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A Visit From the Goon Squad

“Pure Language” =
Prospect Park/October 2007

Original Title: “Reach”

Where: In Prospect Park, after dropping off my son at Hebrew School, in a shrinking patch of sunlight on the grass, listening to bicyclists whipping past on the road behind me and wishing it were slightly warmer.

Music: The Frames, FOR THE BIRDS

History: My husband and I moved out of our apartment on West 28th Street in January 2001, three weeks after our first child was born. We made the jump to Brooklyn, a place I hardly knew except from trips to BAM. Before we sold our co-op, we learned that the two squat buildings east of us had been bought by a hotel company, which planned to build a skyscraper there. For years after we moved, nothing happened. And then, maybe three years ago, getting off the 1/9 train at my old stop on West 28th Street, I noticed construction beside our old building. The skyscraper was beginning to go up. Our apartment had four windows, all facing east; through one of them, where I’d placed my desk, I could look almost straight up at the Empire State Building. I remember that building so many different colors — a beautiful prong of New York, reminding me of why I’d come here in the first place, without family or job — with nothing more than a desire to be here. By now, that window must be covered up.

Last bit of history: It was only as I wrote about Alex not having seen the original World Trade Center that it struck me in a deep way that a whole generation of young New Yorkers has never seen those buildings — their experience of the city is purely post 9/11. Which of course is a strange idea for those of us who were here before. One of my first jobs in New York involved catering for the Port Authority; taking the 2 train from the West 69th Street apartment with the foam couch, getting off inside the World Trade Center and vaulting by elevator into a vast internal kitchen, thick with foody humidity, where (in my memory, anyway) there were mixing bowls the size of bathtubs. I wore a black skirt, dark tights and a white blouse, and my job was to arrange cookies on white paper doilies for luncheon meetings in the Port Authority offices. Naturally, I hated it. But I do find myself remembering that job, now and then.


“You don’t want to do this,” Bennie murmured. “Am I right?”

“Absolutely,” Alex said.

“You think it’s selling out. Compromising the ideals that make you, ‘you.’”

Alex laughed. “I know that’s what it is.”

“See, you’re a purist,” Bennie said. “That’s why you’re perfect for this.”

Alex felt the flattery working on him like the first sweet tokes of a joint you know will destroy you if you smoke it all. The long awaited brunch with Bennie Salazar was winding down, and Alex’s hyper-rehearsed pitch to be hired as a mixer had already flopped. But now, as they eyed each other from lean perpendicular couches doused in winter sun that poured from a skylight in Bennie’s Tribeca loft, Alex felt the sudden, riveting engagement of the older man’s curiosity. Their wives were in the kitchen; their baby daughters were between them on a red Persian carpet, warily sharing a kitchen set.

“If I won’t do it,” Alex said, “then I can’t really be perfect.”

“I think you will.”

Alex was annoyed, intrigued. “How come?”

“A feeling,” Bennie said, rousing himself slightly from his deep recline. “That we have some history together that hasn’t happened yet.”