Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Pro for NYC (1/28/07)

Now, there are a lot of benefits to living in New York town, let me tells ya. There are more than a few drawbacks, too. It's like the east coast/west coast thing, although I think living on either is a dumptruckload different than living in, say, Boise, or, I dunno, east Arkansas, or Kentucky (Hi Nathan!).

But I've lived here a year now and I've got an apartment that's more than a block away from a both an autorepair place with buzzing lugnut wrenches and the all day sound of hand truck pallet jacks scraping along the antifreeze corroded concretes from a place called Errol's Auto--run by a Guyanian named, you guessed it, Errol, and who answers the phone with an accented "RayPAIR Shup" and with two employees, Jimi the jamaican and Steve the boricuo who lived next door and who's little girl Dallas is just close enough to looking retarded that I find her adorably irresistible--see what I mean? Goods and bads, and all jumbled up in the same thing often. Don't have a car, get to walk everywhere, don't pay insurance, lose weight, but have to dodge drivers out to make me a paraplegic and messenger bikers traveling like streetlightningbolts, the fuckers. A whacked the shit out of a van with some groceries, nearly smashed my bottle of olive oil against the side of it, cross fourth avenue near union square cause the son of a bitch looked right at me and ran the red light anyway on a left, nearly making me marry with violence the stuffed dirty snoopy wedged into his front grille.

Did I mention I swear a lot since I came back here from prissy-clean lotus leaved Southern California? In doing so I've both gained and lost something.

But my point here is that New York has one unmitigated beautiful disaster like no other place in America, at least no place I've been, and I've been everywhere, man. Crazy People. There are more crazy people per asphalt square of sidewalk here than any other city or place in America. And they're everywhere. They're in the ghettoes of Bed-Stuy same as Shinytown, aka Midtown, aka the place where the big buildings like the Empire State, Grand Central Station, Times Square, and a shit-ton of obnoxious tourists with fanny packs and midwestern mullets are. They seep into the seething mass of people walking everywhere, and they're dirty, loud, and usually hungry, shuffling about like human sebaceous cysts, clogging the porous streaming avenues, the cutaneous mass that covers the paved grid that are these united boroughs. They're hair sticks out at all angles.

In California I had a hard time with time, because without realizing it I had tied many memories,t he act of remembering itself, to weather and seasons. This happened in February because it was right after that snowstorm or that happened in the summer, I remember, it was summer...

I've since lost the faculty of spatially ordering time into anything remotely resembling the Christian calendar of days, weeks, months, year, decades, and centuries we've agreed to use as a society. Instead here in NYC I use crazy people.

I remember my first crazy person. She was on the L train, the east/west subway that goes from north brooklyn along 14th st. in Manhattan, all the way over to 8th avenue and Chelsea. i was shopping at Chelsea market at the time--in the building, an old nabisco factory, where the food network is headquartered. IT was an obscene distance from my apartment, but I'd been in the city only a few weeks and was unraveled by the fruit exchange, Frank's combination lunch counter butcher and linen tablecloth sitdown restaurant, by the italian store that had real truffles behind the counter and fresh buffalo mozzarella. Plus, despite it being February, it hadn't really been cold yet.

Key word is yet. After a couple weeks the blast caught up with itself, and the first winter I'd felt in 5 years hit me, right after getting dumped on by a blizzard and trudging in new balances in feet of snow because i didn't have any boots why the hell would i have boots i had a frigging oRANGE AND LEMON TREE in my backyard and figs in the farmer's market what's this snow crap?

Luckily here they make it a sweet memory awfully fast so you can enjoy the snow falling and then get on with your life, as hordes of bulldozers and backoes actually MOVE the snow from streets and dump them into the east river or the bay or whatever body of water is closest. Either that or they load the garbage trains that go on the subway tracks, too, with snow, and run em to the end of the line--or Jersey, or the Long Island Suburbs, whatever comes first.

So it was about this time and it was cold as nads and I was on the L train spending the hour and a half to get to Chelsea that I did every week to get groceries. And there's this woman, this stringy black haired skinny woman, jabbering at a volume that suggested she was nowhere near aware of the fact that her enclosure, the train car, was not an auditorium, let alone that this cramped space was packed with people, a few of whom were wedged next to her.

"And they don't care, they don't care your homeless, you're not even there. You go to the shelters the shelters are full, you go to the park they tell to you get lost, go home, go to the shelter. They send you away. And they're worse to each other, they tell you if you're a whore you're too old to make any money, you're no good anymore. I was sitting there and he pulled it out and started masturbating, he's must have been THIS (gesture of small distance with fingers) far away from me, like I wasn't even there. I used to be a singer, my voice can carry six miles..."

And on and on. She had shopping bags filled with what looked like scarves, patchwork fabric swatches sticking out every which way, and this face, this gaunt lined jewish face and accent, with dark penetrating wild animal frenzy eyes. And she haunted me.

My favorite crazy guy was a guy I call Marley, God love his soul. I don't see Marley much anymore because he rides the G and A and C trains, which I used to live off of but don't anymore. But I remember him, and will always associate my first year in NYC with Marley.

Marley is this long lanky black guy with big Bob Marley nappy dreads, though that's not qhy I call him Marley, and usually broken down nike hightops, and either sweatpants or holey jeans with reebok ahtletic shorts on over top of them. I've seen him wear enormous starter or north face like jackets in the summer and tank tops in the winter.

What's memorable about Marley are the following things. One are his eyes, which are cavernous and blank. The guy shuffles, stop and start, like a disembodied being, like a ghost with the gout, or like an angel with dumbbells strapped to his wings. The walk is one reason I call him Marley, for Jacob Marley. Another is his begging style. He takes change and, as it accumulates, pours it from one hand to the other, kind of like poker players play with chips or how I imagine rich people (this is no doubt from watching Scrooge McDuck on Ducktales dive into his gold doubloons) cackle and gloat over their wealth in physical form. Marley staggers down the train cars in a choreography of pouring change into one hand, stopping suddenly at a person, tilting, and jutting out his hands. This is the third memorable thing about Marley: his hands. He has long, long fingers, almost talons, but they're always dry. They look like they about to be dust, dry and cracked and, if it's cold out, bleeding a little.

But the best and most piercing thing about Marley, the thing about him that results in me owing more than the change I gave him over the year, this debt I owe him is his helping me understand this rude awful place--I'm talking about America, not NYC--that has its quiet majesty, too, and came about from the way he reacts to people who will not respond to his begging. The people who look down, who look away, who pretend as best they can that this isn't happening, that he isn't there, that he never was. he'll take that long lanky frame, marley will, he'll take those cavernous eyes of his, and lean them down to where you're looking. His whole head will lean into you, and his dirty hair will get close enough to you that you'll smell it (the fragrance is old molasses, or maple syrup with mold growing on it---he did this to a lady sitting kitty corner to me on the train so i nearly got a mouthful). And then, having gotten your attention, having gotten you to recognize him, so that you have to say yes i'll give or no i can't or won't, he'll move on.

That's the opera lady of the L train and Marley. There are many more--the man without hands ont he 6 train, the shouting Polish lady with three teeth in Battery Park whose "Haaawwwngry," but they'll have to wait for now. For now these are the minute, second, and hour hands, the clock and calendar I live by. Stay tuned--more later.

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