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How is it that when Frank Sinatra sang “High Hopes” back in the early ‘60s no
one realized that Old Blue Eyes was exhorting people to terrorism? Wasn’t the lyric:
“Whoops, there goes a million kilowatt dam”?
• • •
What’s needed is a whopping great sneeze through the tissue of lies.
Calling the dream state the Unconscious seems ever more a misnomer. As well
as an attempt to negate a parallel consciousness. Or relegate it a notch down in value.
Are these modes of awareness really polar, or do they weave together far more than it’s
comfortable to recognize?
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 658
You can find affirmation under any dark rock.
Rumbling down the street, a huge garbage truck on whose ribbed side is painted
the words FIBRECO DOCUMENT DESTRUCTION SERVICES.
side of Eighth between 24th and 25th. As you approach, the driver’s places a large
sheet of corrugated cardboard, an unfolded carton, on top of the subway grating on the
sidewalk and proceeds to kneel on it, facing approximately east. By his reckoning
Mecca lies thataway, between the Empire State Building and New York Life. The man
has removed his shoes. He is very thin.
Sunday in his civvies instead of his maintenance uniform because he’s taking care of
someone’s cat while they’re on vacation. The former possesses a phenomenal memory
for birthdays, and a capacity to tell the day of the week for any given date back into the
Not wanting to be overheard, James leans over discretely. “Many happy
returns,” he half-whispers, “a day in advance.” Thanks, you say, and shake his hand.
“Double nickels,” he adds, conspiratorially – gives you a wink.
Another milestone round your neck.
Banging away at words in the early afternoon. Deep into it. At first you don’t
process what is going on at all, hear an unaccustomed noise, a loud peep! through your
open bedroom window. Look up to the ledge above the 21st floor balcony and there’s a
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 659
bird tugging at something with its beak. Is it trying to pull loose some construction
material for a nest? One feather, then several more spin out and gyrate in place amidst
the tricky aircurrents of the building’s corner. Then you hear a repeat of the sound that
alerted you, but which didn’t signify the first time. Out come your binoculars from
their case on the shelf. It’s a hawk, a young one, tearing at another bird, it has to be a
pigeon. Very clear now the lines of its Horus body, and, as the beak plucks, the
silhouette of the dead pigeon’s wing, flapping free.
• • •
Brave New York. Brave New York. An elegy on every page! And twice on
O. Henry wrote for the four million, you write for twice that many. But why
You know you’re getting older, but the fact is that a girl – young woman really –
passed by the café in a summer dress with nary a tattoo or piercing (visible), and it
filled you with optimism.
See, you are only mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly…
• • •
Take the h off faith and you get a homophone for fate.
• • •
Hylozoism. Literally wood, matter, material, plus alive, living. The early Greek
doctrine that all matter is animated.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 660
To midtown and the Italian tourist board in Rockefeller Center with the intent of
loading up on brochures. But to get past the lobby trolls is no small thing. A special
card must be issued by the security desk on which is printed a schematic drawing of the
turnstiles and instructions for use:
PLACE BAR CODE 2” ABOVE
RUBY RED GLASS
JUST TO THE RIGHT OF GATES
• • •
A helicopter, a Sick-orsky, falls out of the sky and into the Hudson River – its
cargo, a brood of bankers. To the rescue, a couple of fishermen and a delivery man
from Fresh Direct, who, after making sure all are accounted for, changes his sopping
wet uniform for a dry one and drives off to make sure his customers get their food on
• • •
The grass is seriously overgrown, yet the scent of new-mown wafts by. You
breathe deeper and there it is again. The grass is seriously overgrown. Go figure.
• • •
iPodistan, a very musical country.
Larry King listened, possibly even took it in. Nodded.
Quoth the Vice President: “The level of activity that we see today from a military
standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they’re in the last throes, if you will, of
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 661
• • •
Docetism, from Greek “to seem.” As in the early Christian heresy, carried on in
various permutations, that Christ only appeared to have a human body and suffer, and
die on the cross.
Tying up loose ends toward the big trip. Hence phone conversation with Alane,
who supplies Gwen with phrases to use should she receive unwelcome attention from
And one, deeply contemptuous, which truthfully, only a native could employ, Va
a Napoli! Which means, in essence, “go to hell.”
For over an hour, you drink in Raphael’s Deposition, newly restored. It’s taken
took two score-odd years, but finally, Raphael has clicked. He’d always inhabited, on
your personal totem pole, the notch below da Vinci. No longer. It’s all about the
relationships, and at the same time, revealing the mode in which every figure, mortal or
divine, experiences a reality integral to their being. And this astonishing dynamic of
awarenesses, in which the viewer becomes one more witness, is reinforced by the
language of each garment’s folds, its saturated color, its manifest nature.
Bombings in London. Underground stations and at least one bus. And you’re
here, the three of you at Villa Giulia, on line with a trayful of drinks at the caffè. Katie
and Gwen head off to find a table while you pay and the middle-aged fellow behind the
cash register ensnares you in a lengthy, semi-comprehensible conversation about the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 662
massacre. He knows, just knows, that something like this will happen in Rome and
seems to be oddly enjoying the anticipation. Doesn’t want to be left out.
You also get the sense he’d hoped to surprise you with bad news, an American
being as close to Englishman as he might come today. But you’d already glimpsed the
images on the hotel room TV before walking up the staircase round the elevator to the
gorgeous breakfast terrace and its panoramic view of the city eternal.
Yesterday, you discovered that if you catch the eye of the barista, and make a
gesture signifying “piccolo” with your fingers, he will make you a real espresso. Why
then do almost all the other guests cue up for the half-hearted stuff that splooshes from
the spigot of the automatic coffee machine?
Ah, here, exactly, is the square where they burned Giordano Bruno. And this
other place is a semi-excavated Roman ruin populated by a thousand and one cats.
With notable exceptional moments, this seems a charmless, fundamentally inhumane
city. Gwen marvels at the beautiful boys, wonders how they turn into such feral men.
Katie flat out hates it, yet she pulls off remarkable drawings: the Coliseum and Tempio
• • •
Late evening. At a caffè near the hotel, on the Via Vittorio Veneto, a stunningly
handsome waiter prepares for and serves Gwen the most sumptuous glass of gelato in
Christendom. It’s so delicious that you order one to go, to bring to Katie at the hotel.
Gwen keeping pace, you speedwalk through the darkened streets. Got to get there
before it melts.
Earlier this afternoon and evening in Trastevere, a whole different world from
the other side of the river. Suddenly a neighborhood that seems habitable. Like
Brooklyn when one has been in Manhattan too long.
By chance, an English-language bookstore. The woman who owns it goes off on
an errand and leaves the three of you to mind the shop. Katie notices it on your behalf:
a paperback copy of The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 663
his book, but sounds right up your alley, if you weren’t in such a funk. After a nearly
heroic effort, she convinces you to buy it.
it yourself, but this is the moment. Along with a handful of visitors, you gaze down the
length of a beautifully-proportioned Baroque colonnade. At the far end, its converging
lines frame a heroic bronze statue of a warrior. The museum guide, a young woman
wearing a semi-slinky black dress, stands at the colonnade’s entrance, next to a column
that towers over her – twice her height and more. She tells you that the cardinal who
owned the land wanted his property to appear larger than it was. So in 1653, he hired
Borromini to design this Perspective. Her brief disquisition done, the guide turns on
her heel and, as though working a runway, sashays down the length of the colonnade.
When she reaches the end, she turns to face you again and stretches up an arm – which
touches the top of the capital. The bronze warrior just behind her reveals himself to be
the height of a lawn jockey. You can’t resist whispering to Gwen who’s heard it a
thousand times before: “See, art is all about illusion.”
Wondrous to see it demonstrated so, the collusion between mathematics and the
In Orvieto, you pull a Persephone. Leave Katie and Gwen at the surface and
journey down a wide spiral stairway hewn through stone to the bottom of a very deep
well. It’s a double helix, designed so that water-carrying mules and their drivers could
descend to the fresh water level and return via a discrete path. Aqua-autonomia. No
siege-inflicted drought was gonna parch this town.
Assisi and Gwen’s 13.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 664
Most freaky, outside the town, having seen the chapel where, legend tells it, the
cross bent toward St. Francis, you turn on the car radio and KT Tunstall sings:
Summer’s big hit, le tube de l’été.
I said no, no, you’re not the one for me…
as wide as it is high. Attributed to a painter in the school of Piero. Again, those
wonderful converging perspective lines. The perfect city of no people.
Eight rosebushes at Carlo’s house, evenly spaced and defining the lawn’s edge.
You walk between two of then, the morning sun already above the treeline and your
chest breaks the unseen strand a spider spun during the night.
Barefoot, you practice Ba Gua on the grass, interrupted by Beta, the dog, carrying
off in her mouth one of the sandals you left by the chairs at the doorway. After her you
go, passing between the two adjacent bushes. Thus breaks another strand which this
time clings to your thighs. Retrieve your sandal, then walk ding shi circles round the
tree. Hear the call to breakfast and rush to heed it, again not seeing a strand which
breaks before you registered its pressure. How many times will you rupture what’s
before you? Three times is too many to claim innocence. Twice, maybe, but once
should have been sufficient to alert you.
Sit down at table on the terrace and discover a spider crawling up your calf.
Reflex says flick it off, but you resist. Is this the spider, or one of them, whose strands
you’d broken? Probably, but hard to know for sure. Nonetheless, only one thing to do.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 665
Coax it onto a finger and walk back to the line of rosebushes. Choose a bush and select
a leaf. Leave the spider there. You can’t repair what you damaged. Only this creature
can. Try to remember next time you pass between the bushes to check for a flash of
sunlight that signifies a filament of fiber there.
You promised Gwen she’d have it as soon as you reached Florence and found an
English-language bookstore. Having located one, you’re heading there when you spot
another one right across the street. Inside, all anticipation, and there it is – whew, last
Immediately she begins to read, pausing only to mount the Duomo’s Campanile
and look out over the rooftops toward the Oltrarno. She’s immersed in the text, pages
turning faster than you thought possible, even as you commune with Pisano’s bronze
reliefs on the Baptistery doors. Briefly she registers the angel stretching out its hand to
grasp the crown of Hope.
The campanile bells toll five. Time to ramble. Walking a few yards ahead of
you, a Gypsy woman, very slender. She passes another woman, similarly dressed,
crouched on the sidewalk in an attitude of supplication, and you notice the subtlest
communication pass between them, nearly imperceptible, nothing as overt as a gesture.
Two, perhaps three beats later, when you’re nearly parallel with the crouching woman,
she rises up and silently follows the other. Day shift’s done.
Raining cats and dogs. Under the impossibly long arched colonnade leading to
the Uffizi entrance, you wait in a line hundreds of people long. It’s a mixed crowd,
mostly European and Asian. Admittance to the museum proceeds at a glacial pace.
Your right leg has been cramping and it hurts like bejeezus now. No room to do any
real stretches or circle walking without getting soaked, so you content yourself with
rotating your ankles. Twenty feet or so down toward the entrance, Gwen finds a bench,
squeezes in between some folks and buries herself in HP. Two families behind you, a
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 666
lanky Spanish lad around Gwen’s age wears a light blue teeshirt emblazoned
TSUNAMI DEPARTMENT SINCE 1985 WAVE RIDERS.
Not far ahead, a pallid, pretty, obese white girl talks on a cell phone. Her upper
arm, its mass exaggerated by flexion, looks sufficient to feed a hungry family for a
week. She wears a polo shirt with BANGLADESH writ large across the back in
“varsity” style letters. Katie holds your place while you stretch your legs, walk down
the line. Another immense woman, whose floral skirt could provide curtains and
valences for a country kitchen sports a black polo with the word CUTIE affixed in tiny
silver sequins above her left breast.
Walk back to Katie, then further down the queue where a Japanese fellow, say
mid-thirties, and of incredibly bland affect, sports a teeshirt that reads: I CHANGE
YOUR REGULAR LIFE TO FREE AND DREAM LIFE, FULL OF ENERGY, EXCITING
LIFE @ BALENO. Behind him, a tanned Europeanoid woman of perhaps twenty,
wearing bracelet-sized silver hoop earrings, bobs rhythmically to the sounds from her
iPod. Her poitrine, formosa to a degree just sort of extravagant, serves as a billboard for
the message, pink sequinned on black: R-I-C-H. She passes an ear bud to a companion
in a white stretch top, which proclaims, probably via some process of heat fusion,
LUCKY – in California gold rush letters across the chest.
Who is it that conceives and promulgates this strange human-borne lexicon? Do
those who labor at making these garments understand what they are stitching or
screening or pressing onto virgin fabric? Will all these words set adrift in a great sea of
more or less privileged global nomadism one day wash up on some as yet undiscovered
shore of meaning? Will they form a bold new text that coheres in some hitherto
unimaginable canon? What latent and subtle poetry inheres in these fragments that, in
time may move us, even to tears?
You’re nearing the entrance now, parallel with Gwen on her bench, eyes riveted
to her verso page. The teeshirt of the woman slouching, half asleep, next to her reads:
Southern Canada Animal Reserve 1977. Silhouette of an elk. Pre-faded brown on blue.
A strange sensation upon entering Piazza Santa Croce – like a déjà vu – except
that, in fact, you have been in this place before. Most likely it was the peculiar,
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 667
disconcerting quality of your experience here back in ‘91 that suspended the Piazza’s
spatiality in your shadow-mind until just now, unresolved and half real.
Early that morning all those years ago, you sat, writing notes for a story, your
back to this very lamp post. Some distraction, who knows what, caused you to look up
and spot a young woman wearing a light-colored blouse tucked into a dark, fitted skirt
making her way across the square with the aid of a pair of metal crutches, the kind that
partly encircle the forearms. In the normal run of things, you’d have taken in her
presence and returned to the page, but there was simply no not watching her. Afflicted
with some neuromuscular disorder, her motion resembled that of a locomotive puppet
– hips thrusting one way, breasts another, hair swinging, whipping really, as though
she led a penitent procession or maenad dance.
All this transpired in the sun’s bright gaze. For however long it took the young
woman to traverse the square, her body’s extreme torque and syncopation, all weird
and strenuous grace, transfixed you with an erotic charge. No matter that arousal of
spectators doubtless lay entirely outside the scope of her intention. Impossible in that
moment not to scrutinize the hyperextension of her limbs, delight in the wild yet
unvarying vocabulary of her movements, until at last she passed from sight behind a
building’s edge. Whereupon – goddam – the church bells pealed.
More than once your will has found its pins knocked out from under it by the
sheer force of your senses. No pretending otherwise.
• • •
Pass by the pensione you stayed at fifteen years ago, a 14th Century palazzo on
the Arno, where you and Katie imagined, for a day or so, that she might have
conceived. You’d felt, both of you, a Gwen-like presence hovering close to you there.
No, it was not to be. More grief than you’d have expected, having invested little
consciously. You hadn’t even officially been trying. Gwen waited until December of
that year, when you’d returned to New York, to swoop down again and find herself a
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 668
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