I was already asleep when news of the explosion hit the wires. Being intuitively conflict-avoidant, a sense of impending doom sent me to Poughkeepsie the day before September 11, 2001; to an Oklahoma campground the week of the 2003 blackout; up the East Williamsburg hill while Hurricane Sandy crashed elsewhere in Brooklyn and Queens. I felt those disturbances in the force anyway, though, and I feel this now. It’s what pulled me awake at 4:45 this morning, early even for me.
In the darkness I made coffee and prayed for the 29 injured by the 23rd street bomb. Then, clad in slippers and the caftan I rarely wear outside the house, I hopped into magic car Minerva and zoomed over the Williamsburg Bridge still lit up against the night sky. (The sun is so lazy this time of year.) As I drove, I wondered at the rush of energy I was feeling. Was it dissociation? Despair? No, I said loudly, and turned on the Beatles’ Revolver, which had been playing in my head since I’d woken up.
Your day breaks, your mind aches
You find that all the words of kindness linger on
Up and down the FDR Drive I sped, surveying everything from the elevated freeway. At 23rd I pulled off, and nosed down the wide street, calm and quiet in the aftermath of last night’s kerfuffle. I could practically hear the stereotypical bullhorn message: Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.
The sky finally pinking, I zoomed down to Grand Street where real bagels and lox are still made by real Jews, and ordered the smelliest, sloppiest sandwich I could stomach: lox, tomatoes, capers, onions, cucumbers, garlic cream cheese on an everything bagel.
“You ok?” said the counterman without looking up. It took a moment to understand that he was referring to the events of the evening before; a moment more to register his casual compassion. “I am. You?” He nodded, and pushed the order at me, shaking off my money. “Stay happy,” he said, which was when I realized I was grinning like a madwoman, exposed gums and all.
Guided by the same glee, I trusted Minerva to find what I’ve never found before—a good place to watch the sunrise. New York is awash in fantastic sunset spots—there’s a terrific one down the street from my house—but I’m always meaning to find a good sunrise in this crystal and concrete city surrounded by water and never quite do.
With just a few twists and turns, the Beatles singing
Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream
It is not dying, it is not dying
I slid into a spot right in front of an East River Park amphitheater–pretty bones against pretty water and sky–and jumped out, jaw dropped. Even now there were more Manhattan wonderlands to discover?
Having to pee by then—coffee, donchyaknow—I squatted behind a fountain in my floor-length gold gown. A woman sleeping on a bench opened then closed one eye, unfazed by my unglamorous glamour. (Chances were good she radiated the same.) Then I danced over a tiny bridge encrusted in late summer flowers and found a front-row seat—a bench overlooking the river—to ogle the show just as it kicked into gear.
Not everyone realizes that New York is a secret garden for early-risers like me; we shine in new-day splendor just as night-lifers begin apologizing to their livers. I nodded at everyone who passed by—older couples, dog-walkers, Tai-Chi practioners–and they nodded back. Bathed in a sunrise glow and the tenderness that always unites New Yorkers just when others would be running for the hills, we were especially gentle in our greetings.
All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?
I ate my bagel and grinned like more of a madwoman.
There are many who complain NYC is disappearing into an ocean of banks and drugstore chains and sky-rocketing rents and artisanal shaving cream. To this I say, What else is new? The city we love has been disappearing into an ocean since its inception. As with life itself, the only thing you can count on in this crazy apple is change–that, and a capacious, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink amnesia that never erases eras passed. Isn’t that great?
Chalk it up to the magic rock upon which this city is built. If you believe in crystal theory–and even if you don’t, it believes in you–then you know that this powerful, unusually hard mica schist protects us more than physically. It grants us a strutting insouciant threading togetherness that is always there, even when we’re shoving on the subway or being smacked by an old lady with an older handbag.
The sun up, I cruised over to Tompkins Square to wait for the greenmarket vendors to set up their wares. I ate the rest of my bagel, listened to more Revolver, and buried my nose in an essay by Eve Babitz, that Los Angeles voluptuary whose one blindspot is an imperviousness to NYC’s sparkly grind. I smiled more subtly at the park denizens growling over their empties.
And our friends are all on board
Many more of them live next door
And the band begins to play
We all live in a yellow submarine
Oh, New York, my home, my hearth, my forever heart. Here we are okay even when we are not.