Covering 1995 to 2007
Selections from the text:
May 9, 1997 – Noontime
Sign taped inside window of an electronics shop on Fifth Avenue and 27th Street: YES! WE SPEAK ANDORRAN!
May 11, 1998 – #1 Downtown Local – Midafternoon
A violinist, Chinese you think, attempts to keep his footing as he navigates the aisle of the bucking subway car. A montage of Broadway show-tunes, but his intonation is on the money, and he plays from the heart. Bravura finale. You excavate a dollar bill. “Beautiful.”
His face brightens. For a moment he lowers his bow and instrument, leans in and whispers: “Most difficult part is keeping balance.”
October 20, 1999
New York is a symphony played in the key of real estate.
September 14, 2001
Fools with flags. Everywhere.
May 22, 2004
Maritime Day – a commemoration, now largely forgotten, of the first transatlantic steamship crossing in 1819. Celebrated this year with boat tours of the harbor. Thus the three of you aboard a hokey fake paddlewheeler bound out from the Frying Pan pier at 24th Street, down river and then west along the Kill Van Kull, the ship channel between Staten Island and Jersey that leads to the Newark-Elizabeth container port. All the way to the Bayonne Bridge and back round again. Out of the mud in the Kill rise the masts of sunken ships. Over there, on the Staten Island side, the ferry, Andrew J. Barberi, the one that was in that horrible accident last year – pilot zoned out and it plowed straight into the side of a concrete pier at full speed. Eleven people, many mutilated. Now up in drydock, almost ready to go back into service. Over in Jersey, a huge scrap yard, the largest in the New York area. Exports all its metal to China. Do the beams in those vast new Shanghai skyscrapers contain recycled H-girders from the WTC? And what would that do to their feng-shui? Where, oh where did all that material go? Did anyone keep track, or was it more effectual not to?
That’s where the Moran and McAllister tugs live when they’re not taking harbor pilots out to board tankers at Ambrose light, nudging freighters into port, or hauling Bouchard barges full of pretty much anything that can pass along a waterway. As you head upriver, you glimpse great ships in a line stretching under the Verrazano and into the narrows beyond. And in South Brooklyn, the only active freight docks left in New York City. Coffee, coffee, coffee, in the bean, bean bean. ¡Y cafecitos para todos!
April 9, 2006
Afternoon. Find a seat on the downtown #6 local. A woman enters stands in front of you, grasping the overhead rail with both hands. With each sway of the train, a swath of her belly floats toward and away from the tip of your nose. The belly, per se, is fine. It’s an avalanche of stimuli that makes you, after a glance, go soft-focus, attempt to look through her. Hair’s been waved Medusa-style, and processed into a metallic oscillation between rose gold and burnt umber. A hardness possesses her features, lips outlined much darker than the gloss fill. Her teeshirt declares:
The fourth and presumably concluding line of this slogan lies hidden by the narrowing V of her cropped jacket, but you content yourself with not grokking the text in its fullness, rather refocus your eyes, to the degree possible, on the poster across the aisle. It’s for HSBC, “the world’s local bank” and the graphic consists of a mosaic of fifty or so little headshots supposed, apparently, to represent the city’s multifarious population. Each face is superimposed with an adjective: Grand, Dumb, Wicked, Bright, Huge, Ecstatic, Rotten, Gross, Alluring – each word purporting to answer the question posed by the headline: New York Is?
So many adjectives, eight point four million maybe, each distilled to an epithet: Hot, Tense, Quiet, Dull, Rude, Lacking, Greedy, Sublime, Cruel…
Yes, and why not Dopey, Sleepy, Grumpy into the bargain? High ho!
February 6, 2007
Lunch with Michael K. at New Green Bo. The patronne there made herself indelible in your mind some months ago when you went to eat there one busy weekend noontime with Katie and Gwen. Scarcely had you made eye contact with her and held up three fingers than she barked: “Last table ready go!”
Today, the cold has half-depopulated the streets and restos of Chinatown. A relative hush blankets the accustomed clatter of this dumpling house. You bring the check and cash up to the counter, turn the knob of the dispenser and out rolls a toothpick. You’ve given exact change so there’s nothing to hand back, but Mme. smiles, more relaxed than you’ve seen her. “Thank you very much for coming.”