New York summers are pregnant. The air drips with humidity, the streets applaud the flip-flaps of determined feet, skirts draped just so over still-pale thighs, stoplights breaking out into song: "Hate It or Love It" everywhere, 50 and the Game calling all cars, Mary hollering back a block away. Around rush hour, the city curiously quiets to a whisper, as if everyone was suddenly struck mute by the comforting breeze of dusk, the dwindling sun ricocheting off the glass towers, drenching the pavement in a refracted glow that makes us all look like movie stars. Yesterday, after a thunderstorm that turned the sky opaque like a curtain-drop, a rainbow just as suddenly stretched its hues across the horizon; at a street corner in Brooklyn, a walk signal blinked forlornly as the pedestrians stared awestruck to the west.
But there's an eeriness about the start of this summer that has me on edge. Maybe it's reading books related to September 11 lately, but every nice day has me looking for low-flying aircraft. Doom is afoot. If you were in New York or Washington D.C. then, you will undoubtedly remember the absolute perfection of that day and those following it. I remember thinking that nature was taunting us, putting us in our place, showing us how beauty could persist even as the very concept seemed hopelessly gauche.
Maybe it's just the frustration of responsibility in the summer, though. This time of year we all want to revert to our skinned-knee selves. We stare out of windows, sit on stoops trying to will the sun not to set, jealously eye beach bags and flip-flops, curse the desks that cuff us from freedom. That's what getting older is blah blah blah, but who wants that racket when a sunburn is but two hours away? But the machinations of capitalism know no rest, and the gears keep turning, turning, turning.
Everyone who is anyone evacuates New York in the summers. The Hamptons develop smog from the cologne and perfume clouds, and planes take off for Florida by the minute. With the rich and famous-to-their-friends gone, the pre-War cathedrals around Central Park go dark, and the rest of the city starts roaming for sex and trouble, in that order. New York is hip-hop's capitol, and the summer is its convention. Beats come from the sidewalk, the clatter of subway tracks pick up contagious rhythms, ringtones and taxi horns harmonize and collaborate. And the tone changes by the light: "Crazy in Love" was Saturday at dusk, the night rich with potential; "Drop It Like It's Hot" that same night seven hours later, the party sparse and grasping so the mood would never let up.
Unlike Miami or Los Angeles — places where seasons are fashion, not meteorological, terms — New York summers are flings, winks across the 6 train and a lingering eye on a crosswalk. We all know it will disappear (those heavy coats always visible in our too-small closets) and yet we fight the clock anyway, relishing the sweat if nothing else. May it never end.