24 November 2007...8:18 pm

The Desert Underneath The Charging Sky

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Something was burning in the Broadway-Lafayette train station, but I couldn’t tell if anyone else noticed. It smelt like burning garbage; I know what burning garbage smells like because it’s what I smelt constantly in Guatemalan cities.


Because I now associate the smell of burning garbage with mountain air and cinnamon tea, it is incredibly beautiful to me, like chimney smoke to a New Englander.


The station was smoky, too, I could tell, and the D train had paused just before the platform. I wanted everything to hurry up so that no one would have a chance to notice the smell, or the smoke, and we could suspend disbelief long enough for me to get to my exam on time and delay disaster.

The D train pulled up and opened its doors; everyone got in but the doors weren’t closing. I say down and noticed what might have been a gray hair attached to my pants. If that had been burning, the smell would have been different. I know this because every few days, Collette blow dries her hair.

I pulled the gray hair off of my pants and dropped it on the floor. The train doors closed, a man with one arm tucked a harmonica under his chin and started playing it, and the subway left the station. It is apparently possible that I imagined the whole thing, although I’d already rehearsed the impassioned excuse I would have given my professor.

Becca told me that once, right after she had moved to New York, she’d had to climb out of a stalled train on the Manhattan Bridge. Right before a holiday, everything feels like it’s about to happen.


Nothing did, but I went to see the Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons blown up that night, just to be sure. There were more people there than usual because so few Broadway shows were in production. I walked down Central Park West from 116th Street and by 93rd I could see the glare of floodlights.

I was immediately glad I’d gone alone; I am party to no friendship that could have contentedly withstood the corralling from CPW to Columbus, the further corralling from 81st to 79th, the European tourists’ elbows and the American tourists’ asses. It was like a radical political demonstration, except I knew no one would follow me if I jumped the barricades.

A little girl says “Daddy, the balloons are almost as big as we are!” Daddy shakes his head. “The balloons are bigger than we are.” The little girl stands firm. “No, they are not bigger than us.” She considers an overinflated goldfish, but might as well be looking at the crowd. “They are not bigger than us, but they are fatter than us.”

The fact that I most certainly would have annoyed anyone with whom I went to see the balloons probably has as much to do with the kind of people who are my friends as it does with the friendships themselves.


I like people who are easily annoyed; they have standards.


The Ronald McDonald balloon was my favorite; it was everyone’s favorite. The crowd swelled around it, and we were all in tight, breathing in each others air. It was miserable and enchanting. Look at the world beyond his nose!


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