— 55 West 13th Street, Manhattan, New York, noon
Today is a Monday in February and the sun is shining in New York through clear skies. It is cool but not cold and the blue in the sky is high and whitened by a thin wintriness. These events are from last week:
Karmic Rubber Band
B., my neighbor down the hall is a recent arrival in New York City from Austin, Texas where he has been for the last 6 years. Prior to that he lived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Now he’s 27 and lives in our warehouse building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and works in Manhattan at a retail bookstore (a national chain) and at The Bottom Line club. Last week, he had friends in town visiting from Baton Rouge.
MT., 27, and JO., 22, punks traveling from Baton Rouge to New York and back in a little, two-door, Honda CRX within which they were also sleeping, were staying alive by eating peanut butter sandwiches and MRE’s – Meals Ready to Eat, military rations purchased by MT.’s father, a soldier – while on the road. They were young scrappers who had taken to living in condemned buildings in Baton Rouge to keep from having to get too many jobs. They had been on the road for a month or so.
I met them briefly the night before last Monday morning when I ran into them in the hallway outside B.’s door. I asked them that morning what they were up to. They were building a frame for B.’s bedroom wall. I offered them some marijuana to help them stay focused and get through the task. They accepted, so I left them with a small amount of weed and my pipe and lighter and headed off to work.
I got into work and had a message from my friend M. who was taking the day off from work and planned to be downtown near my office. We made plans to meet for lunch. By 3:00, I hadn’t heard from M. so I decided to get some lunch for myself before my 4:00 meeting with the Vice President and several members of the Accounting department. I walked out of my office, though, and saw M. just walking towards me in the street. He had just gotten to the building. It was the first coincidence of the day. I took M. around the corner to Bar 6 on Avenue of the Americas for lunch.
Afterward we made plans to meet in the evening and I went back to work while he strolled off to the East Village. At 4:00, I went with C., the manager of the department in which I work, to the meeting with Accounting. It went all right and when I returned it was already 5:30. M. was waiting outside my office building for me. I brought him up to check out where I work and then we went walking.
We ended up at St. Mark’s Bar in the East Village, enjoying high-flying alto solos by Bird over quartets and quintets of swinging rhythms and over our heads as we sipped a couple of cold beers and talked about music and art. I went to the bathroom. While I was in there, M. got the high sign from a fellow at the bar. When I joined them, we all went outside to have a smoke. Out on the sidewalk we made a smoker’s circle. M. and I introduced ourselves to our host, R. who produced a fat little joint to pass.
R. is a light-skinned brother with a thin, evenly-groomed mustache. He has short, carefully styled hair and full lips that part to reveal a glowing set of teeth when he smiles. We all laughed and chatted as we passed the smoke, talking about all manner of things. Somehow the conversation came around to my space in Brooklyn. I mentioned that I was living in an unfinished warehouse space, that I was working on it to build a live/work studio. R., suddenly looked at me strangely as he pulled on the joint that had just been passed back to him by M. After exhaling, he asked if I was living in Greenpoint. I was surprised that he guessed. All I had said was that my place was in Brooklyn.
He was holding the joint, now-half smoked. He smiled and said, “Do you know a guy named B.? It was incredible: 8 million people in New York and we get pulled out by a guy who knows my neighbor. He was a co-worker of B.’s at the The Bottom Line. We couldn’t believe the coincidence. I laughed and said, “It’s even more perfect because just this morning I gave his friends a little bag to get them through the day.” We looked at each other and for just half a second locked eyes and then collectively looked down at the joint. I looked down at it, thinly burning with ashy flecks across it’s orangey tip in R.’s hand. “That’s my weed!” I half-shouted. We broke up the circle and fell away into individual peals of laughter, three high-flying brothers smoking a j. on the sidewalk in the Village and cracking up
The coaccidence was dazzling. Over in Brooklyn in the morning, I give away a small bag of weed to my neighbor’s friends and not ten hours later in Manhattan, a co-worker of his, unknowingly and independently gives my friend the high sign and ends up sharing a joint with me.
A couple of nights later, on the eve of their departure to Baton Rouge, I took MT. and JO. to dinner. I figured the two young punks would need a little better food than MRE’s to sustain them on the long journey back to the deep South. B. came along with. We went to the little Thai place in Greenpoint a few blocks from our place. When I told him the story of meeting his friend R., I ended by saying, “Hey man, I know I can trust you as my neighbor. I mean I lent you something and I got it back within less than a day, a borough away … I mean your shit is tight … you’re like a karmic rubber band.” And we all laughed and had a good time.
After we smoked the joint down, we went back in the bar to finish our beers. Then M. and I made our way out to my place. We hung out, smoked some more pot as I cleaned up and we made plans to go to St. Nick’s Pub. My hot water still wasn’t working then and I was really funky, so I asked M. if I could stay out at his house that night and he readily invited me to do so. I grabbed up some clothes, threw them into my work bag and M. and I were off to Harlem.
BROTHER CAME FLYING OUT THE SUBWAY DOOR …
… BALD HEAD shining, hollering, “Milky Way, Man, Milky Way!” paid the guy, got the candy and got back on the train before the doors closed. And we made our way on to 145th street. That’s what I wrote down on the back of a business card on the way up to M.’s. with brother unwrapping that thing all casual-like and munching on it as we rolled along. I’ll tell you the things I’ve seen on the New York City Subway one day.
We went up to M.’s place on 145th around the corner from St. Nick’s so he too could change clothes. He had a message on his machine from a woman he had met the week before who reported she would be at St. Nick’s that night. Earlier, after I had given the young punks the weed and come into the office, and before lunch with M. and my series of coincidences and coaccidents, I had written myself a short journal entry:
I have been having crazy nights.
… Just Long Enough
St. Nick’s Pub has an open mic jam session on Monday nights hosted by MC Murph and produced and promoted by Berta Indeed Productions. It features Patience Higgins and his quartet, who host some of the baddest local talent cutting one another in solotime and occasional newcomers and amateurs as well.
When we arrived things were sounding a little cheesy but they straightened up a bit and before long we were sitting and finding grooves as various soloists made their way through Parker charts and other standards. We weren’t there twenty minutes when M.’s friend arrived with her two girlfriends T. and J. – three chocolate-colored, gorgeous women who turned every head in the house at one time or another.
M.’s friend is beautiful. She is thin and curvy, about 5’6” tall in heels and she has a bright smile that she shares when inspired to do so. She is a poet and spoken-word artist who performs regularly in the New York area. Her friends are equally beautiful but uniquely so. T. had long cornrows and a round, gentle face. J. was an Amazon. Well over 6 feet in heels, she was tall and lanky and moved with a gangly beauty that gave her ebony arms a mystical quality.
J. was kinetic. Her arms moved smoothly and hypnotically, yet quickly and out of her own control. We all sat together, listened to the music and talked. J. and T. stood up often and danced, with one another and alone, bringing a desire to the hearts of everyone present and filling the room with the magic of music’s power to move a body and soul. They were sexy and nimble and moving sensually, energized by the swelling music that filled the little joint.
T. even arranged with MC Murph to sit in. She wanted to sing. It was her first time singing at St. Nick’s. She did “On Green Dolphin Street,” and after a little timidness in the first go around came back after the solos to finish strong and clear with only a slight, wavering tremolo to reveal what may have been any nerves on edge. She sang clearly and held her body still to the microphone staring evenly into the audience, smiling at her friends occasionally. We all enjoyed ourselves.
I am new to this place, to these people. I’ve learned it’s foolish to try anything too soon. So I was keeping quiet. Listening to the music and relaxing. I ached to let these three women know how much I admired their shapes and styles, but knew how stupid I would sound saying so. But it’s good, I think, to let people know you notice their beauty even if time and space conspire against doing anything about it in the now. If you have an opportunity, you’ve got to seize it.
J. was talking with us all at the table when she managed in the whirling motion of her long, beautiful arms, to knock over her drink. She pulled her chair back from the table, startled, as we picked up her drink and patted at the table with napkins, telling her not to worry about it. “Oh, God, my arms are just too long,” she apologized as she scooted back from the table, “I’ll just move back here.”
Quickly and for perhaps the first time all evening I spoke up, “No baby, your arms are … just … long enough,” I said, looking directly into her eyes, “come back over here and we’ll just move your drink.” I ordered another round for her and the other women and we were all too smooth for words.
M. and I strolled in the cold, back to his place. On the way I teased him about his friend. He kept saying, “She’s not my girlfriend!” and when he did I heard the desire behind it. We both knew how nice it would be if she were. Before going to bed, we listened to both sides of the Abbey Lincoln album he had bought earlier that day down in the Village. Her voice rang rich and sweet through the Harlem night as I drifted off to sleep on M.’s comfy old couch.
And that’s the story of last Monday.
Tuesday I woke up at M.’s house with a bit of a headache from the gins-and-tonics the night before. Predominantly from the gins, I’m sure. I decided to skip work so I called in sick and stayed in the city. I caught the D down to 59th street and then went walking over to the Upper East Side. I had lunch by myself at a little French bistro – ordered a seared Tuna – and bought a couple of back pocket journal/sketchbooks. Then I strolled over to Gracious Home on 72nd and Third and picked up some paint brushes. I went home and slept. That night I was in, listening to Mingus and watching ships pass the Manhattan skyline as the lights went on in the City.
Wednesday I got up and went to work to try to achieve something, anything. It was good. I managed to make. There was the lecture … gotta get that lecture covered. It has too much to handle poorly.
Thursday I took off from work again, rainy and cold weather and the hot water finally on. I hung out with the visiting kids from Baton Rouge, made a dope deal (scored a $50 quarter bag of some weak-ass shit) and built a shower curtain set up (a “d” rod with a hanging cord to a metal ring in the ceiling of the bathroom). I took the Lousiana punks for their going away dinner that night. Had a hot shower for the first time in my space on Friday morning.
Friday was D. and being out and acting silly – drinks at Bar 6, dinner at L’Orange Bleue (430 Broome Street), drinks at bar ñ and then on to Soho. A late night walk through the East Village and ending up at a little cheesy brazilian bar called Anyway with a guitar duo who couldn’t keep time but could finger-pick like a couple of Brazilian freaks. We laughed and acted silly and misbehaved and were just happy together which we hadn’t been in months.
Then the weekend has been an explosion of food and drink and joyous celebrations of a million senses. My fortune cookies and horoscopes are all overwhelmingly positive and my mind is confused about what I am supposed to be doing. I keep going with the flow.
My new roommates have a 1971 Ford Gran Torino of a metallic green color with a white hard top. It is a beautiful old machine. I now have keys to that machine and on Sunday we loaded up into that low-riding cruiser, crossed the Queensboro Bridge and came into the city. We went to Pongal, the South Indian place in the twenties and then to this really cool sake bar downstairs on 9th street at 2nd in the East Village, it’s called Decibel.
Cruising on a Sunday afternoon. In the green machine.
New York: Manhattan. Brooklyn. Queens.