Kristin and I exited at 8:18. It was balmy while the door revolved, cold outside. We split apart at Warren under a grating sparrow. There'd been a fire at Baluchi's—all the trash looked charred. All down Murray only electric things were bright. Then a businessman turned a corner with his pug in a pink shawl.
I squeezed myself against big gusts, often on the verge of giggling. Kristin's neighbor Carol crossed not dressed right for the cold. When she waved, my arm wouldn't rise past the shoulder. Photographs hovered facedown on Church. Salt deposits left the sidewalk patchy. At the intersection midpoint a woman and her son paused. There, he said, can you smell it? The Empire State Building peeked out as I sniffed.
I felt tall and stunned crossing through the glare. I wanted to take off gloves and reach for pigeons. Chris (the doorman) appeared ahead discussing Japanese cutlery. A cop stood beside every subway station: a chorus of walkie-talkie chatter. Sirens and light converged several blocks south down Broadway. City Hall Park's masonite slabs stayed slippery even in new sneakers. The public-art project continued to expand—from people to cows to taxis. An Arabic boy threw snaps at my shins and his parents didn't care. Scarf pressed against my Adam's apple.
Stalled opposite the Brooklyn Bridge I wondered which crossing guards do any good. Commuters dropped down the pedestrian-ramp seeming emotionally someplace else. One read a slender New York Times. A sign warned No Salt Past This Point but it wasn't true; there were streams of salt. I climbed past the Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers and boring residential towers. I crossed above where the F.D.R. drips freeway grime on people's faces. As glowing women passed one stared intently, the way I stare.
One yellow pedestrian icon disintegrated into blah pavement flakes. A woman stepped back to photograph this. I weaved but my shoe still scattered her shot. The East River glistened through planks underfoot. A Staten Island Ferry cut across the bay. I slowed before an engineering diagram and read it all without absorbing. A string of Valentine balloons had gotten entangled in bridge cables. A silent D-train descended toward Chinatown. So much else sat stationary. Like always Brooklyn Heights stood flush. I was happy not to live in some endless field.
Turning back I knew Manhattan looked monumental but didn't feel pressure to acknowledge this (dulled by traffic rush on either side). Lyric poems had been chalked into benches. Nobody strained to read the tiny letters. The couple ahead wore dark-hued jeans. I began to swerve around them. A biker rang his bell.
From Park Row I got caught in commuter streams off the 4-5-6. The pace grew brisk but mournful. The man in front kept glancing behind his shoulder. On my way past City Hall Park fountain I realized all its plants are potted—how discouraging. Somebody awoke along a nondescript Irish tavern. He glared at the menus in his hand.
Portabello's Sicilian Kitchen smelled fresh today. They must have had the ovens cleaned. The plaster chef advertising pizza-soda combos pointed stubbed fingers like an ancient statue. His butt made me picture George Grosz paintings. An Asian worker bent to shine black boys' shoes. Her shop is of course part of Kristin's building. Why do I think of them as separate?
Temper tantrum around 8:15—couldn't find a hat. Then slid plastic bags between my shoes and socks. Only thin trails had been shoveled. Cutting into Central Park I grabbed a handful of snow off somebody's fender, sprinkled this like a chef. A goose spun in circles, floating, asleep. Christo's Gates were gone.
Across The Meer two silhouettes looked small tossing snow on water. Behind them used to stand Fort Clinton: strategic site held by the British during the Revolutionary War, the U.S. in 1812 (I read signs about it 20 minutes later). I climbed the North Woods crunching snow, following dogprints. Today it felt like there were extra trees. Snow only covered trunks' northwest quadrants. I pictured Jean Dubuffet, Japanese paper houses and a lampshade of my grandma's. At the bluff's top someone had left bicycle treads.
From Rustic Bridge No. 31 the pine-bough reflection looked lithographed. Occasionally a snowflake spread rings across it. This was exquisite beauty and thinking that thought didn't get in the way. Just when I decided to move, a woman and a corgie appeared. Maybe I'd sensed them coming.
I followed The Loch worried I'd get spit out at an ugly intersection. For a while waterfalls crashed ahead. Twigs turned into cold brown mulch. People carried disposable cameras—mostly men looking awkward in jeans and sneakers. Joggers had claimed a plowed road. Pores on my face felt wide apart.
The approaching dogs sounded familiar. So did their owners' voices. One woman narrated the scene: He's good at breaking loose; oh, now he's cornered. I hallucinated each word drifting across outer space. I checked maps and discerned where The Reservoir was. Apparently the American Gum's the other tree (besides sycamores) with tassels. As I traversed a slushy ditch a cross-country skier called Another winter wonderland! The phrase left me blank.
I'd twisted my ankle early on and was starting to become aware of this. I leaned against the Reservoir gate imagining conversations about snow with somebody French. Beyond the water's silky crust a pair of what I'm calling Asian cormorants dove one after the other. I felt a connection to one woman passing, then turned as she passed, with both of us smiling. A seagull emerged where light mist met water. The city seemed distant marble.
I slipped, then sort of skied on one leg and landed on my butt. North Meadow Tennis Center looked appealing. As I approached the fence I fell again, straining my wrists this time. I hadn't reached out for the tennis-court fence. White knots hung where wires crossed. The furthest courts already had nets.
Climbing home I moved as naturalistically as possible before a woman poised with camera. She winced and waited for me to pass. Nobody had descended the marble staircase to The Meer. Today was full of privileges. A string of Christo's Gates still arced around the cove. Volunteers stood shoveling. Everyone seemed thrilled. Geese and ducks lined the bank with buried faces. I couldn't stop looking into a South American woman's eyes but the whole time I wondered Why do I look at people?
A Nordic couple programmed their camera, posed beneath a gate bearing ruddy infants. An Irish woman hailed a dog walker, passed a disposable camera, propped herself beside red ladders hung along The Meer. Did you have a white Christmas? the Irish woman asked. The annoyed photographer reined in a cairn which had fully stretched its flexi-leash.
On the final turn I followed a black man from the neighborhood (also with camera). We both stayed relaxed and emotionally present. There ought to be a language for this.
A Taiwanese girl overtook me in Kristin's lobby, spinning to say goodbye to Raphael, sprinting towards the revolving door still tugging on her mom's sleeve. The mother flashed a glittering Barbie bag. My face felt flush at 9:05. Gray sky hung pretty bright in patches.
Parents stood talking in Parkschool Daycare. Most had on expensive jeans. A stencil read The United Rubber Company: If it's made with rubber we have it. A sign's font—DESIGNER'S CHOICE—somehow indicated trashy clothing. Neither place exists anymore. Deliverymen shoved stacked boxes into a ten dollar or less boutique for women. A pudgy cashier watched from his window. I partially wanted to sit beside him. Light fixtures had been painted to resemble trees.
A diagram praised the Woolworth Building. A rope read No Tourists Allowed Beyond This Point. St. Paul's (oldest active church in the country) stood chained. Its dim panel displayed George Washington's pew.
Temp-workers passed out promos on Broadway: free newspapers and cellphone plans. One woman really put her heart in it; Good morning guys! Take a look! Between greetings she mumbled negative thoughts.
Both entrances to a lingerie showed held lines of dozens of brass female legs—I assume this place is famous. A young corporate couple flinched as a guy in camouflage pressed You've never been there? A cop directing traffic around a bus gauged this situation from across the street.
By Trinity Church I was sick of display panels. In the cemetery the snow stayed white. The most sunken slabs were entirely covered. The ancient urban hues reminded me of pigeons. "Tuppence a Bag" stuck in my head. Reflections made it hard to read but almost everyone seemed to have died around forty, with kids who died their first year (spelled firft). Several stones lay completely bare. From the side-exit subway commuters cut a path (or am I condensing memories—at some point, underground, I passed the side-entrance to a sports bar called Suspenders; a sign said Bathrooms For Customers Only; a tall woman's stilettos never touched one step as we all crammed upwards then burst into day). Four young men praised their boss's bottom line. Trinity Place's footbridge stood locked.
I snaked through office towers just to see which guards would stop me. The lamplight was rich and non-fluorescent. Elevators sat decorated with charming grids. On Pine I scanned a large display of business shoes. I couldn't help comparing models and prices. The letters N-e-w Y-o-r-k U-n-i-v-e-r-s-i-t-y S-c-h-o-o-l o-f M-a-n-a-g-e-m-e-n-t had been stripped from the building but left a permanent stain. I paused above an alley of external escalators. It felt like I'd sleptwalked there one summer.
A block to the north loomed a burned-looking cross. Foreign tourists filled the Trade Center site. The city had mounted sepia-tinted photos of Lower Manhattan's skyline circa 1914. The model for Calvatrava's subway station looked just like his Milwaukee Art Museum. The destroyed area appeared, as it always does, huge and very compact.
I turned on Vessey which turned into Ann St., where a delivery truck split the sidewalk. I followed Williams and curved through loggias. I passed my old job at 59 Maiden Lane. The same fruit guy hit on customers.
Signs for cheap restaurants made it hard to look around. Shellacked burritos spread across checked tables. Soon I'd entered the Woolworth Building, feeling flushed and glittery. There are even grander spaces further inside I thought. When I got to the guard I asked if she gave tours during business hours. I asked about weekends, then explained I'm a professor at a local college and want to bring students for an official tour. I spun amidst the churchy glow. On the way out a no-entry sign read Witkoff management—what shitheads.
Afterwards I stopped in Bellbates for bananas, mangoes, brown rice. Passing Raphael I realized I didn't have keys. Still I rode up to Kristin's and rode back down, so when I asked for the spare it seemed natural.
Steps stood blowsy with scraps at 8:26. How do tabloid sheets get torn into triangles? How does wind ball plastic bags so tightly? The few clouds came as trails from airplanes. Sled-tracks seemed made of styrofoam. One man concentrated coasting through the park. His thick bike looked expensive. He was beaming and had a beard: a scientist maybe. My own mind filled with calculations.
I kept pushing a walk button at Central Park West. Wind opened tiny cuts in my face. When I had the chance I crossed through scaffolds where trash hovered, spiraling. Grocery carts rusted locked to a deli. Latino men squatted against the computer store. A smiling Arab tossed them keys. Nearby bikes had missing parts. Wheelless and seatless bike-frames sprawled on their backs like tortured horses. I felt extra focused walking along a fence.
Now that Columbia kicked out the West Side Market a new Garden of Eden had gone in on Broadway. I didn't know how to feel about it. An African worker wearing kneepads bore himself with dignity. A drunk white guy leered at a Tibetan family. Wet appliance boxes lined the curb. Printouts posted to bus-stop awnings advertised violin lessons. Plastic protecting deli produce hung held down with ice buckets.
As police entered Commerce Bank the lobby let out canned accordion tunes. A bare construction light-bulb left me seeing purple. The primary colors along Symphony Space helped calm me down. The lone adult with head uncovered cheerfully hailed a cab. Within a still-darkened beauty salon somebody talking on his cellphone shivered.
A woman's Kosher Market bags inspired my turn east. I looked enthusiastically for the place but never stopped and searched. I wondered why certain puddles hadn't frozen. Amidst bright patches nestled near delis day felt bodiless like dust. A Puerto Rican informed her shih tzu: Look, I'm already taking extra minutes, since they owe me time at work, but you gotta get moving. The dog stared without an expressive face.
In front of laundromat mirrors a woman buttoned her blazer. A slender woman fumbled through a purse directly opposite a porcelain Virgin Mary. Of another woman all I saw was the tattoo of skeleton wings (like Colonial tombstones) right above her butt. The back of her shirt drooped as she bent to clear a van with its side-door open. I paused to read the ingredients list on a five-gallon drum of salad dressing. This almost caused a collision with a different woman (annoyed). Across Amsterdam a pile of moldering newspapers and ice dissolved into nothing. I guess it becomes the air we breathe. An Hispanic kickboxing dojo kept up last fall's voter-registration drive. A Cuban restaurant smelled good but I felt bourgeois gawking at its menu.
Back at 109th four men gathered near the hill's steepest point. They speculated on an upcoming boxing match. Some sounded embarrassed to use the word technique. A gray-haired man—grinning, laptop in his leather bag—jogged with body torqued to read the number on a bus. It passed. He slowed to the urgent walk that ends up damaging your shins.
At Lenox a frantic white woman almost hit several Latino moms. She honked towards a black businessman in a hurry. A separate person screamed as two guys ducked behind scaffolds. Don't you come round my place, she warned. I got 12 small kids. The woman looked 55, the men around 30. One popped out as if to confront her, just giggled. Then back in the courtyard the stairs had been swept.
Beyond the lobby glass it looked freezing. I almost couldn't go. But the temperature was normal at 9:06. My bowels felt caramelized. A flyer offered one-bedrooms for $1850. A woman scrawled in curly writing Harlem? Are you fucking crazy? A grandma shouted greetings, sounded healthy. A tall policeman outside a bodega reminded me of its door.
Crossing into light I turned up Adam Clayton Powell. Someone with pants tucked in his boots staggered down the sidewalk. When I bent to flip a notecard he veered at me snarling. For the next couple blocks I wouldn't look at anybody. Shy like that I could barely see the ground. I thought about a seminar paper I wrote long ago: how its title should have been Eye Contact. The proximity of parks made where I stood suffocating. Abruptly I swerved to St. Nick's Ave. I was wrong; it's not the street I like—that's Convent. Soon there weren't pedestrians, just signs for condos. A car's top held citations from Corinthians (just numbers). A limping white pigeon had skin disease.
St. Nick's Park appeared under sky I think looked so blue because of the hill's angle. The staircase I climbed cast zigzag shadows. Instincts led through City College campus right to Cohen Library. A guard I talked to winced at questions. A Serbian couple wore swishy athletic suits. The boy tried to pry our elevator open. The girl had such a charming face. When they got off one flight up I continued ascending with somebody meek but can't really remember this.
The circulation guy forgot to scan Cameraworks, but I headed through sensors anyway. I liked the Bangladeshi clerk for his threadbare cardigan and slender fingers. An alarm went off. I rolled my eyes. The escalator dropped beneath giant photographs of young black people perched in windows—the Ô69 student takeover. TV monitors produced a drowning sensation. Back on Convent I gave myself a pep talk (aloud) about how silly it is to think the same thought twice. I saw Ward's Island Bridge arcing west toward Spanish Harlem. A woman climbed a ramp in an electric cart. She joked with whoever had held the door, cruised off with a curve that seemed to say See you later.
Fenced pits lay abandoned at 129th. Trash floated (mostly 16-ounce bottles). Two police cars honked as if I hadn't seen them coming. I blinked and kicked some ice which ended up being thick crystal glass. I was having a moment where my hands feel unbearably hot inside gloves.
At 118th a black girl in mauve got so transfixed by a flabby construction guy's stare. A svelte woman stepped down from a church. I felt like a creep for checking her out. She'd probably attended a funeral unless this was Easter weekend or somehow Easter-related. Men above spoke kindly but to me they were a wall.
Ragtime drifted through a windowpane. A shy boy asked if the key-cutting store was open yet. The shaved-bald clerk replied We're open open. Women with Watchtowers sensed I wasn't interested. Both faces slackened.
Central Park stood white and blank. It's strange no one lives in the building next to ours. In the hall Luis and Frankie pushed refrigerators. I slunk past before they could pause in the extra inch my doorway provides.