Notes on New York City III


On the subway, rumbling under the map of Manhattan, somewhere or other beneath the dots, the lines and grids, the green space of parks, the skyscraper dreamscape, I read this:

"Cities are full of situations, sexually cunning people."

It is Don Delilo, White Noise. Five years ago or so, I tried to read White Noise. It was an assignment and I rallied against it with all my will; I threw my late-teenage energy, such as it was, into hating the novel, into finding it blasé, so over, so dated, so not something I could relate to. Now I read it in between subway stops. 81st street and 42nd street are the bookends for one chapter; 14th and 72nd frame another. I find myself transfixed. Why is this, my dad wants to know, why the change of heart? I say maybe it's because I failed to see the humour in it the first time around. I say maybe it's because I was too afraid to recognize certain anxieties as being mine, too; that maybe it's because, now that I openly own these anxieties, I can allow myself to enjoy the language.

Here's a situation. Bryant Park. It's fashion week but the only people outside the white tents are the nobodies, the people who work for the people who work for the people who do something related to fashion, and they're badly dressed, they look cold, so we skirt the park. On the library side we try to identify the buildings around us. Lit up; dizzying. A man in a baseball cap comes close, asking for spare change. My reaction is always to turn the other way. I become absorbed in a bench. Is it some sort of denial, or is it just smart? I can hear him talking to the Man, and the Man's two brothers, twins, nine years his junior.

"You take care of your sons," the beggar tells the Man. I don't know where this places me. And the funniest thing of all of course is that he does take care of them, as if they were his sons; and when he drops them off at the airport, leaves them there, he frets for their safety, their peace of mind.

***

"It is the nature and pleasure of townspeople to distrust the city," Delilo writes. "All the guiding principles that might flow from a center of ideas and cultural energies are regarded as corrupt, one or another kind of pornography."

I always liked the subway. I like it more now, and I have Delilo's staccato words in my head whenever I mount the steps. I have no way of knowing whether the sentences that start to form when the cold sunlight hits my face are mine or his; but they end up being mine, twisted into something that only I could say. That's all ownership is--and anyway, nobody owns anything here.