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• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 742
containe within him the representatives of what in the whole world is comprehended.”
In 1652, so said Sir Thomas Urquart in The Jewel.
• • •
A Chihuahua in Timberlands doth not a gray wolf make.
• • •
A rich sojourn at the Met. At the exhibit on Tibetan armor, you learn of the Five
Qualities of Enjoyment – represented by a mirror, a lute, incense, fruit and silk.
On the front plate of a saddle, a pair of snow lions holds a tray bearing Seven
Precious Jewels: books, coral, king’s earrings, queen’s earrings, rhino horn, elephant
tusks, pearls. Another depicts a pair of creatures, half bird, half human – the kinnara or
shang-shang. And dragons.
On to Egypt. An early myth explains the sun’s setting and rise as the cyclical loss
and recovery of Horus’s eye.
A physician’s manual circa 1600 B.C. deals with forty-eight different wounds to
the head and body. It posits a kind of triage system: 1) An ailment I will handle. 2) An
ailment I will fight. 3) An ailment for which nothing is done.
Verbatim from a press conference with Donald Rumsfeld:
Are you satisfied with the state of planning for Iran options now?
I am never satisfied.
No followup question on what the Defense Secretary thinks of the Rolling
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 743
waist. Legs and hips running one way, trunk and head floating without an anchor.
Lord, lord. This is the place to be sick today.
• • •
Subjects in Search of an Object – the pick hits of two weeksworth of junk email headers:
Grady Morgan. His coda crossbow. Right sharecrop ghent. Considering that
software vendor. Gclean nno hellenistic. Susan Purcell. Humidify. Of sheep been run
over battlements? Have animals been bludgeoned to. That drudge in canal. Cemetery
jaywalker. Nitroglycerine not horsehair. Top-heavy. Parquet wide-eyed. End dayton
adjudge. The compleat anisotropy. Ingrid impromptu. A praseodymium our. Only
veal not graph. Little bacilli it’s sharp. The primary sleight. Minnie the tulip. Baleful
imp. However sustain in ecstasy. Taken tremulous the spill. Ursula was left thinking
about Birkin He piqued her attracted her maybe. Fields, small and covered with young,
bushy maize-plants skirted the. “Turkeys care nothing about you,” he retorted, “It is
nothing to them. Rapidlyo. Of silence so delay. Deceased to be known whether they
Folks are so used to things not mattering, that when – suddenly – they do: OMG!
Followed hard upon by: G2G!
• • •
Herald Square: 34th Street at the crossroads of Sixth Avenue and Broadway.
Here’s where to find Minerva and her bell ringers, a bronze statue ensemble – one of the
city’s few mechanical sculptures – mounted on and surmounted by a granite monument
to the James Gordon Bennetts, senior and Jr., who, kan ya makan, published the New York
workers, are supposed to ring the hours, half and quarter too, pivoting round their
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 744
jointed waists and seeming to strike the enormous bell with their sledge hammers. Not
really, though, because the actual chime mechanism is hidden within the granite
pedestal and covered by a screen.
But today the clockwork’s busted, so five p.m. passes with no pigeons scattering
in alarm at the fearsome clangs, nor returning in the echoes to perch in the
superstructure’s niche, on green oxidized shoulders and arms, or, as you’ve sometimes
seen them do, balance on the head of the bronze owl that serves as a finial atop
Minerva’s massive helmet. How long has the mechanism been out of order? It’s been
years since you were here exactly on the hour. Will the goddesses servants be restored
to working order, or does one take this as a sign that wisdom’s fled for good?
James Gordon Bennett Jr. fled New York alright alright. To Europe in the wake
of a first-class Gilded Age scandal. Seems he showed up inebriated to a party at his
fiancée’s mansion and, in full view of the foregathered four hundred, strode up to the
marble mantelpiece, hauled out his column inches, and relieved himself into the roaring
fire. By 1918, when Jr. died, he’d long since returned to the helm of the Herald, and his
name had passed into Cockney slang as the equivalent of OMG, didja see that?!
Your darling Gwenny arrives while you’re sitting at a rickety wrought wire table
in the little triangle of Herald Square Park musing on all of this and watching your
fellow Gothamites smoke, drink from Starbucks cups and shmooze on cellphones.
Downtown you walk together through the enormous press of pedestrians on Sixth
Avenue. At the corner of 33rd Street, you spot a young woman, maybe sixteen, beyond
average tall, wearing an outsized button on her cropped jacket. Only visible for an
instant in the rush, you make out the words: Darkskin Girlz Rule.
a.m. E train uptown. A lot of guys who look a little like Dick Cheney. A couple
whose faces reflect a soupçon of Vladimir Putin. Interminable escalator at Lexington
Avenue. Loudspeaker crackles overhead. Here comes that announcement about cops
making random searches of backpacks, but no, instead the voice booms: Ladies and
gentlemen – due to a malfunctioning (pronounced “moll-functioning”) signal, we are
currently experiencing delays on B as in bonobo trains. Also on C as in chimp trains, G
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 745
as in gibbon, H as in howler, O as in orangutan, P as in purple-ass baboon, and S as in
spider monkey trains. All other service is running normally.
• • •
“I fear O! I fear the waight of his mind has over come him! What will be the
consequence?” William Clark, speaking in 1809, of Meriwether Lewis, who killed
himself soon afterward.
• • •
Park Avenue will eventually be renamed Park Avenue in honor of some worthy
• • •
Waterboarding is not the same as surfboarding or water skiing. All three involve
water, and boards in some form, plus the risk of drowning. But in the former, there is
no surf, and no matter how skillful you are, there is no way to stand up and hang ten.
• • •
Also sprach Zapruder.
The narrative embrace.
• • •
No power, no point. Yesterday, and into this a.m., the Roosevelt Island tram
seized up, leaving two cars stranded, dangling a couple of hundred feet and change
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 746
above the East River. Efforts to hand crank the cables proved unavailing. Hours
passed before the sixty-eight riders, many of them children, were plucked one by one
into a “diesel-powered bucket” and reunited, ultimately, with terra firma.
• • •
You used to make it a point to not walk under scaffolding, but this is no longer
practical. Doubtful anyone’s done a census, but they’re ubiquitous – one or more to any
given block, sometimes running parallel on both sides of a street, their conditions
ranging through myriad states from reasonably trustworthy-looking to fuggedaboudit.
These days, if you cross the street to avoid one scaffold, you’re likely to end up
under another one. And risk, in the meantime, getting hit by a driver too preoccupied
by their cellphone conversation to see you. So it only makes sense to zigzag if a scaffold
appears likely to collapse, or you actually hear stuff falling from overhead. Usually
then, it’s through you go.
Not every time you end up beneath one, but often enough, you find yourself
regretting not having started up a scaffolding business when you were a young fella.
Even then it was obvious there’d be exponential future demand. Assemble it bam, bam,
bam. Then, every day it stays up, kaching, kaching – the gift that keeps on giving.
You’d have retired by now, a millionaire for sure. And used some of the dough to buy
a publishing company. Renamed it Hardhat Brace.
• • •
Talk about looking down both barrels of a potentially disastrous strike. No, not
the transit workers. Nor the firemen, cops or sanitation workers. Not nurses or
teachers. Rather the brothers of Local 32-BJ. Unthinkable, a lacunae of white gloves
and whistles, the packages and undelivered drycleaning piling up in posh lobbies.
Who’ll go a-hunting cabs in the rain and guide New York’s neediest safely to the edges
of their canopies? What will happen to 10021 and its ilk if doormen take a hike?
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 747
Write in the unconditional tense.
• • •
Surely one form of underground energy we can readily tap is the thermal power
of so many righteous departed souls spinning in their graves.
Back in February a heavy snow fell and the newsmedia pronounced it New
York’s deepest ever at 26.9 inches. A lot of snow did fall, and very quickly too, but
nowhere, in the aftermath, did you encounter a single person from any part of the city
who had actually seen what looked like that much snow on the ground, even in Central
Park, where the figure was recorded. Yet despite their observations to the contrary,
most folks you talked with spoke of the record snowfall as an accepted truth.
Perhaps somewhere in the metropolitan area, 26.9 inches did fall. Or else
someone stuck a stick diagonally into the highest drift they could find and made that
the count official measurement. In any case it wasn’t long before the notion that we’d
been visited by deepest ever turned into a kind of white wallpaper of the mind, a
cheaply acquired superlative moment we must have yearned for, or been too exhausted
to question – a near-universal, collusive, self-deluding hoax. But hell, where’s the harm
in adding a foot or so of invisible snow to what was, undeniably, a real-life blizzard?
• • •
Some of the great snow of ‘06 lingered in the cold days that followed. Cars like
yours that didn’t have to move, just sat under their blankets. When alternate-side-of-
the-street parking was reinstated, city snowplows made a great ridge of slush down the
center of West 21st Street, between Ninth and Tenth where the Gray Ghost lives. The
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 748
plowing was a good idea in principle. Why not let the tires of passing cars squoosh the
slush into a yet more liquid state and then, eventually, into the gutters it would flow.
But it also happened, a few minutes after you found a parking space and pulled into it,
that a FedEx truck skidded on the slippery stuff, the driver lost control and slammed
into the rear end of the your car – something you did not see, but felt for sure.
As it happened, Tom was sitting in the passenger seat next to you and you’d just
said the word “concrete,” in reference to a narrative quality he’d added in revising his
novel. Then whamo. Out you both got in a hurry certain, at least on your part, that the
old Taurus had to be totaled, yet it wasn’t. For all the noise of impact and incredible
jolt, the only obvious consequence was a cracked rear bumper. Happily, Tom was OK –
both of your headrests up, hence no whiplash.
When you got home, you called Kelly, with whom you had an appointment next
day, and asked her to bring you some hit pills, Chinese herbal boluses which help
balance out the aftersymptoms of a physical shock. Next day, you gave some to Tom
with and injunction that he take them daily for a week. Maybe he did, more likely he
didn’t. They’re an acquired taste for sure. Like eating a little compressed nugget of
swamp. But they do the trick.
A few days later when you tried to start the car, the key turned and nada. You
noticed then that you’d left headlight switch on. Of course you checked all the lights
after the accident, but must have been more shook up than you realized because you’d
forgotten to turn them off. Must be a drained battery, you thought. Not so. No
amount of attempted jump-starting or charging would do the trick. The engine turned
over, but wouldn’t catch. Stumped, you stared through the windshield, and it came to
you that you hadn’t smelled gas, howevermuch you pumped the pedal. Could it be?
Who knew? Turned out that this model Taurus was designed with the fuel pump in the
gas tank and the whack from the truck had knocked it senseless.
What does this have to do with anything? Apart from the fact that a couple of
guys on a crew renovating a townhouse near where you were parked spent a lot of time
trying to help, and were most generous with their efforts until you realized the car
needed to be towed to Brownfeld’s shop, why write this at all, particularly now, two
months later? What was it about this moment stuck with you firmly enough to jot it
down out here in Montauk before picking the keys up off the table and driving the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 749
same Gray Ghost a half mile down the road to the fish shack for dinner with Katie and
Is it the quiet out here this past couple of days in Teddy and Ladan’s cottage that
broke the weave of the city blanket enough to let this burr through? True, you did pass
by Brownfeld’s yesterday to pay him some money you owed him before leaving town
for the tip of Long Island. Maybe it’s simple stuff. When you go away – vacate –
perhaps some other element of mind steps in to have its say.
Forget who it was told you recently – BJ or some other reliable informant – that
after 9/11 the destruction of the World Trade Center was referred to in Nepal, and
certain other places, as “The Big Bomb.”
It’s early. Possibly your ears deceived you. Was the lyric of the song over the
café speakers actually “you can’t see tits on the radio?” No, this must be for, or of, your
• • •
Chairman Hu flips Bush the bird in DC and homes in on Chairman Gates in that
more vital capitol, the one called Seattle but which more rightfully ought to be renamed
• • •
A movie ad projects from above a garage doorway on West 21st Street. The
image is of a bigass RV teetering, half-impaled atop a jagged, acute-angled mountain
peak. The latest Robin Williams vehicle. Headline: “On a family vacation, no one can
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 750
hear you scream.”
Eastward, about eight floors up, a cloud of dark gray smoke belches out into the
open air. Fire? Armageddon? Soon the smog dissipates and as you change your line of
sight, the chimney comes into view and you realize it was just the fumes from a dirty
furnace starting up. But here, on this gray day, bravely trying to lighten, without a soul
visible on the block, you look down to find not your own shadow – there isn’t one – but
in order to visually connect with your feet. Keep walking to the melody: Everyone’s
• • •
Into the medical lab’s generic waiting room come a pair of middle-aged fellows.
The more vital-looking of the two assists his companion, who has the enervated affect
of a chronic heart patient, to a chair in which he slumps. Amazing this guy. One foot in
the grave, the other on a banana peel and still he gestures imperiously toward the
magazines and commands: “Gimme a Forbes.”
• • •
T’other day, bin Laden, in a tape released by Al Jazeera, said that Americans
were the enemy, not our leadership per se. Strange twist that. As a child of the Cold
War, you remember, even at times of really jacked-up rhetoric, that the Soviets were
careful to paint Americans as, at bottom, innocents held in thrall to their capitalist
paymasters. The leadership were the bad guys, not the mass of people. That was the
general sentiment on both sides of the Iron Curtain as you recall it. From where we sat,
the Russians were a bit crude, and very drab, misled by their dictators – a species of
lesser European – but not fundamentally evil. The role of demonic body politic was
reserved for China, North Korea and later Vietnam, as it once had been projected onto
Japan. And Germany, albeit much more selectively, given kinship through the Brits.
But yeah, you’ll cop to bin Laden’s formulation – though it seems increasingly
likely that he’s is nothing but a fake beard and turban that transform a range of faces
and physiques into a serviceable archetype. Whoever said it is right. The evil extends
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 751
way beyond Bush. It’s down to we the people.
• • •
Stumbling through the internet in search of some recondite pearl of information
you come upon the Tailhook glossary of aviator slang. Best entry: My fun meter is
pegged. Means that, whatever it is, you’re really not enjoying it any more.
• • •
According to a 17th Century Baptist account, a certain Ranter, Mrs. Paul Wayt,
professed to doubt that the Virgin Mary or Jesus Christ had been actual persons.
Something told her it wasn’t so. “She knew it was truth according to the history, but
not according to the mystery.”
• • •
You wait for Gwen while, behind a red curtain that separates the space into two
dancefloors, she takes her weekly ballroom class. Over the speakers comes a tricked-up
version of another song Meyer used to sing: “After the Ball is Over.”
• • •
Wouldn’t it be fun to look into the relationship between “turbid qi” and Deadly
Orgone, or DOR-clouds? To arrive, eventually, at a pan-cultural theory of energy? If
one had several more lifetimes.
• • •
Johann Valentine Andreae, instigator of Rosicrucianism, compares the world to
an amphitheater in which no one is seen in their true light. 1618. For three hundred
and fiftyish years the Narrenschiff of the West sails on until it founders on the rocky
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 752
shores of the 1960s. There, Debord, describes the Society of the Spectacle as “the sun
which never sets over the empire of modern passivity. It covers the entire surface of the
world and bathes endlessly in its own glory.… In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the
true is a moment of the false.”
• • •
• • •
Accept no miracles!
34th Street and Madison. Morning. Next to you, waiting for the WALK sign,
stands a natty young fellow, carrot tanned and chewing gum. He wears shades, an acid
green shirt and black pants, white pin-striped. He blows a bubble and the substance
that balloons out of his mouth matches the color of his shirt. Wow. The light changes
and he’s off ahead of you. So you get to see the shoulder bag slung across his back. A
Prussian blue Manhattan Portage, like Gwen’s. Then you notice the mediocre square-
toed brown shoes. Between these two, the look is ruined.
• • •
Title for a children’s book to be written in one of those future lives: The Little
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