Friends of Moynihan Station
Yesterday, I spent the afternoon writing in the New York Public Library. I thought it might be different to write in an enormous room full of marble and hardwood. It wasn’t. I was still there and so was the blank page. It was just like writing at home, except that when I leaned back in my chair and stretched after finishing a sentence, I looked up and saw pink puffy clouds painted on panels in a carved wooden ceiling as high as my four-story apartment building. Those clouds must have been painted by a sentimental person, or someone on drugs. They are too pink and fluffy to have been painted by a realist.
The New York Public Library was so beautiful that I had to check on the progress of Moynihan Station, which is supposedly going to restore to New York the glory of the old Penn Station, which they tore down in 1963 to build the then-new Madison Square Garden. I am considering becoming a Friend of Moynihan Station, so badly do I want it to be built and restore to New York the glory of the old Penn Station.
I am preoccupied with these matters because Rebecca and I recently finished watching New York: A Documentary Film (not to be confused with New York: The Place Where We Live). In it, we learned about how when the city went into fiscal free-fall in the 1960s they knocked down Penn Station, which was only 56 years old at the time. It was based on the Carcalla baths and built to last for millenia, to stand as a glorious monument to the striving of all New Yorkers as they bustled to and fro, or so the narration said, or so I imagined the narration said, as there really isn’t any point to watching PBS not stoned.
When they showed us pictures of the station when it was first built, we cried. When they showed it being torn down, which took three whole years, pictures of its beautiful stone angels being hacked off and lowered to the ground and eventually, we later read, pulverized into dust in a New Jersey landfill, we also cried. When they showed the picture of what is now Madison Square Garden in architect’s renderings before it was built, we cradled our heads in our hands, and made a soft, keening sound, and then we smacked our foreheads with our open palms, and this made a sharp, fleshy sound.
The new Madison Square Garden is almost as ugly as the new Penn Station, but it is not all bad. In Madison Square Garden, in 1998, I saw Michael Jordan play against the Knicks for the second-to-last time in his career, because Rebecca’s dad was being solicited by a pharmaceuticals rep who gave him four tickets to the game. Rebecca’s sister Rachel couldn’t go so I went instead.
We went up an escalator to a room where we saw a brief presentation on a particular brand of penicillin. Then the woman gave us four tickets to see the Knicks vs. the Bulls at Madison Square Garden. These were hot tickets, even in the nosebleeds, as they were. Somehow right before tipoff Rebecca and I picked our way down to the very front seats, right behind Celebrity Row. People rich and powerful enough to have these seats don’t waste their time watching the first quarter of a basketball game. We saw Woody Allen. We saw the artist then-known as Puff Daddy. We saw Spike Lee. Later on, I saw Ethan Hawke in the corridor, wearing a very nice suit. And best of all, for about fifteen beautiful minutes, until partway into the second quarter when two burly businessmen arrived at their rightful seats, we saw Michael Jordan play basketball from twenty feet away on the floor of Madison Square Garden.
The game was decided at the buzzer, when the Knicks missed a field goal and the Bulls won. By this time we were back in the nosebleeds with Rebecca’s parents and all the other doctors who had been solicited by the pharmaceuticals rep. The man next to me was a middle-aged doctor from Jamaica and as the Knicks made an improbable run in the final minutes to catch and tie the Bulls, he and I were jumping up and down and high-fiving one another in the fast friendship of shared fandom. When the final shot went up we grabbed one another’s arms and craned our necks and held our breath with the rest of of the crowd in the architectural nightmare that stands where a beautiful building once stood. When the shot bounced off the rim we dropped our arms to our sides and did not look one another in the eye the whole way down all the escalators. I didn’t care that the Knicks had lost. I was used to them losing. I had seen something I knew I would tell my grandchildren about one day, and the moment might not have existed without pharmaceuticals salespeople and the destruction of the original Penn Station, terrible as these two things are.
Michael Jordan no longer plays. Rebecca’s dad no longer lives. I hear that pharmaceuticals reps are no longer allowed to solicit doctors with free tickets to important basketball games.
I have been reading a lot of Kurt Vonnegut lately and about the death thing, he would say So it goes, and about the time thing would say that all time is simultaneous and so really Michael Jordan is still playing and Rebecca’s dad is still alive and we are all still in Madison Square Garden, with Rebecca’s mom and the Jamaican doctor, and Phil Jackson is there, too, it is all still happening and will always be happening, and Puff Daddy is still Puff Daddy, not P. Diddy or Diddy, and Woody Allen’s most recent movie is the brilliant Deconstructing Harry, and Spike Lee has no ideas about making a documentary about any broken levees because they are at this very moment just concerns on a list of engineering problems to be dealt with at a later date, and Ethan Hawke has not yet written a book containing a chapter about John Starks’ unraveling in Game 7 of the 1994 NBA finals, a chapter I will hear him read in Central Park one summer evening, and not two miles to the south the two towers still stand and the world still trades there, and I am still thinking that the Knicks could win a championship when Jordan’s still in the league and prove that they could beat even Jordan, and we are all there together watching the arc of this latest Knick misfire as it hangs in the air that is really just the space inside this building or that one.