May and the city rejoices in spring, in light and color, in the sheer goodness of life and its improvements. Spring shows us that things do indeed get better; it’s not all decline — old buildings sparkle, trees quiver in green, mundane streets are remade as pageants.
However, let’s not get carried away. Sure, it’s encouraging to see the tulips and ice cream trucks, especially after the winter we’ve had. A real snowy throwback, with pack ice on the East River and the bridges lost in blizzard. A salt shortage. But this season’s not without its own dark side. Life abounds, but beware — life’s treacherous.
I can’t afford to be carefree. I know what’s coming, and I urge the rest of you to snap out of it and get streetwise. Otherwise, you might not make it. Wise up.
This is just one more Pompeii, I’m here waving my arms and screaming, “She’s going to blow!” while the rest of you folks sip Campari and nibble olives. You continue to go blithely about your springtime lives, oblivious, innocent and doomed.
But blow she will. Sky high. NYC, the capital of the world, is about to erupt in womanhood, as it has every year since the end of the Ice Age. After a season of protective gear — lumpen layers, hats and scarves —we are very vulnerable. We have forgotten the power of flesh. And rather than a gradual introduction, a slow-and-steady reminder, we’re given Vesuvius on every avenue -- 2nd, Bedford, Fifth, Franklin, Flatbush.
It’s an explosion of beauty and a bonanza of want. A mania of chests, lips, eyes, shoulders, hair and hips. They come at you from every angle, in 3-D. Winter flattened us into hieroglyphs and suddenly bodies are thrown drastically into a sexy dimension. All those shapes, the rampant contours, are hard to handle. Trumpets ring in my ears. It's like the premier of womanhood. A debut of tits. An annunciation of haunches. The invention of midriffs. The instant anatomical too-muchness deranges the senses. Mothballed for so long, we are ga-ga for beauty and experience the world in an ecstasy of torment.
The girls arrive en masse, suddenly, thrillingly, in their fluttery slips and shorts -- shorts! -- and t-shirts. Even dresses. Dresses. A dress in May brings us to lunacy. The heart bays and howls. In a summer dress, all women are irresistible. Don't they know this, the excruciating and mystical power of dresses? I want them all. Pushing a double-decker stroller? Waiting in line at the dialysis clinic? Clipping your nails on the A train? Let me kiss your hem and be mine.
But of all the things to bellyache about, abundant beauty? Shouldn't I be celebrating the sun-kissed limbs and sidewalk bikinis? Who rails against the hothouse and its barrage of flowers? Truth is, for all its loveliness the bounty takes its toll. Unattainable beauty hurts. All the siren passersby that won’t sing your name. All the flinching and whiplash, and the enormity of unrequited adoration. It’s a closeup feast forever out of reach, an elusive and gorgeous stampede. A river of flame.
And it's exhausting to admire and appraise and yearn nonstop. Always checking out, checking out, checking out. Running a batshit inventory of womankind’s parts. Before getting to work, you've flitted over 10,000 Venuses, sighed over the gossamer tops and the soft strapping, the trim skirts and cygnet napes.
The thing is, sometimes, you just want to make it down the street and pick up the laundry without getting walloped. Sometimes you just want to ride the morning subway without catapulting through the stages of lust, infatuation and love as you tunnel through lower Manhattan. To then have to climb the Subway stairs, that gravity-defying gauntlet of ass.
We tremble, reverent and wanton, behind our sunglasses.
The winter kept us safe in privation. And its shadow has sheltered us. We’ve been lucky with a run of chilly and overcast days. The cold gray helps fight the Bends. Coming up too swiftly from the depths puts bubbles in the blood and fizzes the brain. So make use of the unseasonal spell and prepare for what comes next and harden your heart. From here on out, every errand is an onslaught, every commute a turn on the rack, every stoplight a wrecking ball. By August, I’ll again be fleshpot-shellshocked and limp through the Indian summer. And then….
And then, impossible as it now seems, the light and color will depart as quickly as it came, receding like broken wave. Streetlights on by 5, bodies layered and zipped and bound, the air conditioners squatting pointless in windows, and leaves rasping in the street. The hacking commute. The diminution and barrenness and ebbing desire.
Jesus, what a drag. What a sad drag. Like the anthem says, better to burn out than fade away. Here’s to animal excess. Rush me into the pomp and vanity and abandon. Give me Pompeii! I’ll dance jabbering into the bursts.
Sam Howard is a reporter in Manhattan and a Brooklyn homebody.