Thursday, August 19, 2010

The city of my dreams

They walk around the sticky city in a daze, capitalists and tourists alike, sniffing of baby powder and deodorant, stepping over the small black puddles of vegetable rot on Thirty-third Street outside the Korean restaurants, holding their noses against the sickening smell of leftover fast food and used grease, their shite running through interminable pipes under their feet, yesterday's news turning black in filthy dumpsters, they walk distracted -- perhaps it's not so important to make that deal or to see those sights today -- here in this heat, so they bump into each other, stop, consider, check their bearings, this great human mass stymied two blocks from the Empire State Building, that iconic tower shimmering in the heat, as the deranged city charges forward in a mad rush, assaulting their senses, with the noise, the odor, the nonstop motion, the undercurrent, the electric hum, motors, cogwheels, wires, pumps, the unstoppable heart of New York, the great dynamo still producing juice despite the ungodly humidity, attacking my fellow citizens who walk right into it.

We live in a great democracy, everything for sale, everybody on the make. Baseball caps, cell phones, fake IDs, bottled water. A block northwest lies Macys, the world's biggest store. I don't think so -- not anymore, not with the whole world a souk just a click away. Nothing is out of place around here, despite all the security cameras, undercover cops, and the National Guard detail lurking below in the subway station, mutely glaring at dark-skinned commuters wearing knapsacks. You think to yourself, be alert, life is short.

I come through here every working day, astonished at my own light-headed complicity in the chaos, the randomness, the shadowy goings-on. The steps up into Herald Square from the PATH train, I have burnished them with my footfalls until they hold a silvery shine. This is my city too. I don't know how I can reconcile this whorish love of mine with the other life I lead, out in the sticks, sitting by the lake, listening to birds, talking to the trees. The city offers an erotic thrill despite its cut lip and bruised thighs. You bite it and it bites you back. It's an effin drug. The Bible is just another book here: don't worry, you can wander through the city -- gape at its fakery and partake of its finery -- without turning into a pillar of salt. You may even find a startling stillness here, if you wander long enough and late enough. Turn a corner and find the emptiness inside you refracted in a vacant storefront. Sometimes it's a comfort to see the natural end of buying and selling.

You've got to take comfort wherever you can find it. Our forefathers came here and set up shop in an inhospitable world. They tamed it and tarred it over. They built this city. Now you don't know whether you want to preserve it or tear it down, or do both. Guess what? The city doesn't give a shite. It'll be here long after you're gone. Its very indifference -- like that of a mountain or an ocean, almost god-like -- should also be a comfort. After all, you want this built-up world to outlast your measly lifespan, don't you? You think to yourself, perhaps future generations will judge us less harshly than we judge ourselves. If this effin city is still standing, maybe my life too can be redeemed.

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