Signs of the times
A trip into the kingdom of noise in Brooklyn
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It’s a sign of the times that my latest trip to Brooklyn was by Megabus, not by car. This is because it is too expensive to drive our cars now. Which I understand is Putin’s fault.
The Megabus didn’t show up at 6th and Market at 9:20 a.m. as scheduled because (I learned at 10 o’clock) it was Pride Day. I wasn’t sure what kind of Pride the bus company was celebrating, but it clearly wasn’t pride in keeping its commitments. I Ubered to a less celebratory bus, ever noting signs of the times—like an altercation onboard between patrons regarding mask protocol. All will be featured on some “America in 2022” YouTube in ages hence.
In idle moments one seeks guilty escapes into “America in 1957” videos where Boomers reminisce about saddle shoes, pogo sticks, and “See the USA in your Chevrolet” on 25-cents-a-gallon gas pumped for you by uniformed attendants who check your oil and clean your windshield.
The spiritually minded pray.
In Manhattan I walked nine blocks to the C-train which I rode for eleven stops, scrunched next to a woman wearing layers of dirty clothes (though it is summer) and taking up three seats with shopping bags stuffed with matted receipts that she scooped up in handfuls close to her face, pretending to read them while talking incessantly to herself. She was unaware of me, like the dwarfs at the end of The Last Battle who could not by any means be brought back to reality. Satan, not content with bondage, relishes humiliation.
This time in New York I didn’t see the romantic “canyons of steel” Louis Armstrong rasped nostalgically about, or the jazzy optimism of Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train.” I saw a city going down and inhabitants in denial. The 17-year-old I sat with for an hour said her parents like believing their leafy neighborhood is safe, but that she feels uncomfortable on the subway and walking past homeless people and oily men hitting on her.
The tenants of the brownstone apartment that is now like a second home to me pay $3,000 a month in rent. Their next-door neighbors can be found sitting at all times of day and into the evening on their stoop talking trash and playing what passes for music in our day, for the benefit of everyone on Prospect Place, like it or not. How does that work? How long can it work?
I thought I would nap when the baby napped, but the kingdom of noise was not having it, waxing all the louder in the vacuum, with its hellish rap lyrics and soulless metronomic syncopation that no human ever drummed. After naptime, baby and I walked to the playground–basketball court on Park Place where the musky smell of marijuana wafted among children at play. It will seep into them unawares, permanently wired into memory.
The talk everywhere is of those who have left, and those who are thinking of leaving, since COVID turned out for the falling and rising of many.
At 6 a.m., before the baby wakes, an angry car horn under my window obliterates the dawn, persisting for a good 10 minutes. Its author is a woman boxed in by a double-parked vehicle that has no doubt been there all night. I watch to see what will happen. Another woman emerges from a door across the street, choice words and threats are exchanged, then the second woman moves her car and the hostage speeds away.
My duties come to an end, and I board the bus to Philadelphia, a more accustomed danger, thinking with mild amusement of a Scripture: “It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him” (Amos 5:19).
Not a pretty essay. Not a pretty time of man. Further and further we go from “See the USA in your Chevrolet.”
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