Friday, 18 December 2009

Sproadic dreams distant (day seventy seven and seventy eight)

Your brow shouldn't be so wrinkled, boy, you're only twenty one. Subway wanderer, he switches carriages at every stop, patrolling with a face so pathetic and diffident, saturnine disposition. Cardboard sign with a list of simple needs - socks and a sleeping bag. His T shirt is all holes, worn out too young. Nothing is easy as a vagrant - to get to the subway you need a fare, to write a sign you need a pen, to do anything you need money. These young netjumpers, the small fry who escape downward and out through society. Reminders of the slips that could lower us all - we are all downcast and guilty.

Notices are everywhere - security and fear in early September. Report any suspicious activity, eyes everywhere, metal detectors and so on. It all goes slow motion as the carriage behind explodes, debris spiralling past my head. I am calm and seated, and my eyes are closed in rapture and reverie, glorious doom. At Ground Zero they sell magazines entitled 'Tragedy' and photos of the dreadful impact - rubbernecking death tourism - this is not appropriate. Add in panpipes playing 'More Than A Woman.' Overcoming disaster has never seemed so mawkish. Rebuilding has begun, foundations are down. In a few years this will be a place of sombre reflection - for now just stare at capitalism and cry your big salty tears.

Presidents began on Wall Street, when it was the capital, and before the bankers moved in and made it toxic. The floppy haired, striped shirted hordes, with briefcase and braces, are absent, spending Labor Day with the family, not the mistress, not walking down the narrow stone streets so security conscious with their barriers and pillars. Global economic misery is left behind, down to the bull where tourists crowd round, clambering, hustling, shoving for photos. No wonder it looks ready to charge. When did the bull replace the yellow taxi as a symbol for the city?

The kids in Times Square spray paint a skyline in minutes, space smeared spattered onto laminate. A few techniques mastered and you have a business. The Naked Cowgirl is less successful - makeup and a bikini do not do her sixty year old frame any favours - she just looks startled. Ellis Island was an entrance, now we're passing through on the way out. Millions passed through terrified and full of hope, sold an American dream, said goodbye to parents, examined and tested and mostly accepted (unless you're disabled or ill), and failed or succeeded on the streets of a burgeoning city, eking out an existence. Photos of moustachioed Russians, beshawled Polish girls - wide eyed and tight lipped, weatherbeaten Irish farmers - all filed away. They passed the Statue of Liberty, loaded with symbolism, half seasick/homesick looking at the torch of freedom, unshackled. Too obvious, just a tourist photo opportunity, meaning and origins pre-established. All of it just representative of America, unsubtle and massive and opportunity always. Spy it all under the glittering nightlights, the towers random window lights sprinkled, all glinting down in the financial district, up in downtown, across in the Bronx and Staten Island and Brooklyn, all yellow lights, all around, under a purple clouded darkness, spread wide over above us.

There are few sights more depressing than a man taking photos of himself with the New York skyline. No one to take it for him, he snaps, checks it on the LCD screen on the back of his camera, and goes back down the Rockefeller. Alone and rushing on. The MOMA is closed - it's a Tuesday, duh. Back to 5th Avenue with us, to watch the immaculate spend their dollars to keep themselves immaculate. Another movie set is in place - Sex and the City Two is drawing crowds, straining over the barriers to glimpse Carrie, Charlotte, or Miranda, behind the makeup artists and screens and the PAs and the cameramen and wardrobe and continuity and grips and best boys and the battery of paparazzis keeping the machine of publicity oiled. Passers by wonder why all these women have gathered at a distance. They snicker when they receive their answer. Core demographics suggest the crowd will be exclusively female - I am the only exception to this rule.

The Home Alone toy shop doesn't look the same anymore, now it's a spacious Hamleys, the soul stripped out to sell toys. Tom Hanks still dreams of it, the Big piano tucked in a corner to let you try your hand -or your feet - so much trickier than thought. Trip over yourself before you play a melody. The horde of girls have scarpered into the Apple Store to tweet about it - playing with the aluminium clad circuit boards, aspiring.

Macy's is Debenhams with elephantiasis; overlarge but still dire - capsule stores superglued into a nine storey stone clad boredom centre - all carrying a little but never the things you want. Somehow it gained a reputation for shopping. Tapering to a point, impossibly narrow, mapping the diagonal cross point of Broadway and 5th, ornate carvings line iconic Flatiron. You've seen it, we've all seen it. Beautiful early 2oth century elegance, all perfect ratios and fractions on a draughting pad, translated into stone and pictures. Streams of cars are fleeing across the Hudson into Brooklyn, under the arches and the cable spans. Pedestrians climb the boardwalk jumping away from hellspent cyclists swerving down as everyone photographs the skyline and the span. No one crosses, heads back to their hotels and squirrel away in their hotel rooms, feeling sick watching network news.

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