E.B. White, Here is New York (1949), p.65
By NYTimes reporter Dan Barry:
On the Bow’ry, The Long Story of the Building at 104-106 Bowery. (nytimes.com)
About New York; Last in Flophouse, Alone With Bowery Ghosts. (nytimes.com)
I remember walking by the Stevenson hotel. Bowery is still a street with two homeless shelters where the homeless sit in front of the entrance on the sidewalk, sipping from plastic cups of warm coffee, after they are probably required to leave the shelter in the early morning. In the winter morning they would huddle together as New York’s poor masses like puppies in a nest.
a dragon’s beak fixated
the eye shrapnel
like the moon without black iris
light whose day never expires
ill defined green night
medusa gazes down
anxious bursts of flaming mushrooms
on pedestals of shadows
only the after effect ever occurred
these walls of mighty troy
rise like the flood
voyeuristic angels stare
from within the windows
not from the inside out, but outside in Continue reading
The warming sun and brisk air of the morning still echoed in my chest around noon as my thoughts were compulsively drawn out of my office in the city into the open air, to escape and breathe the waterly winds at the harbor side. I decided to take a walk to pier 34 during my lunch break and sit on one of the two fingers of the boardwalk that connected the Holland Tunnel Vent Shaft to the Hudson river boulevard. It was only a ten minutes walk to the river from my downtown office, but rarely did any of my coworkers exceed the two blocks radius around the office. Instead they choose to confine themselves for lunch and restrict their lunch time to eating at their desks take-out in foam boxes from the Korean owned deliâ€™s, a sugar coated doughnut from the Bengali breakfast or gyros from one of the many Middle Eastern street carts on the sideways of the city. I resented this imprisonment as if it formed an self-chosen exile of the imagination, a preliminary taste of death.
Close to noon, I scurried out and walked toward the corner of Broadway and Houston. I looked briefly at the two artists suspended in a carriage above the traffic, applying a new advertisement design to a blind wall of the office building on the south-east corner. They painted over an old DKNY wall advertisement of a silhouette of New York City. In their hands the scaled blueprints of what appeared to be a new advertisement for Hollister in a dull sand brown. Dulling! I thought, there is nothing left to chance. Every day tourists had halted to be mesmerized by the DKNY ad facing the Adidas flagship store and had their picture taken in front of it. It was the face of advertising in New York, and in the last year it had become iconic, the closest expression of artistry in a world that sucked the talents of a manifold crowd of youngsters.
I turned the corner and walked west by the Angelika Film Center. Posters hang in large window frames advertising the latest new movie â€˜Whatever Worksâ€™ by Woody Allen, the archetypal clown of the city, a movie called the Baader Meinhof Complex about the Rote Armee Fraktion, and Extract. I passed the entrance with its round chrome steps leading to the cashier behind her fishbowl glass window, which always left a kind of magical impression on me, reminding me of the sad state I was in. Here was a world to escape to. Here you leave behind the numbing reality with it predictable routines and you stepped into the unpredictable world of erratic dreams and impossible hopes. The threshold to enter was eight steps high, but who had time to. Then, temporary for a lost gap in time, le grand plouf into the world of imagination. Forget your worries, forget boredom, live the life of the stars, your dreams coming true for a moment, before you were puked out again on the potholed asphalt of the New York City streets two hours later facing the bored reality that you could trust was always there waiting for you.
I crossed sixth avenue and stopped at the Blue Ribbon Bakery Market to buy an olive chiabatta, still warm and crunchy, and a square of soft Hudson Valley goat brie for lunch. I meandered through the narrow streets of the West Village toward the pier, and passed the West Side Highway. On the other side of the highway, I peeked through the entrance of the pier 40 building at a group of static kids throwing a baseball at each other in the grass field of the inner yard. I continued and sat down on one of the benches on the southern finger of the pier, letting the sun grown warmer and warmer on my face with my eyes closed. I stared at the oversized seagulls by Ron Baron, in the dark water below, which I had mistaken for real, living if somewhat fat crane birds, the first time I saw them, as I was blinded by the sun that was set high in the southern sky. I was afraid they would hover over me like a thief at the theater, preying for my lunch. An occasional jogger ran by before me, the sun shone intensely. I took my shirt off, revealing my pale, incarcerated chest, void of life, while I unpacked my bread and cheese. Through the fierce beams of sun light I distinguished a squeezed view of the diminished Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World. Her torch burning, guiding the refugees of the past, toward the promise of a better future. But for many there only awaited the bitter disappointments of peddling the remote and dangerous countryside of the mid and wild west, or the inhumane sweatshops where they shared the fate of a day laborer no better than that of the negro slaves. And yet this illusion, this false dream had never died and stopped to appeal new hopeful huddled masses. How desperate is the soul of mankind to hope against reason, to believe rather than to know with certainty, to prefer the illusion of certainty over the truth of uncertainty.
I tore some bread apart and chew on a piece of brie. How perfectly calm I felt with a simple meal, rich in taste and filling the senses rather than filling the stomach. I became swallowed by the afternoon, by time, eating my lunch and feeling the riverâ€™s breeze against my heated body and face. The senses, taste, smell, feeling, it all came back to me, my imagination. From a distance, staring east away from the sun, I saw the undisturbed silhouette of the financial district’s skyscrapers, the palaces of capital incorporating the hectic of bankers and beggars, the gains and losses, the human greed, and the human suffering, greed and pity. This greed never stopped, it always rushed on, behind the the pale glass reflection of the silhouette. Behind me, the world of advertising and fashion, that fed and was fed by this greedy capital, that so many chased, higher and higher, reinventing beauty, because it always remained volatile, no matter how persistently these modern Tantaluses pursued it. I lost my sense of time and place in this pursuit. It was life that was filling me now. I realized that I was at the banks of a major sea port on the Atlantic and not in the middle of a blinded labyrinth of sky scrapers. The odor of the Hudson water, although not very salty, even at the riverâ€™s edge you never smelt the sea, its sensation was refreshing. I felt the approaching sun, closer and closer on my flight back to life.
Barnet Schecter, The Battle for New York: The City at the Heart of the American Revolution (2002) 389p.
“On errands of life, these letters speed to death.
Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!”
Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener: a Story of Wall-street (1853)