Welcome to Ian Frazier's New York, a city more downtown than up, where every block is an event, and where the denizens are larger than life. Meet landlord extraordinaire Zvi Hugo Segal, and the man who climbed the World Trade Center, and an eighty-three-year-old typewriter repairman whose shop on Fulton Street has drawers full of umlauts. Learn the location of Manhattan's antipodes, and meander the length of Route 3 to New Jersey.
Like his literary forbears Joseph Mitchell and A.J. Liebling, Frazier, in his bewitching, inimitable voice, makes us fall in love with America's greatest city all over again, the way he did, arriving as a young man from Hudson, Ohio. In classic evocations of the F train, Canal Street, and Prospect Park, Brooklyn, and in his iconic "Bags in Trees" essay, Frazier gives us New York again, in all its vital and human multiplicity.
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Ian Frazier is the author of Great Plains, The Fish's Eye, On the Rez, Family, as well as Coyote v. Acme and Dating Your Mom. A frequent contributor to The New Yorker, he lives in Montclair, New Jersey.
If you drilled a hole straight through the earth, starting at the corner of Seventh Avenue and Forty-second Street, you would pass through ten inches of pavement, four feet of pipes, thirty-five feet of Seventh Avenue subway, about twenty-two hundred miles of rock, about thirty-six hundred miles of nickel-iron core, and then another twenty-two hundred miles of rock. You would come out in the Indian Ocean, 106°3' east longitude and 40°45' south latitude, about three hundred miles off the southwest coast of Australia. You would have reached Manhattan’s antipodes, or diametrically opposite point on the globe. You would be about two and a half miles under water.
Due north of Manhattan’s antipodes, it is 2,040 miles to Malingping, Java. Due south, it is 1,500 miles to the Knox Coast of Antarctica, 2,260 miles to the Russian research station at Vostok, Antarctica, and 2,955 miles to the South Pole. Due west, it is 7,700 miles to Punta Rasa (Flat Point), Argentina. Due east, it is 1,760 miles to Cape Grim, Tasmania. The town nearest to Manhattan’s antipodes is Augusta, Australia, 590 miles to the northeast, where Australians go for fishing vacations and where it rains about half the year.
Not much goes on in this part of the Indian Ocean. It is fall there now. The water is gray-green, like the North Atlantic, and very rough. Navigators call these latitudes “the roaring forties,” because the storms are so violent. There are no shipping lanes near Manhattan’s antipodes, so there is no junk on the ocean floor. The ocean floor is completely dark (except for the light produced by occasional luminescent fish and other organisms), and the water at the bottom is only a few degrees above freezing. A white, squishy substance known as globigerina ooze covers the ocean floor. Glob ooze, as oceanographers call it, is a calcium sediment made of the shells of globigerina, which are tiny foraminiferal organisms. Glob ooze can be anywhere from less than an inch to a thousand feet thick. Since it is too much trouble to wash the salt out of it even to make cement, glob ooze has no commercial value. This far from land, there are few fish. A school of whales might pass by seasonally. There might be a few rattails (bottom-feeders related to the shark family) near the ocean floor.
If you could walk northeast to Australia, wearing some kind of glob-ooze shoes to keep from sinking in, as well as equipment to deal with the problems of air, light, temperature, and water pressure, you would have to cross underwater mountains of sixty-four hundred feet and descend nineteen thousand feet into valleys before you ascended Australia’s continental slope, nearly four hundred miles away. Manhattan’s antipodes lies on the southeastern branch of the Mid-Indian Oceanic Ridge, which is a Y-shaped ridge in the middle of the Indian Ocean with heights of ten thousand feet and valleys as deep as fourteen thousand feet. The Mid-Oceanic Ridge is the longest continuous feature on the earth’s surface. Dr. Bruce Heezen, of Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory (one of the few New Yorkers who have ever been close to Manhattan’s antipodes), made the first detailed map of the Indian Ocean floor, under the auspices of the International Indian Ocean Expedition, in the early 1960s. He says that the discovery and exploration of the Mid-Oceanic Ridge provided the conclusive proof for the theory of continental drift. “About fifty million years ago, the ridge moved through Antarctica and chipped off a huge piece—Australia—which then headed north and rotated slightly counterclockwise until it crashed into Indonesia,” he said. “It did not take long, in geological time. When we discovered that ridge, and when we found that the central and eastern Indian Ocean was much younger than the western Indian Ocean, the theory of continental drift was finally accepted. Before this discovery, if you believed in drift you couldn’t get a job. Now if you don’t you can’t.”
About the biggest thing that has ever happened near Manhattan’s antipodes happened three hundred miles away, in the course of the International Indian Ocean Expedition. A British member of Parliament, on board the Australian ship Diamantina, was mapping the ocean floor with an echo sounder that was faulty—something he did not realize. About three hundred miles southwest of Australia, he and his shipmates started getting some extremely deep soundings. They became very excited about this and later claimed to the press that they had found the deepest point in the oceans. They named their find the Diamantina Trench. When their claim was investigated, it turned out to be wrong. The Diamantina Trench, even at its deepest point, is only about twenty-two thousand feet deep, which is considerably shallower than the deepest ocean trenches.
Two of our favorite Midwestern towns—Pekin, Illinois, and Canton, Illinois—were so named because their founders thought that the towns were exactly opposite the two famous Chinese cities. Pekin Ill., and Canton, Ill., are in fact opposite points in the Indian Ocean some seven hundred miles to the west of New York’s opposite point. Most of the United States is opposite the southern Indian Ocean. There is no point in the United States where, if you drilled straight through the earth, you would come out in China.
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