There is construction, or deconstruction going on outside my apartment. I live in the back of the building, where I’ve become accustomed to a version of quiet only found in New York City. The back of my building meets with the backs of five or six other buildings, forming an echoing alleyway a block long. Each building had a character of its very own. One hosts a yearly Latino birthday bash, a drunk guy who sometimes blares salsa from his bedroom window lives in another. An opera singer plagues the alleyway with hours of warm-ups and trills resides somewhere here, and a saxophone player just moved in. Once upon a time, two sisters lived in the apartment across from my bedroom window, spitting distance from my fire escape. The zaftig elder cooked naked in the kitchen, her breasts pendulous over the hot stove. The two would scream and fight for days at a time, breaking only to eat. They moved out and were replaced by a respectable young couple who put up curtain. New York City zen.
But now, on the fortnight of my departure, I wake up to the beeping, pounding, boulder crushing noises in the back of my building. From early morning until the evening, when I leave for work, the rubble rubbles, the rocks rock, the workers work, the trucks truck, and I sit at my desk and stare at my computer and try my hardest to think. But there is no room for thought. My brain is full of noise.
They are deconstructing a retaining wall that collapsed two years ago. It’s taken them a while, mostly because the building owner didn’t want to assume responsibility for the collapse. For two years, I’ve had the alleyway view of a beautiful tree growing sideways, a torn, blue, plastic tarp, insufficient in preventing further collapse, and rusting metal beams holding the bits of wall that had not yet collapsed in place. Decay and entropy. I’ve watched it grow.
It’s important to note that it is because of this situation that my apartment was burglarized. The the only access to the alleyway is through my building’s. Our security gate was taken down to make room for big machines and for two years, my co-op board sued the other buildings affected to replace the gate, instead of replacing it first and then suing for payment later. Sometimes, people are dumb.
Maybe I’m not being fair.
What I’m trying to say is: I have feelings about this entire situation.
Mostly, I feel like New York is projectile vomiting me into the next state.
New York City has a reigning deity. I don’t know her name, but she is clearly a cousin of Hawaii’s Pele, for whom it is sport to bash her inhabitants on the rocks to see what they are made of.
This Spirit of New York is as fickle, lovely, and as delicately cruel as Pele. She’ll whip you around by your pinky finger, turn your hair grey before your very eyes, whisper in your ears in the silence between evangelical sermons, the shuffling stories of the desperate and lonely spare changers, and the “show time” kids swinging on poles and spinning on their heads in the cramped confines of a crowded subway car.
What does she whisper? It depends. Sometimes its a love song. Sometimes a secret. She can be kind. Gentle in places. Sometimes, she likes a little finesses, a bit of subtlety, style. But then, you’ll see her stride down the red carpet like an over-processed peacock. She’ll play in the grass, swim in the river, wink from between high building like grass pushing through cracks in the sidewalk. What she doesn’t want you to see is that she’s really a small island, at the mercy of nature, trampled upon daily and weighed down by steel, concrete, and nine million different dreams.
When you break up with her, one of two things happen. Either you run into every person you’ve ever slept with, the parade of exes, or she acts like an asshole.
Clearly, she’s going with the latter strategy with me.
Accompanying the din of the deconstruction of the retaining wall that ate my computer, are songs from the musical I’ve been working on, which rage through my head.
When it’s quiet in the alleyway, in the dead of night, machinery, opera singers, and drunken deejays tucked safely in bed, songs from the show carry on, in no particular order, ear worms eat holes in my brain, and lyrics mate with my own personal melodic questions.
The fortune from my last fortune cookie read: “German proverb: No trees touch the sky.” I toss. I wonder. What happened to the guy who used to write fortune cookies? Is he in poor health? I turn. Who is this new guy? Why does he know German proverbs? Has he run out of Chinese proverbs? It seems impossible. Did no one train him in the uncanny art of sending the right fortune into the hands of the person who needs it most? Did he know about the sideways tree behind my apartment that was chopped down when they started clearing out the collapse?
Namely, how can I get the songs from this musical out of my head?
And, why the thought of buying a car be more stressful than the thought of buying a house?
And how the hell am I going to use up my ten pass to the Russian Turkish baths in two weeks time?
And why is my Chinese fortune cookie quoting German proverbs?
The breeze from the alleyway brushes against my bare arms like a thousand tiny feathers. My dog sighs and lays her chin on my thigh. I give up on sleep and hum along with the show tunes instead.