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The ceiling on the tomb of Ramses VI – who reigned around three thousand
years ago, and was buried near Tutankhamen in the Valley of Kings – shows the sun
being swallowed by Nuit, goddess of the night, and re-emerging from her womb as
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 775
• • •
Le G. At night, after hours, the chairs start dancing and get so excited, they jump
on the tabletops by themselves. But next morning, someone has to coax them down,
because really, they’re afraid of heights.
If you get there at eight, and the staff’s still setting up the place, you lend a hand.
Funny though how Marnie, alone among that crew, and otherwise so open of affect,
looks daggers at you if you offer to help.
What a wild world. Here are the sheep, masses of us, shorn and shivering. And
the shearers give us a bit of our own fluff, enough for a sad kind of Gogolian overcoat,
and we the sheeple melt with gratitude, gambol about proudly displaying our riches. Is
there for honest nakedness? Who will stand up on their hind legs for it? Are sheep
fierce in their dreams? And whom do we count, jumping over what, when sleep eludes
New drawings for a Forest City Ratner project, Atlantic Yards, in Brooklyn, a
vast complex with sixteen enormous highrises designed by Gehry. These plans differ
slightly from the drawings Gehry “leaked” last year, the ones that stunned local
residents with their sheer, stupendous scale. Nor is the current version necessarily
representative of the way the final project will look, says FCR. Yet this is the old game
again. The doctor proposes taking the leg off at the hip and ultimately the patient is
grateful only to be losing the limb at mid-thigh.
And what, what the hell does the name Forest City Ratner mean? What forest?
A forest of City?
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 776
Instead of soap, body wash.
• • •
In your rear view mirror, a Sikh in brown pants, beige jacket and a fiery red
turban quicksteps across Ninth Avenue as the light turns in favor of the advancing cars.
In his right hand, he holds a takeout cup filled with, well, if you had to guess, tea.
10:30 a.m. You’re legal. Roll up the windows, affix The Club to the steering
wheel, pat the Gray Ghost on the dashboard, grab your backpack, lock the doors and
• • •
Taken to task by Dick Cheney for his differing interpretation of “democracy,”
Vladimir Putin, Tsar of all the Russias, rejoinders: “Comrade wolf knows whom to eat,
he eats without listening, and he’s clearly not going to listen to anyone.”
Change the national bird to the bald wolf.
• • •
What did Delaware?
She wore her brand New Jersey…
Late a.m. Escalator down at Penn to the New Jersey Transit tracks and the train
to Princeton Junction. Off toward your annual perambulation-conversation with
Cousin Jane. Down a gray womblike tunnel with caulk oozed out between some of the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 777
joints. Always freaky on an escalator when the handrail moves faster than the stairs
and you have to adjust your grip since you can’t walk down – there’s someone
immobile ahead – and it’s too narrow to go round him. When you left for the
subterranean world, the Dow was way down for the second day running and the Euro
aimed to hit $1.30 this coming weekend. April might be the cruelest month, but May,
well May could mean anything.
In the train car everyone surrounding you, literally everyone, is talking on a cell
phone or else staring at the device in their palm, waiting. Except the fellow in the seat
in front of you whose property keeps making its way into your purview. First a packet
of his gum arrives, somehow over the top of his seat back. Then a magazine slithers to
your feet, drawn by gravity through the crack between the vertical and horizontal
elements of his seat. You’ve only just retrieved and returned his ‘zine when, as if on
cue, his cell phone goes off. If you possessed a cell phone, you’d have to take up
smoking as an accompaniment, and on the street, in those places plastered with signs
depicting a cigarette in a red circle with a red bar across it, refine the art of talking while
chewing gum. The young woman in the seat behind you has this down pat. Just before
ringing off, she threatens her interlocutor: “I’ll see you soon!”
A twinge in your ears as the tunnel changes pressure on the drums, then whamo,
out like a shot into the marshes – parallel with the highway – flying above disused
railbeds turned to impromptu canals in last night’s downpour, and there’s the peeling
once-white water tower like a golfball atop its tee: SECAUCUS. Here a Hasid gets off
and you watch him in silhouette, his beard smoke-like against the gray sky, hat pushed
back with the air of a gunslinger ambling down the platform. Wouldn’t it be great if
there were a mountain chain called the Secaucases? Then the people who lived here –
does anyone? – could be, would be known as Secaucasians.
Moving again. Out the windows to your left, the lizard skeleton of the Pulaski
skyway spanning the mighty Hackensack. Out to your right, cranes operate amidst
mountains of refuse. Wotta dump! And it is here, not far north at any rate, that your
Darton progenitors transplanted themselves from Olde England. Jane might know the
dates more accurately, but it’s not impossible that they, the grandparents, Alice and
Arthur, arrived approximately a hundred years ago. This could even be to the
anniversary. Sure, why not?
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 778
Poster: Booker for Mayor. C’est vrai. He’s already won. Whitewashed warehouse, its
upper reaches emblazoned Father & Son Moving & Storage in Civil War-poster
lettering. Though that name applies to you and Jack, it never got painted on the side of
a building. Much less the side of a van, which makes you think his big move to
Rutland, VT in the winter of ‘65 and your umpteenth trip north together on the Taconic
Parkway, the VW bus loaded with stuff from his 12th Street apartment. Around
midnight in the midst of a blizzard, you watched as the left front wheel spun off into
the ditch and an instant later, the van gently nosed down on your side and came to a
stop. Not much gas left in the tank, and for twenty, maybe twenty-five minutes, the
two of you sat there in the whiteout, growing colder and contemplating the point at
which you’d have to start burning the furniture. Ah, but then came headlamps, and a
Good Samaritan drove you to a motel.
Blue gaps among the gray, white-edged clouds. Fence topped in ribbon wire
whizzing past. Late capitalist pastoral. Motorman’s making up for lost time. Trees and
limbs down in profusion. If anyone ever owned a car, it’s rusting here. E-lizabeth! Fat
magic marker letters on a bench back: LAKEWOOD BORIQUA DE CORAZON. New,
light gray apartment blocks, nearly finished, wires hanging out, still unfixtured. Homes
for the future to be sick in. Dumpsters beyond numbering. An awning quaintly stuck
above the door of an industrial building maybe three blocks long: AMERI-VAC. Sure,
why not? Linden! As opposed to Unter den… Hard to tell if those downed trees way
back there were Lindens.
On the platform, drunk, a man with effusive face corpuscles takes a long slug of
Colt 45. He sports a once-fly leather jacket, sits cross-legged. The catbird seat.
Philosophy. He notices you noticing him. Nods, then smiles. Back in the city, you’re
ponying up the big bucks to hang onto your teeth. He’s given up on that. Less
resistance. With an upraised can, he toasts you.
Two stories up the trestle runs through Rahway. You look down on an
intersection, the white painted pedestrian crossings designated by pattern that’s a
stylized brick walkway. On the outskirts, some of the dumpsters stand expectantly on
their rollers, more or less straight up. Others keeled on their sides.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 779
mph faster than the black Denali out there that must be doing sixty plus on the good
clean, lightly-trafficked blacktop. Metro Park and a lot of folks get off. Glimpse of a
poster: two hands held like those of a loving couple. “Our Community Bank,” reads
the tag line. Indus American Bank, in Iselin. What a lot, what a lot of the world you do
not know. Next stop Metuchen! Across the skydome, a higher ratio of blue to white. A
few gray clouds hang in for dramatic effect. Tiny, tiny up there, a bird.
a brother town. Woods now screen the houses from the tracks. Over a river and into
New Brunswick. Jeez, from here, the church, park, a row of peaked brick buildings –
it’s almost America. Then zoom, past a medical complex – Robert Wood Johnson
something – of staggering proportions, all done up in brick tones of disposable new
urbanism. Ah, train halts inexplicably. Gravel, rust, blighted trees struggling. A rail
siding. Low well-kept building: Dephi Automotive Systems. GM. Vanished pensions.
Whirlpool eats Maytag and spits out dryer fuzz. Forward motion. WOW! shrieks the
next bright strip mall sign: Work Out World – Feel Great!
The woman in the seat behind you gets a cell call. She has a sore throat you hear
her say, but since you can’t see her, your mind takes the ball and runs with it. She
sounds almost unbearably sultry. “Thanks,” she says. “Perfect.” Then, “Bye-bye.”
You try to harmonize your breath with hers, separated by three feet of air plus a seat
back. Fences now, white ones, horses – and a gravel road straight along the rail line.
Through the scrim of trees, a macmansion’s on the rise, raw joists and roof frame. The
clouds haven’t so much dispersed as gravitated into larger clusters. Sky’s polarized.
Through the upper branches and the haze of leaves you can see wide swaths of blue.
Delphi. Yes, Delphi brake parts. Long ago, before Alice and Arthur booked passage to
these shores, Delphi was a place where vapors came up through the ground and a
woman, drunk on their wisdom, told the fates of empires.
Past the Good Friends Chinese Restaurant, the train comes to a halt. You think
about getting up on the pretext of looking at the sign in order to check out the gravel-
voiced woman behind you. But then you hear Princeton Junction! This is it. She’s
wearing a blue short-sleeved top. Thin. Pony tail. Sharpish features. That’s it. That’s
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 780
you into Princeton. Lightning through the manicured burbs. Ahoy. Five minutes or
less to Cousin Jane. George Washington schlepped here. Even fit a battle close by. But
far as we know, he never made it to Delphi.
• • •
On the way home, you sit facing backward. Oblique, out the window, the trees
pour past. Liquid.
More Atlantic Yards nonsense in the Times. Front page photo of a scale model
for twenty two-acres turned over to Forest City Ratner. Now it hits you that Brooklyn
was a great world city sans a skyline. Steeples were its main vertical element – its urban
profile seemed closer to Greater London than Manhattan. The Williamsburg Savings
Bank tower didn’t really count. Always felt less like a corporate ego thing than a public
gnomon. Pride took a different form in Brooklyn than in some other cities, which, in
part, made it a creature unto itself. Then came Metro Tech in the early ‘90s and the
Slope got slippery. And now this. What a shame. Backed by the Empire State
Development Corporation – a real gang of pirates – the project will invoke eminent
domain to dislodge holdout property owners. Then leveling and sixteen high-rises,
bam bam ba-lam. A Forest of city grows in Brooklyn. Would that the crash comes first.
• • •
Buzzy from coffee, Le G. conversation and generalized anxiety, you conflate the
headlines of two adjacent fliers on the bulletin board in your lobby. One is for a food
co-op, the other advertises a concert against the war. Synapses snapping, unable to
hold any ball of words for long, you read: Chelsea Vegetables for Peace.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 781
Heavy duty stuff. Resonating bigger now than when Jane told you yesterday:
the news her husband has been offered a shot at Alito’s old job heading the Third
Circuit Appeals Court. Accordingly, he tripped down to DC, accompanied by Jane.
But the Darton edge runs strong in her and she refused to shake the presidential hand,
much less set foot in the White House. Will her spousal non-compliance militate
against her husband’s selection? No simple life.
Expedition to Shue Swamp and Bayville on the Sound. Along Glen Cove Road, a
good crop of winecap mushrooms sprouting in the woodchips by a newly landscaped
mini-macmansion. Victor spotted ‘em while you were driving, doing a good forty-five.
He’s king of the foragers. Leah’s quite accomplished too. Their eight-year-old, Maya.
can recognize any number of edible plants.
At the swamp, plenty of ramp and mustard garlic. Also jewelweed for curing or
balming all manner of stings. Gwen heard the train whistle and, along with Katie, the
three of you scrambled up the embankment, laid five pennies on the tracks, then backed
off a little down the slope. The train slowed as it came closer, sounded the horn again –
the engineer must’ve spotted you bending over the rail. Might’ve thought: What’s he
doing? But then there’s a young girl with him and a non-threatening gal who’s
probably his wife, and they’re all waving hi… and so the LIRR Oyster Bay train
rumbled on through, the diesel’s first set of wheels passing over Abe Lincoln and
succeeding ones making the coins dance up and off the rails and into the gravel, leaving
copper imprints of the Lincoln Memorial on the track. Watch out, don’t grab the
pennies up too quick – they’re piping hot from friction. Squashed to knife-edged
irregular ellipses. Some of them flew a foot or so but you find all five scattered in the
gravel of the railbed. And a sixth – slightly oxidized. Must be one of your old ones
from how many years, how many visits ago? Half-sliding down the embankment you
spot find a pitted old spike that’ll serve as a paper weight given a coat of satin
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 782
her penny, the Memorial smooshed almost beyond recognition, but distorted now into a
kind of classical perspective. “Looks like the Parthenon,” she says, and she’s right. As
you walk on, round the swamp, she tells you a bit of what she remembers from forty
something years back when she went on holiday with her parents to the Black Sea –
visited the Danube delta. Of course – makes all the sense it the world. But in your
imagination the Danube never had a delta until now.
Drive out to the beach, where Victor discovers a whole line of sea rocket growing
just above the high tide ridge and a small clump of radish leaves. Near the playground,
under some trees, poor man’s pepper. Hail Victor! You’ll feast on winecaps and –
bring on the garlic – a host of sautéed greens tonight.
Mon. a.m. New England flooded out in a general way. Rain here this morning
too, at times torrential. You move the Gray Ghost from 25th Street to 21st Street near Le
G. so it’s legal until Thursday. When you cut the engine, you notice two maple seed
key pods pushed to the left and right margins of the windshield by the wiper blades.
Stuck there by adhesion for now, it’ll take a day’s drying out to dislodge them. And
then, who knows where they’ll blow, whirling like little Da Vinci choppers. Already
you’ve transported them a third of a mile from where they fell.
Recalled the taste of the winecaps Katie sautéed in vermouth last night. Didn’t
cook the greens, just tore them up and added to the salad. Sea Rocket was the big hit.
Rain drumming on your tin roof and safety glass windshield – two distinct sounds. The
tree up ahead to the right looks like a honey locust in its adolescence. Its lower
branches have taken a beating from truck tops, but its middle and upper reaches seem
to be faring well. Tough life being a street tree in Manhattan, even poshest Chelsea.
Crane your head round and you’ll see that the tree just behind you, a couple of
stories tall, camo bark like a sycamore, looks sick as a dog, despite or perhaps because
of the abundant, gaily-colored plantings at its base. To judge by its unhappy
complement of ragged, perforated leaves it is a sycamore, but its leaves are so distorted
by whatever depredation that at first they look rounded like a tulip poplar’s. No leaves
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 783
at all on the distal twigs. Stupidly you hope that the rain does it some good. Don’t
know much about trees, but your common sense tells you lack of water isn’t the
You were hasty turning pages and the paper’s thin. Between one thing and
another, you skipped a spread in your book. Leave it blank or go back? Question’s
already answered, even now, you’re filling in the blanks. Fog on the windscreen, but
no mistaking the bop of his walk – here comes Tom.
• • •
As the day progresses, a mixed bag. Queasy, heavy of heart and constricted of
throat, generally sickish, yet part of you feels like tap dancing. Waking thoughts semi-
delirious. Into your head pops: Aren’t You Glad You Use Dial? Don’t You Wish
End of rush hour #1 toward the periodontist. Train car full of jocund folks in
sports and business wear. What they got to laugh about?
course, there’s only one border that’s insecure to the point of newsworthy. Change for
the #7. Asian guy, could be Korean or Chinese, sits across from you. White MTA hard
hat in his lap. Stenciled to its side: Think Safety.
Up the stairs at Fifth Avenue. On the mezzanine, a pair of newsdealers, both
women, wave folded tabloids in the faces of the softly lowing herd before and around
you. The vendor directly in your path looks Latina, but her accent’s from where? “Gill
morning, lady. Gill morning, gentleman.” She fans a copy of the News toward you,
swinging it down like the arm of a toll gate. Whatever look you shoot her must be your
E-Z pass, because she raises the bar and trades you a half-smile in exchange for an
incremental softening of your demeanor.
It’s been raining cats and dogs. Along the front of the Library, under the gaze of
the guardian lions, a score of men in bright red windbreakers kneel chopping with their
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 784
spades at the muddy soil and planting to beat the band, liberal muck clinging to the
valleys of their workboot soles. Massively red against the green backdrop, a flatbed
truck loaded with plants sits parked on the sidewalk surrounded by orange traffic
cones. Skillfully painted on the truck cab’s door: FRANK BULFAMENTE & SONS,
NEW ROCHELLE, NY.
Cross Fifth on the diagonal. Beneath a scaffold, plastered to waterlogged
plywood hoardings, multiple posters for Neil Young’s new album: Living With War.
Are there only two modes of living? One’s children as victims, or raise them to be
murderers of other people’s children who’ve done them no wrong?
• • •
Downstairs post-periodontist, after a sound probing, having heard the bad news
about your deep pockets. Outside the entryway, a huge, white Denali, no one inside, its
lights flashing like a squadcar on meth. Across the street, a Metropolitan Lumber Co.
truck is parked, making a delivery. Painted on the truck’s flank, an anthropomorphized
claw hammer, and his companion, a length of four by four. Both wear rueful grins and
wave spindly arms in greeting. On their “feet,” identical pairs of bulbous shoes.
Spookily, the four by four resembles, grain and all, a caricature of trade center tower.
You’re still reeling from sticker shock. The periodontist wants $1850 – per
quadrant! – for trimming down your middle-aged gums, giving them what he calls “a
manicure.” Sure, why not? In a world where hammers smile, why shouldn’t gums
have cuticles and dentists charge whatever they can get for their labor. The guy’s a pro.
clearly, knows his stuff. Comes recommended by the sainted Dr. Cooper. But jeez, his
whole office stinks of greed.
Got to let this roll around in your mind a bit, particularly the warning “if you do
nothing,” that you might develop endocarditis, for which you’re at more than average
risk, given a funky mitral valve. But fuck it, at those prices, you’re going to have to
count on your immune system to get you through. Up the umbrella and out from
under the awning. As you pass the Denali, its alarm starts to shriek.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 785
From the look of it on the TV news, half of New England is washing away. Will
the tides float it back to Olde England? You’ve taken refuge from the deluge at a
Burger King on 41st Street. On the counter in front of you , a little stand-up promo card
for the Whoperettes – the word spelled out in marquee lights – its central image a
woman in Ziegfieldesque drag, whose costume, apart from a silky two-piece tap
ensemble, white heels and gloves, consists of draped onion rings, several of which,
clustered together, form a kind of domical chapeau. Downstage left – if the card were a
theatre – another chorus girl in elbow-length gloves wears a skirt that is literally a
grilled burger. She’s flanked by a hoofer draped in half-melted slices of American
cheese. To her right, yet a fourth chorine high kicks – but what food is she wearing?
Bright red, marbled and inchoate in shape – it can’t be bacon. Actually, on close
inspection, it resembles extremely ravaged muscle tissue. Could that be what a heart
valve looks like when it’s owner has consumed the other three Whoperettes? Eros and
Thanatos, together again at Burger King!
• • •
Almost home. Rain’s abated to a drizzle. Down comes your brolly. “Let the
other guy yawn at the meeting,” says the headline of the ad above the subway entrance
that – what was it, four years ago? – got plowed down by an SUV. Nice ad. Goes with
getting your nails done by someone a little poorer than you who came from the other
side of the world for your cuticles only. Nail salons, eyebrow threading, drugstores and
bizarre Chelsea Boy apparel – that’s local retail in a nutshell.
Black as the day is long. We walked toward the mountains across a vast field of
white puppies. See, that’s the language that pops into your head, even wide awake –
ever more hallucinogenic.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 786
Two days and then the Da Vinci Code comes to a theater near yo. Closest they
can get these days to a saturation ad campaign – as big or bigger than Kong was. A
worried Amélie and lumpy Forest Gump stare out from a thousand billboards ‘n’
posters crowned with the exhortation: “Be Part of the Phenomenon.” Can one not?
After the 19th, will it become obligatory to conclude any casual exchange with
“Have an Opus Dei”? Ixnay, ixnay!
Mid-a.m. On the corner of 24th and Eighth, a few feet away from Abdul’s coffee
cart, a middle-aged, paunchy guy stands transfixed, riveted to the spot by a prolonged
series of violent, wrenching sneezes. A black Lincoln Towncar has pulled up by the
stand and the driver, himself gray haired and heavy-set, calls out “God bless you!”
through the rolled-down window each time the fellow on the sidewalk sneezes. The
tenor of the blesser’s voice oddly matches the sneezer’s preceding hachoo!
This goes on long enough to develop into a kind of call and response between
impromptu compatriots – a near rhyme cycle that one suspects might go on forever. At
last the sneezer recovers himself sufficiently to continue on his way, offering a sniffled
“Thank you” to his well-wisher who responds with a final benison before opening his
door, stepping out and queuing up before Abdul’s cart. You don’t wait to find out if
the limo driver is a jelly donut or French cruller man, but you’d bet good money he
takes his coffee light and sweet.
• • •
Against this tricky, ugly, green-yellow gray sky, the gilded dome and spire atop
the lantern crown of the New York Life building appears as magical as a pineapple
from the heavenly Jerusalem. Fifteen stories below, a third of the way to the ground,
the clock says 10:28. Brother, you’re running late. Brother can you spare the time?
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 787
2:00 p.m. You’d entered this building an hour ago in near deluge, now exit out
through the same door into a shocking burst of sun. Rows of puckered billboards on
the plywood hoardings drying out. White numerals against solid black: 6 + 6 + 06 and
beneath the numerals the legend: Now You’ve Been Warned.
Hmmm. Numerology is big these days. Every man a Kabbalist. Signifiers
abound. Let’s see: 9 plus 11 equals 20. Add 01 and that equals 21 which divides into 3
x 7, the sum of which is 10. Not very dramatic. On the other hand, if you add the 2
from 2001, you get the famed and dreaded 23. Whooooo! Spooky. Surely the Avinciday
• • •
On the cover of El Times, a big pic of General Hayden, nominee to head the
mother of all spy rings. Taken from Hayden’s left side, the shot frames a background of
the Senate committee room jammed to the gills with press photographers. The
general’s olive drab uniform is covered with an astonishing panoply of fruit salad and
scrambled eggs, given which, the headline poses a timeless Times classic of cognitive
dissonance: “CIA Choice Says He’s Independent of the Pentagon.”
Hayden’s been caught in motion, his hands slightly blurred, half raised before
him, like he’s trying to use the gesture to emphasize the headline’s point. But so huge is
the non sequitur between the image and the words above it that you break out laughing
drawing a raised eyebrow from Marnie behind the counter. Surely your eyes are not
the only ones that draw in an implied set of wires leading from the general’s wrists to a
puppeteer judiciously cropped out above.
• • •
Life in the preemptive lane.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 788
You can see a host of camera flashes popping on the observation deck of the Empire
State even as its superstructure becomes engulfed in gray mist, a towering white cloud
in the background. Deluge again. Sturm und Drang. Pressure change. Bottles, nail
brush and pumice blow off your bathroom windowsill. You hear them kathunk, bang
and rattle into the tub.
Check online. The Wunderground weather map makes the storm look pretty
localized, but there are bits of green signifying light precipitation strewn across
Pennsylvania. A cluster of rain pixels over the type for Allentown makes it read
Alientown. 15:04 EDT.
• • •
You do not call Cousin Jane to tell her how your conversation last week about
her husband’s possible ascent – !? – to the head of the 3rd Circuit triggered memories –
ah, that’s a slip since you hadn’t been born yet – well, if not memories than flashes of
historical outsight – into the Wannsee Conference in ‘42 where Reinhard Heydrich
called together Germany’s senior jurists and civil servants in a beautiful old lakeside
villa near Berlin to have them devise a legal and organizational framework for the
annihilation of Europe’s eleven million Jews.
Before it became a matter of requisitioning cattle cars, adjusting timetables and
track switching, mass murder must first be set in motion on little wheels of law. Ahead
of everything else, clearing the rails like a thousand tiny cow-catchers, the protocols
advance. Before the weight can come down, protections must be lifted.
• • •
The second recorded South China Sea “supertyphoon” – Category 4 – named
Chanchu (“Pearl” in Cantonese) made two landfalls in the Philippines, then hit eastern
Newsflash. Lightning flash. This to the south as you write – arching across the
sky out of Jersey, seemingly into Lower Manhattan. Now rain again as the skies to the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 789
west lighten oddly and those over Brooklyn grow pink. Fuckin’ A. This whole day has
been like a big Tesla experiment combined with a Reich cloud-busting festival gone
devilishly awry. Energy, energy, where does it want to go?
Silverstein’s 7WTC nearly invisible against a background identical in texture and
hue. You really can’t see the building, just know it’s there. Sure it is. Another lightning
bolt, this one the traditional tree-rooted kind over the WFC. Now over Wall Street.
And closer, atop the Chelsea Hotel, just a few hundred feet away as the crane flies,
chimneytops covered in lush ivy and rooftrees like Babylon’s gardens come home alive,
even downstairs, along Eighth Avenue between 24th and 25th, the greenest sycamore
canopy you’ve ever known.
But yes, Guangdong. And Chanchu, which might’ve gone Cat. 5 and veered
toward Hong Kong, but instead struck Shantou at 45mph and moved northeast into
Fujian weakening some, then switching direction again, out to sea, presumably to wind
itself down. Along the way, Chanchu killed forty one in the Philippines, twenty one in
the PRC. Chinese sailors rescued sixty Vietnamese fisherman, but twenty-eight
drowned and another hundred and fifty are missing, somewhere at sea.
• • •
If the Senate finds the U.S.-Mexico border vexing, they should check out the
Durand Line. The “line drawn on water,” bridged by the Khyber Pass. Good luck to all
who hold their borders dear. This is the age of breach and insurge. Just like, minus the
levee, that big lake ends up in your back yard. And front yard.
Oh what’ll it take to keep those Pashtuns south of the Rio Grande?
Trip by the café. Packed inside. Stand on the corner and talk with Tom, Gary,
Eric as long as you can. Sick as a dog. Let it all go. Drink water only. Back home to
bed as if poleaxes.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 790
a.m. It’s going to be what it is. Shaky on your pins. Manhattan as a monstrous
• • •
Clubs clubs clubs. Everybody’s talkin’. Of course the Bush twins need
someplace to dance, preferably on ruins. But if not Fallujah, why not Bungalow 8, just a
jog north and west from your own tranquil aerie? Practically in the river, B8 at 515
West 27th Street is la boîte préféré, where Jenna, Babs and their Texas posse coma-tatus
go to get crunk or die. So hey, it’s not La Pont d’Avignon, but that was never wide
enough for one Hummer to pass another, coming or going.
A dead body found at Seventh and 19th early Sunday, though where exactly the
young fellow was beaten to death remains a matter of conjecture. Tom relates this news
as the two of you talk, him on his way to Le G. for iced mocha and you hanging out on
a stoop waiting for the car to go legal. Tom gets the skinny from all the local supers, a
legacy from the old days when he used to walk Lucy around the neighborhood before
the arthritis confined her to a narrow ambit of 23rd Street.
For a minute you imagine the pair of you as minor Runyan characters,
speculating on where the next floating crap game will be held. The kids from Baruch
Middle School performed Guys and Dolls the other night, so the tunes are still present in
your head and you come close to breaking into song: “Call it hell, call it heaven, it’s a
probable twelve to seven that the guy was just done in by club thugs.”
Gwen, despite her gifts for music and drama, worked behind the scenes. You
glimpsed her occasionally during blackouts, a slight, strong figure, darting this way and
that, moving sets and props about.
A derelict squats, back against the wall at the northeast edge of FIT, smoking and
coughing. His coughs sound like sobs.
On the phone with Wolfgang yesterday, he said something about the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 791
atmospheric pressure being unusually high the day you got sick. Amazing what
different folks pay attention to, what we use to signify.
• • •
BLD: Big Liminal Day.
Is it all the same to the clam? You’ve eaten clams to whom things made a
difference. Another question: Is it all the same to you?
Katie makes a date for the three of you to go out with Mark and Bruce to Deli
Masters in early June. Farthest Queens. At the intersection of Pastrami and Utopia.
• • •
CHELSEA CARNAGE screameth the Post. You knew no good was up to itself
last night when the choppers with their laser-bright spotlights swept round the
neighborhood skies like an occupation army of techno-vultures. ‘Course you had it
wrong – assumed the helicopters came courtesy of a drug killing in the Fulton or Elliot
houses. Instead it’s “Crazed Bouncer Blasts Lounge Club Patrons.” If the front page is
to be even minimally believed, said bouncer opened up on some disgruntled patrons
with a 9mm. Killed one on the spot, wounded several others, one of whom is “fighting
for his life” at St. V.’s.
The house specialty at the club, Opus 22, is purportedly the Opus Bellini, a
combination of white peach purée and champagne. And for a lagniappe, a hot lead
chaser. 22nd and Eleventh. Have to ride by there one time to see what kind of face
Opus 22 puts up to the world.
• • •
Did transitional seasons used to be this windy when you were coming up in the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 792
big city? T’other day they tested out new handling techniques for an inflatable veteran
of many a Thanksgiving parade. Every now and again, those gusts have been taking
America’s most beloved icons precipitously into lampposts sending the parts thereof
raining onto spectators with various unhappy results. You’ve noticed the tendency for
several years now, but lately those passing weather conversations invariably turn to
wind. Some kind post-Katrina thing? “Many New Yorkers,” according to the Times,
are affeared of the hurricane season to come. There’s no disaster can match the ones in
the mind. Once you’re convinced the other shoe’s gonna drop, it could be any size,
color or style. All god’s chillun got shoes.
Reps. and Senate, both in their separate ways and means, caught immigrante
delicto – committing offenses against those whose only crime is wanting to work here.
A huge four-prop Air Force cargo plane skimmed the West Chelsea rooftops this
a.m. around 9:15, flying pretty close to due south. An airlift to some hitherto unknown
and stricken population in Lower Manhattan, Staten Island or Brooklyn? A few
minutes later as you were buying bananas from Kesban, more near-deafening turbine
shrieks. You looked overhead but couldn’t locate the source. Like last Friday night,
when, walking to pick up Gwen from a rehearsal, the reports from fireworks out of
eyeshot on the Jersey waterfront caused Chelsea strollers, even those in the Flatiron and
Gramercy to turn first this way, then that, to see the source of the invisible barrage.
Sebastian Smith, an eyewitness to the Chechen war, tells of a Sufi Zikr ceremony,
where men dance circles within circles, and a Russian bomber screams low overhead,
buzzing their village. “Yet no one even looks up. The whooping grows louder.”
• • •
The No-stick Gospels.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 793
out mosaic, it strikes you funny what you saw on the staircase at the Grand Street
subway stop yesterday: a wide Asian woman, d’un certain age, wearing a bright red
teeshirt imprinted in gold letters: CALL ME WHEN YOU GET A LIFE.
• • •
Down to Bowling Green to see Michael K. at his office in the old Standard Oil
building at 26 Broadway. Something amusing in the idea of the Modern Library
Association having its digs in what was once the corporate HQ the country’s first billion
dollar corporation. There, high up in the lobby, John D.’s name, cut in marble. Outside
again, as you walk toward Chinatown, there’s a moment when, if you stop and turn
back, you get a sightline on the structure’s step-pyramid tower, and surrounding the
central lantern, a quartet of blazing urns – symbolic beacons to guide those arriving by
sea – rendered in motionless stone.
• • •
On Mott, just north of Grand Street, a gut renovation of an old tenement building
rising over a storefront hair salon. On the second floor above the scaffolding, two guys
work with chisels and hammers to knock out the bricks of a newly built section about
shoulder high. Ah, plans have changed. Instead of four windows across, there are to be
two wider bays, so this separation must go. At first it looks like the men are
painstakingly trying to preserve the bricks by inserting their chisels into the mortar
between them, tapping and levering the brick up. But then one fellow hammers hard
against a whole row of bricks to loosen them. Before long, the job is down to thigh
level, and with every hammerstrike, the unsupported section shakes. They could,
theoretically, drop the whole section over on its side and bust it up lying down. Wait
and see what happens. Scan the street. The sounds of hammering stop. You look up to
see the men sitting in the embrasures, taking a break – one drinking from a bottle of
mineral water. Move on.
All over Little Italy, and in other parts of the city too, one sees molded fiberglass
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 794
pizza men standing outside storefronts – the paisano equivalent of cigar store Indians.
Often they hold a menu in one hand and sign a thumbs-up with the other. An eye wink
too, beneath a toque keeling raffishly to one side. But New York streets are not just
about fast food, they’re fast pedestrian lanes – folks move like stock cars and often carry
hard and heavy objects. Consequently, the pizza guys get pretty dinged up in the
course of their lifetimes. The one you just passed, at the corner of Broom was missing
most of his outthrust hand, nor was the wound neat – torn threads of fiberglass
protrude, waving in the breeze.
Suddenly tired, you pause to contemplate the world and sit down on a
standpipe. But you didn’t pick a fortuitous spot since not six feet away, a dark blue van
from CC rentals pulls up half on the sidewalk, half off, and sits there idling. The silver
lining amidst the cloud of exhaust it generates is the knockout young blonde at the
wheel. Jeeze lady, you’re gassin’ me! Time to leave anyway.
Pass by a – what is it, Queen Anne-style? – brick building at Mulberry and
Houston. Look upward to the corner plinth from which a gilded Puck spreads his
mischief to the street below. Bea used to work in there once, before you were born,
maybe sixty years ago when she was a secretary and SoHo wasn’t born yet either, this
area of downtown was just an industrial agglomeration with ill-defined borders. What
floor was her office on? Superior Printing Inks. The plant itself was over near the river,
a block from where you and Katie once lived on West 12th just west of Greenwich, not
far from the Gansevoort furnace where Reich’s books went 451 Fahrenheit. What ink
were they printed on? Odds are, Superior.
Find a number 6 subway stop and move on uptown. Across the packed car, a
young man talking with a soft-voiced woman, neither of whom can you see. His voice
rises above the rumble redolent with contempt: “Tha’s stoopid!”
Escalator up at 42nd Street. On the landing just below street level you pass a line
of about two zillion people filling out forms, hopeful of finding employment at
Cipriani’s. Ah, this must be the kitchen entrance. How many of these folks are “legal”?
Cross on a diagonal past the Grand Hyatt. Underneath its glossy skin, lurks the
bone structure of the old Hotel Commodore (Vanderbilt) where once, thirty-eight years
ago, you got busted trying to crash a Hubert Humphrey campaign luncheon disguised
(fairly credibly) as a Young Democrat. The action you and your fellow Crazies were
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 795
planning would’ve featured nude radicals in Uncle Sam masks and flying paper
airplanes that unfolded into leaflets headlined “Stop the War on Vietnam Now!” Your
little cohort had been set up though, infiltrated from within. So down the stairs from
the ballroom you were trundled, handcuffed and frogmarched along with several of
your mates, out the grand entrance, into the paddy wagon and thence to midtown
south for booking. But that’s a memory for, and of, another time.
You’ve traveled through every state in the emotional union – some more’n once.
On the cusp of your 56th, a previously unimaginable thought: your life has been a
• • •
Over to the Frying Pan with Uwe to scope it out as a potential site for one of his
performances. A spritz of rain earlier and now just a fine, white afternoon mist
permeating the city like a salt glaze. Everything sticks to everything – your fingertip to
the button that presumably gets the traffic light to change on the West Side Highway so
the chickens can cross to the other side. Never believed that button was anything more
than psychological – more likely the whole system’s on an automatic timer.
Empire State building shrouded in bright fog. Hindenberg, schmindenberg – oy,
Tricks tricks everywhere. The slate easel on the sidewalk outside the café
advertises MUSHROOM SOUP. Some slippage of mind’s eye causes you to read the
first word as HIROSHIMA. You sit on the wicker bench, where someone’s tied a dog
up that doesn’t mind being petterd and play a silly game: try to imagine the number of
people slain by American air power since, say, 1944 – the year we began dropping
bombs in earnest. Would one count the Germans napalmed in St-Malo? The Japanese
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 796
soldiers incinerated in Okinawa? No, best keep the criterion narrow: civilian deaths
You start adding what you know of Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima, Tokyo,
Nagasaki, Hanoi, Hue, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Mekong Delta, Cambodia, Panama, Iraq
in ’91, Afghanistan, Iraq again. It’s dizzying, beyond belief. And now this latest
massacre in Haditha claws its way out of the bag. This was not remote, not a high
altitude mishap – nothing collateral about this damage. The killing was done by boots
on the ground.
Gotta move on. The exhaust from the café’s air conditioner, mounted above the
door, is blowing your way. Downright infernal. The dog doesn’t seem to mind.
• • •
7 p.m. Out and across the avenue to Kyung’s to buy a beer for dinner. Katie’s
made watercress soup and there’s leftover “speedy lasagne” from last night with which
a St. Pauli goes well. Remind yourself to get the mail, it’s Saturday – Memorial Day
weekend. Traffic sparse and lazy, apart from an ambulance that takes the corner of 25th
blooping like an electronic chicken and heads west. Bunch o’ junk in the mailbox except
a new bank card and an letter from the publishers of Divided…. Not a royalty check. So
what could they possibly have to communicate? You’re alone in the elevator, so you
open it. Inside, a handwritten note on a small sheet of paper folded in half:
Dear Mr. Darton,
I have read and re-read ‘Divided We Stand.’ It is prophetic. Is the follow-up in
clinging to their former strength of purpose. At the top right of the note, an address in
Wow. You cant say it to Mrs. D’Angelo, but loud in your head: Alright! Fuckin’
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 797
A! You wrote it for eight million. Now one of them has written back.
• • •
Some day, maybe you’ll elaborate on the idea that drama is natural selection as
applied to narrative – narrative being, lord help you – the DNA of culture. Four adults
sitting around a dinner table. Out of all that talk, maybe one phrase, a fragment of a
story, maybe an intonation sticks in the kid’s mind. She takes it in, weaves it, perhaps
unconsciously, into her language fabric. She’ll use it, or something like it, somewhere,
sometime, giving it a shot at survival for another day, another conversation.
What is it that will have caught her ear, cause her to pluck this particularity out
of all that verbal wash? Your chips are on one quality: drama. Some kind of intended,
or unwitting tension that torques up into a culmination and release.
Another May 30th. Many happy returns, Monsieur Self.
56 = 7 cycles of 8 revolutions round the sun or vice versa. Ça roule toward 8 x 8.
Infinity times infinity stood on end. Crazy.
Still got some of your hair and most of your teeth.
• • •
8:35 p.m. Contrail bored through a high, diaphanous cloud. Lovely forms in the
tealing sky, but something morbid, forensic about it too, as if the plane is a bullet and
the cloud living flesh.
• • •
Hadith, collected words and deeds attributed to Mohammed. Haditha, a town in
Al Anbar province, Iraq, where a massacre of civilians by U.S. Marines took place on
November 19, 2005.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 798
how did these (few) Marines miscarry their “code,” rather what is the chain of
relationships that caused them to be there in the first place?
6:55 p.m. Eighth Avenue is a parking lot, all the way downtown and north as far
as the eye can see. Has been for at least an hour. Could be something wrong in the
Lincoln tunnel? Up comes the thought as, through the almost lyrical ambience of
carhorns, you wake up from a nap. Naw, comes the other side of the dialogue, the
city’s just busted.
A siren shrills above the brass section, like a soprano’s obbligato. Wotta cliché.
A police car, it turns out, trying to change lanes, forge ahead through the impossible sea
of metal. When did police cars go to that pitch, or have we really reached the point
where each machine possesses an autonomous organ of expression. Ah, surely we’ll
have chords of horns now, organ-like – surges of ‘em.
Seal singes it and it’s true: We’re never gonna survive unless we get a little bit crazy.
But all around you, dropping like flies in hallways, elevators, living rooms, your little
corner of the café, not to mention la kalle out there, the thump of psychic casualties.
This is worse somehow, if on a quieter level, than you remember the self-destruction,
the nihilistic ripping apart of former solidarities, friendships even, in the aftermath of
the Movement. Now, our own mindbodies turn into so many self-insurgent IEDs. And
just how woo woo are you, boo boo? Occasionally you imagine that something beside
Gaia is fucking with the weather. Freak clouds, freaky Helios, a supercell holding
steady over Central Park and it’s bone dry a few blocks away on Madison.
Out your window you see the impossible fronts, sometimes slicing across the
bay, not quite north south, but following the avenue grid. The writing’s not on the wall
no more, it’s in the sky, if only you could read it. Lord, can I get a codex?
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 799
At Ba Gua early this a.m. your job is to spend a good ten minutes getting shoved
around by two mos’ substantial boyz. The idea of the exercise is to feel which side the
most force is coming from and use your footwork to spin away from the thrust, rather
than get pushed straight back and up, off your root. You’re to take no more than one
step backward, then turn – let them chase you. Try not to get cornered. Make your
steps tactical. If, as you step quickly round in response to their pushing, you allow the
centrifugal force raise your arms, there’s a good chance you’d catch one of them with a
chop, backed up by all the force of a rooted whirling body. Objectively scary, you want
to make yourself bigger on top, stiffen up, resist. But these guys are too massive for
that. You’ve got to drop the breathing, let the waist stay loose.
OK, now it’s your turn to tag team with Stephen and push Marshall around.
Pretty rigorous shit. Marshall’s deft in his turns, presents his side to give you less
surface. Plus he’s powerfully-built, an experienced martial artist. But he anticipates the
strike, spins even before you shove, which could be bad for him with a partner of equal
or greater body mass and skill.
Some time during the play, Stephen – who’s got a couple of inches on you in
height, and maybe twenty pounds of solid muscle into the bargain becomes acutely
aware of an old shoulder injury. Who’d have thunk it to look at him, the way he moves
and carries himself? So severe is his distress that Tom breaks away from instructing
another group to do a laying on of hands, or more accurately, a major adjustment.
It’s evening now, almost twelve hours on, and you feel fine. Nary a sore muscle
anywhere. What a strange demonstration cum epiphany. Footwork, bro, the fine line
between using the energy coming at you to spin out of harm’s way, or resisting it and
landing up on your ass.
Another atmosphere blew in a half hour or so ago. Now it’s clear above the
streets of the Upper West Side where you’re heading to pick up Gwen from Penny’s. A
breeze, steady from the east. Curbside, outside a café, a honey locust, fully-leafed, its
branches wrapped in tiny golden lights. All colors vivid. Every shape, even the funky
brownstone steps of the building stoops look intended that way, as though some master
programmer cut them with a laser.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 800
it flashed by, for mounted to the front grill, a chrome-plated bas relief of a
tyrannosaurus rex head in profile, huge, almost lifesize. On the engine’s cab door, some
kind of 9/11 motif complete with twin tower silhouettes. KEEP BACK 200 FEET says
the sign on the truck’s rear end, and beneath that SEMPER FI. Sure, not a problem.
Give these guys their space. Dance of the fossils. [6/6]
Another day of deluge and a cloudcover so low the city feels socked in. All the
towers disappeared. Human scale enforced by atmospherics. Under the overhang of
the block of shops between 24th and 23rd, a homeless fellow, black. He’s asleep, or
appears to be, half standing up, hinged over at the waist, arms folded atop the
mushroom cap of his worldly goods sprouting from a grocery cart. Taut-skinned face,
high cheekbones, salt and pepper beard pretty much like yours. Absolutely tranquil
• • •
5:15 p.m. Still raining. And mist, fine like smoke or HVAC evaporation, blowing
in a steady stream past your east window down Eighth.
5:33. Now the mist looks like the vertical folds of a curtain, drawn endlessly
• • •
On an imaginary menu: Eel with special powers.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 801
epidemic. Is it them, their spines gone individually awry, or a symptom of some
esoteric, more global change in gravity? Too much invisible heavy lifting going on?
• • •
So strangely numb is the mass consciousness that the stocks could’ve crashed,
California split off and sunk into the sea, all manner of catastrophe struck and there’d
hardly be a ripple of genuine attention paid. This is what happens when the coins of a
billion souls and more all turn to stone. Or is it styrofoam? Floating floating, schweben
in der luft. It’s a long way down a very deep well.
An awful man murdered by awful means. Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi along with a
woman and child and four other occupants of his non-safe house killed by two 500lb
bombs, delivered pretty much down his chimney – the house located north of Baghdad
in Hibhib, a Sunni neighborhood deemed too dangerous for American troops to risk
setting boots in. And why arrest the man when this display of long-distance
terminating force proves much more useful? But useful to whom? For what? “Surgical
justice” were the words another presumably human being crafted for the President to
immense, framed portrait of Al-Zarqawi’s framed head was paraded like an icon cum
trophy. His eyes peacefully shut, the master terrorist looks strangely, unmistakably like
Jesus, if he’d lived long enough to look middle-aged.
• • •
6:30 p.m. Gwen’s piano recital. Or rather a recital given by Gwen’s piano
teacher’s students. A roomful of expectant parents, relatives and friends flanked by
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 802
highly polished pianos. West 58th Street. Spitting distance from Petrosian’s caviar, the
Europa Café, Carnegie Hall, and Patelson’s Music House round the back.
Genteel. In one corner of the room, an orchid sprouts from a planter shaped in
the form of a vertical, stylized horn of plenty. Of thirteen performers, Gwen will play
twelfth. Two Schumann Kinderscenen and a Chopin mazurska. For now, the horrifying
images on Fox News fade to gray. The Bushes of the world should get down on their
knees and thank whatever god they pray to for the likes of Ludwig van. Without
beauty to soothe us, we’d have torn them limb from limb eons ago.
On the #1 subway platform at 23rd Street, a poster so jampacked with
incoherently designed type it takes several minutes of staring at it to figure out exactly
what it’s advertising. Turns out to be a program called V-Day which is, apparently, two
weeksworth of events around the issue of violence against women. There’s a
photographic image too, next to the impenetrable blocks of type. It’s a forearm and
hand of a young woman of indeterminate race, smooth skinned, held vertically. Her
forth and fifth fingers wrap around a pink apple – pink?! – held aloft as a symbol of
New York? – while her index and middle finger form a V-sign. Dominating the
typographic field, words in boldface gothic caps: UNTIL THE VIOLENCE STOPS:
Even if it made sense to distinguish violence committed against women from violence
as a whole, wouldn’t it be loverly if the poster’s slogan wasn’t gibberish? Apart from
the names of a few luminary participants: Dave Eggers, Howard Zinn, Marisa Tome,
the smaller type resists any sort of visual parsing. So you look more closely at the arm
which looks distinctly unreal, like it’s modeled of resin. And the apple, well, it’s pink
and altogether artificial or worse yet, transgenic. What sorts of un or semi-conscious
messages are running wild here?
In your day as a designer, less than a generation ago, a photo of a “real” arm
holding a “real” apple would have lent the ad some political cred. An image as
obviously cooked up as this one would have undermined the message. But today one
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 803
has to ask, what is effective for whom? Traditionally too, type was laid out to be legible
in proportion to its importance in the overall design. Now the prevailing ethos is every
graphic element for itself and God against all.
Pasted up just to the right of this poster, a different one carries its own set of
“issues.” Foregrounded against a dark and presumably sinister background, a portrait
of a pretty young blonde, framed to show a bit of cleavage. Nearly obscured behind
her, a dark haired, plainer woman’s face hovers in the tenebrous middle ground.
Stacked up like a verse, down the poster’s right side, these lines:
Beneath which, in larger type HEX – the E backwards. And smaller, below:
Thursdays at 10 pm. BBC America.
Fucking bizarre this pairing of posters – though it has to be random, don’t it?
And the twin tabloids, the News and Post this morning, playing catchup with the TV
showing full front page Zarqawi death heads.
It’s taken almost all morning for you to imagine how wondrous it is, not that
Zarqawi was killed remotely via a combination of tipoff and technology, but that so
conveniently intact a head was found inside a house pulverized by a thousand pounds
of high explosives. Now that’s surgical! Or again, like the young woman’s arm,
something from Madame Toussaud’s house of effigies.
Times captioned the ubiquitous deathshead picture as “the body
of Zarqawi.” Since when, even in the era of gray journalism, does a head qualify as a
body? But these are little speed bumps. Just call the road smooth. Pay no attention to
the rattling of your teeth
• • •
A “No Dumping” sign posted above a row of garbage cans on Mosco street
threatens not only a $1.500 (sic) fine, but that violators will be “caused with bad luck.”
As opposed to “cursed with power,” like the gal in the HEX poster.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 804
“A big hole, sir,” was how Sgt. Maj. Garm Rimpley, aged 46, of Penrose, CO,
described the bomb crater forty feet in diameter and nearly as deep. Sgt. Rimpley
arrived on the scene an hour and a half after the birth of said crater. Thus he did not see
the brick house, surrounded by a palm grove, in which Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi was
Noting that “concrete blocks, walls, a fence, tin cans, palm trees, a washing
machine: everything at the Hibhib scene was shredded or blown to pieces,” the Times
declared it “puzzling… given the destruction and condition of the other bodies, how
Mr. Zarqawi’s head and upper body – shown on televisions across the world – could
have remained largely intact.” Scattered amidst the ruins, the reporter noted “a rose-
patterned dress, a pair of women’s underwear, a leopard-print nightgown, a child’s
As you read this story on your laptop, the righthand third of the screen suddenly
animated, filled up with a surge of upward-billowing blue-gray smoke. Could this be,
you thought for an instant, an actual video of the “taking out” of the infamous
beheader? What incredible resolution and such a steady camera! But then the roiling
clouds parted and faded to solid blue, and the type came up: KRAKATOA:
VOLCANO OF DESTRUCTION. T
• • •
Freaky and wonderful yesterday as you walked up Pearl Street with Michael K.,
him praising Orogene to the stars when there, on the sidewalk beneath the Brooklyn
Bridge entrance ramp, you spotted a tangle of something golden, picked it up, and
found yourself holding a wreath of gilt-sprayed fabric laurel leaves wound to wire.
Who knows, a theater prop? Immaculate, no schmutz, though the ground around
where it lay was filthy.
The thing must’ve fallen, but from where? Into your backpack it went. A golden
moment. Why do you think of this now? Golden light, far whiter than the crown
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 805
flashing hot off the windows of the giant garment center building on Seventh between
25th and 26th. Hard to know what time is on these long, suspended pre-solstice
evenings. Must be getting on toward sunset. Stark peaked shadows of rooftop water
tanks against the brown red brick of the interceding lower buildings. Intensifying gold,
so brilliant that the afterimage burns white-green pinholes in your page as you write
Look back at the light reflecting off the windows. No, its unbelievable – a first in
all these years you’ve witnessed sunsets from this vantage – but there it is: a golden
cross, four floors high, nine windows wide. That’s it, pop. Now you’ve seen
everything. Close your eyes. All you see against the black of your inner lids is a
flashing hot spot, flares, like crooked arms angling off it. Now it looks more like a
scarab. Shrinks and fades. Check your building. The cross has refracted, No, reformed
a few stories lower down into a perfect arch. Inverted U.
Off beyond and to the left, a cloud passes behind the peak of a tall residential
tower on Sixth. Another first. A building with a word balloon. But the wind is fast and
the cloud blows south before you can fill it in, and you look back toward the golden
arch which turns, in the instant, to a shamrock, then a kind of protean nugget, sinking
like the sun itself, invisible, hidden behind a host of towers 180º out in the opposite sky.
Now the gold has split into a cardinal four, like the indentations on a the face of a
die. Down to two windows now, more copper than gold, and a siren wails and fade.
The light disperses across the lower floors, wipes slowly from left to right. A breeze in
the west window. Close your book before it’s gone.
humans, and it is wrong to think of them as nonsentient. That a stream should dry up in times
of disorder is an ordinary, natural reaction.
So said Liu Zheng seven hundred-odd years back.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 806
• • •
Conservation of will.
• • •
Ba Gua moves:
Shepherd leads the way
Sparrow hawk dives through the forest
Horse shakes the bell
Here’s an odd question: What about opening up a channel under the Battery
Park City landfill and letting the Bathtub fill up with water according to the action of
the tides? Might the lateral pressure of the water act to keep the slurry walls from
caving inward? How long would it take for the organic life of the Hudson to claim a
place in this trapezoidal pond, that, from a bird’s eye view looks a bit like an
awkwardly angled O. Could there be fishing and rowboating on Lake Zero? And for
those who cannot do without a representation of the “footprints,” why not two islands,
square ones where the towers once stood, left inviolate except for saw grass, sunning
turtles and nesting gulls. What do you say, ye planners, ye dreamers and schemers
great and small? Could the trade center at last make peace with the harbor’s ebb and
Back this past Monday, the Poetry Walk, across the Brooklyn Bridge. High
cumulus over Manhattan and Jersey with what looked like parallel strings of
mozzarella running perpendicular. Weirder and weirder these skies. Either they are
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 807
being seriously and systematically tampered-with, or else Gaia herself has flipped the
script on us. Or both.
Sure, there are always anomalies. Freaky snows, freaky flares. You remember
cabdriving one June night back in the late seventies and how the temperature plunged
so deep you got out of the car at Bedford and Carmine just in time to start shivering in
your teeshirt and felt the first hailstones on your head and shoulders before diving back
in. Your cab was “light” so you pulled over and turned off the engine and listened,
eyes closed, to the 3 a.m. rattle that no one not awake and experiencing it would really
But now, every day brings an anomaly. Often several. The only thing consistent
is anomaly. Even, now, though it’s not so dramatic as a tropical depression that goes
where no hurricane has gone before, you look out your window and see at least four
distinctly different types of clouds in the placid near-twilight, as though the sky was
rummaging through its wardrobe and couldn’t figure out what to wear. Hence a bit of
this, a bit of that. Is Liu Zheng right or is it the other way around? Are we adapting our
moods to the atmosphere? Or is it a reciprocal thing, a dialogue where no one speaking
really listens, or cares about whether the conversation makes sense.
Weird too how the real estate value of tenement-high buildings, especially at
intersections – buildings that at five or so stories look like an ancient dwarf race among
the blank Aryan towers – has increased with the proliferation of cellphones. Because,
ironically, their rooves are at just the right height. Thus, around the perimeters of these
former tar beaches, the wireless relay transponders line up. Cranes routinely lower
them down, to stand just behind the elaborate pressed-tin cornices manufactured in an
age attempting to gild every visual space with a populux surface. So odd, the
transponders look in that context, unapologetically functional sentinels sending off who
knows what frequencies hither and yon, all so that Jane can speed dial Jim and say “I’m
here at 24th Street” (when really she’s on 23rd) and it’ll be just like there’s two tin cans
and a string between them.
A workmen’s scaffold hangs on its pulleyed ropes from the water tower of the
big beige building on 23rd Street and Eighth. The evening feels suspended as if its shift
is done and it’s reluctant to go home. Even the beacons downtown seem reticent about
flashing. No, this is too much: On either side of Silverstein’s slab you see a ghost tower
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 808
of the WTC. No, they’re not there, you know they aren’t – but you can’t not see them
either. Really, it’s just sky, with some pastel purplish horizontal clouds. But the sky
looks fake. A tacky backdrop. You know it’s a trick. The trick is always one jump
ahead, almost winking at you: See, if you were just a little faster you could catch me out.
Look again. No ghosts anymore. Just sky.
To the west, where the sun glows copper on the windows, above the buildings,
the clouds behave like imps again. There’s one that looks like a sombrero made of ice
floes with a hole shot through its crown. Above which, the finest, most tenuous slices
of pink-white prosciutto. Is this a mockery. Or is the mockery within us and we can’t
see around it? What would Lovecraft say?
Katie calls from the living room: “I’ve never seen clouds like this before. Oh,
wow!” If this is a new code of actuality, will you some day learn to read it? Will these
disfigured forms, given time, assume a beauty, or at any rate an order, that you can’t
fathom now? Or maybe what will drop away is your need for it to matter.
Silver now, a subtle glaze over all the buildings. And here it is: 8:31 according to
certain bedroom clocks. Ides of June. It be.
• • •
Of course New York City isn’t the world. But there’s a terrible vibe here despite
the fact that lots of individuals are decent to one another, respectful, considerate,
courteous. Never have you had the sense that so much of humanity is headed down
the wrong path – rather multiple paths, all misguided. And so little will or incentive to
imagine a way to steer another way. So intractable, murky, beyond anyone’s ken or
control: the sense of “we” so insubstantial.
Hanging vertically and in full view of passersby through the window of Pita Pan,
the Coptic Egyptian-owned falafel restaurant on Eighth between 23rd and 24th, a
slightly dingy American flag, the star quadrant at the upper left. Its grayed colors are
no mystery since old glory came to live here almost five years ago, soon after 9/11.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 809
Beneath the flag, in fact obscuring its bottom few inches, a counter for stacking used
trays with a garbage receptacle built in underneath.
Six feet or so to the left of the flag, over the second booth, a framed picture, a
familiar icon of ancient Egypt, with two large pyramids in the background. The caption
reads: “The Sphinx Seen from the Front.”
Reacting to the “judicial murders” of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927, Joseph Roth
referred to America, meaning the U.S., as “the land of unlimited inhumanity.”
Solstice. One sign of our particular mode of fascism is the incremental, but
ultimately catastrophic failure of the imagination. Evidence of this failure can be seen
everywhere – in art, politics, writing, architecture – a hundred thousand manifestations.
And it affects so-called progressives as much as those on the right, though their social
reactions assume different forms. Overall, public and individual minds are torn
between foggy delusions and extreme literalism.
Jessamyn lives up in the country, and she knows from the elements. You write
her about what’s outside the window:
“Just took a picture of the sky looking east. Weird to the max. I haven’t seen a
‘normal’ pattern of clouds over New York for months, if not longer. The shapes appear
less like weather as we know (knew?) it and more resemble a series of hairdos or
confections dreamed up by a schizophrenic. Creative, sure, but utterly incoherent. Or
perhaps the shade of Philip Johnson has sprung from Dis and talked Zeus into letting
him design the sky.”
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 810
Amazing how we Americans retain our innocence in the face of our manifest
obscenity. How do we manage it? And what a lot of energy it must take.
• • •
Begin summer peregrinations in Maine. You’ll be at Bea G.’s house in West
Brooksville later today. Through the windows of Moody’s diner, the dense, almost
sequin-like leaves of a poplar stand shimmer in the wind. A sustained burst of
immense, silent applause.
Do business with men when the wind is in the northwest. Said Poor Richard.
“People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and
anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is
dead turns himself into a monster.” Said James Baldwin.
Talking with Gwen this morning about your radical days – when you were a
bolder fellow. Realizing that your game has become in some ways stronger, yet an
evermore internal one. Have a baby and they’ve got you by the short hairs. You look
both ways before crossing the street, pick your battles and turn politically risk-averse in
a hurry. Sure, it makes sense. When you’re raising a child, the last thing you want is to
do time, get killed or disappeared. But she’ll be fourteen in no time at all. Not quite
adult, but pretty nearly formed. Not a kid any more. So you’ll get back your nightlife.
And maybe a wider field of agency in other ways too.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 811
According to David Bowker, a State Department Deputy Attorney, the idea of
the prison at Guantánamo Bay as it’s presently used, is to “find the legal equivalent of
outer space.” This, Bowker says, was the phase use by a member of the Bush
administration “working group” charged with inventing a “lawless universe” for
detainees in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
• • •
What are senses for but to be deceived?
world. A gesture of almost supernatural elegance. Witnessed on the telly over a posh
waterfront bar in Castine, ME.
Castine / Castellane – wil ever the twain meet?
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