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- March 7
| March 2
People felt familiar emotions in unexpected doses, triggered in unanticipated
ways and peculiar admixes. A virtual stranger, with a casual remark could evoke a
flood of grateful tears or the embrace of a desperate child grown to middle-age. An
exclamation overheard could trigger a shouting match or worse. We had arrived at an
age where dueling with pistols might be considered a more rational approach to the
settling of disputes than many of the muddled brutalities passing for the workings of
Why were we crying? We scarcely knew. Howling with laughter? What else
Some citizens extended themselves, or leapt across impossible gulfs, while others
stumbled and lay prostrate having tripped over invisible obstacles. Our capacities
remained constant in quality, but lost all their former proportion. One woman wore a
pasted-on smile while her sister could not make her lips twitch upward at the side for
all the pills in Pharmacopeautopia. One man shook a thousand hands a day in absolute
sincerity, while his next door neighbor spent the same span in the basement packing
shotgun shells. Even in this moment on one square block, a man in a stretch limo
inhales powders while another person sneezes, another achieves orgasm and yet
another cleans an oven or else receives a black eye.
• • •
Can the tragic dimension be invoked by a man while his father still lives? Or the
mother in the case of a woman?
• • •
Yesterday evening at 5:45, a nine-year-old kid was zapped – thankfully not killed
– when he stepped on a metal grate crossing Lenox Avenue at West 127th Street. The
cause, so they say, is the phenomenon stray voltage.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 706
perfect parallel with what you reckoned to be Fifth Avenue, rather than due
north/south, a split in the atmosphere. For as far uptown and downtown as you could
see from your aerie, on the East Side, thick cloud cover, over the West an absolutely
• • •
“Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising out of the sea.” This the
servant’s seventh report to Elijah from the top of Mt. Carmel. And then gathered the
rainstorm that soaked Ahab, and washed away the authority of Jezebel’s priests.
At times, usually after you’ve called co-op security or else the cops, out of sheer
psychic and aural self-protection, you’ve tried to imagine the cries of the upstairs
neighbor’s child as those of a muezzin or a street vendor.
Death, yesterday, of Ali Farka Touré at age 65. His nickname, Farka, means
donkey. No one, he insisted, rides on his back.
• • •
Returning from the café, you walk past the coffee, bagel and donut kiosk and wave to
Abdul. “Haven’t seen you for a while,” he calls out. You double back, shake hands
through the plexiglass portal, tell him that most days you’re on you bike and zoom up
Eighth Avenue just behind him.
“Was that you on TV the other night,” he asks.
“The World Trade Center documentary?”
“Yes, I thought I recognized you.”
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 707
going to release it at the end of September ‘01 but then the towers came down and they
had to recut the whole thing.”
“It was a good show. You were good.”
The History Channel, Modern Marvels. The gift that keeps on giving.
• • •
West 4th Street subway station. You contemplate, while waiting for the train, the
enormous number of ovoid black and dark gray splotches, slightly raised, along the
surface of the platform and ask yourself: is it possible that these are what remain of
thousands of pieces of discarded bubble gum?
• • •
You know, we could’ve prevented September 11. Could’ve skipped it altogether
and gone straight from the 10th to the 12th. But we didn’t and who’s to blame?
• • •
A young woman, Imette St. Guillen, graduate student in the John Jay College
criminal justice program was murdered last week, killed allegedly by the bouncer at the
last bar she was seen at alive. Today, the Post runs the headline: IMETTE’S LAST
Should not whomever came up with this headline be held to account in some
way for the awfulness they compound, for the souls they sicken, for the violence they
celebrate and falsely reprehend? At least the Post has taken Alexander Hamilton’s
portrait off the masthead and replaced it with an American flag.
the Saracens to worship a deity whom they themselves created out of whole cloth.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 708
Hence turban’d Termagant starred in a thousand morality plays, his shrieking,
combined with long, flowing robes ultimately transforming him into a virago figure.
Hamlet though, would have bad actors whipped for “o’erdoing Termagant,” by
bawling so as to “split the ears of the groundlings.” Is Termagant the sound of an
airplane, flying over the city, too fast, too low?
• • •
Oil of snakes packaged and sold by the vipers themselves. Thus Rummy pushes
Newt’s Long War Strategy, proposes “Intelligent Effective Limited Government” that
draws on “entrepreneurial public management” – say wha?! – “and modern
information systems to modernize the government into a system compatible with the
speed, agility, flexibility and efficiency of modern global companies.” All this
jabberwocky in the service of establishing a “theory and system for winning the Long
War with the irreconcilable wing of Islam.”
Government, military, intelligence and corporate functions will collapse into an
entity known as “Team B.” whose mission is to tap the “explosion in scientific
knowledge and entrepreneurial talent” to “provide dramatically more effective defense
at the same or lower cost.” Cost to whom? And who are the brains behind Team B.?
Well sho’nuff, a panel of private industry CEOs.
Last but not least: “We need to see dominating the urban battle space as
comparable to dominating the air or dominating the sea.” Good news for New York
and cities everywhere. Learn from the fate of Grozny, Fallujah and Baghdad.
• • •
In Cockney rhyming slang, “Jew” is “five by two.” A newer term is “bar code,”
in reference to the tattoos printed on the arms of the Nazi internees.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 709
Brooklyn. Perfunctory luxury, life held cheap.
spooky, otherworldly failure of outrage to compound, as if political life was no longer a
series of material acts but so many emanations of ectoplasm.
• • •
There should, at any rate, be nicknames, à la Damon Runyan. And, if possible,
they ought to incorporate the subject’s own words, like Nicely Nicely. But the idea is to
mock, not endear or glorify. For example, the presumed future builder of the Freedom
Tower, the man who bought the World Trade Center a few weeks before it came down,
might be dubbed Larry “Pull It” Silverstein, a double entendre on his injunction to the
fire department on 9/11 minutes before his own 7 WTC collapsed (under even more
questionable circumstances than towers One and Two), and his public persona of
aggrieved, fowl-like innocence.
• • •
Second anniversary of the Madrid train bombings.
• • •
You woke up thinking – perhaps just having dreamt of it – of an old photo of
yourself around age ten in the City & Country schoolyard hitting a softball. When you
first saw the picture, not long after it was taken, you recall being taken aback by the
forceful movement of the batter with your face. He’s caught following through on his
swing, twisted round – the ball’s already flown out of frame. The image made no sense
to you, seemed almost unrecognizable, given how helpless you felt back then. Why did
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 710
this picture resurface in your mind today, accompanied by the memory of spectation at
your own power, as if it were an alien thing?
• • •
On the west side of Ninth Avenue at 22nd Street, in front of the “luxury” pile of
corporate apartments you once dubbed The Mexico City, a blue brand new Lincoln
Continental has been parked all catywumpus with its passenger side front wheel well
up on the curb, its bumper about six inches from the base of a streetlamp pole. The
steering wheel is locked in place with a Club and a pair of bright orange parking tickets
decorate the windshield. All in all the car looks as though it leapt onto the sidewalk
and toward the lightpole in an attempt to knock itself senseless, but instead passed out
just shy of its goal.
• • •
Up on West 53rd Street, a van with FREEDOM DEMOLITION painted on its
6:50 a.m. and you’re on your way to Ba Gua. On the north side of 27th Street
between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, a cluster of Asian-owned wholesale stores. True
Beauty Trading Inc. and RADIO TOY already have their lights on. Inside people move
about, preparing for the day. You make your way round a Sikh wearing a midnight
blue turban and a long black coat who fastidiously gathers up bits of cardboard that
have strewn themselves in front of the building where later in the day, he may be found
working the reception desk. Fresh boxes of merchandise stacked on the sidewalk.
Headlights still burning, delivery vans idle in the dawn.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 711
• • •
Searching in the Encyclopedia of New York City for references to someone else
entirely, you come upon Charles Loring Brace, founder, in 1853, of the Children’s Aid
Society. But it’s not his name you notice first. What jumps out is the title of his book,
published in 1872: The Dangerous Classes of New York and Twenty Years’ Work Among
• • •
Mr. Rat in his tight gray fur runs straight up the middle of the platform of the
28th Street stop of the uptown #1 train. Making his way toward the north end, he
passes a fashionably dressed young woman, likely an Fashion Institute of Technology
student. You take in her straight-cut blonde hair, a slight acne-pocking on her cheek,
and the rest of her garb down to the black boots, so fearsomely pointed that if Mr. Rat
had ventured a foot closer, she could’ve impaled him on her toe.
• • •
On 43rd Street between Sixth and Seventh, a enormous steel framework goes up
behind the preserved façade of a 3-story brick building with marble detailing. No sign
of what this place was beyond a relief medallion, visible through the scaffolding, of
what appears to be a well-sooted Greek myth. Had to have been some sort of theater.
You’ve passed it a hundred times if you’ve passed it once, probably been inside, but
you’re damned if you recall a shred of its former identity. Disconcertion ‘r’ U.
Approaching briskly down the street, a woman more or less your age, nip-
waisted business suit, heels spiky enough to make her ankles quaver, a DELL notebook
pressed against her bosom like a holy book. A book too large to be a breviary. Must be
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 712
Theater. A different Henry Miller. Who was this one? Only a passing mention of in the
Encyclopedia of NYC – an impresario of the sort for whom, early in the 20th century,
theaters were named.
Give up on dates.
• • •
Back to the E of NYC, searching for Nicola Tesla you pause at the heading just
above his: Terrorism. Your edition, published in 1995, begins with the “Black Tom”
explosion of 30 July, 1916 on the eponymous island west of Ellis island that served as
the terminal for the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Kaboom went several bargesworth of
munitions bound for England and France. Several people died in the blast, later ruled
an act of sabotage on the part of the Imperial German government.
The citation proceeds through the 1920 detonation of a dynamite-laden wagon
outside Morgan’s Bank at Broad and Wall, a massacre you know something about from
your research into Lower Manhattan violence for Divided We Stand. No one was
prosecuted in the 1920 attack, despite numerous arrests and years of investigation,
though it’s recently been claimed that the author of the blast, in which forty people died
and two hundred were wounded, was a certain Italian anarchist named Mario Buda.
Who knows, is a story wrong just because it sounds too melodramatic to be true?
But onward with Encyclopedia’s idea of terrorism. Flash forward to George
Metesky, the “mad bomber” of the late ‘50s. Next, in the radical ‘60s, the Weatherman
bomb factory accident that killed three and blew up a townhouse on West 11th Street,
and a series of explosions at corporate offices. Dutifully mentioned, the fatal bombing
of Fraunces Tavern in 1975 by Puerto Rican nationalists and their possible involvement
in a bombing at LaGuardia Airport which took eleven lives.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 713
Surely there been a new edition, doubtless with this entry revised. What, you wonder,
does it say?
You don’t find what you’re looking for on Tesla, but discover instead that in 1889
he built a lab on West Broadway – then Fifth Avenue South and now LaGuardia Place –
next door to the house where you grew up. The lab was gone by the time your parents
moved into a second story floor-through in the neighboring tenement’s rear building.
Tesla himself had definitively changed his electromagnetic state seven years before you
were born. And even though the building at 540 West Broadway was so old it had no
heat or hot water boiler and such wiring as it possessed still ran DC current – you had
to use a converter for appliances – nonetheless, one could feel it. Something potent
lived in the air.
• • •
Let divide the days.
Ides of March. Ça roule, baby, ça roule!
• • •
Midday downtown on the #1. I AM LA KALLE: the headline rendered graffiti-
style on a subway poster: a portrait of a pretty young Latina, reaching up to tilt the
brim of her rakish black mini-fedora, her red blouse strategically half-buttoned, leading
the eye downward toward “105.9/92.7 – New York’s Official Reggaeton Station.”
Populating the car itself, scads of people in white running shoes toting
backpacks. En masse, they exit at Chambers Street. From far and wide, they’ve come to
see Our Hole.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 714
The awning over the storefront bail bondsman at 81 Baxter Street, just behind the
Criminal Courts Building, reads: “Freedom Should Be Affordable.”
• • •
Evening. Tired. Trudging to the subway home. Along the wall separating the
Canal Street sidewalk from the Holland Tunnel exit ramp it’s the same wind blows you
east as blew you east at nineteen, at forty. You’re closing in on fifty-six and the wind
hasn’t aged a bit.
• • •
Well before 9/11, person or persons unknown folded a $20 in such a way that the
image on the green side looks like the tower twins burning. If that’s what you want to
see. Could be schismatic Popes’ staffs blooming at the end of Tannhäuser. Too late for
Or, more happily, a view of Lucca’ fabled Torre Guinnigi, crowned with its spire:
a pair of living trees.
• • •
Fifty people killed in the Alps since the season began. Skiing off-piste, they’re
caught in avalanches. And why? This year’s strange, weakly-packed, trickster snow.
• • •
More tality. Less tality.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 715
unadorned, is more formally pleasing, proportionally compelling, and doubtless more
socially useful, than anything they could hope to build there?
Lunch with Marithelma at the Korean place on Carmine, then back to her
apartment for coffee and a dialogue expanded to include the interjections of her birds.
She tells you that she tried to teach the parrot to sing Guantanamera, but instead, and
most likely with her husband Fabio’s subversive influence, the bird clearly chants:
“Cuanto se scema!” Which sounds pretty similar, but means, in Italian: How silly you
Well stimulated on conversation and espresso, you walk uptown toward home,
under a row of trees from whose branches, once upon a time, a splash of pigeon
dropping got you. Funny, for all the walking around New York you’ve done, you can
only recall getting pigeoned twice – though once in Washington Square park, a bird
flew into your head with enough force to knock you sideways a step and furnish you
with a wicked headache. Nothing descends from the trees this time, and you’re passing
the basketball courts and the newsstand on 3rd Street when it hits you that
Guantanamera means “the girl from Guantánamo.”
• • •
Eighth Avenue just north of 25th Street. Pacing in the narrow confines of a
tenement building’s doorway, and Asian woman of maybe thirty, her cheeks pale and
flaccid, talks into a cellphone, voice sharp with resentment. “I don’t get five minutes to
myself. I don’t get anything.”
Next door, in the pharmacy, you shake hands across the counter with Bobby.
The immemorial exchange of howya doin’s. He owns that he’s a little tired today. You
pass him your prescription. The radio plays faintly above the chatter of customers and
clerks and the kaching of the register totting up the lottery profits. Good times. Name
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 716
that group. The Silver Convention. No, it was Chic: These are the good times. That
gliding string section against the over-annunciated lyrics. Leave your cares behind.
• • •
Again, your sign-reading dyslexia acts up. No the plaque wasn’t placed on the
side of this building by the New York Landmines Commission. Not yet.
The swordsmiths of Damascus used to quench a just-forged blade by running it
through the body of a slave. The nitrogen in the living blood, you see, imparted to the
steel its special qualities, making Saracen weapons lighter and more durable than the
weighty, brittle, European ones. Thus was lost a Second Crusade. Poor Richard.
• • •
On the E train platform at 53rd and Lex, a Korean man bowing a stringed
instrument held vertically on his thigh plays what sounds for all the world like an Irish
aire. And the beauty is, three blocks away, the pipes are skirling as the lost tribe
marches downtown on St. Patrick’s Day.
On the train itself, a thickly, almost Talmudically-bearded, heavy-set man stands
holding the overhead rail. If you were nearer, the adjective would be looming. He
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