Posts Tagged ‘Manhattan’

Blurred shot of Manhattan at night Image: Jefft

Hanging outside my lower Manhattan local with D., who has lived in Soho since the 1980’s . . .

A guy came up to us, holding what looked like a $20 dollar bill. He had the usual NY homeless look, with bundles of clothes wrapped around his body and his head so only his craggy, bearded face was visible. The glazed look of days and nights on the street, booze and who knows. The guy showed D the bill, the laughed and pulled it apart to reveal that it was fake.

“Not bad huh? They’re gettin’ better at these things.”

His voice was hoarse, like he didn’t use it much anymore. D laughed as well, and gave him a cigarette and they examined the bill and I gathered they knew each other. Then the guy said he was going to try and pass the bill at the Koreans up the street. When he was gone D said:

“I’ve known that guy siince I first came to the city. He used to deal weed in Washington Square. The Jamaican dealers in the park kicked the shit out of him ’cause they didn’t want the competition. You know, like a turf thing. I saw him afterward – he had one of those wire things around his jaw.
“He lost his place after that and ended up on the street. The amazing thing is he stayed clean – once he came up to me with a big bag of coke, all rolled up, he’d found on the street somewhere and wanted to know if I wanted it. I had no interest at the time so I didn’t take it, but it says something about where he was at then.

“Once he got to that place where he was down, he couldn’t get up again. I’ve never forgotten that. You slip through the cracks and you can’t come back. He started going downhill a few years ago. All those years on the street. People give me grief for giving these guys money. ‘They’ll just blow it on drugs!’ they say. But hey, I’m glad they blow it on drugs! Wouldn’t you blow everything you got on drugs if you were living on the street?”

D claimed a good panhandler in NY can make 20 grand a year. “You know, the ones that are personable, have the patter down, know where to go. But I don’t think our friend’s at that point anymore, if he ever was. The Koreans won’t pass that one, they’re open 24 hours, they see everything . . .”

I wonder how many people slip through the cracks, even as I”m writing this.

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Cell Phone Landfill

Food court level, Citicorp building, midtown . . .

Homeland security cops patrol outside with heavy machine guns, bulletproof vests, and helmets . .

Inside, the tables are all taken. Next to me a dozen women critique each other’s CVs, discuss job search/ interview strategies. I get the sense they meet every couple of weeks to help each other through the recession . . .

A blonde woman is across the concourse, sitting alone.  Young, maybe early 20’s, with long blond hair, grey pinstripe pant suit. Pretty, in a generic way. Leaning over what looks like a book or newspaper, reading intently, with earphones in her ears. I thought of how unusual it was to see a young woman like that actually reading something on paper as opposed to staring into a laptoop or texting on her cell . . .

Cell Phone boxThen she is talking, with the earplugs still in. Quietly at first, a little nervous, then growing more animated. She has a flat accent, maybe Southwestern. As she is talking, she expresses herself with her hands, nodding aggressively as the other party makes a point, then laughing, flashing her eyes, touching her hair. Flirting with the person on the other end of the line. Putting her hands on her hips, threading her hair through her fingers through it so it falls back, then putting her hands together and rubbing them as she makes a point. Her voice getting louder and louder, as she reads from the papers spread in front of her.

Ordinarily, I am irritated by people yapping on their cells like this, forcing their one-side and intrusive conversation into my space. But I found this woman fascinating. Her gaze seemed to be focused just a few inches in front of her face. Except for her voice, she seemed like she had been surrounded by some sort of vacuum tube and pulled from the room, and she wasn’t a person at all, but some sort of hologram with this flat Southwestern voice. Like she’d been beamed right into the medium of the phone.

Such, such is the world we live in now . . .

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                              Photo by garretc (flickr)

Worked in Manhattan this morning. Came in on the G to Williambsurg then transferred to the L to the City. The L train packed, even at 7 am, with long queues for the escalators. Just like London. The L creaked along in the tunnel, even with the seven minute gap between trains. 

You get on the G train and it’s all working class Brooklyn faces, of a kind you rarely see in London anymore (I forget when I’m away, about New York’s basic working class character. The iron bridges, the brick housing projects, the tenement buildings with the iron fire escapes, the brutal crashing of the subway cars into the stations with the iron pillars, the unadorned concrete surfaces). Black, Hispanic, white. Polish or Russian, heavy Slavic consonants just audible below the roar of th etrain. Big black guys with tattoos and hard Brooklyn faces. I see them and wonder how working class people hang on in places like Bed-stuy or anywhere near Williamsburg, since the rents have gone up so much. 

   Nowhere to have coffee around Stuyvesant Square – the cafes and the single Starbucks are full up (in London you’d have like five Starbucks in the three block radius around Stuyvesant Square – London has more Starbucks per capita than anywhere else in the world – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, given how awful British coffee was a few years ago). So I sat on a bench in the Square, a block away from the Hotel 17 where I lived in a narrow room (bed, dresser, sink) for a couple of months when I first came to this city – 17 years ago. Warmed by the morning sun, drinking bad deli coffee with too much cream. A pack of kids had been in the deli, swarming around the counter. A few black, some Asian, mostly white. Happy-looking kids, saying sorry for standing in the doorway when people were trying to get in and out – a lot healthier and happier than equivalent kids in London who tend to be spotty and ill-behaved. 

   On mornings like this, it’s hard not to love New York. Stepping out of the cauldron of the 1st Ave Subwa into the bright Manhattan morning, the great metal spire of the Empire State rising up behind the golden dome sparkling in the morning sun. The Chrysler building, the other hi-rises that become almost background until they jump out at you one bright morning, when the whole world seems to be out there in the Manhattan sunshine with the big trucks and yellow taxis hurtling down the potholed streets, the crowds jamming the sidewalks with everyone rushing to work. Not even the women with their pinched, surgery enhanced faces walking their dogs in the park – New York, whatever it’s glamour, has always had more than it’s share of unattractive people – can take away the feeling that this is a special place, hallowed ground of a sort. 


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