The Miracle Of Metropolis

Lewis Lapham rhapsodizes on city life, and the "queer prizes" it bestows, for the new issue of Lapham's Quarterly:

[O]n a cloudy afternoon in Central Park [...] I came across two men seated on a bench, each with a fanciful parrot resting on his shoulder, engaged in intense discussion accompanied by decisive gestures and rapid changes of expression. The parrots were identical; the two men were as unlike one another as a ferret and a pandaon the near end of the bench a small and heavily damaged white man in a threadbare raincoat, early seventies, not many teeth, sunken chest, furtive demeanor; at the far end of the bench a handsome and handsomely tailored black man, gold jewelry, stylish hat and brocade vest, broad-gauged grin, majestic presence.

In answer to my questions, I was told that the parrots were the only two of their particular species ever to have made it north of the Panama Canal, that the two men had met by accident while out walking their birds on 125th Street, that each had come to regard the other as the only man in America with whom it was possible to hold an important conversation.