Eternal City of Now
I. I Remember It Like It Was The Day After Yesterday
As a hippie I traveled across 1970 America, all thumbs, entering cars to the soundtrack of We’ve Only Just Begun, Our House, Out In The Country, Snowbird. I spent nights on Salvation Army cots or on dewy ground, or at the home of a fabulous furry freak brother whose VW van snatched me that day from the jaws of red-baiting rednecks fueled by booze and envy.
I wrote a song then called, “Movin’ Over This Land While I Can.” Because I knew I couldn’t be doing it for long. (I thought at the time the world was coming to an end, but it was really my youth).
Now again, I’m movin’ through this town while I can. Because one day, I can’t.
So in the meantime, I’m experiencing a nostalgia for now.
II. From The Ferry
As I watch the sun set as a blurry yet still red rubber ball (remember that song, written by a native?)…
…I feel a swell of Wo! I’ve been here a long time!
I’ve seen so much change, yet stay the same. I feel all of my 64 years, along with the privilege of still being here to tell the tale.
Just the Battery of Manhattan alone has changed so much, so fast. It’s wider than when I first stepped around there. Perfectly sturdy brick and stone structures have had to make way for gleamy skyticklers, glass and steel salutes, strutting Sequoias.
This city was here before me, will go on without me when I’m done. It embraces me like a shop window — in a fleeting glance it knows and forgets I’m here.
In a few days I will do one of my Walkabouts, this time with a dear friend. I like re-exploring parts of Manhattan. I turn around, 20 years have passed, it’s a new town. Half remains; half replaced.
This is the city that never creeps.
The level of intensity between these two old quirks is something to see. Cassady and I together total about 120 years, yet are, we proudly note, still young rascals at heart. He and I can talk about anything – the sign of a true friendship. We’re both a bit edgy, but together we’re more great than grating. I know it sounds funny, but we share a high level of depth.
Today we start our journey like I always do, by hopping over the Brooklyn Bridge. Then, sneaking up on Chinatown, we each have a craven plan. First, Cassady wants to pull me down and up stairs into “Backrub” parlors to suss out their less-than-legitimate-massage potential. Likewise, I’m pulling him into all sorts of Chinese Herb stores to try to cop some Ma Huang.
This entails moseying into each establishment and asking a series of circumspect questions. First, for him, we enter these little storefronts.
“How late are you open?” Cassady asks as his eyes dart around like a sexual gangster casing the joint. Back on the street, he confides, “I look for a woman at the desk, and closed curtains.”
Then I’m shuffling us into Chinese Pharmacies.
“Anything for asthma?” I ask, knowing the herb I seek is an ancient Chinese remedy, albeit one that happens to have…..other qualities.
“I look to see if they have any fresh stems or powder; that’s the best,” I tell him.
Each time we leave empty handed – or, in Cassady’s case, maybe to return in the hopes of getting full-handed.
As we turn off Mott, we find ourselves on, or in (the aptly named) Canal, suddenly awash up to our eyeballs in a sea of humanity. There among hormonal undertows, and riptides of eye candy, we wade through waves of wrinkle-less faces waving existential bye-byes at us, ‘till we finally body surf our way up to Lafayette.
We take the subway…
…up to 42nd Street, and walk to the river, and then go south from there. Soon, the city would be at our feet, as the highlight of the day is when we head towards the High Line. When we turn onto West 30th Street, we walk right into a tour about to begin of an outdoor sculpture show — up there! — on the unopened, still raw leg of the Line.
By 2015 this stretch will be paved and sanitized. But today, we catch a sun setting over a black Jersey, and a darkly sparkling Hudson….
… Vegetation erupts like a slow green prairie fire overrunning the old tracks
Industrial ghosts of grit haunt the old LIRR train yards, the city above them bashfully lighting up as if it just had illicit sex in the tunnels .
QUIZ: Was this a view from the Highline? Or something else?
Come to think of it, I am much like those tracks up there on the old High Line: I move people from here to there. I offer a view. I’ll eventually be shoveled aside and forgotten, yet will somehow still remain part of things. This to me is The Eternal City. If it ever dies (“Everything put together falls apart” – P. Simon) it will be my final burial.