Archive for the 'New York Moments' Category

On the Edge of Silence

January 9, 2022

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer.”    

Albert Camus 

It was just around three o’clock on an overcast afternoon and I was taking my Sunday constitutional.  I had just crossed Houston Street when I heard the sirens coming from all directions.  A moment later at 1st Ave and 2nd   St   when the cop cars sped past me going the wrong way in a one-way street, I knew that whatever was happening was very serious, indeed.    I walked in the direction they drove to see the flashing lights of cop cars join the flashing lights of cop cars that had already arrived.  

 There too was as an engine of the FDNY.  The street was blocked.   The vehicles were now cramped together on the corner of A and 2nd St and they had all silenced their sirens.  In fact, despite the fact that a crowd of perhaps 30 people had gathered there, drawn by the flashing lights or curiosity or morbidity or whatever, the entire block, citizen and civil servant, seemed to be enveloped in a very un-New York City silence.  

All eyes were frozen on a young man standing on his fire escape five flights above the sidewalk.  

He was pale and wearing shorts and a tee shirt, on the tall side, perhaps 35 years old.  What became immediately and chillingly clear was that standing in front of all of us was a fellow soul who, for whatever reasons had been driven to the place where life itself had become unbearable – “not worth living,“ in the words of Camus — and a permanent solution to that intolerable   state seemed to be just a little movement away.   One move and then for the young man, a very different kind of silence.  

The window to the right of the man was open and one could hear, just barely, muffled voices emanating out of it.  Perhaps even a conversation was taking place but, despite the silence, it was impossible to make out a single word.  From time to time the man moved a step or so in either direction or stood tall or reached out to the grab the fire escape. Most of the time he was absolutely motionless.   Meanwhile the murmuring from the window continued as did the silence in the street below.

At one point the window below the murmuring suddenly opened and a cop filled the square.    For a moment he stuck out his head and studied the man on the platform above him, the man whose life it was his job to save.  Then, just as suddenly he retreated back into the darkness.  

Somewhere close to where I stood, just barely audible I became aware of a woman I could not see reciting the Hail Mary in Spanish.  She would finish it and then begin again, adding to the bizarre sense that something almost sacramental was taking place.      

A young African American who wandered into the scene asked me, almost in a whisper, “What’s going on?  Was the man threatening to jump? “

“Yes, “ I answered, adding for whatever reason, “ It’s a hard world. “ 

“Yes, “ she replied. “ It really is. “  

Then we watched in silence.  

Once or twice I exchanged glances with the man to my right but said nothing.  

The murmuring continued and the man seemed to respond. Slowly, very, very slowly and in fits and starts, he  crawled head first into his window.   I had no idea how much time passed.  Time seems bendy in such moments.  How long was I there?  Five minutes ?. Eight minutes at most ?  And yet somehow it seemed much, much longer.   

All I know was that, at last, he vanished into his window.  He was safe.  And, in some sense that I did not consider until later, so were we.  We, those who for whatever reason had gathered beneath him, were not to be witnesses to a primal struggle that ended in horror, not to witness a violent rejection of the sacrality of life, not to be told in the most graphic possible language that ‘Life was not worth living.”  

I turned to leave.   The young woman I spoke to touched my arm and looked into my face.   

“Be safe, “ she said.  Be safe.”      “You too, “ I said..    “Be safe.”  

The  man to my right also met my eyes.  He said nothing.  He was not, I understood,  the talking type.  He nodded his head and patted me on the back in  some sign of some kind of solidarity   and walked east into the  remains of his day.    

 And with these little gestures from two strangers I almost certainly will never see again, I was moved.  I was moved because we strangers had shared something;  something that could have gone terribly  wrong and yet, for reasons we will never know, any more than we will know the reasons that drove the man to the edge,   did not  and would not .

We shared a moment of curiosity or concern or empathy, or fear, or understanding or even recognition or some combination of all of these —  but it was something shared; something deeply human and   even primal was felt and shared by the three of us and I suspect, on one level or other, every other person there.   

As I walked on and reflected it occurred to me that we had inadvertently shared in something sacred: the sparing of a human life,  asking  Camus’s ultimate philosophical question and answering  “yes.” 

In a in a city ravaged by covid and savage inequality,  in a country where trust and empathy are considered by many to be the characteristics of suckers and losers, in  a world committing global suicide in plain sight and in slow motion, I’ll take it.   

With gratitude, I’ll take it.   

My First and Last Visit to Hudson Yards

April 7, 2019

Figuring I did not need to invite any more darkness and vulgarity into my head than that provided on a daily basis from Trump’s White House, and after reading horrific account after horrific account following its opening, I had avoided an actual visit to the thing called Hudson Yards, which cost a zillion dollars to make even as it received lots of those zillions in massive tax breaks.

Today, fortified perhaps by the lovely weather, my curiosity got the best of me, and so I set out on my trusty Trek to take it in and see for myself what all the hoopla was all about.
After all, I reckoned, how often does a city like New York suddenly sprout nothing short of a “new neighborhood “ out of a bunch of old railroad tracks?

From a distance, approaching from the south, there is a moment or two when the Hudson Yards is reminiscent of a scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and Toto and company glimpse the Emerald City looming far past the poppy fields. Indeed, in the High Line, the Hudson Yards even has its own version of the Yellow Brick Road, where I saw thousands of pilgrims and leads straight into the place.

I arrived and looked around and looked around some more and still have no idea what all the hoopla is about. There are a number of exceedingly tall, exceedingly scary looking buildings where people are meant to live or work in or do something in and which made me feel paramecium -like when I looked up at them.

There was a very high-end shopping mall catering to people with way too much money.

There were insane and deeply cynical signs all over the place exhorting people to “Climb to new heights” and “Work where it matters” and “Discover your new home, “ as if Hudson Yards were engaged in a public self help project or, ya know, affordable to anyone.

My favorite sign read, “Welcome to your new neighborhood,” as if this terrifying collection of towers could ever properly be referred to as a neighborhood.

There was something called The Shed, which is meant to be an art space and where videos blare at you concerning the wonders of The Shed. From a distance, I thought that part of The Shed was covered by an enormous plastic sheet, but no. The thing that looks like an enormous plastic sheet is part of The Shed. Permanently.

Finally, in what seems to be the center of the “Yards” stood the thing called The Vessel, where people were invited to climb up many flights of stairs and take “selfies,” peering out over the high-end mall or The Shed or, for the more adventurous, in the direction of the Westside Highway.

The Vessel

And I’m here to tell ya, many, many people did.

I tried to find beauty and found none. I then settled for finding something remotely interesting and found none of that either. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. What I found is a place reeking of a certain moneyed banality. And all I knew was I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there. The idea that any sane, more or less educated human being would want to hang out in Hudson Yards, never mind live there, is inconceivable to me. But then again, the fact that millions of Americans believe that Donald Trump was chosen by God to be president is inconceivable to me.

And here we are.

I am happy to be away from the thing called Hudson Yards and I cannot imagine ever returning there. Why would I? As Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, “There is no there there.”
What is there is an absolute contempt for all that is human, scaled, and empathetic that no amount of public relations can disguise.
Hudson Yards may well be the most cynical development in the history of New York City. It is certainly the most cynical location I have ever visited.

Give me my apartment with a bathtub in the kitchen, which, though cramped, feels like a home. Give me my neighborhood, which, even when it drives me mad, is, in actual fact, a neighborhood.

Addendum: Apparently massive tax breaks were not enough for the makers of New York’s newest “neighborhood:” they had to rob from funding meant for the most struggling communities.

David McReynolds R.I.P.

August 17, 2018

Herein a brilliant, courageous and profoundly decent man who lived his beliefs whatever the cost. He will be missed by many.

Scenes for the March For Life in New York

March 24, 2018

Central Park West Looking North.

And so they came and came by the thousands, flooding Central Park West with citizens of all ages, all races, all creeds, all who have had enough of insane gun laws. And so they spoke from the stage of their loss and sorrow and rage: a survivor from the slaughter at a concert in Las Vegas, a mother from Harlem whose two children were gunned down in the streets, a leader of Black Lives Matter, a librarian who survived the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, student survivors of the carnage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and parents of the dead. A great beginning. May it proceed and grow.

Following are scenes from the day.

href=”” rel=”attachment wp-att-3781″> Approaching The Dakota and Central Park West.

A Horrific Reality

A Lonely Trump Guy

One Man’s Perspective

Let Freedom Ring


Let Freedom Ring


Tired of Thoughts and Prayers

The Kids Are Alright

[caption id="attachment_3797" align="aligncenter" width="380"] An Activist

A Warning

Paul Ryan Comes To Harlem

May 14, 2017

In a sense, the visit of such a person to such an institution made perfect sense, that much the more in the Age of Trump. After all, here you had Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, one of the leading proponents of the ceaseless war on the remnants of the social contract, fresh off his successful orchestration of a billionaire tax cut masquerading as a health care bill intended to strip millions of healthcare, visiting Harlem Success Academy, the flagship school of Eva Moskowitz, one the most successful practitioners of the publically funded privately managed scams called charter schools.

The two, after all, have a lot in common. Both owe their careers to the largesse of the richest people in the country and, in the case of Moskowitz, the politicians in their employ. Ryan, of course, is a prime example of such an employee.

Hence, Moskowitz beckoned, Ryan came.

Despite their almost limitless financial backing, and a government that seems pleased to give them both almost anything they ask, both parade around as heroic strivers for the underclass against the wily tyranny of the status quo, i. e. the public sector and labor unions.
Both are corporatists, through and through.
Please note that Harlem Success Academy is but one of three schools housed in the building in which Ryan made his visit.
What was the purpose of Ryan’s visit? A visit that necessitated police barricades and TV crews at 7:30 in the morning when I arrived to teach in the school that Ryan had no intention of visiting . A visit that brought hundreds of furious protesters whose whistles and howls I could hear intermittently throughout the day, one especially loud volley signaling Ryan’s arrival, another, his hasty exit.

For Moskowitz, Ryan’s visit was a public relations bonanza, made to show the world how connected to power she really is. A few years ago I literally bumped into presidential candidate Mitt Romney in the hall of my school as he was leaving Success Academy after visiting with Moskowitz.

It is not hard to imagine what would happen if a public school official called Ryan’s office and offered a tour of a public school.

For Ryan the visit was an opportunity to show how much and how deeply he cares about the children and people of Harlem, even if he and Donald Trump and a bunch of rich white guys recently celebrated stripping them of their healthcare while taking aim at Medicare.

Full disclosure: Ryan, who arrived hours late, did make a last minute gun-at-the –head, perfunctory visit to a special needs class in the 811 school which Moskowitz tried ruthlessly to gobble up as part of her ever expanding empire, to hell with the special needs kids who are schooled there. Almost certainly agreed to because of the pressure asserted by 811 teacher Mindy Rosier, Ryan was reportedly escorted into a classroom of children who had no idea who he was, smiled, said hello, shook the principal’s hand and was hustled up the stairs for an hour long visit with Success Academy.

Using children for political props is nothing new to Moskowitz, even if the same act would find any DOE principal out of a job and possibly in jail should they pull such a stunt. Over the past few years Moskowitz has bussed children up to Albany and had them parade over the Brooklyn Bridge, all on school time, all as their teachers were on the city’s dime, all under the pretext of giving the kids a “civics lesson.”
Ryan’s visit, presumably, was just another such “lesson. “

But what, precisely, was the nature of the lesson? What did the students learn? That it was somehow OK for the Speaker of the House of Representatives to visit their school and not the public school next door in the same building? That the students my colleagues and I teach are somehow not as important? That passing savage health care bills that will destroy people’s lives and render millions helpless so the richest people in the country can have yet another tax break is just fine?
That some people count and some people don’t ?

Yes, it made perfect sense that these two should meet, as it is so perfectly revealing of the nature of all things in the Age of Trump.

Ryan and friends celebrating stripping millions of Americans of healthcare.