Here there be monsters (socratic) wrote,
Here there be monsters
socratic

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Evenings with grass and crickets

No matter how many times it happens, getting a face full of cobweb in New York city is always a surprise. Spiderwebs can surprise anywhere, of course. Those glistening strands blend almost perfectly into a forest background at dusk, centuries of evolution have a way of getting something right, and spiderwebs are designed to be invisible to flies and other delicious prey. Whose fault is it if the occasional human gets caught in a sticky silk trap? Not the spider's.

There are thousands, or even millions, of spiders on every acre of forest land, so it's hardly unexpected when you bump into a web in the woods. The park is a different story. You get used to ordered streets and concrete monstrosities living in New York. You get used to grids and traffic lights and the symphony of synthetic sounds that carry through the night air in the insomniac city. Even the parks are laced with pavement and streetlights, landscaped to the point where it seems like every tree was carefully placed by committee, which is not far from the truth.

And then there are the spiders. Their little arachnid brains operating on millennia old instincts they don't know the difference between a rock formation and a wrought iron fence, they know leaves and flies and evening breezes. They can't see the giant Biography clock from the edge of Central Park or know about the Henry Hudson highway. And they spin their webs, mostly off in between the trees off the paths but sometimes directly under a bough where people walk. It's amazing how much work a spider can get done between people passing in a city of 8 million.

So there you are on the most densely populated island in the nation with a face full of web and and a sudden shocking revelation that man can't control nature, not really. The trees can be pruned and replanted, the grass mowed to a uniform height, the flowers replanted in the spring and dug up before first frost, but the spiders will always find their way in. There may not be 3 million per acre but there are enough to make themselves noticed.

That's part of why the city has parks. Various people have designated the heart of the city in different places, depending on the time and their whims. Sometimes it's Times Square with its massive displays and world-famous theaters. Sometimes it's Wall-Street, a place where so much money changes hands that it has become synonymous with wealth, and greed. Occasionally someone will name the Village with its avant-garde and clubs for young people, or the Bronx with Yankee Stadium and basketball and a claim to having helped suckle hip hop when it was but a nascent art form and not the all-pervasive commercialization of urban suffering and poverty that it has become.

I don't know where the heart of New York lies. I guess it depends on what you're looking for. Sometimes that city feels like a bunch of different circulatory systems shoved together into the same body, each pumping its own type of people with rare interactions bringing them together. I do know where the lungs are though. They're in the parks. That's where people go to breath when they haven't the time or money to go out to the Hamptons or up to Connecticut where the wilderness is intermittently untouched. There's trees and grass and water and oxygen and it's a beautiful respite from hummer fumes and buildings that tower so far above you you can't even guess how many stories they have.

The parks are egalitarian, even more so than most of New York. Celebrities and the wealthy run the reservoir with the unemployed and perpetually unhip. People claim benches and spots and return on a regular basis, but there are often different inhabitants at different times of the day so that a homeless man might habitually sleep on a bench that a millionaire likes to lunch on while he watches young girls job by and tries to figure out strategies to have anal sex with them without his wife or daughter, who is a few years younger than they are, finding out. The parks used to be infested with criminals, but that has ceased for the most part. Now children can go to the playgrounds and parents won't have to pick shards of crack vials out of their palms when they get home.

As amazing as the parks are when populated they are even more spectacular when empty. Central Park never really gets empty, there are just areas with more people and areas with less. Occasionally you can sneak a moment alone in the Ramble but someone will invariably come along so I wouldn't suggest getting naked or trying to become one with nature. If you're male you could probably get away with pissing in one of the smaller ponds.

Riverside, the park nearest to my house, is often empty for long stretches though. Empty and dark, a scenario that would scare most rational people in this city but fills me with comfort. Down below the big wall listening to the crickets and walking through one of the slightly less beaten paths you can almost imagine that you're walking on a strip of concrete laid down through actual nature. Maybe you catch a glimpse of a cardinal in the dark and come to realize that red occurs in situations other than a sports car or the swimsuit of a woman in a beer advertisement. Maybe a squirrel runs overhead and shakes a few leaves loose or maybe you run into a spider's web. It's comforting to know that these beautiful things existed long before we did and though we might take them down with us their equivalent will probably spring up from the ashes of the world after we destroy it. These are the thoughts that run through your head on a New York night in the park, walking among the oaks a few miles from the spot where Osama brought the towers down.

Something always breaks the reverie. A cigarette butt still smoldering on the asphalt, a barking dog snapping at you, its owner apologetic and confused. You're reminded that you share this place with millions of other people and that this is just a man-made oasis in a desert of sandstone and glass. You thank the city planners for their forethought and attention to the human need for trees and green. You know that it would never happen if the city were being built today, that a choice site like Central Park would be auctioned off to the highest bidder and Riverside would probably be the world's longest strip-mall with twelve Pizza Huts and no adult book stores. It's nice to have the green around and the opportunity to take a breath in a city where inflating one's lungs invariably invades another person's space. Sometimes it's even nice to be surprised by a spiderweb in the middle of a well-worn path. You brush the strands off and walk on. He can always spin another one but there will never be another city like New York.
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