Thursday, March 18, 2010

I went down by the seawall

Yesterday’s work prompted a haze of dissatisfaction that’s only subsiding now. Can just about make out my hand in front of my face if I squint. File’s almost tucked away again, Xeroxes made, exemptions dealt with, letter typed up. Sometimes I just have a gnawing sense that I *don’t wanna.* Maybe it’s brought on by homework, or scheduling an appointment, or a particular work assignment, whatever. The file that’s been dogging me this week is like that. In all respects, it is extremely unpleasant—graphic subject matter; sad characters on all sides; bulk of material, some of it confusing—and I found myself just wanting to avoid it. Today I stumbled out of bed somehow and resolved to accomplish it, and I basically have.

Before I could get here, though, there was yesterday evening. Cradled in my personal haze, I found myself hopping the train yesterday evening, arcing out over the Williamsburg Bridge on the (still-somehow-exotic-to-me) J train to pay homage to one of my favorite places, a tiny strange park. It requires a bit of walking, since it’s right on the water, and it’s pretty small, but you round the appropriate corner and all of a sudden: there it is, a little oasis. For all that I feel the place is secretive and secluded, there were tons of people out yesterday. Perhaps they, like me, feel the weather casting out its imperative, feel drawn to the sun dipping its inevitable way down the sky. There were old people and young people, couples strumming guitars and children shrieking underfoot. (I never said these people were my favorite people.) A couple of girls sat in earnest talk out on the rocks as a small boy wailed about not being allowed out there. When you’re eighteen, his beleaguered mother replied.

Me, I sat down on the edge of the wall with my book, angled uptown to avoid the sharp splash of sun in my eyes, drank up the scenery. There is, just like the J train, something fascinating to me about that stretch of coast. I’m so familiar with the view from Manhattan out to Brooklyn and Queens, and with the stretch of park and promenade in more-southern Brooklyn. But the space sandwiched between the Williamsburg Bridge and, I suppose, the 59th Street one far to the east, electrifies me. I can see my parents’ tall building if I look right, and the Empire State, Con Edison, Chrysler, my favorite MetLife. The horizon breaks so low over here, renders my tired old landmarks expansive. Manhattan is a suddenly alien object to me (believe me, this doesn’t happen just anywhere). It looks so, well, industrial, with all the factory towers and housing projects across the river. And the water sparkles and the sun over the Williamsburg is beautiful if you shield your eyes with Death and Life.

And, related to all those city principles, no doubt, I feel so ambivalent about W’burg itself. Even since the last time I’d wandered around, a mysterious town seems to have sprouted on its westernmost edges; tiny boutiques, food shops, a new and lovely bookstore, a chocolate factory hang out their flags on empty back streets broken only by a racing cyclist or the tones of a Hassidic man engaging some skate rats in conversation. There is something so summery about the place that both draws and repels me. It pushes you toward visions of wandering out all night in the endless light, feet stroking the concrete, sitting on stoops, wearing your craziest hat and your brightest sundress while you sip some microbrew and graffiti up a wall someplace. It really is different from the rest of the city, despite seemingly-endless gentrification or what-you-will. It’s its own sort of Eden, I guess, but I don’t think I’m one of the gardeners.

Waiting for the subway back into Manhattan, I’m accosted by the onrush of passengers disembarking from the L. The thing that strikes me most about them is their youth; I know I am not so old that I can’t fit among them, but they make me uncomfortably aware of mortality in a way no other neighborhood does. I try to imagine walking out on Bedford Avenue twenty years hence, and I can’t do it. There is a sort of tyranny of the young at work here; I have the sense I’d be ostracized at 45—not intentionally, but those bright young things would shove me aside. It’s a little like how I imagine the beautiful people you hear about in California, only these folks aren’t beautiful exactly, so much as extremely, summer-ily alive.

And I can’t begrudge them that, can I, even curmudgeonly, fileburdened me. They’re having such a good time. I watch the accordionist on the platform for a while. He smiles and nods as an older man drops some change into his—you guessed it—coffeecan tip jar. The waltz plays as I board the train. Maybe there’s hope after all.

1 comment:

  1. I love this.
    And I think about the age thing sometimes too--my grey hairs coming in faster and faster, it seems--I am young, but I don't feel young among the people on the L. And will they be there when they're 45? I imagine they'll be in the Slope by then.
    The other thing: what ever happened to cross-generational socializing? People only seem to talk to the people within four years of their own age...a by-product of college, I suppose.