★★★★ Haze stained the horizon. A man in a sportshirt sat on a bench with a newspaper in his lap, chin on his chest, apparently dozing. The garbage smell of Prince Street was stronger than ever. Storms were closing in, but as thunder rumbled in the late-afternoon, the menace still seemed theoretical. The west was gray, the east blue, the sky in between unsettled. By Columbus Circle, the light coming down the station stairs was dusk-blue, two and a half hours early. At 72nd Street, it was dark and raining hard, but not too hard to walk through without an umbrella. A pedestrian went sprinting across oncoming traffic, unnecessarily unwilling to wait for the signal. The rain abated to scattered drops, just long enough for the walk home from the store, then came splashing down harder than before. Whitish clouds were moving underneath the inky ones. Lighting flashed again and again. The seven-year-old, counting the interval between light and sound, estimated it was a fifth of a mile off. The show continued all through dinner: starkly defined lightning bolts, an amplified snare-drum roll of thunder, the downpour in the dark. And then, from behind the silhouetted apartment towers, a fiery yellow glow appeared. It spread up the western sky, dispelling the premature night, a sunrise in reverse. Photographs of the sky's colors are always disappointing and inaccurate, and there was no sense even trying now. Everything was in that lambent, elusive register. The lemon yellow went to an orange-chased purple, through improbable intermediate stages, as it gradually stopped spreading. Time flowed its usual way again; the bright fraction of the sky got smaller and more intensely orange. Still there were white slashes of lightning above it.
★★ A house sparrow wallowed on its side in a planter, its gray feathers fluffed and disheveled. The air was institutional plexiglass. Passengers on the platform stepped toward the doorway of a 1 train car and flinched back, feeling the lack of air conditioning. The air conditioning on the B train was working and dripping copiously into the car. Outside, a stagnant patch of shade was no better than direct sun. The heat grew thicker in the streets–nothing extraordinary, just conventionally sweltering. Nowhere was comfortable, even as the sun fell behind the buildings. On the way down Broadway to find gelato, the two-year-old was a squirmy, ever hotter and grumpier burden on the neck and shoulders. The return trip would be by subway: the trains inexplicably late, the station air stupefyingly hot. Dessert was soft in its styrofoam box after one stop.
★★★★ What might have been a rural dream broke to twittering birds in the predawn dimness, the sound carrying up to the 27th floor. Out in the real morning, the clouds were interfering with the sun, and a damp breeze from downtown contended against the heat in a low-intensity pushing match. New tar shone wetly at the edge of a repaired patch in the street. In the afternoon, a line of cloud like a wing stretched along the sky in the west. It was hot up on the roof, but a heat cut by breezes, a fine natural heat, superior by far to the grim air conditioning below. A heat for louvered shades and cross-ventilation, for architectural counterrevolution. Dried red Japanese maple leaves lay curled up in the corner like dead insects. Down in the street, the balance of hot sun and breeze was less favorable. On the way toward the river in the late light, the sidewalk texture was overdefined, while everything higher up was impossible to look at. After sunset, the east and west alike were unobtrusively washed with pink, as was the south, at an avenue crossing. Fireflies seemed possible in the twilight, and then there they were, in the deeper shade by Lincoln Towers, brightening as they floated upward.
★★★★ A little yellowish cumulus was showing in the distance up Columbus Avenue. There were some sort of clouds directly overhead in the overall blue, but it was too bright to look at them. It had taken real resolve to put on sunscreen and get out the door. People in medals and bibs, more motivated people, had already finished their morning exertions and were on their way out of the Park. A blur and a shine lay on the Sheep Meadow. Strollers clustered under the trees; sunbathers dispersed themselves in a slowly accumulating gradient fill. The sun raised damp vegetal fumes out on the open grass. The two-year-old had picked up a stick and he exulted in it all the way across the meadow, till his older brother felt obligated to find one of his own. On the far side, a low white hump of clover rose beside the low gray humps stone pushing through the lawn. A dusty-looking bee worked the blossoms. The bright veins in the rock gleamed like glass. Under the oaks there were plenty of sticks, enough for the two-year-old to start passing them out: "This can be your stick! I found you a stick!" There were sticks for sword-fighting, for jabbing into the mulch, for pointing execution-style, as an imaginary blaster gun, at the head of a blameless little stranger. Here and there also were plastic forks, a puzzle piece, a wooden ice cream paddle stained with chocolate. Two abandoned beer cans showing no visible punctures. Dragonflies passed three or four yards overhead. A white passenger jet, a dark helicopter, and a bunch of lost blue and white balloons went their separate ways at their separate altitudes. Amplified music, hardly more than a throb or squeezing sensation on the air, carried from somewhere out of sight, probably in the east. The shade was cool and filled with a floral scent, a paradisal subset of the available conditions. On the way back, along 67th Street, a dead fledgeling lay stiffly on its side. Sundown brought a descending crescent moon, thin and melon-orange.
★★ The clouds deserved a better day underneath them. They were clean white and voluminous in the morning, with deep blue between them. But the air made for difficult breathing; the Citi Bike rack was full. The clouds continued regardless, all through the day: now showing blazing white edges, now piling textured grays on grays, now sending a cotton-pure scout into an open expanse of uptown sky. They heaped themselves up in the west to escort the sun through its lingering descent, darkening themselves into blues, opening a glowing tunnel mouth lined with gold. A silhouetted airplane passed across them. A pink glory ray went angling upward like a spotlight, and then a hot glow suffused the whole underside of the mass. The tunnel opened wider and filled with chopped gray. Then the lurid lights passed, and what was left was sharp pale patterns like frost prints on a window.
★★★ Plain summer, glaring and bad-smelling. A washed-down stretch of sidewalk under a scaffold stayed wet and made the air around it even more humid. After a few false attempts, the sun finally came on high and hot. A woman stepped out into it and in a few paces shrugged off her suit jacket, indoors and outdoors proving irreconcilable. The heat subsided by late afternoon; children on scooters buzzed the plaza outside the apartment entrance. In the night, flashes of lightning came white through the blinds.
★★★ Variables teetered, rather than striking a balance. Here, in the west, the sky was white; there, in the east, it was blue. There was scaffold shade and cloud shade and sun fading in, or partway in. Humidity made itself felt without being the dominant impression. A man gave himself over to summer with an untucked linen shirt and bouncy linen pants. Suntans were developing, and some had already developed. Toenails were out and done in shiny untrue blues or standard reds. The late afternoon settled into a relatively cool, hazy blue. Street trees tossed their branches. The air in the 1 train car, after the mildness of the platform, clung like a sweat-drenched bedsheet.
★★★★ The atmosphere had lost its refreshing edge, even on the way to the morning school dropoff. A touch of haze discolored the distance and thickened the nearby air, yet from downtown, it somehow didn't diminish the visible skyline. There were so many bicycles on Lafayette it felt unsafe to jaywalk. A bird put enough muscle into singing to be heard over the deep roar of a pavement saw around the corner. The afternoon sky went white, on its way toward light gray. Children left school burdened with bags of collected class papers, cardboard architectural models. Two little girls carried a sideways skyscraper, one at the base and the other supporting the top. Wind blew on Broadway. The sun returned; doubly reflected orange fire filled an east-facing window. The blinds striped the far wall.
★★★★★ "Clouds," the two-year-old said, riding nowhere in particular on adult shoulders. "Sky, sky, sky. Blue sky, blue sky, blue sky." The water in the fountain had gone from chemical blue-green to algal olive-green, with an accompanying algal odor. Loose-edged clouds covered and uncovered the sun. A lean black pigeon walked by on the bricks, its feet pink and claws black. The two-year-old wanted to go to the playground; the seven-year-old wanted to stay put. The compromise was Lincoln Center. Flatware clinked on dishes in the shade of the restaurant on the north edge, under the grass roof. The surface of the black reflecting pool was only a tiny bit ruffled, the wished-on coins at the bottom still distinct dots. The two-year-old peeled off his shoes and socks and went up the grassy steps, charging back and forth along the tipped and elevated lawn. It was a little bit hot out in the openness of it, and all but empty at midday. The grass had a white shine on it, and a chartreuse glow of new growth. Really the children should have been eating lunch already, but the day could not be ignored. The two-year-old scampered down the steps and went running on the plaza, feet slapping the hard surface. Coaxed back into shoes, he made for the artificial grove across the way, the evenly spaced sycamores and sandy gravel, and went scuffling through the heart of it. The shade was narcotic, stunning. People sat in chairs all around the perimeter, to see the sun without being out in it. Lunch would be late, naptime even later, the whole schedule coming off the spool. When the younger child was finally awake again, it was almost time to start cooking dinner, or to abandon the notion of cooking dinner and to get back out into the late day. Off to the playground, then, both children speeding ahead on scooters, the younger curling his back foot up flamingo-wise in ostentatious self-confidence. Later, he would experimentally let go of a swing at the top of its arc, to wrap up the day with a fat lip. Excessive possibilities. A small tree under the big trees caught its own portion of sunlight. The clouds had abandoned the sky. Even waiting indoors for takeout was too much. Better to take a slow walk around the next two blocks. A cool wind eased its way up the avenue. Everyone's hair looked fantastic, alive with subtle textures and shadings. The bricks looked good; the stains and grime on the bricks looked good. The bronze-toned facade of the old OTB parlor, now given over to yoga and herbs, gleamed richly. Even the dull red paint, slathered several stories up to further blank out a blank brick wall, was vibrant, each little broken peeling patch a point of interest. Nothing was gilded or honeyed yet, in the long end of daytime, just each thing saturated with the colors all its own.
★★ Pillows of light gray were piled high against a duvet of darker gray. Off to the northwest was a still darker purple-gray bedskirt. The late push of heat had been a feint. A light rain spotted the metal edge of the curb. An open umbrella–unnecessarily open, and doubly unnecessarily staying that way–blocked the subway stairs with its slow descent. The gray lasted till late afternoon, and abruptly came sunbeams, blue sky, shadows. Early diners sat at white-clothed tables below sidewalk grade. The rain had evidently led people to excuse themselves from picking up dog turds, which had softened in the rain without washing away and were now re-solidifying in flattish discs on the sidewalk. "All ladies' linen jackets, five dollars five dollars," a sidewalk sample-sale barker announced on Broadway. The dinner table was sunny, but afterward, a new heavy gray mass appeared in the west, with an extra smoky darkness hanging down from its far-off northern end. The nearer part, though, was infiltrated by blue and laced with pink. The menace came no closer. At night, the air conditioner was off.