“After a [nuclear] bomb goes off, and the fire ends,
quiet descends again and life continues”
John McPhee, The Curve of Binding Energy
Arriving at La Guardia from Detroit's Metro Airport at 5:45 a.m. on September 29, 2010, you might not have heard the late night news. Maybe you didn’t notice the banner headlines in the newspaper kiosks in the terminal. You were whipped. It was red-eye flight. Assuming you napped while Uber-ing into the city from the airport, and the driver woke you at Grand Central, you got out, tipped generously, and went in search of the only Starbucks likely to be opened. Back outside, you elect to kill time by skipping another taxi ride and walking to the Harvard Club where they’ve got a room reserved for you.
At 42nd St., you see a cloud sagging under its own weight. Ahead, at the intersection of Park and 47th, there’s a blue Mercedes resting on its roof and the limo that struck it tilted against a bent parking meter. Other autos up and down the street are dusted with concrete. But no car alarms are sounding.
You try to grasp the moment and wonder, Is this going to fuck up my whole day?
Many of the buildings along Fifth Avenue have their widows blown in. There’s grit in the air that leaves a gray taste in the mouth. On 46th, where the police have set up rows of blue sawhorse barricades, crowds gather, and you overhear someone asking if they felt it. “Yeah, all the way over in the Bronx.” You overhear a strange conversation about the East River. “Roosevelt Island got it. The TV said it was a tidal-river tsunami.” You cough. A fourth person, a small and attractive Hispanic woman, surprises you by announcing she saw the flash from her high-rise all the way downtown in the Financial District. “My place got rocked but at least I got my windows.”
“A bomb?” you ask out loud, absently,, and the woman who just pushed past you turns and stares at you like you’re a moron. “1010WINS said it was a nuke, but there’s no radiation. What planet are you on, dude?” You cough and notice everyone around you is coughing. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” you reply to the woman who’s now vanished into the tide of onlookers.
“They got Putin!” exults a man in black running tights and red Nikes, yanking his white iPhone buds from his fleshy ears. You feel the ghost of history pass by. A woman calls for quiet. “People are dead. Show some respect!” An instant passes before someone says, “Next thing you know there’s gonna be a war.” A doorman seems to know best. “There’s not going to be any war.” Next to him, an old man may know better, and he disagrees, “You don’t know that. You don’t.”
From Decline to Die
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