Last night I went out with some friends to play bar trivia, but between the end of school at seven o' clock, I had some time to kill. I decided to go on an urban ramble, perhaps my favorite solitary activity. Now that I have a family, the opportunities for it are far too rare. I started off by heading to The Strand bookstore, one of my happy places on this earth. Whenever I step through its doors my serotonin levels just shoot through the roof.
After that I wasn't sure what to do, and I aimlessly and stupidly caught the 4 train going north, which was crowded cheek to jowl. I found escape at 59th street and Lexington, knowing that I had to somehow get over to Amsterdam Avenue and 96th Street, about three miles away. I decided that I would hoof it with a stop at 72nd and Broadway for some delicious hot dogs at Gray's Papaya. (No urban ramble is complete without street food.) I thought about cutting over on 59th and gazing at the Trump Tower, aka Eye of Mordor. I was morbidly curious and felt like gauging the mood outside, but then decided that I wasn't up for seeing Cthulu and the madness that might engender. I walked up to 61st, then cut over to the park.
By that time the cold winds, now full of winter's bite, started lashing my face, but I didn't mind. There is something I love about Manhattan on nights like that, the cold wind fitting so well with the cold stone and steel of the city streets on the elegant but quiet uptown streets I was walking. I eventually cut into the park around 68th street, never having been in it when it was this dark. There were few joggers, and only a couple of solitary bikers. It was both exciting and scary to be so alone surrounded by the dark in the middle of the megalopolis. I was achieving the kind of revery I seek in my urban rambles, the time for reflection I need now more than ever. I have let cyberspace invade almost every moment of my shrinking free time, and desperately needed a break.
I decided to cut up to the 72nd street transverse, so that I could gaze at the Bethesda Fountain, one of my favorite spaces in New York City, much less the world. The terrace surrounding the fountain has a kind of lush elegance so indicative of its Gilded Age origins. The angel in the fountain is a believable angel, wearing a modest dress Tony Kushner described as "homespun." If angels could come to our rescue that's how I would imagine them. That statue also played an important role in his play Angels in America, which might be the most profound statement we have about Reagan's America. In this time of trouble I went to the fountain for a moment of grace. I was surprised not to see it lit up at night. Standing there in the eerie early winter dark, the angel was sleeping and distant, like Walter Benjamin's "Angel of History" constantly shrinking from the human wreckage piling up in front of it.
Needless to say, I did not get my solace. I trudged on, and suddenly I didn't see any other people in the park, as if the great city had been hit by a neutron bomb. Without doing to intentionally, I came across Strawberry Fields and its quiet dedication to John Lennon, which seemed both poignant and feeble in the dark, absent the people and musicians and shysters surrounding it during the day. I emerged from the park into the urban noise, crossed Central Park West, and strode past the gates of The Dakota, where Lennon was senselessly killed. Searching for grace, I was reminded of the cruel indifference of the universe to our lives. There have been far too many reminders of that sad fact of life in the last two weeks.