“Tripped the light fantastic.”
That expression enchanted me as soon as I heard it, probably for the first time as a kid. The fact that it comes from the song “Sidewalks of New York” always strikes like a clock chime when I’m back in the city. I walk faster in NY, my feet feel light, my stride effortlessly long. When I lived here and people would visit, they would always reprimand me (generally kindly) for my knee-jerk response, “It’s just a few blocks”; my definition of “few” could mean anywhere from 6 to 20. To me, and to this day, a sprint across a couple of crosstown avenues and a mile or so of uptown streets is grand fun indeed. Who on earth wouldn’t want to join me?
I do adore this city, have from my first trip here in 1983. It poured rain, and shop windows steamed. I met up with a guy who’d done a show in Utah where I went to undergrad, a native New Yorker who showed me downtown and who, I think, was as delighted watching me fall in love with the city as I was with the city itself. There is nowhere like New York, nowhere with the energy that courses up through the pavement and then through your system, firing axons and dendrons until you are lit up like an electric grid, snapping crackling popping like the environment that surrounds you.
Over the years that I lived here, roughly 75% of my visitors could not understand my infatuation with the place, but the rest did. New York isn’t for everyone. It can stink, it’s loud, it’s rude, you have to closely guard your personal space, and in the words of one friend, “You need so many filters here.” But that is partly what I love about it. New Yorkers are expert at protecting the tiny portion of the city that we each boldly and tenaciously snatch, whether walking to work, standing on the subway, or inhabiting whatever relatively small interior space we end up in. We can be supremely patient; one of my favorite sights here is the lines of people, mostly but not exclusively guys, standing stoically in line near a makeshift wooden wall at a construction site, waiting for a peek at the diggings. But I also love the ability to thread one’s way like a needle through a sidewalk clotted with merchants and tourists. You can always tell the city-dwellers, the way that we shift sideways, flattening ourselves to 2D planes, and slice around stroller-pushers, gawkers, and all those other folks who don’t get that time is a privilege, not a right. We don’t just seize the day, we cast yesterday behind as we hurtle our way into tomorrow.
I’m here on work, the video production that I love, an environment that mimics, in its intensity, energy, and pressure, this glorious place. Meanwhile, Dennis, back at the homestead with the kid, has written an elegy to our relationship.
We have always approached life from places so different, they can’t really be called opposites, which would have a sort of symmetry. To him, empty bookshelves represent ruin, dust, sadness. To me, they’re a fresh start; to quote Sondheim, “A blank canvas. So many possibilities.” In some cultures, white is the color of death, of bones bleached by the sun. To me, it is beautiful, a playground that imagination can populate with – well, anything.
Dennis will travel at his own speed to his ultimate destination. For a time, it seemed that we were headed to the same place. It becomes clearer each day that, even if we were, our separate natures dictate vastly different methods of transportation. That, I think, is wonderful. We are utterly unique, as humans, as writers, as parents, each beautiful, each flawed, each striving for the best way to realize our own truths.
He says, correctly, that I smiled more easily. I hope, in time, he can do the same, that he can relax. Tension and sadness are heavy. Shed them, and one finds that lightness is far from unbearable, it is glorious. I wish him Godspeed.
It is 5:30 a.m. The air is crisp, vibrant. Outside, the sidewalks anticipate the dance of a million feet. Two of them are mine.