Dogs Still Chase Sticks, Though

Saturday, September 15, 2001.

I've spent my days wandering around with my cell phone and my walkman and a camera, though I stopped taking pictures on Wednesday because I decided this-all this tragedy and absurdity-is not something I want to remember. Even miles from the pile of rubble, the city was bathed in the surreal glow of something burning, changing, melting, disappearing, and the images of life-as-we-know-it-attempting-to-return-to-normal are seared onto my memory and captured in a way no picture could ever replicate-as though I want lifelong access to visions of missing persons signs and exhausted firemen and billowing smoke and people carrying bags of laundry through the midst of it all, anyway.

I think I'll go out tomorrow with the camera, though, because today changed my mind.

I figure last Sunday was probably a gorgeous day to be in Central Park. The sun was crisp and New Yorkers were out and about, celebrating the fact that Labor Day hadn't brought the immediate onslaught of winter. But in that celebration, I'm sure a certain fabric of New York persisted: a disjointedness, the chaos of too many activities going on in the same space without the acknowledgement of their overlap. I played softball in Brooklyn in the midst of kids on scooters and errant basketballs, and looked over my shoulder nervously at a cop on a bike who watched us for a while, then asked us if he could come out and play with us sometime. This act of simple humanity by a New York City police officer was shocking, last Sunday.

Today, though, was different. It was not New York, not any New York I've ever known, and I wanted to hug every police officer I passed.

I walked through Central Park to the turtle pond, because a friend of mine released her pet turtle (Yurtle) into those communal waters last Sunday, and we wanted to see if she was around. She'd grown too big (Yurtle had), and so my friend let her go, hoping she'd find a community of her own there in the sparkling green waters. Behind us, on the Great Lawn, there were thousands of people and dogs and Frisbees and footballs and ball gloves and blankets and bicycles. And unlike last weekend, when on a beautiful late summer day, those activities operated in spheres of ones and twos and fives, today the entire park seemed to teem with the motion of a great machine with a single purpose. Thousands of people covered the Great Lawn to be together, not to block one another out. We were there, not to escape, but to unite. Applause rang out across the grounds-street performers working overtime to entertain a very willing audience-and I even found myself clapping at a couple of golden retrievers chasing a stick into the Boat Pond, their owner tossing it farther and farther out into the water and the dogs, never disappointing, returning-proud and drippy, stick in mouth. My god, since when do I stop and watch dogs at play? Since when do I stand with ten other New Yorkers and clap for dogs at play?

I've decided that life-as-we-know-it-attempting-to-return-to-normal is not the right way to look at things. Rather, I want pictures of my new world, at its inception. I think in some way, if I can revel in the life we're creating here, I can pretend that right now, no one is thinking about how to end life-as-we-know-it somewhere else.