Monday, September 13, 2010

For Something Like Posterity

I recall an arc in the comic strip Doonesbury in which journalist Rick Redburn was laid off from the Washington Post and forced to salvage his journalism career by taking up blogging a continuing source of professional ignominy and personal shame for him.

I suppose I can relate. I've got a novel that a hundred publishers and agents don't want to touch, a sprite comic I lost interest in a year ago (four years after the rest of the world), and am at this point probably most well-known for a series of silly reviews about a certain video game series. My back is to the wall. What's left but a belated entry onto the already-congested blog scene?

I'm aware that it's poor form to begin a blog with an "okay hi guys I have a blog now" post, but I'm afraid I don't have anything planned or prepared. Why don't I just slap my hands against the keyboard for a few minutes and see what I come up with?

So. Yesterday which just happened to be September 11 I drove into Manhattan to visit my friend James, a lifelong NYC resident. I found him on Broome street while I roved about searching for a parking space in SoHo. He wasn't hard to miss. James is a very boisterous and big fellow, and today he was strutting about in a New York Yankees shirt and waving around a miniature American flag, shouting WAKKA WAKKA every ninety seconds or so.

He was on his way home from the Ground Zero protests. From what he saw, the demonstrators were penned into four separate camps: the Yea Mosque group, the Nay Mosque group, the 9/11 Was an Inside Job group, and the Abortion Is Murder group. Unnerving signs: commemorating the last time in recent memory that America came together by demonstrating how taut its seams are stretched today.

"What do you do when your populace is divided into diametrically opposed camps who refuse to compromise or even engage with the other?" James asked.

"Ask 1861," I told him.

"How do you get to 9/11?" he asked a little later.

I didn't have an answer, but he probably wasn't expecting one. James often poses rhetorical questions that might be counted in the Socratic tradition as well as the Dadaist. (Now that I think of it, he was probably asked that same question by some yahoo tourist asking for directions to Ground Zero.)

Grim days in the Republic. But I hadn't come to Manhattan for any kind of political or patriotic reasons. James and I had set the day aside to mount a pair of bikes and ride from Canal Street to the west end of the George Washington Bridge and back.

I became disenchanted with New York years ago. It's clogged and filthy and overpriced. You can't even take a piss without five dollars cash in your pocket. Times Square is an infected pimple on the East Coast's ass. Brooklyn is a profound argument for the worthlessness of Generation Y. New York is a city of drunks, lunatics, narcissists, materialists, bullshit artists, crooks, robber barons, and jaded cynicism. The folks who refer to it by the old "urban jungle" colloquialism are only half-right. The metaphorical New York forest between the Hudson and East River has reached that stage in the ecological life cycle where the soil is waterlogged, widespread tree rot has set in and the mammals have abandoned the place to the vultures and amphibians. Jungle, nothing. New York is the urban swamp.

The farther we got from the former site of the World Trade Center, the more I thought of Walt Whitman and his romanticized Manahatta. On the River Greenway we passed three or four thousand people which I suspect might be a low estimate. The "Great Melting Pot" cliche is parroted so tirelessly by teachers and politicians that you barely consider what it means until you're confronted by it. James and I chatted with a man from India or Pakistan (perhaps Tamil?), sharing concern about a baby skunk adrift on the green. We got directions from an Irishwoman and gave directions to a queer cyclist coming from where we were going. I counted the vertebrae on the back of a Chinese cyclist wearing a shirt seamed down the back, split halfway down. Wondered at a drunk black man who vaulted over a rail onto incoming traffic and laughed crazily at his girlfriend's admonishments "only God can judge me!" Admired the bodies of the Latinos barbecuing and playing volleyball in Riverside Park. Regarded the middle-aged Cubans smoking cigarettes and playing cards at a fold in table they brought onto the sidewalk overlooking West Harlem Piers Park. Thousands of people from a hundred of nations, sharing a September afternoon in peace and civility by the river while the demonstrators shouted and the TV cameras rolled downtown. If our bike ride had been my first impressive glance of America, I might have suspected it were a sane place.

We observed the sunset from across the New Jersey state line on the bridge and discussed Huxley, Orwell, Thucydides, and where America was going. When James stopped talking to take a few snapshots, I wondered what New York was and meant if anything and what the world would be the day its last foundation stone sank into the earth or sea. Standing 600 feet above the Hudson on the busiest bridge on the planet, looking out across twenty miles of towers, roads, and river scintillating in the setting sunlight, it was hard to believe it would ever happen I found myself thinking, oh, New York. You fucking bastard. You may be a stinking cesspool, but I can't ever say I don't love you. Happy 9/11, you old sewer pipe.

Unrelated epilogue: it was after dark when we arrived back in James's neighborhood, and the twin beams of light radiating upwards from Ground Zero were clearly visible. I noticed hundreds of tiny white specks floating within them, like you might see when you turn on a flashlight in a dusty room. James and I couldn't figure out what it was, but this was the explanation we were told by a photographer in the neighborhood: the lights attract moths; the moths attract bats. I very much hope that this is accurate. 

EDIT: They are not bats. They are birds. Ecologists are concerned. 

(Mr. James Foehrenbach responsible for photos.)

1 comment:

  1. It's "all polishing brass on the Titanic, it's all going down anyway man."

    As for the fate of America - who's to say? Historical data isn't very encouraging.