Today was a gorgeous concept that hurt—a painting that felt more real than my dried-up skin. When you’re locked indoors, ears conditioned by canned, compressed air, even the colors seem like a mirage. You watch someone pass on the street below, seemingly immune to fear. Dazzled, jealous, you open your window. A bracing hint of autumn fills those blue skies. Someone calls out nearby and you pause. No problem: It’s a child, laughing.
Nostrils piqued by fresh air, I impulsively climbed onto my fire escape. It creaked, as always—a familiar, even comforting sensation. Then an ascending gust brought a whiff of reality: My street stinks like a slum in a tropical country. I swear I could hear rats scratching and chatting below.
Next I heard glass shattering as some malevolent kids swept down the block, throwing rocks at our windows. Women howled at them. Fortunately the delinquents were clustered on my side of the street. They wrecked half the windows opposite my building. Shielded by the fire escape above them, I imagined pouring molten oil on the mob, as if in a medieval siege.
This reminded me of the grim flagellant procession that terrorizes a country village with whips, chants, and sermons in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, a magnificent old movie in which a weary but defiant Crusader plays chess with Death to save a young family from the Plague. (“I am unknowing,” says Death, rather modestly.) I used to play chess with Nina, who was neither knowing nor modest.
I’m pleased to know and report that somehow, amid our ruins, the LES DIY has fully resumed its services. Again working out of Ric’s Place, the group is dishing out meals and delivering them to the weakest. The plates are smaller, though; certain stores that donated generously during Round One are holding back. (They must be losing a lot of money this time; newly unemployed, little-subsidized consumers can’t afford whatever goods they have to sell.) Evelyn reports that Ric seems listless, depressed. She urges me to visit my best friend at home. Does he know her?
I’d happily visit Ric, but I must wait every day till the curfew takes effect at dusk, in case UPS shows up. Ric sounds okay on his voice mail, but he never calls back. Trying not to be annoyed, I’ve been reckoning he was busy helping folks. I called him again. Left a message telling him not to make me leave my home. That sounded dumb, I’m sure.
Notwithstanding Fitch’s orders, I’ve invited the group to fetch some masks. I’m proud of my community. Their name says it all—Lower East Side Do It Yourself Committee.
Do It Yourself has a fine resonance. The East Village may not be what it used to be before I got here, but these people couldn’t be much better than they are.