Magazine article The New Yorker

Only You

Magazine article The New Yorker

Only You

Article excerpt

ONLY YOU

Alley Pond Park, in Queens, sounds small, as if it could fit between a couple of high-rises. In fact, the park stretches for more than a mile and a half and covers six hundred and fifty-five acres that seem almost to be in another dimension, coexisting as they do with the Cross Island Parkway, Northern Boulevard, the Long Island Expressway, the Douglaston Parkway, Union Turnpike, and the Grand Central Parkway, all of which insinuate their multiple lanes through and along the park and curl their intricate cloverleafs over the green of its map like sprung violin strings. On the highways, you're barely aware of the park, and in the park the highways are a distant noise. One of the park's entrances winds among tall, shadowy, redwood-size columns of concrete that support an elevated section of road.

Smokey the Bear was in the park the other day, walking around in an open, grassy area and having his picture taken with people. The occasion was his seventieth birthday; on August 9, 1944, the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council decided to use a fictional bear named Smokey as the mascot for their campaign to prevent forest fires. Later, a real bear who survived a New Mexico forest fire shared the name, but the classic Smokey remains the anthropomorphized bipedal bear in the poster, with the ranger hat and the shovel. As he strolled in a stately, slightly syncopated manner, well-wishers kept asking Smokey if he was hot in all that fur, but an occasional shrug was the only reply. He never once spoke. His eyes were set back under the brim of his hat and the overhang of his brow, and he made his point by silent moral authority. To look into his eyes was to hear the pulse of your own fire-using, match-tossing, corrupted human heart.

Maybe there were a lot of Smokeys at large in American parks on that particular afternoon. This Smokey had the sponsorship of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and its representatives had hung the pink crepe-paper streamers in an oak tree, and set up the tables where kids could make birthday cards for Smokey, and provided the chocolate- or vanilla-frosted birthday cupcakes, and arranged for the various instructional booths--the N.Y.C. Fire Department's Fire Safety Education, the D.E.C.'s Division of Lands and Forests, and the N. …

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