Notes on a Double Rainbow

by

10/13/2001

Broadway & W 116th St, New York, NY 10025

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

The Upper East and the Upper West sides distinguish themselves relative to each other–their identities are based on slandering the attitudes on the “other side” of the Park. Today, however, they were connected by a giant rainbow that stretched to the ground on both sides. A six-year-old boy stared intently up at the larger-than-life rainbow, his mouth dropped open like he was seeing an alien spacecraft. Without turning to face his mother, like a real New York City kid, he said, “so this is what a real-life rainbow looks like?” She said, “This is what a double rainbow looks like.”

At first, I didn’t see it at all. I left Columbia University and headed downtown. My back was to the rainbow which was north from where I was, maybe somewhere in the Bronx. I only walked about ten steps before a woman almost knocked me down with her arm, “turn around!” she said “have you seen what’s behind you?!”

I turned around…along with everyone else on the street. Shoppers pushed their shopping carts out onto the sidewalk, pedestrians stopped walking to pull their cell phones out of their purses or their pockets to call their children, friends or lovers, “Jim, Jim is this you? Listen, no time to talk, get out of the apartment right now! It’s unbelievable…No, you can’t see it from the window, you have to come outside to see it! Hurry!”

Another man found two dimes an a nickel in his jeans pocket and headed straight for the Vorizon pay phone, “Ma, yeah it’s me, listen, there’s a double rainbow covering the city! You gotta see it. I’ll call you later…what?…yeah, I love you too.”

People on the sidewalk were either talking on cell phones or to each other about the beauty of what loomed above. The sidewalk quickly became caught in gridlock. People in a rush took time to stand still, shopkeepers, nannies with children, and electricians assembled together, taxi cab drivers pulled over to the side of the street to get out of their cars, bikeriders dismounted, old men stopped whistling, I even saw a chef leave his kitchen to come outside to see it for himself. People carrying heavy groceries, the thin plastic handles making red marks on their palms, smiled and forgot about their loads, teenagers got over their too-cool-to-be impressed by anything attitude to comment on the rainbow, one kid said, “Oh shit, look at that, man, damn, that goes on forever…that for real? Wow, that is out of control.”

A man with dark-framed glasses turned to the first person who passed him and said, “I’ve lived here all my life, and I have never seen anything quite like that in this city.” The woman he was speaking to agreed by nodding her head in full swing and approval, “you’re quite right about that,” she said. Strangers conversed, walking patterns remained idle. For various moments, New Yorkers were all looking at the same thing. UpperEastsiders and UpperWestsiders. Downtown, midtown, fishing on the Hudson or the East River, step-dads, children, immigrants, mothers, college-aged, middle-aged, over-the-hill, old men with walkers, or conservative bankers wearing Dockers, all forgot for a moment that New York is a dangerous place. For those moments it seemed like the gates of paradise had been let open over Manhattan so that urbanites could get a quick reminder that the City is part of the natural world, that the City is on earth. For those moments, while the view looking upwards was “out of control,” it was the New Yorkers who had no control, only the instinct to be astounded by something so rare and beautiful as the Double Rainbow.

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