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looks a bit like a conga player you used to know, but more resembles the sort of fellow –
seen on a thousand TV newsfeeds – who would happily crash a plane into a building.
It’s a face for Western Man to fear. Except that this bloke’s wearing a sweatshirt, with a
big white BAR HARBOR printed across the chest, surmounting a pair of crossed oars
whose blades, respectively, read: “Est.” and “1918.” And he’s chatting amiably with a
half dozen of his intensely suburban-looking pals. One of whom, a young woman, has
taken off her green felt floppy-brimmed leprechaun hat and holds it scrunched in her
lap. That’s it, they’re a cell, the lot of ‘em! Who’s the sleeper, now?
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 717
• • •
skin when a part of the body where the qi has stagnated is vigorously rubbed.
• • •
The raptor of global capitalism circles then swoops down. Beware the commerce
Head downtown of a Saturday morning. At West 4th Street, what you hear the
conductor say is: “Transfer to the up and downtown DNA trains.” Shake the dust out
your ears, walk downstairs and catch the F one stop southeast.
You’ve come to this crossroads, Houston and Broadway, to witness the tableau
that a fellow you know designed to premiere a new line of Stella McCartney workout
And it’s quite a piece of street theater. Running along the edge of the sidewalk,
for the entire eighty-odd foot width of the Addidas store, stands a row of ten
transparent plexiglass compartments, just wide and tall enough for the young women
inside them to perform a coordinated series of yoga stretches. Which they do most
precisely, each wearing a different combination of Stella’s more or less revealing duds.
The woman at the head of the line initiates a posture, and the others follow suit.
Reminds you of a stand of trees reacting in sequence to a gust of wind. It’s the same
kind of kind of linear ripple effect except it feels choreographed, eroticized – a trick
carried out by human dominoes.
As you walk up Broadway from the first booth toward the last, a woman passes
in the opposite direction, speaking into a walkie-talkie – something about “the next girls
in rotation.” Ah, of course. If this show is to continue till noon, there’d have to be more
than one platoon of yogistas.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 718
downward dog. In response to which, a male passerby – gone before you can get a fix
on him – caws “Yeah! I like my woman in a cage!” Yet these are not that. Though it’s
not the first thing one notices, the booths are essentially three sided, there’s an open
panel at the back of each one. The eye doesn’t read this because each booth is so close
to the one behind it. Which makes the cage a construction of the viewer. But with a
wind blowing south today, the woman in the box furthest north, with nothing to shield
her from the gusts, must feel the chill in her bones. She seems fine with it though, has
the same zoned-out look as her colleagues. Except for number seven. She’s blonde,
very graceful and in control. Despite which, her expression is that of a person deeply
Just north of the booths, parked next to the curb, a movie shoot-type trailer, the
kind that’s always blocking the narrow streets of Chelsea. This one has BIG SHOT
painted large on its flank. Must be Centcom. Perhaps the guy who invited you down is
in there. Should you knock and find out? But what would you say? That in some
small, but ineluctable way, he has managed to renew your capacity for horror?
• • •
What to fling into the machine but your tiny self?
• • •
Up to All Souls for a wedding. A plaque on the north wall reads:
WILLIAM LAURENCE SULLIVAN,
November 15, 1872 – October 5, 1935
Associate Minister 1913 – 1916
Minister 1916 – 1922
Scholar, Preacher, Friend of All in Distress
He forsook the Shelter of Authority
in the Perilous Search for Truth
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 719
Back at the ranch you Google him and find that WLS was a fascinating guy.
Among other things, he was openly gay in deeply unconducive times. His Letter to His
Holiness, Pope Piux X, written in 1910, addressed the ubiquity of homosexuality in the
Catholic Church, and had the distinction of becoming the last book officially prohibited
by the Vatican.
In another lifetime, you’ll come back and research it all. Connect every dot to
every other dot. Write the impossible history of all souls, lower case, across millennia –
especially those who’ve forsaken the shelter of authority….
• • •
In every restaurant, Thai, Austrian, Italian, you can bet someone or everyone on
the kitchen staff is Mexican. From what you can tell, half the male population of Puebla
(among several other states) sends, every week, half its earnings back home.
• • •
At Dean & DeLuca, you order a coffee and get a sample of chocolate cake as a
lagniappe. Give Gwen the last bite. It tastes sweeter.
• • •
If you were writing this in German, would its genre be Nein-Fiction?
And the little piggies cried: Wee wee wee the People! All the way home.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 720
today after a work stint in LIC. Back to Maria and young Ana Luna, and seven-month-
old son Nahuel in Germany. They plan, some time soon, to move to Buenos Aires
where Juan was born. They’ve found a school there they like for Ana Luna. Time time
time. Time to turn that map 180º around.
• • •
Ponte dei Pugni, one of two “fighting bridges” in Venice, where contenders won
by knocking their opponents into the canal.
Dawn on the way to Ba Gua, a truck roars past: Eagle Global Logistics.
You haven’t seen the SUV with the ME CRAZY license plates for a while now –
in fact, you’ve missed it. But this morning, something draws your eye to a vehicle
parked in front of the steel arch of the FIT entrance, a black Nissan Armada. Got to be
the same owner – who knows, perhaps they work a night shift in the school – and this
the new ride, even more massive than the former one. Different plates too, just slightly:
• • •
Stepping in Ba Gua circles, the constant turns remind you of walking the path of
the labyrinth in Amiens cathedral. Whoever designed that path made it full of twists
and switchbacks. But never a blind alley.
• • •
Yesterday’s morning clouds spread like fish scales against the severe clear. This
a.m. you ask Dylan if he noticed and he widens his eyes, sits upright: “Yeah,” he says,
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 721
E.B.: I can’t think of a happy ending.
E.D.: I can’t think of an ending. Eights, crazy eights, crazy Yeats. Turning,
From across the room Dylan, who must have supernatural hearing, calls out:
“Crazy eights – I used to play that game when I was a kid!” He flashes a smile and a
• • •
Fishing, bait, trapping. All based on trickery. And why then shouldn’t we let
the gods trick us? It’s a tradition!
• • •
Modern Medical Miracles: a catheter designed as a robotic dog. Disposable, of
• • •
“Dog handler,” Sergeant Santos A. Condona convicted by a military court of
abusing a prisoner at Abu Ghraib. When sentenced Condona could be discharged,
forfeit his pay and serve as much as three and a half years in prison. But the top dogs
owe him something for taking the fall and distracting us from the question of what our
army is doing in Iraq in the first place. Since Lynndie England’s already claimed the
ribbon “Best of Breed,” why not award him “Best of Opposite Sex”? The “Best in
Show” prize to be announced at some future competition.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 722
dark glass of the SUV parked outside. License number SFL 85B. Embossed on the
plate, in the space between the first three letters and the alpha-numeric, a little black
outline of the Garden State.
• • •
Crop circles and solar flares. One could spend a lifetime Googling. Some do.
• • •
Largely misspent day.
Woman pushes a stroller into Le G. Average-looking for what the
neighborhood’s becoming. You hardly give a second glance but then notice her
extraordinarily turned-down mouth, almost a commedia mask grimace. Surely this
expression can’t be all mood-based – perhaps there’s some underlying, ill-fated
configuration of muscle and bone. Almost a disfigurement, made all the worse when
she tries to smile at Shannon at the register and the bow merely stretches, and the lips
tighten to reveal her teeth. The woman sits down, then lifts the clear plastic canopy and
you focus on the baby, dreading, even before you confirm visually, that which you
know you will see. And there it is, an infant version of the maternal mouth.
• • •
Wheeling your bike into the elevator, you encounter Charlie. Tall, lanky, old
enough to remember and recount Jim Crow days, he’s never lost his Mississippi accent.
If you could, you’d keep him in conversation all day long just to listen to his upsweeps,
dips and glissandos. By now you know what he’ll say and your ears prime for it – a
slow wash of honey with the “I” sounded as “Ah”: I see you got yo’ Cadillac.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 723
• • •
I am the sister of catastrophe, brother of disaster – or the other way around, just
as you wish!
• • •
From your aerie you look down on a tenement where the airshaft at the rear of
the building appears as the socket of a dovetail joint. In this moment, you see the
rooftops and walls differently, all the architecture takes on a toy-like form. That duct
over there could be a tenon, and that window could serve as its mortise. The possibility
opens up of all these structures fitted together into a great puzzle. What then would the
• • •
The Playpen, one of the oldest and last surviving topless joints near Times
Square still features an outline of the Manhattan skyline on its red neon marquee. At
the right side, the Empire State Building. To the left, separated by a valley of
indeterminate cityscape, the tower twins. Here at Eighth Avenue near 44th Street, an
ancient and lesser vaudeville theater was once refitted for the swinging seventies. Now
it’s a fixture, might as well be in amber, a guardian of the time before.
Zeitgeist-o-rama: the two main images on the cover of the Times. The central
square in Minsk, cleared of protestors contesting Belarus’s stolen election. It’s a vast
space, sparsely inhabited by pigeons, a Brezhnevian official building in the background.
No San Marco.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 724
horizon line bloom up into roiling clouds of mauve smoke. In the foreground, several
parked SUVs attend a row of identical suburban houses. A brushfire consumes Great
Kills park on Staten Island.
Jenny Haniver, a ray or skate mutilated to look like a wing’d sea creature with a
human head. Described by Paré in the late sixteenth century, Jenny Hanivers were
created to look like angels, devils, dragons. Possible origin of the name in “Jeune de
Antwerp” (called Anvers by the French) and subsequently “cockneyed” by English
sailors. Linnaeus debunked one Jenny Haniver, promoted as the Hydra of Hamburg.
Threatened with prosecution by the forgers, poor Carolus had to leave town.
At the café, Shannon, whom you’ve nicknamed ShineOn for her radiant
presence, tells you about her twenty-one uncles and aunts. Says the family is full of
• • •
Does nature itself have ADD?
• • •
His epitaph: “He was anxious. Then he wasn’t.”
• • •
Is it possible? Apparently so. Must’ve opened recently – a U.S. Army
recruitment center on the second floor of a funky old building on the corner of Sixth
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 725
Avenue and 22nd Street. What caught your eye, behind the window, was a life-size
cutout of a guy wearing a black beret and a dress uniform with sergeant stripes.
Thought at first it was someone’s idea of a joke. But then you saw the sign beneath the
fire escape. Modest, almost self-effacing, blending into the urban visual noise: white
letters and a yellow star on an olive-green background. Official. For real.
Strange place to put a recruitment center – on the border between Chelsea and
Flatiron – whose residents and office workers have got to be one of the least likely
sources of cannon fodder imaginable. Still, in the surrounding blocks there are plenty
of young men working the loading docks and freight elevators. Who knows? Maybe
some of them might be persuaded to trade boredom, crappy pay and everyday
disrespect for whatever bill of goods this two dimensional soldier is selling.
The weirdest steelwork ever, a building caught between teetering and
catastrophic, torquing collapse. Frank Gehry’s latest, an office hive for some Barry
Diller media nightmare on the West Side Highway and 18th. The building doesn’t seem
so much designed as programmed – iterated out of algorithms set up to produce the
maximally refracted form possible in a given envelope, shorn of any proportional ratios.
Click OK and watch Topsy grow.
You take pictures of the skeleton just as workman begin to attach huge sheets of
opaque white cladding. Milky. Glass or something glass-like. Yikes, it’s going to look
like a gigantic Bizarro World cocoon. Or a fifties chapeau by a woman-hating milliner.
• • •
What’s needed is a new poetic form: the can-o. A more upbeat version of the
canto. One could also sing an oh-good, just as well as an aubade. By evening, knock us
hard enough and we turn.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 726
Times avers that today’s total solar eclipse will be visible “across a
wide swath of the world’s poorest countries” from Brazil to Mongolia. It cuts these
words in the second iteration of the article, which is accompanied by a photo of two
Beirut schoolgirls in khimars staring up in wonderment through protective solar shades
that lend their faces, paradoxically, the look of Saint-Tropez starlets.
Not content with being the Paper of Record, the Times assumes the role of Paper
of Reason, noting that “superstition accompanied [the eclipse’s] path, as it has for
generations. One Indian paper advised pregnant women not to go outside… to avoid
having a blind baby or one with a cleft lip. Food cooked before the eclipse should be
thrown out afterward because it will be impure, and those who are holding a knife or
ax… will cut themselves…. In Turkey’s earthquake-prone Tokat province, residents set
up tents outside, despite assurances from scientists that there was no evidence of any
link between eclipses and tremors…. In August, 1999, an earthquake in northwest
Turkey killed some 17,000 people just 6 days after a solar eclipse.” Lastly, “the eclipse
was expected to move on to Mongolia where it will fade out with the sunset.”
Ah, the language of it. Granted the eclipse, which is a phenomenon of
perception – the creature of a particular set of vantage points – could be said to “move.”
And doubtless those viewing it from Mongolia will perceive its fading. But, O Great
and Wise Ones, could it truly happen that the sun will set?
• • •
The city’s life hangs on two evermore tenuous threads: Water Tunnels 1 & 2.
Best keep our fingers crossed they finish #3 sooner than later.
• • •
Early afternoon at the 34th Street and Seventh Avenue IRT stop: a steel drum
player hammers out a lilting, enharmonic version of Hava Nagila.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 727
• • •
Everywhere you ramble these days, no matter what part of town, you see the
same truck. Party Supplies – the emblem, a giant pink cartoon hippo painted on the
side. Kismet, or are you being stalked?
• • •
Darwin exhibition at the Museum of Natural History. “Ideally adapted” is how
he described the Falkland Island Steamer Duck.
Can’t come here without a visit to the African People’s exhibit, a long-standing
favorite of Gwen’s. Ituri Forest pygmies, and North African Berbers – she’d spent
hours when she was little, drinking in every detail of these dioramas. Before you go,
check to make sure the Leopard Man is still crouching on the branch near the ceiling,
ready to pounce. Then swing through the Asian People’s hall, and some of your own
touchstones: the amazing tableau of an Easter Siberian Yakut shaman performing a
healing ceremony on a stricken woman, the delirium in her eyes heightened by the
glow of simulated firelight. One might miss, if one did not look closely, a strange detail:
the shaman has a chain looped round one ankle, the end of it held by an assistant who
kneels off to the side in the shadows. This way the healer will stay grounded as he
travels to the plane of the demons to drive them from the victim’s body.
A obligatory stop too among the costumes. To see, in particular, the jaw-
dropping teal green purdah draped on a manikin set against the background of a street
scene labeled “Kabul, 20th Century.” Every time it blows your mind – even more so
now that you’ve a host of new associations for Kabul – the serenity of the pose, the
ghostlike quality such absolute curtaining of the figure imparts, and not least, the
extraordinary rigor of design and fineness of the tailoring. And this display long
predates the Taliban.
On your way out, you spot a curious something you never noticed before among
a case full of articles made by the Pathans of the Khyber Pass. It’s a tapered cylinder
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 728
piece of dark blue fabric, embroidered with distinctly Western ornamentation. Can’t
decode what it is, so you read the display card. Ah. “Woman’s hair snood made from
British officer’s sleeve.” Sure, makes all the sense in the world. A trophy, yes, but
useful too. Waste not, want not.
• • •
Sixth Avenue north of 42nd Street. Durst’s National Debt Clock faces a dilemma.
Currently it’s logged $8.3 someodd trillion. Within two years it will likely want to kick
over to $10 trillion – a figure for which there are insufficient digits. Can’t add another
column ‘cause, the sign has already maxed out the finite width of the wall its installed
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