Essayist Roger Rosenblatt contemplates the summery haze in New York City.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: The silence of New York City in the summer, particularly on weekends, is not what it was. But it is still something to hear. Its sound is what the sun makes beating on the sidewalks. It is the heated sidewalks too and the emptiness and the dreams the emptiness fills.
The only reason the summer silence is not quite its old self is because not as many people leave New York in the summertime as they did thirty or forty years ago. Vacations are shorter. Lots of folks work weekends. Stores stay open. And there's a so-called neighborhood festival every other block. In the Great Gatsby Fitzgerald wrote of summer Sundays in the city as seeming so bucolic one expected sheep to come around a corner. New York is not that rustic anymore, but the silences are still here and the sense of promise and longing contained in the silences. Something is about to happen, and it will never happen.
That's what summer in the city means. In a way then summer in the city is what summer means everywhere. Something is about to happen and it will never happen. But New York makes the seasons dark. The sudden emptiness can be frightening. Movies play on that effect sometimes, movies about plagues, or about thermonuclear wars that leave cities standing without citizens. Long shots of streets that look like the open prairie, sky scrapers photographed in shadow like upright sepulchers. Absence becomes the presence of doom. For my part I recall the summer silences New York only with nostalgia.
Kids who grow up in the city do not have Winslow Homer's tree shade or Norman Rockwell's swimming hole, but they do have-did have basketball courts with hoops without nets, and baseball fields in Central Park and the other parks and the vacant lots. What happened to those vacant lots? And the stoops. Even now I never need to refer to Prudst to follow my stream of consciousness back to New York summers in the 1950's. Just give me the sound of some kid walking alone, dribbling a basketball on the sidewalk with that slight and hollow echoed bouncing off the walls, and I am flung back to the age of 13 or 14, and it is very early morning so that I could get the court first, and I am deep in dreams of getting jump shot after jump shot.
And there is nothing on the streets but streets. If you work at it, you can persuade yourself that cities look more natural, more like themselves in the summertime; that they are more suited to that than to hustle and ambition. Cities occurred when the Industrial Revolutions occurred. But the people who built them were agrarians. The utopian dream of the city may have originally been a vertical farmland full of expanses as serene as the countryside.
I'm making all this up, of course. It's just an excuse to prolong the pleasure of thinking about it. No walk in the country gives you this. The nothing augers something. Promise turns to longing. Something is about to happen, and it will never happen. People live in imaginary places as much as they do in real ones, maybe more. That's how we came to be given the fictional territories of the Lotus Etis Island, Shangri-La, Alice's Looking Glass world, Atlantis, Camelot, and Oz. The best or the real places are the ones that seem imagined. None of this is really here.
The streets-the buildings-the stores-the mail boxes-the lamp posts-you-the good people of New York City are deep in winter, dreaming about times like these. The summer silence is their dream.
I'm Roger Rosenblatt.