02/23/17 9:14am

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The Lobster Shift is a monthly column by Kenneth R. Rosen that explores the city and its inhabitants in the hours between dusk and dawn.

Nothing had yet caught fire. After my late shift, I fell fast asleep.

I’d spent the night wandering in a haze, a low mist applied across the city invariably and without discretion. I stepped around patches and had nowhere to go but home, wondering whether there was somewhere for me to be and all I’d done was forgotten it. A strange tickle lapped at my neck and I felt like someone was behind me. I turned fast. No one was there, but every few steps along Queens Boulevard I took to turning back. Checking just in case.

Eventually I found my way home, careful as I crossed the streets, dodging headlights sponged in mist. I could see a police cruiser down the block, and counseled myself, No way, it’s not for you.

This state of paranoia never settles, and is often encouraged by the anonymity of nighttime. In my bones I feel an unshakable guilt, a teasing disruption in my liver and heart, a menace trapped inside my own menace. Sometimes I misplace it and then seeing a police officer sets it upon me. The paranoia stays and becomes second-nature. It is necessary to survival. I have lived with it always.

Someone once told me that if I were to look skyward more often, into the haze above Manhattan, I would come to see more, feel more grounded, become better situated and aware of these feelings inside this unnatural spree of concrete and metal. Hear something enough and it becomes your own philosophy. I heard those words—look up, dammit, look up!—and learned that my compass relied on the two towers that could be seen from almost anywhere–The Empire State and One World Trade. There are the pencil skyscrapers, light dribbling out the windows, but nothing like these. That’s where the collective hopeful ambitions come from. Excelsior!

My childhood in the city was spent looking down, navigating cracks in the sidewalks, bursting through crowds gathered at crosswalks. I had a fast pace, strode like I belonged, moved with a purpose and, for that reason, never gleaned much of the city. So I’m starting to look up these nights, pacing around on the streets, mindless and enthralled just the same. It’s when I am in this trance that I can peer up at these buildings and see inside them vignettes of lives I will never lead. (more…)