While rummaging around in the basement, I found a plastic storage box containing my journals from when I first moved to New York City as a young buck [mumble-mumble] years ago. 1,000+ single-spaced type-written pages and a bunch of hand-written books. There’s stuff in there I don’t want My Bride or Daughters to read so I am of a mind to destroy them. But every time I try, I start reading and get sucked in.
Here’s an excerpt. It’s interesting from an historical standpoint, both mine and in regards to the city. We’re both much different people now. I dedicate this post to all the New Yorkers who bitch and moan about gentrification. Forget your misty watercolored memories. This is the way it was.
* * *
March 10, 1993
I saw some horrific things on the way home this evening. 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 does he expect to inject himself?! Maybe that’s what the two dudes were there for. 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 and I saw a homeless guy on the other side of the street sitting on the ground, 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. As I walked past him, I looked down at the heap and could tell that the shaking wasn’t from the cold. He was masturbating. In an instant, my sympathy dissolved into disgust.
Then I was waiting for the light to change at Suffolk Street and the guy in the car in front of me was getting a blow job! A girl was in the passenger seat bent over the shift console. The light turned and he drove away with a big stupid grin on his face. Guess what I felt that time? Envy.
The bums were kind of staggering around as usual. 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 little kid using it. She was a little girl, about eight or nine years old. She was wearing a dirty pink winter coat that had a hood with a fake fur lining. She had the phone off the hook and was holding it up against the ear of her Barbie doll. In this sea of ugly humanity, this poor child was playing with her doll. She doesn’t stand a chance. She’ll be eaten 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, at best, welcomed and if not that, at least tolerated. I’ll never feel close to the idiots who live in this shithole neighborhood. What was I thinking?
* * *
The modern day irony is that today, that same apartment, those same streets, are well outside my range of affordability. I couldn’t move back there even if I wanted to. Other, less dreary, posts pilfered from my journals can be seen here, here, here and here.
* * *
My semi-annual visits to Cleveland to see my family have taken on a whole new and fabulous dimension since a casino opened in the heart of downtown. They took a once-elegant department store and filled it with liquor and gambling. Huzzah! I took this clandestine photo of the dealer relieving me of $20, simply because there was an unfavorable roll of the dice. What nerve! Good-bye money. Now, that’s entertainment.
I still feel sorry for the homeless guy. Being homeless doesn’t eliminate a man’s natural yearnings and who knows how long it was since he last ejaculated? He must have been as horny as hell. What happens to such people when their neighbourhood gets gentrified?
Of course, I feel terrible for him now, so many years later. But, at the time, I was young and scared shitless. I was void of any sympathy for my fellow man.
Life, in all it’s absurd, terrible, weird, great, nothing to do with me, can you believe that, where’s my mommy, good on ya kid, is this really it, is that all there is kinda way, just goes on. And on. Though I’m sure NYC has it X100.
I need to have a drink with you soon, one on one.
I’m such an innocent.
All you had to do was walk around that neighborhood and be endlessly entertained. Sometimes in a bad way. That drink will happen one fine evening, brother.
So much sad and needful Humanity in a few blocks…That is New York, isn’t it?Or, wasn’t it? I’m sure it still is, somewhere—maybe not that neighborhood anymore—but in some other sad neighborhood; This post reminded me of a time when I was maybe 10 or 11 years old, and had take the LIRR into the city to go to my Violin Lesson. I took the Express subway at 34th street and after 96th, it stopped at 103rd—(This was my every Saturday Routine for many years—this was when the Subway still cost a Nickel!!!! )—-I would get up and stand in the vestibule by the door, as we got to 103rd, because I would have to get off at 110th, and Broadway, just one quick stop away….. and amble up to 111th to get to Mr. Malkin’s walk-up Apartment….
This one Saturday as the door opened at 103rd, I saw I guy standing next to a pole, kind of hidden—looking directly at me—-and very busy jerking off….Being so young, it was very scary….! I clutched my Violin case and prayed the door would close before he decided to make some move towards me….The door did close and he did not make a move towards me. That was about 70 years ago and it was such a scary experience I never ever forgot it. I can still see that guys scary face and kind of desperate eyes…..It sends chills, just as it did, back then.That is and was New York, too, isn’t it? There have always been rather desperate sad people in this amazing teaming city…..
I LOVE your Journals and hope you do not destroy them, my dear. Just as a chronicle of History alone, and the changes you have seen take place in the different neighborhoods that you have lived and worked—-and of course, your very personal view of all you saw and experienced….these journals are precious!
I dated a girl once who told me she used to see men masturbating in public all the time. Who knew it was an epidemic?! Men are such animals. That’s why I’m hoping both daughters are lesbians. So they don’t have to deal with creepy men.
The journals cause me no small amount of angst. They could change the way my daughters and wife look at me. I’m not kidding. Try walking around with THAT Sword of Damocles hanging over your head.
To go from disgust to envy just like that 🙂 I’m laughing.
DO NOT even think of throwing away those journals. Even if there’s stuff you don’t want to read (Although us your audience do, so feel free to post anything. I for one will take it as it is and never pass judgement. 😉
The little girl stood out there for me. Innocence in a world of pain. I wonder what she’s doing now.
Very interesting, somewhat sorrowful and not as rose tinted, as it never is.
That’s funny you should mention the little girl. That was my same thought after I read that; I wonder where she is today? She’s almost 30. I’d like to invent some fascinating Hollywood ending but the odds are that she fell through the cracks.
Easy for you guys to say don’t throw them away. There’s stuff in there that would humiliate me, should it ever get out. What about that?
Yeah what about that? Sharing your humiliation is like a cleansing of the soul. It will definitely help you meditate better. I think you should be daring 🙂
Yeah, sure. I know your game. You just want more juicy blog posts. They all do! “Give us blood!,” the crows yells. Well, if you come to NYC, I’ll buy you a tony cocktail and read my journals to you out loud. Otherwise, I’m not convinced they’re fit for public consumption.
The description fits exactly with my own mind-picture of NY, which is why I am so apprehensive about my son visiting there next month. (He’s been invited to play at the CMJ )
I tried to persuade him to take a flak jacket and at least a H&K MP5, but he said no.
Have NO WORRIES. Seriously. That was a long time ago. The city is NOTHING at ALL like it was back then. Your son will have the time of his life. No need for a flack jacket, but a big wad of cash will definitely help. Which venue will he be playing at CMJ?
It’s in Manhattan, “le Poisson Rouge”, if that means anything.
He’s also been invited to play in the “Ceebie-Jeebie” festival.
That means plenty. That’s the hot, new performance place in Greenwich Village. He’s going to have a hell of a time. What a lucky bloke.
I always enjoy your old posts. Keep them coming as often as you like.
When I moved to London, I was approached on my first day by a man who got out a wad of notes and kept unfurling them, saying he wanted to take me back to his hotel “just across there, just for an hour.”
At the time I honestly did not understand what he was driving at and thought it highly odd that an hour of my company and conversation would be worth all that money.
There are nicer ways to be chatted up, but when someone explained to me that he had sexual motives, I almost felt a tiny bit flattered!
That happened to me, as well. I was sitting by the fountain in front of The Plaza Hotel reading a book and a man walked up to me and asked if I’d was hungry and would I like a sardine sandwich back at his place. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why he would come up to a complete stranger and ask if I wanted sardines! Now, of course, I see.
When I visited NY in 1992, I was by no means in the worst part of the city, but saw some things I will never forget. I hear it’s cleaned up quite a bit, but haven’t been back again to find out.
1992 is a long time ago. Two recessions, a few mayors and a move to New Jersey for me. This place isn’t for everyone, even in it’s most innocent state. But everyone should see it at least once. Do you ever see yourself visiting again?
i moved from l.a. to columbus, ohio at the tender age of 22 and since then i’ve seen a bit more of the world, including nyc, so street life stopped surprising me a long time ago. and sometimes i think, more’s the pity, to steal a line from neruda. xoxoxoxo
It certainly makes for an entertaining read, so many years later. It has a ‘cool’ quotient. But I remember being in the middle of it and it didn’t feel so cool then. It felt like I made a terrible mistake at the time. Things turned out okay in the end. As it almost always does.
Very well written I might add. I would hang on to them and cherish the memories. The homeless guy sounds familiar, did he have an Limerick lilt to his voice as he groaned?
Thanks for the compliment. That means a lot coming from you. Some memories are best forgotten. I’ll leave the cherishing to the poets of the world.
Now that you mention it, not only did the homeless masturbator sound faintly Gaelic, he had a thinning hairline, to boot. You don’t think…naaaaa. No WAY.
Helloooooo!!! I’m still in the room! :¬/
Oh, shit. Chef, I think it IS him!
You sound like a good kid in your diaries: horrified at the horrors, and sympathetic towards and worried about the little girl. There’s a touch of the Holden Caulfield about you.
I’ve just read all the posts I’d missed in the last weeks or so, and, too lazy to click and extra button and comment on the actual post, I just want to say what a lovely father you are taking your daughters to see amazing art, and smashing cars. I love the mobile of debris in the glass box. If I had the money and space I’d definitely buy a piece like that.
I think I’m more like Pip than Holden. Throughout all the years on the Lower East Side, I always felt like an observer, not much of a participant. I looked on horrified but never got into the meat of the neighborhood.
I recently realized that I’m entirely self-serving. True, I’m trying to provide an interesting childhood for my daughters, but I’m also trying to create the childhood I didn’t have for myself.
it’s still there. NYC exported it. now diluted, it’s all still there. friend of mine told a tale today of working at a table in a downtown bar at 5pm today in my little world. drunk man in a suit stumbled in. incoherent. rude. crying. these scenes are both disgusting and heart-breaking. when i see these people, i know that the line between them and me is tenuous… and i continue to wonder how i got out.
have you thought about putting in some serious time with the journals and extracting the pieces like this – that tell the history from “Holden’s” point of view?
It still exists, but as a microcosm. Entire neighborhoods used to be fraught with the broken masses but now you have to look hard to see it. The subways are usually a pretty good place to visit olde New York.
I don’t know what to do with these damn things. Anything from your suggestions to holding a match to them comes to mind. Depends on my mood. There’s a lot there.
I have a memory of chatting to a homeless bloke in London; he introduced himself by saying: Hitler’s a c–t. I was too young to be afraid. He offered me a can of Tennants Extra from a plastic carrier bag. I declined as I had to get back to work.
The c-word is pretty rough trade for a girl too young to be afraid.
I just Googled Tennants Extra! I only had a vague idea what it was. What a generous bloke. Would you have accepted if you had been off work that day?
I would! Can’t beat a can of Tennants extra after a good w………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. oops..my hand slipped! :¬)
Sometimes you need a fix, sometimes you need a wank and sometimes you need a hummer, that’s life as they say… and strangely for all the fucked up shit i’ve seen it all seemed relatively normal to me, then again i might be a special case…
In retrospect, I feel kind of foolish that I found it all so shocking. What did I expect when I moved into that neighborhood? Its reputation was well known. I was seduced by a large, inexpensive, rent stabilized apartment.
Very interesting to read this along with your Black Box Warnings piece today. I had flashbacks of my NYC days from when I traveled up to 42nd and Lex for work weekly. It was cheaper for me to fly, often in first-class, than it would have been to rent a place. Crazy.
Enjoyed the glimpse into your past work. I have a good bit I can’t part with either. I shredded some work once, then kicked myself for a year, and still shake my head over it.
In a box, on a shelf, in the closet… where so much of my life sits and collects dust.
Excellent point, my friend. They are sister pieces. Both peeks into my past, one distant and another more recent. I didn’t know you had spent any time at all in NYC. What years are we talking? Interesting to read about your regret. I’ve been on the very edge of taking these books to the town dump many times but haven’t. I can’t seem to force myself to do it although I think I’ll regret it later.
Wow. That is an amazing day. Wtf NYC? But I loved it. And I loved that you felt envy at the guy getting the blow job. Not sure why, but I do. Excellent post. I need to go read the other ones now!
Yeah, I thought it was amazing too, Amazingly BAD! In hindsight it seems amusing but at the time I thought I thought moving to Manhattan was a bad decision. And I was jealous for all the obvious reasons.
I strongly advise you – as you say you are no longer a young buck , not to sit on the floor the next time you get sucked in.
I did that yesterday with stuff I hadn’t seen for years and then had the problem of getting up again.
One of the hardest things to endure living on the streets must be the total lack of privacy. Imagine.
Don’t be in a rush to throw good writing away. You’re still but a lad.
I don’t care a whit about the embarrassment my journals would cause for myself. I have no humility left, anyway. But I’m concerned it might permanently alter what my wife and, worse, daughters think about me. Isn’t that reason enough to set a match to them.
I’m betting that a loss of privacy is only the tip of the iceberg when you’re homeless. In fact, I CAN’T imagine.