YOUNG MAN ON SIXTH
By Mark Halliday (1995)
He was a young man
in the big city. He was a young man in the biggest, the most overwhelming
city-and he was not overwhelmed. For see, he strode across Fifth Avenue
just before the light changed, and his head was up in the sharp New York
wind and he was thriving upon the rock of Manhattan, in 1938. His legs
were long and his legs were strong; there was no question about his legs;
they were unmistakable in their length and strength; they were as bold
and dependable as any American machine, moving him across Fifth just in
time, his brown shoes attaining the sidewalk without any faltering, his
gait unaware of the notion that legs might ever want to rest. Forty-ninth
Street! He walked swiftly through the haste and blare, through the chilly
exclamation points of taxis and trucks and people. He was a man! In America,
'38, New York, two o'clock in the afternoon, sunlight chopping down between
buildings, Forty-ninth Street. And his hair was so dark, almost black,
and it had a natural wave in it recognized as a handsome feature by everyone,
recognized universally, along with his dark blue eyes and strong jaw.
Women saw him, the all had to see him, all the young women had to perceive
him reaching the corner of Forty-ninth and Sixth, and they had to know
he was a candidate. He knew they knew. He knew they knew he would get
some of them, and he moved visibly tall with the tall potential of the
not-finite twentieth-0century getting that would be his inheritance; and
young women who glanced at him on Sixth Avenue knew that he knew. They
felt that they or their sisters would have to take him into account, and
they touched their scarves a little nervously.
He was twenty-five
years old, and this day in 1938 was the present. It was so obviously and
totally the present, so unabashed and even garish with its presentness,
beamingly right there right now like Rita Hayworth, all Sixth Avenue was
in fact at two o'clock a thumping bright Rita Hayworth and the young man
strode south irresistibly. If there was only one thing he knew, crossing
Forty-eighth, it was that this day was the present, out of which uncounted
glories could and must blossom-when?-in 1938, or in 1939, soon, or in
the big brazen decade ahead, in 1940, soon; so he walked with fistfuls
of futures that could happen in all his pockets.
And his wavy hair
was so dark, almost black. And he knew the right restaurants for red roast
beef, not too expensive. And in his head were some sharp ideas about Dreiser,
and Thomas Wolfe, and John O'Hara.
between two buildings (buildings taller even than him) there was an unexpected
zone of deep shade. He paused for half a second, and he shivered for some
reason. Briskly then, briskly he moved ahead.
In the restaurant
on Seventh Avenue he met his friend John for a witty late lunch. Everything
was-the whole lunch was good. It was right. And what they said was both
hilarious and notably well-informed. And then soon he was taking the stairs
two at a time up to an office on Sixth for his interview. The powerful
lady seemed to like his sincerity and the clarity of his eyes-a hard combination
to beat!-and the even more powerful man in charge sized him up and saw
the same things, and he got the job.
That job lasted three
years, then came the War, then another job, then Judy, and the two kids,
and a better job in Baltimore, and those years-those years. And those
years. "Those years"-and the kids went to college with new typewriters.
In the blue chair, with his work on his lapboard, after a pleasant dinner
of macaroni and sausage and salad, he dozed off. Then he was sixty. Sixty?
Then he rode back and forth on trains, Judy became ill, doctors offered
opinions, comas were deceptive, Judy died. But the traffic on Coleytown
Road next morning still moved casually too fast. And in a minute he was
seventy-five and the phone rang with news that witty John of the great
late lunches was dead. The house pulsed with silence.
What? The thing that would have saved-what? Waking in the dark-maybe something
unwritten, that would have made people say "Yes that's why you matter
so much." Ideas about Wolfe. Dreiser. Or some lost point about John
Women see past him
on the street in this pseudo-present and he feels they are so stupid and
walks fierce for a minute but then his shoulders settle closer to his
skeleton with the truth about these women: not especially stupid; only
young. In this pseudo-present he blinks at a glimpse of that young man
on Sixth Avenue-that young man ready to stride across-but a taxi makes
him step back to the curb, he'll have to wait a few more seconds, he can