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.