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NYT’s top story: All Eyes Turn to Virginia Senate Race where “Democrat
Has Slight Edge in Decisive Contest” for a slim majority in the upper house. All eyes?
Every last one of ‘em?
Daily News front page presents a whole ‘nother take. Full page pic of Bush
opening what looks like the Oval Office door for Rummy. The President’s hand rests
upon the ex-defense secretary’s back. Is this a gesture of consolation or parting shove?
R.’s face cannot be seen at all, but we do get a glimpse of the side of W.’s head – not
enough to read his expression. Ergo, the perfect set-up for the cartoon thought balloon
which has been drawn over the prez’s head surrounding the words: “Don’t let the door
hit you on the way out.”
Perhaps this bold stroke of the News echoes some subtle shift in the political
barometer, because it definitively trumps the Post, which can only muster the same
image, in colors more subdued, above a less-than-knockout banner: RUMS FELLED.
Ah, ‘merica. Where headlines roll, so that its political criminals need never fear a
chill at their necks.
• • •
Lots of immediate social life. Invitations, places to go. Your three Germans:
Wolfgang, Tobias and Uwe either in or soon coming to town – top notch
conversationalists all. Distractions from the appalling state of your career. Patches of
solid footing on the mud-slicked slope into Slough of D.
• • •
Once, when Michael Hill mentioned Free City, he accidentally called it New City.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 870
Gioia’s slip was Falling City, which led you most fluidly, to Falling Silly. That’s a book
you ought to write.
• • •
Bea would’ve been 97. L’chaim to you, mom.
• • •
Hang on, Pecos Bill, ride that cyclone.
You dream the end of this book. Something to do with flying. Cousin Jane said
her brother liked birds. Must’ve come from that.
• • •
Swimming through uncertain times. Flying with pigs. For the pigs shall inherit
• • •
At Le G., Dylan tells you that a week ago, on November 3rd, a large comet gave
us a near miss and hit the sun. No wonder we been bugging out.
• • •
The lights are on but the times get darker. Or is it just your eyes?
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 871
long voyage, prepared themselves by drinking each day, a bit more sea water until their
bodies adapted and it became their source of hydration. Is it so?
• • •
Gioia’s voice on the telephone. DEMOCRATS TAKE SENATE: today’s banner in the
hardcopy Times. Yesterday, they ran a front and center photo of three middle-aged
white guys in suits and ties having just descended the capitol steps: Harry Reid in the
center, his right hand clenched in victory, flanked by Dick Durbin and New York State’s
own Chuck Schumer, a man who never met a military appropriations bill he didn’t say
yea to. Chuck has definitely eaten a canary – there’s practically a feather peeking out
from between his lips. Similarly Hilary, smiling a secret smile of power, on the cover of
inconsolable soul on earth? The last nauseated one?
Now the whole nation will find its conscience, and cease making cluster bombs for a
living. We’ll put St. Louis, Detroit, Buffalo, Youngstown and the Crescent City to work
beating Apache helicopter rotors into plowshares with which to Save Darfur. Now,
henceforth, we’ll stop murdering other folks’ children and our own. And no more
torture! Waterboarding’s off, surf’s up. The endless summer. Goodbye to renditions
extraordinary or otherwise. No more orange boiler suits, buckets over heads, hoods
and dogleashes. All three hundred million of us will sponsor one another in a massive
twelve step program for addicts of Texas Tea. DEMOCRATS TAKE SENATE. Surely
Kingdom has Come.
It always sounded funny in your ears, how Christian prayers would close with
“Amen.” The way it resonated in the church, if you were from Mars, you might’ve
though they were saying “I’m in.”
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 872
Eighty-five of their stooges killed since victory. Having grabbed all the easy money
they’ve hit the point of diminishing returns. Rats run down the hawsers before the ship
sinks. Funny thing too, Bechtel’s Boston debacle, the Big Dig. Supposed to be a tunnel,
but it’s an improvised waterpark cum house of horrors, with big slabs falling from the
ceiling onto passing cars, their tires slick with unstoppable leaks. Sand and water.
Waves of grains. No bottom too deep. Falling through sand, you can walk the plank,
but never hear the splash.
• • •
Brice Marden visited you in a dream last night, not Joe Hill. Or maybe another
aspect of Joe Hill. Recalled now in the writing, it feels as though the Cold Mountain
paintings, which you saw with Mark S. at MoMA two days ago, served as a backdrop.
Marden said something very affirming, not about you or your work directly, but about
the process itself. You can’t recall his words, but they had the weight of truthfulness to
them. Like his paintings, Marden didn’t seem concerned with your presence. Just
delivered up what he had to say. As though you were the guest in your own dream.
• • •
The light quality in the city today is, as they might say in Mass., wicked
beautiful. Every shadow mild – a treasure trove of toned-down details. And the
highlights, apart from the occasional white hot flash off a truck windshield, not harsh,
but beneficent. The sun’s fingers gentle again. At least in this little acre, merciful.
• • •
Imagine finishing this book and being done with it. Putting it to bed.
Hibernation round the corner. Longer and longer the slant of sun. Imagine you wrote
something that didn’t need anything but itself to exist. Itself and the breath of God.
Stable as Mt. Taishan. Ceaseless movement like the Hudson and the East.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 873
What was to have been a Darton cousins’ gathering down at Jane’s house
mutated by force of circumstance into an afternoon-ling Robert remembrance. He’d
been a high school history teacher in South Jersey for the whole of his professional life.
An avowed and public Marxist. On the videotape of the memorial held at his school,
you heard encomiums from generations of students that made those in To Sir With Love
seem tepid indeed. Innumerable variations on the same theme: “If it weren’t for Mr.
Darton, I’d have never…”.
Jane said that in the hospital on his last day, Robert had been too weak to fill out
the admission forms, so she filled in the answers for him: Name, address, d/o/b, social
security number, etc. But when it came to “Religion,” she had to ask him and he
immediately replied “None.” Then paused a moment and said, “And all.”
Indigenous peoples worldwide at extreme risk for Type 2 Diabetes. In recent
past, exponential changes in nutrition and physical activities. Epidemic proportions.
• • •
Two underwater turbines being installed in the East River to provide power to a
supermarket on Roosevelt Island.
The last middle class person is escorted to the gates of Gotham and pointed
toward the road. Hit it. Follow in the footsteps of the working souls.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 874
• • •
The chevrons, v-shaped landforms. Sedimental deposits, they point toward
asteroid impacts in the seabed, give evidence of the great tsunamis that built them
there, grain by grain, but as swiftly as rushing water may do.
One by one, the idealizations, like so many Army Chinooks, lose their rotors,
crash and burn. Somewhere amidst the metal, ruined body in the desert. A sand
worm, first of many, crawls up his ass.
• • •
The currency known as the Euro is crumbling, literally. Sulfate residues from
methamphetamine snorting mix with human palmsweat to form sulfuric acid. It’s only
paper after all. Ain’t no gold. The European Parliament should vote to allow fragments
of these bills to be used in exchange. Valid down to a sixteenth of the original. Call ‘em
• • •
Chaos is the new order.
• • •
666 Desdemona, an asteroid native to the Main Belt.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 875
meditating, conceiving, imagining, projecting, ardently desiring.
• • •
Pick up the Intrepid and float it in the WTC bathtub. People would pay to see
that. Yes, and Koons could create an immense chrome-plated duck to bob beside it.
• • •
Your parking space goes legal and walking round the car to lock up, you step
into an enormous pile of dogshit – one you noticed earlier and made a mental note to
avoid. Swish the sole of your shoe in a puddle and do your darndest to scrape the poop
off on the sidewalk edge. Still, these New Balances have deep treads. Best leave your
shoes on some newspaper outside the door when you get home, let ‘em dry out, then
bang them on the lip of the refuse chute to dislodge what’s dried. No. Bad idea.
Someone stealing them from the hallway. Put the shoes on a spread of old Times inside
your door. Pssst some lemon spray in the general vicinity and follow the rest of Plan A.
• • •
Milton Friedman dies. Wicked witch of the Midwest. Chicago anyway. Ding
• • •
Early evening in the vast entrance hall of the Met. You and Katie have arranged
to meet friends here for dinner and for once you’re early. A young woman walks by
arm in arm with her young man. “I’m open to multiple types of cuisine,” she says.
And off they go.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 876
Gotta move the car. Flip on the radio. Immediate recognition and revulsion.
That unmistakable Bushian intonation, half smirk, half whine: “Well, that’s what
happens when you make hard decisions.” Click. Silence, but for genial complaints
from the belts of the ’91 Taurus. You’ll never get to heaven in an old Ford car / ‘Cause an old
Ford car won’t go that far…
Park in at a meter close to the corner in front of the café. Feed in four quarters in
and resume your coffee and conversation inside. The hour spent, up you get to move
her to a Monday/Thursday spot and wait it out till she’s legal. Turn the key turns and
nada, not even the engine oil light goes red. Check fuses. Seem OK. Back inside Le G.
where you marshal the collective’s energy to push the Gray Ghost around the corner
and onto 21st Street while you try to steer without power steering and brake with
hardly any brakes at all. Double park for now, since the sweeper ain’t been through yet.
corrosion on both battery terminals – on top of which the connectors are smoking.
Brother, you were just not made to have a car.
Here comes Julio to the rescue tottering under the weight of his spare battery.
He wants to lend it to you until you can get another. But wait, he says, try brushing off
the terminals first. And the beauty is, when you clean off the worst of the corrosion
and roughen up the leads, vrrrroom, up she rises, like a charm. And right on time.
Down the block comes JOHNSTON, lights flashing, brushes awhirl, water streams
jetting into the gutterside. Run Julio’s battery back to his van. ¡Gracias! Run back. Hop
in the driver’s seat and swerve the Ghost across into the slipstream just behind
JOHNSTON as it rumbles past. It’s a ballet mechanique, a whole procession of cars
falling in behind and ahead of you, everyone intent on claiming their anticipated spot!
Up and down the street a host of minor adjustments, back and forth until forty-
odd cars line up in reasonable order, neither too much nor too little space between
them. Once again, the strange ritual of alternate side of the street, successfully
performed. Somewhere the god of parking dozes, propitiated. And for a whole week
too, until next Monday, ‘cause Thursday is Thanksgiving.
10:30. Clock says the Ghost is down by law. Up and down the block, folks lock
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 877
up and take off. “Don’t forget to put oléo on the terminals,” calls Julio. “For sure,” you
say. Not satisfied you’ve truly heeded him, he doubles back, makes you pop the hood
and as you hold it open, he pulls out the dipstick and drizzles oil around and over the
Hood down. Thanksgiving wishes exchanged. He gives you a sage nod. “Put
oléo,” he says.
Forget melting icepacks. This makes a sea change look like a tempest in a teapot.
A real tipping point. Scientists have discovered that the earth is actually turning faster.
If present trends continue, in the near future, the world could flip upside down.
Asymmetry brought us to this pass, and now the Wobblies have gone global.
• • •
Wherever you look, hither and yon, socialism shaking off its rags.
• • •
Mid-a.m. Uptown to meet Katie for your twenty-sixth anniversary breakfast at
Nice Matin. On the subway sitting next to you, John of the number one train. “Sir, do
you have a metrocard you could spare? I don’t wan to jump over any turnstiles, I’m too
old for jail.” On his way to apply for a super job on 135th Street, though by experience
he’s a landscape and garden man. Hails from East Hampton. You’d bet your
metrocard he’s part Shinnecock. As if on autopilot, you take out the seven bucks in
your pocket and press them into his hand. He sets his takeout coffee cup on the floor
and reaches into his bag. Pulls out a brand new leather wallet, still in its wrapper,
which he presents you in exchange. “Keep it,” you say. “It might fill up.” Which gets a
laugh out of him. 66th Street. Bing bong. Into the midst of your conversation bursts an
à capella gospel trio. Down the aisle they come, popping fingers to tight harmonies:
Pharaoh’s army got drowneded – in the Red Sea! – Oh, Mary don’t you moan.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 878
Eggs benedict. You never order eggs benedict. Commune with Yuppie New
York, a thousand generations of hollandaise sauce gone under the bridge.
• • •
The rich of ages past were just premature billionaires, now that wealth’s as
common as air…
• • •
At Fairway, incredible crush of shoppers. And it’s not even officially pre-
Thanksgiving yet. Katie reports overhearing one manager-type saying to another: “If
you can see your feet, there’s something wrong.”
Outside Le G., J. notices Tom’s spanking new leather jacket and strokes it’s
sleeve. “Newness,” he purrs. “I’ll tell you where it’s from.” With his fingers, J. makes
a fold in the upper arm then leans in and, for a long moment, buries his nose in the
scent. “Morocco,” he pronounces, straightening up. “They cure it in pigeon dung.”
Tom nods, “I’d heard that,” he says, to all appearances straight-faced. It’s only
your attunement, gained over the years, to the nuances of Tom’s expression and
language that cues you into the mix of bemusement and contempt that’s likely playing
in his head.
You’ve come out of the café sans coat to walk him to the corner and have a
private word. Suddenly you’re freezing. Time to head back inside.
Yes, the globe’s turning faster and folks’ handholds are slipping as they try to
hang on in the evermore powerful centrifugal whirl. Gravity gets weaker by the hour.
But today – if it is today – a Cosmonaut will leave the airlock of the International Space
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 879
Station and, in zero gravity, whack a golf ball round the world. And round and round.
Eventually, so the theory goes, the ball will disintegrate in the earth’s atmosphere.
What, one might ask, is the scientific value of this experiment? Well, none. But
the club is made from a special Russian alloy – space age as it were – and the
manufacturers hope that, seeded by the stunt’s publicity, some astronomical bucks rain
down and turn their course grass green.
Though unlikely, it is, however, possible that the Cosmonaut – who purportedly
played some ice hockey in his yout’ but has never swung an iron before in any sort of
gravity, or absence of it – could slice and punch a hole in the space station and… well,
let’s not go there.
• • •
Far below, back on earth, there is a city rebirthing on what were once marshlands
where the Neva disembogues into the Gulf of Finland. Peter the Great, who
conscripted half a million serfs to build it – it took that many ‘cause they kept dying off
– dedicated this great new metropolis to his patron saint. One revolution later, and for
nearly threescore and ten years afterward, it was known, officially, as Leningrad. But
even if that’s what folks called it, the place remained, at least in some part of the mind,
Now, there’s nothing to do but change with the times again, add an L and try to
get used to Petrolgrad. And watch, on the industrial bank of the river, how Gazprom’s
skyscrapers rise – whether of Nouvel’s design or Libeskind’s, or Rem’s, or someone
else’s. From their summits, not long hence, one will be able to gaze down and across
the river onto the pickayune spires of Smolny Cathedral. With the certainty of a high
pressure atmosphere moving in on a lazy low, Russia’s “window on the west”
transforms itself into Neva Neva Land.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 880
Biking down Ninth, a good sightline on the new Gehry building. The science of
building, irrespective of proportion.
• • •
A chorus of slaves, compliant ones, not rebellious or anything so uncool as that,
tripping over one another to let the authorities know they pose not threat:
“I’m not Spartacus!”
“No, me neither.”
“Hey, boss, it wuzn’t me.”
“Maybe that other guy, but me, I’m not Spartacus.”
“Uh-uh. No way!”
• • •
Tom says, in response to your mentioning some hopeful sign “Well, there’s grass
in the river.” Don’t know what the phrase means actually, but it sounds like an image
you can use. Weave something with. He and M. are, in any case, headed further
upriver than you our anyone else you know has been thusfar. Leaving tomorrow.
After a change of planes in Paris, it’s on to Hanoi, thence to Cambodia. Tonlé Sap,
which is sometimes a lake, sometimes a river, sometimes a flood. Empties into the
Mekong delta after its serpent journey from the highland through Phnom Penh to the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 881
Tear up the white man’s curtain.
Drink up the white man’s bourbon.
Stare up the white man’s burqa…
Like a dream images, the question resurfaces, whenever a news story, or some
other reference calls JFK’s assassination to mind – or MLK’s or RFK’s. Invariably you
set off on an associative course that loops back through the clouded circumstances of
Olaf Palme’s death, yea, even to McKinley, then forward to Saddam Hussein’s unfound
WMD’s and the Great Anthrax Fear.
Your question does not so much concern “who done it?” – in a way just
imagining that there was a they behind Czolgosz, Princip, Oswald, McVeigh, Atta et all
imparts a certain bracing quality, if not precisely comfort. What puzzles you is why, in
handling cases of collective trauma, the Authorities – even in assigning blame to a
putative culprit – have so often seeded kernels of doubt, some of which have grown
into extravagant blossoms of alternative theory and speculation? Why, in short, have
these situations been dealt with in a manner that has rendered the reports issued by
official investigations either incomplete or in some way unsatisfactory to all but the
most naïve or frightened people? What purpose is served by creating accounts so
lacking in accountability? For creating, in essence, the sense of a cover-up?
Just for argument’s sake, say some element, rogue or not, of the CIA killed JFK
and/or RFK. Why didn’t they cover their tracks more effectually? Arrogance?
Stupidity? Weren’t there stories that might have better supported the forensic evidence
– bullet trajectories and the like – than the official explanations? Leaping ahead to the
near-present, if a garden variety police department possesses the capability to plant
evidence – drugs, for example, on a known drug dealer who just happens to be clean
the day he’s busted – then is it really believable that the Bush administration couldn’t
“find” some plutonium or smallpox or anthrax, or weapons-grade something-or-other
in an Iraqi bunker and run out trumpeting “Eureka!”?
This doubt gap, in its many iterations, is a deep mystery far as you can see.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 882
Cutting to the heart of the matter, given all the resources the government has available
to support their narrative of 9/11, why hasn’t the public been bombarded with a
plethora of movies clearly depicting Flight 77 plowing into the Pentagon? Wouldn’t
that at least give one firm side to the bubble of doubt surrounding the official accounts
of the day? Could not the Bushies have handled their own behavior on and around
9/11 in a way that aroused far less suspicion? Getting all those Saudis out of the
country, for example, could have been done much more discretely. It might have even
remained a secret.
What’s troubled you of late is the notion that perhaps cultivating doubt and
suspicion is a major strategy in the game of political power. So much pulverization of
the trade towers materials and the planes that hit them, yet from the ruins springs the
mastermind’s passport in pristine condition! Wouldn’t one want to singe it around the
edges if the idea was to get folks to buy that part of the story? Which leads you to ask
if, beyond arousing doubts, the idea is to leave enough wiggle room for our minds to
formulate, then repudiate them in a strange internal dialogue:
“Our government would never engineer, or collude in, the mass murder of its
own citizens, would it?”
“Naw, they’re our Protectors, they’d never do that!”
Then, sotto voce: “Well, anything’s possible.”
After which, at an even deeper, barely acknowledged level, “Well I might if I
Given the disquieting, even nauseating trend of such a progression, won’t most
folks turn and flee toward the official story, however specious? Who among us really
wants to contemplate the unmediated horrors of the Ninth Circle? Especially when
there’s a less distressing option available? That some bad Others did it, not our
assumed Protectors. But what happens if we pull back time and time again? Not just
from a disturbing narrative, but from our own common sense?
Impossible, granted, to construct, out of the materials of any of these traumas, an
account of events that would satisfy most people, or even our own ambivalent selves.
But the fact is that we never really get the opportunity to engage the evidence firsthand.
Our role is limited to interpreting competing narratives: the official story with all its
lacunae, versus an even more fearful unresolved tale in which the only certain thing is
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 883
that our trust had been betrayed.
What happens, over time, when some part of us comes to suspect that those in
authority are operating in their own interests, quite exclusive of ours? And what
results, in instance after instance, when we cannot create or embrace a reliable account
of what has befallen us? Do not cracks of open up in our integrity that ultimately yield
great vaults of fear?
In truth, however mystifying these terrors and killings may seem, they give
evidence, however obscured by smoke and mirrors, not of some great and universal
power, but of the wills and actions of other men and women, motivated by power lust
or fear, or some combination of the two. Is it possible then that the dread Ninth Circle,
wherein Ugolino perpetually devours the skull of the man who forced him to eat his
children, resides as a breach, a fear-chasm, within our selves, grown vast with our
collusion? Could this chasm, multiplied many millionfold, describe an evolving and
ever more unbalanced social architecture of fear?
Narrative: no resolution. Accounting: no balance. JFK, RFK, MLK, WTC as
proximal targets. The social mind as ultimate target, accessed through the individual.
Fear makes a person and a people stupid. OK, maybe that’s not what’s happening. But
it sure as hell feels as though we’re all bound up in a great collective dance of Phobos.
Will the mania play itself out, until like so many Copellias, we fall and rise no more?
Who can say? Not u, Boo-Boo, not u.
• • •
p.m. Moon over city south. A long white fingernail clip. Met Life’s peak
daubed orange red orange. Red and green for the Empire State? What’s it all mean? Is
there a signifier in the house?
“The phenomenon…” quoth the Times, “is known in police parlance as
‘contagious shooting’ – gunfire that spreads among officers who believe that they, or
their colleagues, are facing a threat…”
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 884
not shooting at one another, but were rather, in this case, firing at Sean Bell, a young
black man, a few hours shy of bridegroom, father of an infant daughter, who lived, and
died, in Queens.
The Paper of Reason wanes on: “To the layman, and to the loved ones of those
that who were shot, 50 shots seems a startlingly high number, especially since the men
were found to be unarmed.” Seems. Seams. Stuffing leaking out.
• • •
Tell me, where is fancy bred,
In the heart or in the head?
How begot, how nourished?
It is engend’red in the eyes,
With gazing fed; and fancy dies
In the cradle, where it lies.
Let us all ring fancy’s knell.
I’ll begin it – Ding, dong, bell.
Ding, dong, bell.
—Willie the Shakes, Merchant of Venice
• • •
An elegy on every page.
• • •
Brave New York, pick your casket. Lead. But where’s Portia?
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 885
A carrion Death, within whose empty eye
There is written a scroll! I’ll read the writing.
‘All that glitters is not gold –
Often you have heard that told.
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold.
Gilded tombs do worms infold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgment old,
Your answer had not been inscroll’d
Fare you well; your suit is cold.’
• • •
Once upon a time when you were little, your father asked a riddle: “O tell me
where is fancy bread? And you, too young to guess at it, didn’t answer.
“At Cushmans!” he would say. And you’d laugh with him, not because you
understood the punchline, but because you understood it was the punchline.
• • •
As your uncle Mike used to say, “If frogs had wings, their asses wouldn’t
bounce. Comedy. How low can it go?
• • •
A billion Bridewells. Debtors’ prisons of the mind.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 886
• • •
The prophet describes things as they are and everybody thinks this has
something to do with the future.
• • •
4:18 p.m. There may have been others that faded, parallel or diagonal or across,
but three chem or contrails you can clearly see in the deepening, near-full moon dusk.
They run not north south but lengthwise along the Manhattan grid. You’re on Seventh
and 22nd, but reckoning from this angle you’d place these overhead lacings
respectively above Fifth, Third and First avenues. Just a guess. Walk on home, the old
Lennon tune encouraging your stride:
Everybody’s flying and never touch the sky
There’s UFOs over New York and I ain’t too surprised
Nobody told me there’d be days like these…
Keep your hips under you.
• • •
Her father owned a steel business – she confused it as a child with “steal.” He
fabricated – fabricated!? – some of the steel used in the WTC. As a ten-year-old she
visited the site, rode up and down in Tower One’s construction elevator – felt bone
deep the chill of its monstrosity.
• • •
We have nothing to fear but fear itself.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 887
Have nothing / fear
I was a free man in Paris
I felt unfettered and alive
There was nobody calling me up for favors
And no one’s future to decide
You know I’d go back there tomorrow
But for the work I’ve taken on…
• • •
This morning, amidst swirling images of Jew-hating football goons, the
thuggishness, beatings, shootings, coercion of all stripes, into your head drifts the name
Raymond Losserand. Go figure.
During the two summers you stayed at Levent’s apartment on rue de l’Ouest,
you’d walk one street over to Avenue Losserand to catch the Metro. The Franc Prix
supermarket was on Losserand, the news kiosk, the fruit and cheese stores, the best
pain biologique in Christendom, the Monoprix, the cyber café and a terrific trompe
l’oeil mural – the side of a building transformed into an outsized bookcase. And just off
Losserand, your local café-bistro, Le 57. You took a snapshot of Gwen, the day you left
Paris for the U.S. in 2005 – at the corner of rue des Thermopyles and Losserand.
In the intervening year and a half, Levent’s moved back to Turkey. Someone else
lives in his apartment now. Montparnasse has evaporated as your second center of
gravity. So why now, this morning, do you key in Raymond Losserand, whose avenue
you walked without a thought to who he was, and hit return?
What would have been different on those other mornings, buying Libération or
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 888
some peaches, or a bread, had you know he was a Communist, a commander in the
Resistance, whose métier was organizing small armed groups. And that, along with
several other comrades, Losserand was shot by the Gestapo in the Mont Valérien
prison, former stronghold of the Communards, on October 21, 1942, aged 39.
Nobody knows the comedy I’ve seen.
• • •
Worlds are being born, flourishing and wicking out without your being remotely
• • •
Is there a geometry of fear, or is fear non-dimensional, abstract – an algebra?
• • •
Road Runner knows he’s groundless, yet operates outside of fear. Coyote looks
down midway across, realizes he’s running on thin air, freezes, drops like a stone.
From the far side of the chasm: beep-beep!
• • •
21st Street. Cars pass over the still-steaming macadam patch, their tires picking up the
liquid tar edging like chewing on so many bootheels. Low comedy. Pocket steamroller
to and fro. They did a lousy job, Nico & Co., from Brooklyn, but they did it fast. In no
time at all, the energy was unblocked, the street free of backed-up honking cars.
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 889
Was it, at least in part, out of sympathetic frustration at the incapacity of their
military brethren to stem the insurgency in Iraq that a squad of New York’s Finest
unloaded fifty bullets into a recalcitrant vehicle filled with helpless, hapless Others?
Sounds like the sort of “accident” of war that might take place on the Baghdad airport
road or at a checkpoint when a car doesn’t slow down fast enough and the guys in the
occupation army get spooked.
• • •
Bigger giants, that’s what’s needed. And stolider, denser dwarves. Flags of
aggression. Low comedy.
• • •
you say? Nothing. Nothing went wrong. You say nothing.
• • •
On the corner near Kesban’s stand, you’re slipping the handles of a plastic bagful
of grapes and bananas onto your bike handlebars when you hear a slurry voice,
directed, perhaps, at you. A black fellow, solidly-built, mid-twenties if you had to
guess, looking not quite in your direction. He repeats his phrase and after a half beat
you grasp the meaning. “You owe me a pair of pants.” He makes an indefinite palm
up gesture, as though reaching out for alms, then points to a rip in the leg of his jeans, a
straight-cut, right-angle flap about two inches by two. Holds out his palm again.
• • •
Five, six years ago you used to read Euripides ‘cause he wouldn’t put sugar on
the circumstances. Now Aristophanes seems the accurate one. Even Rabelais doesn’t
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 890
approach this level of open grotesquerie. Low comedy, minus the satire. Falling down
pants. Hairy bums.
Does a primal hatred – revulsion – for water underflow, undertow, the actions of
our culture? Race memories of the great floods? Naturally we reviled the destructive
wave – tsunami – proximal cause of suffering and displacement. The culprit,
supposedly, was an asteroid, but nobody blames the sky, no one points the finger at the
atmosphere as the culprit who failed to burn it up. Then sploosh, hated water
everywhere and not a drop to drink. Renunciation in the grief of our loss, millennia
ago, of our oceanic selves in our displacement to land.
With the settling of human culture comes an increase in our combustion of
whatever is available for burning, particularly as we spread to colder latitudes, first
going at what’s on the surface then digging ever deeper, displacing us evermore readily
in explosion-driven machines. What – an unconscious attempt to dry out a water
planet? Or just a disconnection with water-nature. Who knows? And what of our
great massacre of sea animals, including those most like ourselves?
Now, with all this burning, the air turns metallic. Will this not stop until the
melting ice meets a substance part metal, part gas, no longer capable of sustaining rain?
A cliché about salt tears: “Turn off the waterworks,” the private dick snaps at the
weeping tomato. But we can’t dry it all up. Not with all the cars and nukes in the
world. Only Brother Sun’s powerful enough for that. What then? But what, what
before that moment?
• • •
Early p.m. Temperature headed for the high sixties. Unseasonable.
Unreasonable. No one knows weather… to strip or bundle up?
• • •
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 891
• • •
Less than six weeks since the sale of Stuytown-Peter Cooper and now Starrett
City, forty-six buildings, six thousand apartments filled with fourteen thousand people
stands on the block. Same auctioneers as the Speyer deal: CB Richard Ellis.
Starrett was built in the sixties roughly on the Penn South/Co-op City
architectural model, but economically it took the form of a Mitchell-Lama-subsidized
rental development, rather than a capped-equity co-op.
A collection of gardened superblocks in Brooklyn, Starrett is the gorgeous
mosaic. One of the safest, most felicitous urban environments in the world. These are
the great fires – different in nature, yet just as pernicious as those that, kan ya makan,
scorched the South Bronx and Bushwick. But this time the arson is a kind of fast-
burning greed-driven incineration that leaves the buildings in place – habitable for a
higher-priced population. Speculation, sucking in all the oxygen of the city’s
atmosphere – some engulfed sooner than others, but eventually, consuming all.
Echoing, perhaps unconsciously, the warspeak of the Vietnam-era policy wonks,
Michael McKee of the Starrett Tenants Political Action Committee puts it nicely: “The
big complexes are falling like dominoes.”
• • •
Dimly you are aware that you’ve never felt better.
• • •
I’m a road runner, baby,
Can’t stay in one place too long,
I’m a road runner baby,
You might look at me and I’ll be gone…
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 892
• • •
When you were five, your birthday party was to be held at school, at the end of
the day, in a smallish room – filled with kid-sized tables and chairs, and an upright
piano – adjacent to the rooftop playground.
As the appointed hour drew closer, you sat the top of the slide, looking out over
Greenwich Village, and suddenly felt very anxious about what was delaying your
mother. So you slid down, scrambled across the white pebblestones, hopped over the
green-painted wood barrier onto the terracotta tiles, made your way through the
doorway to the stairwell and peered down five flights. Something moving down there.
Then into view came Bea’s hand on the banister, next her beret, and soon the white box
with your cake inside. Great relief at the sight of her growing evermore proximate. But
in the succeeding instant, an empty sense of dread too, void as the stairwell, since
somehow you knew, without having the language for it, that you had parted from your
last moment of unmediated happiness.
This came to you fifty years, six months and a day from the event, at
approximately the same hour of the afternoon, as you lay in Kelly’s office having an
acupuncture treatment for your knee and a wacky SI joint. Needling sends you into a
trance every time. But it’s never rolled out a whole fabric of the past like this. Without
as much fanfare as on May 30, Bea used to celebrate your half-year birthday. Which
maybe makes this memory a day late if it was trying to get through. Just a moment ago,
when Kelly stuck a needle into the side of your knee, and electric spasm shot down to
your big toe. “Holy cow, what’s that?”
Nonchalant her reply, “Channel being unblocked.”
The mystery knows more than you do.
• • •
“Symbolism of compliance,” a phrase coined by Morstein Marx, a high-ranking
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 893
bureaucrat in the administration of the city-state of Hamburg before 1933. It’s about
how we show we’re not dangerous. Like tying yellow ribbons round the old oak trees.
Even if we don’t have a loved one “serving” in Iraq.
Yes, it’s true. The fellow doing the imbecilic job of parking his silver Windstar
LX in right in front of the gray ghost has a sticker plastered to his bumper that says
“New York Terrorist Hunting Permit – No. 91101.” Looks official, but or course, it has
to be a novelty item.
The sticker has a yellow background over which an orange silhouette of a pistol
has been superimposed, as though it’s the shape of NY State. You get out into the cold
to read the fine print and scope out the driver. Nondescript-looking white guy. Short
beard, thinning hair, dark clothes – a weightier, more suburbanized version of you. The
small type across the top of the sticker reads: “Special Issue – Resident – Lifetime
License.” Then, at the bottom: “Gun Owner – No Bag Limit.”
The way you know you are not a bodhisattva is that you feel a great, cold
impulse to kill this man. Warring impulses: would it be more pleasurable to make him
kneel on the sidewalk before shooting him in the head, or simply blow him and his car
to Kingdom Come with an IED? Good thing you don’t own a gun and know nothing
about making bombs. Best not to have the technology, or skills to complete that circuit.
You edge perilously close to acting out the way you once used to when all your
buttons got pressed at once – rapping on his tinted window hard and yelling “Hey
turkey, do you think you are?” If he didn’t respond fast enough, you might make a
good faith attempt to tear off his mirror.
But then, quick as it flared up, your hatred’s gone and you just feel chilled. And
here comes Tamatha, with a take out coffee cup in her hand, her long brown cashmere
coat open to the east wind. Pecks on both cheeks. On her way to teach a Montessori
class for moms and their infants. You’re completely short circuited now. Back into the
Taurus. Wait it out. Read Ibn ‘Arabi. When you look up, it’s 10:37 and the asshole’s
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 894
• • •
“I was just standing at the back of the car, shooting backward as we headed into
the city [Saigon]. The car was going voom, voom, voom as we drove over the boots,
like a boat going over waves. I was just happy. Happy. It was fun driving over the
boots, bumping up and down.” So recalled Duong Thanh Phong, a Vietnamese combat
photographer, interviewed in April, 2000.
And who built the road beneath those cast-off boots? The French – the better to
get around their conquered land.
• • •
It’s late when you get the mail. Late enough for the unintendedly surrealistic
value of two letters to take effect on this evening of a nearly full moon hanging over the
spire of the Empire State. Full enough for rock and roll. Clear as crystal the air. Letter
one is from the Central Park Conservancy, the organization that, under Giuliani’s
privatization rampage, took over management of the park. The envelope tantalizes:
Your Complimentary Tickets are Enclosed. Zip goes your letter opener. Out slide two
tickets to… Central Park. Say what? It takes you a beat to grasp that they’re serious,
sort of. “Admit One,” say the tickets to “New York’s Premier Attraction.” Scan the
letter. “We’ve enclosed two free tickets to Central Park to Make a Point.
“Simply put, the Park remains free and open for New Yorkers to enjoy in all its
splendor because of contributions by people like you to the Conservancy. Without the
generosity of caring New Yorkers, it wouldn’t be the park you’ve come to know and
Park’s annual $25 million operating budget…?”
Hmmm. A public park supported almost entirely by private donations. Twenty-
five million!? Ah, they did it to make a point they didn’t actually say. It’s a shakedown.
Give us money or else we’ll put up gates and charge admission.
The letter waxes on about what you’ll get for your annual $35 membership. At
the other end of the charitable scale, you could, for only a thou, become a “Belvedere
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 895
Knight.” Thank you, Douglas Blonsky, President & Central Park Administrator for a
very entertaining five minutes, and now, into the circular file you go.
Letter number two comes printed on official New York State Senate stationary.
It’s from Thomas K. Duane, your man representing the 29th District.
“Dear Mr. Darton:
It’s a fact of life that in the world today, we face a number of potential threats,
both natural and human-made. While it is important for us not to let these threats
guide our daily lives, we must make sure that we are prepared to deal with them
should they occur – both as individuals and communities.” That’s pretty shaky English,
not to mention logic, but apart from that, spit it out Tom, what are you trying to say?
“With this in mind, over the past several months, I have held a series of
Emergency Preparedness Forums across the district” with “speakers from the New
York City Office of Emergency Management, local police precincts, hospitals…”
Some few paragraphs later, come the forum’s “general advice” on how to be
ready “if a disaster strikes.”
“• Designate an out-of-state contact that family and friends can use to keep in
touch, in case New York phone circuits are busy.
“• Ensure that all members of your household have a copy of your household
Jeez, seems like Tom’s making a good faith effort to scare the piss out of us. To
bad – you already pissed at the office.
gallon per person, per day, for three days); non-perishable ready-to-eat canned foods; a
manual can opener; …unscented bleach (to sterilize water); a whistle; a phone that
doesn’t rely on electricity…
“• Have an easily-accessible, easy-to-carry “Go Bag” with copies of your
important documents; an extra set of keys; cash and credit cards…
“• If you have a pet…”
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 896
implying – that if the ready-to-eat canned foods you stockpiled give out, that Vovo or
Tibble might end up in the…
dishes, extra harnesses and leashes. For more recommendations, visit
Phew! Tom concludes by hoping you will tune in to see the televised emergency
preparedness forum being cablecast in a couple of weeks, and/or check the Office of
Emergency Management website. “As always, please feel free to contact my office
about this, or any other matter of concern.”
Other matters of concern…. Well, what concerns you most, reading this letter, is
something Tom’s office doubtless couldn’t tell you: whether he knows something about
what’s coming down the pike you don’t.
• • •
Martin said to his man, fie, man, fie
Martin said to his man, who’s the fool, now
Martin said to his man, fill thou the cup and I the can
Thou hast well drunken man, who’s the fool now
I saw the man in the moon, fie, man, fie
I saw the man in the moon, who’s the fool, now
I saw the man in the moon, clouting of St. Peter’s shoon
Thou hast well drunken, man, who’s the fool, now
I saw the goose ring the hog, fie, man, fie
I saw the goose ring the hog, who’s the fool, now
I saw the goose ring the hog, saw the snail bite the dog
Thou hast well drunken, man, who’s the fool, now
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 897
Later, before going to bed, you think of an item to add to Tom’s survivalist
gameplan: “If you’re a writer, back up all your files to CD and send them to a trusted
friend in some other part of the world.” Like New Mexico. Or Turkey. Or New
Biking west along 25th, the wind so frigid that your tears freeze before they can
crest your lower eyelids. If you had felt well enough to be here an hour and change
ago, you’d have looked behind you and seen the “solstice” sunrise – the twice yearly
phenomenon wherein the Manhattan street grid – canted, so they say, 29ish degrees
east of due north – lines up with old uncle Solaris as he wrenches himself free of
Queens. Visible with Druidic regularity down nearly every east-west block from 14th
Street up to where it all goes haywire above one-five-five. Next opportunity is when
the revolution swings Ms. earth into position again on 1/8/07. Don’t miss that one.
• • •
Grid dates from 1811, long after Stuyvesant and his garrison cleared out. Still,
it’s a kind of Dutch angle, not to be confused with uncle.
• • •
Three tugs led by the Christine M. McAllister succeed, on the second try, at
pulling the Intrepid aircraft carrier free of its muddy berth at Pier 86. Towed with her
stern forward, the behemoth, her flight deck bristling with airborne deadlies, starts the
slow five mile voyage downriver to Bayonne and drydock.
Much dredging by the U.S. Navy preceded this morning’s operation. Interesting,
‘cause the Intrepid’s a private museum now. So who’s picking up the tab for dislodging
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 898
her? Ah, who cares. Don’t be a stick-in-the-mud!
• • •
Where has Oregon?
If you want Alaska,
where she’s gone.
• • •
Proposal for a brawl you could incite at the café: the historic – epochmaking –
merger of Judaism and Islam. Both Abramic people of the book, sharing the same
Sabbath and similar dietary laws. Why not? Interpretations of law and community
disputes to be presided over by Arabbis, collectively known as a Moses/Muhammad
Arrabinate. Or MoMu for short.
• • •
On the first day, rocks refused to be picked up.
On the second day, water flowed uphill.
On the third day, dust would not settle.
On the fourth day, dogs climbed trees.
On the fifth day, a belt of one hundred moons appeared.
On the sixth day, trees inverted, showing their roots to heaven.
On the seventh…
• • •
The other day at Le G., you encountered Bob, a well put-together fellow of
middle years who often breakfasts there with his brother on Sundays. The three of you
have, at times, found proximity, and with it, occasion to chat. You’d lent them a copy of
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 899
the Designer/Builder issue containing an excerpt of Notes…, the one that chronicles the
immediate aftermath of 9/11 and about which, today, Bob has many things to say.
Among his adjectives, the word “moving.” But more honey to your ears, “lucid”
and “capacious.” He speaks of the narrative having helped him process the trauma – of
it speaking to his own experience as a New Yorker. “I boosted your sales too,” Bob says.
“Bought a copy of Divided… for my brother for Christmas.” Holy cow. You exit into
the frigid city on a tide of clement air, imagining how thrilled Katie will be when you
get home and recount this.
Early a.m. You’re making the bed, pulling up the cover over the pillows when
over the NPR airwaves comes a dialogue between Steve Insky and a female reporter
whose name you don’t catch. Questioned by Steve about the congressional Iraq Study
Group Report, due out today, she praises the “caliber” of the men on the panel, but
adds that the report will be bound to disappoint many people, because it contains no
“magic bullet.” Where do they get these people?
• • •
Bright midmorning. Hanging front and center in the window of Skyline Books
on 18th Street between Fifth and Sixth, a falling-apart poster.
GANAR LA GUERRA
¡MENOS PALABRAS VANAS!
Beneath this bold lettering, a socialist-realist image of four trench-coated soldiers
rushing forward – from right to left – wielding drawn pistols and carbines tipped with
bayonets. The soldiers charge beneath rippling banners emblazoned with the hammer
and sickle, a red star set in a white circle against a red field, the letters CNT and FL – is
the latter acronym cropped off by the border. On closer inspection, each soldier color-
coordinates with one of the banners. ¿Quien sabe? You weren’t even close to born
when the war ended nor have you studied it enough to know the finer points of who
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 900
decode from your enforced distance, but surrounded by legible words: JUNTA
DELGADA DE DEFENSE DE MADRID – DELEGACION DE PROPAGANDA Y
PRENSA. To the left, a stylized signature:
P A R R I L A
X X X V I
The dot over the “I” in Parrilla is outsized, giving it the look of a rising sun. At
the left bottom border of the poster: SINDICATO PROFESSIONALES BELLAS ARTES
U.C.T. On the right: RIVADENEYRA C.O. MADRID
Strange coincidence to come upon this image five minutes after parting from
your breakfast companions, Eduardo and Tómas, the first a Madrieno, the latter a
devout hispanophile. Off you all went, by different routes, toward your mid-morning
obligations. And you, you were the only one to take this street, in response to an
internal voice that urged, albeit gently: “no, not north. Head west first.”
When you do turn north, it’s onto Sixth. You’ve been looking at the steelwork
for months, but now, there it is: atop the Hugh O’Neil building they’ve installed the
golden cladding for the first of two ovoid, spike-topped domes – replicas of the original
Ottoman-ish towers that must’ve dazzled the eye back in the days of the Great
Emporium, when it was built as a block-long department store – one pearl in the string
of posh establishments that made up Ladies Mile. Now the banners cry out LUXURY
CONDOS CONDOS CONDOS. Alive, Alive-O.
Though the building’s titular owner is a certain Elad Properties, your nose tells
you that these domes herald the symbolic arrival of a new Sultinate. You try to clear
your mind, but the sense of the uncanny won’t disperse. Instead, as you step into the
cave-like darkness beneath the scaffolding, Lennon’s lyrics possess your head:
He may be dead. But who’s to say he can’t be a boon companion to lead you in a
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 901
There are whole aspects to people, even close friends, that you never come to
know because you don’t get drunk with them.
• • •
Napping while awake, you dream that you possess a vast collection of crystal
paperweights. One to which you’re particularly drawn encases a violet within.
• • •
A wrecking ball keeps swinging, smashes down the wall you carefully built
five minutes ago. But your masons work quickly, and being a gross thing and moving
without much intelligence, the ball does not entirely obliterate what it encounters. The
rubble itself begins to raise the level of the ground, create a mound, destabilizes over
time the wrecking machine.
The assaultive force possesses only has one speed: full ahead. Whereas your
masons are subtle folk who learn from past experience. The ball still punches holes but
doesn’t topple the wall’s upper reaches. In its old age, the ball may have to content
itself with making windows. See, the masons are already combing the debris, gathering
together the most usable stones. So far, whatever the distress to the materials, their
proportions are unerring.
• • •
Ah, but you are a man who walks about singing with ghosts.
Which triggers the realization that somewhere, among your moribund computer
files, lies a book proposal you drafted back in 2000 – the year zero. Only a few years
gone by, yet that period seems altogether removed in perception, consigned, along with
so much else to the parallel universe known as Before 9/11.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 902
thanks to the good offices of your then-agent, His Eminence had been courting you,
albeit in a desultory way. He wasn’t interested in publishing Divided…, that was clear
from get-go. His idea, and one you seriously considered, was that you write another
kind of New York book – one you suspected he wanted to write himself but wouldn’t –
a paean to an infinitely resurgent city borne along on tides of immigrant energy.
However much you tried to get with his program, it just wasn’t in you to write
such a book, despite the tantalizing prospect of an advance that would have stemmed
your financial anxieties for at least a couple of years. Instead, and to some degree as an
attempted compromise, you cobbled together a proposal for a book you actually could
imagine yourself writing. Several times you nearly showed it to him, but then Divided
found its publisher and you took on its deep and seemingly interminable revision – one
that in retrospect you’re awfully glad you accomplished.
Nonetheless, into the Misc. Writing file the proposal went, and remained,
unrestive – until two clicks ago. No, that’s not precisely true. Not long after Divided
came out you did submit the book idea to the New York Public Library’s Scholars and
Writers program. Their council of sachems declined to fund it. Brief and intense
disappointment. But then the world, and you moved on.
and fable, initiated by a chance encounter between two New Yorkers, one
living and the other, though dead, still very present.
Together, they make a spiraling, transverse journey through four
hundred years of New York life, encountering a host of actual and invented
people: workers of all sorts, artists and artisans, political reformers,
parvenus, oligarchs and criminals. Linking the immediacy of these
individual encounters to the story of the city as a still-unfolding collective
organism, Comes Around intends to evoke a sense of “once upon a time in
New York,” experienced as an eternal now.
When the book opens we are sitting on a bench in Prospect Park with
Marina, a South Asian woman in her mid-twenties. It’s early autumn but
warm enough for the transitional breezes to start her ruminating on life in her
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 903
adoptive city. The only member of her family living in the States, Marina has
blended in with seeming ease ever since arriving five years before to earn a
graduate degree in telecommunications. Lately though, she has found herself
falling prey to uncharacteristic bouts of anxiety and confusion. Tensions at
the dot com startup where she works are running high in the shadow of
potential downsizings, and the once free-floating atmosphere has grown
petty and factional. “I need a little distance,” she thinks. “I’m glad I took the
morning to get centered.”
Surveying the expanse of still-lush open parkland, then spots a black
man approaching down the path. He’s about forty. Dressed like a worker.
She lowers her eyes and wills him to walk by. He stops directly in front of
her and asks for a cigarette. Marina says she doesn’t smoke, which amuses
the man so much he starts to cough and can’t seem to stop.
She almost reaches into her bag to give him some of her bottled water,
but thinks the better of it.
When he stops coughing he asks “Mind if I sit down?”
Marina nods. She’s got her cell phone, and in any case this guy doesn’t
look to be in very good shape.
They sit in silence a while. Then he says:
“I’ve been looking for you.”
But the man isn’t crazy – he’s on a mission. He turns toward her.
“I’m Willie,” he says, extending his hand. “Willie Turks.”
It’s a large hand, especially compared to hers.
“Marina.” She hesitates a beat, but takes his hand. The palm is very
cool and dry.
“Marina. Mucho gusto. Funny, you don’t look Spanish. Com’está,
“Muy bien, y usted?” Marina says, proud, for some reason, of being
able to use the bits of Spanish she’s picked at her local bodega. This is a New
York moment, she thinks, this is what happens in this city. Two people with
nothing in common start a conversation and then—
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 904
peculiar in several respects. For one thing, he is not, strictly speaking, there.
He is a manifestation of one of the city’s countless ghosts. Eighteen years
before, Willie Turks was a subway maintenance worker who one night came
up from underground for a coffee break and found himself in the seriously
wrong place and time. One day after Gemini turned to Cancer in 1982, Willie
was attacked and murdered by a mob of white men on Avenue X, in
Gravesend, not far, as the crow flies, from where he and Marina sit talking
In the years since his death Willie has come to understand the city in
ways no living person can. And he has chosen Marina, out of thousands, to
introduce to many of its souls, corporeal and otherwise; fictional and actual;
anonymous and legendary – some who lived here a lifetime, and some who
passed quickly through. Together, they will encounter:
• Lily Bart (fictional heroine of Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth)
• José Martí (prolific writer, New York sojourner and liberator of
the Trinity Church congregation, consort and later wife of Capt. William
• Othmar Ammann (Swiss-born bridge engineer)
• Dandy John Dolan (leader, circa 1870, of the infamous Whyos gang)
• Dorothy Day (founder of the Catholic Worker)
• Nicola Tesla (Croatian immigrant, physicist and electrical engineer,
chief advocate of alternating current)
• Mohammed Basry (ex-Colonel in the Egyptian Air Force, planning to
return to his family in Alexandria after one more year selling fruits and
vegetables on a busy streetcorner in Chelsea)
• Frank Jennings (founder/editor of Saturday Review and one of the
city’s last great Jewish Irishmen)
• Mary Burton (Indentured servant to tavern owner John Hughson,
and chief informer in the Great Slave Plot of 1741)
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 905
1930’s and married Alfred, a garment workers’ union organizer and
• Julia de Burgos (Puerto Rican poet)
• Fitz-Green Halleck (19th century literary hack and Knickerbocker
• Vito Marcantonio (legendary Congressman and populist political
• JP Morgan (bewailing his inability to materialize and save the Nation
• Harry Houdini (Hungarian rabbi’s son from Brooklyn who slipped
his chains and escaped from a box sunk in the East River)
• Margaret Chambers (born in Guyana and working as a nanny to
seven year-old twins)
And many others.
Comes Around charts the city’s incessant reinvention of itself – its
resilience in the face of recurrent crises, its counterposing forces of tribalism
and inclusiveness and the ever-shifting fortunes of its oligarchs, arrivistes,
and everyday people.
Imagined as a multiply-voiced cultural dialogue with the collective
soul of New York City, Comes Around freely appropriates, albeit with a very
different intent, the guided-tour-in-a-spiral form of Dante’s Inferno, as well as
the political-literary strategies used by Eduardo Galeano in Memories of Fire,
his epic history of Latin America.
how far you’ve come and near you’ve gone. To and from.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 906
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