Comfort in Layers

I like things with lots of layers: neatly made beds topped with piles of sheets and blankets, chocolate mousse cakes, birthday presents wrapped in tissue paper first and wrapping paper second. It’s partially the discovery of peeling each layer back and seeing what’s underneath, and partially the recognizing that it’s parts that make up a whole. Where the city is concerned, the layers are practically endless. Scratch long enough anywhere and you’ll uncover another layer beneath you, traces of some other life, reminders of a backdrop to someone else’s story here.

The spots on subway platforms where the paint’s chipped away are some of my favorite city layers. I look for them on the brightly-colored “I” beams when I’m waiting for trains and when I find them there’s often three, four, even five different layers of brightly colored paint exposed underneath. Ten years ago, those green iron beams were orange, before that they were yellow. It’s not exactly like finding out the age of a fallen tree, but its close enough. Evidence of other moments.

When I was about ten, my grandfather told me that he had signed his name in the crown of the Statue of Liberty. When he was my age, he said, he had scrambled to the top of the statue, lined up his nose with the nose of Lady Liberty and marked his name, or maybe it was his initials, just to the right of it.

When I went a few months later to see if I could see his handiwork for myself, I was dismayed to discover that my grandfather was not the sole person brave enough to scratch his name in the crown of the Statue of Liberty. Not in 1921, or any other year. The inside of that crown was covered with names and initials and odes to this fair city. I would never find my grandfather’s pen strokes in the mess of it all. But despite my initial shock at not being able to make out his name where he said he left it, I didn’t leave feeling disappointed. Underneath all of those layers of pen and scratched up paint, his name was there somewhere. He’d lined up his nose with hers, just like I did. He’d stood just where I did.

Comfort in layers.


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