Last night, I had a vision. Not a dream of what America could be, but a clear, sober glimpse at what America is. The glimpse, I think, is rarer than the dream. It came for me, and I went to it. It whispered to me from further up Fifth Avenue, at midnight. It waited for me on a bright corner, where mannequins in vacant windows met sirens and barricades. It seized me and shook me down on the corner of Fifty-Fifth Street, fell me in line with the chainsmokers outside the Peninsula Hotel, balancing on the curb, all of us short on puffing breath.
I saw a man, just across the street, directly in front of me. He was swaddled in cardboard. He shifted onto his side, hugging the edge of the top step of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. He looked as though he’d spent many nights there, though his present discomfort seemed urgent and new. Was it the crowd? Intruders with warm beds waiting at home, encroaching on his? Was he truly settled in, as I assumed? Had he slept there every night for years? Days? Was he even aware of the commotion? Perhaps this was the point in his sleep at which he always turned onto his left side.
I saw police officers and protestors, just across the street from him. They all wore uniforms. Some bore badges, while the others brandished coffee. They were loud but calm in the cold. They spoke, never to one another, but always in the same language. Idle exchange, underlit by handheld screens. The officers checked sports scores, imagining they were somewhere else. The activists took pictures of themselves, imagining they were somewhere essential. I doubted any of them had stood vigil there every night for weeks, or even days. Perhaps this was a point at which they all merely wanted to be on the correct side.
I saw a dark tower, looming over all of them. Glistening glass and gold cutting into a cloudless canopy. The tower was deserted. Its master’s name, scrawled tall in bold bullion, was the only lingering evidence of his presence. I used to grab coffee there whenever I found myself in Midtown on an odd afternoon. Walked through the same lobby as he did. Took the same escalator as he did, seeking an influx of caffeine on the mezzanine. But we never entered the building through the same doors. Even then, his entrance was separate, guarded, gilded. Had he slept there in days? Weeks? How long had it been since he sauntered through the lobby, pleading with the press to capture his good side?
I saw a holy trinity, as I teetered on the curb, stunned by the evening’s first shiver. The things I saw became flat like a painting, aligned like planets, singular but orbiting the same scintillating truth. I could’ve traced, from my fingerless glove, point to point, the plight we’ve plunked ourselves in. Each point pitiful and oblivious. But I could’ve stood there every night for days or weeks and never understood how we arrived at the corner of Fifty-Fifth and Fifth.