Archive | City Matters

Still They Fall

Tom and Suria, Irish twins

My whole life changed with 9/11. Partly because the worst elements of the US ran with it as carte-blanche for all kinds of evil. Partly because my beloved city was never the same. Partly because the sister of the man I loved had just started a job at WTC and her brutal death ended everything I thought I knew.

I still think about the last day I saw her. She had just turned 30 and found her first gray hair. With her usual wit she’d taped it on our bathroom mirror with a note penned in her gorgeous calligraphy: NOW I AM OLD.

The day I turned 50 I thought about that sign, about how she was so young when she died that she thought 30 was old, and I cried about her yet again. Because the world was better with her in it. She was optimistic and cocky and engaged and blisteringly sharp. The exact energy we lost as a city and a people when the towers fell.

I’m writing all this today because I can’t do social media on 9/11 itself. The grandstanding feels hypocritical and painful and deeply hollow. 9/11 was when America realized its soil wasn’t safe from the destruction it sowed around the world.* And no one likes to talk about that.
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*Some already knew through bitter experience.

This Bittersweet New Light

I was just about to head upstairs to post about tonight’s new moon/year when I heard of Michael K. Williams’ death. Now I am writing this on my stoop–in the same neighborhood where he lived and died– with huge tears running down my face.

I saw the brilliant actor, activist, dancer, and choreographer around a lot–sometimes at film events, sometimes just drinking coffee in the park–and he was always unwaveringly gracious and kind. That such a radiant light only got 54 years is beyond painful. As Roy Wood Jr tweeted today: “All I want is for black entertainers to be able to grow old.”

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Painting at Audre’s: Part II

This is the second and final installment of an essay that I began earlier this spring. It is a window into my book, to which I’ve been slowly returning as the world is too rapidly opening back up.
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NYC has opened back up, and the smell of fresh paint suffuses every block, a top note to the concentration of garbage piling up on sidewalks, weed clouding every corner. For every person fleeing their Covid cave for fresher air and wider horizons, another is claiming a new base for big-city dreams, 16 months delayed.

It all involves an awful lot of fresh paint.

Some associate this scent with toxicity—chemicals, ill health, colonization. For me, it’s a gateway to an autumn four decades ago, when Audre resurfaced and the world first opened up.

Really, it was simple. One day Audre called up, and the following Friday, without disclosing any of the long-awaited details of their conversation, my mother whisked Jennie and me into Cambridge, where Audre had rented a long apartment on a tree-lined block between Central and Inman Square. It didn’t occur to any of us to bring my father because he never strayed from his Friday routine: popcorn, tea, computer manuals, sports radio, and bed at 8:30. Of course now substitute poetry for manuals and 70s film for sports radio and my routine is not that far off, but back then his diurnal rhythms seemed the ultimate in passive domination.

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"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy