All up and down the West Side of Manhattan the city has been grinding up the pavement and making the streets into dirt roads. They do the work in the middle of the night when there is less traffic, a stretch at a time, and then a few nights later they come along and repave each stretch with beautiful smooth black asphalt. The cars sound much quieter on the new pavement, and on Seventh Avenue I saw a nickel, perfectly pressed in, and it looked pretty. When I walked home after dark some nights ago, I noticed that the sidewalk was glimmering the way I remember many more sidewalks and streets doing, when they used pavement mixed with glass. Sometimes they mixed pavement with crushed seashells.
Yesterday afternoon, which was Saturday, I decided to go over to the river and read on a bench. On Seventh Avenue I saw a lot of police cars in front of a restaurant where there was some kind of commotion going on. Swarms of young patrons were pouring in and out, being kind of herded along by two big men in black suits and sunglasses. A police lady escorted a girl with long straight brown hair to one of the police cars. The girl was wearing a mini skirt and very high heels that she seemed to have a hard time balancing in, especially with her hands cuffed behind her back. She was loaded into the back of a police car while a group of girls who looked just like her swarmed the car to look in at her and take pictures. One of the girls was very tall and blonde. She gaped through the window of the police car with her phone to her ear, shrieking, “Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” Then she straightened up and turned away smiling. I saw a boy approach one of the policemen, who stood staring down at his own phone, and say something. The policeman looked up. The boy looked to be 22 or 23, and wore a button-down business shirt ripped wide open down the middle of his back. It looked as if it had been torn apart by a big claw.
The crowd on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant was like one big creature, like an amoeba, with lots of shrieking and hooting and parts of it breaking off into little groups that went staggering out into Seventh Avenue waving and yelling. All the taxi drivers were smart enough to keep right on going, and the cops didn’t do anything about the kids weaving around in the traffic, not even when one of the boys pulled his pants partway down and showed his pale behind, either on purpose or by accident, before he clumsily hoisted a girl into his arms and schlepped her across the street. When they reached the other side he began to hoot in triumph. The cops just stood around, looking at their phones and chatting with girls who stood taking pictures of themselves in front of the squad cars. Then the car with the arrested girl in it pulled out into the street. As it passed me, I saw the girl’s stunned, incredulous face and the lady cop in the passenger seat speaking into her radio, but none of the girl’s compatriots seemed to notice her leaving. Crowds like these give me a strange feeling that I’m not sure I can describe. It’s a feeling that the day itself isn’t real, but something made of plastic from Best Buy, on sale.
I went over to the river with my book. There was a breeze and the sky was silver. I saw a shiny black bird dive bomb a squirrel and then swoop up onto a branch. I saw the squirrel dart out from the bushes and race to the base of the tree to antagonize the bird. I went out to the end of the pier and sat on a bench, from where I could see the Statue of Liberty in the haze down at the bottom of the island. I thought of the time years ago when I went down to the statue in a kayak and all the way around it. I saw sea birds nesting in holes at the base of the little island where the statue stands, and lying back in the kayak, the view of the big verdigris lady looming straight up so high was breathtaking. Going down had been easy. It was the coming back against the tide part that wasn’t. Sitting on the bench with my book, I thought how glad I was to have done that, especially so I don’t have to do it again.
I watched an elegant white boat making its slow approach from the south. It looked like John F. Kennedy’s yacht, the Honey Fitz. I sat imagining what it might be like to take such a boat as far as the river goes. And I thought of someone who told me once about working on a tugboat that went all the way up to the Adirondacks, and cooking oatmeal in the little galley.
Finally I opened my book. Just as I found my place, I felt a rain drop and then another, so I put it back in my bag. Saturday afternoon is not the best time to go for a walk in the city. I almost always think that when I try it, but I get amnesia each week and forget. The rain didn’t last, so I took my time going home. On 22nd Street I saw through an open window a wall of books behind a man with white hair seated at a table. And on a tall stoop at the end of that same block a man with a beard sat with a big dog. The dog met my gaze so I said, “Hello Dog, I love you,” and he thumped his tail at me. “He knows what that means,” the man said.
May 17, 2015