Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Died and went to Hell

Last night was muggy, too uncomfortable to sleep well. I awoke several times to turn the pillow over to the cool side. At 4:00 I heard the lovely rumble of thunder and soon felt the air turn cooler .. a little bit. The humidity was back by 6:30 when I got up. At the subway entrance too many people were exiting, too many milling around. The word was clear: no downtown service. About once a year a deluge floods the some parts of the subway it comes to a stop. Okay, thought I, I'll be smart and get over to Riverside Drive and get a bus there instead of fighting the B'way crowds. The crowd at Riverside was not too big; but the first bus that stopped had room for only a couple people. The next two buses didn't even stop. The fourth had room for 3 or 4 only. The waiting crowd was growing. Well, okay. I'll walk at least part way, I thought.

Off I went, deciding to follow B/way, and see if there was a place I could get on a bus. At 79th I heard the trains were running again and people were pouring down the stairs. I looked and saw it would be almost impossible to even get on the platform, and it might take a hour to get on a train. Hot, sticky, too many human bodies, insipient claustrophobia. Back up on the street. Walking -- hordes of people walking. Sweating, blessed breezes at a few corners but not along most of the street. Too many people at every bus stop, too many people at every subway entrance/exit. Might as well walk -- get in shape for the vacation hiking. But so humid, sweating, mopping my face with a handkerchief -- this is why I keep a real cotton handkerchief in the bottom of my purse!

Coffee from a vender at 50th and a brief rest on the plaza of a building in the shade. Restored I was ready to brave Times Square -- that is where I began thinking: maybe I died and went to hell. They say you don't always know when you're dead. Could it be? All these crowds of people are also in hell, talking desperately into their cell phones, clumping along, sweat stains on their clothes, faces aglow with sweat. No cursing, no anger, just simple determination to get where they wanted to be. Could be hell. I didn't think anyone could convince me it wasn't. But I finally got to work, foot sore, but SOOO glad for the air conditioning and my bottle of cold water in the refrigerator.

I have had this thought about dying and being in hell once before under somewhat similiar, although more bizarre circumstances. I was in India -- Calcutta [now Kalikut, it's once and current name] Appropriately it was the festival of Kali. I don't know the Bengali word. The heat and humidity, although it was October, was very similar to today here in NYC.

The festival features papier mache statues of Kali and her consort [forgive me, the day has boiled his name right out of my bain] Some statues are extremely horrific, showing the influence of horror movies and comic books. Each neighborhood builds it's own shrine. Kali is a fierce goddess who can be murderous and horrible. She loved her husband, but at a certain time, in the dark of the night she attacked him and he barely escaped alive. The shrines show Kali in full fury with the poor guy under her foot. And these are all over the city.

People I was with went to the part of town where the statues were being made, most were finished, some were being painted, some where being hauled on carts or trucks to the shrine for which they were intended. There were many, many people, the sun shone hotly through a haze and the sweat trickled down behind my ears and off my forehead into my eyes. I remember thinking, I must have died and went to hell. This simply has to be hell! I cannot explain why I look relatively calm in the photo. Maybe I would have looked ten years older but equally calm today, like the other hordes of New Yorkers, accepting the infrastructure malfunction of which I had no control, resorting to my two trusty feet.

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