Thursday, July 04, 2013

`The Finest Thing About New York City'

The window of my hotel room in Queens overlooks Flushing Bay, near the site of the 1964 New York World’s Fair. As I write, someone is prematurely shooting fireworks over the water. I hitched a ride from the site of Saturday’s wedding, where we held the rehearsal Wednesday evening, with my future daughter-in-law’s family. They are from Bangladesh, and are quiet, dignified people. The streets are loud and busy, and made me almost want to join the throng, the sort of nocturnal crowd Whitman would have reveled in, but I’m tired. I’ll do my reveling with A.J. Liebling, who writes in his introduction to Back Where I Came From (1938): 

“The finest thing about New York City, I think, is that it is like one of those complicated Renaissance clocks where on one level an allegorical marionette pops out to mark the day of the week, on another a skeleton death bangs the quarter hour with his scythe, and on a third the Twelve Apostles do a cakewalk. The variety of the sideshows distracts one’s attention from the advance of the hour hand. I know people who say that, as in the clock, all the exhibits depend upon the same movement. This they insist is economic. But they are the sort of people who look at a fine woman and remind you that the human body is composed of one dollar and sixty-two cents worth of chemicals.”

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