Exile on Pain Street was an obvious choice to post while I’m in NYC not only because he concocts brilliant things on the regular, but because he’s been supplying me with insider information on the city for the last couple months. Several of the shows I’ll be seeing and the food I’ll be eating are thanks to his intel. If you don’t trust my endorsement, then take it from Harper Lee, who once went to the trouble to write him a letter.
I am thrilled to be guest posting here. In honor of Aussa’s trip to NYC, I’ve decided to pull an extract from my big bin o’ journals. I kept these during my early years in New York when I was a frightened, brooding, solitary young boy. I’ve got over a dozen hand-written books and 800+ single-spaced typed pages chocked-full of the most wretched discourse you’ll ever read.
This entry is from right after my move from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Back then, the city wasn’t the gleaming citadel on the hill Aussa’s about to visit. At that time, it was a still a dark, crime-ridden landscape—especially my neighborhood, the Lower East Side. To wit:
March 10, 1993
I saw some horrific things on the way home tonight. If anyone in my family saw even ONE of these, they’d hog tie me, throw me in the trunk and drag my ass back to Ohio.
I got off the F train at Second Avenue and walked east on Houston. I passed Orchard Street and saw two black guys standing uncomfortably near a parked car. I got closer and saw a white guy sitting on the sidewalk with his back against the passenger door. He had a hypodermic needle in one hand and was trying to remove the cap with his other hand. His hands were shaking so badly he couldn’t grip it. How did he expect to inject himself, I wondered? Maybe one of those other dudes helped him. As I walked by, I heard him tell the black guys, “I’m from Amsterdam, you know.” It was 4:00 in the afternoon in broad daylight! There were people everywhere. I walked on.
I was waiting at the light to cross Essex Street and I saw a homeless guy on the other side sitting on the sidewalk, completely hidden under a filthy blanket. It was cold and wet out and the blanket looked heavy and damp. I felt awful for him. The light changed and as I crossed the street and got closer, I could see he was shaking. I walked past him, looked down at the heap and realized that the shaking wasn’t from the cold. He was masturbating. My sympathy dissolved into disgust.
Then I was waiting for the light to change at Suffolk and the guy in the car in front of me was getting a blow job! A girl in the passenger seat was bent over the shift console. The light changed and he turned right on Houston with a big stupid grin on his face. Guess what I felt that time? Envy.
I passed the pay phone a half block from Clinton Street and out of the corner of my eye I could see there was a kid using it. She was a little girl, about seven or eight years old. She was wearing a dirty pink winter coat that had a hood with a fake fur lining. She was holding the phone against the ear of her Barbie. In this sea of ugly humanity, this poor child was playing with her doll. She doesn’t stand a chance. This place is going to eat her alive.
Why, in God’s name, did I leave Fort Greene? Brooklyn was great! South Portland is a beautiful street. Even though I was the only white guy on the block, I felt welcomed and, if not that, at least tolerated. I’ll never feel close to the idiots in this shithole neighborhood. What was I thinking?
The modern-day irony is that today, that same neighborhood, those same streets, are now populated with trust fund kids, hedge fund douche bags and expensive restaurants. My old apartment is well outside my range of affordability. I couldn’t move back there if I wanted to.
As a bonus, here’s one of only two poems I’ve ever written. They’re both so well-constructed and so satisfying to reread that I don’t dare write a third one. This incident took place in my apartment in the Lower East Side. All dialogue is quoted verbatim.
I rode the elevator up with Hedy
the Old Lady from the 6th floor
who has never spoken a word
or anyone else
in the 3+ years I’ve lived here.
She’s a typical NYC octogenarian:
sloppily applied bright, red lipstick
The city beat the stuffing out of her.
It’ll get me, too.
I was showing Hedy my mail:
an appeal for a contribution
from an association that saves trees.
Robert Redford loaned his name to the cause.
It appeared in the return address.
I said to Hedy, “Look at this!
Robert Redford sent me a letter!”
The small, frail mother
suddenly straightened her back.
Her eyes lighted.
She said in a booming voice:
“I MET Robert Redford when I WORKED at the HOTEL.”
I asked, “Was he nice to you?”
“Oh my, YES! VERY nice. And very HANDSOME, too.”
She was shouting.
“I MET THEM ALL.
OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN took me to his APARTMENT
and showed me his GUN COLLECTION.”
The elevator stopped on the 5th floor.
Hedy and I got off.
Nobody reading this has ever had
a personal tour of Oscar Hammerstein’s arsenal.
And you never will.
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