Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rain in the City

The siren sound of running water can never be perfectly replaced by actual sirens and the bustle of a crowded and jubilant city. But rain on pavement, I have to admit, is a close second to a trout stream tumbling over a cataract.

As I lay in bed in New York's Mansfield Hotel, the window open to the courtyard nine floors below (is it a boutique hotel feature--windows that open to the world?) the sounds of the city slip slyly into the dark space where I sleep. Horns. The distant rattle of a subway. And sirens. It's not an unwelcome atmosphere--it's oddly soothing, knowing that life in the country's biggest collection of humanity carries on nine floors down while my own life slips into neutral for the night.

Throw in the rain, sometimes torrential, and the white noise of New York capably lulls me to sleep.

No, not a fishing trip. Not exactly, anyway. But business, and a recreational study in all things classically urban. A jazz show. Comedy. Pricey cocktails. Food.

(Holy shit, the food).

I watched one night as a young man fidgeted at the hotel bar, his stir straw slowly circling a tumbler of $20 bourbon. He would glance at his watch, look at his drink and search the room. Moments later a young lady entered the bar, an inquisitive look on her face that perfectly matched that on the fellow. Their eyes met. They both smiled, somewhat awkwardly.

Then the introduction, equally awkward. They walked off to a nearby table and proceded to put to the test the latest effort.

For a long-married guy for whom such awkward moments are long past, I immediately translated the scene into a fisherman's language. New water. Unfamiliar quarry. And the nervous excitement of it all. Perhaps one day a long, long time ago, in this very city (before it became what it is), some anxious angler carefully baited a hook before dropping it into one the brook trout streams that, centuries ago, flowed from this island and into the Hudson.

I kept a distant eye on the young couple as they tried each other for size for the first time, and it seemed to be going well when I drained my glass of sweet Southern Comfort and called it a night. Outside, on 44th Street, just a couple blocks off Times Square, it rained.

I wonder if I witnessed a bright beginning, where two young city souls finally found each other and embarked on a long and lovely adventure together. I wonder if, deep down, they'd both like to throw in the towel and escape to Idaho one day, or if the city and its constant heartbeat is too magnetic, too challenging to leave without a good try.

I drifted off to sleep to the sounds of rain on the windowsill, knowing that to some, the city has a real pull, an irresistable attraction. "You don't understand it," they say. "You don't get it." They're wrong. Standing in ice-cold water as it pours over time-smoothed rocks, that feeling becomes all too familiar.

While I don't have that feeling in the city, at least I have the rain.

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