Empire State


midtown from downtown

I was out with my friend Frankie the other night. It was just the two of us after a show, which was itself after a party, so it was more-or-less the inevitable time just before you call it quits and find a cab home. We were at a bar. Some Williamsburg special with cut up playing cards festooning the tables. It wasn’t our first choice, but it was out of the cold and we could hear ourselves over the pulse of the jukebox.

“One day, I’m going to miss this,” Frankie told me. It was a thought that had come to him the night previous while walking home in Bayside, so late it was morning. It wasn’t, he explained, just a thought that struck him because he was walking home or because of the train ride before that (or the midnight movie before that); instead it was a strange awareness that passed over him, a pre-emptive nostalgia for being young and in New York. A knowledge that some day all of this will be over.

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A Brooklyn Adventure

"Make art?" You've got the right idea, old newspaper bin at a random Bushwick gas station.

“Make art?” You’ve got the right idea, old newspaper bin at a random Bushwick gas station.

I went down to Brooklyn last night to hang with the J-Bird, because I haven’t seen him since the end of the school year when we were both strung out on stress and a myriad of other, less tangible things; he maybe even more than I.

The original plan was to head down to SummerScreen in McCarren Park to maybe watch The Goonies or maybe not watch The Goonies (J-Bird doesn’t like The Goonies…can you even imagine?), but I’m a moron who can’t get on the right train, apparently. And getting anywhere in Brooklyn is always needlessly involved. So by the time we entered the park the ground was completely covered in a blanket of Brooklynites sitting on bedsheets and newspapers, beer and picnic spreads within reach.

We stayed for a while anyway: no one minding that we were shouting over the dulcet chords of Hector’s Pets because everyone else was also there to shout over the band and just hang with each other. I should have gotten a picture of that I guess, the crowd of people and a movie screen that was about as big as a thumbnail in the distance, but I often forget to take pictures when I’m around J-Bird. It’s a thing.

We ended up leaving for Bushwick pretty early on, anyway. One of the previews was completely in French and my companion couldn’t tell because he couldn’t hear so…

I’m writing this, by the way, under the assumption that no one I met last night will ever read this, and by and large I feel that this is a valid assumption. Internet: don’t fail me now.

Anyway. In J-Bird I’ve found someone who navigates very much like myself. We both use the Google Maps app like it’s a game of hot and cold, staring at our dots to see if they’re going in the right direction and doubling back more often than not. We miss turn-offs and subway stops and always find the most convoluted way to trace our steps back. If I weren’t us, I’d be worried about us.

I’m worried about us.

Eventually, we did make it to Bushwick. And I think I may have fallen in love with that neighborhood. J-Bird’s cousin bumped into us by the food carts, which in retrospect isn’t that surprising considering we were just outside the L stop,  and he now makes three people I know who work at the same tech start-up. Obviously, this is a sign from the gods; I’m just not sure what it’s indicative of yet.

We walked together on the shuttered streets: houses cluttered against warehouses littered against stores with their doors and windows locked away tight. It’s dark down there, compared to Manhattan. Compared even to when I’m the only one walking down Mott at three in the morning. Sparser, when you move away from the main roads. And maybe the street lamps even carry more of an amber hue, diffusing their light more dimly in the darkness.

J-Bird and his friends found a really nice place. A two-story walk-up with white siding and a mural of a girl despairingly turning her face up at the light pollution sky pasted all down one side of it. Her face looms along a rooftop balcony that looks out onto the tracks of the M train, elevated high above the streets.

The house itself was full of crazies when I got there. J-Bird and our friend (and one of his roommates) the Philosopher were already confirmed as mild-mannered sociopaths, but I finally met the third of their trifecta and now I understand the dynamic. I met a dancer with no inhibitions: not even the ones that are instinctual and are never taught. I met a Russian girl who was almost unnervingly earnest, and taking time off to get her life together. I met another girl crashing in the living room on a futon who, by description, apparently was more married to her boyfriend than many husbands are to their wives, and a final sandy-haired boy I didn’t speak more than a dozen words to. He was fast asleep by some normal time: dead to our inconsiderate loudness.

New York is a vertical city. And I guess that’s true even when you’re way out of the way in a place where the highest structure is the subway. Because even then life happens on rooftops, where cigarettes are currency and conversation is smoke wafting away like so many words to the wind.

And so we laughed and spoke of many things. Music, obviously, because so many of us present straddled that weird divide of aesthetics and technology. But also of more obscure things. The Gospel of Thomas, where Jesus plays the part of a bodhisattva. Of monastic life and sweeper monks and the almighty janitorial service. Of what it means to want to create art for the rest of your life but having no idea yet what to do about it. And then came the lull when I watched the other girls dance: unselfconsciously sure of their bodies in a way that was at once completely foreign and also a reminder of what I’ve lost.

I’ll be fascinated to learn what everyone on that rooftop will become. It was a strange brew of the casual insincerity that I’ve become accustomed to and am an active participant in, of probing questions that were at once innocuous and unmasking, and of the sheer force of utter insanity packed into tight spaces.

I stayed late with them there. J-Bird saw me to the door in the small hours, a sloppy smile hanging crooked on his face. He’s always happier by the time I’m leaving, which always leaves me to ponder what kind of terms I’m on with him, as a friend. Whether he’s happy to or indifferent to see me. He promises we’ll hang out again, this summer. I hope so. J-Bird is chill. I want to get him to make music with me, but he seems to like the idea of the thing more than the thing itself. I respect that. I do that a lot, too. But I always want to make music with my friends. We’ll see.

He sent me off by telling me just to follow the M tracks until I got to a station, without indication of how far I would walk until I found one. Which was fine, because the unknowing leant generously to the eerie splendor of that evening. The huge, rusting stilts of the subway tracks bit into the pavement like the legs of some monolithic creature with the body of a segmented worm that snaked high above the streets. The B buses passed beneath it, their low-hanging maws scraping the pavement with screeches that echoed off of steel-shuttered storefronts. And from the sidewalk, the road blurred into a dystopic dreamworld of graffiti tags and solitary walkers, each going their own ways.

The path was interminable, and so was the wait for a late night train. I didn’t mind much: it was like walking in Blade Runner without the rain. It was like sitting in my own imagination. It was the infinite pleasure of seeing train tracks in the night, and not quite being sure where they lead.

Up All Night


One WTC, New York 

I came upon myself walking. Mostly walking. It was well past one am on a Friday night, when New York stumbles, half-awake, into the kitchen for a drink. The city felt clean for once: soaking wet with spring rain and half-obscured in the darkness. I think this is the only time when the buildings and the street signs and the double-decker buses can see themselves at all, what with puddles making fun house mirrors from the pavement, distorting back all manners of truth. Even the trees stooped down to look at their own faces, new leaves heavy on the branch.  It’s all about reflection. And romance, maybe. There were an inordinate amount of kissing couples out there in the rain. Maybe someone was filming a rom-com every several hundred feet.

They seemed to mock my singular state, reminding me how every emotion I currently harbor is both unwanted and unrequited. But still, there is much to live for as a lonely particle in space. I am young and able to enjoy the light from half-empty bars spilling out into these wet streets. My past few days have operated like an all-night diner. Thursday afternoon, night, and early morning were completely spent at a friend’s dormitory where we soldered our electronics projects for hours straight, kept awake by the frantic passage of too-fast time against the workload of circuitry and sound. Still, everything got built the very minute we left for class. I was manic and giggling. He was nauseous, clammy from stress. I think, in the end, I will look back at that night fondly: even  soldering on my hands and knees on his dirty floor, burning plastic fumes and IC chips corroding my eyes until they went bloodshot. Red like the cherry of his cigarette glowing hot in the dark while we walked back from Seven-Eleven at three in the morning with my cherry lime ricky fisted tight and a four-pack of toilet paper under his arm.

The oddly prosaic nature of the scene makes me treasure it more. Like the next night when we were drunk on tired I went over again to let the weariness really sink into my bones. I kept time while the boys sang a pop song and played guitar with stitched-up fingers. I hear your heart beat to the beat of the drums, oh what a shame that you came here with someone… 

It’s oddly sweet on acoustic guitar. And this sweetness followed me into the night as I trekked from the home of one friend to another. My feet were turtle slow and stumble-steady while my thoughts spun circles around my head and raced into the night. I thought of the glow of that room I’d just left behind (messy, boy-sweaty) and the welcome light of the friend where I was headed (cramped, made for sleeping and not living). And I thought of all the homes of all my friends: how they would look as they returned, as bone-weary as I, to those halogen glows of familiar bedsides. I could map them out (Midtown to Chinatown, East Village, West Village, Chelsea, Queens or all the way out to the far-flung reaches of Brooklyn) like stars and hang them up like a constellation.  They’d be the only visible one in Manhattan, at any rate.

And I walk between them while roaming the Earth, weaving unsteadily now (actually weaving: it took me over an hour to get there) between Chinatown and the West Village. There’s a stop at CVS to buy a toothbrush: it’s day two of not having come to my own home to the far-flung galaxy that is New Jersey and halitosis is not the answer. It takes forever, though. That purgatory of a midnight line.

It doesn’t matter. It is needed in the way a bed is needed. And when you’re closing in on hour 44 without sleep, an air mattress on a friend’s floor may as well be a palace. I will fall asleep on her floor while she is in mid-sentence, my slip from consciousness obvious even as it will be inevitable. But she, bless her heart, doesn’t mind. Because we’ll talk over breakfast. Because there will be other, inevitable nights when I make the long trek to her home.

And if I could find somewhere to belong: let me hang with them, hang my own weary star in that constellation of bedside lamps shining out into the dimness.

I love things most in the night: like my friends. Like the puddle-wonderful city.