March 20, 2017
The following letter was composed upon an evening walk from W 110th St. to W 59th St.
Good evening friend,
I am walking along the western edge of Central Park. It’s 7:30 in the evening, cool but not cold, on a Monday night. It’s the spring equinox.
I can’t say why I picked this particular part of the city to walk, other than I hoped that the park might be inspiring. I’ve been searching for inspiration all day, my friend, but alas so far nothing.
As always the city is alive and pulsing. There are cars and people everywhere, and the gathering darkness is already full of lights. There are square window lights, headlights, flashing emergency lights, lamp lights, streetlights—every light you can dream of, except starlight. Starlight is the price we pay to live here. Starlight is what we give up for all the other lights in the world.
You know, I feel rather like a poet just now. That was a particularly poetical turn a phrase, you gotta admit. And besides, wondering New York City in the gathering twilight on a high holy Pagan holiday—how much more poetical does it get?
Starlight is the price we pay... it’s true though. And I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit. The last few nights have been warm enough that I’ve been able to sit outside on the roof terrace at my house. Out there we have a lawn chair and you can see the whole of my neighbourhood: all the lights in the apartments nearby. And you can lay back and listen to the sounds of the city. And if there are no clouds you can see maybe one star. But even that one lonely star probably isn’t even a star. Might be a satellite. Can’t be sure. This city is beautiful and alive and the center of the world, but being here means that you can’t look up and see the rest of the universe.
Again with the poetry! I don’t know what’s gotten into me. I’m beginning to think there's something in the fresh air drifting out from Central Park, that’s turning me into some kind of sad Romantic.
I’m at 94th St now. A stranger just told me that he liked my hat. My first impulse—I hate to say—was to think he was being aggressive. He wasn’t. Humanity is sometimes the other price we pay to live in the city, in this city—But then no! That’s just not true at all, is it? That’s just me being an old grump. There’s more vibrant humanity here than I can even imagine. I just need to quit being such a standoffish little weirdo and learn to see it all!
I’m approaching 90th now. I’m passing buildings with names. Names like, El Dorado, and The Bedford. If you owned the building and you had to name it what would you call it?
I do like walking in the city at night, but far less than I like walking it in the morning. I find that there’s a kind of loneliness to the city at night. Perhaps it’s the unshakable knowledge that if I were to just keep walking, and walking, and walking, for hours, as the night grew on, eventually it would get real cold and everyone would go home and I would be alone… Of course in New York City you’re never really alone, but it is true that there are those dark parts of the night when the streets are more empty. It’s for the opposite reason I love walking in the morning. In the morning, when the streets are empty it’s because everyone is still in bed, still waking up, still having coffee and cereal and toast and eggs and if it's a good day maybe sausages. And I can walk knowing that eventually the streets will be crowded and the sun will be bright and everywhere people! Was that a very sad thing that I just wrote? I promise I didn’t mean it that way.
I have come to 84th and on the corner over there there’s a building all under construction and covered with scaffolding and a material like a thin semitranslucent black netting, opaque except for where there’s lights shining through from inside. The building itself seems empty. There are no lights, except for one. At the base of one of the large windows on the top floor, (looks like maybe the fifth floor), there are three man sitting side-by-side working by the light of a large lamp. They’re repairing the detailed red stonework under the window. I’m not sure what exactly they’re doing—chiseling the stone down with little picks, or somehow restoring the rock with Freemason magic—but just look at them! Three figures alight in the yellow glow of a solitary lamp, perched high on a stone building on the edge of Central Park. Full night has set now so everything else is dark. And there’s them, tinkering, and working, and fixing this old building — dear friend I do believe I am looking at a painting! “Three Masons At Night” A newly discovered masterpiece by some long dead and nearly unheard of American master. He worked in the oils, and he was clearly influenced by Turner and the Dutch school.
81st St., and the Museum of Natural History. This building has been documented and photograph and filmed and written about so often that I do not think there's a single thing I can say which has not already been said 100 times. Friend, if you could only see it!
72nd now. Every chance I get I steal looks into the apartments I pass, the ones with lights on and curtains open enough for me to see in. Mostly I can’t see anything, but occasionally a flash of crown molding, a silhouette of a person, a designer lamp, the blue glow of a television cast up on the ceiling...
And so I have come to W. 59th St.. Columbus Circle. A genuine metropolitan artery through which flows all these people, the very life-blood of the city. It is here that I will leave you, buddy. In the middle of the roundabout standing beside a tall statue of Columbus on a high pedestal. He’s looking south, forever looking south. For now it is time for me to catch in Northbound train back up to the Bronx. I’m hungry and tired, and I want to go home and make myself a piece of toast and something strong and warm to drink, and then I want to read Alain-Fournier, my namesake, until I fall asleep.
Good night, my friend. Thanks for walking with me.