I was crossing through Gowanus on Union Street the other day when I saw the most beautiful light coming through the scrim of a pair of enormous, undulating curtains. I was just west of that parody of urban water features, the Gowanus canal, in the spate of warehouses and row houses between the pollution and the South Brooklyn Casket Company.
The curtains marked one of those truck-sized garage-door entrances. A breeze was blowing them gently back and forth in harmonic motion. The late afternoon winter light was pouring into the vast space behind the curtains with such strength that they seemed a futile fabric fig leaf for the sun.
I watched the curtains ripple from across the street for a while and reflexively reached for my phone to photograph them. (Isn’t it strange that when we want to take a picture, we reach for our telephones? If you told me when I first pressed the shutter on a camera that I would one day make telephone calls with it I would not have believed you.) But the phone had summarily died about half an hour earlier.
Not being able to photograph the rippling curtains brought me a certain kind of relief. I knew already that the photograph would not do justice to what I was seeing. Even a video that captured the curtains’ movement would not be entirely accurate. Only I could see what I could now see. I could never really show it to anyone else.
The walls around the big door were green. The curtains were cream-colored and looked fine and expensive, not like the utilitarian strips of rubber or vinyl that sometimes hang in big warehouse doors, to keep the heat in. Looking at the curtains I felt the heartbreak I often feel when I see something beautiful and I am all alone. It is not the sadness that the light will soon change or I will walk on and the moment will end and no one will know about it, or that I will try to explain it and no one will understand. Or it is not that sadness alone. It is also the ecstasy of all those things, the ecstasy of seeing this thing, all by myself, and not only not being able to share it with anyone but not having to.
I crossed the street to look closer. I touched the curtains and when I did I could feel they were warm. It was a cold day and the warehouse was heated. I could hear the fans blowing, loudly, behind the curtains. They puffed out and sucked in and as they sucked in they parted and as they parted I stepped inside.
The building was large, old and nearly empty. It had a vaulted ceiling with interlocking rafters and a high, dirty skylight. Old buildings, old wood, old glass and complicated geometry all excite me in the same way the curtains had. I took a sharp breath. I felt myself to be in a dream.
The warehouse was not completely empty. There were a few rows of red velvet theater chairs. There was a platform or pedestal covered with dozens of white candles stalagtitic with drips. At one end there was a kind of office, demarcated by windows of mottled glass with transoms in them. Through the glass I could see different colored bottles and the shapes of hangers. Did someone live there? Was it a performance space? A prop loft?
I stood just inside the curtains, warming. They rustled behind me like sailcloth. The light was inside was like church. The noise of the heaters surged, then quieted. I heard another noise, similar, buzzing. Someone was sawing something. It was coming from above.
I looked up and saw no one. The power saw whined again. Then someone banged, four thwacks. Then more power saw, more thwacking. It sounded like someone was cutting a hole in the ceiling from up on the roof. What would I say when they came through and I was standing here? I decided, for no particular reason I could fathom, that I would say I was looking for Bobby.
I would ask what sort of a place this was, a residence or maybe a club or maybe just still a warehouse after all. I’d ask if I could look around. I’d ask if I could come back and take a picture of the curtains. Even if it ruined the moment, I’d try. I’d bring my old film camera and do it right. I’d charm whoever was up there with the saw, I’d gain access to this space, its warmth and light. I was infatuated with this empty space. I was trying to be around it and with it and in it the way you try to be around a person who infatuates you.
The sawing and banging continued, but no one emerged from the ceiling. It was dark up there and hard to see, especially with the bright spots of light coming from the windows and skylight. The light made it hard to focus your eyes in the shadows.
While I waited for someone to come through the ceiling, I began to resent whoever was sawing and banging in this beautiful warehouse empty of everything but red velvet theater seats and dozens of half-burned white candles and sunlight and translucent curtains. I became confused about whose warehouse it was. I was beginning to see whoever was about to drop through the roof as an intruder when it was I who was the intruder. I did not want to share. And so I stepped back through the curtains, out onto the street, and the moment stayed mine.