Saturday, March 22, 2003

Fireworks over NYC, Bombs over Baghdad

Lightning flashes, thunder explodes in the skies over NYC. The sound blends in with the sounds of bombs falling into the heart of Baghdad that are broadcast over my radio. Even though it is getting late here and I always try to leave early on Fridays so I can spend the evening relaxing at the Met, I cannot bring myself to leave tonight.

Another flash and I jump, visions of airplanes slamming into tall buildings flicker into my consciousness.

The clouds are oppressive. Heavy, like smoke. The sky changes from a muddy brown to a flat battleship grey. Rain drenches the streets, transforming them into glistening multicolored rivers of oil while the sky growls menacingly.

Jumpiness is contageous in NYC. Earlier today, part of La Guardia Airport was evacuated temporarily and six baggage handlers were decontaminated because one piece of luggage was found to contain a "suspicious white powder". Fortunately (or maybe not -- it did generate a lot of drama), this powder proved to be harmless, as are most personal hygiene products that are commonly carried in luggage.

There is an overwhelming sense of fear and anger here; cold, hard, unyielding. Barely restrained. Suddenly, being loud, rude and obnoxious is no longer a game that New Yorkers excel at: It is serious business. Some people use our bombs in Baghdad as an excuse to reveal and indulge their feelings of racism or sexism. It's very ugly sometimes.

But other New Yorkers cope differently with the stress. Today, I realized that I cannot postpone the inevitable any longer, so I ventured out to buy some food. When I managed to get into Fairway and Zabar's, the best food stores in the city, I found their narrow isles nearly empty (well, nearly empty by NYC standards) and shopping was almost pleasant. An older woman wearing a dark grey velvet top-hat, burnt sienna coat and red silk scarf -- all matched in a strange sort of way -- chatted with me for quite some time about her secrets for adding extra "zing" to canned Progresso soups. After talking for a few minutes, she decided I was an actress in the theatre. I laughed and said, no, I am a scientist but I'll take that as a compliment.

"Oh, it's a compliment," she said and winked. "Don't let anyone keep you from doing the thing you want to do," she added mysteriously as she walked away.

But this small moment of camaraderie was short-lived. Walking down the sidewalks back to the museum, snippets of conversations on the streets reminded me of the threat ... Afghanistan ... Baghdad ... I look up at the sky, hoping to be cheered up as I was a couple days ago by the unexpected sight of a pair of mourning doves flying overhead ... bombs ... Iraq ... marines ... dead ... but instead I see a 727 flying over like a missile, fast, deadly, purposeful ... hey, isn't that plane a little low ... ? My gut twists and I hold my breath, the plastic grocery bags cutting into my hands. But the plane misses the steeple of the cathedral across the street from me and continues on to its destiny, its close proximity to buildings merely a optical illusion.

Nine one one.

New Yorkers are very afraid right now. I wonder how they can live with such crushing fear.

And just now, a brilliant flash transforms night into day, a frozen strobe light moment. The sidewalks are submerged. crash, nature's fury explodes all around NYC.

Thunder is so astonishingly loud here, how will I know if a bomb goes off in Manhattan? But I wonder if this knowledge even matters: If I evacuate my building now for any reason, I will be soaked to my underwear in five minutes. I wonder if the storm will continue like this all night? I need to get home to my lories, who will no doubt be rioting soon.

And now, outside my open apartment window, hail falls like white knives from the heavens. More lightning, thunder, rivers.




© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

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