Friday, October 23, 2009
#23 – CROSSING MANHATTAN
On that warm humid, New Year's Eve night that felt like a midsummer night, I left Joan’s and started to walk across Manhattan west to east, so as to be on St. Mark’s before midnight. The streets I was traveling were filled with lively pedestrians who did not need overcoats in this out-of-season, out-of-time time. The light, too, was warm. Facades seemed to glow. People moving not fast but with a celebratory purpose, most of them dressed up, many carrying bags with wine bottles, passing each other, crisscrossing, walking as if gliding in the warm, charged evening. Like well-groomed potentially erotic characters in some foreign film. But also, I knew, a scene that went beyond anything I could compare it to.
For it was a walk that that even at the time seemed like the dividing line after which nothing could remain unchanged.
It is a little after 11 when I leave the party at Joan’s. From Seventh I walk through Sheridan Square which, when I had lived on Waverly between Christopher and 10th years back, had seemed like a lobby for my use. Now I hear Irish music from the Lion’s Head – and think of how I listened to radio music surreptitiously on childhood nights in Connecticut.
On Waverly I pass right under the pair of half story high windows on a narrow brown building where, for a little over two years between Greece and Bangkok, in the time I was turning 30, I had lived and sort of loved and thrown well-fueled parties, knowing that whatever the size of a place if you packed it beyond capacity the party would be a good one.
I come to Greenwich Avenue, a sort of main street in my old neighborhood, and walk down diagonally to Eighth Street, past the subway stop on Sixth that I had used in my brief time as a job holder. Again there are people everywhere moving through the warm night. And now I walk east on Eighth, passing two movie theaters where I had first seen Goddard and Truffaut as their films were coming out. And through Astor Place, past the building to which the agent who sold my Philippines book had recently moved, and then past stately Cooper Union, where all artist students are on scholarship, and the seedy upstairs Five Spot, where I often went late at night to drink and struggle to connect with Ornette Coleman and the like.
I continue on now past Third Avenue as Eighth Street becomes St. Mark’s Place, which still has its old hotel and its ominous old baths and its art and trinket and kinky clothes stores that have always been there, just like the sixties still, though already like the sixties before the sixties started. And on to the heavy old building that had been the Polish National Home, then for a time became the a dance place, the Electric Circus. I go up a steep stoop stairway that passes over a semi-basement which is crowded with old men in what must be a marginal people’s AA meeting. Then up two flights to a big dimmed-light meeting room that has candles burning on a stage.
I had been in a smaller meeting room here once this month with Jenny for a strange thing called The Course on Miracles. It was supposed to have been channeled from somewhere and had seemed to me like soft Reader’s Digest spirituality, though it attracted a number of the people who were regulars at the very tough ACOA meetings I was frequenting.
To the left of the front rows is a second floor fire escape landing, the door there open to this warm night air. Standing on an iron platform smoking is Lisa, who I knew from the meetings. She is a fairly successful but often tortured actress who has a current role on a soap opera that seems to be known to almost everyone. And though her talk in meetings sometimes disturbed me, I appreciate that she is putting her troubled life in order, and I also appreciate that she is more beautiful at forty than I had first noticed.
She talks now about how her cat has been throwing up all evening. But what registers most is that she not only looks good she is friendly. A message from somewhere tells me I should not be so friendly as I would like, for Lisa is a friend of my new friend and potential girlfriend Jenny. So I already owe something to Jenny. I am thinking this as I go to take a seat in a middle row halfway back .
And the already dim overhead lights go dimmer till they go out, and there is no light except the candlelight from the stage. Jenny has not come and Lisa has drifted away. Although everyone in the room – is it 60 people, 100 people, more than that? – seems almost familiar, these are clearly not people I know, just people whom I have passed by or who have passed by me. I am here but not here.