The Little Moron and the Manhole Cover

Marlene Lee

Like the Little Moron of the '40s and '50s who wanted to make a splash on Broadway, I've come to Manhattan. How can I be so ambitious at age sixty? I don't know. It comes naturally. Say I'm a sixty-year-old moron who wants to make a splash, or at least a ripple. I want attention, justification, epiphany, redemption. I want my books published.

So far I haven't splashed on Broadway, but there was an explosion on West End Avenue the other night. The manhole cover in front of my building blew off. It happened at 3:00 a.m. From the sound, it might have been a profoundly life-changing experience, one of those memorable New York moments I'm hoping for. But it was only a natural gas leak. Gas is so much easier to produce than profound personal change.

The emergency vehicles with their sirens and lights aroused no particular interest in the neighborhood. Two night doormen ambled toward the action, but no citizens went out in their pajamas, wild-eyed, to learn what had happened. Though New Yorkers are awfully intense, they're really not worriers. They trust the city to take care of itself.

And so after an hour of noise and lights and no noticeable accomplishment, the big guys in their spectacular vehicles went away and a lone Con Edison truck with two workers, one above ground, one below, worked without being noticed until 7:00 in the morning.

How quietly the work of the world gets done. No sirens or rotating lights. No splashes. Just ordinary individuals doing their jobs. I sat at the window and watched the utility workers, the doormen finishing their shift, until the first strip of sunlight hit the building across the street. And after I'd watched the world above ground for a while, I picked up my pen and went below, metaphorically speaking, to write.

Does Manhattan need another writer? Certainly it does. Another moron? Oh, yes. And it needs another dancer, accountant, utility worker. Another ticket-taker who knows the value of taking tickets. Another delivery person who understands that Manhattan can't exist without deliveries. One more information technologist. One more film-maker. Manhattan will always need one more of everything. That's what makes it Manhattan.

© Marlene Lee

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