Wednesday, August 22, 2012


When you have insomnia as I have, there are two things you can do. One is you can fight it toss for turn and attempt to will yourself to sleep. You can swallow a battery of pills, drink warm milk, chamomile tea. You can try all manner of things to get yourself asleep.

The second thing you can do is live with your insomnia. You can tell yourself your "normal" is to be up from 1:30 to 3:30 every morning, so accept it and find something useful or valuable to do with that extra time. Use the time to watch Buster Keaton silents, to read the histories of Xenophon, or, if you're lucky to have a golden-retriever puppy as I am, you can take her for long, destination-less walks as I do.

The city along the river in the wee hours is an amazing place. It's as quiet as a small town in the midwest, with few people, few cars and only light shipping on the estuary. You can hear the roiling water--which you can't do during the day, and I believe hearing a river "speak" is one of the true joys of living.

Last night, at two, I slipped a leash on my dog Whiskey and headed one block east to listen to the river. We walked quietly uptown for about 20 minutes, passing virtually no one. The dope-smoking teenagers were home, the vandals were looking elsewhere to ply their spray, and whatever ruffians there are left in New York were, presumably, hunting in more populous locales. Whiskey and I walked uptown, unmolested.

We passed the footbridge at 102nd Street that connects Manhattan to Wards' Island. We passed the rotted pilings at 116th and meandered our way around the deteriorating macadam and hex-block. At 122nd Street, we skirted a rusted chain link fence and kept on uptown, across the gravel that lay underneath the Triboro Bridge.

Some politician had the name of the Triboro Bridge (a perfect name for a Bridge that connects three boroughs, The Bronx, Queens and Manhattan) changed to the RFK Bridge, in memoriam of Bobby, but the functionality of Triboro fits too perfectly the functionality of the span to change what I call it.

As we emerged from beneath the interchanges leading to the Bridge, Whiskey and I re-entered a recently-renovated esplanade that starts around 129th Street. We kept heading uptown, the evening soft and gentle like a blonde.

We rounded a slight inlet of the Harlem River (the Harlem and the East Rivers connect around 125th Street as the FDR Drive changes into the Harlem River Drive) and up ahead we saw the visual cacophony of police sirens. Of course there were two police prowl cars there. At night, the cops travel in pairs, like nuns. There was also, in the calm water of the river a police boat with siren flashing and bright light floods lighting the river.

We arrived at the scene. A cop came over to admire my dog.

"What's going on," I asked.

Usually cops stay D and D at a crime scene, but this one spoke. "A floater," he answered. He pointed to a diver in the water next to a shapeless shape.

"Late in the season," I said. Trying to sound street-wise.

The floaters usually come up at the start of the warm weather. This one must have been weighed down with something to come up in late August.

"It's a gruesome way to spend a Tuesday night," I mentioned.

"Well, I ain't in the water with him," he answered back. "You thank God for small favors."

I decided enough was enough. And thank god, though sometimes the river calls my name, that I ain't in the water with him.  Whiskey and I turned tail--her literally and me metaphorically and headed downtown, for home.

We had had enough for one night.

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