It was the day after Trump was elected, and I found myself in lower Manhattan sipping an $8 green juice out of a clear plastic cup.
I’d come downtown to take care of some administrative business and, after having navigated the underground corridors of 1 Centre Street in these pursuits, treated myself to a fresh squeezed concoction of kale, spinach, apple, and cucumber.
Wellness must have been on my mind. But to strive to be “well” I understood was to keep other truths at bay. Still, it was warm for November. The sky was crystalline blue, and the juice was refreshing. I was happy to be back in my hometown.
Crossing Wall Street, I came across a man with a bullhorn shouting the president elect’s name. A small crowd was gathering around him.
I heard someone say, “What do we do now?”
Head scratching was the order of the day. A lot of shock and awe. For a moment, I felt I was in a movie. But New York is always like that, a bit cinematic and spectacular. Ordinary things are filtered through a haze of fairy dust.
I continued walking, passing familiar streets: Water Street, Pearl Street, Pine Street, John Street, and Dey. These are streets I have known all my life.
This is where I had my first real job, at the now defunct John Wanamaker department store. This is where my long deceased mother once worked as a banker. This is where my mother and I would meet for lunch: at the Woolworth Building, or the Sky Dive Restaurant on the 44th floor in the former World Trade Center.
This is where the Towers fell.
As I finished my green juice, I slipped into Century 21, the discount designer megastore.
Half an hour later, I slipped back out, empty-handed, having purchased nothing.
Shopping had once been my drug of choice. Shopping had filled what felt like a vast hole inside me. It was nearly impossible for me to enter a store and leave empty-handed.
But things change, they are formed and reformed.
I was about to give this some deeper thought when my mind was distracted.
Just across 6th Avenue, the new Tower loomed in front of me. At street level, the entrance to the World Trade Center transportation hub was flanked by the fine white bones of the Oculus.
I’d heard about this architectural masterpiece. I’d read about its exorbitant expense and its rampant consumerist theme. It was imperative that I go inside.
If there is any fairy dust in the Oculus, it is impossible to see. The stark whiteness of the interior acts as an antiseptic. The arched cathedral ceiling looms spectacularly high. The floors are white marble and buffed to a mirror polish. The overall feeling is futuristic, with a touch of retro, as if this is the future we’d imagined in the past.
The shopping is the same kind you find in any transportation hub, or airport around the world with the usual “big’ brands. Names you can recite in your sleep.
In fact, I’ve come to think of this kind of “shopping,” in these uber-mall environments, as the perfect foil for conscious thinking. Shopping that can be performed in a semi-somnambulistic state.
I’m not immune to this kind of consumerism. After all, I’d just finished sipping an overpriced juice with some vague sense of the “wellness” it might impart on me.
Yet, as I stood in the whale-belly shaped Oculus, I couldn’t help but think back to September 11, 2001, when we were all told that “normal” meant we should just go out and shop.
In the days following 9/11, shopping was the last thing on my mind.
But 2001 was the beginning of the 21st Century. It was now late 2016.
As I turned my back on the Oculus and headed back outside, I thought of the man with the bullhorn I’d seen earlier that morning. How much of a crowd had gathered around him, I wondered.
I rolled the five words I’d overheard inside my head: “What do we do now?”
photo: Hufton +Crow