ditor’s note: In these vignettes, Lorien Menhennett takes a break from her medical writing to peer at the New York City world around her from her fire escape.
With its left hand, the City plays the bass clef part of the song it calls Progress. The low pitched groan and drone of machines, whirring and moving parts set to irregular time: a moody but ambitious 5/4. The right hand sounds a syncopated treble melody. The tink and clink of cement blocks against metal, the quick crescendo of drills into brick that just as quickly die away into dotted pauses of silence. The all-male chorus chants more than sings in a call-and-response fashion well suited to this stage, the concrete service drive between two grimy apartment buildings, their brick walls mottled with decades of hopeful but mismatched masonry patchwork. Also visible are the linear brown drizzle marks from window AC units.
This shabby stage is ideally suited to the audience of one, a woman dressed in equally drab black and gray clothes, watching and listening from the rusty perch of her fourth floor fire escape, sitting cross legged on an old couch pillow wrapped in a plastic shopping bag to protect it from the impending rain. She sits there, taking in the private performance of this off-off-off-off Broadway show.
From my fourth-floor metal blind, I peer across the concrete chasm, eyes first wading through the incandescence of midday city air, then through paned glass squares. I peek into another world. But all I can see is sheer fabric fluttering inward, quaking at the behest of methodical, mechanical breath. More like a sea anemone than any textile, I think to myself. More like something waving to me in the wet whisper of a gentle, deep sea breeze.