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that events have a meaning because they have happened, but that they happen in order
to express a meaning.”
Searching for oil used to be an Essoteric art. Now it’s gone Exxoteric. Can’t keep
things underground forever. All in the open now, except for what can’t be known.
some people for what they are do-to me.”
Then a thousand volts times two which, according to an eyewitness, caused
purple foam to slide down his face. And of course the smell.
Among thousands of people, only three to five can be close. Meaning that of
countless enemies, only a few are, at any time, near enough to engage. So advises Li Zi
Ming in his Victory Method, number 12.
Jerilou sends photographs of four of her favorite cacti which grow on the
mountain where she hikes near Santa Fe. Now, all covered in snow. You call to thank
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 992
her, having mounted the pictures on your wall beneath the south-facing window, next
to your desk, and in the course of the conversation, she relates that Los Alamos (the
poplars) was once a boy’s school and that the site was believed by the Indians to be a
place where, if one’s heart was right, it would rain.
Some kind of rain came out of Los Alamos – all those shimmering leaves – and it
fell in the condensation aftermath of those great theoretical clouds turned real over
living deserts and two inhabited cities. It strikes you as not entirely accidental that this
was the place where those heartless men convened. No, not heartless, for no one can be
that and live, but denying the nature of the organ, in service of…?
years ago, Orogene. In half-dreams the meanings come, as did the images themselves.
The death machiners wish to provoke humanity into destroying itself. For their
greatest fear, among so many terrors, is that Ibn ‘Arabi is correct when he suggests that
“If He has given us life and existence by His being, I also give Him life by knowing Him
in my heart.” Compare with Angelus Silesius: “I know that without me, the life of God
The cliff steps out from under you.
Saints mauled by Bears.
Death of L’abbé Pierre. 94.
Distorted in the dark-tinted rear window of the silver Windstar LX parked in
front of you, the sharp-peaked rooves of the Seminary. Here, in reflection, the rigors of
right angled apexes take on swooping curvilinear forms. At the window’s top and
bottom edges too, the naked branches of the street trees appear as veins might on a
backlit leaf. And every few minutes, arching across the field, a flock of pigeons,
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 993
attenuated to geese by the magical optics of late-capitalist safety glass when played on
by light and the singularity of your coign of vantage.
BBC World service bounces a mother’s grief from New Orleans to transmitter to
radio, and the Gray Ghost’s aerial isn’t even up. “These children got no respect for one
another. All they care about is money and drugs. They won’t be happy, not one of
them, until they all is dead and gone.” Part speech, part howl.
The quicker you are, the slower I am. This is Connecting Method, 15, Li Zi Ming.
We call those things bad which cause us discomfort, and those things that give
us pleasure, good.
station: …coming for to carry me home….
At your end of the platform, two figures, displaced-looking. Several trains arrive
and they don’t get on ‘em. One slouches on a bench, and the other stands nearby. The
standing one’s a man, though you’re not immediately certain of this since he’s so
bundled up you can only see his eyes. His slouching companion is turned away, so you
read the appliquéd letters on the back of his, or her, bulky jacket: COLORADO
Curiouser and curiouser. It seems that, for some time now the sun has been
engaging a big body that’s come up from the south – a comet named McNaught. Such
is the intensity of the electromagnetic dialogue between these two entities, that realtime
images transmitted by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite have
been, at times, shut down of recent weeks. That’s conjecture, of course, since the SOHO
folks don’t explain the interruptions. Are the discharges overwhelming the technology,
or is there some other rhyme or reason to it? No matter.
There’s been a theory, propounded by an eminent astronomer, that McNaught –
which some wag dubbed the Great Comet of 2007, and it stuck – among other comets
emanating from the southern reaches o’ the universe, may be a harbinger, a herald as it
were, of a much larger body not yet on anybody’s radar but nonetheless heading more
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 994
or less toward the sun. And it occurs to you today that not only is McNaught another
way of saying McNothing, but that Mc means, “son of,” or homophonically, “sun of.”
Put ‘em together and you get “son (or sun) of nothing.” So who or what might this
Nothing be? And when, if ever, do we get to meet him?
Funny names these comets got. The last one to get a rise out of you was “Hale-
Bopp.” Which did sound like a Shakespearean salutation: “Hail Bopp, well met,” or a
prayer-opener: “Hail-Bopp full of Grace.” A Hail-Bopp Pass being, presumably, the
kosmic ball thrown forward in a desperate attempt to save the game. H-B did, at the
time, stir up a good deal of apocalyptic sentiment, back in ninety-seven when it was the
Great Comet. Flares of fear drawn out like so many tongues of gas. The Heaven’s Gate
folks did not, apparently, find the name humorous enough to deflect their collective
death drive. True, if H-B had impacted Old Uncle Helios, that would’ve been quite a
bop. We might have become been the sons and daughters of naught, or just plain
Now McNaught is, in fact, much brighter than its predecessor, or any comet
since 1965, and was visible at times and in certain places, like Australia and
Switzerland, even by day with the naked eye. And though you couldn’t figure it out
even in a Genesis-length lifetime, the coming and going of McNaught, taken together
with all the weird-ass solar activity of late, has got you wondering if the dance of these
powerful kosmic energies might not have some little something to do with life on earth.
Not letting the Bushies off the hook. Or any other local demons. There are evil ones.
But hey, maybe the game is bigger than we can wrap minds around. Or maybe not a
game at all? The gods, sane or crazy? Or is it just what it is.
week ago, January 16, and so we’re waving ‘is nibs goodbye. If you lived down in
Costa Rica, late of a moonless night, you might see ‘is tail. Godspeed, McNaught. Safe
‘ome. It’s a long way to Tipperary. A song written two years before the Great War, by
a certain Mr. Jack Judge. But then the trenches changed the lyrics:
That’s the wrong way to kiss!
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 995
What Jack first wrote was this:
Or as your Cockney grandmother Anne Freeman would’ve sung it:
You, you’ve, found your heart and lost it. Left and righted it. And now?
Tomorrow a.m., jury duty. Along with a time and place to show up, you have
been issued an index number. Every body visible or sensed, each far-flung little icy
pebble in the outer belts has been issued an index number. Every sovereign, single one.
Ah, to be young and dirigible.
Working title for this book: Lies My Muse Told Me.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 996
the video display in the jury room, a light-skinned black woman with punctilious
articulation assures the all within earshot of their “indispensability” to the “system of
Out the east-facing windows, the imposing front façade of The Tombs, partly
scaffolded for renovation. Down at the other end of the hall, sixty-eight steps to the
west, you see, across the street at the corner of Franklin and Lafayette, a low-rise
building. It’s got beautiful light ochre brickwork, terra cotta detailing, and bays running
up the Lafayette side, faced in elaborately-ornamented pressed sheet-metal. Best of the
Old School. Must date from around 1880. On the ground floor, a merry-looking
storefront overhung with a bright red awning, it’s top only lightly sooted: ERIC’S
You amble back down the hall to find the video presentation’s finished and the
clerk in the midst of listing, over a slightly boomy mic, the possible grounds for being
excused. When she gets to “if you have problems with the English language,” you
nearly jump out of the chair you just sat down in, but don’t, since you realize almost
right away that what she meant is not exactly what she said.
Language broken. Always.
Using others’ narratives to guide you through your own internal world.
Can you use words to get beyond, or before, words?
When the object is gone, its shadow remains. But if the shadow remains, is the
The spin on a billiard ball they call “English.”
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 997
who no know go know. All well and good to say it, but wha’ can ye ken, and
wha’ can ye nae ken? Ye dinna knoo, do ye?
It gets werse. Can ye ken and nae ken at the same time? Ye noo noo, do ye?
Ach, well, there’s nothing for it but a wee dram o’ the single malt. Doon Sauchiehall
Street! Yer health! Nastrovia! L’chaim! Here’s mud in yer eye! And may yer kilt n’er
get caught in an updraft, unless, that is, yer Marilyn Monroe. In which case, I’d nae mix
the single malt wi’ the prescription stuff. Better to live wi’ the shadows, and if ye must,
Late morning in the jury room. Florescent light overhead, rustle of newspapers,
a cough, blown nose, tap of heels in the corridor and the domesticated roar of the
HVAC. Shallow breathing’s all you can do here.
Sitting midway across the room from you, arms resting on the long table, a
strikingly pretty young woman with, yes, now that you’ve seen it, the ugliest haircut in
the Western World. OK, not the Western World, but certainly in this densely populated
room of a hundred or so souls. Part of her attraction is that she looks a little crazy. And
her full brown eyebrows clash interestingly with the red gold of her awful hair.
She reads, with deep focus and apparent diligence, the Juror’s Handbook, and
occasionally takes exquisitely slow bites of a never-ending cookie. Her name is called
and she stands. Horrifying brown bell-bottom pants and long-sleeved matching top
over which she wears a long, lacy pink sweater fastened at the midriff. Your name
comes up too. Off to see and here.
Rather than crowd on to an elevator you take the stairway to the tenth floor to
discover, first, that there are lots of steps between stories in this building, and second
that a large L-shaped office block half-wraps around the ERIC’S HAPPY DELI building.
This larger structure is a creature of the early 20th Century, faced in beige brick with
wonderful cast concrete human-faced gargoyles, some in clusters, set into the façade at
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 998
accused of having perpetrated the Class A felony trifecta. It’s alleged that he fatally
shot Balbino Diaz, known as Beano, in a conflict over East Harlem drug turf. But that’s
not all. Diaz, a leader of the Ultimate Power gang was kidnapped at about 3 p.m. on
September 14, 2003 from 114th Street between Pleasant and First Avenues. Then driven
to Queens, then robbed, then murdered. His body found the next day inside a porto-
potty in Idlewild Park.
When Jason Johnson rises to acknowledge the prospective jurors, he appears
remarkably open and present. The judge seems fair and reasonably good-humored,
and reminds you spookily of a superannuated version of Katie’s pal Lois. The DA
surpasses clichés – he’s got the face and body language of a sand shark. Johnson’s
attorney is a round-bodied woman with soulful brown eyes, which, almost instantly,
she fixes upon yours. She knows, or some part of her does, that if, just if, you make the
cut, she’s got a prayer.
But you raise your hand when the judge asks if there are any people who might
have problems, and you tell your best version of the truth. Dismissed in a New York
This is indeed a no-smoking building. But a good seven tenths of the folks lining
this corridor are talking on cell phones or punching away at their blackberries. No
cigarette fumes assaulting the lungs, just dozens of people being slowly microwaved,
and you passively, collaterally damaged.
Courthouse tower. The Municipal Building where, once upon a time, you and Katie
wed. Visible behind a shorter building, the top floors of the slab that used to be Chase,
until they wuz Chased. If you lean left, from behind the ghastly oblong of the Federal
Building, you catch a sliver of the Woolworth Building’s lower floors and one peaked
corner before its tower setbacks begin. Why, oh why, are all the flags at half-staff?
Kapuscinski dies. Only 74. Young for these days. “It is terribly important,” he
said in an interview not too far back, “to have what I write authenticated by its being
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 999
lived. You could call it, I suppose, personal reportage, because the author is always
present. I sometimes call it literature by foot.”
Lunchbreak: down to Century 21 to buy underwear. Purchase made, you
circumambulate the Bathtub and the Deutsche Bank building to scope out it’s
“deconstruction.” The crane around front stands idle. But that’s not odd, given the
hour. On the south face, an elevator attached to the scaffold makes periodic climbs and
descents. Don’t see any material coming down though, or trucks to haul it away. This
side of the building, beneath the black mesh, has been deglazed and stripped of
cladding. Down to steel and bones. And dust.
Walking north on the far side of the West Street highway a view across the
breadth of the Bathtub. Across the top of Century 21, a huge banner hangs. Bold white
caps on red: WINTER CLEARANCE SALE.
Larry Silverstein’s new trapezoidal 7WTC, thrilling and ghastly all at once.
Terrible its proportions, and the bottom four floors wherein lives the Con-Ed substation
sheathed in what look like vertical heat vents. But above, glass – very reflective glass.
A vast mirror, to duplicate, in reverse, whatever’s playing out around its eye.
As you head up Broadway, a young political hireling with a bearded moon face
steps into your path. “Help the Democrats,” he says, gesturing toward his clipboard.
“Ah, the Democrats…” You’d actually forgotten them.
“Yes, and here’s how we’ll do it… just one minute…” But the minute’s gone, or
it never was and up ahead of you, a woman walking just to your left mutters: “Get rid
of Bush.” Pause. “He’s a red devil!” She likes this last formulation so much, as though
she’s discovered the exact wording of a bedrock truth, that she repeats it, bookended by
other imprecations, until you scoot ahead of her across the just-red light and her voice
vanishes into the general whroosh.
“Peel, Eat. Repeat Daily.” So says Chiquita on the sticker you removed from
the luncheon banana you bought at your namesake’s happy deli. Paste it into your
notebook. Words to live by. Maxims from the Branding Angel.
NOTES OF A NEW YORK SON 1000
Half past three. A plump gal who has whiled away the hours alternating
between reading from an airport novel, dozing, playing with her blackberry – she
dropped it twice – now wanders about the jury room repeatedly intoning the word
“torture,” high and mellifluous. Maybe she moves some kosmic waves around, for the
clerk suddenly appears at the mic and announces to the ragtag remnants of this
morning’s overflow crowd: That’s it for today, you can go now, see you tomorrow.
I should be very careful in dealing with him if I were you.
And why is that?
Because he is one of the most powerless men in the world.
McNaught’s come north and gone south. Does the son precede the father? In
which case we are waiting for Naught. Or, as some call him, God-O.
CDFA = Commodities for a Dignity-Free America.
Whitehall rattles, Washington strikes. Or is it t’other way round? And what
smooth beast, having hatched, coils about Bethlehem?
Exactly how many heads does the serpent have, and which of these are the true
and false ones? How can one tell?
Down to jury duty on the C-train – day two – you stand in the swaying car and
feel yourself a dragon swimming through clouds.
One series of WWII Russian offensives, known as the Rzhev Meat Grinder,
claimed an estimated million to million and a half lives. And those were combatants.
Who know how many others perished? The Rzhev battles, it turns out, were intended
as a strategic diversion to keep the Germans from reinforcing Stalingrad. Officially,
they were a disaster for the Red Army which lost three times as many troops as the
Germans and any mention of them was kept out of Soviet history books for a
generation and more. Had the Rzhev offensive succeeded, what would have
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