The Brooklyn Promenade

After the game I took the bottle onto the balcony. I had a seat on a canvas chair and looked out on the Brooklyn Promenade. There’s almost nothing better than the Promenade and its walkers, benchwarmers, and late-night lovemakers to further estrange you from a Friday night. I poured a drink and toasted them. I toasted the whole city. “Here’s to your picnics and suntans,” I said. I looked at the Manhattan skyline, that luminous glow just across the river. People were still hard at work. “Here’s to your war rooms and coronaries,” I toasted the people inside that honeycomb of industry. “Here’s to your dress socks and divorce papers.” I had a toast for practically everyone that night. “To you, young couple overlooking the river,” I said, “here’s to your frittatas and sex tapes.” “To you, picture taker with the endless flash,” I said, “here’s to your personal-brand maintenance with every uploaded image.” “To you, beautiful youth, wasting your life behind your me-machine,” I said, “here’s to your echo chamber and reflecting pool.” I toasted them all. I drank and toasted. “To you, Yankees fan with the Jeter shirt,” I said, “here’s to your aftershaves and rape acquittals.” I poured and I drank. “To you, corporate citizen, failing to bag up your Pomeranian’s warm shit,” I said, “and to all your fellow derivatives traders and quant douche bags: here’s to your anonymous faces and unlisted numbers,” I said. “Here’s to your sinking of America, you scumbags. May you end up in cold cells where rats go to die.” “Here’s to you, Mrs. Convoy,” I said, “here’s to your catechisms and your turtlenecks.” “Here’s to you, Abby. Thanks for the notice. Good luck on your new opportunities.” “And here’s to you, Connie. Here’s to your poet, your Ben, and all your future smiling babies of life.” I didn’t toast Uncle Stuart. I tried not to think of him, or of Mirav or Grant Arthur. I was drinking, and toasting, to forget. I continued in this vein until I had only enough toast left for one last drink. “And to you,” I said, “asshole on the balcony, here’s to your curried flatulence and your valid fears of autoerotic asphyxiation. Here’s to your longing, your longing for the company of others, and all your bighearted efforts to secure it. Cheers,” I said. I toasted myself and drank. I must have been saying much of this aloud, as a neighbor of mine, standing on her balcony, was peering over at me. I toasted her. She went inside. I was done with the bottle, I was done toasting and drinking. For a long time thereafter I stared almost steadily at the bright and ostentatious VERIZON sign on top of one of the tallest buildings—the only branded skyscraper in Manhattan, a fucking blight marring the skyline—and I thought, Why couldn’t those cunts have flown into that building? Then I passed out, and when I woke, there was nobody, I mean absolutely nobody, out on the Promenade. I searched and searched, I waited and waited. Surely someone would walk by any minute now. But no one did.
What terrifying hour was this, and why was I made to wake to it? Where were they, the strangers I had just been toasting? Never before had the Promenade emptied out so entirely, so finally, and instead of the familiar, noisy, peopled landmark of one of the biggest cities on earth, where you are promised never to be alone, it seemed now like a colony on the moon floating in an eternal night, with me as its only inhabitant. All of this hit me literally within the first second or two of waking up, and that moment was unbearable. I felt so forgotten, so passed over, so left behind, so lost out. I was sure not only that everything worth doing had already been done while I was asleep but also that, now that I was awake, there was no longer anything worth doing. The solution at desperate moments like this was always to find something to do, and I mean anything, as quickly as possible. My first instinct was to reach for my me-machine. It put me in instant touch, it gave me instant purpose. Maybe Connie had called or texted or emailed, or Mercer, or… but no. No one had called or emailed or texted. I would do practically anything, I thought, to have them back—I mean the strollers and lovers of a few hours earlier, so that I might have another chance to stroll alongside them, to look out in wonder at the skyline, to lick carefully at the edges of my ice cream, and, after a while, to leave the Promenade, off to bed for a good night’s sleep—or to that one vital thing among the city’s offerings that night, that one unmissable thing that makes staying up all night a treasure and not a terror—and then to rise again at a decent hour, to walk the Promenade in the light of a new morning, eating a little pastry for breakfast and having coffee on one of the benches while looking out at the brightened waters. Oh, come back, you people lost to darkness! Come back, you ghosts. The day is hard enough. Don’t leave me alone with the night. Finally I was able to move. I sat up in the chair and listened. There was the hum of the river, and the island across the river, and the last desultory traffic of the night washing by on the expressway below. I can only suggest the effect it had on me, that is, the feeling that my life, and the city’s, and the world’s every carefree, winsome hour, were perfectly without meaning.

Joshua Ferris, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (May 13, 2014).

Photo by Andrew McDaniel, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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