Thursday, February 08, 2007

Hole in the Heart

So I am in New York City. The whys and wherefores do not matter, and, to be honest, I can’t discuss what I’m up to at the moment. But the discussions and meetings had a hole, about three hours in size, large enough to allow a trip into the frigid outside world beyond the hotel. I had not been in the city for about a decade, and while much is the same, some things have changed - more flatscreens everywhere, the Toy Building is going condo, and Times Square is more brilliant and gaudy than ever.

So I went to Ground Zero to pay my respects. It’s been a decade since I’ve been here.

When I came into the city earlier in the week it was just after twilight, and the Empire State and Chrysler buildings were lit up, dominating their neighbors. I’ve never been a native New Yorker, but New York is in the national blood – its locations are familiaf to us. The city and its various districts and boroughs belong to the national consciousness (unlike LA, where all of its locations are punchlines, but that’s another tale). Anyway, coming into the city from JFK I could not help but smile from the strange warmth and familiarity that it gave off.

And then I looked towards the south, and there was a hole in the skyline, and my throat got thick and my eyes watered a little. There is still a hole in the heart of Manhattan.

I got on the E train to go downtown this afternoon. “We don’t give change” said the woman at the booth. “I’m new here,” I said. “You go to that machine and you can get a single ride pass. It costs two dollar. We don’t give change. The machines work. Those idiots say they don’t, but they don’t know nothing. They work, just follow the directions.” And the machines worked and spat out a ticket and I descended into the subway and caught the E train to the last stop.

Now a decade ago I would be shameless in my open distain, even hatred, of the World Trade Center. And I would not be alone in that opinion – they were ugly buildings, buck teeth planted at the end of the island, far from the true heart of Manhattan. They weren’t elegant in appearance, like the Empire State, or even novel in design, like the Sears Tower in Chicago. They were ugly. brutish buildings, and to make matters worse, their first movie appearance was with Tom Hanks in the horrible, horrible movie “Mazes and Monsters”. So I have no love for the towers. But now they are gone and the hole is left and I miss them.

And subway let out right on the edge of the construction. A heritage sign along the road still talks about them in present tense, as an engineering marvel. The site itself has been excavated, and the foundations and infrastructure are already going in, including the rail lines. You can navigate around the entire site, so I paced around it, alongside a damaged building still being deconstructed, along the various fences and windows, through the Winter Garden, and along the north side. I was not alone - there were others, still surprised, and shocked, and angry and sad, who came to see and picture the structure as it was and as it may yet be (and just a note – the models of the planned structures look a lot better in three-dimensions than the artistic renditions I’ve seen).

And in the end I got back on the subway going north and a pair of hiphoppers danced and panhandled and got out at the gaudy Time Square where a group of young girls under watchful police eyes were waiting for someone named Hillary to finish taping an interview with MTV. But there was one other thing at the site.

On other of the pedestrian overpasses, an artist had put in an installation called “Floodwall” It was nothing but drawers – simple drawers, wooden, warped, and water-damaged, from chests and closets that once held simple things, all on end, all along the length of the passage. The only thing odd about these peeling, bleached, wooden drawers was that they were from New Orleans, rescued from the rubble of Katrina, brought north and laid out in a vista along the side of Ground Zero.

There is a hole in the heart of Manhattan. There are other holes in the heart of America.

Update: It has been noted that actually, the 1976 version of King Kong predates the 1982 release of Mazes and Monsters (Thanks, Bradon!). Rather than just make the change above into "one of the first film appearences" or something similarly weaselly, I will just not the change here, since it allows me to state again that Mazes and Monsters really blew chunks.