I can see why living in New York City isn’t for everyone, and today was a good example. If nothing else, the weather, as is so often the case around here this time of year, was awful. Gotham is currently straddling a stalled frontal boundary, and with customary perversity we are just on the warm side of it, so the air is thick with greasy moisture. It wasn’t as hot today as it often gets around here this time of year, as it managed only the middle eighties, but under these Amazonian atmospheric conditions that’s plenty: one is miserable even standing still, and copious sweating attends the slightest exertion.
This morning, as the occluded front rocked back and forth over our great city, the limitless moisture of the Atlantic dumped itself on us in teeming downpours, while clouds roiled overhead and rumbled with sullen thunder. There was so much rain that many of the subway and commuter lines were flooded — and as it happens my own train, the ‘F’, goes above ground for much of its course over the coastal outwash plain down to Coney Island, and so is often affected when the weather is severe. This morning, I swam down to the station at the end of my block only to find the platform thronged with hundreds of fellow wage-slaves, and the good old F nowhere in sight. More penitents tottered in, and we stood like cattle in the damp heat, listening to the elements raging above, as fountains of filthy runoff gushed in through the sidewalk grates. Finally, a train came, so crowded that I couldn’t get on, and it was only after a further geological epoch had elapsed that one finally arrived that I could wedge myself into, sweating like a chunk of rancid pork.
I finally made it to my midtown office tower (which stands at the southwest corner of 40th and Park), very late but relieved to be indoors, and spent an ordinary day at my customary toil.
At six p.m., however, I was startled by an enormous rumbling, a thundering roar that rattled the very walls. Leaping from my desk and muttering imprecations, I scanned the street from our eighth-floor aerie, and saw swarms of people fleeing in obvious panic. From behind the looming bulk of the huge modern skyscraper at 101 Park there issued a tremendous cloud, blotting out the sky and the buildings beyond. Something truly enormous was underway. I hadn’t seen anything like this since 9/11, and the agitated behavior of those on the ground suggested that some similar cataclysm was afoot. The windows shook with the force of the din outside.
The whole tableau was, frankly, rather alarming, and it seemed prudent to leave. Others had the same thought. When we got outside the streets were mobbed, the noise was deafening, and nobody had the least idea what was going on, other than that it was something very bad, and very close by. One suggestion making the rounds was that the Chrysler Building, at 42nd and Lexington, was collapsing.
I will confess to you, dear readers, that these were edgy moments. I cannot communicate in mere words the visceral effect that, above all, this ghastly din had on all of us. It was a sound as if the unbridled fury of Hell (no comments, please, about whether Hell actually exists; I’m speaking metaphorically here) was jetting forth to claim its dominion. Very unsettling.
I found my friend and colleague Yaniv standing nearby, and together we made our way over to Lexington Avenue. When we got there and looked uptown, we saw that there was both good news and bad. The good news was that the Chrysler Building still stood, in glittering Art Deco majesty. The bad news, though, was that apparently the unbridled fury of Hell was in fact jetting forth to claim its dominion (evidently, the East 40′s).
In the middle of Lexington Avenue, about two blocks north of where we stood, was what seemed to be an erupting volcano. From a great crater in the street there issued a colossal boiling cloud of steam and debris that flung itself to the very tops of the towering buildings all around. The sound of it, even from hundreds of yards away, was horrifying.
Friends, let me tell you: this was something to behold. It became clear, though, that this was most likely not an attack of any sort, but was rather a dramatic failure of some neglected element of New York’s vast and antique infrastructure. It was as if the city itself were suffering an aortic dissection.
And now for the human element. As I stood gawking at this fearsome spectacle, I became aware of a person standing next to me, a slight and tidy-looking woman in her fifties or early sixties with a fluffy little dog. She was shaking with emotion, and her eyes were full of tears. By this point my own concerns about the End of the World had abated, and I quite naturally assumed my usual role in such circumstances, namely the soothing, fatherly figure who calms the affrighted and comforts the anxious. I turned to her.
“It’s OK,” I said, looking gently down at her, placing a strong, steady hand upon her frail and quaking shoulder. “We were all worried, but it looks like it’s just something broken under the street. It’s going to be OK. You don’t have to be afraid.”
“I hate it. I hate it…” she trembled.
“No, no… really, there’s nothing to worry about,” said I, each word and gesture laced with milligrams of Valium. “It looks awful, but really, I’m sure they’ll have it all under control soon.”
“No, I hate… I hate… I hate MUSLIMS.” She shuddered at this disclosure, took a breath, and looked at me rather desperately.
I might have raised an eyebrow here, but stayed on mission. I had a familiar psychological diagnosis in hand, and needed confirmation. “And you hate that you hate them?”
“Yes.. yes… I do… but I can’t help it. I look at this and… I just hate them…”
She looked at me again, with a plea in her eyes that I wouldn’t condemn her for her sin of intolerance, that I would understand.
We stood together and watched for a little longer, as the fire trucks arrived and the helicopters wheeled above us; we were both very sad.
But the good thing about this city is that even Big Deals are no big deal. So after a little while I left, and walked down to Bleecker Street, past the emergency vehicles racing uptown, to meet my lovely wife Nina. My old friends the Mar-Tays were playing at the Bitter End, and we certainly weren’t about to miss the show.