Devin Stevens goes to New York Ch. 4: “The Names in Black”

I think it was around Monday when me, my mother, and brother went to the 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan. The weather was as chilly as ever, crowds stuck to the alleys and walls, and the horns blared loud. We walked and walked and walked, just to make it to one place. There was this tall skyscraper building that pointed to the grey sky; I had been too enamored with what was around me on the ground to notice its bright point. It looked like a kind of radio tower, one of those singular signals they use to send communications over and through air waves. Come to find out, it is the One World Trade Center. Very interesting name. The buildings that once stood in Ground Zero were known as “the World Trade Center” or “the Twin Towers.” Having its name shifted to “One World” seems to imply that the world was divided before that horrible day about 14 years ago, that the world did not cooperate mutually. But then, why trade when there is no genuine cooperation? Interesting indeed. It is as though a group of socialists or egalitarians came together and wanted to send America a message: the world is now unified at last, under a common goal, though it is very difficult to decipher what that goal is. It makes me feel as if politics is trying to take horror and transform it into a utopian ideal. But why? I believe in mourning and moving on. Not a shaky sense of justice.

But then again… a voice for justice screamed in me, somewhat, while I stood admist all the people gathered on Ground Zero. We were all grouped around these two very wide square holes in the ground that marked where the two towers once stood before those planes came and took them away. Fresh water flowed down the sides of the holes, like they were two mini dams. You could only see so far into the ground until darkness prevailed. If there is ever a place in this country that can symbolize the emotions surrounding it, it was this place. Waters of hope flowing through an empty heart. That’s what it is when you gather to remember the senseless.

There were names embedded on the edges of the holes, like the names you can find on an Army Memorial. The names of all those who died on September the 11th. I honestly didn’t know what to think when I looked at them. A part of me felt like I needed to stand and look for fifteen minutes at least, and try to absorb the magnitude of the area and what it meant. Could I really do that? I doubt it. But I tried. There is this odd shaped building next to the holes, a kind of zig zag looking trailer fashioned from a someone with a sense of abstract art. Apparently it was a building preserved after the attacks. Me and my family stood there for about 30 minutes. I don’t believe we took pictures.

I know, my friends. I know of all the theories about 9/11, basically. And I honestly don’t know. But suppose that the reason those 3,000 are gone is due to something we have not took care of yet, like, say, our own government, which is becoming increasingly under criticism these days? Though Bin Laden is supposedly dead, the war on Terror is just as fresh today as ever. So then, I suppose the world is still in progress in fighting the villains? I just don’t know. All I felt then was, if the reason for their deaths is closer to home, then why in heaven’s name do we not know FOR SURE? Should there have been more anger and action more than tears and silence? Maybe.  I was challenging my own moral fibre as much as America, which is far weaker than a a steel tower.

But in the meantime, we stood there, taking it all in. I touched some of the names, fantasizing that I could communicate with the spirits of those names if I tried hard enough. It was one of those moments in life where I wish I really could be Batman.


Devin Stevens goes to New York Ch. 3: “The Still Street”

Besides walking hand in hand with a human rush, there were two primary ways we navigated through Manhattan: subs and tour buses. The subways were lengthy in that it took a while to find the correct station, and that was if we were lucky. Every time we thought we found the way back to the hotel in New Jersey, we would end up further in the Big Apple. Sometimes the tickets we bought to board the subs wouldn’t work, and our conclusion on not getting answers over the telephone is that New York has a number of ways to be a money racket. When we boarded a train, we only had a couple of seconds before the doors would chop off your legs. Crowded seats, crowded rows. One time, a Mexican band played bright guitar tunes to entertain people on the way to Penn Station. I even caught a poem from Seamus Heaney posted on the exit doors. But I forget the title; something about construction. That was nice.

We saw most things in Manhattan by way of these double decker, red tour buses. I learned that there is this cool boat called a water taxi, a tour guide for the ocean. It looks yellow like a regular vehicle taxi, except wider and more open. I discovered it a good distance from the Statue of Liberty. Though we didn’t go on a tour of the statue (way too cold), we got pictures of it from a distance. Lady liberty holding her dark green torch, resolutely facing one direction. We stopped at a public library. Much to my taste. I thought it was the NY national library, but was struck by a funny anti-climax; it was just an average public library. My mistake. We passed places like Carnegie Hall and Harlem,  through streets full of old, broken down, brown bricked buildings. One moment you saw a rich mall, the next, an abandoned apartment complex. Rockefeller Plaza had some early Christmas decorations, but they were mostly hidden. By the time they would be revealed I would be back in Marion. There was this small corner of Manhattan that’s headquarters for the United Nations. It’s treated as a separate country with different jurisdiction than the U.S. Interesting. And the last thing I remember was an old, grey Gothic Cathedral and a Jewish/Christian seminary. Tolerance is vogue these days.

The tour guides were something else. One looked like the Gene Wilder Willy Wonka, except that he had grey hair instead of golden. His bright smile was so huge it looked flashy. A good number of things in New York are flashy, now that I think about it. Friendly guy. Then there was this dark skinned Creole from Louisiana who spoke very fluent English. My brother told him that me and him were from Asheville, NC. His response was “Ah, the Lesbian capital of the world.”

As I’ve mentioned before, there were a lot of people rushing through each other in New York. But there was this one place where everything stood still and became a little quiet. At least to me. It was Wall Street.

As soon as the tour bus entered the street, pedestrians disappeared. The space around us was not so open anymore. It was as if the buildings on either side were threatening to close in on us and bury us from the world. “The Financial Capital of America.” You saw no one in the buildings. They were closed by white shutters. Like a top secret fortress. Like a futuristic ghost town. I can only imagine what goes on in a place like that. Most likely things that aren’t too good. But that’s just me being suspicious.

Thomas Titanic Hardy

I decided that, for today, instead of sharing another New York story, I’d share a poem by Thomas Hardy concerning the sinking of the Titanic 103 years ago. It’s a nice read. Vivid imagery. Check it out:

The Convergence of the Twain


(Lines on the loss of the “Titanic”)

            In a solitude of the sea
            Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.
            Steel chambers, late the pyres
            Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.
            Over the mirrors meant
            To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls — grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.
            Jewels in joy designed
            To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.
            Dim moon-eyed fishes near
            Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: “What does this vaingloriousness down here?” …
            Well: while was fashioning
            This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything
            Prepared a sinister mate
            For her — so gaily great —
A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.
            And as the smart ship grew
            In stature, grace, and hue,
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.
            Alien they seemed to be;
            No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history,
            Or sign that they were bent
            By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,
            Till the Spinner of the Years
            Said “Now!” And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

Devin Stevens Goes to New York Ch. 2- “The Height of Capitalism”

Many a morning did I see Times Square in New York. But that was thanks to ABC, a very skeptical source of real-life information. Either it was Good Morning America or The View that showed looming, electric buildings advertising fast food, clothing lines, insurance companies, pharmaceuticals. You name it. Just a day before we left, the Stevens family got a glimpse of what it’s like to be in a swarm of New Yorkers.

You had two choices: either move fast or hide in a building or alley for safety. Everywhere you looked, crowds and crowds of tourists and natives flocked, blocked, crashed, stomped, yelled, laughed, jeered, cat-called, hummed, sang, or tried to stay together. Years of walking in my backyard prepared me quite well for the rush. Despite my large weight, I’ve always found it easy to move quickly. Yet you had to be careful not to trip on a pothole or someone else’s leg. The people in general were the most diverse assortment you could think of. It was as if all the world’s nations had gathered together for a concert. Chinese, Mexican, Japanese, Pacific Islander, Scottish, British, German, Brazilian, Canadian, African, Black, White.

Broadway was bright. Very bright, though it was night time. The ground you walked on was literally  flashy white, like being in a city of neon color. The ads for candy, soda, cuisine, sex toys. Whatever. If you could imagine it, it was there. I managed to stumble across the musical of Roald Dahl’s Matilda. But unfortunately, money was tight. Me and my brother feasted on NY pizza, though. A delicious treat. I passed the Hershey’s Chocolate Factory, saying to myself I would return to it, but couldn’t due to lack of time. So much to do indeed. Super Mario walked around, but again, because of money, I couldn’t get my picture with him. There was a Disney store I lost time to visit too. I could only imagine how crowded it would have been if we were there for New Years. Black men did their best to encourage others to join comedy clubs or purchase a tour guide for the entire city. And some folks were just plain crazy; every few minutes you had to pass a busy, deadly intersection. People would just run right in front of speeding cars or taxis as if they didn’t care they could get hit and die. They could literally pass within an inch of a vehicle and not get a scratch. Screw what the traffic sign said. Brave, I suppose. Not the cautiousness a southern boy is accustomed to.

What occupied my mind most was the voice of my friend, Cody Reel: “I want to learn how the world works. I love Economics, because it teaches me how people get what they want.” I kept thinking over and over that this, this metropolitan WalMart, is the summation of what the American Dream is: people selling themselves, competing with each other, rushing past each other, running in groups. This is what it takes. We stumbled across a rapper giving a few CD’s for free while advertising his products in verse. “That’s what you gotta do to make it,” my mom said after we left him.

Before we left, I managed to buy some folks back home some New York kitchen magnets. “Yes,” I thought. “That is what it takes.” But there was something else in me. This hidden lurking fear that, when all is said and done, the only thing that matters is that desperate climb for money. Definitely not my version of personal meaning. I’m not a hater of capitalism, for Cody has often taught me how dangerous it can be when we decide to tear down the economic edifice of the past. But it hurt to see others not be so lucky in the street. Every now and then we stumbled across a begging man in tattered, brown jackets begging with a silent board to be fed or clothed. And people would just walk by as if there was no one there. Because they do not care or because they can’t? Don’t know. Maybe both. And who is to blame? No one. Blame can never bring anything to rest, really. Being human is learning to survive, but also to accept the limitations of gravity. Or, for that matter, who is served and who isn’t. I was grateful to still have my limbs with me. Especially when I sipped some hot chocolate. My toes had been so cold that when the chocolate went down my throat, I could actually feel blood surge back into my veins.

Devin Stevens Goes to New York- Ch. 1 “Central Park”

During my third semester at UNC Asheville, I imagined being in New York City; I had recently been viewing pictures of Central Park on the internet while sitting in my dorm room. I daydreamed about what the park must be like. The main image that came to mind was a wide, green valley with a small, silver lake in the center, charming under a bright summer sky. This picture was born from my fascination with the Nickelodeon cartoon, Hey Arnold!. If you’ve ever seen the show, you may remember the episodes where Arnold and his friends walked down a large green park during the day, having fun and facing all too real problems. And of course, the blues music always played during every episode. It seemed that Nickelodeon was inspired by New York. And I would be too.  I wondered how interesting and soothing it would be to be in  such a place, in one of the most renowned cities in the world. I thought about what one day would consist of. I could walk through Central Park, passing benches and zoos, while at night, I could find myself in the city with yellow lights and tall buildings surrounding me, love-making jazz music humming in my ears. It is easy for a person like me to get lost in the imagination, so I won’t pretend that I didn’t spend a few hours hoping for a chance to go to the Big Apple. But when I came back to Marion, NC, feeling as if I wouldn’t be making much progress with my life, I doubted if I’d  ever have the chance to go up north.

Yet fortunately for me, my mother received some money she decided to save up. So in November, me, her, and my brother traveled for a week’s stay in Manhattan. One of the best trips  I’ve ever had. And it was during the week that I discovered what Central Park was really like.

This post is one of a series of posts about my experiences in New York. They’ve  been a long time coming. Today, I’ll share with you my Central Park experience.

For one thing, the weather was cold, since it was Fall. Colder than a snowball in a blizzard. Not exactly the summer weather I had always imagined in my head. I had to wear a thick black coat as I walked down a track with my brother. My mom had taken a day off to rest at the hotel. Brown leaves blew over a grey pond stretching in front of us. It was a nice sight, seeing the water below the towering trees and buildings. There were either rich people getting their pictures taken or walking their pet dogs or men dressed in overcoats quickly walking in one direction. The classic shady character. I was warned in the past that Central Park was not the place to be at night. Villians. Wangdoodles. Snozzburglers. Vicious Knits. But my visit was during the day around 1 p.m. So no problem.

Though you were allowed to walk through the park, you didn’t see anyone lying on the green lawn. True, it was freezing outside, but I figured at least a couple of people would be sitting around, but no. There were these mini, dark green fences intending to keep people off the grass. I suppose they wanted parts of the park to be untouched and preserved. The park, from what I’ve read, has a troubled history of vandals trashing the place, a problem that has progressively gotten better thanks to the city administration. I didn’t really mind. I wanted to get the hell inside a warm building when I could about ten minutes in.

Sadly, I never found the zoo advertised in a hotel pamphlet. I may not have seen as much in the Fall anyhow. It existed, for sure, but I must have followed the wrong path. Yet there was a skating ring where a few girls skied. Let them be athletic and brave; my balance is terrible. Not the most interesting thing in the world. All in all, once we passed a bending bridge and emerged next to the street waiting for another tour bus, we knew our visit was brief. I did manage not to leave without getting my picture taken. I waved with my black gloves outside a small soft-ball field. That place was rather serene. Why? I really cannot say. There is this child-like innocence in a place dedicated to kids such as that soft ball field. Maybe it represents the simple things in life, how one can just pause admist the rush of competition and just laugh. It definitely gives one time to breathe, that’s for sure.

The one thing my visit to Central Park taught me was that life is one thing on the screen and in your head, but quite another in reality. I may have lived my fantasies out in the summer more so than in the Fall. But a visit is a visit none the less. Though the cold park wasn’t Arnold’s hideout, it was still different and refreshing to be in an unknown place, away from the monotony of a small town.