New York Story

Is it still possible to meet cool random people in front of cool random buildings in New York City and go out and drink wine with them? Well of course you knew the answer was going to be yes. I need to work on new questions. Just as i was beginning to lose some of my esteem for the city, it pulls me back and gives me a hug. Remember those days when you just got here? When you had never heard the word hipster, and thought it was declasse to ask people what their rent was? Those were the early days when you were not yet a New Yorker, but New York was having its way with you. I hated it then. It kicked my ass then. The dirt, the cold, the endless people everywhere made me miserable. In one of my notebooks i wrote over and over in purple ink “Clean Sidewalks. Clean Sidewalks. Clean Sidewalks.” On another page i wrote “High Curbs. High Curbs. High Curbs.”

I lived on the 9th floor overlooking Broadway and 114th Street where i sat on my radiator, arms hanging over the out-opening window and watched the traffic, the street fairs, the frat boys, the grad students, everyone, on the sidewalks, sweating, shivering, each weaving a different pattern through the crowd. It was a rare and special day that i saw a collision.

By my fourth year i lived with practically the same view, the two differences were that i was on the south side of 114th and on the 3rd floor. I had two new double hung windows with fat sills for sitting, but i rarely sat on them and stared at the sidewalks.

In the years between my move from the north side to the south side of 114th, like most of us, i got charmed down to the sidewalk. The dirty, tar stained, low-curbed, bag-of-honey-roasted-peanuts and urine smelling sidewalk got me down onto it. And i stayed there.

In between i broke my wrist and had to learn to light cigarettes from a book of matches with one hand. Of course i continued to use this trick well after my wrist healed and the cast was off. One day i was walking north on the west side of Broadway, under some scaffolding, and i executed sloppily. The one match i lit, lit all 19 others in the matchbook. The thing went up in a mini-explosion. I didn’t stop walking but held this ball of fire in my hand for what must have been three or four seconds, but felt much longer. Then i yelped, then i dropped the ball of fire on the sidewalk, where i was too afraid to even step on it. Thankfully it burned out pretty quick on its own. No one that walked by me looked, not even when i was holding a ball of fire in my hand. I devoted a lot of thought to that incident in the weeks after, and i couldn’t decide what it made me think about the city.

These days, when walking north on Broadway with a ball of fire in my hand, i imagine people would look at me, and it may even get me arrested. But then again one or two people would probably stop to make sure i was ok.

From now on when people ask me if i think the city’s changed since the skyscrapers came down, i’m going to tell this story.

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