Tuesday, June 20, 2023

New York Brushstrokes.

Small fragments of New York on the last pre-summer weekend in June.

On Saturday, we drove back to the city, having left early in the morning to go to our under-construction Connecticut beach cottage to check up on how things are going. 

Driving north from the city to Old Saybrook, where we slaughtered Pequots in the 1630s then tried (and acquitted)
witches in the 1660s, took us just 100 minutes. Driving back to the city took us more than twice as long.

The Hutch, or as they call it in Connecticut, the Merritt, was bumper-to-bumper for 40 miles. In New York, it loosened up a bit until we got to southern Westchester. There, I veered off the old highway and took the service roads that skirt Co-op City, a Soviet-style housing complex built in the mid-1960s after Robert Moses' Cross Bronx Expressway killed the southern half of the borough and displaced tens of thousands of working-class New Yorkers with the blights of drugs, crime, arson and despair. 

Co-op City was built on what we used to call a swamp. Where in my earliest bloom of youth there had been New York's answer to Disney Land, Freedom Land. It was an amusement park built on the swamp in the shape of the lower-48. It attracted huge crowds until New York's World's Fair opened in Corona, Queens, atop the desolate fields F. Scott called the Valley of Ashes, also a Robert Moses extravaganza. Then Freedom Land became a real estate Ponzi. Then housing for exiled old Jews who were "improved" out of their old neighborhoods.

I'm the last of the New Yorkers who knows those connections from the Hutch, named after Anne Hutchinson, 1591-1643, who was exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for her heretical religious beliefs in 1638, to the New England Thruway, using the service roads that run right by "Syringes R Us" and mini-storage for rat carcasses.

Hutchinson and her followers left English domains for lands that were under the jurisdiction of the Dutch, called at the time, New Netherland, which then as now was the only place in the new world you could get a decent bagel. 

"The Bronx is Burning." (Not Howard Cosell.)

"The Bronx is Burning." (Howard Cosell.)

Hutchinson and scores of her followers were killed in the Bronx during Kieft's War, a bloody conflict between Europeans and Siwanoy first peoples (whom my cub scout den was named after) that lasted between 1643 and 1645. Here's one eyewitness account of a single "skirmish."

"Infants were torn from their mother's breasts and hacked to pieces in the presence of their parents, and pieces thrown into the fire and in the water, and other sucklings, being bound to small boards, were cut, stuck, and pierced, and miserably massacred in a manner to move a heart of stone. Some were thrown into the river, and when the fathers and mothers endeavored to save them, the soldiers would not let them come on land but made both parents and children drown."

What's even more interesting with regard to that account is that it sounds like the goings-ons in Yankee Stadium when the Red Sox are in town.

I downshifted my 1966 Simca 1500 onto the Bruckner, over a couple of draw bridges over the Hutchinson River and up to the Sheridan Expressway, which again in the grand style of Robert Moses lords itself high above the neighborhood it divided, remaking both sides in the process from working class to ghetto. We got off the Sheridan at Alexander Avenue, skirted the projects in a gentrifying south Bronx and took the free Willis Avenue bridge onto the FDR and into Manhattan.

Once I parked underneath our co-op, I collapsed into a sweat dream of Siwanoy revenge, until my wife woke me for Chinese food and then an evening of seeing Hamlet at the Public Theatre with rapping Rosencranz and Guildenstern in Central Park.

New York is New York is New York.

More so than ever, in mid-June, as the world continues and continues to collapse to its end.

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