Manhattan Transfer/Chapter 12

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VII. Rollercoaster

The leaden twilight weighs on the dry limbs of an old man walking towards Broadway. Round the Nedick's stand at the corner something clicks in his eyes. Broken doll in the ranks of varnished articulated dolls he plods up with drooping head into the seethe and throb into the furnace of beaded lettercut light. "I remember when it was all meadows," he grumbles to the little boy.

Louis EXPRESSO ASSOCIATION, the red letters on the placard jig before Stan's eyes. Annual Dance. Young men and girls going in. Two by two the elephant And the kangaroo. The boom and jangle of an orchestra seeping out through the swinging doors of the hall. Outside it is raining. One more river, O there's one more river to cross. He straightens the lapels of his coat, arranges his mouth soberly, pays two dollars and goes into a big resounding hall hung with red white and blue bunting. Reeling, so he leans for a while against the wall. One more river . . . The dancefloor full of jogging couples rolls like the deck of a ship. The bar is more stable. "Gus McNiel's here," everybody's saying "Good old Gus." Big hands slap broad backs, mouths roar black in red faces. Glasses rise and tip glinting, rise and tip in a dance. A husky beetfaced man with deepset eyes and curly hair limps through the bar leaning on a stick. "How's a boy Gus?"

"Yay dere's de chief."

"Good for old man McNiel come at last."

"Howde do Mr. McNiel?" The bar quiets down.

Gus McNiel waves his stick in the air. "Attaboy fellers, have a good time. . . . Burke ole man set the company up to a drink on me." "Dere's Father Mulvaney wid him too. Good for Father Mulvaney. . . . He's a prince that feller is."

For he's a jolly good fellow
That nobody can deny . . .

Broad backs deferentially hunched follow the slowly pacing group out among the dancers. O the big baboon by the light of the moon is combing his auburn hair. "Wont you dance, please?" The girl turns a white shoulder and walks off.

I am a bachelor and I live all alone
And I work at the weaver's trade. . . .

Stan finds himself singing at his own face in a mirror. One of his eyebrows is joining his hair, the other's an eyelash. . . . "No I'm not bejases I'm a married man. . . . Fight any man who says I'm not a married man and a citizen of City of New York, County of New York, State of New York. . . ." He's standing on a chair making a speech, banging his fist into his hand. "Friends Roooomans and countrymen, lend me five bucks. . . . We come to muzzle Cæsar not to shaaaave him. . . . According to the Constitution of the City of New York, County of New York, State of New York and duly attested and subscribed before a district attorney according to the provisions of the act of July 13th 1888. . . . To hell with the Pope."

"Hey quit dat." "Fellers lets trow dis guy out. . . . He aint one o de boys. . . . Dunno how he got in here. He's drunk as a pissant." Stan jumps with his eyes closed into a thicket of fists. He's slammed in the eye, in the jaw, shoots like out of a gun out into the drizzling cool silent street. Ha ha ha.

For I am a bachelor and I live all alone
And there's one more river to cross
One more river to Jordan
One more river to cross . . .

It was blowing cold in his face and he was sitting on the front of a ferryboat when he came to. His teeth were chattering, he was shivering . . . "I'm having DT's. Who am I? Where am I? City of New York, State of New York. . . . Stanwood Emery age twentytwo occupation student. . . . Pearline Anderson twentyone occupation actress. To hell with her. Gosh I've got fortynine dollars and eight cents and where the hell have I been? And nobody rolled me. Why I havent got the DT's at all. I feel fine, only a little delicate. All I need's a little drink, dont you? Hello, I thought there was somebody here. I guess I'd better shut up."

Fortynine dollars ahanging on the wall
Fortynine dollars ahanging on the wall

Across the zinc water the tall walls, the birchlike cluster of downtown buildings shimmered up the rosy morning like a sound of horns through a chocolatebrown haze. As the boat drew near the buildings densened to a granite mountain split with knifecut canyons. The ferry passed close to a tubby steamer that rode at anchor listing towards Stan so that he could see all the decks. An Ellis Island tug was alongside. A stale smell came from the decks packed with upturned faces like a load of melons. Three gulls wheeled complaining. A gull soared in a spiral, white wings caught the sun, the gull skimmed motionless in whitegold light. The rim of the sun had risen above the plumcolored band of clouds behind East New York. A million windows flashed with light. A rasp and a humming came from the city.

The animals went in two by two
The elephant and the kangaroo
There's one more river to Jordan
One more river to cross

In the whitening light tinfoil gulls wheeled above broken boxes, spoiled cabbageheads, orangerinds heaving slowly between the splintered plank walls, the green spumed under the round bow as the ferry skidding on the tide, gulped the broken water, crashed, slid, settled slowly into the slip. Handwinches whirled with jingle of chains, gates folded upward. Stan stepped across the crack, staggered up the manuresmelling wooden tunnel of the ferryhouse out into the sunny glass and benches of the Battery. He sat down on a bench, clasped his hands round his knees to keep them from shaking so. His mind went on jingling like a mechanical piano.

With bells on her fingers and rings on her toes
Shall ride a white lady upon a great horse
And she shall make mischief wherever she goes . . .

There was Babylon and Nineveh, they were built of brick. Athens was goldmarble columns. Rome was held up on broad arches of rubble. In Constantinople the minarets flame like great candles round the Golden Horn. . . . O there's one more river to cross. Steel glass, tile, concrete will be the materials of the skyscrapers. Crammed on the narrow island the millionwindowed buildings will jut, glittering pyramid on pyramid, white cloudsheads piled above a thunderstorm . . .

And it rained forty days and it rained forty nights
And it didn't stop till Christmas
And the only man who survived the flood
Was longlegged Jack of the Isthmus. . . .

Kerist I wish I was a skyscraper.

The lock spun round in a circle to keep out the key. Dexterously Stan bided his time and caught it. He shot headlong through the open door and down the long hall shouting Pearline into the livingroom. It smelled funny, Pearline's smell, to hell with it. He picked up a chair; the chair wanted to fly, it swung round his head and crashed into the window, the glass shivered and tinkled. He looked out through the window. The street stood up on end. A hookandladder and a fire engine were climbing it licketysplit trailing a droning sirenshriek. Fire fire, pour on water, Scotland's burning. A thousand dollar fire, a hundredthousand dollar fire, a million dollar fire. Skyscrapers go up like flames, in flames, flames. He spun back into the room. The table turned a somersault. The chinacloset jumped on the table. Oak chairs climbed on top to the gas jet. Pour on water, Scotland's burning. Don't like the smell in this place in the City of New York, County of New York, State of New York. He lay on his back on the floor of the revolving kitchen and laughed and laughed. The only man who survived the flood rode a great lady on a white horse. Up in flames, up, up. Kerosene whispered a greasy faced can in the corner of the kitchen. Pour on water. He stood swaying on the crackling upside down chairs on the upside down table. The kerosene licked him with a white cold tongue. He pitched, grabbed the gas jet, the gas jet gave way, he lay in a puddle on his back striking matches, wet wouldn't light. A match spluttered, lit; he held the flame carefully between his hands.

"Oh yes but my husband's awfully ambitious." Pearline was telling the blue gingham lady in the grocery-store. "Likes to have a good time an all that but he's much more ambitious than anybody I every knew. He's goin to get his old man to send us abroad so he can study architecture. He wants to be an architect."

"My that'll be nice for you wont it? A trip like that . . . Anything else miss?" "No I guess I didn't forget anythin. . . . If it was anybody else I'd be worryin about him. I haven't seen him for two days. Had to go and see his dad I guess."

"And you just newly wed too."

"I wouldnt be tellin ye if I thought there was anythin wrong, would I? No he's playin straight all right. . . . Well goodby Mrs. Robinson." She tucked her packages under one arm and swinging her bead bag in the free hand walked down the street. The sun was still warm although there was a tang of fall in the wind. She gave a penny to a blind man cranking the Merry Widow waltz out of a grindorgan. Still she'd better bawl him out a little when he came home, might get to doing it often. She turned into 200th Street. People were looking out of windows, there was a crowd gathering. It was a fire. She sniffed the singed air. It gave her gooseflesh; she loved seeing fires. She hurried. Why it's outside our building. Outside our apartmenthouse. Smoke dense as gunnysacks rolled out of the fifthstory window. She suddenly found herself all atremble. The colored elevatorboy ran up to her. His face was green. "Oh it's in our apartment" she shrieked, "and the furniture just came a week ago. Let me get by." The packages fell from her, a bottle of cream broke on the sidewalk. A policeman stood in her way, she threw herself at him and pounded on the broad blue chest. She couldnt stop shrieking. "That's all right little lady, that's all right," he kept booming in a deep voice. As she beat her head against it she could feel his voice rumbling in his chest. "They're bringing him down, just overcome by smoke that's all, just overcome by smoke."

"O Stanwood my husband," she shrieked. Everything was blacking out. She grabbed at two bright buttons on the policeman's coat and fainted.