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New York Gas

Letter From Manhattan

Comin’ down on a sunny day – Fogerty

February 23, 2004

It’s the 23rd of February, a little after noon, and near fifty degrees outside. You’d think they were giving away espresso at the Starbucks on Columbus, the way these Upper West Siders are bouncing in and placing their orders, to a person informing the counter guy that Spring is here. Temperature-wise, things are deceiving. Walking through the park yesterday I noticed abrupt shifts between bitter and relatively comfortable. I sat bundled in my Carhart jacket, a San Francisco purchase that’s more than proved its worth since coming to New York. Sunday jog traffic in Central Park is somewhat reminiscent of the alien bar scene in the first Star Wars. Nowhere can you find a more varied display of body types, methods of movement, and women over fifty running in earrings.

I sweat – that’s my deal. No earrings and my running clothes are early Rocky Balboa as opposed to contemporary Gucci. But by the end of my exercise I’m usually dripping. This wouldn’t seem so unusual anywhere else, but around here it’s literally my deal. There are people moving faster than me and running much longer routes, but they all appear bone dry in their form-fitting, aerodynamic, season-styled getups. My perspiration makes me one of a kind, and I suspect that by this time next year they’ll all be doing it.

So this is the shift from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Starbucks replaces the Fall, Central dwarfs Prospect, and I continue to plug away at it, still every bit an outsider. My sublet suits this status and is truly shabby by most any standard. It has taken several weeks to fully appreciate its many faults. Small, dark, noisy and poorly constructed just doesn’t cover it. My bed is directly opposite the two front doors, which open and slam at all hours, punctuating spotty sleep with violent interruption. There is no longer any gas in the building, and all stoves have been shut off. I come home in the middle of the afternoon and find a guy in my apartment plugging up a valve on the wall. I ask him why and he tells me with a thick accent “ees safer for you” and “there is leak in basement.” When I ask where the basement gas is going he motions with his hands and explains “it just goes, you know, whooooosh.”

***

Things are OK. I’ve burned through some savings but have a bit of part time work, and am experiencing occasional real-time appreciation. This strange, temporarily permanent angle is working for now. My thinking when accepting the current accommodations was that they would lend inspiration for getting out of the house and this has been the case. No matter how you slice it, the town buzzes. It might be the gas going to my head, but it’s still New York gas. I approached a British web magazine with something I’d written last week, and they accepted it. “New York is big in London right now,” the editor explained. It’s not a transient observation. Good or bad, this city is big at any time and in any context.

***

I’m supposed to meet her at the Great Jones Cafe, a bar in Noho, on Friday night. But after half an hour I don’t see her and figure she’s blown it off. It’s loud and the woman sitting next to me, a pretty but somewhat worn blonde with a lot of wrist jewelry, is lowering her head to counter level and setting it at an angle to better facilitate being heard. She tells me she lives up the street and likes this place for the affordable margaritas. She’s waiting for her boyfriend but somehow manages to fit in a big chunk of her life history in the time we have, including her age (47) and her siblings’ occupations: accountant and priest. She herself is a stripper, having started her career in Woodstock in the seventies, dancing on tables for a female bar owner. “Believe me, you’re no social retard,” is the last thing I hear her tell me, an apparent reference to her current clientele and my offhand self-deprecating remark.

It’s like I’ve been thrown a life preserver from the deck of a ship when my friend appears. She’s been waiting for a while outside after not spotting me at first. I apologize and buy her a Rolling Rock, and we rap some about Brooklyn, Jerusalem, the bond business, the price of silver, and the genius of the Larry Sanders Show. She tells me that hail is her favorite precipitation. On average it’s a more solid conversation than the previous one.

Later that evening I return to my sublet and notice that several tenants have posted hand-written notes to the front door. “This building is a hazard,” one reads. “Management is in violation of numerous health and safety codes, and Con Edison says the building should be evacuated. We are contacting our lawyer.” I’ve got two months left and can’t be bothered with it. All my mistakes these days are short term. I crack the basement-level window by my bed to get some cold, fresh air and pull the comforter up over my head. Outside, the show plays on.

2004 Rick Monaco All Rights

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