Gabe's Reviews > The Colossus of New York

The Colossus of New York by Colson Whitehead
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's review
Dec 30, 2011

really liked it
Read in December, 2011

When I read a book, I underline lines I like. Here are all the lines I underlined, mashed together:

You are a New Yorker when what was there before is more real and solid than what is here now. Somewhere in that fantastic, glorious mess was the address on the piece of paper. The only skyscrapers visible from your stroller were the legs of adults but you got to know the ground pretty well and started to wonder why some sidewalks sparkle at certain angles, and others don't. The city knows you better than any living person because it has seen you when you are alone. They are the caretakers of your reinventions. New York City does not hold our former selves against us. Perhaps we can extend the same courtesy. It contains your neighborhoods. Or doesn't We overlap. Or don't. They're all broken somehow, sagging down the stairs of the bus. Otherwise they would have come here differently. He is unaware that his duffel hits each person on the head as he passes. That is surely a wig two rows up. They try out new positions for their legs. Each new combination of limbs might be the one that unlocks the vault of comfort and then sleep. Instead, parts that don't matter fall asleep before their brains. legs, feet. As they cross state lines, license plates change colors. Thank God for the white detachable headrest slip-covers, an invention that saves us from germs. Fro ten miles of interstate a man inspects his face in the bathroom mirror. Is he actually going to start fresh in a new place with that face of his. If you can endure the verdict of the fluorescent lighting the city will be no problem. She will be stylish there. No one will know the nickname that makes him mad. This is the right decision, they tell themselves. In effect, no matter what time of day it is, everyone arrives at the same time, in the same weather. While you were safe in here the world may have lost its way. Take your eyes off this city and it will play tricks. We could all use a handy computer graphic and earnest newscaster and ominous tagline for this new phase of our lives, yet no technicians scramble to produce it. Check the weather: there's a little cartoon sun over a region you don't inhabit. So nice to wake to your spouse's hip but then remember last night's disagreement and decide you are still angry. We take our places. But for once it is nice to be free of politeness. Button the top button you save for emergencies. The snow is already shamed and grimed: five minutes is all it takes for this city to break you. A motley crew waits for transportation. Leave the house fifteen minutes later or earlier and join a different cast of characters. Seeing the particular awning through the bus window that announces he is almost there. Mornings will kill you with their trapdoors. This wind will mug you of everything, make you look ridiculous as you try to maintain. The same greetings to each customer. His entire shipment of coffee lids is defective, irritating customers one by one. Notice your first wrinkle, it made you late in front of the bathroom sink. After work and before sleep you let your true self out for a few hours and now you must pay for it. If you don't plan ahead, who will you be. All of them have things waiting to come out through their skins. Hide a toy in your pocket. He's not supposed to take it to school, but who can dispute the power of cereal box talismans. One after the other the long days stretch ahead until the day you decide. Not today. Maybe tomorrow. Take five seconds to collect yourself starting now. Then back to work everybody and I mean it. Whole possibilities canceled by this first mistake. Every evening walking the same path to the same tree, just to make sure it is still there. A man and woman pose on opposite benches, taking turns catching each other looking. Some ducks. He's definitely wearing the wrong shoes. Smile, everybody, smile. What are you thinking about. Dead men dynamited rock to undo glacial handiwork but holdout boulders remain, unwilling to part with the deeds. Climbing across them children find themselves on the moon. The tree he and his brother used to climb is no longer so tall and kids since have snapped off the branches they made rungs. He climbs up anyway Thirteen stitches. Mistakes have been made in the area of shorts. Years from now she will see her photograph in a gallery and wonder why she was crying. He is the king of the playground thanks to his hormonal problem. Their family looks happier than yours. For whole minutes it is as if you live somewhere else than where you do. And what is that like. Like there are other choices. It never happened. Except her on that bench. She stretches her arms. What a nice day. It is hard to escape the suspicion that your train just left, the last squeal of your train drained away the moment you reach the platform, and if you had acted differently everything would be better. You should have left sooner, primped less. Reconsiderations: taking a cab, grabbing a bus, hoofing it. No, it's too far and the train is coming. It must be coming. Why else would you stand there. From his secret booth the announcer scares and reassures alternately. Look down the tunnel one more time and your behavior will describe a psychiatric disorder. Halfway to the interview she notices two typos in her resume. People examine the scuff marks on their shoes when he walks by with his cup. But sometimes the lights go out and what do you do then with all these monsters beside you. Out on the street they hardly notice the clouds before it starts raining. It finds the nape of your neck easily. The long list of errands shrinks into what people can do in the least amount of water. Now no one will suspect she has been crying. Is this the end of their love. Tonight the bunched balls of his socks will dry and stiffen into dingy fists, and roll under the bureau, where they will hide for months and foment. All our vain gestures. Identical twins wear identical yellow slickers, out of which identical noses poke. What's this in the raincoat pocket. Apparently the last time it rained he saw a romantic comedy. Once the engine is off they can make out the rain's true incantation on the roof of the car. It stops. From the river you can see the clouds haunch over adjacent boroughs. Bleak fathoms. But what kind of equations emerge from such uneven terms. People try to make other people's babies smile as they wait for the light to change. See that the last time he walked this block he was tipsy or in love. From gutters, rats exclaim in gutter chorus; life is an argument with the world over time. If anyone were listening it'd be worth the breath. He receives word of a remarkable new treatment or other indispensable thing. Lacking a pen he tries to memorize the phone number, repeating it to himself in a singsong way until more vulgar ditties shoulder it aside, bassoon of buses rumbling to beat the light, high-heel castanets on cement, and soon all he has is two digits left and his own lost cause. What they will find under their feet will not be pavement but something shiftier. All tomorrow's sunburns gather in wait. Try to remember your personal formula for comfort on a beach, the whole towel thing. Sizzle on the griddle. Can you do my back. The number of house keys lost this day will fall within the daily average of lost house keys. Ripping little shreds of comfort from an afternoon. Here are some places sand gets into: eyes, sandwiches, shoes, under beds, scalps, carpets, car floors. Crotches and brainstems and decision-making places. Kids with pails move this bunch of sand from here to there to undo the secret design of tides. Aeons in the making and now it's all ruined. Rule is, violence on purpose and beauty by accident. Depressing mechanical regularity. Close your eyes. That wasn't so bad now, was it. Events a thousand miles away find their final meaning in these gentle little consequences begging at the shore. Look at this pretty shell. Don't blink or else you'll miss it--that father's annual display of affection toward his son. They keep to themselves the odd feelings brought on by the novelty of a horizon after so many horizonless days. Cherish the fear in loose bolts, statistical inevitabilities. Swayed by their own fictions. If you have no philosophy one will be appointed you. Remembering that disappointed feeling she gets each time she reaches the other side, then feeling that disappointed feeling. People huddle into elevators and ride down into in-betweenness, into the space between work and home that is a kind of dreaming: it's where they go to make sense of what just happened so they can go a little farther. Walk in the shadow of subconscious. And inevitably all who see it extract the wrong morals from the stories. In buildings comprised of other buildings' discarded thirteenth floors, sinister transactions unfold. When discovered, he will offer no excuse for wearing women's underpants. The wind tunnel round this building finally alerts him that his fly has been open for hours. Such curious rituals fill their days. Everyone else's good fortune is food out of your mouth or a hug you never got from someone who should have loved you better. Do public monies actually go to support the conception execution and installation of that hideous public art. The day waters down indignity with frustration to make it last longer. Everyone thinks they are more deserving, everyone thinks their day has been harder than everyone else's, and everyone is correct. Like the best storms, rush hour starts out as a slight drizzle, then becomes unholy deluge. They meet here every day at this time to hold hands and whisper. Did you remember to save enough energy for one last sprint. What are skinned knees compared to what is in store. Sleep the sleep of the successful because somehow you made it through the day without anyone finding out that you are a complete fraud. Twilight is a mask factory. He overhears his words coming out of someone else's mouth and wishes his complaints were not so common. Pace yourself. Things are just getting started. What do you feel like doing. Seething over appetizers, they save it up for home so they don't fight in the restaurant. It's nice to have an activity or hobby you can share with your spouse. These two have decided on spite and it has brought them closer together. They eat here once a month but something about this meal makes them realize things haven't worked out for a while now and they'll never return. By the time you return the party will have aligned in your favor. Planting this rumor is harder than it first looked. For the last half hour she has been trying to gain converts to grudges but no luck. Wow, this crappy performance art is really making me feel not so terrible about my various emotional issues. Hour by hour the customers change, grow humps horns scales. He made too many plans with too many people and things will not turn out okay. People are up to no good in there. She has been following him for twenty blocks and he still hasn't noticed. One by one we are becoming unrecognizable. Not a third of the way to the punchline it's clear the joke is going to bomb. He confesses his love when the room momentarily clears. Suddenly realizing that you're talking awfully close. Everybody else seems to have left and what does that mean. The true enemy is not the world's disdain but its indifference. What they take for her air of mystery is merely a side effect of her medication. None of them have commented on her engagement ring so she knocks everybody's drinks over. Reach inside to muzzle the broken part of you that is now talking. They don't want to go home. What is there to say as you pass the humble places that helped you in ways you cannot understand. That persistent problem of scale. The parts she gets offered nowadays mother the ingenues she used to play. Divert all the energy rushing into this place to power your subconscious. It would probably look like this. The cancan girls are on penicillin. Why should anyone else have it easy.
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message 1: by Eugene (new) - added it

Eugene Harrogate Get a life, dude.

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