The wind breathes mossy air over the East River, hot like breath. I keep waiting for spring to retract its premature promises. I watch the canopy spread its arms above my street, filling the space between brick buildings and blue sky. I wait for the leaves to curl back into their little pods like disturbed sea anemones, shrinking to the touch. We do not deserve this yet, I think. This winter was nothing like the clandestine brutality of my last, weather and life beating me down with its horrible storms. But sure enough, the change is here.
Tourists have found my pier, my haven – that piece of Brooklyn that makes me feel like I am human, not just some anonymous cog in the artery of the city. They stand taking pictures of the Manhattan skyline. They walk in slow-moving pairs, holding hands. I am less than thrilled about its popularity, not unlike a music snob is about their favorite tiny band reaching the masses.
Dear Pier, please do not become Kings of Leon.
“Isn’t it a nice amenity?” a girl once asked me. She worked for the architectural firm that had recently won a bid to tart it up with artwork, to make my pier needlessly “interesting.” An amenity? Wasn’t this thing built for me to watch day slip away from New York City? For me to come here and read books at dusk? Write things in my notebook? Watch old Polish men fish? This pier is not an amenity. This pier is mine.
People sneak through holes in chainlink fences to sit along the concrete shoreline, cracked and collapsed like a badly made soufflé. The East River ferry pumps gasoline into afternoon waters while the sun sets behind clouds. Water churns between rotting wood pillars, black and oil-slick like the surface of Manhattan. Everything here is so slippery. Everything. Everyone. Fumes and apparitions.
I’ve taken a break from watching a three-hour Bob Dylan documentary, evidence of a time when people used to stand for something, even if they didn’t know what they were standing for. These days we stand for nothing and say nothing. And what did I do before that? Model four-figure wedding gowns to be worn by rich girls from Dallas to Dubai. Commerce and consumerism, and I am the cog, something that helps get merchandise from Point A to Point B. I am an incidental cost, a necessary expenditure. I am paid to stand in a closet wearing shoes that make my feet look like raw hamburger patties, sweating underneath bustle skirts and petticoats, until I am released like a horse from the gate, emerging from a white door to present myself as something graceful and swanlike, polite and unthinking.
But it keeps me here. It pays for the apartment down the way from the pier.
I need New York for the little reasons that will be the bigger ones some years from now, building in significance over time. I need New York because I want to see that couple take the same little step, their strides synchronized from years of familiarity. Because I want to watch the slow-moving barge with the soot-colored hull to pass by me, right by me, with the Empire State Building looming behind it, dim and purple. Because in all of these strangers and these buildings, I have lost myself, been submerged deep in its filthy water, only to emerge more fully myself, a person with something to say.
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