Thursday, June 26, 2008
Sunup to Sundown on the Bow Bridge
Winter parts from New York City in drips and dribs until one day the last slush pile melts and not only are days longer and the sun stronger, but perfume is sweeter, stories more believable, and true love more conceivable. It’s undeniable that some new thing has arrived: spring. Those who have stalked underground passages to avoid snow and wind re-greet the street, ice cream sales increase, cafes canvas sidewalks, evening-goers take an extra cup of coffee and handholding, pensive kisses and naps in lover’s laps all flourish.
For a few magical early spring days the city is steeped in love, some spots completely soaked, and none more so than the Bow Bridge in Central Park. It links the Ramble to Cherry Hill and was crafted from cast iron just before the Civil War. Thin wood planks surface the bridge and the feminine slope invites pondering. Joggers, birders and dog walkers are common. As are weddings, newly befallen lovers and crestfallen ones too. One nippy April morning I arrived at sunup, intending to stay the day, my only objective to observe.
6:17 a.m. A fire alarm sounds, traffic echoes and a woman in water shoes passes with a poodle. She’s smoking a cigarette and coughs going up the bridge.
“What’s his name?” I ask.
“Bach,” she says. “He’s the meeter and greeter of the park.”
A woman ruffles through a recycling bin while a bald man videotapes.
Beige gutters are sketched with sand, cigarette butts, Cheerios, a reddened popsicle stick and the rim of a baby stroller’s wheel. An alabaster railing cool to the touch speckles with pigeon poop and grit and gaps in a floral balustrade reveal droopy willows and the Ramble beyond. Canadian geese flock northwest and a large snowy bird swoops to the pond and wades to shore—egret. From under the bridge comes ruffling and every so often a pigeon. A mallard with a glossy green head paddles by. The building tops on Central Park West go gold.
An old man pulls doggy treats from a fanny pack to feed two goldens, one has a horrible wound on his face. “Perfect day,” he says.
A couple, pregnant, stops to stare at the pond then moves on.
Small birds gather straw from a patch of brush across the pond.
Old man with a dusky poodle. “Writing love poetry?” he asks.
A green Ford with a kayak on the roof and the words Geese Police on the side parks beside the pond. Two men unstrap the kayak, one gets in with a black and white dog and starts paddling briskly. When they come close, I ask what they’re doing.
“We’re chasing the Canadian Geese,” he says.
“Chasing them away?” I ask.
A woman with a red shirt and a fluffy black dog takes long slow strides beneath a line of willows.
“Birds?” I ask a man with binoculars.
“Yup,” he says, “it’s the season.”
The man in the kayak comes ashore and the Geese Police drive away. An elderly couple with two dogs discuss their first Earth Day. A muscled black man with binoculars around his neck scans for birds and an old black man with a soiled beanie peers past the railing, which is etched with lover’s scratchings: Alex y Diana, Borislava y Camilo 01-01-07, Danny I Love You.
An Asian jogger with a digital camera, a woman with a shirt that says Player on the front and Nocturnal on the back, a bum smiling sadly with arms hooked into the nooks of a purple sweater, a business man with an Oxford shirt and a black valise. A lady in pink stops, stares, then moves on, a beagle owner digs for a tissue, an old man shuffles like Frankenstein, a woman clutches a bag of poop, two German shepherds sniff each other, one owner yells, a man in scrubs on a headset speaks about chunky monkey ice cream, bright red fish slap about in the reeds.
“Good day for sunglasses,” says a bald man with peeling skin and a wet dog.
“That’s the Dakota,” says an old blonde in pink.
A suited man snaps pictures of a pregnant Spanish woman.
“Excuse me, sorry to interrupt your writing,” says a man with a European accent. I take a picture of him and an olive-skinned woman with curly black hair.
A couple stops to photograph the skyline. The man keeps his hands in his pockets and looks annoyed. On the way back across the bridge they discuss buying a scrap book.
A bright orange bird rockets by my head and a bum rests on a bench in a gazebo across the pond, his filthy bare feet facing me. A kid with a backpack that says Born to be Wild takes a picture then moves on. A thin botoxed woman with an unleashed poodle carries its poop in a bag. I look back and the poodle is rolling on the ground and the woman is feeding it something.
“Right now I’m facing the great lawn,” says a giggling man into his phone as he spins round. “Right now I’m facing the Ramble.”
A man in a black suit and sneakers walks by on a cell phone. The only word I catch is, “torture.”
A couple examines the pond. “You could wake up early and just take a day,” says the man.
“I might be left handed but I’m always right,” says a man with a Southern accent.
“Doesn’t get any better than this,” says a man walking with two woman.
“Ahyhe!” says a European girl goes as she notices a group of turtles, 16 in total, sunning on a rock. She goes down to take a picture, it’s just after 9 a.m.
“Sorry, I have to get back,” says a bald man to a British couple who asks for directions. He points to his watch.
Eight mothers jog with strollers, one has a pink umbrella.
A woman snaps a photo for two tourists then continues a conversation about warblers.
A drooping old man carries a white plastic bag filled with something heavy.
The chubbier of two graying female birders lights a long cigarette. “Jeez,” mutters an overweight birder. A man in a safari jacket with pockets loaded down with things wears new binoculars around his neck. Of a group of twelve elderly birders, eight have hats. An Asian power walker wears a shirt that says I love candy and a French girl wears a shirt that says New York is for Dreamers.
A bald man with a blue jacket draped over his shoulder leans against the railing and looks across the pond, as if he’s examining the sea from the deck of an ocean liner.
“I wanna see everything and do everything,” says a female jogger to a friend.
Two lovers in a rowboat photograph the egret. Black guys in black boots, tanks, and black doo rags walk with swaggers. A Chinese man with pursed lips and a long telephoto. “Making haiku?” he asks me.
He is shooting rowboats. There are four on the water, in one is a shirtless man with a diagonal scar across his back. A woman leans in close and speaks softly in his ear.
A heavyset Brit with a sweat stain in the shape of a duck gropes a petite Asian. A shirtless man with Ronaldo tattooed on the base of his neck and pit bulls leashed to each arm. A bald man, toothless except his canines, and a fully packed duffle slung over his shoulder. A chubby guy with a bedroll. A chubby girl in a skintight shirt that says New York in fake diamonds, her lover has a lip tattoo. A woman in high heels makes out with a man in khakis.
Hooky playing middle schoolers stare across the pond, speaking English and Spanish.
Four kids in a rowboat. “Jack, sit down,” says the mom from above. “Jack Avalone, sit down!”
A plump boy with glasses and gym shorts sits. “Leave the turtle alone,” says the mom.
Drumming comes from somewhere.
“Mom, we’re stuck,” yells Jack.
“You’re not stuck, just push off,” she shouts. One kid pulls a giant black root from the muck and uses it to push off. “Yeah!” shriek the boys, throwing their arms up in triumph.
Moments later, another Asian couple, this one more well-to-do. “We actually scheduled it for last Tuesday but it rained,” says the bride. The groom smokes a cigarette.
A third couple, and a fourth. Bride number three is white, and unlike the others wears a traditional dress, red and vibrant.
The first couple moves to the gazebo across the pond and actually gets married. There are eight guests. The bride continuously rubs her eyes. A man reads briefly from a book and those gathered shake hands and hug.
A skinny kid with homemade tattoos carries a Mexican blanket and holds hands with a girl in a dress. They look like they’ve been making out in the bushes.
“Hola papa, que paso? Bien, aqui en Central Park en Nueva York,” says a kid on a cell phone munching an apple.
Another Asian wedding couple.
Lovers on bikes with arms outstretched take pictures of themselves.
“Wet dog,” says a tall blonde with a wet dog.
“Who can use some additional income?” says a man in jeans.
A barefoot woman ringing a bell leads a small tourist group and a wedding couple in a Venetian gondola appears. The groom is in black shoes and slacks with a morning vest, the bride has a ruffled gold dress, the gondolier is in pinstripes. The couple are famous TV personalities I faintly recognize. Guests have gathered on the bridge, a dancer in moccasins jangles bells and a jester fiddles. “Thank you so much for doing this,” says a plump woman with grey hair to the jester. “We met before, it was a while ago.”
“It’s my old spot,” he says, then turns to a guy in a top hat: “Tunnels were depressing, the carousel was psychedelic.”
Another Asian wedding.
A Latin bride-to-be and two friends host their own shoot. “Honey, you can’t be holding your hair,” says one friend. “Just let your hair do what it does.”
“Arch your back, arch your back,” says another. “Do something with your hair, you look like you’re constipated.”
A short Mexican man drinking soda through a straw stares at them. His clothes are splattered in paint.
Three foreign women with fitted jeans and colorful blouses, one red, one blue, one purple. They have long dark hair and look like models. I track them until they disappear around a bend.
“What are you against then?” says a tall pretty mother to her pre-teen daughter, in Catholic school girl garb. “Painting people’s toes, painting people’s fingernails or hermit crabs in general?”
A man pins his lover against the rail. They look French. A group of high schoolers watch.
A grown man covered in dirt greets a woman at the bottom of the bridge.
“How did it go,” he asks, “A lot of traffic?”
“Yup,” she says.
I nap on white and pink flower petals, pebbles make impressions on my elbows. “This guy is drunk,” someone whispers.
A tap on my shoulder wakes me, it’s the woman in the purple dress and her two friends.
“We are going to get a coffee,” she says in a European accent. “Do you want to join?”
Her name is Patricia, all three are from Portugal. They’re in New York for three weeks, but Patricia wants to stay longer, maybe go to design school. She is slender with olive skin. I tell her I can’t join them but get her number.
You can try to step out of the city, unzip it and exit, observe from the periphery, but the city will re-envelop you, because you never really left in the first place. To show up is to become. The bridge is not just the cast iron and the floral balustrade, it is the pigeon poop and grit, the stroller wheel in the gutter and the Geese Police and the jester with the fiddle, the Asian weddings and the lovers pinned against the rail and the school group watching them and the Portuguese girl in purple and me and my notes. It is it all.
A mother and daughter close their eyes and tilt their faces to the sun. A man with a harmonica and a woman with a banjo ramble through the Ramble, singing an Irish tune. A lone girl in a loose purple shirt holding a purse decorated in beads leans her elbows on the balustrade and gazes across the glassy lake. She is pale with auburn hair and at one point laughs aloud.
The setting sun sets the buildings on Central Park West aflame. A child races a matchbox car along the railing, pigeons swoop from beneath the bridge, the strongest breeze of the day blows cherry blossoms my way and an old man sniffles, smiles then wobbles westward into the dusk.
The following week, I call Patricia. Her number has been disconnected.