Sunday, January 21, 2007

manhole covers and crocodiles - a meditation on new york sewers 1

This is the 200th post on this blog. (And my 27th Birthday!) Not to be formal or anything, but I guess I need to thank everyone who's visited and kept coming back. This blog has mutated much since it began. It's been an archive of ideas and writings, a great way of wasting time, a space for some emotional catharsis, a site of blatant exhibitionism; and will hopefully continue to be all of the above; but more importantly, it has also been a space for conversations and friendship with some great people across many sorts of boundaries. Something unimaginable before this blog, and deeply enriching. Thank you, everyone. You know who you are.

What follows is the beginning of a (hopefully) longer meditation on, well, large reptiles, large round discs, large cities and small histories.

The story goes thus. Rich New Yorkers on vacation in Florida bring back alligators as pets. The pets grow from being cute to frightening in a very short while. They are flushed down the toilet. Some survive in the vast fetid darkness of New York's sewer system. They grow, and they spawn. And now there is a breed of blind albino alligators, strangers to light and sun, occupying their own niche in the intestinal ecosystem of New York's sewers.

All kinds of immigrants flourish in New York.

In the 14 Street and 8 Avenue subway station, an alligator in a suit and tie reaches out from under a manhole cover and grabs a passerby. The passerby's head is a smooth, full sack of gold.

New York revels in its own legend.

If there were no albino alligators in the sewers, they would have to be invented.

On rainy nights in New York, the tops of the skyscrapers go blurry in the mist. The celebrated skyline becomes ghostly, unreal. Light bending through water. It is underground that the city feels real, vital. Busker music echoing in the long corridor, keeping time with the tramp of commuter footsteps, bouncing off the grimy walls, off the paint flaking from the roof. The fragrance of clean laundry lingers in the steam rising from the grates. The trains rumble underneath during the tense silences in the movie theatre.

So much of this city is subterranean. The black steel doors clang open. The meat and vegetable stocks, the mineral water bottles of the city's restaurants appear, hauled out into the new day. On the subway, seen through glass darkly, the lines diverge - twist and tunnel away to depths unguessed but graffiti sprayed. Trains pass in the always night, you see a fluorescent stranger in the car across for the few instants that your lives run parallel, she plunges away into the darkness, unconcernedly reading a book. In tunnels under the University, sealed since the end of the Manhattan Project, uranium decays.

Leatherhead, the humanoid crocodile, meets the teenage mutant ninja turtles in an abandoned subway station. A fifty kilo manhole grates back into place on my street. It is round and ridged and heavy and iron. In small neat letters near the rim it says MADE IN INDIA.

to be continued...
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