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New York City, July 28, 2014

★★★★ Morning brightened and darkened again. The boys dozed in their bunks in the dimness. North and south above the river were gray, rippling clouds, but overhead the ripples had become blue rifts, and the sun momentarily shone. The gray was darkening again when the seven-year-old got up and out. There was a chilly gust, then warm thick stillness. Down by Columbus Circle, the sun found another opening, raising a mirror-brightness from the windows on Central Park South. The train platforms were hot and noxious; a rush of sweltering air overpowered the air conditioning when the B train car opened its doors at Herald Square. Downtown, the sun was all the way out, shining down the subway steps—and then, in the span of the stroll to the office, the clouds took over. The back and forth continued out the windows till by afternoon it had resolved, emphatically, in the sun's favor. Busy breezes plied the streets. A lone helicopter hovered against white puffs a few blocks above Houston. Up in the 60s again, the breeze bent back the plants on the Broadway median. Each tossing leaf in the middle distance stood out in the sharpened light. The smell of garbage on the fresh air betokened simply a garbage truck, right there at the curb, loading garbage. In the dusk, the two-year-old's tennis-ball-green shirt glimmered as he took the plaza steps at one assisted bound, racing for the waiting ice cream truck. Airplane lights glowed warmly at all heights and distances, a swarm of manmade Venuses, and the clouds were white against the darkened blue. 

New York City, July 27, 2014

★★★ The day arrived so gray that being rained on seemed inevitable. No sooner had that resignation set in, though, than the sun came, for just long enough to be encouraging. Stepping out into humidity was like walking into a wall, but when the breeze came, it was cool. From the Midtown luxury terrace outside the birthday party, the sky had settled into a noncommittal and featureless gray. The two-year-old never even tried to venture outdoors into it. By the afternoon, sun returned, and the clouds took on individual shapes, though a brothy haze lingered for a while in the spaces between them. It was hot on the avenue in the reconstituted sunlight. Cars draped with keffiyehs and protest photos were separated from one another by a stoplight and surrounded by apolitical traffic. The two-year-old rode on shoulders, bound for the playground, brandishing the blue balloon scimitar he'd acquired from the party clown. The humidity had ebbed; the space between clouds had been clarified. Light rebounded off the white-brick condo tower and sparkled in tears, once the blue blade had been stepped on and popped. 

New York City, July 24, 2014

★★★★★ The rain had washed away the haze, though if it had done anything even briefly about the garbage, the smell had already regenerated. Sex parts drifted down from the honeylocust trees. The clouds overhead were a smooth filter on the sun; off in the east, they stood out darker and individual. The temperature was uncannily mild and relaxing, a waking dream state. Outside a bodega, a sturdy man tried a pogo stick, not at all competently, the spring groaning. The late day brightened up in all directions. An gorgeously ordinary tree flared green against an opulently ordinary brick wall. Uptown, pigeons divided a chicken tender among themselves on the Broadway sidewalk. The seven-year-old retrieved a penny from their midst. The clouds piled up gray-blue in the west, where the descending sun could and did spray and pour and splash colors over them, ending with a pink rind along the cloud tops. Sleep arrived with a breeze through the opened bedroom window, under a ruddy night sky. 

New York City, July 23, 2014

★★★ Garbage was invisibly in bloom on 3rd Street; a sanitation truck weaved from curb to curb, through the rot-laden air. The small patches of sun were already challenging. But the clouds were surprisingly good-looking, small and loose cumulus on clean blue, and they were even more surprisingly effective against the early sun. A man sat in the little fenced yard off Prince Street and watched the passing foot traffic, the sunbeam behind his amber sunglass lenses calling more attention to his gaze than if his eyes had been uncovered. Up on the roof, out of the air conditioning, the heat was therapeutic, the brightness overwhelming in a soothing way. The afternoon sidewalks were glazed with filth, the pale ornamented face of the Bayard Building drenched in light. Out on the open pavement, the heat was baking. The west seemed to be darkening. Clouds assumed more threatening configurations for a while, but the threat held off. Then, at bath time, it arrived, with thunder that sounded throughout the apartment and rain washing down the avenue. The lightning was strobe-intense, enough to briefly stun the eye. More high and distant flashes lit the clouds lavender. Sirens and the beeping of snarled traffic joined the rumbling. A bolt appeared reflected in the eastern face of the glass apartment tower, its jaggedness overlaid with ripples. 

New York City, July 22, 2014

★ It was still cool in the morning, though with an undercurrent of dread at where the humidity might be taking things. At the far end of the West Fourth basketball court, a lone figure shot free throws. The oncoming sun, clearing the buildings, found haze on the air and greenish dust on the parked cars. A pale scrap of a butterfly, with black-tipped wings, bobbed out over the sidewalk and into a fenced-off bed of weeds. Cornering out of the shade of Broadway into Houston was like stepping into a sluggish river and beginning to wade upstream. But the struggle passed. Midday approached and the sky showed brown around the edges, but it was still comfortable up on the roof. Down on the streets at lunchtime, the shade continued to offer refuge. The Ukrainian church and the firehouse beside it had their doors open, offering a glimpse of the showpieces in their high dim interiors. Elderly shoppers paused to marvel at a white Mustang with red-and-white seats, parked with its top down. On through the afternoon, whenever the heat threatened, clouds kept intervening.

New York City, July 21, 2014

★ There was a little light in the sky when the artificial voice built into the portable speaker began announcing, loudly and repeatedly, that its battery was dying. There was full daylight when the alarm went off. Despite the promises on the front page of the newspaper, the air was damp, as if it had rolled in with the morning tide and up the island. Children were out wearing camp t-shirts or packing tennis rackets or dressed in dance clothes. Two sparrows had a dogfight in the air over the mouth of the West Fourth Street station steps, sending a feather pinwheeling down and away from them to the sidewalk. In the back room of the bar, the chess tables were still being set up. Further east on Third Street, sheets of sycamore bark lay in the planting beds and on the pavement and draped in the tops of the shrubs. The upper branches were bare waxy yellow. Out of the shade, the sky was full of glare. Clouds covered the midday sun for a moment, then let the shadows fade in again. The sky to the south was yellowish. In the later afternoon, pedestrians on Broadway were sluggish even as a sprightly breeze passed them. The room around the chessboards was still; the chess-campers were lingering somewhere out of doors. They returned at last in their own matching orange shirts, a bright file in the late sun. 

New York City, July 20, 2014

★ Bubbles drifted west on 68th Street in the sunshine. Wheeled conveyances were everywhere: scooters, bicycles, strollers, a wheeled walker. The two-year-old weaved upstream on his scooter through an oncoming line of them. He rolled expectantly up to the fence of the playground, missing the gate, looking over his shoulder at a pony-sized Parks Department garbage truck. Two games of frisbee were going on in the open schoolyard, and a boy in an Eli Manning jersey was place-kicking a football off a tee into the fence. There was humidity on the air, but still it was cool. After the playground and a long, sunny uphill, hot vapor was rising through the vent holes in the crash helmet. He woke from a nap with his head drenched in sweat, the pillow puddled with it. Down the river, in a bleary haze, a cruise ship was slowly heading off. Toward the day's end, the humidity was gone, the sky cloudless, the air near crispness. It was a little chilly for shorts, though it would have been ludicrous to call that discomfort. The sun was still warm on the nape of the neck, even on the rebound from windows on the far side of Columbus and Broadway. Ugly steel balcony railings looked like smoked glass. Groups had formed discussion circles on the edge of the artificial grove at Lincoln Center; one participant, in a surfeit of abandon, was stretched out prone on the hard pavement. The western sky at dinnertime had one swath of tiny clouds in it, strewn like barely cracked peppercorns. The sun had declined enough now that the two-year-old could no longer object to it shining in his face at the table, though if he fidgeted far enough back in his chair, he could play with his silhouette and complain or marvel that it had no eyes. 

New York City, July 17, 2014

★ Unbelievable breezes flowed though the clear, sparkling morning and in the open windows. The breeze blew down Lafayette in cool cloud shade, blew across Prince in the returning sunlight. Mothers wore jean shorts; men rolled trousers to show socks or ankles. Some gray gathered over Lower Manhattan, then–were there wet spots on the fire escape? If there were, they were gone soon enough, the whole interlude merely a reminder not to take this for granted. It would take more than that to ruin the day. It would take knives falling from the heavens. Now there was nothing in the sky but firm, well-spaced cumulus clouds. The downtown skyline shone. Uptown, the breeze yanked and shook shirttails, hemlines, pants cuffs. It flipped a necktie. Late sun passed right through banks of windows, bounced off other banks of windows. A concrete facade lit up like a lampshade. The breeze raised the river into dark blue ruffles, and the sun lit the stern of a boat cutting through those ruffles, leaving a smooth, brighter wake behind. 

New York City, July 16, 2014

★★★★★ It was cool, utterly cool, under the gray morning. Was it getting brighter? Someone's mirrored shades, approaching up the street, looked suddenly agleam. Downtown, a fresh wind was blowing down the subway steps. The puddle around the blocked drain on the landing, days old now, had dwindled by maybe half. There were white shoe prints in the black silt layer at the bottom. A cyclist pulled out into the bike lane on Lafayette without looking, forcing an oncoming rider on a Citi Bike to swerve and exclaim. The air felt nice on bare arms, in short sleeves. One's own skin was skin, after all, with live nerves in it, something more than a thermoregulating membrane or a layer of waterproofing. By afternoon, the sun was out and shining down. Different cloud types overlayered one another, and warm eddies chased after cool ones. People played music out their car windows at a sociopathically solipsistic volume, the beats forcing their way through the crowded sidewalks, carrying around the corner and up the block. The dining hubbub at open-air tables reached restaurant-interior levels. During the walk home, the colors in the west seemed unusually dull and ugly, gray and a bleached dead off-yellow. From the apartment window, though, the tinted monochrome clouds had something going on with them after all, a photographic-plate quality, a bright amber-white scribble along the top of an undulating row of connected dark gray puffs, with more of that hot white coming up on their lower edge. Subtly, the white burned into the gray, veining it and then shredding it, and an orange light started burning up from below. Even as this developed, the sky a few handspans higher up remained pure indifferent daytime blue, with a milk-white contrail stretching fat and persistent across it and white cirrus above that, a swath of some other sky altogether. Between the high and the low a gray veil darkened into view, like the smoke of something dirty burning. Then the sun got into the gray and raised bright ripples on it, while the lower clouds darkened to inky cutouts. The smoky veil turned brilliant pink. Below it, along the horizon, ran a whole field of fine parallel lines of magenta and orange, with still some sky-blue lines running among them. Abruptly, the veil went dark again. Hot-coal reds showed behind it, and the stripes on the sky were now pink and purple. Then the brightness was gone, yet in the dull afterlight, the blankly silhouetted clouds were three-dimensional again, shaded and textured by a barely luminous brown.

New York City, July 15, 2014

★ Sweltering humidity at its purest, unboosted by any overt solar heat. For once, and briefly, it was worth stepping into the office air conditioning, after the airless stairwell. Then the monstrous chill regained its monstrousness. The outside darkened. Mobile phones whined en masse, if not in perfect synchrony, with arriving flash-flood warnings. Suddenly and quietly a solid downpour was falling–and then came a loud growl of thunder, then a sharp clap of it, then a long sustained boom. Another boom followed, sounding very specifically overhead. The street-side windows were white with rain. A roll and a crash; a roll that turned into a crash. Ten minutes went by, fifteen. The booming abated and the rain became an ordinary steady rain. The sky stayed dark, and it was noticeably cooler. The rain stopped long enough for the fire escape to dry out, then fell again on the evening commute. Once more it stopped, then, with three evenly spaced shell-bursts of thunder, returned for an indefinite soaking.