Since I moved to the Big Apple nearly ten years ago, I have observed both the decor of its core as well as the appeal of its peel. Today, I decided to walk and travel all over my city and place my impressions (both the impressed and depressed variety) on paper. Here is what I saw…
I begin by leaving Queens, and hop onto the subway, the ship of car-less slaves, and go into Manhattan. (As a brief aside, anyone who tells you the subway is a fantastic thing probably reads self-help books far too much. The one truth of being poor in Manhattan is that only those who don’t have it have to make the most of it – for instance, take the subway.)
I decide to first visit the Upper East Side – the suburb within the metropolis. The place where there are more five-stories than a warehouse full of the Pentateuch and where young parvenus, straight from the real suburbia are doing their best to imitate those who have lived here their entire life. These kids embody a psychological mixture of what they imagine city life should be (theater, arts, books, conversation, parties, etc.) and what they have imbibed on Friends, Seinfeld, and Sex in the City. They are invigorating in one way, but idiotic in another.
Today is Sunday, and thus, you will also find smartly attired young men here, out on their own for the first time, going to (of all places) church – more for the routine and the chance to wear smart raiment than for the spirit and the splendor. These young men wish to keep their soul while in the city – and truth be told, they are doing a decent job. There are good men here. But any man can be virtuous on the Upper East Side – it is SOHO where God watches you with lightening in hand, and the devil tempts you with women in the other.
When I am on UES (text message someone new to NYC “UES” and nine times out of ten you shall get a profound “huh?” in reply as if you mis-texted), often times I go to the glorious Metropolitan Museum of Art: this is the place where people who don’t know anything about art go to proudly prove it.
I trot up 5th Avenue, against traffic and gentrification, into Spanish Harlem. I dated a girl from here for four years – English is still her second language, Spanish mine. I have never been good at taking advantage of opportunities – so, how can I hold that neighborhood to any higher standards? Spanish Harlem is home to groups of people, who, like Midwestern Americans, are dedicated to putting this country first. Americans of all sorts – legal and otherwise – have so much in common, just not the countries we put first.
Tiring of Spanish Harlem, I decide to walk through Central Park, down through the verdant backyard of the city, then on westward. The park has the universal allure of always being there and yet always surprising you when you remember that.
I cross through the park, and head to the Upper West Side – here, my friends, is the home of old money, and I do not mean small-headed presidents on the currency. Also known as “The Florida of New York City” or “God’s waiting room in Manhattan,” the Upper West Side is also a place where the young, who decide for some reason to live here while they have taken relatively few trips about the sun, get a head start on their death. There just is not much to do.
I head further uptown – my legs not tired because in New York you get accustomed to long, winding, sinuous ambulations as quickly as you get accustomed to the loud, wailing sirens of ambulances – and head into Harlem, by way of Columbia University.
No doubt, the Ivy League campus is inspiring – you can feel the entire culmination of western thought pulsing under your feet.
Too bad the people who now constitute Columbia’s student body are really a student body in two ways: 1) a singular body without individuality, and 2) a body with no real mind. A typical night out with the Columbia crowd includes much talk without conversation; much money without wealth; much attractiveness without beauty; much being without existence. I have found that these self-proclaimed ‘free thinkers’ are often over-charging.
I safely pass (i.e. had no conversation with anyone) through grey-stoned Columbia and enter into red-bricked Harlem. Harlem has the energy of ten thousand great poets working well together – jazz in three dimensions. Of course, Harlem also has ten thousand criminals who, though they give the poets material, ruin the lives of everyone else living in the neighborhood.
I cross into the Bronx, which sounds like a cough and looks like phlegm. But it is superbly urban and one can smell the rhythm and taste the concrete and metal. It is the home of rap music, which is to some the manifestation of the disease, to others the cure – to all a sound synonymous with this asphalt forest.
After the Bronx, I make my way to Brooklyn. I take a cab (cabs are all the proof you need that guardian angels exist and that driving tests need to be more stringent) and get out into Williamsburg. Immediately, I see that the artists here mostly excel at creating things lacking value. You would need to be the progeny of King Solomon bred with Buckminster Fuller to know which artists will still be around 10 years from now.
From a friend’s rooftop, I can now see the New York skyline – stunning. Like a person with crooked teeth who is still oddly, super attractive. The new World Trade Center is not yet up – ten years on. I look on my iPhone – Dubai has built a whole skyline in that time period . . . Frustrating . . .
I make a visit to Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge while simultaneously lusting to go visit Russia and feeling nostalgia for the Cold War.
I end up back in Queens later in the day, first in Astoria, dwelling place of the good people who are perpetually almost-making it (present writer included). And later walk into the Queensbridge Projects, where I saw two sixteen-year-olds try to shoot each other dead just a few years back. It was at that moment that all “environmental” explanations for the cause of such behavior vanished from my mind – they chose to shoot each other, not their poverty.
Tiring of this neighborhood quickly, I get back on the train, the F train, and venture, underneath Roosevelt Island (the best thing about that Island is the tram that wafts on the wires above it, the worst is that the tram comes down on it) to Midtown Manhattan.
Midtown is the center of the metropolis like the Oedipus complex is the center of all neuroses. And in the father-son complex called Times Square (I want to kill it and be like it at the same time), the place where everyone is, the last place you would look for someone, you find that Broadway is the great tromping ground of the narrow-minded performer. There is nothing that comes out of the mouths of most of these future, potential stars that does not have to do with themselves or dream interpretation. But I admit, I love them and their energy.
To my right I pass the New York Times building, home of the newspaper worth everything to some and worth nothing to the rest.
Moving on, I continue to plod downstream until I come to Washington Square Park, the NYU area, which despite non-bathophobic people everywhere, has sought to preserve it’s state of perpetual filth – and not only succeeded but become at once a historical landmark and model for landfills everywhere. The only place untidier is the Lower East Side, which is where I venture next. On the sketch board of the city, the Lower East Side is where all the eraser shavings and poorly drawn people are thrown. But these Picassos are jolly, anarchistic, and harmless. The ubiquitous trash here feels like sprinkles on a moldy cupcake.
As I stroll further downtown, I come to the Financial District, and I bump into some socialists without occupations currently “occupying” Wall Street. I invite them, gruffly, to observe that the Statue of Liberty has her hand up, not out. But I do agree with them a little bit; after all, Wall Street, like teachers who can’t technically ‘do,’ is the home of many thieves who claim they can’t technically ‘steal’.
Finally, as the sun sets, I walk by Ground Zero – the first cathedral built of air. God bless the dead, U.S. military kill those who caused and cheered their deaths. It really is that simple.
At night, to complete the odyssey, I go out on the town. I am constantly searching for women who look at me quizzically as if our two species can mix – her, a higher form; me, a lower former. After all, ’tis New York, big city of dreams, a fellow should aim high. Indeed or no deed?
In Manhattan, beautiful women are a dime a dozen; yet to get one, I’ve often found, takes a quarter of a million dollars a year.
I come to a club and encounter the ubiquitous “promoter” – that rare species of man who grows old while staying young. Ah yes, promoting, the last resort for those who took this as their first job. I know one of them, he gives me a pound, and I pass in. Here I see mostly men who lean against walls like objects, in desperation, sitting on the shelves of the lost and found closet, and many women who are only barely pretty faking extreme beauty.
The weeping truth is that it is harder each day, nearer to impossible each year, to find a good nightspot in Manhattan. “Going out” is becoming what “staying in” is all about.
Fed up with a club, I decide to end the night with a walk as I started the day with a walk. This is more the New York I know – quiet, solitary, pensive, pedestrian. And thus, in the Garden of Concrete Eden, I drift into a thought cadence akin to something like Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milk Wood,” as I observe Manhattan’s wild life:
Hush, though no one is sleeping… Not the yuppies, the poets or singers; nor the buyers of meals or the bringers; no, not the rich or the penniless; or the ugly and the hideous; grunge punks and loud drunks; criminals and police also do not sleep.
Look and see the church beside the night club; buildings that glow, buildings that crumble; the empty coffee shop, the crowded tunnel; the dedicated, the apathetic, the cool, the constantly hectic; the unsexed beside the sex obsessed; those lost and those found; this is the beginning of an age for some, for others the last go round…
And so it came to pass that I came home to nap, not sleep, for as I once heard it said, time spent sleeping in New York is time wasted. The bags under my eyes tell that I have toed the party line – and I shall continue to toe the party line. I shall wake tomorrow and walk the city again.