Ah, New York, New York. It’s true. It’s a hell of a town.
This place has seen me through it all. And I’ve seen her as well. I’ve seen everything here from live shows to small events and from little venues at small clubs to rooftop heights; and of course, I have seen the romance of the Hudson River at night.
I’ve been Downtown where the scene is different and the vibe is real. I have walked alongside the river during late nights, alone but I was not lonely. Or at least I can say that I was not lonesome at all; but more so, I was reflecting, thinking about my life as it is or was or as it should be.
The river is black at night, which acts like a moving stream of a constant mirror that reflects the buildings on either side. The river reflects the lights from buildings on either the New Jersey side or my City itself. Even until this day, I have yet to untie all of its mysteries. I have yet to see all of its hidden secrets. But this is what a love affair is – always a mystery, always learning, and always uncovering more wonder, each day, from this day onward and until death do us part.
I recall walking down by the river. Maybe I was somewhere near 14th Street but away from the crowds and away from the need to please people. I was away from the need to impress and, instead, I was focused on the poets and their stories of other poets who inspired them.
I thought about them in comparison to me and wondered, “why not?
What about them is different from me?
Nothing really. Or, maybe everything is different except one thing.
They had the balls to write. They had the balls to tell us about what they saw. They had the courage to put it all out there without dressing themselves as someone else. And me, if I am to be the writer that I’ve always wanted to be, then let this be me as well.
I think about the rooftops I have taken to and the views from high above places like Lexington Avenue. I think about my years in a purgatorial state just waiting, living, learning, and writing my way through an existence which I hoped to improve. And I will.
I think about the time I took to the rooftops of places where I worked.
I think about how I’d tell my secrets to the sky.
The lights from the buildings and tall spires illuminated the night, almost as sleepless as I am (at times) yet there was rest for me here. There was an ear to listen and a figurative shoulder to absorb my thoughts, which meant that no matter what – I was never alone.
She knows me well. In fact, my city knows me on a first name basis. We talk often and yet; my City does not keep score. She does not wonder when we’ll speak again or how long I’ll be away because she knows that wherever I am, I will always be a prince in her castle.
I have seen the wealthiest of the wealthy and the poorest of the poor. I have seen the scams and heard the stories in places like on the shuttle train between Grand Central and Times Square. This runs back and forth, from the Eastside to the Westside (or vice/versa for those who don’t know).
I remember the woman who used to ask for money because she was a widow with two children to feed. But her story changed during Christmas time. This is when she was a widow with three children.
I can say that this shuttle sees it all. This sees the typical businessman, intensified and busy in his suit, a club tie, or a homogenized life; maybe privileged. Maybe not. But probably picked for his position by someone he knows via the secret-handshake club.
I have seen the business woman who is equally intensified. Equally well-dressed and connected. There are those from the secretary pool and those from the mail room. There’s the dichotomy of the white collar and the blue collar. Then there are the visitors and the out-of-towners who are in for the day, wide-eyed and awaiting to see what the City has to show them.
Of course, there are the subway musicians, awaiting their discovery, singing for change and hoping for the kind of tips that fold up so they can buy themselves lunch.
I’ve seen the freaks here. I’ve seen street poets offer their spoken words on the shuttle train. I have seen fights or the close calls to severe beatings, arguments, racially stirred threats, and I have watched the excited smiles of out-of-towners become muted by the off-putting realities of, say, the homeless person who sleeps on the subways and pissed in their pants. Or, there’s the person who talks to themselves, or nods the slow nod, infinitely swirling through vast emptiness of their dope-filled wonderlands.
And then BAM. The pandemic hits.
Everything empties and what was once alive, like say 42nd Street, became a ghost town. I can say that I have seen my City through everything. But this is a new one.
I can say that I have seen her through riots. I have seen parades. I have seen marches and protests, both peaceful and violent.
I have seen her both celebrated and violated yet my City never stops. She has never changed. She is still there, still standing, even after I saw her two buildings fall after the attacks. After the rubble came the rebuild; the spirit of my city has never been broken.
Like I said, she knows me.
She knows about my secrets.
She knows the dark ones too yet she still welcomes me.
And next is fall; the autumn months.
Next is the idea I have now which is to visit Central Park or to stand near Columbus Circle.
Did I ever tell you about the time I was supposed to do a reading and a book review at one of the bookstores here?
Well, it never got off the ground because the manager told me, “Sorry, but you’re just not that good.”
He told me there was really no reason to set me up because I’ll never be the kind of writer that people would care about.
The store has closed and although I cannot say for certain, this person is probably working somewhere in their mundane little life, still judging, pointing fingers, and still remarking about who’ll make it and who won’t.
I remember buying two hot dogs on the street after this meeting. Mustard, ketchup and sauerkraut.
Then there was me in my blue Converse sneakers – loosely tied, a pair of baggy jeans and a t-shirt.
I was a young man in all of his glory because although I was rejected, at least I was on my way to finding my real life. Or whatever that means.
I remember the plays I’ve seen. One of which, the title said it all – I love you, you’re perfect, now change. I remember seeing Rent, which I talk about often and the understanding of 525,600 minutes in a year.
I have been up and down here. I have bled in these streets and I have been high in both the good ways and bad. I have celebrated my right to be who I am, diverse (like you) and whether I am included or excluded, my City knows me well enough that she would never forget to invite me.
I agree when people say the streets are not the same. I agree that crime has changed her face but, to me, no one can scold her or hold her to blame. No one can scar my City or shame her into submission. No one can accuse her or take away her beauty and rob my City of her virtue. I can say that she will outlive us all and so long as she lives – so will I.
It’s been years since I’ve seen her museums. But I know where they are. It’s been a long time since I was in Soho. But she remembers me. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the singing transvestite who rides around on her bicycle and sings along 9th Avenue.
It’s been decades since I’ve been on the Circle Line or near the popular clubs where my young adulthood was spent on the prowl and looking for lust in all the wrong places.
This place is mine as well as she is yours too.
She is more than a piece of literature and more than what the poets describe.
She is everything to me.
She is living and breathing and above all – unending.
She is you.
She knows my dreams better than anyone
and helps me keeps them alive . . .