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Saturday Gamin and the first palpable shock of no Kimsey. She’s living in a
Eyoko, with the tiny, half-sliding steps she uses when transporting hot
beverages, brings John his café au lait. It’s sumptuous enough to make you want to
break ranks with your daily café français. When she makes ‘em the foam is extravagant
– a bowlful of Tiepolo in 3-D. Mid-first sip John’s cellphone goes off: The Waltz of the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 553
Head’s so muddled, absent-minded doesn’t arf describe it. More like the vessel
you carry atop that neck’s gone breathless in the fall high pressure.
The other day, when Jessamyn came to town, she brought a maple leaf, red,
partly black, tips curled, from up in Gill, Mass. – and it blew you there. Farther north
too, over the border into Vermont. Mud wet jean knees by the creek. Early morning.
Bright sun side by side with brown black shadow. All things distinct. How you got
there, no idea. Jack must have borrowed a car. He and Bea inside the house talking
with Rachel and Ed. Adult stuff. Very earnest. Leeward side of Joe McCarthy. You’d
been in the country before – or more accurately out of the city – but never at the
convergence point of all available qualities – a clarity of sensations that made you, for a
breath or two, though you couldn’t have said so at the time, aware of the earth and sky
alive and up to something important in unison.
This morning when Frank threw down the key, just as you unlocked his door, a
still-green ginkgo leaf blew up against the brass mud guard, settled on the threshold.
When you left, bright early afternoon, the leaf still lay there wanting to blow
indoors. But if you let it settle in the vestibule, Alba would just sweep it out again. So
into your shirtpocket the little fan went – stuck it later between the latest pages of your
red and black notebook. The recto page still blank, and on the verso, a bit of piece in no
hurry to go anywhere:
seen it. But now that the axis has shifted and the veil is thin… Once there was a time when
everyone, everyone, was born with a caul. And this goes a long way to explaining not the why,
Bought potatoes, fruit, juice at the Chelsea Market – all packed heavy in a single
bag, guaranteed to unbalance the handlebars – you should’ve paid attention, asked for
two bags to distribute the weight better. But no, too late. You’ll just have to lean left,
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 554
compensate against the pull. And as it turns out, that’s the only effort you’ll use – the
wind’s more than happy to rush you up Eighth Avenue – a leaf on wheels. Don’t fall.
Frankfort, sitting next to an Iraq war veteran missing an eye, much of his face and
several digits. He’s being flown to a ceremony in Wiessbaden. They argue the politics
of the election – he’s virulently anti-Kerry – gung ho Bush. But increasingly, he’s open
to what she says – asks her several times: “Do you have documentation for that?”
the passengers are, like her neighbor, missing pieces. On their way to be honored. By
the time they part at the airport, her interlocutor’s shown her what’s underneath his
eyepatch, and a polaroid taken four days after he got blown up.
The Germans are obsessed with the election, Mary says. The woman who
checked her boarding pass on her return flight pleads to know who she’s voting for,
nearly wept when she hears its Kerry. “What’s wrong with the Americans?” people
keep asking her.
Just outside, a truck pulls out fast from its parking space and into the Ninth
Avenue traffic. A scatter of locust leaves, fallen onto its roof overnight hang an instant
in the displaced air. By the time they land on the macadam, well, who knows what else
Judy spots you through the window, rushes inside. She’s gotta tell you – she’s
been reading Paul Goldberger’s new tome and in the introduction he calls Divided… too
cynical, and the other fella’s book not cynical enough. Will this get a rise out of you?
Truth to tell, you are so not there. You’ll cop to being a cynic though, no problem, in it’s
ur-sense of believing in virtue as the primary good. Sure. As long as he spelled my name
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 555
Christopher Reeve, the mortal man and seemingly a decent one too, who took on the
mantle of demigod. How cynical are the fates?
Alarm goes off. Friday. Second consciousness, Jim Mcguin’s voice upside your
Among those afraid of losing their ground…
• • •
Two readings coming up. So you write the dates out on postcards – send them
to the eight friends who, in such a day and age, still don’t email. The image side shows
the city on a peach-rose morning, shot from high up in the southeast. Spreading side to
side in mythic gorgeousness, Brooklyn, two bridges, Manhattan and Jersey beyond.
Got ‘em six for a dollar on Canal Street. In tiny letters, at the very bottom of the
message side, just below where you signed your name:
PRINTED IN THAILAND
presses, cut the cards down to four by six – when this view flashes before them a
hundred thousand times, amidst a myriad of other images? What goes on in their
minds when they look at this dream of a city, those postcard-makers in a land beyond?
No fall to speak of. Winter’s here. You’ve never been a retrospective person,
always forward. But today you give a premature glance through the margins in your
agenda book, a book that’s still got two and a half months to run. Email addresses of
people you’ve met, a reminder from Gwen’s piano teacher, back in July, to get the
sheetmusic for “Träumerei.” You could have headed straight for Patelson’s but first
went hunting in Bea’s old music cabinet, the most self-effacing piece of furniture in
your living room, sandwiched between a filing cabinet and an end table, largely
blocked from view by the Morris chair.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 556
green paint and glued yellow linoleum on top. Today, the paint’s chipped and what
remains of the linoleum looks like someone took a rasp to it. No one would recognize
that it’s made of cherrywood unless they opened the beautifully bowed-out door and
looked inside. Which you did, and started unloading the music onto the floor.
Sandwiched between Hanon exercises and your old recorder books, the whole of
New York: Price 50 Cents. And more where that came from – an archaeology of your
mother’s gifts. To be unwrapped as needed. Some of them brittle, bindings
disintegrated. Chopin mazurkas printed in 1886, fragile as baked phyllo.
Return to your margins. Titles of books friends have recommended. Works by
Gioconda Belli – Nicaraguan poet. Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Mani. There’s seven billion
of us – somebody will read them. A bond investment tip. As if. The names of Mark
and Shana’s bacon-loving pugs: Bauer and Brusché. You know them better now, the
pugs. Can even tell one from the other though the differences are subtle to the casual
observer. And inexplicables: La Terracita. Café and lunch. Order bread “à la Olga.”
Why’d you write that down on March 11? What universe was that? So much to let go
• • •
Noon at Columbus Circle. A woman from outatown, her accent broad as the
great prairies, asks a vendor “How much are your prices?” The words almost leap out,
but you stifle them in time. “He doesn’t sell prices, ma’am. That’d be derivatives and
they sell them downtown. But if you read the sign, you’ll see his teeshirts are five
• • •
Midafternoon, downtown local E train. The fellow to your right reads a hunting
magazine. With a ballpoint pen, he makes circles at regular intervals down the page.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 557
Ah, it’s a quiz. You try to read his choices, but the type’s too small. The headline’s
large enough though: WHAT’S YOUR WHITETAIL I.Q.?
Another slow-welling, muted dawn.
Several journalistic reports of the Yankee’s loss last night as a “monumental
collapse.” Do they know what such a phrase evokes? The dogs of language run wild.
Yesterday the Times referred to the American military’s lightning victory over the Iraqis
as a “catastrophic success.”
As a kid trading cards, you liked individual Yankees, but they never were your
team. And you’re more inclined toward the camp of those who revel in the lifting of a
curse. For days you’ve had fun imagining these playoffs as a religious war between
Catholic Boston and Protestant New York, played out by Latinos. The Red Sox even
have Jesus on their team in the persona of Johnny Damon. Tongue in cheek, but then he
Particularly ugly Yankee fans, sending up chant of “Who’s your daddy?” when
Martinez took the mound. He’d opened himself to that one by casting the Yankees as
similar to the father who beat him – the patriarch who in some deep, fatalistic way not
only abuses power, but retains the right to. Last night that chant made Martinez angry
enough to strike daddy out. What happens when you triumph over the one who’s
beaten you down?
Times headline declares the Sox “Back From Dead,” to “bury” the Yankees.
Let loose too a sense of the miraculous, with no telling where that leads.
• • •
You finish reading News From Nowhere on a rush hour E train packed with folks
heading home. Fellow passengers not near so ragged and filthy as Morris’s
proletarians, yet looking every bit as beaten down, as made small. Can anyone justify
the indignity of how we live?
You’ve felt bereft at the prospect of reaching The End ever since the bookmark
advanced past mid-point, but Morris’s narrator, dragged back from the future Equality
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 558
of Life into his own sordid era resolves to strive, “with whatsoever pain and labor must
needs be, to build up little by little the new day of fellowship, and rest and happiness.”
And then the writer-utopian – who scorned literature – gives his language a turn
that weaves in More and Yeats: “Yes, surely! and if others can see it as I have seen it,
then it may be called a vision rather than a dream.”
Two minutes after eight and already a pair of young marketing gumbies has
usurped Table 4. You go for Table 6 to secure the quadrant for Tony, John, and
whomever else may come. Territorial maneuvers – putting stones down in a game of
When you’re up early on these dark, pre-daylights-savings almost-dawns, down
toward the south, the living room window frames the luminescent shape of twin
towers. Whether by accident or design, the worklights on Silverstein’s new World
Trade Center 7 skeleton have been arranged in parallel columns. Spooky and
The gumbies leave. When they stand up they’re squat, compact. As though
gravity is stronger on the planet they hail from. Great quantities of salad remain on
their plates. Crêpes half eaten. Somebody sewed the shirts these men were stuffed into.
Ironed the cloth to the customary standard of neatness. Blimey, what a waste.
• • •
The silliness continues, deadly as ever. Kerry, decked out in camo, bags a wild
goose. Boston cops shoot rubber bullets into a rowdy delegation from Red Sox Nation,
hit a young woman in the eye. Surely she’s less dead for being killed by a non-lethal
Marsh and McLennan stock sinks by half after the state attorney general sues
them for insurance fraud. Wondrous how the Times manages to cover the investigation
in detail without resorting to the words “World Trade Center,” or mentioning that it
was the company’s Tower One offices into which American Airlines flight 11 crashed
that severe clear morning three-odd years ago. A mere detail. Yet, sharing the same
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 559
front page, a new forensic report, replete with schematic drawings, that spins a sober,
sincere and utterly improbable yarn about why the towers fell.
In the elevator, you meet an elderly neighbor who recounts the tale of how she
arrived at nine this morning at the Board of Health facility on Ninth and 26th at 9 a.m.
Waited on line three hours. Sorry, we’ve run out of flu shots. Come back tomorrow.
Golden, powdery dusk. As though the mesas have blown to New York and
hang suspended over Lower Manhattan.
You’re pumping hard along 25th to secure Table 4 from the infidels. From
between parked cars, a squirrel darts right across your path. No time to swerve. Your
wheel passes just shy of its tail. Flash on scores of roadkill along the Taconic yesterday,
Gwen thankfully sitting too low down in the backseat to notice. Keep barreling along.
Just ahead, a woman stands a few steps out into the street. She’d started across at the
same time as the squirrel, saw your near miss, came to a halt. You catch one another’s
eyes, and she raises one hand, thumb and index finger tips nearly touching in the
universal sign of “whew, almost.” Dazzling smile. Dark-skinned, middle years,
unremarkably dressed. Odd sense of recognition – do you know her? Don’t think so –
yet she’s just got that quality you value – the French have a word for it: vif.
Round the corner onto Ninth and cut sharp across the lanes to the right hand
side. You’ve got a red at 24th, but the crosstown light is flashing, about to change.
Nothing’s coming, so you pour it on, try to get ahead of the wave surging downtown.
How did you not see the yellow cab – eastward-bound on 24th and flooring it to make
the light? You both hit your brakes. He veers to avoid you and screeches to a halt in
the crosswalk. You jackknife to within a foot of his fender. Two misses as good as a
mile in as many blocks. That kind of morning. Gesture of apology to the cab driver out
of whom you must’ve scared the shit. Dismount and walk the bike the rest of the way
to the café. Fuck the table. Which, as it turns out, is all yours anyhow.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 560
72nd Street subway turnstiles. Sounds like a hedgerow full of starlings – a
gazillion metro cards, swiped through, chirping their rush hour song.
• • •
The head of Marsh & McClellan resigns. A Greenberg. By an odd coincidence
the boss of IAG is his papa. Between the Greenberg insurance-ocracy, and Bloomberg
the info-macher, the bergs got this city pretty much crushed down. Who’s to say
what’ll shake things up, cause those mountains to move? Not Spitzer, ultimately. No
prosecutor works the at the base of things or under. He just cuts the tall poppies. The
movement will have to come from below.
Some night – the earth’s shadow passes entirely over the moon, yet it’s still
visible, deeply rust-colored – the blood moon. Red Sox Nation lifts the curse off itself.
You called Frank before the game and he said he thought the spirit of the Brooklyn
Dodgers had migrated to Boston. Why now, you asked, after all these years? It takes a
generation or more to take hold, he replied. You’d never thought of it that way – the
Dodgers hadn’t even entered your mind. But Frank’s theory explains certain things –
up to and including why someone as habitually indifferent to sports as you are, got
caught up in the post-season from game one against the Yankees. The way the Sox
played must have reminded you of the New York you experienced as a child, called to
mind the sense of your city in the days when it was still the world capital of hope.
And in the papers, the discovery, not an ancestor species, but of a parallel kind of
human being, extinct for thirteen thousand years or so. Little ones they were, a yard or
so tall, and perfectly in scale with the dwarf elephants they hunted once on the same
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 561
A wonder it took so long. Eric B. made a remark about the amount of energy it
must take to get up in the morning and rationalize voting for Bush, and John went off
like a roadside bomb. You were in the WC when whatever exactly it was got said, and
returned find the peaceable kingdom of Tables 4 through 6 on the edge of eruption –
John shaking with rage, on the brink of launching himself across the intervening table,
caught, or so it looked, between throwing a punch and bursting into sobs.
Tony, Thomas M. and Eduardo caught in between, taken by surprise,
embarrassed by the sudden high emotion, wanting to ameliorate, helpless. Eric didn’t
back down, but spoke softly, his expression regretful, and though John jumped up to
leave, between one Eric and the other you managed to half chill him out. Eventually
John put out his hand and Eric shook it. “I like you,” said John, but the words carried a
warped tonality, like he was speaking down a long coil. He paid at the register and
then you saw him open the front door, not looking back, in profile only, still ashen and
vulnerable in his big boxy suit.
• • •
We’re all blind, or half-blind. Need one another to help us see.
• • •
Reuters says upwards of a hundred thousand Iraqis have been killed by our
invasion. The term used is “excess deaths.” Excess to what?
No action in the corner this a.m. No Eric, no John. Finally around ten-thirty,
Tony rolls in, way late. Looking wary.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 562
Americans on how to “avoid another Manhattan.” He’s right, of course, one Manhattan
is sufficiency suffansified. Any more would be superfluous.
You make your own silence.
October 31 – Le G. – Early Morning
All hallows. Sprang forward, fell back. Dawn and endarkenment both a jot
earlier. Surprise weather hits you like a fetid wave when you ride out. Back up into the
70s. What are the larvae to think? The trees?
Great moments in café music. The resident iPod delivers up a string of Billie
Holiday’s most downbeat tunes. The guy at Table 5, who you’ve never seen before,
works diligently at his yogurt, muesli and fresh fruit. A strange and bitter crop. She lets
the final note hang in the air. Noisy morning, the place filled early, agitated – even the
dogs leashed outside yap a shriller pitch than usual. Trying to drown her out?
John walks in. Aha! Greetings. His customary table taken, he eyes your open
laptop, proceeds back into the cave. I sit in my chair, filled with despair… I know I’ll soon
go mad. Tony’s next in the door, still levitated from the Sox romp. Sees you’re working,
waves, goes back to join John.
A new waitress named Bébé has replaced Kimsey. Red hair. Strange kind of
beauty. Almost no affect plays on those features. Skin smooth and uniform – it reveals
no biography. Tall and light-boned, but she clumps around like a determined six-year-
old. Marcos darts in and out among the tables, keeping things on track as best he can.
The sweet, Scandinavian-looking young blonde guy at Table 7 stands up to leave and
his shirt rides up over a substantial gut. KC and the sunshine band. See, it’s all coming
back. Coming round. Tinny amidst the clamor, Billie’s still demented.
At Katz’s last night, around eleven, the Halloween revelers began trickling in.
One woman, Japanese probably, done up as a flawless Frida Kahlo. Then a man and a
woman – twin white rabbits. You passed their table on the way out, checked for details.
Excellently outlined pink noses. Good-looking beneath the make-up, the silly ears. Yet
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 563
still, they looked despondent, really glum. “Maybe they’ve been teased too much,” said
Lady Day swings uptempo: I’ve found eyes just a little bit bluer; I’ve found a heart
just a little bit truer.
You look over at Tony and John chatting amiably like the pals they are. Outside,
beyond the campfire, on the edge of darkness, a world civil war, escalating toward a
boil. And like so many bright colors of autumn, the figleaves falling away.
• • •
Gwen, as Morticia, breezes through Chelsea Halloween territory, collecting her
tribute, avowedly avid. But this fall, a year older, she doesn’t insist on hitting every
possible spot. Enough for her to get a flavor of the game, then break off to go to dinner.
Last night, she partied with girls her age – a sleepover at Shana’s in Stuyvesant Town.
For the occasion, Shana wrote a mystery play, a highly sophisticated, convoluted plot in
which all the guests had a part and the idea was to guess the murderer. Then they
watched terrifying movies until who knows what hour – a great leap forward.
One Halloween, maybe four years ago, you and Eric B. paraded with your
families through the same trick-or-treat circuit. The two of you hung back a moment,
caught up in conversation. Truly, it seemed like only seconds had passed, but when
you looked for your wives and daughters, they had disappeared. Gone Katie and
Gwen, Veronica and Becky. You walked ahead fast to catch up with them, doubled
back in case you’d overshot them, even hurried onto the next block on the prescribed
route. Pretty silly. As though you were chasing ghosts. Two middle-aged guys,
fundamentally rationalists, if not always rational. You knew they had to be somewhere.
Couldn’t have gone far. But after twenty-some minutes of making the rounds, asking
common friends you encountered on the way if they’d seen them, the odd, horrifying
sensation crept up, at least in you, that your families had stepped through some
membrane and into another dimension.
Generally, you’re not quick to panic, neither is Eric, yet rather than shrug it off
and go have a drink, or a coffee, you kept searching, persisting beyond any bounds of
common sense. Of course your wives and daughters were alive and well within six or
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 564
so square blocks of where you stood, looking up and down the block and then
quizzically, even a bit embarrassed, at one another. No sirens, no ambulances, no
alarms. But some chord of fear had been touched. Even after you met up with them, or
found them back at home – and it’s true now you can’t remember how the episode
ended – you remained bereft and shaky-feeling that whole evening. And you’ll never
forget it, that long, suspended moment of supreme uncertainty triumphing over your
reason, trumping your cool.
Rumors run riot, while we stand still as stones. The sense of another 9/11
unfolding in slow motion – much worse, because it’s us doing it to us this time, and the
awfulness covers the whole of the country. And we feel it coming. Even more
for evermore. Would that the psalm carried more weight than wishes.
• • •
Noon: Nader rally on Wall Street, in sight of the Stock Exchange. Sky above the
canyons severe clear. Tonight he’ll speak at Cooper Union, where once, when you were
maybe eight, Jack took you with him when he went to hear a lecture by an American
disciple of Ortega y Gasset. You recall being impressed by the room itself and the
respectful attention focused on the man behind the podium, but of course didn’t
understand a word he said.
Tonight, at the Nader convocation, Patti Smith’ll crank up The People Have the
Power, agitate the mortar in the walls of the Great Hall. Out of the ‘80s – an age born
dead – her anthem blossoms into new air. At least she hasn’t knuckled under. The blue
meanies gotta know their limits.
Sure the Democrats hate the Republicans. So it is with Catholics and Protestants.
Both want us on our knees.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 565
of New York.
A century ago, Ward McAllister asserted that the city had four hundred
important citizens. O. Henry wrote, so he said, for the city’s whole four million. We’re
way more than that now – eight million and some odd, and that’s the official count.
Time to take New York beyond the bounds of its state and nation. First in our
sovereign minds. Then with both feet planted on common ground.
Sudden distraction from yesterday’s electoral frenzy. Your venerable clamshell
Mac up and died – bingo, lights out – literally minutes after you backed up your latest
revision to these Notes. Fritzed, according to the folks at TekServe, the circuit in the
logic board that controls the display. Not beyond repair, but way too costly to be
practical. So then and there you mortgaged, if not the farm, then the lower forty, and
got a new iBookG4.
By evening, back up and running, but took a break to watch Rather as he
waggled his jowls and predicted a “long night of uncertainty” – which could serve as a
figure of speech for a wider future than he probably had in mind.
Back to your book and arrived at New Year’s Eve 2000, which the three of you
spent up in Rochester with Katie’s aunt Elva. In that entry, you made a reference to an
even earlier trip with Elva to Niagara Falls, back in the summer of ‘97. A pretty magical
day all in all. Elva still spry enough to negotiate the walk from the parking lot to the
Canadian overlook, you driving, or rather tobogganing her enormous ‘70s Oldsmobile
and arriving back at her house filled with gratitude you hadn’t crashed it.
For dinner ate the corn and tomatoes you’d bought at a roadside stand along the
way. For dessert, donuts from wonderful place – a classic bakery surviving from the
Rochester of another era. Mindblown at the falls, you’d jotted down some lines didn’t
make it into your first draft. As you gleaned your old notebooks for fragments out of
which to make this narrative, you’d skipped transcribing that bit. It seemed too
personal, and badly crafted. But Elva’s gone now, and the moment itself now stands so
remote as to seem – though Gwen was already five – like your childhood. The
handwriting’s still there, six notebooks ago, where you left it:
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 566
On the Canadian side I got so excited I let my chocolate ice cream cone drip
all over my pants. There was this beautiful young Québeçoise with a bare midriff
whose boyfriend couldn’t stop taking pictures of her against the rainbow mist, and a
family of Jamaicans having their portrait taken by a family of Koreans. And an
Indian girl with bare feet, whose brothers wore Nikes. And the blue green, rushing
up to the edge and falling away.
• • •
Email from Rosemary:
Pierrot & Rose-Marie de Paris
Dear Rosemary – I’m sure Katie will reply under separate cover. And her take, of
course, is different from mine.
I’m very interested in how the election result is being perceived in France. When
you have a moment, I'd love a wee disquisition.
Lots of bummed out, freaked-out people today. But I’m not among them. I think
there are more unexpected turnings a-coming. And in any case, Kerry wasn’t the
answer. If anything, he’d have masked the problems temporarily. Better that the shit
really hit the fan on Bush’s watch.
What’s shaping up are the conditions for real civil conflict here down the line.
There’s a real sense of the country, both geographically and institutionally,
disarticulating itself. And there’s a virtue – however scary – in the situation becoming
clear, however polarized, however fragmented. The secession issue is a lot trickier than
it was in the 1860s though. The politically dominant “heartland” has emerged as a
culturally isolated block, with no affinity for Europe, Asia or Latin America, no ties to
anything but God and its own rust.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 567
world culture-ness – and take steps to revolutionize its economic basis – get out from
under the boot of the state and the nation. I’d like to see us move toward being our
own “free city,” and now seems a moment when fewer people would reject such and
argument out of hand. So I expect to be putting my energies in that direction unless the
situation becomes so critical we literally have to leave. Which is possible. On verra, as
you would say.
I hope you guys are well. Keep me posted.
November 4 – Midmorning
Underground, beneath the Citicorp Center, near the entrance to the subway:
INFINITY SHOE REPAIR.
The neon outline of a high-heeled purple pump, and beneath it in hot
yellow letters: SHINE.
• • •
Threat du jour: “I earned capital in this election, and I’m going to spend it.”
More like he stole the rope with which to hang hisself.
This past Monday, Gwen’s middle school held a kid’s election, a choice between
Bush or Kerry. Why only those two? Gwen asked. Why not the same candidates as on
the adult ballot? We had to keep it simple. So said Mr. Asaro, her Language Arts
teacher. Don’t want it to get complicated. The tally: 186 for Bush to Kerry’s 913. And
so the city goes at more or less the same ratio.
fraud. New Yorkers “awoke yesterday…to confront once again how much of a 51st
State they are.” Quoth a film producer buttonholed by the reporter near Lincoln
Center: “Do you know how I describe New York to my European friends? An island
off the coast of Europe.”
What might be done if this city, unique in the world, were to find its moral
center? Who then could we not look in the eye?
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 568
there now a substrate, some kind of internal bedrock we can put our feet on, find some
ground on which to stand?
• • •
Ohio, Florida, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Idaho. All those lines of
expectant voters. And to think, to make those exit polls disappear only took a few lines
of code. Magic, almost, in all the right places.
And now the media’s job: steering us away from the fact that Kerry won, yet
someone else is president. Accommodating us to the next level of self-nullification.
Somehow, as folks at the café comment on your sleek new iBook, the coincidence
of your clamshell dying on election day gets elaborated into little tall tale. Your old
machine, so you say, had too much integrity to survive November 2. It couldn’t bear
the abuse to which its cousins, the electronic voting machines, were being subjected –
forced as they were to render false tallies, the integrity of their code corrupted. So your
computer protested in the only way it could: self-immolation.
Viewed from your little corner, people’s sense of grief and depression seems
directly proportional to the hope they’d placed in Kerry. So much energy pinned on
their little votes thrown into the sea. Too abject now to even stand and utter: “Cheat!”
God forbid go for their pistol.
Sure it’s a bummer, but there’s only so far your sympathy goes. It could be
worse, this could be Fallujah.
Eduardo’s been trying to organize an international literary event at the Cervantes
Institute. Since the election, more than one European writer has bowed out. John
Berger sent a crisp email – he refuses to “set foot in a fascist country.” Lots of reasons to
hate the U.S., some more justified than others. Some former teapots calling the current
one black. But now it’s a free market in contempt.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 569
Biking, a line from Rabbie Burns pops into your head. The Scots, he lamented,
bought and sold with English gold: Such a parcel of rogues in a nation.
• • •
Ring up Frank to see how he’s weathering the instauration. “I’ve got to live four
more years now,” he says.
The great granddaughter of an old friend called him, disconsolate beyond tears.
She’d been working like a navvy, somewhere in the headless heartland, for the
Democratic Party. So Frank, what did you tell her? You can picture it, almost hear him
too. Perched on his living room rocker, stockinged feet up on the wooden massage
rollers, crescent-shaped cushion propped behind his neck. Holding the white cordless
phone he sings her Joe Hill.
• • •
Wolfgang’s back in town – his yearly winter migration from Berlin. Subway
downtown to visit him in his aerie, resume your traditional four o’clock conversations.
Sit drinking tea at his kitchen table – gaze over the harbor as the sun plunges west.
There’s Liberty, always smaller than you remember her, and never in exactly same
place. She doesn’t look in your direction, yet a voice that must belong to her sounds in
your head. Time to turn me around. 180 degrees. To the west. Let them come, all those
Things you never noticed. The guy you say hello to almost every day in the
elevator, Camillo, who delivers, rain or shine, meals on wheels for the Hudson Guild –
what’s that he wearing around his neck, hanging next to his name tag? He hold it up
for you to see – a charm, Santería?, to protect his grandson in Iraq.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 570
the Millennium by flattening Grozny. Always a city must be sacrificed to whatever
gods these monsters worship.
Pat Oliphant cartoon of a great headless giant labeled Bush Electorate, blindly
following the malevolent elf in the outsize ten gallon hat off a cliff. But what use is
satire now, when it lacks its enforcement arm, the outrage of the people?
November 10 – Le G. – Early Morning
At Writing X last night, Leslie passed around a map she’d printed out off the
web and it got a good, bitter laugh all round. The blue bookend states were labeled
“America” and the great beast within “Dumbfuckistan.” Satisfying in some way, to see
defeat writ out like that and mock it. On a purely graphic level, it would seem the east
and west coasts have become a kind of parenthesis, no longer able to contain the
malignant sentence they frame.
But maps lie. They don’t say that Kerry threw the fight, which like any fixed
bout was a sham, no real contest at all. Bush took Florida by twenty thousand more
votes than there are registered Republicans, by contrast with the election four years ago,
where, presumably, 85 per cent of the Republicans voted for him. There’s something
intellectually appealing to some folks about the whole center of the country going for
Bush. It makes a tidy visual formulation. But if the count had been real, there’d be a
bunch of blue speckles in the big red blob. And everywhere, multiple shades of purple.
We are where we are. Can we stand to look at it? And though you can almost
hear Carville and company’s magic markers squeaking out a new slogan: It’s the
stupidity, stupid, that doesn’t get one very far, does it. If we, or they, are stupid, how did
we get this way? Stupid born, or made? And are there different species of stupidity,
each with its own Darwinian moment?
In the rosy dawn of the enlightenment, Athanasius Kircher invited a Jesuit
professor to look through the telescope at Kirscher’s latest discovery: sun-spots. The
venerable priest waved him away: “It is useless, my son. I have read Aristotle twice
and have not found anything in his writings about spots on the sun. So there cannot be
spots on the sun. They arise either from the imperfections in your telescope, or from the
defects in your own eyes.”
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 571
your right and behind you, the glass gone opaque with condensation. Raining now.
Didn’t think to take and umbrella. Tom cracks the door, wends his way toward the
counter, orders his usual, an iced mocha to go. How he can drink it all year round? In
the most bone-chilling, inclement weather – it’s a mystery. But then he used to be a
cowboy in the north country. He and Maureen are heading back to Vietnam and
Cambodia in a couple of weeks for more shooting on her current project. They play it
close to the vest, what she’s working on, but Tom’s hinted that this has something to do
with the faces of those whose bodies have been edited by war. Amazing these two,
how they plan out these photographic expeditions with an almost military precision,
then improvise mutatis mutandis, with suitable and necessary alterations on the ground.
Tom, coffee in hand comes over, notices your new laptop and you unreel another
version of your yarn about how it suicided in response to the manipulation of the
voting machines – a Buddhist monk in the land of zeroes and ones.
Then together, out into the rain. Walk north. From beneath the fruit store
awning Tom can grabs a Times, disappears briefly inside to pay. A dark-skinned nanny
pushes a stroller past. Head turned to one side, protected from the downpour, a pallid
child reclines within its sheath of plastic, dozing. At 23rd and Ninth, Tom’s got the
light but waits for it to change in your direction. Here you’ve got to pay more than
usual attention because the arrangement isn’t binary like most Manhattan intersections.
First comes a green arrow giving right of way to westbound cars turning south. For
cars and pedestrians heading east the signal stay red. Not infrequently you’ve seen
someone nearly get clipped – and once or twice that person has been you – assuming
hey, downtown traffic’s stopped – guess I can cross now.
Though all waits in New York seem interminable in about thirty seconds the red
handprint signifying “Halt, yo!” flashes to a white silhouette of a little scurrying man
meaning “Your turn, Pedestrian – chop-chop!” A quick handshake and you’re off. On
the other side, just before the bus shelter, you turn to look back. Tom’s got the light and
is striding across 23rd, umbrella tilted into the rain – determined: a man on a mission.
You make a habit of walking purposefully, but in the blurriness of the day, you’ve lost
the urgency of your own marching orders.
All around, as in a proper anthill, the business of the city grinds on.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 572
Jerilou’s putting together a book on the suburbanization of New York. True,
that’s part of the picture, but from where you sit, it doesn’t fully describe what’s going
on. Something more complex is at work – a kind of molecular generification within the
grosser gentrification, a rounding-off of the city’s edges, though you’ve no sense of a
genuine softening underneath. You propose what pops into your head – a piece on the
Time Warner Center, apotheosis of the terror-chic mall.
Accordingly, you pick Katie up from her drawing class at the Art Student’s
League on 57th Street and head over through the early evening darkness to Columbus
Circle to scope out the ding an sich. Ah, ‘tis the season. Perched atop the housing of
each revolving door, a huge silver Christmas tree ball. Festive yet threatening. Push
and turn. Hope that if the vibrations disturb this unholy bauble, it will roll off onto the
head of the next guy instead of you. Funny, or not so, how this place seems to induce
that “I’m alright Jack” kind of thinking. Wheel of fortune. Whew, you’re through.
Down the escalator into Whole Foods. Weirdly post-apocalyptic, putting a
supermarket cum food court underground. You perch on adjacent stools, eat dinner of
a sort from clear take-out containers. Other folk resort to green melmac-ish bowls the
color of hospital basins. Less flimsy than what you’ve got, but the bowls are so steep-
sided, the food must all run together at the bottom. The place is packed – turnover so
fast it looks time-lapse. But the Indian food’s not bad, considering. Look around and
see feelgood Calcutta. Hopper on anti-depressives. Finish up your coffee – delicious,
but jeez, a buck sixty-two for a cuppa joe that small?
The next move is up and out. In a hall off the big atrium, a black Lincoln Aviator
squats, its cartoonish tires spreading just enough on the high-sheened marble floor to
give a sense of just how much this grotesquely hypertrophed pile of metal weighs. Win
me! No need to tie yourself to the mast, this siren can’t reach you. Whatever car lust
you possess is bound up in that elusive vintage Jaguar. As you detour around the
Aviator, Katie shakes her head. “Exhibit A,” she says. “Why we’re in Iraq.”
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 573
bum’s rush and massed ranks of guards channel you, along with a score or so others,
cattle-like toward the exit. Dizzy from your immersion in five and a half centuries of
the richest imaginable material. China, China, China!
• • •
At your desk, the squawk – like a deranged Stepford chicken – of a passing
emergency vehicle pops you out of your work. Look up at the framed picture on the
wall. A Katie drawing, from a bust by Houdin, of M. Arouet. If writing energy could
be measured in units, couldn’t they be called Voltaires? Would that you could tap into
a tenth of one!
Post up off the magazine rack. Quoth Lenn Robbins: “Man, was there
some action in the Garden Saturday night! Tempers flared, fists flew and the crowd of
12,777 rose to get a better view of the action. Unfortunately little of that took place in
the ring. The Battle for Supremacy among a dubious group of eight ‘Desperate
Heavyweights’ disintegrated into a night of fans swinging at each other. One
particularly foolish fan made the mistake of taunting members of the Marine color
guard who upheld the honor of the corps by disposing of said fan.”
By a fluke, Eric B. was there and witnessed it all – said at least eight separate
slugging matches broke out on in the stands, some of them simultaneously. Security
had to hustle out one fighter’s corner man, who got in a brawl with his opposite
number. One of the heavyweights, Golota, is a Pole. Consequently, knots of men, faces
painted half red, half white, cheering him on. Split decision, and the vibe so creepy that
Eric split the scene, before the referees gave the fight to Ruiz.
Little by little, the cat’s clawing her way out of the bag.
When were you last at the Garden? It’s no garden, of course, pleasure or
otherwise. Nor located anywhere near Madison Square. Went there with Gwen years
ago with to see a young women’s track meet. And before that, Jesus, the ‘70s. Bob
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 574
Marley, already the tumor working on him. Stanley Clarke opened the show and damn
near stole it. Hip sounds, Daddy. Just inhale. Kaya now, for the rain is falling…
• • •
Conferences this afternoon with Gwen’s teachers. Seems by and large, she’s
doing fine, but in what they now call “Language Arts,” she’s off the charts. And it’s
true. Nobody writes like her, connected at once to the ground and whatever it is out
Clear evening and such a shaded, nuanced sky. The whole dome seems to have
expanded. Fingernail moon to the south and beneath it, two planes approach on a
widening vector. Track the flashing lights, one toward Newark, and in the east,
Kennedy. Ah, there’s a third. Passes behind the golden lantern atop Metropolitan Life.
Angling down for La Guardia. No honking below, and only one siren, brief and
distant. There’s a rumble, takes you a few seconds to recognize. Don’t hear the subway
often – usually drowned out. Almost peace.
How can you live this way? Don’t drink or take drugs, anti-depressive, erectile
or otherwise. Nothing for anxiety except talking to Paul every third week, Ba Gua and
Tian Kan. Don’t hardly watch TV. Where’s your anesthetic? What are you, crazy?
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 575
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