June 19, 1978. Celebrity day.
The city stretched. Empty streets glistened from the bath of a water truck. Dew-wet grass winked at the fresh peeping sun, like millions of shimmering diamonds. A bird chirped. Another. The city yawned.
Rows of houses lay like square ivory beads on patches of green felt. A boy drove his bicycle down the middle of an elm-bordered avenue, whistling loudly, while tightly rolled newspapers arced from his hand and slapped against porches.
Lights snapped on in a thousand windows, shining yellowly against the cool whiteness of dawn. Men blinked and touched beard-stubbled chins. Women moved sleepily toward porcelain and chrome kitchens.
A truck roared and garbage pails rattled. There was a smell of sour orange rinds and wet leaves and unfolding flowers. Over this came the smell of toasting bread and frying bacon.
Doors swung open, slippered feet padded across porches and hands groped for the rolled newspapers. The air was stricken with the blaring sound of transcribed music and the excited voices of commercial announcers. The doors swung shut and the sounds were muted.
A million people shifted and stretched and scratched. The sun rose above the horizon.
Doors slammed again, and half-consumed cups of coffee lay cooling behind. Children wiped at sleepy eyes and mothers swept crumbs, touching self-conscious fingers at their own bed-ruffled hair. Laborers and clerks and lawyers and doctors strode down sidewalks and climbed into automobiles and busses and sleek-nosed elevated trains. The city moved.
To the center of the city, where the tall buildings stretched to the lighting sky, came the horde, like thousands of ants toward a comb of honey. Wheels sang and whined. Horns blasted. Whistles blew.
And waiting, strung above the wide streets between the cold marquees and the dead neon tubes, were the banners and the flags and the bunting.
The air warmed and the sun brightened. Voices chattered. Elbows nudged. Mouths smiled, teeth shone, and there was the sound of laughter, rising over the pushing throngs. The city was happy.
The bunting dipped and the banners fluttered and the flags whipped. At the edge of the city, the airport tightened itself. Waiting, waiting for the silver and blue rocket. The rocket of the Celebrity.
A large hotel, towering above the pulsing streets, began the quiver of activity. As though a great electric current had been run through its cubes and shafts and hollows, the hotel crackled. Desk clerks clicked bells and bell boys hopped. Elevators rose and fell. In the cellar, wine bottles were dusted by quick, nervous hands. In the kitchen, a towering cake was frosted and decorated. Orders cracked. Hands flew and feet chattered against tile. In one rich expansive suite a giant hoop of multi-colored flowers was placed in the center of a room.
It was in the air. Laughter, awe, worship, excitement!
Ropes went up and stretched between lamp posts. Blue-coated men on horses began blocking streets. Old women with wooden boxes, children with flashing eyes, men in rich suits and tattered suits began filling the sidewalks.