They were waiting at the top of the escalator, the men hawking free papers, just a few feet apart, chanting in the key of G, their words muddied by proximity and the echochamber of the subway station. It’s an incantation that reminds me of kneeling at the altar rail in a cold stone cathedral, listening to the tide of overlapping words from the priests offering us communion. It is only when they come very close that you hear what they say: Bodyofchrist, and then, Breadofheaven. But at the top of the escalator, most of the communicants shun the thrusting hands, ducking the papers to slip out the side gate. I follow.
Up on the street, at the corner, two men in suits are handing out New Testaments from a box marked Gideons. No one is taking them either. New York is much more of an Old Testament town, all fire and retribution, not so much forgiveness and reconciliation. I think this as I walk below the scaffolding on the side of my office building and see a metal bin marked in white stenciled letters: PHASE 1 DEMOLITION. And I think that this bin, not much bigger than a shopping cart, is not big enough for a word like “demolition.” I imagine the kind of demolition that would fit in this cart. The demolition of a small closet, perhaps. Or a half bath. Or perhaps the demolition is so complete that it is pressurized into a tiny pile of dust. Before I have a chance to see what the demolition has wrought, a man in a safety orange vest and a white construction helmet steps through a makeshift plywood door and pushes the bin away. It is apparently time for PHASE 2. As he goes, he whistles, a tuneless tune hovering around a G. And I wonder if he’s heard the paper men or if there’s something about the city that suggests a key, a harmonic convergence, a sympathetic vibration. I concentrate on the sound of my own footsteps in a sea of footsteps and slip off the street into the silence of the lobby of my office, a building full of introverts where even people who know each other well frequently don’t speak, where the lights hum in B-flat and some wear headphones all day long to give themselves the illusion that they are really alone. Into another world altogether where silence is golden.