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Windmill That Flew Away.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 753
the red-brown paneled benefactor’s wall, among scores of other names, Sunny
Crawford von Bulow. Bequests by the comatose – what wonderful things are possible
in the world of the invisible hand!
You perch on the second floor balcony, twenty feet or so above the heads of the
seated crowd. The Morgan’s director, working manfully to flex his lockjaw, introduces
il architetto, who steps to the podium. You’ve got to say Piano has a great vibe, seems
modest and reserved, though between his accent and the boom of the speakers, you
can’t understand a word he says. From this vantage, you can take in the whole unifying
structure. It’s a gorgeous space, offices included, simple and mostly naturally lighted,
elegantly proportioned. Where things start feeling oppressive is in the gallery itself.
Well laid out, evenly lit, but the room feels gray and dead, the ceiling too low. But
strangely, the manuscripts appear concrete and alive within their cases.
What a light, calligraphic hand Schumann had. Then there’s Pound in 1912,
whacking away in black and red ink at printer’s proofs of his translation of Guido
Cavalcanti’s Sonnets and Ballate. Next, a twelve-foot-long scroll, perhaps four inches
wide, of a Poe manuscript, “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,” circa 1844.
On a notesheet from The Mayfair Hotel in Berkeley Square London, WI, writ just
below the coat of arms – a trio of lions, each standing on three legs and waving a
forepaw – a ballpoint pen beginning: “It ain’t me.” Then a line break and “It ain’t me
babe it ain’t me you’re looking for.” And it goes on from there, though most of what
follows never made the cut. 1963, they say, or 1964. Why didn’t they just call Dylan up
and ask him? Maybe they did.
Written in Dumfries, in January 1795, in a bold, slightly running-downhill hand,
a letter containing song verses from Robert Burns to a musicologist and editor who
replied that the opening lines were “obscurely worded” and the suggesting that the
song ought to begin with the second stanza. Burns held his ground and the first verse
stayed. Thus “A Man’s a Man for a’ That” came down as its author intended, to be
sung countless times, yea even at the inaugural meeting of the Scottish Parliament, two
hundred years later.
By now you’re getting overwhelmed. Dylan Thomas’s crab-handed “Lament”:
When I was a windy boy and a bit
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 754
And in the upper right corner of the page:
Wilde is here too, a 1894 typescript with revisions for An Ideal Husband. Who
knew he typed? No, he didn’t. Sent the manuscript out to a certain Mrs. Marshall’s
Type Writing service.
What are you going to do with that silly document of mine?
With the last dying speech and confession of the beautiful Mrs.
Cheveley? I am going to use it.
of Jupiter, that found their way into his Starry Messenger in 1610. Hard, hard, hard to
recant what you’ve observed.
Almost gone. A diagonal walk across the atrium, now cleared of chairs, and into
the east room of Morgan’s old library. On a mission, scanning the book spines behind
their glassed-in, brass-grilled cages. In the shelves, there it is, bound in blue: Food for
the Young, published in London by Darton & Co. in 1823.
Shanksmare then, down Mad. then a jog over to Fifth. Pass a deli, Au bon goût.
Caveat emptor: if you don’t watch your goût, you might get gout. Senses overloaded,
you walk straight past the next peripheral stimulation before marshalling the will to
turn back to take in the ribbons, thousands of them, yellow and blue. They hang from
the iron railing of the Marble Collegiate Church. Now and again animated by the
breeze, each ribbon bears a name tag with the rank and age of the soldier at the date of
her or his death. You glance at the section of fence running along 29th Street, half again
as long as the one fronting Fifth Avenue. That’s saturated too. They’ve run out of
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 755
space, but not out of war. Have to start doubling up. At the corner, a placard makes
reference to the “over 30,000 Iraqis who have lost their lives” to military action in the
three years since the war began. “We pray for the day that war is no longer an option.”
Onward. A couple, man and woman, heading your way. She’s riding a
motorized wheelchair-cum-scooter. He walks alongside, holding one of her hands
while she steers with the other. Heartwarming their affection, but visually amazing too.
The man is normally proportioned from the waist up, but his legs are severely
truncated and slightly bowed. Which, in the scheme of things, makes him the perfect
height for their handclasp.
Almost home. Down 27th Street and past the Radio Wave building where Nicola
Tesla once lived. On the ground floor, a handful of storefront businesses, mostly
wholesalers. But one of the shops, the Broadway Wireless Center, offers cell phones
and “accessories” retail. Is Nicola out there somewhere laughing, or what? Flanking
the building’s main entrance, twin terra cotta reliefs, the earth and sea. Blossoms above,
conjoined porpoises below.
• • •
Yesterday, after walking with a considerable entourage across the Brooklyn
Bridge to Manhattan, Roger Toussaint, the TWU’s leader reported for ten days in the
Tombs. Far away in Old Virginnie, Zacarias Moussaoui, the presumptive twentieth
hijacker – an odd description, considering he was in jail on 9/11 – had his fate placed in
the hands of a jury several generations devolved from anything Henry Louis Mencken,
the Sage of Balitimore, America’s Nietzsche, author of the infamous “Bathtub Hoax,”
could have imagined. Moussaoui, for his part, seems convinced that he will be released
and flow to London on a 747. In his shoes, why not hold out for a reinstitution of
transatlantic Concorde service. Why not shoot the moon. Go supersonic.
It is worth noting that Judge Leonie Brinkma denied the jury’s request to be
furnished with a dictionary on the grounds that it would amount to adding new
evidence. And she warned them against any online searches for definitions.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 756
Death of Jane Jacobs.
Gordon bloody Bennett! That’s it, you’ve seen everything. This morning in
French Roast on Sixth and 11th, a tall, slender fellow walked in who not only resembled
but seemed to channel Natty Bumppo himself. Long, fringed, apparently deerskin coat,
moccasins, judicious feathers, longer than shoulder-length hair, all the accoutrements of
the Pathfinder. Lord, where did go from there?
• • •
The opposable thumb is overrated. One certainly doesn’t need it to operate a
keyboard and mouse.
• • •
As Charon said when he delivered the two hundred pound prostitute to the
other shore, “That’s a tough ho to row.”
• • •
Possible epitaph: In one era and out the other.
The young woman walks into the sea, her right forearm encased in a cast and
held above her head. In your dream, you felt the root of her moving. Waves slap
against her thighs, belly, chest. When the waves retreat she advances until she stands
exactly where she wants to be. Waves roll in and she rises in the swell. You witnessed
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 757
this at Jones Beach nearly three years ago, but the image recurs, awake and asleep,
every now and again.
This morning, as you write this, it’s exactly six o’clock. The sun chooses its
targets, falls full measure on the north faces of the Chase building, Silverstein’s new
WTC7 and a World Financial Center tower. Further to the east, beyond and above the
roof garden of the Chelsea Hotel, several blocks as the crow flies, the upper window of
an anonymous red brick building appear to be exploding in copper light. By the time
this ink of that last sentence is dry, the glow has dimmed to barely noticeable and the
hottest things on the skyline are three flashing beacons atop a tower downtown and,
seen through a gap, another that must be very far away, in Brooklyn.
Downstairs, the fresh macadam surface of Eighth Avenue, newly perforated with
white lines. Furthest toward the curbs, a parking lane. Four traffic lanes and bordering
the westernmost, a narrow strip designated for bikes. That’s a laugh. Try to ride along
one of those. Hardly dawn yet and already there are two vehicles between here and
23rd Street, one a cop car, parked in the bike lane and blocking it. On the other hand,
no cyclists abroad yet. We shall see. See what the day has to show.
• • •
More and more Katrina emerges as a preemptive strike against African America
– Africa in America – in the present and coming civil war. Who knows on what level
the message has been received?
But here’s a good, if bitter larf: on Sippiana Hericane, Dr. John’s post-Katrina
suite, his accompanying musicians are collectively called “The Lower 9/11 Band.”
• • •
Fragments from a New York Post:
“Sounds fishy, but it’s true. A 3-foot gulf sturgeon jumped into a boat on the
Suwanee River in Bell, Fla., and hit a woman in the face…
“It’s meant to deodorize, not terrorize – but Norwegian officials have barred the
sale of L’Oréal perfume from all duty-free shops at the Oslo airport. The perfume,
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 758
Flowerbomb, comes in a bottle shaped like a hand grenade and officials fear that
extremists might be tempted to use it to scare passengers…”
• • •
The hidden hand is waving goodbye.
• • •
We’ve double crossed the Rubicon.
• • •
Hey now (hey now)
Hey now (hey now)
Iko iko un day
Jockomo feeno ah na nay
Jocomo feeno nay
My marraine see your parrain
Sitting by the bayou
My marraine to your parrain
• • •
Thirteen years since the Golden Venture, bound from Kenya to New York ran
aground three hundred years off Rockaway carrying nearly three hundred Chinese
refugees on the transatlantic leg of their circuitous voyage from Fujian. Ten drowned,
the rest spent four years in federal detention. About a hundred later deported. Now
thirty have applied for legal status.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 759
• • •
Said Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life… “There is a quality even meaner than
outright ugliness or disorder and this meaner quality is the dishonest mask of
pretended order, achieved by ignoring or suppressing the real order that is struggling
to exist and be served.”
And as of today, they’re officially building at the WTC site, nearly two years
after the silverstein, er, cornerstone, was laid. “Hoy, vamos a construir La Torre de
Liberdad,” quoth Guv Pataki to Univision Channel 41. Whatever may or may not be
built there, some us will always remember it best as the Freedom Hole.
• • •
In the decade or so years the Rite Aid drugstore has squatted at the northeast
corner of 24th Street and Eighth like an unwelcome sentinel of suburban blight, its red
illuminated signs have never worked properly. Tonight one face reads Rite Ai, and the
other simply Aid.
Swim back to where you came from through the tall grass.
• • •
You can tell it’s toxic because all the rats are eating it up.
• • •
Mass suicide seems to be as close as we can get to a collective act. The Da Vinci
Code coming to a theater near you. And yours. Smell of hype like death in the air.
The other day on the way up to meet with Paul on the 37th floor of the Hilton
slab in midtown, you shortcut from the street to the elevator bank through a restaurant
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 760
called NY Marketplace. A nausea gripped you at the smell of the so-called food, and it
redoubled walking down the upstairs hallway to Paul’s suite past room cleaning carts
oozing scents made less for hygiene than charnel coverup. Oy, oy, oy, can this be it –
the sum of all plausible worlds?
• • •
Where were you when the levee breached?
This is what dumbocracy looks like. Yes, Bush is stupid. But first we had to be.
Yes, he is arrogant and needy, but we got there first. He has the least freedom or
autonomy of all, being just the tip of the drillbit of our great machine.
• • •
“The 101st has no history. But it has a rendezvous with destiny.” Thus spake
Maj. Gen. William C. Lee on August 19th, 1942 to the troops of his new airborne
division. The “no history” tag comes onscreen just after a scream from a cartoon eagle
unleashes a swarm of Apache helicopters that fly toward the viewer’s face.
This is the intro to Operation Iraqi Freedom, the official rock video of the 101st’s
mission in Iraq underpinned by the massive percussion and reedy vocals of Phil
Collins’s “In the Air Tonight (Oh Lord).” Did he give permission? Who’s to say? Fast
cuts of military prep – pushups to polishing shell tips to takeoff, then the commander’s
voiceover, scratchy as though over a field radio: “Skydogs, skydogs, this is Eagle 6:
The 101st’s next rendezvous with destiny is north to Baghdad. Opord Desert Eagle II is
now in effect. Godspeed. Air Assault. Out.”
All hell breaks loose, faster cuts. Grainy men targeted from above in brackets,
torn to smithereens along with the flimsy stuff they hide behind, trucks, houses. “Are
you ready for a good time?” screams some metal rocker. Right, you’ve heard this
before, how could you forget? AC/DC. On to “Carmina Burana,” under visuals of
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 761
sickly green nightfighting. Next, disconcertingly, Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way
Home,” wistful Winwood vocals and all. Worst of all, the shots of Iraqis receiving
handouts, tanking up at the gas station under the watchful eye of a soldier, babies
cradled in full camo arms.
Then a general addresses the troops, tells them that the reason the Iraqis are so
grateful is because “their days of being raped and murdered are coming to an end.”
The finale: the men and women of the 101st mourning for fallen comrades. What
sounds like a field recording of soldiers singing “Amazing Grace,” fast fading to a lone
bagpipe. This plays over a black screen, where, instead of the credits, the names of the
division dead parade in white. Last words, full screen:
• • •
“It is important at this point to state that there is no one definite principle
available a priori and enabling a classification suitable for every purpose to be made….
The necessity of introducing some classification and the caprice attaching to it is
most striking…in history (where) he necessity continually arises of making distinctions
which are seen on closer consideration to be fluid and inadequate.”
So wrote Max Planck in his Philosophy of Physics. A lucid moment, back in ‘36.
• • •
Desert niggers, sand niggers, desert niggers – who are we?
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 762
• • •
On an expedition upstate with Katie and her fellow mushroom enthusiasts, you
found four morels in the same abandoned orchard where you totally struck out last
year. The trick, such as it is, is to get down low – it’s a focal length exercise. And home
in on trees in just the right state of semi-decay. Now that you know what you’re
looking for and how to look for it, there’ll be no more morel vacillation in future, no
Yesterday, the town of St-Denis – home to the first great high Gothic cathedral, in
which traditionally the Kings and Queens of France lay interred – inaugurated a new
street: Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal. Thus, however symbolically, do Black Panthers come to
inhabit this immigrant banlieue, located just on the other side of the Périphérique, if not
the tracks, from Paris.
• • •
As the hermet crab said to the barnacle: location, location, location.
• • •
• • •
Ipseity is the spice of life. And Katie’s sautéed morels on toast ain’t so bad
neither. Worth the scrambling in the brambles for sure.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 763
Mayday. A fantastic tsunami of greed sweeps around the globe. People by the
hundreds of millions cling to their straw bales even as these are wrenched away.
But in New York…
• • •
Questions for a different day: Daddy, mommy, why isn’t the sky blue?
• • •
5 p.m. You arrive with Gwen at her ballroom dance class. Usually when you
wait for her, you sit facing the dancefloor. Though you can’t see her group – the young
‘uns gather behind a red velvet curtain – the adults students, as well as the advanced
and pro dance partners practicing routines are fun to watch when you pull your nose
out of your book.
This time though, you take a chair that faces the opposite way, toward the high
windows facing south. Late afternoon sun sparks silver-white off the bubbles of two
choppers – police? – strategically placed like pinned, buzzing insects, seemingly aligned
on a north by northeast axis. The closest one seems to hang over a spot you’d guess is
29th Street and Fifth Avenue. The further one is positioned roughly above Union
Square where the big immigration rights rally kicked off an hour ago.
Other choppers ply an east-west course between the two fixed ones, lending
dynamic motion to the sky-cross. The air itself, its hue blunted by a daysworth of chem
and contrails is about as blue as an afternoon gets in these parts.
Big media plays up the immigrant rights eruption like it’s the Macy’s
Thanksgiving Parade and 9/11 all in one. Anything to keep the atoms from connecting
their dots. Here, there and everywhere, you’re reminded of the ancient thirty-six
tactics, grouped into four stratagems loosely translated as Deception, Confrontation,
Opportunism, Retrenchment. This one falls squarely into the first group: “Stage a false
show of sight and sound.”
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 764
abuela you’ve come to recognize – an elegant, silver-haired woman who occupies a
fraction of her time waiting for her granddaughter by blazing through the Daily News
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