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- April 9 – Woods Hole, MA
- April 11 – Early Morning
- April 15 – Early Morning
- April 16 – Le G.
- April 18 – Le G. – Early Morning
- April 19 – Le G. – Early Morning
Iraqi guerrillas blow up an American vehicle. The Times online shows a frontal
shot of the burned-out carcass, with as many insurgents as will fit standing
triumphantly upon its roof. Subdued colors – the now-familiar ochre tones of media
repetition. Does the Sunni Triangle really look like that? One man, very tall and thin
holds a long stick diagonally – his gesture evokes a ferryman upon his raft. Is he
crossing a river, or poling up or down one? Either way, a sense of flow.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 447
Cousin Danny died last night. What a story.
Danny’s funeral at Sinai Chapel in deepest Queens.
Called upon, you read Neruda: If I die, survive me with such sheer force…
Then the 23rd Psalm rumbles through the room like a subway.
A dream from when you were napping yesterday after the funeral: you
approach a long, rectangular, low-rise building, one high storey, set in gently rolling
countryside. It’s up a bit off the ground and you have to ascend some Greek temple-
like steps to get to the doorway. A common enough double door, modern, institutional,
glass in aluminum frames. Across the doorway and all round the inside of the building
hang diaphanous white curtains. You try the left hand door, but it’s locked. You can
even see the bolt in place in the crack between the doors. You move sideways and find
yourself inside the structure with the curtains at your back. Indeed there are no walls.
• • •
Another dream last night: a uniformed policeman, perhaps a woman, is sent
with orders to arrest you on a plainly false charge. But she seems open to your arguing
the point. The dream ends inconclusively. You have not entirely convinced her, she
remains skeptical, but appears now to question the premise of her mission. She leaves
to report to her findings at the station house and get further instructions.
Spring forward, the sun sets as disconcertingly late, but no complaints.
Everything shifts toward summer, except the temperature.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 448
dark sky, jetliners overflying Manhattan, making their approaches to Kennedy – some
way up there, others roaring too bloody low for comfort, as though their flight patterns
have been generated by a randomizing machine that doesn’t seem to recognize there’s a
city down here.
Will they hit New York again? And whom is they? In the depths of many a
mind, where the riverbottom’s really silty, where if you were a ferryman, the pole
would get stuck, there’s the latent consciousness that the spread between Bin Laden and
Bush isn’t so very wide. No greater than between the Democrats and Republicans. So
who and what will whack us? Whatever comes, it’ll likely not take the form of traumas
past. Nor fulfill an anticipated horror conjured out of fear and shaped by our desire for
control. It will be whatever comes.
Tian Kan moves on the deck of BJ’s house. Mid-morning. Hands cold, body
warm. An incredible ruckus of birds. Then they all fall silent except one who calls:
maybe, maybe, maybe…. Finish with a lung qi gong for that racketing cough.
On your early trip into the bakery in town, you bought Katie a Times which lies
on the low table in the living room. Front page divided up the middle by big twin
stories. On the right, Condoleezza Rice appears before the 9/11 commission. All
parties, the headline reports, are “sticking to script.” On the left, Iraq continues to
insurge against the occupation. The latest: a number of Japanese civilians taken captive
by the guerillas. Ever more obvious that the Coalition has, as Melinda would put it in
her Aussie vernacular, “lost the plot.”
Tian Kan on the deck. Midday. Again, great discourse among the birds. When
they stop, they go mute in unison and you hear rustlings among the leaves in the woods
below and to your left. How could that awkward noise be anything but a fellow
human? Nothing materializes. You’ve left your glasses folded on the railing, so the
view is impressionistic at best. Severe clear blue sky above. Sound of a small plane, it
too unseen. Then to your right, more rustling. You try to keep with your form, “drill
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 449
and chop” though it feels like dangerous are converging on you. Eventually, only the
noise at your right. You arrive at the final and most combative exercise, “rocking horse
with three roots.” Persistent, loud and large, the sounds continue. Must be a dog.
You’ve finished now and retrieve your glasses. There it is, a squirrel rooting in the
leaves, a good sized one, filled with the energy of spring. One day different and the
shift is palpable. One season’s past, the new one’s moved into its place.
A white birch stands about thirty yards off, directly in front of your extended
arm as your other arm sweeps across in a horizontal chop. You press your palms
toward it in the shoulder roll. Grasp and release it when you drill and chop. For the
rest of your exercises, you keep your eye focused on a dark crescent-shape on the trunk
near where the leftmost of its three main branches splits off. Are you going crazy or has
the tree had become your Tian Kan partner? Are you playing with one another’s
energies? Truth to tell, at the moment, you feel markedly less crazy than you have these
past two and a half years.
When you do your upward arm spirals you loose sight of your focal point for an
instant, the view blocked by the rising motion of your own limbs. Twelve sets. You
alternate the leading arm for a count of twenty four. Each time the dark spot vanishes,
a flash of alarm. Now this is not what infants experience. They delight in watching
objects disappear only to reappear again. To them, it’s the most amusing thing in the
world. If, say, at the café, you lower your head behind your newspaper and then pop it
up again, the baby watching you will chortle with delight no matter how many times
the trick’s repeated. You’ll get tired of the game far sooner than the baby will.
You know the dark spot is there. It returns the moment you lower your arms. So
what’s the problem?
They beat you by a hair. A gaggle of six Episcopalians, three couples by the look
of it, ranging from middle aged to elderly, take over not just the table you think of as
yours, but the whole southeast corner of Le Gamin. You made it in the door at 8:04,
before the gates were pushed all the way back and the chairs taken down off the rear
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 450
tables. But the early birds were already at work, prevailing upon Marcos and Adi to
push four tables together to form a grand square.
You shift your person and your expectations to your second favorite position:
the banquette opposite the door, but at a slight diagonal to it. A different angle from
which to observe the passing scene. Mario, the cook arrives, the Times and Post under
his arm. Does a classic double take at the sight of the colonization, smiles and shrugs
when he spots you in your shadowed outpost in the corner.
In comes the handsome young Irishman who works for Jumper the plumber. He
pumps away at the coffee urn, adds milk and three sugars, and is off in a shot. Early
job. He’s the one who seems to do most of the running about now that Carl Jumper has
all but retired. It’s rare nowadays to see the old man in work clothes. But he remains a
local presence, stepping through the doorway each morning for a coffee to go, tall and
nattily dressed, skinny as a beanpole – or a pipe now that you think about it. He
lingers, and when he departs, offers the room a kind of gallant salute, having
exchanged greetings with the kitchen staff and received kisses from the waitresses. You
know very little about Carl, other than that he carries himself, in his own more knife-
edged way, with the Maurice Chevalier-like air of a man who, age notwithstanding,
savors it all. At one time or another, he’s worked in nearly every building in the
neighborhood and when a job, say in the basement of a hundred-odd year old
townhouse, gets too knotty for the new fellows, he’ll come in to untangle the skein of
pipes. He knows what what’s what, and remembers when it was done, possesses a vast
internal topographic map of Chelsea valves and joints
The Episcopalians, the men at any rate, discuss logistics – their exit strategy from
New York. “There’s a five forty-one from Penn Station,” says the man in the
chronological center. “Five-forty one,” echoes the eldest. “From Penn Station,”
youngest man affirms. Finally they decamp, the tables heaped with detritus are bussed,
maneuvered back into position, the energy of the room subsides.
A judgment call now whether it’s worth grabbing Table 4 for the few minutes
remaining before you head home. Why not? Strike east to catch the sun. Move your
computer and bag over to the accustomed spot. When you turn round to make a
second trip for your coffee and water, Marcos is already bringing them over.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 451
heading this way from the Seminary. Only a woman far down the block pushing a
stroller with a little dog tethered to it. Still, some sort of convocation – post Easter? –
must be afoot at General Theological. Yesterday as you sat talking with Katie and Eric
B., a churchman of considerable bearing made the northeast corner of Le G. his
temporary cathedra. There he sat, attended by a pair of fellows in business suits both of
whom, under other circumstances, would have ranked as alpha males in their own
rights. But the cleric seemed to fill up the room all by himself, his presence ramped still
higher by the golden cross worn round his neck, flashing out against his black
shirtfront. In the instant you concluded that he had to be a bishop.
Behind him and to his right, on the counter near the cash register, stood a tall
glass vase from which sprang a profusion of flowers. One tulip in particular, yellow,
red and fiery orange, seemed to sweep its long stem down to where, from your angle,
the petals nearly touched his shoulder. Nature itself making advances toward the
• • •
“Who was that just passed?” asked the emissary from another country.
“Why that was the King!”
“And who were those men on horseback surrounding him?”
“That was the King’s cavalcade.”
“Are they holding him hostage?”
“No they are all his sworn men – his bodyguards!”
“Well,” said the visitor, “The King must be a very weak and fearful fellow
indeed to have to travel in the company of so many armed men.”
Early coffee with Eduardo and Thomas. Eduardo’s daughter lives a block from
Atocha station and was jolted awake in her bed by the bomb going off. In the
pandemonium she snuck through the security cordon to offer aid. Several people died
in her arms, Eduardo says. But she is strong, so she hasn’t broken down.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 452
The worst of it for her was the ringing of the corpses’ cell phones as they were carried
away. It’s clear that Eduardo is proud of his daughter, admires her intelligence, her
radicalism, stoicism. You tell him, though it flies in the face of Spanish reserve, that he
should feel free to give her your phone number, just in case she wants to talk.
By the time T. and E. leave, the café is filling up fast, getting noisy, but you linger
a few minutes to collect your thoughts. How to say it in so many words? That the
terrible crime in Madrid comes compounded with a domestic political outrage: the
Republican National Convention has been scheduled to be held here in early
September. This will mark a new stage in the ripening of the trauma of 9/11 2001, and
perhaps its perfection. The sound of the other shoe – is there only one? – dropping.
The unspeakable aftershock – no a fraternal twin event, born three years later. Mixed
with your disgust is a certain admiration for the cabal that seized this opportunity to
hogtie your city once it was knocked flat on its face. You would do the same thing if
you were them – if the only human impulse left in you was to reflexively display your
triumph over a conquered republic.
How to say – to whomever may read this – that the force bearing down on New
York is not a benign one? That our city soul was not broken by radical Islamicists. It’s
been ground down by the powers to which it is vulnerable: the authoritarian,
messianic, viciously anti-urban impulses of the country to which it has been subsumed.
And the awful reality of it is that in order for this legion of corporate militarists
to descend upon us, more than the towers had to fall first. We had to make ourselves
an abject and therefore indefensible city. To practice harming ourselves – our best self-
interests – we elected mayors who would successively undermine any sense of our
integrity as a plural culture: Koch, lickspittle to the landlords, that Quisling Dinkins,
then Giuliani, our millennial Peter Stuyvesant. For political generations, we spiced the
inequities we applauded or endured or tolerated, with cynicism. Then bring on
Bloomberg, not so much a mayor as a CEO – a man who accumulated billions by
monopolizing information – or, put another way, making millions stupider. Bring on
the Convention Center and Stadium. Do what you want, build what you want, tear
down anything, shuffle it round as you like, no one real lives here any more. Not in
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 453
greedy among us first and fattest, to shovel privilege toward the privileged badabing
badaboom. We had to practice long and hard to end up here – finally a colony of an
America that no longer fights wars of national interest, or even ideology, but in order to
play out the great pyramid game a corporate quarter longer, or until China takes over
for real and shows us how to do capitalism the right way, minus all that Protestant cant
about charity for the deserving poor.
We had to sell ourselves down the river. We had go a step beyond what any
external enemy could visit on us. We had to annihilate our own city soul.
You see it everywhere in Manhattan, a Bombay of the rich. Or of those simply
awash in venality whatever their credit limits, or lack thereof.
Daily News front page: a full cover photo of the Donald standing next to
the winner of the latest reality-based spectacle – an event to be celebrated by one and
all. And who has Trump chosen as his “apprentice”? Bien sur, a white guy. But it
really doesn’t matter. Any race or gender will do, as long as they demonstrate that fine
titration of greed and brutality. Don’t be fooled by the relative lack of blood in the
streets: a war’s gone on here and we lost.
Rantisi. Every day, the war gets holier. BushLaden, BushLaden, what will you do now?
Sound of the chopper that woke you up still beating in your head. Part of what
made its presence so creepy was that its sound seemed to come from everywhere.
There it hung, parked, nearly stationary, over a spot you judged to be around 30th
Street and Madison Avenue. No clue why. This happens evermore frequently – one or
more helicopters maintaining their positions over fixed spots for extended periods of
time. Various hours of the day or evening. No predicting it, or them. Might be traffic
or weather, some “law enforcement” or “security” function – who can tell?
Yesterday a small chopper buzzed your building, flew diagonally overhead
bearing southeast, cleared the water tower by maybe fifty feet.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 454
draw. When you first moved into your apartment on the twentieth floor, one of the
wonders of the view from your bedroom window was the whirlybirds taking off and
landing on the helipad atop the Port Authority building nine blocks to the south. You
were twelve, but even before then you’d been smitten by the little, insect-like ‘copters
with the bubble cockpits – the ones that dusted crops, or, fitted out with pontoons,
performed rescues on the high seas. One of that make, a Bell-47D1, hung from the
ceiling beneath the escalator of the old MoMA. Later you learned it was designed by
Arthur Young, a poet, painter and philosopher, who had a pretty good run of it – lived
from 1905 until the year you started these notes. The 47D1 weighed 1,380 pounds,
made ninety-two mph in a tailwind and hovered at 10,000 feet. Your teenage idea of
the perfect machine. Perfect in the way you found Nefertiti’s bust at an even younger
age, maybe three, your first time at the Met. Though you could never have said so at
the time, she struck you as the perfect woman, particular unto herself, yet distilling all
Whatever became of the little white plaster Nefertiti your father bought you?
Couldn’t have been too expensive, but a first rate reproduction nonetheless, modeled
with great delicacy. Green felt on the bottom of the base, one corner chipped slightly.
What became of her?
Awful to think she might have been vortexed into the maelstrom of your Life
Before Katie. Probably not. Even then, in the days of your greatest anomie, you
wouldn’t have been indifferent to her fate. You’ve a trace memory of seeing her on one
of the bookshelves in Jack’s living room up in Vermont. Better there than nowhere.
Ask brother David next time you speak to him. It would be lovely to pass her on to
Last night when you kissed Gwen goodnight she said how happy she was to feel
so safe. That nothing could get to her there in her bed. Now that’s a state of being to
treasure. What you hoped at the time, as you turned off the light, distilled all your
hopes: that by the glow of the nightlight Meyer made for you, her sleep would be
sound, that the membrane would hold through one more cycle from dark to light.
Mario walks into the café bearing the Post and Times under his arm. Do you
want to see the paper? You’re tempted. On the front page of the Times, a Blackwater
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 455
chopper circles over Baghdad. A mercenary stands outside the bubble, feet planted on
the rungs of the landing skid. He’s vigilant, scanning below. Sixteen in the clip and one
in the hole.
• • •
Midmorning run up Third Avenue to the Queens Midtown Tunnel. Return the
Taurus to Sea Cliff. Zoom past a double-parked van, its side painted with a silhouetted
skyline. Survival of the World Trade Center towers as twin cutaway spaces between
the legs of the M in a MARTINEZ – big block lettering, white on black. But Martínez-
what? You’re moving too fast to see. Martínez Floor Covering? Carpeting? Plumbing?
Heating and Air Conditioning? Electrician? ¿Quien Sabe?
Some mornings you get to Gamin a few minutes before it’s officially open. The
gates are unlocked, but drawn shut and you pull them aside, close them behind you
and open the door. If the chairs are still up on the tables, you help the waitstaff take
Yesterday, when you went to remove the chairs the from Table 4, you noticed a
little figurine standing on the tabletop grouped together with the sugar bowl and salt
and pepper shakers. Odd man out among these utilitarian objects, his presence for an
instant played a trick of scale – transformed the chairlegs into pillars the great canopy of
wicker stretched above him. Of course when you sat down you picked him up. About
three quarters of an inch taller than the salt shaker. Wooden probably, beneath the
paint. He’s a little banged up, lost his head once and had it glued back on pretty
straight. Purple robes, with a teal green cloak, gold hat – square-shaped with a round
knob on top, bracelets, shoes. And he bears a golden jar, his hands clasped round its
base. Who is the mystery king? Show him to Mario who reckons he’s Balthazar,
because of the long white beard. But is Balthazar’s gift gold, myrrh or frankincense?
Mario doesn’t remember. Dimly, you recall that Balthazar is usually depicted as quite
black, and without a beard. This fellow’s skin is painted bandaid pink. Melchior?
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 456
Figuring he had to belong to somebody who might return to look for him, you left the
king standing on the sill to the right of the table, next to the oversized pot of the
unhappy little plant. And it is here he remains this morning. No one’s claimed him.
Pick him up again. Features rendered with a fine brush, but in haste – his eyes seem to
roll upward. The painter may have intended to convey a devotional expression, but the
bright, persimmon daub of a mouth makes him look more piqued than solemn. Still,
his bearing is dignified as he walks forward – right foot extending out from under his
cloak – and his air is of a man determined to go on. Even separated from his
procession. Unguided by any star.
When you pick up the Times your eye falls on article about the enduring
popularity of amnesia as a theme in American movies. Rare forms of amnesia that
hardly ever occur in real life. You wonder if this king has lost his memory. Does he
know what he’s carrying and why? Remind me, Jesus, where do I find my focus here?
• • •
Gwen’s inherited a combination of your teeth and Katie’s. Oy vay. Off to the
dentist to discuss braces. But first pick her up at her school where the guard, uniformed
like a policeman is trying to disperse a knot of recalcitrant kids from the corner of
Second Avenue and 21st Street.
“Cross over! Cross over!” he shouts, moving bodily in on them. “Let’s go! Let’s
go! What you looking at? I’m not a statue!”
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