ONE DAY TOWARD THE END OF SEPTEMBER, Dorothy lets Robin miss school. Hes been waiting for this: their City Day, one of the days every few months when they disappear from Greenlawn together. Theyve been doing this for years, dressing up in their most stylish clothes and traveling by bus through New Jersey towns that bleed together unremarkably, onto the Turnpike, where the first views of the New York skyline are revealed, and into the eerie glow of the Lincoln Tunnel. They hurry through the crowds at the Port Authority Bus Terminal into one of the Checker Cabs that line Eighth Avenue like chariots for visiting royalty.
Robin gives instructions to the cab driver"take us to the Museum of Modern Art, on 53rd Street between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas"and Dorothy tips generously, her bracelets jangling as she pulls bills from her purse. She is most animated on these days, an enthusiastic tour guide, telling Robin about her adventures in the city in the early 60s, when she graduated from Smith College and found work as a secretary at a publishing company. She tells him about the well-dressed crowds strolling Times Square at 2 a.m., about drunken authors at book parties, about the handsome men who courted her over coffee at the automat. She shows him the apartment on West Twenty-Third Street where she and Clark first lived after they were married, where Robin spent the first four years of his life. She tells him things on these trips that he never hears her telling anyone elsepunctuating the details with dramatic exhalations from her Pall Mallswhich leaves him feeling uncommon, a co-conspirator, the keeper of secret myths.
And her stories change: today she mentions a surprise appearance by Miles Davis at the Five Spot in 1963; the last time she told this story it was Sonny Rollins in 1962. Robin used to correct her, but Dorothy only laughed off the inconsistencies. Now he has come to welcome the way her stories shift; it is the excitement of them, and not the facts, that he values. She encourages him to make up stories of his own. A woman in sunglasses and a fur coat hurries past the park bench in Washington Square where they are sipping coffee. "Who is she," Dorothy asks, "and what is she up to?"
Robin takes a moment to think, and a tale tumbles forth: she is a jet-setting fashion model who dances all night at Studio 54, but deep down shes miserable, shes spent all her money on champagne and caviar and cocaine; now she's broke, all she has left is that fur coat, and shell be trading that in at the Ritz Thrift Shop any day now. It feels like ESP when he does this, but instead of reading someone elses mind, hes tuning in to transmissions from some alien part of his own, where ideas are always buzzing, where static can be translated into stories.
The tragedy of the City Day is always the aftermath, when he sits across from Ruby at the dinner table and absorbs her jealousy at having been left behind, or argues with Jackson about why a symphony at Lincoln Center is more interesting, more relevant, than a playoff game at Yankee Stadium. Even his mother loses her sheen in the days that follow, as she returns to shopping at the A&P and telling his father to remove his feet from the coffee table and correcting Robins language whenever, God help him, he slips into slang like some common New Jersey teenager.