Phillip Lopate describes the shape of Manhattan Island as‘a luxury liner, permanently docked, going nowhere’. This feeling of being tethered to the land, unable to get to sea, was a feature of New York life for much of the twentieth century. New York was an island without a coast. The West Side piers that once welcomed the Lusitania spent most of the twentieth century crumbling or behind barbed wire, while the East Side’s coves and points were cut off from pedestrians by six lanes of the Robert Moses-designed Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive. It wasn’t much easier to reach the shores of Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx, either: with a few exceptions, they were largely reserved for municipal or industrial use, and easiest to see from the Staten Island Ferry (en route to the borough with the most beaches). Now, slowly, the city is reclaiming its shoreline, with some spectacular results.

Toy Airplane by Robert Lopez

OBJECTToy Airplane


Photo by Nura Qureshi

Photo by Nura Qureshi

This story is published in collaboration with Significant Objects


A man on a park bench then another man next to him.

The first man there for no good reason.

The other man the kind of man who sits next to strange men on park benches.

This other man has with him a toy airplane.

He holds the toy airplane in his right hand, which is battered, bloodied.

It looks as though the other man had been in a street-fight and was declared the winner. The toy airplane his trophy.

The other man holds the toy airplane like a trophy.

The day has in it the sky and sun.

There are clouds and women.

It is routine.

The first man looks at the other man. He looks at the toy airplane. He says nothing.

A week goes by. Then another.

Then the man holding the toy airplane speaks.

And of course to make a long story short, he says, anyone living in a pretty how townhouse can look beyond themselves into the kitchen breakfront and clearly see between two pieces of ordinary china that every second of every livelong day of an already long week in a rather long month can often lead to an even longer year and subsequently is almost always followed by a long decade which is only one tenth of a long century and compared to the long long millennium is practically insignificant on this or any other beautiful Sunday morning.

The first man says, I know what you mean, and leaves.

The other man remains on the bench holding the toy airplane for the rest of his natural born life, which concludes twelve years later on a Thursday evening, just before dusk.

The body goes undisturbed until the next day when a passerby alerts the authorities. Two hours later the body is removed and taken to the county medical examiner’s office.

There is no mention of the toy airplane in the medical examiner’s report, only a note concerning the right hand in which the subject held the toy airplane, which was strangely contorted and atrophied.

Robert Lopez is the author of two novels, Part of the World and Kamby Bolongo Mean River, and a collection of short fiction, Asunder. He teaches at The New School, Pratt Institute and Columbia University.