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NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 963
• • •
Enough pop-up. World-on-head needs pop-down books. Lift the lid and watch
the house go flat.
• • •
On the northwest corner of Eighth and 29th, there stands, for now, a four-story
brownstone-faced building with scaffolding enveloping the ground floor facades.
Number three eighty-two. What makes this building wonderful is that it is the leaning
tower of Clinton, been leaning a long time, a generation and more, a visible two degrees
or so northward toward the pole, and may lean longer still, unless the city does a pre-
emtive takedown, folks being so nervous about collapses these days. So we need to
send Galileo up there soon, today, right now, to drop a cannonball and feather into the
vacant lot next door and see if they ever hit bottom.
million bucksworth of structural support, invisibly inside. But hey, you never know.
For Wilfredo Santos, super for the building just across Eighth, the future is a sure thing:
“It’s bending,” he said. “It’s bending and it’s going to fall.”
When did superintendents stop being janitors? Being a super, as once Jack was
upon a time on 12th Street, can be pretty super. But Janus was a god – presided over
doors and gateways. In his earliest form, he opened the sky at daybreak and closed it at
nightfall. In time, his duties evolved into the guardianship of beginnings and endings,
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 964
entrances and exits. In imagery, he was shown looking toward both past and future.
There’s a double-faced image of him you can see on old Roman coins. The Romans also
built him a temple in the Forum. It’s doors, so they say, were kept open in wartime,
and shut in times of peace. It says something about the Romans that the doors were
only closed in four moments of respite during the seven hundred someodd years
between the earliest kings and Augustus. And yes, O best beloveds, Janus lends his
name to January, the liminal space between the end of one cycle round the sun and the
beginning of another.
“How are you,” you used to ask your mother sometimes when she looked
“I don’t know if I’m coming or going,” she’d say. As a kid, you found that a
particularly intriguing reply.
“You can restore your hair,” says Kathy. Take a pill. Sure, why not?
But Old Man Janus, he just keeps opening doors.
• • •
• • •
In the summer of 2001, at the age of 18, Jessica Cawvey enlisted in the National
Guard after graduating with honors from a community college near her hometown of
Mahomet, Illinois. The single mother of a daughter, Sierra, she shipped out for Iraq in
early 2004 to serve in the 1544th Transportation Company. Specialist Cawvey came
stateside on leave that July to celebrate her daughter’s sixth birthday, returned to Iraq
and died in Fallujah on October 6th when an IED detonated near her vehicle.
Understandably, her little girl felt, besides grief, great confusion too. “She
pinkey-sweared she wouldn’t die,” is how Sierra put it to her grandmother.
“We had to explain,” said her grandfather, “that it was not mommy’s fault, that
she wanted to come home.”
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 965
• • •
“In the long run,” said John Maynard, 1st Baron, Keynes, “we are all dead.”
You get home with two minutes to spare, switch on the TV, get ready to pop the
cork. A silly man posing as a billionaire drops a sheep from the top of a tall building in
Longacre Square. Look out the window. There go the fireworks, two sets of them
visible – in the harbor off the Battery and to the southeast off Brooklyn Heights. Your
view of the former is mostly blocked by the World Financial Center, but you see the
coronas of the higher bursts, and for all the world it looks like the American Express
Tower has gone volcanic, spewing a dandelion effusion of scarlet magma.
Hue and cry from the streets carries on past the finale, then occasional whoops
over the woosh of cars. Two thousand oh-heaven.
• • •
Torrential rains pound the city from around 2 a.m. Despite or because of it, the
whoops and party horn blasts continue until well after dawn. The Wunderground
weather website promises unseasonable warmth.
• • •
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 hare chase the hound, who’s the fool, now
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 966
• • •
Having flipped the switch that dropped the sheep, the fake billionaire presumes
to read the entrails: Less 4 U. More 4 Me.
In truth, both the sheep – which is real – and the man, made of nine zeros, all
frauds, keep falling.
• • •
Far-off in Nantes, famous for its edict of toleration, ils ont dit non, non, non!
Multitudes took to the winding streets round midnight to protest the arrival of 2007. As
the second hand made its final sweep past XII, the marchers, without skipping a beat,
changed the chant to Non à 2008.
Flushing, New York, was still a village when Nancy Davis Reagan, née Anne
Francis Robbins, was born there in 1921. Yesterday, perhaps the midst of a mid-
afternoon California nap, the ex-First Lady stirred to the sound of a thousand voices:
Non, non, non!
In 1657, Flushing was an uppity town. When Peter Stuyvesant tried to rule,
imposing, in his way, a theocracy of Dutch Reform, they Remonstranced him but good,
saying, in part:
The law of love, peace and liberty in the states extending to Jews,
Turks and Egyptians, as they are considered sons of Adam, which is the
glory of the outward state of Holland, soe love, peace and liberty, extending
to all in Christ Jesus, condemns hatred, war and bondage. And because our
Saviour sayeth it is impossible but that offences will come, but woe unto
him by whom they cometh, our desire is not to offend one of his little ones,
in whatsoever form, name or title hee appears in, whether Presbyterian,
Independent, Baptist or Quaker, but shall be glad to see anything of God in
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 967
any of them, desiring to doe unto all men as we desire all men should doe
unto us, which is the true law both of Church and State; for our Saviour
sayeth this is the law and the prophets.
Therefore if any of these said persons come in love unto us, we
cannot in conscience lay violent hands upon them, but give them free
egresse and regresse unto our Town, and houses, as God shall persuade our
consciences, for we are bounde by the law of God and man to doe good
unto all men and evil to noe man. And this is according to the patent and
charter of our Towne, given unto us in the name of the States General,
which we are not willing to infringe, and violate, but shall houlde to our
patent and shall remaine, your humble subjects, the inhabitants of Vlishing.
Written this 27th of December in the year 1657, by mee.
banishment followed for Hart and those who would not immediately recant. Yet in
1660, Flushing’s Quaker Meeting sent this declaration to Charles II, their would-be
English king: We do utterly deny…all outward wars, and strife, and fightings with outward
Deposed by the Brits in 1664, Stuyvesant lived on in Manhattan another eight
years. He’s buried in the Stuyvesant family vault, now beneath St. Marks Church-in-
the-Bowerie not far from where a pear tree he brought from Holland, and planted at
what would one day become the corner of 13th Street and Third Avenue, bore fruit for
two more centuries, until it too died.
• • •
I saw a flea heave a tree, who’s the fool now
I saw a flea heave a tree, twenty miles out to sea
Thou hast well drunken, man, who’s the fool now
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 968
As one may read a tree’s age by its rings, when in a New York basement, just
look up at the ceiling and count the pipes.
• • •
A weird, blurry b/w portrait of a young Marine cropped into a square – extreme
close-up, eyes wide and blank – graces the front page of the online Times. Look closer
and you see the kid’s face is overlain with a grid of fine black lines, like graph paper.
Ah, the picture’s been divided into three thousand tiny interactive “buttons.” Click on
the bottom right square and up comes a picture of F.E. Pokorney, Jr., the first American
soldier to die in the invasion of Iraq, on March 23, 2003. Click on the far upper left and
you get the name William D. Spencer, killed on December 28, 2006. But where
Spencer’s visage should be, an eerie, pixilated black silhouette appears. Click around at
random and you find a few more blanks interspersed among the vague, grayed-out
features of these mostly young ones. Who provides or withholds the photos here? And
for those depicted, who selected that particular image? What other likenesses didn’t
make the cut?
At your accustomed focal length, these men and women’s faces have the quality
of collaboration between Gerhard Richter and Chuck Close. It’s only when you stand
back across the room and turn out all the lights that the image of Jeremy R. Ewing, who
died on April 29, 2004, coheres at all. And now, at this remove, he’s the size of a
postcard, still out-of-focus.
“Faces of the Dead,” the headline reads. The copy below invites you to an
“Interactive Feature” wherein you’ll “Learn about the individuals by clicking on any
square to see information about that person.” But what’s to be discovered there? The
soldier’s name, date, branch of service, date of death, hometown. Only this and nothing
more. So much not on the table.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 969
A lattice-work of days.
• • •
Nantucket sleighride. You’re the whale, the tale, the barb and the man.
• • •
All men drown.
• • •
Once upon a time, when he blurbed Divided… Marshall Berman wrote that
“Darton knows …where the bodies are buried.” No, you don’t know anything. Nor are
the bodies buried. They are simply strewn.
• • •
Eventually the world itself drowned, so weighed down it was by an excess of
• • •
Under mysterious circumstances, a 140 page document laying out Giuliani’s
presidential campaign strategy goes missing, gets photocopied and handed to the Daily
News. Among the points addressed are the former mayor’s presumptive liabilities,
including what the Times calls “his controversial former aide,” Bernard B. Kerik. Not
just former aide, but ex-Commissioner of Police, and a man so altogether corrupt,
brutish and detestable that his loyalty to his ex-boss emerges as a kind of mitigating
No matter. The thing that galls you is this: the benighted alley between the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 970
Tombs and the new detention center on Centre street was, until recently, hung
ubiquitously with signs proclaiming it Berard B. Kerik Plaza – just as the jail itself was
named for the Commish – and now all the signs have disappeared. Someone, the
fastidious Bloomie no doubt, has effaced this embarrassing name from the site,
probably in response to the various criminal charges leveled against Kerik and/or the
implosion of his nomination to head the Department of Homeland Security.
But for shame. It’s weasily to wipe a man’s name off public facilities in order to
pretend he never existed. Let there be a visible record of the choices made by the
political class. Kerik rose, after all, to be a powerful official in New York City and
beyond, elevated through the acts of other powerful officials. As a cop, he received
thirty medals including one for valor under fire. Later he became Commissioner of
Corrections. Queen Elizabeth dubbed him a Commander of the Order of the British
Empire. In 2003, on the heels of the occupying army, Bush appointed him Interim
Minister of Interior of Iraq and Senior Policy Advisor to
then Presidential Envoy Paul
In some strange way Kerik – monstrously – is what he is. You’ve got an idea
who you’re dealing with. These other quavering bastards are always trying to change
their colors to suit the temper of the time, and Kerik’s cardinal sin lay in reflecting back
at them exactly what they are.
• • •
Times, legendarily weighty on Sunday, has on Tuesday defied the laws of
gravity. In an article on the unseemly scene at Saddam’s execution, the paper of record
reports a “volley of taunts that continued right up to the moment of the hanging itself,
and afterwards, as Mr. Hussein lay suspended from the rope.”
• • •
I saw the mouse chase the cat, who’s the fool now
I saw the mouse chase the cat, Saw the cheese eat the rat
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 971
Your junkmail filter fails to catch a message from “Tricia Friend.” Its subject:
“you got no choice.”
• • •
So many vapors, so few pythias.
• • •
completion of their appointed rounds.
So says the inscription on the portico of the GPO where you’ve come on a stamp-
buying expedition. The stairs are pitched in such a way as that, at nearly 57, it’s easy
enough to bound up ‘em three at a time. Though you used to do four. But that hoary
adage, attributed to Herodotus, need to be changed in keeping with the times. Neither
• • •
Biking wrongway down Eighth Avenue from the GPO, you notice that not only
is number three eighty-two leaning, and more like three degrees than two, it’s also
bowing, and gracefully too: a lovely concave arc from cornice to where bricks meet the
ground. Beneath the scaffolding, the now-shuttered Estoril del Sol, its once-white
baroque-patterned door beginning to peel paint. A pity, for you alone, that you never
ate the paella de Valencia there. Even in its absence, it feels delicious – especially and
particularly on an empty stomach.
At Le G. this morning, the realization – growing on you incrementally these past
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 972
several years and now gone critical – that the place is a magnet for spooks. Thomas
shakes his head when you tell him that so-and-so is likely CIA. Couldn’t be, Thomas
says, if he were CIA, he’d never have lost his cool like that – you both remembering the
time Eric B.’s remark provoked him into a near brawl. True, you say, but the fact is few
are in the CIA, but many are of the CIA. For every operative, how many informers?
There are a great many leaves on that great, deep-rooted tree of deception, the Good
Shepherd Company being only one recent and by no means definitive branch.
What to do? Out them? Spread the word about this or that one or them all – the
ones you suspect? Challenge them publicly? Several have told you of their affiliations
in almost so many words, or imply they are ex of this or that. It’s hard for them not to
boast about it, particularly in an atmosphere of so many free tongues. A private laugh
that you’ve probably introduced several spooks to one another while they pretended to
be meeting for the first time.
What to do? The ox is way bigger than you are and very strong. But it fears
even a small fellow grasping it by the horns and in one turn, throwing it down. What to
do, Mr. Man at Table 4? How to deal with this bumper crop of True Believers and
Nothing. Sit by the river side. Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear.
• • •
Little barrel. Big fish. Lots of ‘em.
• • •
I saw a maid milk a bull, fie, man, fie
I saw a maid milk a bull, who’s the fool now
I saw a maid milk a bull, at every pull a bucket full
Thou hast well drunken, man, who’s the fool now
Martin said to his man, fie, man, fie
Martin said to his man, who’s the fool, now
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 973
• • •
Hope’s a funny thing. Keeps undying. Let it go.
• • •
Sartre said it more or less like this: You’re entering the gas chamber in
Auschwitz. Do you walk through the doors free or not free?
• • •
Does an ox go “Moo – I wish I were the bird on my back and not me?”
• • •
Homer – was he real? Worry less about who said something than whether it’s
got a germ of truth. Strange to compare the information provided by the Times in
“Faces of the Dead,” with that related by Homer about so many warriors, soon to die at
Troy. Perhaps a few words only, a particularity or two, but you come away with the
sense that this man lived, and that, in some small way, he mattered. If only to other
mortals, like yourself.
And if this singular mortal had his qualities, than did not the dead man’s
brothers – soon to join him on another shore – thousands of them – who went to their
graves unacknowledged by even so capacious a mind as Homer’s?
But more – even in the manner of death something can be said: “One with a
spearcast above his nipple, The other with a swordstroke to the collar-bone, Shearing
off the entire shoulder From the neck and back.”
And next to die at Diomedes’s hand – fuelled as it was, for the moment, by
Zeus’s rage and protected by Athena – “Abas and Polyidus, Sons of old Eurydamas,
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 974
who read dreams, But read no dreams for them when they left home. Diomedes cut
them down and moved on.”
• • •
A man falls down on the platform, stands up, then convulses and tumbles onto
the tracks. Train’s coming – big red number 1 in a circle. Another man sees this, leaves
his two girl-children and jumps down. He presses the fallen man into the gutterway
between the tracks as the train rumbles over them both. The pressing-down man
receives a smear of grease on his wool cap for his labors. Gasps and screams from the
onlookers: “They’re down there!” From below the undercarriage, Man 2 calls out:
“Tell my daughters I’m OK!”
Power’s cut and both men are pulled free without serious harm. What brings on
a seizure in one man? What makes another jump into the void?
• • •
And what of all these dots and deltas, symbols you’ve interposed to denote
divisions in time. It doesn’t work that way any more. Your moments unwind one into
the next. Yes, there are spokes on the wheel, but who can see them when it’s turning so
And throw them in the lake
And I’ll be
Two steps on the water
Once sang Kate Bush, more or less like that.
Where did Mary land, mom?
And who blew off these doors of experience?
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 975
the heart. Kills you if it’s worse. Exotoxins. Well, where would you be then, Poppy?
Or as the ex-pig said about the sausage factory: It was the wurst experience of my
• • •
Jokes and half-jokes.
In fat silver magic marker on the side of a mailbox: ATTENTION PEASANTS.
Four doors west, on the same block, in black magic marker, on the base of a dayglo
orange traffic cone – one of three set up before a derelict townhouse: UNBUILDIT.
Turn the corner bearing north by northwest on Greenwich Avenue. There’s a
beautiful wide window, gray with schmutz on the vacant storefront of a shoe repair
that you remember being there since the year one. If you had a can of dayglo orange
spraypaint – is there a hardware store nearby since Garber’s moved? – you’d write
across it: INVITE MY EXECUTIONERS TO THE FUNERAL.
And along the way you notice, as you have these past days, written nearly as
ubiquitously on many a surface as STOP BUSH was seven years ago: 911TRUTH.ORG.
Stop to take of your scarf, put it in your bag. St. Martin’s Summer or some other
kind of miracle?
Global warming’s so Yang. What’s needed as a corrective is a little dose of Yin.
Chucking under its chin: “And whose little fear are you?”
“Watch out for cars,” Elena said as you parted. So you are very aware of the
huge black SUV that cuts off your corner at Eighth and 20th. It roars to 21st, screeches
to a halt before the red light. Squint to read what’s written across the wide back
window. A large green drippy horror movieish “M,” and in tamer white letters next to
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 976
In the waning spring, yet January light, all the girls and women on the street,
even the least favored among them, look fine. Each man, irrespective of his condition,
resembles in some way your father. A twentyish woman walks past, drinking from a
Starbucks cup, sunglint off her pierced left nostril, wavy hair, her feet in electric yellow
New Balances. The shock of color cracks you up.
Deafening siren. A kid stomps a sheetmetal sidewalk door hard as he can.
Outside Starbucks, the strangely tall dark handsome neighborhood madman – part
buccaneer, part dragqueen, smokes a brown cigarette and fastidiously adjusts his shirt
cuffs. He takes a long drag and leans against the building near a red standpipe. Your
bag, balanced on top of a fire hydrant while you write this, falls into the gutter.
You don’t feel safe on the street any more, so you open the door of Jamba Juice –
Gwen’s favorite place of refreshment and refuge. You almost expect to find her here,
but she’s still on her way home on the subway, or still hanging out uptown with her
mates uptown. There are other kids here though, messing with their Blackberries,
flipping straws up and down between their teeth like impossibly long cigarettes. Barry
White’s “You’re My Everything” gets drowned out by the roar of juicers. In the spot
where you can’t hear it, you hear it: You’re my reality, But I’m lost in a dream. You’re the
first, you’re the last…
Welcome home says the clock, and the chair says Welcome home. All you remember of
a song your mother used to sing in her baritone register. Oh yes, and the lamp, the rug,
the table, all say Welcome home.
Wolf moon. Hanging in the sky. Full as it gets.
What’s your goal in life? To die.
Thor’s day. Two days shy of Epiphany-Three Kings Day, four before the
Manhattan Solstice and two weeks prior to the commencement of Pig Year, which will
no doubt bring everything with it, including the oink.
Good Lord, those buds on the gingko tree across from the café. Maki says the
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 977
cherry trees in the St. Luke’s garden are blooming. Semper ver. Fi!
Green is the new gold is the new red is the new pink.
The iceman cometh. The snowman? – fuggedaboudit!
Tillie Olsen’s dead at 94.
We have most always lived in the grip of evil men. The question is one of
consciousness. And conscience.
Let the bidding begin. Saddam’s noose. Muqtada, supposedly, holds it now.
Highest call so far, from a Kuwaiti gazillionaire, willing, it is said, to pay “anything.”
Meanwhile, the world, and foremost the Chinese, unreel us – the ‘merican
empire, g d love us – plenty of rope.
Carpal to carpal, c-spine to c-spine, weak joint to weak joint. Whose wrist wraps
Che Guevara’s Rolex? And for how long? Time will tell. Back in the day, Booker T.
played a song, and the MG’s backed him up: Time is Tight.
then without time for exhaling pitches forward, lips colliding with the plastic top of her
just upraised takeout coffee. So much imbalance on the streets. You too, unable to
move without knocking over something, unwalkable without tripping, grazing your
knuckles on this or that rough metal object. Only the garbage men, slowly making their
way down 21st Street, behind the flashing lights of the truck are accurate in their flings:
curbside to jaws of maw almost offhandedly – black bags with yellow cinches. But they
leave behind the Christmas trees, stacked in front of the larger buildings like the dead of
Antietam. Gathering them up must be some other crew’s mission. Bag for bag, it’s all
gone or going.
Erin, you’d forgotten her name, was at the café this morning – in from the West
Coast where she now lives with husband and daughters aged two and four. She’s here
scoring a movie, indie feature, Year Zero, set in a thirty day slot in the near future just as,
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 978
and after, the youth eighteen and over receive their draft notices. You remember,
sitting here, on these brownstone steps in the sunlight, ass cold though, waiting for the
Gray Ghost to go legal, how radiant Erin looked pregnant with her first – how you
almost couldn’t talk to her – that part of your mind shut down, the place that
manufactures speech. Music.
A woman passes heading west. She’s talking softly, but when you look closer
you see she’s got no wire so it must be herself she’s conversing with, just like you. Ass
cold, plane unseen in the clouds but diagonally audible overhead, northwest to
Now, walking east a townhouse mom you’d thought so sexy once, a whole half
year ago, hailing a cab to get her kids to private school on time, wearing a fedora-
shaped openweave straw hat. She was the one who, late this fall, was daft enough to
rush into the oncoming traffic, both children right after her, to try and snag a taxi on the
other side of the avenue. A miracle none of them were hit. You can still see it: the kids,
dodging between one lane and another, mom legging after the vanishing cab and
turning to yell “watch out!” Nothing to do but hold your breath. She comes to the café
now and again, hangs out with the famous actor.
Project away. Is it grief of heartbreak that’s gripped her face, got her sniffling.
Or could she be a junkie, sick? No, folks like her can always score, no need for them to
be hurting that way. You don’t know what the matter is, why her coat swings open in
the not-friendly breeze, why her pant cuffs drag. Is she losing weight and the
waistband’s slipped? Even if you asked her, presuming on the scantiest acquaintance –
one creature recognizing another from the cabbage patch, small gesturing in her
direction – you might not know. She might not know.
The Chinese notebook, black with red binding and corners, is out of pages.
You’re penning the inside cover now. At the bottom, on the left, there’s a
manufacturer’s logo: a pyramid, but two dimensional and unfolding, as if it’s made of
origami. On the side facing you, what looks like a stylized outline of a man’s head in
profile. Hieratic? And beneath the pyramid’s base the company name: Quitman®.
Quit man. Quit while you’re ahead. A neck, a body. Sound-limbed, straight-
hipped. Loose-waisted. Opposable-thumbed. A man entire. All.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 979
And this wheel you’re writing. Painstaking, like a sand mandala, easily swept
Did you hear the one about the elephant who mistook his own toenail for a
mouse and tried to run away from it?
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