<IMG SRC="flash/adagio6.gif" WIDTH=550 HEIGHT=400 BORDER=0>


Dennis talks, pacing back and forth in my living room like a caged beast. A freshly captured caged beast, whose eyes have not yet grown weary of the passing view of lacy spider webs festooning my walls. His arms wave about, shattering the dreamy peace of dust motes. A beefy hand battles his unruly shock of red hair. He talks and crows. He laughs. He turns and talks, punching the air with his index finger as if pointing at various urban menaces to ward them off. He eats lasagna standing up, guzzles it down with coffee. And talks.

"Women's lib. What does that mean? We have to sleep on the wet spot now? It's not a war between the sexes, it's just sharp trading. Like real estate, mastering the art of selling you less than you want for more than you're willing to pay."

I believe the Statue of Liberty must've hurled him here. She set down her burning torch on the greasy waters of the harbor, slipped out of her copper toga and picked Dennis off the deck of a Staten Island ferry. Her knees bent just so, her buff body coiled like a discus thrower, she began spinning. When she was spinning fast enough, her steely fingers let go. This cross-country lob theory is the only one that satisfactorily explains why Dennis is still spinning.

In any event, now that he's ventured into the wastelands west of the Hudson, my sanity requires that I slow him down, convince him that adagio is also a respectable tempo. Even a stately andante would be a relief. Anything but this cosmopolitan prestissimo, this neon jitterbug busier than a Bach fugue.

"If you're going to dance at all, I'm telling you, dance 'til your toes bleed, so it means something."

Every region of the nation probably has its own unique method for slowing down visiting New Yorkers. In the Deep South, in the whistle-stop town where my Uncle Royal is sheriff and barber, old men sit on the steps in the shade of the barbershop awning in the summer. At least once a day they call out the name of a state. Minnesota it might be, or New Hampshire. Illinois. Someone with license plates from those parts has taken a wrong turn and is wheeling down Main Street, stirring the dust. No matter how fast the vehicle is going, it's too fast for this lazy drawl of shotgun houses sighing in the heat.

Royal lays down his scissors and comb, maybe his razor. He glances at the list of states posted beside the mirror. Next to the name of each state is a price. Oregon and North Dakota are the cheapest, a mere five bucks. New York, at fifty, is the most expensive. The list is weathered, a relic from the good old days when there were only forty-eight stars on the flag to worry about. Not that it matters much, since nobody in town has ever laid eyes on a sedan from Hawaii or Alaska. None of the prices has been scratched out. The original numbers scrawled on the document when it was posted to the wall are still there. Inflation and civilization, which seem to toddle hand-in-hand down the primrose path of development, have both bypassed the sleepy hamlet.

Royal takes off his green barber's apron, tugs on his white Stetson with its silver badge, fidgets his sunglasses into place and excuses himself. He ambles out to a Ford parked next to an old cat's-eye pump at the gas station, sticks the magnetic red flashing gumball on the roof and guns the engine, burning about a dozen condoms' worth of rubber as he peels out onto the road, in hot pursuit of the invader. When he catches up, he'll stop whistling Dixie. He'll bare his teeth and his ticket book, and take a bite out of a fat wallet.

"The worst day of my life, snow pelting my face all along Bleecker Street and sifting in over the tops of my shoes and melting, and I run into this guy I floated a loan from months ago, all white with snow like a ghost," cuts in Dennis. "Can you believe it? What're the chances you'll bump into him like that at five in the morning, when it's snowing? On your thirtieth birthday! So I cut down an alley and headed for the subway stop at Sheridan Square."

I have no hat, no badge, no flasher, siren or shades. There are no old men with internal radar sitting on my steps, clocking every outsider at presto, no sheriff with a spot of pomade smeared on his collar. In this region of the country, well west of the Mason-Dixon Line, all we can do is get our New Yorkers outside somehow, away from our walls, which seem to be closing in on us. We can walk them down to the shore, where the wind comes to grind its teeth when it's troubled, or lonely. We can lead them on a foray into the forest. Butterflies that live but a day will watch us. Fast as a New Yorker may be going, to the cabbage whites flitting past, the urban biped must seem as slow, as ancient, as an ambulatory redwood or a strangely mobile Etruscan sarcophagus.

"No, we don't need folding chairs," I say to Dennis, hustling him out the door. "We don't need big umbrellas, beer in a cooler, towels, money. We're going to Jughandle Beach, not Coney Island."

Along the way, I hear about the subway station, the steps slippery with slush. A guy could break his neck there. Dennis hopped on the first car of an express and headed Uptown. A couple of local stops flashed past, then people started rushing into the car, yelling and screaming Fire! above the roar of the train hurtling down the tunnel, its wheels screeching in agony.

I pick Dennis a few ripe blackberries. He crams them into his mouth. His Adam's apple, big as the boxy business end of a socket wrench, bobs up and down as he gulps them.

"Then smoke came floating through the doors," exclaims Dennis, building up to a crescendo. "The train was on fire! You could see the flames a few cars back, licking the graffiti off the walls."

The loud pounding of the sea reaches us at the fork in the path above Jughandle Beach. The main trail leads down to white sand, to coves where mussels manage to cling, against all odds, to the wave-beaten rocks. The other leads up onto the shelf of wooded land the sea shoved forth out of its depths in the days of stegosaurs.

"Yeah," says Dennis of the sea, "it sounds kind of like the Jersey Pike. Or the Triborough Bridge from an apartment up in Spanish Harlem. At midday maybe, except for no horns."

I choose the other trail. I don't want him to feel too much at home. I nudge him upwards, through the shade of Douglas fir and tanbarks, and into the filtered sunlight lolling on the slick green leaves of young madrones. We happen across a Calypso orchid growing in mulch, among a small patch of adventitious shoots sprouting from a toppled redwood sapling. It strikes me that the tiny flower is every bit as alive as a towering redwood. As alive, in fact, as all the rest of the living things in the world put together. Perhaps the secret to adagio resides in the slow and colorful unfolding of its petals. I pass the thought on to Dennis.

"Interesting," he says.

And then Dennis ran up to the front of the car and began banging on the door to the metal cubicle where the motorman sits, guiding the subway cars along the tracks. After about fifty bangs, the door finally opened. The man inside was handsome, natty in his spotless uniform. His face was weary, but not unkind.

"The train's on fire!" Dennis shouts at me, though I'm obviously a far cry from any spruce motormen on the IRT.

"And you know what the guy answers? 'So what d'ya want me to do about it?' he says, with one of those tired shrugs, like he's been carrying all of Flatbush around on his shoulders since he was born or somethin'. 'Piss on it?' I mean, is that New York, or what?"