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Monday, January 5, 2004
By Paul Ford
A tentative step in a singular direction.
One evening after Christmas I made my way North through the holiday throngs of 5th Avenue, and came finally onto 57th, not far from the great electric star that hangs over that street during the holidays. I looked in at the Christian Dior store, and thought, Who needs those things? Simultaneously, another version of myself reveled in the perfection, noting how the properties of light, air, and object had been considered before each handbag was put on the shelf.
Given another millennium, the citizens of whatever this city is named will want to know exactly how I felt at that moment, how we were now. How was it to stand in front of a shop during that golden age, on a sidewalk flanked by ancient, four-wheeled gas-driven cars and comparatively tiny buildings, what was it like in the early years of the information age, with its minimum wage and poisoned meats?
The woman snapping pictures of her boyfriend, the lights wrapping the trees, the leather of the handbags, the gum on the sidewalk; the cigarette smoke that rushes into my nostrils as a puffing man walks by, all of this together in the valley of a skyscraper canyon. We'll be as interesting as the Romans. We'll be so interesting to our progeny that they'll have no choice but to forgive us. They'll forgive us because we didn't know better, and forget that we did. Just as some of us yearningly don chain mail or Civil War uniforms and march in state parks, they'll come to movies and books trying to understand.
They'll read histories of our era that, like an anatomy chart which shows the organs in precise location, will describe the GNP and election results, the outcome of wars and the great moments of statesmanship, but with those facts within their well-augmented minds, they'll wish still to open up a real body, to get beyond sculpted information and look at the stew under the skin, to feel what it was to stand there on 57th St. in late December, 2003, in the Empire City, in the Empire State, in the empire of George Washington and Adam Smith.
And then: a stretch Humvee with an aquarium in the window and a digital satellite dish on the trunk drove past, someone renting glory for an evening, followed by a double-length MTA bus with an accordion fold at its center, and that was my bus, the bus to a new Shinar, where even today we're rebuilding the Tower of Babel in spite of the will of God.