I step out the door, down 20 floors, at 520 8th Avenue, midtown, or left of midtown, over at the Hudson side from which you can see New Jersey, the roof of a Russian Orthodox church among trees glinting gold, and some smokestacks, I want a coffee downstairs and realise I have no money, so after checking Duane Reade store locators online (the beer-selling pharmacy that also has Chase ATMs in them) and Chase Bank locators, Chase, the bane of my life, I walk two long avenue blocks to 6th avenue to take out money.
In the pharmacy, the expensively bewigged Jewish lady ahead of me starts saying something Yiddish, perhaps, turns and sees me, realises her friend has gone. Before she goes, I say, “have you finished?” She says she has, and I attempt to input data, but she hasn’t finished. After a long second, with her tantalising menu in front of me, I press cancel. Outside, I segue out of habitual midtown distaste, and my eyes begin to process. Suddenly I’m able to move with the crowds, now, and anticipate. I’m only seeing, not complaining. An Asian bicycle courier ollies off the pavement going the wrong way, into the space into which a white van is backing. Am I the only one to see it? They have an ether inbuilt agreement: the bike moves through the gap while the van continues backing. No overlap, a gap, and the bike goes through. It’s an unmediated second of speed and elegance. A New York second.
A woman with a twisted leg is being helped onto a school bus. The Penn station crowd with suitcases, and the black construction guys in hoodies and layers. The garment district, seen better days, still gritty and grimy, with brown skyscrapers marching west and east, creating sky corridors, high up on a 50th floor balcony, Pharaonic eagles and such: for a sky god to view. At a more human level, weird 2nd floor walk-up neon signs for psychics, how can they pay their rent here?, guys hustling selling out-of-state cigarettes, a guy with wrap-around shades laughing, showing gold interior teeth. Signs up in Spanish, “Venta al por Mayor”, wholesale only.
Asian girls in sunglasses pass in style and perfection, the ones for whom the whole male population apparently has a fetish (odd, I hadn’t heard about that until recently, but Asian women, apparently, keep their radars high and tweaked for the freaks who want to date them only because of their ethnicity and looks); as they pass, sunglassed against the male gaze, hiding against male power but proclaiming their own power to the street, a man asks querously to the ground, “can somebody help me?” He has a touch of the Great Depression about him: a 60 year old white man, thin, with visible veins on his hands, rubbing absently at his long greasy balding black hair. He asks as he walks across the pavement, and a rabble of crowds moves around him like aspects of the same tide closing over a rock, remorselessly.
I begin to understand New York’s existence on a myriad of levels, not only the fact that right now, someone is closing a massive deal, or right now someone is being laid off, that someone is enjoying fruits of unimaginable personal power, or someone is being crushed in the dailiness of an oppressive life, but that its layers exist on a multiplicity of perceptual levels. As anywhere. But here it’s magnified.
In the Pax Coffeeshop downstairs, the day’s rush has petered off, and the mainly Latino workforce are slowly down. I take a 20 out of the 80 I took out of the machine, and give it to the girl. She smiles, as she does every day. “With milk?” I put the change back in my pocket, add it to the almost 80, probably more than she makes in a day, getting up at a Queens 5 a.m. morning to be here, probably.