After the Spaniards, the most numerous readers of my blog are from USA. For this reason, I would like to write this post in English. This is the third part of my short story A night in New York, which I started in a previous post. With my best wishes to my North-American readers.
A NIGHT IN NEW YORK (part 3 of 3)
¾ Why are you here? ¾asked abruptly the man in the blue coat¾. I have the impression that you could get out as soon as you wanted, to hold any important position¾, you said smiling.
¾ I held them for too long. They did not make me happy and I regretted many times to have remained in this city, because I thought that things could have been different in some other place. Later I have understood that everything is the same everywhere. Look, I told you earlier some reasons, the most frequent, why people come here to the Bowery. There is one more, less frequent and of a more philosophical nature. You already said that I am a little philosopher. And you guessed it right because you are sophisticated too, this can be noticed at once. I will tell you that, in a certain sense, in fact I am a philosopher. I prefer to stay here rather that in this crazy world outside. Crazy, cruel, unjust and tragic. You know the legend that Peter Stuyevsant buried heaps of gold in his farm and there are still people who expect to find them somewhere here. I can tell you that, in a way, I have found that gold since I live apart on the Bowery.
¾ I can understand you perfectly. But I tell you, however, that there was a time when I truly believed that the world could be of milk and honey. And, for whatever reasons, this happened while I was living in this city.
¾ You were happy here because you were young and you will agree that you would have been happy then in any place. If you had continued living here you would surely have a less embellished view of the city. Although I also grant you, because all my life I have tried to be fair and reasonable, that in truth this is a good place to be hopeful. Perhaps the best place in the world. And now, I will bid you farewell; it is rather late even for me.
The bum started to pick up his belongings getting ready to go to sleep. Suddenly, he spoke again to the foreigner.
¾ What I have told you about the world was very clearly stated by your admired and beloved Goethe. I will quote by heart, but I will not be too wrong: “All things of this world are finally trifles and he who, in order to please others, against his needs and likings, gets exhausted chasing after honors, fortune or anything else is always a crazy man”. It comes from Werther.
The engineer started to feel something very close to fascination towards the bum. “How do you know that I am an admirer of Goethe? Are you not a kind of a wizard too?”.
¾ Goethe is an admirable author and clearly you are a sensitive person who have to admire him immensely. And besides this night, when you set out to take a grave decision, you decided to dress up a little like Werther, who wore for that occasion a blue tailcoat and a yellow vest. You know that after the publication of the novel there was almost an epidemic of youngsters’ suicides dressed up in the same fashion.
The man in the blue coat could not help a smile. It was true that his yellow foulard was more than a last coquettishness. Since he read Werther, being a youth, he always thought that, if once life became a burden and he decided to escape, he would like to do it in an elegant manner and wearing something similar to the young and unfortunate Werther.
¾ You are right; my clothes are not entirely casual. I always dreamt of a dignified and esthetically irreproachable death, with all details well taken care of. That is why I had always thought of this city in full night. And, of course, I admire Goethe very much.
¾ It is relatively easy to prepare one’s death, from the esthetical point of view. What is really difficult is to live that way. But this is the only thing worthy. A life far from vulgarity, vain people, stupid honors, disloyal competitions, adulation, the thousands of tricks, hypocrisy, servility and so many other things. This is what you should keep trying. Especially now that, for many reasons, you can be freer than ever and nothing can be too important for you. I tell you that, not as a moralist ¾I do not like them¾ but as an esthetician. And I think that this is what you are going to do after all. Tonight you will end up in your room at the Waldorf and tomorrow you will see things in another light. There, many times though not always, they had good cuisine.
¾ Tell me, please, why do you think I will go to the hotel? I can assure you that I did not think that when I left my room many hours ago. I left a letter…
¾ I do not know exactly. Perhaps because you keep too many memories. Memories make us sometime suffer, but they help us too, because they are the best, the only proof of that we have not lived in vain. And now I leave you. Good luck.
The engineer saw how the bum walked slowly out and followed him with his eyes for a while. Then, although he saw only his back, waved to him goodbye with his hand and left the place too. He was wandering for quite some time, crossing empty streets and squares in which there were only some cars and was getting closer to the pedestrian access to Brooklyn Bridge. Finally he reached the pedestrian platform and started walking very slowly, admiring once again the imposing structure and the beauty of the design. John Roebling, who built it, was born almost 200 years ago in a small village in Germany. He had, like many others, powerful dreams and emigrated to the United States in 1831, aged 25 years. In 1852, going from Manhattan to Brooklyn on the ferry that crossed the East River, he conceived the idea of building the bridge. When he finally got his project approved, in 1869, he and his son Washington were one day inspecting the boarding pier of the ferry, looking for the place to start the construction. John did not see a boat arriving and the hull crushed his foot. The wound became seriously infected and he died a month later. During all this time, from his bed, he could see the works and tried to manage them with the help of his wife who went tirelessly between her husband and the workers carrying orders and news, with a mixture of abnegation, rage and stubbornness. It was his son Washington, already first generation American and born in Pennsylvania, who finished it. Walt Whitman had also dreamt of a bridge embracing Manhattan and Brooklyn and had baptized this future unified land with the name of Brooklyniana, in his poem Crossing the Brooklyn ferry. He had chanted the fleeting character of human lives against the tenacious and perennial Nature: Other will see the islands large and small; / [...] / a hundred years hence, or ever / so many hundred years hence, / others will see them, / will enjoy the sunset, the pouring in of the flood-tide, / the falling back to the sea of the ebb-tide.
Some other writers, like Hart Crane, Lewis Mumford or Alan Trachtenberg wrote about the bridge. Painters took it to canvases like Joseph Stella or John Marin. The bridge was a motive of pride, of confidence in the future for a nation that had been on the verge of being destroyed in a devastating and tragic civil war. They started to call it the eighth world wonder.
You, Arturo, knew details of all this ¾even some that not many people knew¾ because you had given many talks and attended conferences on the subject of New York bridges. Some of them were the work of European immigrants who looked for a country where they could fulfill their ambitions and projects. There are many things worthy to fight for, you thought. In your memory, a legion of fighters, visionaries, entrepreneurs, assembled suddenly and you understood that all the grandeur that you were contemplating and that moved you so intensely was due to them, had not sprung by some spontaneous and gratuitous blessing of nature but it was a work of men or heroes. You remembered once more John Roebling, struggling to reach his dream while he was dying. ¡This was a good and beautiful way to die! It was already almost dawn and you remembered the terrible verses from Lorca’s Poet in New York: La aurora de Nueva York gime / por las inmensas escaleras / [...] / La aurora llega y nadie la recibe en su boca, / porque allí no hay mañana ni esperanza posible*. You found them strange, impossible to share and unjust.
At that moment, a police car approached and they asked you, from inside, if you wanted or needed something. You answered that you were only looking for a cab to return to your hotel. The policemen offered to take you. “Are you sure that you are O.K.?”, they asked you again, once in the car, with a certain worry. “I am perfectly”, you answered. In your first years in America, some time the police had stopped you for some light traffic violation and when you explained or gave some excuse they had always dismissed the charge. Surely, you thought now, some form of innocence traveled then in your eyes for which everything was forgiven to you. Like now in those of the younger policeman who after arriving at the hotel got out of the car, accompanied you to the reception desk, shook your hand and finally, with his fist closed and the thumb stretched up, said «Riyal Madrid» or something similar. It is something that human beings have while they are young and then it is lost irretrievably. Except perhaps in exceptional cases.
You went to the bathroom, wetted your face with a towel soaked in warm water, put a pajama on and got to bed. You left some time to pass. At 8.20 you called the hospital and talked to Dr. Sethna. “Yes, good morning. Tell me. I am glad, Mr. Villar, I think that you have made the right decision. Come this afternoon, at 3 p. m. We have to do some more tests before starting treatment. Do not eat anything after noon; I will be here. Until later, then”. Dr. Sethna looked in his archive and got a card with the name Mr. Arturo Villar. He crossed out the notice Patient declined treatment and wrote Patient will start treatment as soon as possible.
In the hotel room a man took refuge in the sleep. At 2 p.m. he was awakened as he had ordered. He got ready fast, went to the hospital and once there was taken immediately to Dr. Sethna. They studied all the practical aspects of the treatment: the first cycle would be done in New York to study and control his response but he could continue in Madrid, without any problem. They drew blood from him to do some more tests and he had something to arrange in the Admissions office. Once everything was over, the engineer returned to the hotel and dined since he had not eaten in the whole day. Later, still in daylight, he decided to take a cab for the Bowery, to the same area where he had been the night before. He arrived at the exact spot but he did not see the bum he was looking for and only found the tall man with the black scarf. He spoke to him and asked him directly: “Have you seen the man who was with me yesterday? Do you know where he might be? He told me that he is always here…”.
The tall tramp seemed not to understand him and the man asked anew: “Do you not remember me? Last night…”.
¾ Yes, I remember you perfectly. You gave me money the past night. I have recognized you at once.
¾ Then, where can he be, the man who was with me?
The bum looked at him again surprised and bewildered and answered him: “you will excuse me, Sir. I have already told you that I have recognized you immediately. But there was no one with you last night. You arrived in a cab and then you sat here alone, in this place for a good moment. I was observing you for quite long and finally I decided to ask you for some money. You gave it to me and a little later you left. But you were all the time alone, you were never with anyone; this I can assure you. You remember wrongly or have become confused”.
The engineer did not insist more. There was still a red copper color in the horizon, at the end of the streets coursing towards the Hudson River. The Bowery looked desolate and dirty much more perceptibly in daylight. He felt uncomfortable and returned to the hotel. He was disturbed by the memory of the mysterious bum on the Bowery. It could not be a hallucination; he had to exist in reality! Probably the vagabond with the scarf had been peeping on him only part of the time and was wrong by saying that he had been always alone. At any rate, it was very reasonable what the bum had told him. He thought then that he should try simply to live, to finish sweetly what might remain of life. Instead of installing himself melancholically in the past it could be tempting to abandon oneself and to dream. And to be hopeful. He remembered these words of the Kybalion, the treaty on hermetic philosophy of Egypt and Greece dedicated to Hermes Trismegistos (Hermes, thrice Great): Everything is dual; everything has two poles; everything has a pair of opposites; similar and antagonistic are the same; the opposites are identical in nature, but of different degree; the extremes meet; all truths are half truths; all paradoxes can be reconciled.
You yourself were surprised to remember these words read so many years ago, in the past. You have never believed neither in magic nor in esoteric sciences and have always been proud of being a rational man. Imagine if at the end you are going to grasp to all that, you smiled. No, obviously not. But it is also human to cling to something, to think, when everything is over, that it is never too late for anything, that there still can be a way through, a possibility, remote but real, of still exhausting the splendid sap of life, of the happiness that exists also in life. Youth and old age, life and death. Everything is the same, everything gets fused and only remains, as a last residue, the pure and incomprehensible sum of fatuities and hazards that we call existence.