Thursday, November 18, 2004 | Fiction
New York Stories
In New Mexico the moon glistens as though cut from a frozen grapefruit. It can be a wedge on the hard lip of the canyon or a rind high above the mesa, but it is always sharp and crisp as the breath of God. Here in New York it is murky, as though thawing and leaching into the milky sky. Everything glows in a gauzy haze. Here the air is so damp it bends the light and I long for gills to breathe. New Yorkers amaze me because they can live underwater. I want to take them home with me, just a few, and keep them in my aquarium, but I’m afraid the ones I’d pick would never get along in the same tank. And they would most certainly destroy my gentle, crystal-wearing specimens from Santa Fe.
In On the Road, Kerouac wrote: “We were a band of Arabs coming to blow up New York.” In the same book, he wrote: “In inky darkness we crossed New Mexico.” I think if he’d seen Albuquerque by daylight, he would’ve wanted to blow that up, too. Maybe he didn’t realize the Manhattan Project was in New Mexico. Maybe he forgot that we’ve got the bigger bombs. Most likely he just failed to see that we can be every bit as incendiary as New York.
I have a propensity for getting lost. Whenever it happens, my mind retrieves the same combination: 25 305H 2. Whether I’m disoriented in a Korean subway station or astray in a Tanzanian rain forest, the recall is automatic and calming.
Sometimes I say it out loud: 25 305H 2.
My wife has heard it many times. Lost in a Rocky Mountain blizzard, she finally asked what it meant. I told her that on July 21st, 1977, when I was 10, I got profoundly lost. It was nighttime in Brooklyn, my first time there, and I could not find my dad. Forty terrifying minutes passed before I remembered this: 25 305H 2. It led me straight to him.
My wife wanted to know how that was possible. I made her wait until we found our way home. There by the fire we checked each other’s extremities for frostbite. Then I showed her, tucked in an old scrapbook, two ticket stubs from a game in Yankee Stadium on the date in question. She examined them and said it was just like my father to get such crappy seats.
I nodded, but I couldn’t agree, remembering how the very next night he scored front row seats at a trendy theater in SoHo. I don’t remember much about the performance, only that the star resembled Ken Berry of Herbie the Love Bug fame. He chained himself to a brick wall and sang Russian folk songs until some clowns marched in and stuffed his mouth full of bloody entrails. (I think it was part of the act.)
My wife asked me if they were happy clowns or sad clowns.
They were those European-style clowns, but I don’t recall their emotional state. Funny, that seems like something I wouldn’t forget.
Stephen Ausherman was the 2005 Writer-in-Residence at Buffalo National River, Devils Tower National Monument, and Bernheim Forest. He lives in New Mexico. Visit his site: restlesstribes.com