New York Tales from Curious Borough Dwellers

019 : Denise Reich at the Unisphere, Queens
Born the late 1970s in Italy, but grew up in New York. Denise Reich currently works as a freelance writer. Why New York? She was born into it. She digs the following Gotham bits: Public transport 24/7, pizza, the Temple of Dendur, the Village Halloween Parade and Coney Island at night. She is, however, a bit miffed by crowds, crowds everywhere and not enough sidewalks, gentrification and overdevelopment, hipsters, poor air quality and (don't kill her, she asks) the Yankees. For more info on Denise Reich you should visit Denise in the World.

“I clutch the rusting, peeling hulk of the globe and hang on tight.”

“Come down,” they coax. Steven and Nick, all of nine and seven years old, are rolling their eyes at me. They’ve already clambered up and back down again like miniature mountain goats. “Just put your foot there. No, there. You’re not even listening!” I shrink back.

“Damn it, we don’t have time for this,” my mother storms, pacing back and forth. “Get down here.”

I don’t say anything. I don’t move. I simply clutch the rusting, peeling hulk of the globe and hang on tight.

The park is in such a state of decay that the fountains at the base of the Unisphere[1] have been switched off, and the pool, which normally serves as a protective moat, has run dry in the July heat. We’d stepped easily over the shin-high barrier and run in.

We embrace the world. It becomes our personal jungle gym. We shimmy up the base, run around the concave curve and wave. The boys jump down after a few minutes, but my feet grow roots in the steel. I simply stop.

“Come down!” my mother snaps. The boys snicker behind their hands. They’re not even real New Yorkers, they’re just visiting friends, and they have quite an attitude.

I’m not afraid. I like heights. I’m frozen, fixed in place like the taut cables that support the structure from the inside out. The brushed steel of Africa reflects the sun and makes me squint, even in the ample shade.

I am twelve years old, I will be starting the 8th grade in eight weeks, and I am tired. I haven’t eaten since last night, and when I look straight up I’m dizzy. The interior of the globe is as hollow as the open anorexic space below my ribs. We’re both fraying and exhausted. 

I sit down on the base and dangle my feet over the edge, dipping my toes into the air. Nick points at a spot somewhere below my heel. “Look, the step is right there.” I remain motionless, and the quartet below me explodes in frustration again.

A park vehicle pulls up at the edge of the pool, and a tall ranger, clad in regulation green, comes running across the cracked cement. My mother’s face flushes, and I know she’s thinking of ways to explain how I came to be on the Unisphere in the first place, but the ranger bustles by without a word. He climbs halfway up the base and squints at me.

“Need a hand?” The voice is the first gentle one I’ve heard all day. He isn’t furious with me. He can’t fix anything; he can’t stop me from hiding my breakfast and lunch again tomorrow, but he can get me down off the Unisphere. I nod, and he nods back, and extends his hand. I grasp it and the steps sprout out of the metal again, and in a minute I am firmly back on the ground.

referenced works

  1. The 1939-1940 New York World's Fair ended in bankruptcy. But that didn't deter New York master-planner Robert Moses from pushing for another fair in 1963-1964, which he hoped would finance the construction of a vast and splendid park in Flushing Meadows, Queens. The Unisphere was built as the centerpiece of the fair grounds, and capital cities all around the 140-foot tall globe lit up. The flashing capital lights weren't enough: Attendance was thin, and the fair lost money again, ending Moses' hopes for the park. Still, when the fair grounds were dismantled to restore Flushing Meadows-Corona Park to its pre-World's Fair condition, no one could bear to scrap the Unisphere. Source: Landmarks Preservation Commission (pdf).

location information


017That's when I knew I wanted to live in New York: in the midst of those fragile bralets and bodysuits.— Ling Ma

016The guns, we tell the police later, were black like ice.— Tara Deal

015...my own talisman against the folly of my youth.— Andrea Jarrell

014Y'all in a band'r somethin'?— Abraham

013Perhaps it was the lanky teenager with the bright red book-bag that made me think I saw Adam.— Carrie Teicher

012I remember flattening myself against the streaky windows of the PATH train like an insect.— Erin Fisher

011I glanced up to see another shape hit the sand.— Ken H. Judy

010Vibrating almost imperceptibly in the breeze like a woody tuning fork.— Rob Giampietro

009Then the jazz stopped and the radio said the war had started in the Middle East. — Roland Kelts

008Shirtless Boris Yeltsin’s skin reddens as he reads a book.— Michael Maiello

007Port Authority was there with open, non-judging arms.— Khoi Vinh

006His almost-loss was my almost- nonexistence.— Matthew Rand

005On the cold hard floor of the orphanage, I sang, longing for the day that they would come and rescue me.— Jen Egan

004He was a lawyer, after all.— Kristin Gardner

003The parking lot gate was open, and we ran in with the skateboard.— Lorraine Martindale

002We arrived on completely Russian streets, with Russian signs and a familiar rudeness.— Kseniya Melnik

001...the hourly clicking of Oxfords and high heels across the parking lot.— Tam Nomgum


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