Despite what my weather app informed me about this afternoon–that the temperature was heading toward the low 40’s, I’m still having the feeling that my wool jacket (more of a pea coat) is merely for show. The cold wind slices through me like a Triscut dips through Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic Hummus.
I’m chilled through four layers of silk, fleece, wool and thick cotton flannel. There’s no cold like New York City cold on the second day of March. Spring may be three weeks away on the calendar, but it’s ten thousand miles from where I stand waiting for the M3 to take me down 5th Avenue to the Main Branch of the Public Library. To my back is the Plaza Hotel and behind my left shoulder is Central Park. Perhaps that’s the source of the cold wind? The snow-covered Great Lawn? The ice of Wollman Rink?
No, it’s not the park. It’s the never-ending frost that clings to my flesh and bones…and mocks me in my ear, saying: “It’s no use wearing clothes, Boy From The North Country. I’m the cold that will follow and find you. May as well be naked, my friend.”
I consider this. A holding cell at a mid-town precinct has got to be warm.
Here’s the M3. I’m saved from having to make any decisions. I’m going to a special place in a heated bus. I step off the coach into several inches of slush from last night’s snow fall. I push past the tourists. I’m standing on the third step of the library. I climb the partially shoveled stone steps, passing between the two lions that guard this monument to culture. The lions are named Patience and Fortitude. Someone told me that they were named by Mayor La Guardia in the 1940’s. The point being that in those trying and harsh times (WWII), those are the virtues that all good New Yorker’s need. I didn’t have time to fact-check this (when he was the mayor) but the pamphlet says they acquired their names in the 1940’s so I’m going with that version.
[Patience. Or is it Fortitude?]
I push through the revolving doors and find myself in the Astor Hall. The architect who built this must have had access to unlimited white marble, for that is what I see everywhere I look. On either side of the great room, sweeping staircases takes me up to the second floor. I slowly climb the steps, sliding my hand along the foot wide marble railing. What famous author had his or her hands on this stone? I’m told that my favorite poet, Bob Dylan, came here to research the Civil War when he was writing a song called, Across The Green Mountains. Maybe his hand paused where I am pausing. Perhaps an atom of Bob is still embedded between the Calcium Carbonate molecules of the marble? Then it occurred to me that he probably took the elevator. I looked at the dark stains on the white stone. When I get to the top, I dig for my bottle of Purell. I make my way to one of the public reading rooms. [The world-famous Rose Reading Room has been closed for nearly a year. Apparently, part of the ceiling had fallen.] I can think of worse things that can fall on your head while you’re sitting in the famous room and reading a boring book. Like an idea for instance.
But, I’m not here as a tourist. No, I am here to work on my novel. It’s going to be a ghost story. I plan on it being scary and tension-filled, like the half-time shows of the recent Super Bowls. And, this is where I can get inspiration. Most American writers of the last 50 years have been in these rooms. Literary ghosts must walk these halls. I’m sitting in an oak chair as I write this. Who once sat here? Norman Mailer? Scott Fitzgerald? Jane Smiley? Jennifer Egan?
Yes, I’m sitting in an oak chair. The table is massive and also oak. There are four of these tables in this room (Room 217, if you ever make the trip. See the guy behind the glass partition who is in charge of research? I’m in the corner nearby.) I look around the room and see many laptops, each with a bright white apple glowing from the silver lid. Oh, there’s a Dell. Poor devil. I have a new MacBook Air and the battery life is 12 hours, but some of those less fortunate have older models. They need to feed their computers with juice, so the library had positioned power bars in the middle of each table. Some of these are so overloaded, I worry about an explosion.
WiFi MAYHAM ON FIFTH AVENUE!
I can see the Daily News headline now. I just hope I’m in the men’s room when it goes.
I find my memory stick that holds all 13 of my completed chapters. It slides into the USB port like…(I could use a dirty metaphor here, but I do have some standards.) I’m going to write a frightening chapter. I need to concentrate on building tension.
Then my inner critic peeks over the top of my laptop and with devilish eyes and a mocking grin says: “Who do you think you are? You can’t write. This is crap. You have no talent…go find something useful to do for society, like picking up litter on Staten Island or scraping chewing gum from the subway platform of the B train.”
He’s right. I’m no Stephen King. I’m not John Steinbeck. I’m not even E. L. James. I begin to unplug my computer, when I realize that I have a 12 hour battery. I feel so independent.
I must have patience. Good writing doesn’t come easily. Just ask Nora Roberts. No, I must plug along. And, I must have fortitude. I must kill the demon inside me that holds my fingers from typing a scene so scary that you will keep the lights on all night.
My fingers return to the keyboard. I glance at the time display in the upper right hand corner. They’re going to close in a little over 30 minutes. Then I realize that I’ve spent all my time writing this blog. Now I have to pack up and walk back to the hotel on 28th Street. Only now, my load will be heavier, with all these words in the memory of my laptop. They were only in my head before I sat down.
In a few minutes, I’ll head to the revolving door. I’ll pause to open my shoulder bag to show the security guard that I’m not taking the Gutenberg Bible or the Declaration of Independence. He knows me because I’ve been here before. He’ll wave me out and wish me a fine night. I’ll say the same to him.
Then I’ll stand on the third step, between the two lions, facing the rush hour traffic of 5th Avenue. Maybe I’ll go behind the library and walk through Bryant Park. I’ll watch the ice skaters. I’ll try to turn my collar to the cold and damp.
Music will be playing. I’ll put my ear buds in and listen to Townes Van Zandt. Or Iris Dement. Or Mary Gauthier.
I’ll walk down 6th Avenue to 28th Street and go back to my hotel room.
I’ll have a smile on my face as I walk and shiver, along the busy sidewalks. I’m smiling because this time tomorrow, I’ll be sitting by a pool in San Juan.
The poolside, in the late afternoon, in Puerto Rico. Now, that’s a fine place to write a scary chapter.
I’ll just need patience to stay out of the sun for a little while and fortitude to keep me from diving too often into the warm deep blue waters of the deep Caribbean.
[Adaptors in the process of feeding. Watching them made me think of Guatemalen vampire bats sucking on a dead goat.]
[Two of a thousand arches]