The river was running fast, the tide coming in in a hard, strong current, the white caps rising in the swells. Somewhere, not far away, maybe in the mouth of New York's bay, a storm had kicked up this nastiness. But here, a few miles uptown, there was just the upstream rush of water and the still humid air that made me sweat though it was just under 70 degrees out.
I stopped and leaned on the wrought iron and watched a stout ancient tug push a long barge against the current. The tug labored but pushed its huge cargo toward the sea.
It wasn't yet dark and young parents were carrying children in all manner of conveyances. Backpacks, tricycles, strollers and scooters. The Puerto Ricans, finished with their annual parade were not done celebrating. They were wearing clothing in patterns like their island's flag and some wore their flag like a shawl, draped across their shoulders like old women and cashmere in Miami Beach.
Up ahead, beyond the fifty-foot mast now seeing duty as a flagpole, on this day, like most every other day, small groups of Puerto Ricans, heavily tattooed, their fingers stained by the stubs of cigarettes they smoked, stood in small bunches with their poles and crab-traps and looked to pull something out of the heavy water. Near them were their squat, heavy women barbecuing chickens over small fires built on grills the city built along the highway.
My dog, my quiet companion, urged me closer to the chickens. She could smell the succulence of the birds. The women shooed her away and I pulled her closer to my side. Just then a passing tug let out a long blow from its horn, deep and throaty. With the sound of the horn, as if choreographed, the skies darkened to night and everything, even the incessant traffic on the highway, seemed to stop. The whole city stilled.
Then as quickly as it came the darkness left but motion did not return to the Puerto Ricans. They moved slowly as if they were cryogenically treated. It was then that it happened. One of the chickens, whole save for its missing head came to life on a grill. It stood on its drumsticks and pointed my way with its featherless wings. The aperture where its head was once attached to its neck opened and closed like a mouth. "My Uncle Ichabod said, speakin' of the city, 'It ain't no place for a woman, gal, but pretty men go thar.'"
With that, fullness came back to the scene. And I walked home slowly with my dog and thought like I never thought before.