It’s a bird, it’s a plane! 27 April 2012
When I work at home, I sit at my computer facing west (northwest, to be precise, as the island of Manhattan transgresses the cardinal points), just across the living room from a large window. The view is buildings and more buildings, mainly tenements and towers, plus a sliver or two of the Hudson.
From the 14th floor, these aren’t exactly Rear Window sight lines (though you’d be surprised how many illicit activities take place on rooftops); still, there’s plenty to see. In the foreground, for example, is a very fine water tank, all cedar and tin, that sits on the roof of a mid-rise building on the next block. When Rosenwach rebuilt the tank a few years ago, they topped it off with the decorative finial that is the company’s trademark–four “R”s flanking a thick dowel.
The tank provides an occasional perch for passing raptors. Once, a red-tail hawk fledgling alighted there and proceeded to wail mournfully while it got up the nerve to resume its flight, presumably returning to swankier digs on the east side.
There are water tanks in the background, too, but mainly there’s a non-descript, brick-face high-rise that went up on Broadway in 2005. Despite its looming presence, the tower doesn’t really block the view and there’s ample opportunity to observe the traffic in the west side skies. During the baseball season, the Fuji and Goodyear blimps pass by regularly when the Yankees have a home game. This makes sense because the House that Ruth built is only 3 miles away as the crow flies–and the crow flies here, too.
So do the egrets, gliding by twice a day, moving between the Meadowlands and Central Park, like all the other commuters from Jersey.
After two decades of seeing stuff outside the window, just maybe I’m getting a touch of the blasé attitude that Georg Simmel thought afflicted the mental life of dwellers of the metropolis. When something catches my eye, I don’t immediately reach for my camera; sometimes I don’t even get out of my chair.
This morning was different. Sitting here with a cup of coffee, reading over a manuscript, I heard a distant rumble, louder than a trash truck, deeper than a helicopter. I looked up and glanced out the window: nothing out of the ordinary, but that noise required investigation. I reached the window in time to see a jumbo jet cruise by on a low flight path over the river with a space shuttle riding piggyback.
It was the Enterprise en route to the Intrepid. As you can see in the photo that appeared on the New York Times website a few minutes later, it was way cooler than a blimp.
Looking out the window, grinning like a kid, exclaiming loudly, I was reminded of something I read years ago, when I was working on the New Deal and the Great Depression. In The Politics of Upheaval, volume III of Arthur M. Schlesinger’s The Age of Roosevelt, the eminent historian quotes Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia: “Too often, life in New York is merely an squalid succession of days; whereas in fact it can be a great, living, thrilling adventure.” The Little Flower knew what he was talking about.