January 2 – Noontime
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- Bu sahifa navigatsiya:
- January 5 – Le Gamin Chelsea – Early Morning
- January 9 – Midafternoon
- February 25 – Le Gamin Chelsea – Early Morning
- April 16 – Kennedy Airport – Midmorning
- May 11 – 1 Downtown Local – Midafternoon
- May 14 – Early Morning – Le Gamin SoHo
- June 3 – 9th Street Fifth Avenue – Midmorning
- June 5 – Le Gamin Chelsea – Midday
- June 20 – St. Mark’s Bookstore – Midafternoon
- July 7 – Le Gamin – Midafternoon
- July 8 – Abingdon Square – Early Morning
- July 14
- July 18 – Le Gamin – Afternoon
- July 19 – Central Park
- August 15 – Breadloaf, VT
- August 25
- August 26 – Le Gamin – Early Morning
When the mechanical bronze laborers flanking Minerva go to work in Herald
Square, clanging out the hour with their sledge hammers against the enormous bell, the
pigeons flap off in routine alarm, sweeping round Macy’s façade, the grand bastions of
a former wedding-cake hotel, the squared-off neon ideograms of Koreatown, through
the shadows of the Empire State Building to return, as the sounds die out to perch on
goddess’s head, the shoulders of her servants and the granite pedestal memorializing
James Gordon Bennnett’s vanished newspaper.
Walk northwest on Broadway. Thirty-fifth, thirty-sixth. Down which street was
it Lily Bart sewed sequins on hats? Couldn’t have been around here come to think of it
– these buildings hadn’t been built yet. Most likely, Lily worked downtown in the old
garment district – east of Washington Square Park – near or even in the old Triangle
Shirtwaist building, now classrooms for NYU.
Thirty-ninth. Your beacon to the north’s a new icon of beauty: Linda
Evangelista, draped across a billboard four stories high. In Lily’s day, before the electric
grid and neon, gaslight ruled Times Square – the signs literally on fire.
You’ve become something of a fixture here: The man at table 4. Only a few
blocks from where you live, this northern outpost of the multiplying Gamins is where
you gravitate in the a.m. on days when you have no firm obligations elsewhere. Strong
early light over the rooftops, through the big panes facing onto Ninth Avenue. And a
window at your back too, out onto 21st Street. Here’s a spot to plant yourself –
lengthen your growing season.
If you’re writing longhand in your book, patrons at neighboring tables will
sometimes ask if it’s a journal or comment on your fountain pen. When you’re working
on your laptop, they interrupt less, since this looks more like business than play. If
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 42
laptops. Do you like your Macintosh? Later in the conversation, it will emerge that he is
a writer, that she keeps a journal, attends a writing workshop, and wants to be a writer.
Or that he is a newsman.
This newsman wears an electric blue cap emblazoned with his station’s logo
even on his day off. Wide, pale blue eyes. Lashes perennially a little damp, Kewpie-
like. His skin is preternaturally tanned, but you feel the booze underneath, coke too,
probably, or pills, percolating to the surface, yearning to breathe free. He assumes you
invest in the stock market and wants to talk about the crazy money he makes tapping
away at the keys. You touch the side of your head and tell him all your capitals is
invested here and this intrigues him more.
The newsman’s girlfriend sits across from him. A lawyer, it turns out. Harvard
grad. By day, she teaches future DAs to throw away the key. In her spare time, she’s
writing a book with big ambitions: rescue public education from lefty bureaucrats and
“give parents choice.” She asks you a dozen questions and answers them herself. The
free talk’s made her exuberant and she wants to kiss the newsman across the table, but
its breadth makes the move awkward. When they leave, she leads him by the hand,
home presumably, past the General Theological Seminary’s unassuming facade. He
walks beside her like a pull toy, limbs stiff as wood.
Sixth Avenue, Avenue of the Americas. Same difference. Street with a split
identity. Beginning in the late 1870s, an elevated train line rattled overhead, from
Greenwich Village to Central Park, creating a valley of depressed property values
below. Then, in the early thirties, Rockefeller Center rolled up against the El from the
east and within a few years, the tracks were gone.
In the mid-fifties, you rode the bus up Sixth, gazed with a kid’s astonishment at
the modern office slabs sprouting like huge dominoes on both sides of the avenue, from
the lower forties north.
Then came the medallions – brightly colored insignias of every American nation,
hung from sleek, curve-topped lampposts along the whole length of the thoroughfare.
The emblems looked fascinating, very official, lots of detail, but impossible to examine
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 43
out: Uruguay, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, one by one, as you walked to school
up the avenue, from 3rd or Waverly to 12th Street. You didn’t know it at the time, but
the same Rockefellers whose name went with the Center had been busy south of the
border too, sinking their teeth into a juicy melon called United Fruit. Not to mention
great suckings forth of Venezuelan oil.
Over decades, exhaust fumes and the elements took their toll on the medallions.
The enamel rusted around the edges, the images faded, blending into the visual noise of
the cityscape. But they disappeared for good only a few years back when the lampposts
were scrapped and new ones went up, sans insignias. By which time the city had pan-
Americanized to the point where Johnny Colón, East Harlem native and salsa legend,
could, with a wink, spin the Big Apple a new nickname: El Gran Mango. And mangos
come from southeast Asia too.
At 59th Street, Sixth Avenue turns into a tree-lined roadway, exchanges its linear
flow for a serpentine drive northward into Central Park. Here, in a modest plaza
carved out of the parkland, three bronze equestrian statues stand high atop black
granite pedestals – larger than life. They depict heroic figures in the wars of American
independence, and the relationship among the triumvirate is formal, deliberate. San
Martín faces east, toward the Old World he returned to. Bolívar rides purposefully in
the direction of Los Angeles. Martí looks as if he was about to leap south over 59th
street when his horse reared up, pawing the air. Taken by surprise, the Apostle of his
people reels back, frozen in disequilibrium.
Afternoon flurries over packed-down snow. You’re heading east, then north
toward Hunter, stealing time from paying work to research the trade center book.
Martí doesn’t move. Why should he? He witnessed plenty – a New York even more
spectacular than your own. Reported from the city of his exile on the opening of the
Brooklyn Bridge, festivities for the Statue of Liberty, the great blizzard of ‘88. You
evolve the impossible notion that he sees you trudge by beneath him, slip once on the
glazed marble pavement. Then he urges you to go see Falencki about the occasional
pains in your sternum. Falencki’s a good guy, treats patients on a sliding scale, but it’s
still more than you can afford just now. Every xerox at the library costs a dime, same
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 44
grief, more likely.
A pigeon lights on Martí’s right shoulder. José, did you know that today, two
million New Yorkers, citizens of that immense valve of pleasure open to an immense people
have no health insurance? But Martí, green and oxidized is not listening. And for the
first time in all the years you’ve known this statue, you finally read it. It’s not the taxis
honking, the Lilliputian nags pulling buggies full of tourists that spooked his horse.
Martí is home in Cuba, leading his column through the pass at Dos Ríos. Fixed in the
moment of ambush – where the bullet found him.
On the way here, you walked past a fellow dressed for office with a big gray
smudge on his forehead and had the immediate impulse to reach for your handkerchief
and wipe it off. But then, a few steps on, you saw another smudge, and realized it was
At the café around 10:30 the payphone rings. Deborah answers it, beckons you
over. It’s Gloria. Basic Books has come back from the dead – resuscitated as the pole
star of a venture capitalist’s constellation of imprints. John D. has been made
publishing director, and he’s always liked your book. She wants to reapproach him
with a revised WTC manuscript. Revised. Again? You hear the complaint in your
voice. It’s been rejected by what, twelve publishers? The guy at Pantheon said he
couldn’t find a coherent narrative line in it. The book needs an editor, simple as that.
You have carried it as far as you can on your own. Gloria’s voice lowers in pitch and
volume. “That was an earlier draft. And Eric, you know how to edit it yourself.”
Slow burn back at Table 4. No comfort out there, no hand of friendship extended
to pull you across. But then something inside you softens. Gloria is right, you have to
edit it yourself. You’re the only one who cares enough about this tar baby to figure out
its secret name.
Subway poster for United Healthcare: Grocery stores have express lanes. Why not
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 45
Why not indeed? And they say the art of reasoning’s dead!
ciudad libre. You’re invited over. You try to slow your pulse, speak deliberately into the
phone: “I travel with my family.” A silence on the other end that seems too long to
augur well. This Darton is a more expensive package than they thought.
It’s settled. You will pay for Katie and Gwen’s airfare. Debate, bless their hearts,
will cover the hotel, food and local travel for the three of you. Now, where to find the
money for the plane?
Uptown to El Taller Latinoamericano to reanimate your moribund Spanish. If
Bernardo can’t help you, no one can.
Dr. Cooper pulls that falling-apart wisdom tooth. Una muela del juicio’s what you
lost, according to Bernardo, a tooth of judgment. And in the same breath, he serves up
perogrullo, a Sancho Panza figure, wise fool. And deriving from it, perogrullada – in one
sense a platitude. In another, a deceptively simple statement containing a profound
Elena from Debate calls. On the menu, a presentation, press interviews. Big
spread in El Pais coming out – a review by an eminent novelist. She gave your book to
the American cultural attaché who read it and liked it, and offers, if you wish, to host a
luncheon for you at the U.S. consulate. Sure, why not? A wonderful snowball, all
started by Marithelma.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 46
Come out of the clouds
Come out of the sun
Come out of the snow and rain
Where he’s going, nobody knows
But it just might be to Spain.
Keep your splendid sun,
Keep your woods, O Nature, and the quiet places by the woods
Keep your fields of clover and timothy, and your cornfields and orchards…
and give me the streets of Manhattan!
Right, Walt. But did you ever climb the path to the Alhambra? Or wander the
rose gardens of the Generalife in spring? Ten days in Spain is not enough.
The image has been popping into your head at random moments since you
returned. So you take the F Train down to pay a call on the mural in the lobby of the
building where your grandfather Meyer and aunt Gladys used to live, 208-212 East
Broadway. Nearly twenty years since Gladys died, and on your last visits here, you
were too preoccupied to notice much. A security guard opens the door and when you
tell him it’s the painting you have come to see, he warms to the subject. He spends,
after all, much of his workday in its presence. He’s logged plenty of hours studying it,
taking in its nuances. Did you know that FDR’s eyes follow you, whichever way you walk
down the hallway – left or right? The guard is not happy about the restoration the co-op
did a few years back. A sloppy job. Added fleshtones and shadows – destroyed the
artist’s purposely flat tonality. He’s right. The unfinished quality it used to have feels
A woman around your age enters, falls into the conversation. Celia. She’s lived
here in the Seward Park Co-ops since she was a kid. Every afternoon when she came
home from school, for five or six months running, the painter would be there, up on his
scaffold. Then one day he was gone. The mural was done. An elderly fellow comes
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 47
joins the little circle of art critics. “See,” he says, “what they did there?” He directs
your eye to the image you came for, the Nazi helmet, with a sapling growing through a
fissure in its crown. “It used to have a swastika there,” he says, and points out a
crudely rendered bullet hole. “But some people complained, so they painted over it.”
A pabulum-like response emerges from your lips to the effect that people are
always trying to rewrite history and Abe waves his hand dismissively. “They’re trying
to eliminate history,” he says. You could kiss him for those words and the vehemence of
Built as a working-class co-op, with capped equity to keep it affordable, Seward
Park Houses served as a model for Penn South, where you live. Same basic plan, a
cluster of red brick high-rises set in a park. But Seward has gone market rate now. The
incoming residents want to put marble over the mural, says the security guard. After
thirty-eight years, Celia is cashing out and moving to Florida.
You don’t drop your jaw. Don’t ask her what the hell she plans to do down
there. Nor mention your own history in this place, that your aunt and grandfather’s
apartment served as a refuge for several months after Jack chucked you and your
mother out late one night in 1961. You too came home from school through this lobby,
and at first you didn’t understand the iconography, thought that the sapling was
growing through a cracked metal basin. Then Eichmann was captured and you read –
surreptitiously, because Gladys tried to hide the book from you – about the
deportations, the death camps. And saw pictures, some too awful to imagine, and some
of soldiers in uniform that made you realize the basin was an upended helmet.
Objectively the mural is nothing to write home about. Didactic and bloodless,
lacking any sort of passion. And the rendering’s perfunctory, mechanical. Watered-
down WPA. The FDR portrait you can take or leave, Mona Lisa eyes and all. But to
this day, the image of the sapling splitting the helmet – of nature reasserting her claim
to an object whose material once came out of the ground – remains indelible,
spontaneously reoccurring. Before you leave, you take photos. In case the marble goes
up before you get back here.
You walk along East Broadway, past the library, the Educational Alliance, the
park, the old Yiddish Daily Forward building, the Chinese restaurant that used to be the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 48
and beyond it, the Delancey Street subway stop. This neighborhood makes you go
Pavlovian. You find yourself salivating for a Gus’s pickle. But where is Gus now? Is
there a Gus’s now? Out of nowhere you start singing “Hit the Road Jack.” More than
once in the months you lived down here, you fantasized things happening the other
way around – your father having to leave the house instead of you – That’s right, hit the
singers, the Charlettes. And, like Ray Charles, all he’d offer in return would be a
sheepish, Well I guess if you say so....
Yet somehow you and Bea eventually found a home – in a pile of bricks very like
the one you just revisited. And now your mother’s gone, but your daughter wakes up
every morning in what used to be your room. And looks out over the same city that’s
altogether different now.
A violinist, Chinese you think, attempts to keep his footing as he navigates the
aisle of the bucking subway car. A montage of Broadway show-tunes, but his
intonation is on the money, and he plays from the heart. Bravura finale. You excavate a
dollar bill. “Beautiful.”
His face brightens. For a moment he lowers his bow and instrument, leans in
and whispers: “Most difficult part is keeping balance.”
Ah what you see when you look up from your book. A woman sits at the table
just ahead, her back toward you. Her hair, dark brown, is done up in a score or more
little pigtails, like mushrooms, arrayed more or less symmetrically over the top, sides
and back of her head, and bound with red elastics, though a wisp escapes down the
nape of her neck. She’s so thin her vertebrae stand out like a mountain chain beneath
the cling of her brown knit shell. The diagonal lines of her bra straps and the curve of
her ribs combine to suggest the shape of a butterfly. Suddenly, she sits up straight, tugs
the hem of her top down, pulls her shoulders up toward protuberant ears and grasps
her hair knots in both hands as though to keep her head from flying off.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 49
A man sits facing this woman, but all you can see of him is what frames her:
tanned, hairless, gym-built shoulders and well-muscled upper arms. As abruptly as she
clutched her head, she rises and leans across the table to embrace him. The dominant
part of you must not want to see how this goes down, so you force your eyes over to the
right where two youngish women incline toward one another, speaking intently. “OK,
OK – the flowers of the world…”
“The flowers of the world, brought to you...”
“Brought to you... or to your loved one!”
The woman on the banquette, blonde, jots it down.
• • •
You can look at the physical evidence of your trip to Spain any time you want to.
But the passage of only a few weeks has relegated it to a dreamscape. Is it possible that
you were treated so well, with such consideration, as though your work mattered? One
could wear out any residual good vibe fast making comparisons. Suffice it that once
upon a time, you had such a moment.
What creature has 224 million teeth and 14 million feet? New York City!
Dentists, you have your marching orders! Podiatrists, take heart!
• • •
“Nobody has a worse time than madmen who earn their living from other
madmen.” So says Quevedo in The Swindler. And the anonymous author of Lazarillo de
Tormes: “How many people must there be in the world who run away from others in
fright because they can’t see themselves?”
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 50
Last night, a dream. Spidery men in cheap dust masks gut the city by inches.
Everywhere you look, a brick lies at your feet, broken in half.
Do you want to spend the big five-oh in New York City. Hell no. But where?
Your face is always half-turned toward Europe. Paris is where, at fifteen, you felt your
first real surge of freedom. But how could you pull that off – economically,
linguistically, any way?
Amoxicillin prescription from Falencki. Your lungs are twin Achilles heels. Any
head cold wants to dive from your sinuses straight down into your chest and make
mischief there. According to his records, you’ve caught bronchitis just about every fall
for years. Never noticed the pattern. Strange to get sick now. Late spring’s usually
your strongest time of year.
You are told, reliably, that death by pneumonia is by no means the worst way to
go – it is, in fact, peaceful, narcoleptic. The old people’s friend they used to call it. But if
you have anything to say about the timing, you’ll stick around until Gwen is at least
sixteen. But who gets to choose?
On all your birthday cards, Bea would write bis ein hindert und zwansich, one of
the few Yiddish phrases she knew the Hebrew letters for. You should live to a hundred
and twenty. Sure, you’ll take that.
A young woman, hair up in a bun, sits eating an orange crêpe. With every
mouthful she appears to be overtaken by a soundless orgasm. She half closes her eyes,
extends her neck, rolls her head. Never have you seen anyone demonstrate such an
lover-like relationship with food. Yet she seems unguarded, not exhibitionistic, as if
Table 11 was an absolutely private place. After every bite she takes a sip of café au lait,
lifts her napkin from her lap and demurely pats her lips.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 51
On her way out she leans over the counter. “That was very good!” she says to
Mario. He’s chopping, looks up, offers her his radiant smile. Immediately she suffuses
with color. Opens the door, and before stepping out, glances back wistfully toward her
You page through Andrew Ross’s Real Love, and discover that the artists Komar
and Melamid have made a series of paintings that deliberately seek to displease people
at the level of their particular national tastes. Here’s a reproduction of “Holland’s Most
Unwanted,” a venerable domestic Dutch interior. But the view from the window is not
the skyline of Delft, it’s the towers of the WTC.
Gwen calls them “the tower twins.”
July 7 – Le Gamin – Midafternoon
All morning tangled up in the WTC manuscript. Roland Barthes begins his book
on Michelet by saying that before anything else, “we must restore this man to his
But you are bent on something utterly quixotic: making a narrative for a subject
that never possessed coherence in the first place.
buildings from a state of looming and fearful threat – from something mythic – so big, so
armored, yet uprotected, that it cannot be truly seen – into a historical object that may at last be
used, and eventually perhaps, even loved.
You can’t put that in an introduction. Even if someone’s daft enough to publish
A young woman passes by outside the window. Agonizingly thin.
July 8 – Abingdon Square – Early Morning
Breakfast with Elizabeth. Of all your friends, she has borne the closest witness to
your struggles with the Trade Center book. Unfailingly when you talk about it with
her, she asks the million dollar questions. You’ve come to love the WTC. How did that
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 52
maybe more than you do. You want to make the buildings inhabitable, not just steel to slide
Afternoon, downtown to visit them. Wander about in Austin Tobin Plaza. In the
shadow of towers, speakers tinkle new age music.
Head toward the cul-de-sac formed by the Vista Hotel. All these times down
here and you’ve never really looked at the memorial before, read the text carved in
English and Spanish on the red granite ring: “On February 26, 1993, a bomb set by
terrorists exploded below this site. This horrible act of violence killed innocent people,
injured thousands and made victims of us all. This fountain is dedicated to the memory
of those who lost their lives.”
And then the names: “John DiGiovanni, Robert Kirkpatrick, Stephen Knapp,
William Macko, Wilfredo Mercado, Monica Rodriguez Smith and her unborn child.”
What about that as a formulation: “made victims of us all”? What exactly does
July 16 – Battery Park, in Sight of the WTC – Midafternoon
burning sand. This practice, considered a wholesome exercise, lends itself to a certain
superficial, vulgar and boisterous intimacy to which these prosperous people seem so inclined.
– José Martí, “Coney Island”
they use it for, those people of the late 20th century? Surely not to live in. Did it have
some astronomical significance? And what strange form of stargazing did they practice
What if the bombers had taken down a tower?
July 18 – Le Gamin – Afternoon
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 53
At Table 13, two Asian women, thirtyish, compactly built, Korean if you had to
guess. Each drinks a bowl of café au lait. The woman wearing the baseball cap looks
the more stolid of the two. She sits rooted, nearly squatting, as though the seat were a
milking stool, across from her companion, thinner, poised, wavy henna’d hair. But the
body language of the heavyset woman belies her attention to style and color: the
purple sun logo on her cap matches her Capri jeans. Sunglasses hang by an earpiece
from the V-neck of her teeshirt. Between sips, the women focus intently on their
respective magazines, Allure and Marie-Claire. Are you projecting, or do they subtly
alter their expressions in response to the images on the pages they snap through,
mobilize their facial muscles to a more plastic disposition?
As you stand up to leave, something draws your eyes to the feet of the woman in
the purple Capris. She wears flip-flops. Her toes are bulbous, macerated-looking, the
nails half-destroyed. The new world order has yet to spread its beneficence to her most
distal parts. Give it time.
• • •
Six o’clock news: a crane falls in Times Square. Condé Nast building. The site’s
had way more than its share of accidents. A Maclowe job. He likes to step things along.
Flair for drama too. Got fined back in the early eighties. The city wasn’t moving fast
enough on his demo permit, so he hired a company that used this monster machine to
tear the guts out of a building on the square in the dead of night, kaboom. Rubble. One
fell swoop. Rats running everywhere. Open gas lines, exposed wiring, the works.
And damn, that Condé Nast thing is an ugly, carnivorous-looking piece of work.
Go on, leave, why don’t you? Your city is always being stolen. Turn around once and
whatever you think beautiful or worthy has been bulldozed by someone who knows
better than you do what this place is for. You were just born here – didn’t choose it.
The seed doesn’t get to pick its soil.
You know trees can be extracted by the roots – Haussmann lined his spanking
new boulevards with thirty-year-old arbres extracted from the Bois de Boulogne. To dig
‘em up, he had a special machine engineered that served a kind of obverse function to
the one Maclowe used. The tree lifter transferred instant history to newly minted
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 54
But here’s your sixty-four-thousand-dollar question: You’ve grown here all your
life, but could your roots find more propitious soil? Might you not be better off
Gwen’s birthday picnic on the sloping lawn south of the boat basin.
Astronomically hot. And so humid, the icing doesn’t want to leave the spatula for the
top of the cupcakes, but somehow it all gets done. An Odyssey just to find some bags of
ice – eight, ten blocks uptown on Madison.
Desultory attempts at frisbee. Distribution and deployment of water guns.
Snatches of bossa nova from the Summerstage festival. Brazil’s in town! Party favors
and tickets to ride on the carousel for all. Squeaka-squeak. Pull the shopping cart, now
laden with gifts and leftover food, through the park to Columbus Circle and the
downtown C Train.
Funny connection among two of the dads hanging out, their kids both classmates
of Gwen’s. Chris’s father designs jails, “justice architecture,” he calls it. Victoria’s pop
works as a guard at Riker’s Island. Little bright clusters in the gorgeous mosaic.
Alane introduces you to Shahid Ali. Wild(e) fella. Diaphanous veiling. Acts the
clown. Isn’t. Tan inteligente, as Bernardo would say of someone so sharp-witted and
erudite. And he’s got a gift for one-liners:
Lunch meeting with Nancy at Le G. She hands you her latest pages: a nearly
completed first draft. She hasn’t come up with a good title yet, but that will come.
Probably from a phrase already in the text itself. You allow yourself a moment of
pedagogic pride. In just a bit over a year she’s come further, faster, deeper than any
other student you can recall. But then, dancers are used to hitting the ground, digging
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 55
epigraph from Barbara Clark: Each one teach one.
August 26 – Le Gamin – Early Morning
At the back of the café, the payphone rings. Deborah gestures it’s for you. Gloria
on the line, just to say she’s working to “push John off the fence.” She sounds
optimistic and her mood is infectious enough to get you to open your notebook and
take another run at the introduction:
awestruck silence, this book seeks to trace the fine and at times nearly invisible line at which
power meets madness, monument shades into monstrosity.
But even further down in the underlying material, questions raised by the
distortions of class: Planner Tobin, Architect Yamasaki, Overseer Tozzoli – what might
their energies have produced had they not fallen prey to a mania for domination?
Yamasaki somehow intuited the atmospheric shift coming on at the end of the century
and designed his towers as emblems of the culture of fear.
You don’t remember the quote exactly, but T.E. Lawrence said something like the
really dangerous men are the ones who dream while they are awake.
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