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Jack’s birthday, he’s 87 today, December 7th, a day that will live, for you, in fame
and infamy alike. Why then does a song your mother used to sing when you were
small enough to be easily picked up and held, suddenly pop into your head?
Was too large for the shelf,
So it stood ninety years on the floor;
It was taller by half
Than the old man himself,
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more.
It was bought on the morn
Of the day that he was born,
And was always his treasure and pride;
But it stopped short
Never to go again,
When the old man died.
Then she’d sing the chorus, as deep as her smoker’s voice could go, her inflection
subtly cueing you to the absurdity hidden within the lyric’s portentions of tragedy.
Only now, Wikipedia-ing, do you learn out that “My Grandfather’s Clock” was
written in 1876 by Henry Clay Work, who also authored “Marching Through Georgia”
– among other British-style brass band classics as well as the sentimental ballads,
“Come Home, Father,” and “The Ship That Never Returned.”
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 907
habitué of the Lion’s Den, The Cedar Tavern and the White Horse, all hipster spots –
began concentrating his attention on the Dugout, a literal dive just down West
Broadway and round the corner on Bleecker. At least once, when you couldn’t sleep,
unsure as to what sort of mood he’d be in when he came home, you imagined pre-
empting the moment. You’d walk to the Dugout, down the stairs and through the door.
Barefoot, in your pajamas and carrying your teddy bear beneath your arm, you’d stand
beside his barstool and sing – both to publicly shame him, and compel his return.
Father, dear father, come home with me now!
The clock in the steeple strikes one;
You said you were coming right home from the shop,
As soon as your day's work was done.
Our fire has gone out our house is all dark
And mother's been watching since tea…
Somewhere you’d heard the tune and lyrics to that one too. And realized, even
at the time, that conjuring up this earnest, Victorian image of yourself playing child
guardian to your errant dad, allowed you to feel a bit less obliterated. It also made you
want to laugh.
• • •
The Tsar has been deposed! Don’t cry Anastasia, don’t cry.
• • •
Gates is confirm’d as Sec’y of Defense. Capitol Hill gives a CIA of relief. A
different sort of exhale perhaps among the Nicaraguan thirty-somethings – children in
the mid-80s – who owe their missing body parts to Gate’s “intelligence work” in their
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 908
95 to 2, the vote came down, those calling “yea” including the junior Senator
from Illinois and great hope of the liberal magical thinkers, Barak H. Obama. But the
fact is, he’s obaminable, as awful in his own way as Hilary C.
Denial is a long river indeed, replete with many a cataract and muddy delta at
the mouth. In the mind.
• • •
Describe. Describe a path.
Noonish. Trip down to Bowling Green to Michael K.’s office to meet him for
lunch. Get out at the south end of the Rector Street stop. Just a few blocks behind you,
unseen since you never turn to establish a sightline, the spectacle of deconstruction
workers taking down the Deutsche Bank building. Little by little. Because the structure
remains toxic even after all that cleaning – what was the figure, $70 millionsworth? It’s
a year’s project at least – a painstakingly slow sequel to the quick and dirty demolition
work just across Liberty street that left the Deutche building ruined yet standing.
First to go will be its glass windows and the metal column covers from the top
four floors. Crews will still be looking, so officials say, for bits of people deposited
there five plus years ago. Next in the disassembly order, the steel and concrete skeleton
of those upper floors. Incrementally, parts of the building and the fragments of tower
and airplane wreckage that landed inside it, all laced with asbestos, lead, mercury and
you name it poisons will start a journey somewhere, all wrapped, it is promised, nicely
in plastic. Where, oh where does all this finally rest? Who will receive this vast trove of
contaminated stuff? Someone must know, but they ain’t publicly telling.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 909
into the air from the building’s disassembly, the only thing to do is breathe. Clear as
crystal the skydome above. Too cold for condensation.
• • •
Back home. Nearly five. Out come the binoculars on a gorgeously embered
The left half of the façade of the Deutsche Bank building is still visible behind the
new WTC 7. Weird beyond weird, amidst all the lit-up downtown office towers, to see
its hulk completely blacked out save for a swooping zigzag of worklights that shine
gaily from the top of the structure down to the lower floors. Certainly you can’t be the
only one who immediately registers this shape as the stylized outline of a Christmas
tree – the left half of one at any rate. Whether intended as an effect, or fortuitously
random, the illumination imparts a light and lyrical touch to this, the world’s tallest
superfund site. Except it isn’t a superfund site.
Change your view. Look east. A flash popping in a 26th Street loft. Some
photographer at work or play.
Lights flicker from the opposite loft
In this room the heat pipes just cough
The country music station plays soft
But there's nothing, really nothing to turn off…
In New York City, in the spas and salons, storefront fingernail joints and yea
even beneath the canopies of street fairs, how many thousands of Asian work at
kneading the knotted muscles of stressed-out Oxos into some semblance of relaxation?
“Don’t worry that your civilization is down the tubes,” the palm root of their every
hand seems to say. “It’s our day now,” chorus the fingers, “but we’ll soothe away, for
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 910
now, for a price, all your tensions, all your fears, however buried, of that hard, hard
landing to come.”
• • •
Return home from an amazing performance of Ragtime at LaGuardia to scan the
round midnight front page of the online Times. They’ve outdone themselves. On the
righthand side of the page – separated from the gaggle of confused articles about Iraq
by an eerie photo of the space shuttle taking off by night, its trail of light arching above
the still harbor of Daytona Beach – there’s a teaser blurb for a travel feature: “Luxury
Destination of the Year. In Zambia, you can watch hippos from the comfort of your
own sunken tub.”
• • •
How did Wiscon-sin, boys?
She stole a New-brass-key,
Too bad that Arkan-saw, boys,
And so did Tenna-see.
It made poor Flori-die, boys,
It made poor Flori-die, you see,
She died in Missouri, boys,
She died in Missouri!
• • •
Era of misguided missiles.
• • •
Preserve me from false discriminations.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 911
• • •
Prep school. Perp school. What a difference, or not so much…
• • •
Funny thing to think of, those days early in the seventies when, still shell-
shocked from the implosion of the movement, you fell in with a crew of young people
at work who seemed relatively unscathed by what you’d imagined to be the
generalized traumas of the time. They were talented, good-looking, smart and had
passed through their teens and art school blithe and apolitical, focused mainly on their
work and imbued with expectations of future careers for which they would not have to
hustle. They must have found you entertaining, authentic even, if not Black, because
they seemed to include you, to tolerate you despite your politics. Your taken-for-granted
coin of exchange for years had depreciated enormously in value but could still cadge
you an invite to a dinner party where the increasingly sophisticated food was washed
down with mineral waters and evermore well-chosen wines.
Thus you witnessed the birth of the Hipoisie, people who gravitated, as though
by natural selection, to the lofts that would, in the fullness of time, become gazillion
dollar real estate prizes. As they turned one notch further away from Boho, your hosts
flowered as the hideous but all too true characters populating the cocktail parties in
William Hamilton’s New Yorker cartoons.
And here, thirty plus years on, you, Katie and Gwen, the three of you, incubating
an altogether different kind of life, high up in a little socialist bubble above
thoroughfares of Manhattan. What choice do the rock doves have but to adapt to
foraging higher still than the stratum at which the circling hawks glide? Safe after a
fashion, as long as the raptors remain incapable of imagining their hoped-for prey
looking down on them.
Pinochet dies. Not exactly Houdini, but an escape of sorts.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 912
Must one be a disaster tourist in one’s own country?
You say ecommerce and I say e-coli – let’s call the whole thing off.
• • •
In China, they’ve appropriated the old Castro Convertibles song – we’re not
using it any more – to serve as a slogan in support of their President:
• • •
Parked in front of you this a.m., decorated with a dayglo orange parking ticket, a
big, stupid, black Ford SUV. You learn, from the chrome letters affixed to its tailgate,
that that this model is an Escape. The logo is italicized, signifying forward momentum.
but beneath this word, straight blocky capital letters boxed in with a thick border:
Well, at least they’re honest after a fashion. Escape (Limited) for how many?
Thirty thousand North American Ford workers just got their pink slips.
• • •
Tomorrow the Virgin of Guadalupe rises, over the hill of Tepeyac and yes, 14th
Street. Down in the harbor, on any day, Our Lady, who also, at will, takes on the aspect
of Tonantzin, mother and moon. How do you say “imprisoned lightning” in Nahuatl?
Or “Mother of Exiles” in Ladino.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 913
• • •
Last night watched Sydney Pollack’s documentary on Frank Gehry, né Goldberg.
Whew, people have a tendency to get fixated on an object. When Gehry was a child in
Hebrew school, he made a drawing of some important Jewish figure whose name
you’ve suddenly forgotten. The rabbi told Frank’s mother that her son possessed
more dimensionally realized than his buildings. Now it comes back, and no wondered
you disremembered. The subject of Goldberg’s drawing was Theodor Herzl.
• • •
Shattered boy?! What made you hear that in the piped-in music over the
drugstore’s sound system – bad speakers, or your own funky ears?
• • •
World, acquired leases and operating contracts for six U.S. ports: New York, Newark,
Baltimore, Philadelphia, Tampa and New Orleans when it bought Peninsular and
Oriental holdings, a British port and shipping company, for a mere $7 billion. A frenzy
of anti-“semitism” was quickly whupped up by political figures grandstanding on the
cheap about a bunch of towel-heads owning ‘merican ports. Visions of (Arabian)
Trojan horses danced in their heads, not least in the febrile brain of New York’s own
Senator Chuck Schumer, who’s always trying to prove he’s not boneless.
So great was the nativist furor that the new owners agreed to sell off their
investments and today the new deal was announced. All DP’s U.S. holdings, the
terminal operations that set off the firestorm, cargo-handling enterprises at sixteen ports
and the New York City passenger ship terminal got gobbled by a subsidiary of the
American International Group, founded in Shanghai just after WWI by the Cornelius
Vander Starr, the first lo fan to sell insurance in China. Starr lasted a long time at the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 914
helm and when he departed in the late sixties, turned operations over to Maurice
“Hank” Greenberg. By all accounts, Hank ran a pretty tight ship until the early oh-ohs,
when he started miscounting noughts on his balance sheets. So much need, so little
time – between quarterly reports. Pending a regulatory inquiry, Hank walked the
plank – but not very far – in early ’05.
And the bottom line, please. A-rabs, thankfully, control our ports no longer –
rather a gigantic mostly-legal extortion racket that agreed to pay a $1.6 billion penalty
for accounting fraud in February right around the time DP bought the ports. So here
we are, all gelt and no guilt. And a Heppy Chanukah to you, Henkeleh bubby.
Get myself free and move my shadow without leaving a trace.
So says Liang Zhen Pu via Li Zi Ming in Ba Gua song 21.
Wednesday is the day of rest
in the house with the bamboo floor
picking off the barroom flies
just in case I need another glass.
It’s so hot and the mirror’s getting dull
I couldn’t see it, couldn’t see it if I tried.
The man in the mask
has sold out all for nothing at all
and now the monsoon’s here
and it feels like judgment day
Watch out for the eagle’s eye
or the opium on the breakfast tray
and the laughter of the dying monk
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 915
So sang John Cale, once upon a time to the west.
Late morning turbines overhead – god love ‘em – a plane flying entirely too low
to be so far from a landing strip. But there’s no seeing it for the density of the
cloudcover and the rain splattered on your window. It’s up there somewhere, metal in
the air, metal in the droplets. Beyond this, the sun writes its own biography, chapter
and verse. Vade mecum, vade mecum, says your book, go with me.
• • •
Carter’s done it now. Set himself up. Them Zionistas gonna put a hurtin’ on that
boy. Po’ Jimmy. He crazy, so he don’t know no better. Thinks truth-talking more
important than life itself. If he’d come by me, I’da told him straight up: Jimmy, you got
to watch what you say.
• • •
Fanon to himself, Kan ya makan, but others heard too.
• • •
Images of various Gehry structures still resounding in your head. If not
Euclidian, than what sort of geometry can it be? Not, seemingly, elliptic or hyperbolic.
Nothing native to (poor old Bucky’s) planet earth. Must be Lovecraftian. The geometry
out of space.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 916
– the setting sun of American hegemony – is maybe just that. But it’s also the birth – or,
more likely, the coming of age – of a new math. Hard to tell.
This realization also casts, to your eyes at any rate, the WTC in a new light. Its
extreme parallelism was always a breakdown of the thing it over-represented, a
monstrous joke, perhaps unconscious, on two thousand-odd years of Greek geometry
and the myriad assumptions that flowed therefrom. Like “equality.” One hundred
plus stories above the level of the harbor, so grotesque had the extension of parallel
lines become, that folks swaying at their desks up there used to get seasick!
If the geometrics are unsustainable, of course the building will be. If not
Mohammed Atta, then some one, or some thing else. One shouldn’t be fooled by the
obvious: that Yamasaki’s late buildings are so vertical, and Gehry’s style isn’t about
that per se. The mission of both men was, and in the latter case, is, to call out loud and
clear the dismantling of what we knew and believed to be eternal and universal
principles of building. Of which phenomenon Gehry’s work exemplifies the next
decisive development. Would that Gehry was an anarchist – a destroyer in service of
the future. He’s not. Would that his nihilism leaves, if not something standing, at least
a ground in which new shoots can grow.
Of course it’s not just Gehry. He, like all architects, is a billboard artist, so
whatever the form is, you see it writ big. Strip matters down to their basics, and the
whole political and corporate game reveals itself to be infused with the same anti-ethos,
anti-logos. You’d defy anyone, anyone, to listen to a speech by Condoleezza Rice – the
most rhetorically gifted of her cabal – and find an ounce of common sense therein.
Plenty of hard lines drawn. But no way will any three of them permit you to
construct a triangle. Is this a good thing? Who knows? It’s a thing. One we’ve never
seen – or perhaps seen but not recognized? – before.
• • •
Hard to see world with head up ass.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 917
Ahmet Ertegun died last night, age 83. Class ears.
• • •
Vexatious fixations. Fixacious vexations.
• • •
Santa must jump over fire. Is he therefore a Zoroastrian?
• • •
The geomorphic X. Turkey, the Isthmus of Panama – imagine, but for a little
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