A Week in Manhattan

The Trump Tower backyard on Fifth Avenue

There is such human heat in Manhattan, which I sensed in the main in midtown this trip. There in midtown I walked several times to Times Square and savored the energy, some half from tourists, and more than half from New Yorkers. It is a heat that Manhattan keeps unto itself, and reaches the results of its enterprise to cities round the world. The boroughs round Manhattan are not touched by the action, though, or at least it so seemed to me in the glimpses I got in the night on arrival and on the afternoon of departure. So you may say that hot Manhattan hasn’t a halo; rather, it has a shadow round it that is severe—no umbra; no penumbra. It is all right. I shouldn’t say these things, not right after a splendid week walking the streets of Manhattan.

I needed to see right away the store of Apple Computer from Cupertino which has rooted its spiritual center below ground on 5th Avenue, at the SE corner of Central Park. Above ground stands a transparent cuboid with the bitten apple in its center, and it suggested to me another version of the holy Kaaba, one for geek believers, and in the working hours of the workweek the density of visitors in this Apple Store outnumber those in all other establishments in the place—save the theaters, but theaters fill up only during show time. I went in—down, actually—and because I needed nothing new to buy of Apple, I bought merely a sleeve for my iPhone 4 and watched customers unwrap their purchases like they were chocolate boxes and start them up with help from the young evangelists and evangelistas.

Not merely New Yorkers scorn traffic lights. Visitors learn in an hour the art of ignoring the red while keeping out of trouble. In New York, time is treasured as much by the native who has much to do, as by the tourist who has much to see, so they both tear about the streets and you hear the horn constantly, sometimes angry, sometimes anguished and, many times, murderous. Americans who visit us in India tell us no one uses the horn in the West like Indians do. But I should say the drivers in Manhattan are a serious second. It is all right. What is a society—as in a relationship—if there isn’t some rancor in it?

I heard it more than once between young Indian couples, man to wife once, woman to man another time, after dashing across a Manhattan street: “paagal hai kya tu?” Are you mad? And in the walk on 46th, from Sixth Avenue to the Fifth, I watched the jewelry stores get sleeker, until, by the time I reached the Fifth, the stores had gotten real swanky indeed. On the street I passed Jewish people in black with curls falling from their temples and I smiled at their language in which even endearments sound like arguments.

But people are mostly happy, even when it rains, and they are just as content getting wet as cozying up in cafes. And how people work the cameras in Manhattan! Almost all that digital weight would be on the Internet, and how the Info Highway would be sagging on account of it! In Times Square, for instance, people were taking in the ambience exclusively from the three-inch camera screen. Like the camera had taken the place of the pair of spectacles. In the middle of that square surrounded by the Hard Rock Cafe on one corner, Nasdaq on the corner across, and super-supersize hoardings, and a red staircase which looks like an open auditorium for a bandstand but wasn’t, and the ABC News office on which news streamed (unseen, unread) of the allegation against the IMF Chief, said to be committed in a hotel very near, and the ticket counters for the theaters—in the middle of all that stands unused and unvisited the Recruitment Office for the US Military. Who imagined that young people in this happy state of mind, here in Happysthan, would sight and walk into that booth and join the army and freeze and broil in Afghanistan? A lone guard stands there, big and strong and handsome and ignored among Americans who without exception revere their military.