central principles.” Well now, as if the Times could be “every” anything or the
U.S. just another nation. And what a choice choice of analogies. There’s a wonderful
innocence in so freely uttered an affinity with institutionalized usury and the dogs of
private property. Bravo – let loose the tide of secret names!
Fold up the silly sections and leave the paper on the rack by the WC. Wave to
Mario, kiss Deborah and Clara on both cheeks and out the door. You think of Gwen’s
“logo,” the graphic she signs all her artwork with nowadays. A peculiarly bereft-
looking skull and crossbones, beneath which the motto: Confessing Skeleton
Productions. Where did that come from? She was trying to draw a scary skeleton, she
says, but it ended up looking like it needed to get something off its mind. Whatever’s
going on, she’s nailed it.
Yesterday an airliner buzzed the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan. A
planeload of military personnel returning from Iraq. They’d gotten a special
dispensation from the FAA to break their assigned flightpath in the interest of
overflying, closeup, the terrain in whose name they had fought and killed. Freaked the
shit out of people, one of whom observed the plane “going really low and zigzagging.”
Subsequent outcry sufficiently widespread and vociferous to warrant a promise from
the FAA not to do it again.
Hundredth anniversary of Luna Park. Right on time, since we’re all living in
dreamland now. And electrocuted elephants danced in their heads.
Tom often shows up for his takeout iced café mocha – year-round he drinks it
and a rare concoction it is – just as you’re anteing up at the register. Whereupon you
palaver, and walk north together. This morning the subject turns to Ellis Island, and he
offers up the nugget that in the years between when it was abandoned in the early
fifties and Iacoccaized thirty years later, the rat population grew to a quarter million.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 352
and were they buried, incinerated, dumped?
• • •
Atop every fourth or fifth cab, an illuminated advertisement for The Matrix:
Reloaded proclaims “This Taxi Is Not Real.”
You’ve brought nothing you want to read, so your eyes roam around the car,
searching for something to light upon. And they find it. On the inside door nearest you
the decals that usually say: Do not lean on the door have been pasted over. The new
messages reads: Do not bomb Syria; Do not cut jobs; Do not trust TV; Do not hike fares.
Take a walk through. Every door, every car, the whole train.
• • •
5 p.m. Your French teacher’s roof. Balmy. Hot slant of sun. Between the
buildings way downtown, a small oblong of bay, and through this narrow slit, the
Statue of Liberty. You’ve been here many times before, when the visibility was good,
but never seen her there. Did a building come down to unblock the view?
To Byrdcliffe to investigate Utopia. However incipient, however ephemeral,
however distant the heyday. Gioia’s asked you to give a talk next month for the
hundredth anniversary of the artists colony she’s lived and worked at periodically since
her twenties. So you’re tripping up to the heart of the Catskills, to plant your feet in the
place, map its mind and story, and tap the ground for resonances of Ruskin.
But first to the deuce, to the Port Authority bus terminal where the stoner clerk at
the Trailways counter doesn’t meet your eyes, but asks for a picture ID. Huh? For a
bus ticket? How long has this been going on? You can’t help but ask, even though you
know what he’s about to say before he slurs it. “Since 9/11.”
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 353
Twelve minutes to get to your gate in the bowels of the terminal. Stroll along the
concourse level. Running the whole length of the room, two parallel rows of banners
hang down, from the high ceiling to perhaps fifteen feet from the floor. Each banner
bears the same image: a pair of American flags turned vertical and elongated to form
an ideograph of the WTC towers.
Midway through the Lincoln tunnel, you watch the New York-New Jersey line
flash by on the tiled walls. Same walls, same tiles as when you took the bus to day
camp back in the days when cars had fins. Except that this trip you have the seat to
yourself. Don’t have to worry about that kid, the one you usually got stuck sitting next
to, getting carsick all over you. One time, after unloading his breakfast, he fell asleep,
baseball cards on his lap. There, on top of the stack lay Roger Maris, supreme
technician of the supremely technical Yankees. You’d bought fifty packs of gum at least
in search of Roger, and no dice. So today you make your own luck. From between his
torpid fingers, you ease the card. Roger is yours. For about a half hour. As you near
camp, it’s not so much guilt as the idea of getting what you’ve wanted so much in this
particular way that bothers you. The kid in the next seat is not, after all, a bad fellow
even if he’s never figured out how to aim in the other direction. As you pull in, he
wakes up. Roger is back on his lap. He doesn’t even look at his stack.
Now you’re out of the tunnel and the bus is looping up the ramp on the Jersey
side. Try to catch a glimpse of Penn South, but it’s invisible, at least in this fog, behind
the Starret-Lehigh building and the twin ocean liners of London Terrace. Then you look
north toward the new midtown skyscrapers to update your personal skyline. Double
take: the trade center never fell at all – it just moved uptown. Ah no, it’s the
AOL/Time-Warner twins. Tricksters – had you going for a minute. Massive they are,
and in this eastward lighting, blank. What fooled you was the ratio of building-to-gap-
in-between. It’s more or less the same, from this angle anyway, as the vanished one,
imprinted in your mind.
Breakfast conversation with Gioia. En passant she mentions that the corporation
that makes Life Savers closed their U.S. operation and moved production to Canada.
You flash on the full-sized pressed-tin Life Savers charm your uncle Mike showed you
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 354
mother when he shipped off to Hawaii as a Navy flyer in WWII. Mike came back in
one piece and since then rolls of Life Savers – the edible kind – have served as your
family’s travel talisman. On every take off and landing, mixed fruit for Gwen, white
pep-o-mints for Katie and yourself, ostensibly to help ease the pressure in the ears.
Funny how even atheists make obeisance at the altar of tradition.
Outsourced to Canada. What more to say? Pass round the Life Savers mates –
the ship’s a-going down.
• • •
On the desk in your room, a book. Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in
the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi. Henry Corbin. Bollingen, 1958. Open it.
An early Sunday café invasion by two sets of couples, both with small children,
one right after the other. Throw in some friends and a grandparent or two. The adults
vie with one another for awfulness, barking orders at Eyoko and Yossi. One mother
discusses a tank top she bought from a catalogue while her kids shriek and attempt to
demolish themselves and their chairs. The men, when they stand up, walk like SUVs.
They explode out the door in the order they came in, leaving behind a great mess and
plates full of uneaten food. The average American has become a petty terrorist in the
public sphere. God knows what they’re like at home.
• • •
Sea Cliff, Long Island. Gingerbread houses. An objectively beautiful townscape,
fantastical trees, and in certain spots an almost Menemsha-like air of chthonic energy
radiating from the ground itself. It’s where Katie grew up, but she doesn’t want to be
Eternal, eternal this process of cleaning out her mother’s house in preparation for
its selling. Forty years of a family’s stuff, packed from basement to attic, plus ancestral
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 355
dragged to Goodwill or otherwise disposed of. An impossible job.
Some aspect of Wilma still lingers in these rooms that, since her death early last
fall, have grown to feel more and more uninhabitable. It takes effort, but you can
imagine this place a couple of years on, transformed, vital again, infused with the
presence of a new family.
Lots of things you won’t remember, but the porch along the front of the house
and wrapping round to one side, the breeze that took a liking your pages there, the
sliver view of the Sound from the topmost window – those bits are hard-wired into
your head by now, unlikely to ever leave.
• • •
Home again, late evening. Fog so thick that looking out your bedroom window
to the northeast, no Empire State. Half a mile as the crow flies, but not even a hint the
great building’s there.
Jesus, when are you going to get out of this? Everything you write comes out a
Walkabout. In and around Union Square. A more promising morning sky than
most of late. The atmosphere struggles toward spring. Here’s another, coming toward
you, the third or fourth in as many days: a young woman, walking dreamily, hands
clasped at about sternum level. It’s a strangely devotional gesture, as though she holds
a breviary before her, or some sacred object that might at any instant speak in the voice
of God. But it is a cell phone. And with this timeless gesture of contemplation, she
awaits the Call.
Half a blocksworth of cars stuck behind a garbage truck loading trash on 22nd
Street. As you walk closer to the bottleneck, the harmonics of the cars’ horn blasts find
a rhythm in the muffled booms of the rap drumtrack leaking from the seams of a stalled
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 356
drivers. Not quite an oratorio, but as close to it as the streets can offer.
Around the corner, on Eighth Avenue, an elderly, bearded fellow, tall and thin as
a rail, with the eyes of a prophet, stands near the curb over the subway grate. With
great concentration and precision of movement, he hoists a shopping cart up and down,
sidewalk to overhead. How many repetitions has he done? How many more in his
regime? Pilates for the mad.
• • •
Late afternoon at Wolfgang’s. Last coffee of the season in his kitchen on the 25th
floor. In two days he makes his semi-annual summer migration across the pond. Down
the river, between the towers of the World Financial Center, a huge wedding cake of a
cruise ship, moving fast, steams out to sea. Ah, but ships no longer steam.
As you talk, echoes of a rally down below. Out of eyeshot, from somewhere on
the landfill to the west and north, a fragment of harangue booms upward to your ears:
“That’s the message we’re going to take to those bastards in Albany” – pause for cheers
– “and those bastards in City Hall!” Further cheering, but after that no more. You
listen to silence for a moment.
Where were you? Wolfgang was saying that word “strafe” comes from the
German verb “to punish.” And that when the British declared war in 1914, the German
sense of shock and betrayal by their putative cousins was so great that “God punish
(straffe) England” became a commonplace phrase. Somehow the word mutated into
English with the advent of aerial warfare. You agree that strafe is a very satisfying
word to utter.
Glance through the window again when you stand up to go. Through another
gap between the buildings, the cruise ship’s stern is still visible out in the harbor. At
this distance and from this angle, it looks like a white castle turret, standing still.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 357
Katie, who persists in reading the Times when you can no longer bear to, reports
that the Met will close its Islamic section for four years while the cafeteria, presently on
the floor below, is undergoing conversion into expanded Greek and Roman gallery
space. The official story is that the Islamic collection is being dispersed for the duration
of construction to prevent any damage to the artworks. But gol-lee, the timing and
duration of this move sure make something more than sense.
You sit in your almost-favorite seat at the café, contemplate for a moment the
galactic shapes in the crema of your on your café français, then open up your iBook. A
small piece of plastic bounces off your table and onto the floor. Has someone thrown
something? Well really there’s no one nearby it could have come from. You get up and
examine the object. It is the blue-gray Apple logo formerly glued into a little reciprocal
hollow on the top of your machine. If you were another person, or lived in another age,
you’d be inclined to endow this with symbolic value. What does it means when one’s
Two godly folk who hail in some manner from the Church of Holy Apostles – a
woman in purple and a man, gay ‘twould seem, wearing a black tee shirt – converse to
your right at the Table 4. You catch fragments, despite your legendary concentration on
the work at hand. They talk about finding the bases for radical arguments in Scripture.
Then the woman, whose voice carries better, says: “I feel a kind of attunedness to the
city that I never felt before, and a fierceness about hanging in.” A pause. “I think
September 11 was a kind of opening.”
This woman avers she has a gift to give, aha: “I’ve had the opportunity to be a
priest,” she says. “But I don’t know about being a prophet beyond that.”
Gioia mentioned this in passing, as she often does: The power of story.
May 30 – Morning
You leave the café and pass by Gwennie’s school. Through the mesh of
playground fence spill the merry jibes of her classmates: “You suck!” “Loser!” “Take a
walk!” Same and different as in your day.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 358
Sun hits full from the east and the threshold between you and some sort of
divine melts to a thinner veil than the twill of your jeans. On your way to a parents’
orientation meeting at Gwen’s middle school-to-be, Baruch. Meet Katie at the corner of
23rd Street, walk across town together.
Diagonal to the Flatiron building, just inside Madison Square Park, a modest
bronze statue of William H. Seward, Secretary of State under Lincoln, purchaser of the
Alaska “folly,” and the man for whom your high school was named. Downtown it is,
on the Lower East Side – the big blockhouse you spent your fourteenth to eighteenth
years hellraising in still stands. But who knows for how long? The model for Up the
Down Staircase, a great ejumication factory since 1923 will soon be decommissioned,
broken up into several, smaller, “magnet” schools.
Seward High, older alumna have told you, once gave Stuyvesant a run for its
academic money. In the mid-sixties when you got there, four thousand students
jammed into a facility built for twenty-five hundred, some spilling into an annex on
Eldridge Street. The language department still boasted Mandarin Chinese, Russian and
Hebrew, and faculty overall stood a cut above the average Board of Ed hack. But ah,
demographics – it was rough and tumble lot that jostled through the student hopper.
No plan got you there, it came about by default. Seward is what happens when you
refuse to put together a portfolio for Music and Art, and blow off applying for a
scholarship to one of the posh private schools the rest of your classmates are headed for.
Not entirely clear though, even now, is the process by which you made the
transition from being beaten down and robbed on a more or less daily basis to helping
found the Seward Park High School Peace and Freedom Coalition, editing the
“underground” paper, and otherwise tying the administration in knots. But it’s for sure
that by your last year there, ‘68, you and Larsen and a handful of others had the
overseers on the defensive, a goodly minority of the faculty on your side and ready
access to almost anyplace or anything you needed in order to further subvert the order
Which culminated the day after King was killed. Minutes after the word came
down, before you’d even registered the shock, you drew the flyer up. In the morning
comrades with keys opened up the printing office door and slapped the stencil on the
rexograph drum. By the time the first students started to arrive, leafleters abounded on
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 359
memorial rally set for Central Park that afternoon. Word had it in the hallways too. At
noon, get up and march out.
You and Larsen made a nominal appeal to the acting principal along the lines of
let my people go, but you knew the answer in advance. And in truth she couldn’t legally
dismiss the students early, so things just took their course.
Stroke of noon, in most classes the kids just stood up and filed out the door. The
hip teachers knew in advance, and were cool with that. But once out on the street, the
pace quickened with the liberated heartbeats. Down the steps of the F train at Delancy
street you stormed by the hundreds. The train pulled in and folks started hopping
turnstiles. You saw the cop stationed by the token booth move a tentative hand toward
the piece on his hip but you read his thought like a teletype as it passed through his
mind: Too many Negroes. And then he tried to fade his blueness into the white tiles in
hopes that no one noticed him. Truth was, he didn’t matter. You all had business
Funny how the image holds its charge these many years on – of so many
standing up at once, not just for King, but out of the weight of their own autonomy,
their sense of a collective will in which, suddenly, they played a part. Even the middle-
class Jewish kids from Stuy town, at Seward because they couldn’t make it higher up
the food chain – the ones who dissed your politics or found your profanity
embarrassing – most of them walked out too. The only people left inside the classrooms
were an occasional bewildered-looking teacher and clusters of Chinese kids in
buttoned-up white shirts, hunched over their desks – those most earnest students,
recently off the boat, unlinked to the pull of the moment, still contained in some other,
All this folly in the time it takes a DONT WALK to flash green. A squeeze of
Katie’s hand and you head southward down Broadway’s diagonal. Across the street,
W. Gordon’s Novelty Co. The windows of the wide storefront are entirely boarded up.
Somehow it surprises you not that it’s gone, but that this ancient center of the clownish
and grotesque survived long enough to crawl over the finish line into the new
millennium. Shouldn’t it have vanished years ago, given logic of Manhattan’s ever-
suburbanizing real estate drive? Number 935 Broadway. Is it possible that behind the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 360
the caveman costumes replete with rubber clubs still stand arranged exactly as they
were? Above the doorway three glass panels backpainted in flaking-off block letter
• • •
Late morning. Up to the Met in honor of your birthday. As at the start of every
visit, approach the mini-Parthenon. Peer through the doors to catch a glimpse of gilded
Athena. It is necessary to bend slightly at the knee to see her shadowed face.
June 15th, they’ll close the cafeteria. It’s not Penn Station, no, but thus vanishes
another great semi-public space with its high ceilings and vast breadth. Though the
plebians were separated from the full-service diners, the plates and cutlery were the
same, the distance didn’t seem too far. In the air itself, besides the smells of food, a
sense of the socially possible.
And the amazing mural from the Normandie behind the bar. Deco to the max.
Back-painted on glass. It has to be twenty feet tall. What becomes of that? Not to
mention the pianist in the black dress working the grand most Saturday evenings to
produce medleys so florid the arpeggios sometimes made you choke. Or her occasional
counterpart, a flamenco-jazz guitarist of immeasurable gravity.
The new cafeteria is housed in a gustatory crypt beneath the medieval galleries,
thus eating at the museum will become, for most, a subterranean experience, unless one
rolls the really high dollars to sit and be served in the courtyard of the American Wing.
EVIL ERIC (Randolph). There’s a Post headline for you.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 361
All aboard the Lizzie J. Elizabeth’s invited you along for the ride – from the
Chelsea Piers Marina down “the creek” past the Colgate clock to the Statue of Liberty.
The skipper is Capt. Don, who’ll teach Elizabeth the duties of crew – so she can
assist Jonathan when they voyage up to their house in Rhinecliff or out for a jaunt
around the island – or beyond. Capt. Don motored from Long Island, through Hell’s
Gate to give this lesson, and his boat is far more modest than the craft he’s piloting now.
Lizzie J. sleeps several. She’s white and sleek, and as the engines rev, the hum from
belowdecks travels fast up to your teeth. There’s something of the happy carnivore to
Capt. Don’s turns out to be an affirmative sort of guy. “Kool and the Gang!” he
enthuses, when Elizabeth successfully casts off. On having cleared the marina pilings,
“Kool and the Gang!” Over the course of your run out into the bay and back, the
insistent repetition of this mantra convinces you that a little of Capt. Don goes a long
way. When you’re moored at the dock, he starts to show Elizabeth, literally, the ropes.
He demonstrates the various knots she’ll use, has her mimic, step by step his turns and
twists. And then you see how, like a magic trick, an impossible-looking knot can pull
effortlessly apart. You think here comes his trope, but out of the blue his voice changes
tone. “Knots are made to be untied,” says Capt. Don.
• • •
Le G. p.m. You who are professionally shocked by nothing gasp internally, if
not aloud, when you read that the Republican National Convention will be held to
coincide with the third anniversary of September 11. One would give, or at least
consider the gift of one’s right arm for even a hint of the surreal in the face of absolute
literalism – the sort of triumphant, peculiarly direct, unmediated and puritanical
literalism of the same species that each year compels certain Protestants to march
through Catholic neighborhoods in celebration of having killed a great many of them
generations ago. A renewable insurance policy on a hate-filled future.
The present intention is to rub our faces in our abject powerlessness. And we
will likely let them. “Welcome!” says Bloomberg. “We cannot thank you enough.”
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 362
Such degradation of the human spirit on both sides of this immense power
asymmetry. No good can come of it, but it cannot last forever. The Bushies no longer
have enemies, only victims. So they must, and will, devour themselves. But in the
meantime they are doing their job: sowing the seeds of despair among any who oppose
them. Not Bin Laden, no. Just people with any sort of surviving decency.
Speak briefly on the phone with Larsen. When you ask him if he’s heard about
the Republican Convention’s being slated for September 11 there’s a pause and you
think perhaps he didn’t hear you. Then he says “Right. Un-huh. Right.” For him too,
an instant’s disbelief followed by something like a sigh.
This a.m. you have to shift operations to La Bergamotte, the patisserie one block
south of Le G. The café has been taken over by a film crew. An indie starring Matthew
Broderick, who, frankly, you wouldn’t know if he bit you.
Bergamotte’s got killer pastries and the coffee ain’t bad, but the seating, most of
it along a banquette opposite the counter is of the eat it and beat it kind. Squeeze in and
look around. At the table next to you, a man is actually reading How to Win Friends &
Influence People. His tiny silver cell phone lies idly by the napkins and sugar. When the
inevitable happens, will it chirp, or just dance around on the tabletop like spit on a grill?
Spring of the endless rain. In a half-dream early this morning, you found your
way back to Washington Irving, summer of ‘66, trying to catch up in algebra. Those
weeks felt like a truce in a protracted civil war. Your teacher was a mensch, and a
master at his craft, evidenced by the fact that you wound up with a 97 on your Regents
– a performance hitherto unequaled, never to be repeated. And the girls were smart –
what the hell were they doing in summer school? – and beautiful in a host of unto-
themselves ways. About all you remember about the girl you hung out with most was
that she was unprepossessingly lovely, hip and together. Yes, and she had different
sized breasts, one A, the other C. Cool with it – as though this was the way to be.
You’d sit on the grass for lunchbreaks in Union Square Park under no pressure to do
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 363
Up to Simon Pearce on 59th Street to buy a wedding present for Alane and Clive.
You settle on a large handblown glass pitcher. Liquid and the marrying of waters
seems an auspicious way to go. Alane’s a Cancer so it suits her element. Then too,
there’s the spring of Arethusa which it will always bring to mind.
To the west, the upper stories of the AOL/Time Warner “center of everything”
swallowed in mist. Against such mass of building as you can see, the scaffolding of the
construction elevator running up the side looks ethereal, like Jacob’s ladder.
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