Thursday, May 23, 2013

Crossing the Gowanus

The bell made the sort of sound that’s not too loud when you’re near but you can hear a mile away. It rang dully and not quite evenly, almost like someone was working it by hand.  

A thin boy sat on the concrete riser that ran along the sidewalk, cradling a snare drum and tapping his foot. I wondered whether he was trying to keep time with the bell. It was hard to tell. An older girl stood nearby, wheeling a scooter back and forth in short jabs.

Now a line of cars had formed, and bicycles too. More pedestrians gathered on either side of the street. Some lifted their phones to take pictures. Past the double barricades and the no-man’s land there was a mirror world: cars, bikes and people waiting to cross the other way.

The bridge rose slowly in one flat segment, along tracks in four columns. All the time the bell kept ringing. It was still hot but the sun was sinking low.

A horn sounded and a barge passed through. All you could see was the top of a massive gravel pile. Finally the tugboat came and went. You gotta be patient in that line of work.

The din was over and the bridge restored. I peered down at the poisoned Gowanus as I crossed, and on the other side I glanced into a strange, semi-sheltered space. It was unclear whether it was part of the bridge’s structure or if it belonged to the adjacent construction site, a patchy-grass lot with trailers and Port-o-lets. Inside there were hundreds upon hundreds of mannequins, some standing, some lying in stacks, and rows and rows of bathtubs with feet.

Monday, May 20, 2013

When we went out this afternoon the rain was still falling and all the leaves down 7th Street glowed as though it overflowed from the street to the dirt to the roots and up the trunk, into the branches, out the stems and into them. I had seen the street so many times, not thinking much of it. The dreary cars, the ramshackle sidewalk. Houses of neighbors we didn’t know. But there was something in the contrasting light, and in the alley of trees, and in the way the street opened at the intersection with 8th Avenue, that reminded me of a place I’d seen in dreams.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A petite, young Asian woman stood in the middle of the 7 train platform with a guitar, the case open at her feet. She had a mic too, and she was amplified, ready to go. She played quick, jabbing chords as she tuned up and adjusted her volume. Commuters flowed by on either side. A westbound train left the station. An eastbound one came in. Still she played her tense, little chords. Someone bent over and left her a buck. I wondered whether this was her act. All preparation. No singing. No songs.

A deeply hunched vagrant drifted by erratically, looking straight at the space right past his dirty shoes. People took note of him as they do in New York City: as the wild card in their midst. The performer eyed him with a trace of concern. Two more chords: jank-jank.

As people got on and off the train I heard him bark at someone. People turned to look in his direction. When I did, too, he was gone.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Life Today

Our devices, force-fed by the desperate, hyperactive media industry, keep us constantly connected to the horrendousness of the world, never knowing whether, sitting on the desk chair, the subway seat or toilet, we’ll see something that will make us choke back tears, or vomit, or both.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Ernie Is Bert

I was dropping Jackie off at school, taking off her jacket.

“Ernie,” she said.

“Who’s Ernie?” I asked.

“Ernie is Bert.”

Monday, May 06, 2013


“I’m exploring various funding options.”