Passing through Times Square at 5AM is an interesting little jaunt through spacetime. It’s like walking through a giant nuclear oven, left on by the irresponsible apprentice of Prometheus. All the giant LCD screens are still flashing skinny models in bras and panties, skinny models in shoes, bulky sports heroes sporting giant Midwestern or Puerto Rican grins and reality TV stars now in their 16th minute of fame and “acting” in a Broadway Show, pursing their lips and inviting you – or whoever may be walking around in the darkest hour before dawn – to throw your hard earned virtual 21st century dollars their way. Of course, not many people – excepting a few drunks and confused looking cops looking for something to do – are hanging around Times Square at 5AM. I felt like a tiny byte of information wandering across a computer program in a sleeping laptop. The world was still moving, but nothing was supposed to be happening.
Why was I at Times Square at 5AM, last Monday, you ask? Hello?! I was working The Great Bridal Expo at The Marriott Marquis! Why was I working it? Hello?! For a handful of virtual 21st century dollars. I tell you folks – as you well know- life ain’t boring, unless it is.
Actually, working The Great Bridal Expo really isn’t something to scream and shout about. Me and some other fellas show up at 5AM, we check in with Walter, the guy who runs the whole shebang. He and an 18-wheeler go up and down the eastern seaboard, setting up and breaking down the expo. Walter’s a fellow Texan who doesn’t live in Texas anymore and we get along pretty well. We shoot the bull while we unload the the 18-wheeler of all things Bridal Expo, then load it all into one of the Marriot’s ballrooms, and finally, assemble it all – fully lighted stage with runway, dressing room, guest check-in station, and about a hundred booths for merchants to hustle all things big and small that revolve around the black hole that is the wedding industry.
When it’s all up and ready, Walter strips down to his tighty-whities – in front of us, if we happen to be around him, or anybody, for that matter – jumps into a tuxedo and grabs a microphone. Not only does he assemble the whole shebang, he hosts it. He’s all smiles when the doors open and the blushing, screeching, hopeful brides-to-be rush in. He’s all smiles as the future luckiest-girl’s-on-Earth mill about the dress companies’ booths, decorators’ booths, catering companies’ booths, and travel agents’ booths. Just when I think his smile cannot get any bigger, it does – as the estrogen cloud rises all the way to the ceiling of the giant ballroom, then falls like nuclear rain onto the shrieking, cooing baby bridezillas. The falling estrogen has a curious effect on the mob – for the mob becomes one creature, as mobs generally do. One mind. One body. One insatiable craving to kiss all God’s toads to find that special prince immune to layoffs, mood swings, mortgages, smelly farts, toilet seats (Up? Down?), adultery, domestic abuse. A gentle man. A man who listens. A sensitive man that cannot be dented. A perfect man. Hell, a man with a cape. The monster thrashes about like The Kraken in the Adriatic Sea. And good ol’ Walter’s still smiling.
Believe me, I’m not against marriage at all. In fact, as I await the “go” from Walter to start disassembling the shebang, I catch myself wondering just when and if I will be the prince one day. Will I be a married man – that man who can steer his heart schooner into that elusive harbor nestled on an island between the seas of strength and vulnerability? I kid you not, I wondered about all that stuff as I gazed upon the writhing mob. Then…I wondered what it would be like if a guy came barging into The Great Bridal Expo with an assault rifle. I didn’t used to think about such a horrible thing. But I do now.
Alas – at 9:30PM – The Great Bridal Expo ended. No one was shot. As the brides filed out of the building, Walter stripped down to his tightly-whities and put on his shorts. It was time to break it all down. Time for me to stop all the wondering and go back to work.
Yesterday, Osha, myself and a few friends jumped in a zipcar and headed north to Lake Minnewaska. The frozen lake lay nestled on the Shawangunk Ridge, one of the northernmost ridges of the great Appalachian Mountain Range. It’s really only an hour’s drive out of New York City, but getting out of the city takes about an hour, so it takes a good two hours to get there. But once past The Bronx, the traffic thinned and the lanes were wide open. Soon we were off the highway, on smaller roads. We were out in the country, motoring through one little town after another. Finally, after scooting up a switchback, we arrived at the mountain oasis.
The lake and everything around it was beautiful. Pine trees reached for the blue sky atop the cliffs, which dropped straight to the water. The water was frozen all the way across, yet when we ventured down to the lakeshore – far away from any human sounds – constant cracking could be heard. Not even wind – quite powerful atop the cliffs – could be heard. Just the cracking. I got brave for a moment and put my foot on the ice, then put a good portion of my weight over that foot. It held and felt sturdy, but the cracking told me, You’d better move your foot, mister, for all things end…they all melt, crumble, disintegrate…no matter how secure and sturdy it feels. Keep your feet moving, even if something feels that it will last forever.
A little further up from the waterline were the bottom of the huge white-gray cliffs. Wind, water and gravity eroded the cliff in such a way as to cause large squares of the rock to break apart at a time. Huge slabs sat atop small slabs, and some of the cliffs rose at an angle greater than 90 degrees – angling out over your head by quite a distance, should you stand under them. Huge stone faces – which I decreed to be the profiles of screaming Mowhawk Indians – appeared in the rock, due to the erosion. They faced the lake and screamed. For how long they had been doing so, I do not know. For how long they will continue, same answer.
Back atop the cliffline, we followed the path to the ledge of the mountain. From there, for as far as the eye can see, lay the floor of the Shawangunk Valley. All the little townships that we passed through on the way to the lake could be seen. One little town, then trees and hills, then another little town, etc. Little towns with a few people playing out the huge epic of life. A farm could be seen here and there. It was such a godlike view. I could almost see the little people living out the big movie of life. A husband irritated at his wife for doing those little annoying things that made him hot for her thirty years ago. An son angry at his parents, as he drove to the grocery store to pick up milk. They didn’t let him spend his Sunday the way he wanted to, but he’ll still get the milk, because afterall, his ability to love started with them and no matter how angry he gets, his parents and his love are inseparable – will always be, no matter how cloudy or distant his relationship to them becomes. Most of his epic still lay before him. He will see things he never thought he would, get in situations in which he will have no clue how to move through, but somehow will. He always will, one way or the other. His love will most assuredly resonate toward others, should he not deny it. His dreams are his pathway. 16 years old. But this Sunday afternoon he will get the milk, and that evening he will break bread with his parents. It’s not a bad deal, family.
At some point, I foolishly tried to locate New York City. I couldn’t of course. We were over fifty miles away. But it was a knee jerk reaction to try to find it. That got me wondering again. Why did I try to find it? They don’t call it The Big Apple for nothing, but New York’s not bigger than the valley below. Cities are big things, but they aren’t as big as the country. Then I wondered myself all the way to the fact that most of the United States is still a bunch of small town spaced between forests, prairies, mountains and deserts. Most of America is what I saw at the bottom of that valley, not Times Square. Cities are the oddity. Most of us are small town, or a product of a smaller community of people rather than a metropolis. Most of us got in a car, royally pissed off one Sunday afternoon, and got the damned milk anyway. Most of us looked out at the world as if it were a star laden galaxy, and ached to go somewhere new someday. Most of us didn’t grow up in the nuclear warmth of one of those stars. Nope, most of us had to be astronaughts.
Our shadows grew long – the wind blew harder and colder. We made our way back to the car with the many and sundry people who also came to gaze upon Lake Minnewaska’s beauty. Everybody seemed somewhere between genuinely happy and fairly content. All seemed to be free of the tension that seizes the shoulders on a New York City block. I didn’t wonder – as I impolitely gazed upon them – whether they were from the city or not. Curiously, what I wandered was whether they knew any of our nation’s servicemen and women who, while stationed in the Middle East, committed suicide over the past year. I didn’t used to think of things like that, but now I do.
On the drive back, I felt isolated. I was tired, we all were. But I used the fatigue as an excuse to drift far from the car, beyond the head and tailights of other cars, beyond the bad-ass guitar riffs of the classic rock channel on the radio. I drifted far away, all the way to the end of the screams from those stone Indians. I can’t describe to you what I saw or felt when the screams finally faded away. I just knew I had arrived at the end of something that we have been told will last forever.
A sign – floating independently in space – read “New York City”. Osha steered the car under it. I was back in the car, in my body. Suddenly, the traffic was thicker, and grew more aggressive. Cars sped around slower cars – horns a blazin’ – muscled into the exit lane. Predators, preying as to not be the next pray. The Law of the Jungle. Moments later the electric mountain range of the New York City Skyline burst alive on the horizon. The Empire State Building was alight in purple and pink. The unfinished, new World Trade Center Building shone the brightest and towered over everything. Then I found myself wondering again. Just what, exactly, is progress? Funny, I’d never wondered what it was before now.