I wrote this post a couple months ago and kept it in the backlog. Now it seems more apt than ever.
Back in June, the New York Post, with unusual eloquence, wrote, "Does it feel some days as if New York--wealthy, successful, seemingly at the top of the world--is slipping back into the bad old days of crime, noise, dirt, rudeness? Like pentimento rising from an old canvas..."
I love the word pentimento. In her memoir of the same name, Lillian Hellman defined it beautifully: "Old paint on a canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman's dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter 'repented,' changed his mind."
Is the city changing its mind about the sterile suburbanite it has become? Perhaps it is repenting, a word that also means to regret.
Graffiti and panhandling are both on the rise. Subway rats are running amok. Fines for turnstile jumping have increased. Flashers are flashing. Transgender prostitutes are coming back to the Village. The crusties have returned to the Lower East Side. Even the squeegee men have come home to roost (and squeegee women, too).
Something is happening.
Entropy persists. Nature reigns in all her chaos.
where gum once was, gum-ghosts remain
An upscale cafe moves onto 9th Avenue and sends a worker out front with a metal brush and a can of Ajax to whisk eons of dirt from the cracks. A boutique hotel employs a man to steam-scrub each black disk of gum from its piece of pavement.
Scrubbing against the chaos, keep on scrubbing. The gum comes back. The grit returns. Whatever you do, weeds and wildflowers will invade your manicured garden. Just as, from the sands of a nuclear desert, irrepressible seedlings emerge.
At this very moment, they are breaking ground.