travelogue nyc: nostalgia machine

We enter the city on the west side. It is a bright afternoon and the Hudson River shimmers. Once at our hotel, we set out almost immediately. We don’t want to waste the light.

We are on 25th street between Sixth and Seventh. We head west for the High Line. “You are telling me,” says our son, “that this park floats above the ground?”

We laugh. “You’ll see what we mean,” I say. “It’s not that it floats exactly.”

We begin at the northern end and walk south, navigating the narrow path. Our son wants to run the width of it back and forth and stop in the middle and have “walking races,” so we spend much of our time trying to limit his interference with the flow of foot traffic and apologizing.

When the path opens out to little alcoves - a bench set back along a bit of train track visible beneath the weeds or a raised platform holding small iron sculptures - he is free to take up space and he does. He climbs the bench, walks along it, then jumps off. He is content to do this repeatedly, each time he lands, asking, “did you see?”

Back at the hotel room, I fall asleep for a time. I dream the rooftops of the city - the gridwork of vents and generators and fans laid atop the flat gray planes.

At night, we walk. Yellow taxicabs lined up along the sidewalk. We head north toward the bustle of Times Square, but before we get that far, we are drawn into a sleek-looking restaurant by the lure of low brown couches. Inside, we walk to the back instead, find a quiet section at the long bar. There is a muted hockey game on the screen we are facing. The bartender points to it. “There have been two fights already,” he tells us, with visible glee.

We talk about childhood. About the basements of our grandparents’ houses. Even after all this time, there are stories we have not yet shared.

There is a photo booth in the back of the bar and before we leave, we go in, draw the curtain. When we emerge, we stand by, waiting. A narrow strip of photos falls from a hidden opening. There are four shots, sepia-toned. In the first, we are looking in opposite directions, caught off guard, not ready. In the second, we are looking directly at the camera, M. scowling, me with a too-wide smile. In the third, we are facing each other, foreheads touching. In the last, I am leaning into him and he has reached up to put his hand in my hair.

We walk out, and I am holding the strip in my hand, waving it. The lure of capturing these moments: this clear, cold night suspended in time. These fleeting hours with no obligation except to one another’s company; except, perhaps to the memory of early, heady love. This nostalgia machine.

Our son is up early, announces it. Tells us: “I am feeling very awake.” We try to lie still for a while longer, enjoy the darkness, but he calls out again.

I rise, shower and as I am coming from the bathroom, I hear his voice. “I have another question,” he says, “about reincarnation.”

He has been preoccupied with death and we have given him books, talked to him. He seems to take comfort in the idea of reincarnation. “What’s your question?” my husband asks.

“When your soul goes into another body, do you become that person or that animal?”

We walk. The boy stops to pick up treasures on the sidewalk. He finds rubber bands and pennies. He picks up the small branch of a fir tree, says: “Look, a rare cactus.”

We take our time, the whole day stretching out before us. We have made no plans. We will let the day unfold, the long city blocks, the cold air, the bright sun.