The sky was green, lighting up over the NL hills, at 5:33. Much too early to be searched by a man, and have my possessions scrutinized.
The coffee and tea I drank had the acrid taste of chewed Aspirin with an overwhelming hungover stink of smoke.
Boarding the airplane was uneventful, as two chattering propellers began to even out the fractured, blathering small talk, leaving the wary and the bored to settle in for the milk-run to Newark .
For the next ten hours or so, my mind unfolded into a thin delirium of biological linen, that I wore, crumpled as discarded newsprint in my isle seat.
An automatic travel itinerary and layout schematic, lumbered me from the airport, the skytrain, and into the dank, wet subway. The taste of breathing changed as I descended the steps, and into a cluster of characters becoming almost smooth with the loud, fast gleam of the train. Happy rats ran about to the music of the mentally ill / Papers were torn into a psychotic mosaic amongst the filth, plastered to the walls, held up by an older, drugged-out man flopping about in his pants.
Through the turnstiles, and on timeworn benches, I rushed about boarding incorrect trains, waiting in the bog, wall-eyed and duckfooted, searching through the grid.
By this basic geometry I vaulted the flight up to the streets and spooked my way to the road, the desk, and the key to my accommodations. The hallway was floored by dismantled cardboard boxes and black tape. The walls scrubbed with Mr. Clean, having stunk of piss and age, crosshatched with black streaks, gibberish numbers and signs marked in silver sharpie. Green doors with bent peepholes. Grey rubber joined the floor and wall crease.
A quick peek out by the door showed cables and cords coated in dust and feathers, plastic ties and pigeon eggs, hung at strange angles poking into holes sealed with white putty.
Awakened by a series of cracks and electrical pops, I felt the weight of 28 ounces of beer, and staggered out of my room, blindly patting the walls for a light switch. With a click and flash in the washroom, a warm fruit ball of insects swarmed in a crack under the tub. The hearty and lucky bunch disassembled and stuck a magnet into the compass, panicking in the white light. I watched the insects crawl as I picked at an old wound on my leg with a scrap of metal from the subway.
Without more than a few stroboscopic blinks and a lumbered stagger I sucked a long breath and chattered my teeth back upon the manic train. Derelicts hugged their faces into the crooks of their elbows and mitted hands, knees balancing cardboard scrawl for coin money, so you couldn’t see the drugs in their visages.
Arriving at the Radio City Music Hall I could almost smell the old speakeasy belt, the marquis glowered down with a happy seriousness. Entering the grand foyer, a rich, patterned carpet let the gaggle of old hippies stride silently under a sprawling, mesmerizing scene. A huge mural, apparently Dante, stretched his journey in a creamy ribbon.
I took a few moments to navigate the twisted stairwell, my white leather shoelaces clapping madly. Up in the balcony, top hatted like a doomed Lincoln 1865, the room ahead of me shrunk to a conical point with increasingly tight rings. I blinked down on hundreds of fans, guzzling $10 cups of beer, in suits or sweatpants and rum shirts. A large cyclical screen showed a compass spinning with astronomical signs, constellations, and grinding wheels and cogs. Dry ice fog poured out of the walls and floors, filling the room, which was at the same time incensed by marijuana as a young quartet took the stage with a schooled confidence. Three violins and a cello were ravaged by the masterful virtuosos, who attacked fast mad original compositions, and classic genius. As they exited, the lights dropped out.
By the silhouette of Jeff Lynne the room erupted in hollers and lecherous screams. Women moaned and men sighed in pleasure. By the first draw of strings, ears yawned open, and years of records endlessly spinning, breathed a gasp of life and stood to its feet.
It was twenty old minutes after midnight when Lynne walked out of a back door, blocked by two black vehicles, and large security personal. Without hesitation Mister Blue Sky made for the flock and signed gibberish for half an hour before a stern and distinguished gentlemen pleaded with him to quit and join the band in escape. On his own time, he talked with the blushing crowed, smiled and wrote his name out. Finally he waved a curt, humble farewell and was driven off.
I learned early the next morning that in New Jersey, a bomb had detonated in a garbage can alongside a Marine Corps charity race, causing a scare and some material damage but no injuries to speak of.
I hit a record shop and bookstore filling my arms in the nervous death grip of a tourist afraid of muggers. So instead of staying downtown, I decided to return to the apartment to ditch the loot and caught the subway just moments before many stations were closed. This was around 8:30 in the evening just as a pressure cooker type bomb exploded in a garbage can on 6th avenue and 27th street in the borough of Chelsea on the island of Manhattan. This explosion was more powerful than the one in Jersey causing commercial damages and an early count of 29 injured.
Observers noted a long, very loud bang from the explosion and video surveillance showed shattered glass due to projectiles. NYPD closed the area for inspection, and within hours found another similar device just 4 blocks away, which they were able to safely de-activate. Alerts were sent out to anyone in the area, with a cellphone or internet connection, to stay away from windows and doors along with a plea for witnesses with video or photographs to come forward.
Drinking from a randomly acquired case of 10% beer, that I grimaced through like old cough medication, I stayed transfixed by minute to minute coverage inundated by speculation, hyperbole, and strange interviews with eye witnesses.
Ahmed Khan Rahami had been on my heels by sheer coincidence of my wandering, tearing up garbage cans, and breaking up people. Riding about on the trains, his bags filled with explosives that left eerie, twisted wrecks.
Through the jigs and reels, NYPD reviewed tapes and public-submitted video and photographs, late into the night and next morning. They revealed that they had five suspects in custody related to the incident, and were alerted to, and deactivated, more similar explosives. A bomb squad robot, attending to one of the many devices, was involved in its explosion causing damage to the Elizabeth station of NJ transit, closing it for several hours leaving many commuters with no transportation.
It reopened only hours before I caught the train at 7:00am, heading to the airport. Once the plane took off and we returned to Canadian soil we learned that Mr. Rahami was spotted sleeping in a restaurant vestibule, after images of him circled the city. When approached Ahmed opened fire, injuring several officers, and was apprehended after a shootout with police, where he had been shot and severely injured.
My ears rang with singing blood, not of sleepless paranoia, the crack of explosives, or the constant whooping sirens, but the memory of rosined bows hitting strings and vibrating my bones to jelly. From the maestro, and thoughtful poet, crooning and hollering of loss and joy. By the mastery of song…the reality of experience…and home, to be contented once again by mere recordings.
By Anthony Brenton