THE LONG OPENING OF "WALK ABOUT" 65 WEST BROADWAY ETC
Glimpses of Downtown Manhattan & The Sacramento Mountains
“It has become hard to walk the earth.”
Peter Handke, Walk About the Villages.
The first time I beheld downtown Manhattan, other than on a postcard or photograph, was early one misty dawn from the deck of the General Maurice Rose, an American troop ship, lying at anchor in New York Bay. I had slipped as quietly as I could down from my bunk bed, dressed rapidly and had rushed topside, after a fourteen day trip, the resounding quiet metal and a kind of shuffling motion of a ship at anchor had replaced the pitching motion it had made as it churned through the sea and that had woken me: Am I here? Am I really here? The only other person deck side was the M.P., and, from the bow of the ship, I looked for a long time all around the expanse of the bay, and especially of course at that formidable agglomeration of structures at the tip of Manhattan. The mist softened the distinctions from one building to the other even more than distance usually does, so that the heap appeared as though it were one. That was on my arrival at the Brooklyn Port of Embarkation as an U.S. Army dependent in October 1950. Then, within days, I saw it again, from closer up, as a set-piece across the East River, from the promenade in Brooklyn Heights; within two weeks, then, from yet another perspective, receding, as we drove on the Pulasky Skyway, what an odd name and contraption, from Jersey City to Newark to West Orange; that is, as seen from across the Hudson and across marshes; many times from the tip of Manhattan and, receding or approaching, from the zooming lenses of the Staten Island Ferry and sight-seeing boats around the East River and the Hudson; and on the arrival and departure of a number of transatlantic trips; once even looking down at it from the observation deck of the Empire State Building, it had to be a foreign guest that it took to get me to visit the then already clichÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â©; and in the 70s, then, for several years at ten miles remove, from the perspective of the good clean air on the Rockaways, by the Atlantic, and of course from a variety of distances and perspectives in the air. Like a huge agglomeration of boulders in the desert, or a mountainous outcropping, downtown Manhattan was your inevitable orientation point, though not its pinnacle, in that part of the world. In junior high I once even worked a brief stretch one summer as a runner in the canyons of capitalism for an uncle’s hole in the wall export import firm, on William Street, in the Wall Street area, and had kept craning my neck, peeking up inside the canyons for the sky, but I had scarcely revisited the area since. However, city walker though I am, I did not begin to explore downtown Manhattan, way downtown Manhattan, until the late 60s, not until ten years after I had actually come to live in Manhattan, and I started to so explore for reasons having to do with feeling more than unusually confined, ill at ease on the Eastside and Westside, in Midtown, in Chelsea, just about where-ever in the City I happened to reside, especially, from 1966 until 1971, as I did in the vicinity of those huge 50 story slabs that were rising, flipping up it seemed, one after the other, on Sixth Avenue between 42nd & 57th Streets; except for the at least well-proportioned Rockefeller Center, the Time-Life Building of course, and the CBS “Rock” perhaps. As compared to the intricate spatial arrangements of the Wall Street area, I felt deadened by all those cartons of empty space between the slabs, ample sky proved insufficient recompense. These slabs reminded me of Army bases, but built upwards. Perhaps I was really not that much of a city boy. Yet the iridescence that had once attracted the firefly from the ledge on Eagle Rock in West Orange, about twenty-five miles off, had not yet spent all its magnetism; also, since childhood, parts of which had been spent tucked away in barely occupied or disintegrating castles, I was enamored of wild and out of the way and large utilitarian even half-destroyed spaces, and so began my explorations. However, SoHo [South of Houston] ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…“ this, the first uniformly industrialized 19th century modular quarter, the first truly geometric city grid and its uniformly high six story buildings, either 20 or 40 feet by 100 feet wide and long [how threatening had its imposition been experienced as being?] and their fraudulent Greco-Roman cast-iron facades, barged in from the Pennsylvania penury-wage-paying iron mills during the boom after the war between the states, now trans-prettified by grossly applied oil paint - reminded my wife, to tears, of a Berlin factory district, improbably called Wedding. However, had it not been for her aversion to this kind of unredeemable ugliness I would have moved at least to the vicinity of SoHo nearly ten years before I finally did; perhaps to China Town, to the West or East Village [we did take one close look at those 18th century human-scale houses in Tomkins Square, but she worked uptown]. Might we have discovered the then unnamed TriBeCa [Triangle Below Canal Street]? In retrospect, it became clear that I ought, obviously, to have taken my wife on a more extensive walking tour, and averted my eyes from my ability to spot a blonde at a mile’s remove, not have been abashed by her tears, to the south of Canal and Chambers Streets. Perhaps the marriage would have endured? No.
If Houston Street - it connects to the Williamsburg Bridge via Delancy - is one all-important Manhattan divide, Canal, ten blocks further downtown, a nearly bazaar-like shopping haven, the divide between SoHo and TriBeCa, gateway to the Holland Tunnel to the west and to the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn to the east, is an even more significant transmission belt. Robert Moses’ plan had been to raze a swath several hundreds feet wide along Canal Street and build an Interstate connecting these two entrances to Manhattan, a plan that had been thwarted, thanks in large part to Jane, and to a groundswell. Had it succeeded, wouldn’t “downtown” have been entirely lopped off, accessible only via Subway and via a few bridges and tunnels and the highways along the circumference of Manhattan?
The grid begins to cease to be the totalitarian of the landscape south of Canal; at least there are more exceptions to it than The [West] Village is to its rule north of Houston. TriBeCa - east of the Hudson, west of Broadway, and north of Vesey - is not a triangle of any kind. Perhaps it was called triangle because you couldn’t really call it “irregular rectangle below Canal,” it certainly never comes to any kind of point, ending as it does about a mile south along the flat five-block wide end on Vesey Street. Vesey runs from West Street to Broadway, it is the street immediately north of what is once again the WTC pit. Also, TriBeCa spills, almost immediately leapt east of Broadway, for example the famous punk rock venue, the Mudd Club, on White Street I think, was in full hop as early as 1977, and in the north it reaches across Canal and incorporates the western end of Spring Street, the One Note music bar and restaurant, and at Spring and Hudson the no longer Half-Note where, in the early 60s, I had sat within arms length of Coltrane for weeks, an endurable hour at a time, on end; I had come close; as a matter of fact, TriBeCa crept north along Hudson toward The Village, or vice versa, no matter how inhospitable the industrial architecture of Hudson was to such creepage. Analogous to the designation SoHo, TriBeCa might have been called SoCa; but why then not NoCha, for north of Chambers? A trapezoid I think is the kind of rectangle it really is, and a unique and memorable name “Trapezoid Below Canal” would have been. The lack of adroitness in finding a fitting name for SoHo or TriBeCa showed that these areas, as compared to Little Italy; or as opposed to Chinatown or Wall Street or Morningside Heights, lacked a significantly indigenous ethnic, geographic or labor identity of the kind that might have lent them a valid name. Whether the purely geographic designation would acquire an aura depended on the people who lived there or what they did, 7th Avenue had become a synonym for Garment District, which would persist even after not all that many garment were pushed around on it any more; Gansevoort was a meatpacking district in more than one sense. Moreover, the far northwest quadrant of TriBeCa, the area just south of the Holland Tunnel, belies any quaint notion that some charming Village might be tucked away there. That section is heavy-duty factory and storage, formidable buildings occupying entire square blocks, ten or more stories high; the street are/were very dark canyons indeed, yet tucked away there, just a few blocks south of the Holland Tunnel, we looked with curiosity at the Cadillacs parked nearby, the valet and doormen of a plush restaurant called something along the lines of DelMonte’s, allegedly the last steak stop for some family members in New Jersey, or their first in Manhattan. As in much of SoHo, this dark quarter was a continuation, or probably the inception for that most formidable of industrial Manhattan intersections, Canal and Hudson and Canal and Varick Streets as they industrialized north; impressive airplane-carrier or battleship-shaped and - sized buildings, some of them twenty or more stories high: I had an immediate yen for occupying a windowed corner at the bow of one of them. I wanted views, and adventurous ones, preferably from on high, as from the bridge of the aforementioned General Maurice Rose.
In the late 60s, the Destruction of Lower Manhattan had forced the greengrocers in the swath from Laight, a half dozen blocks south of Canal, all the way down to Vesey Street, an entire mile’s worth of them, to move off to Hunts Point way off in the Bronx; the end of New York’s Les Halles, all that is left of them is something called Washington Market Park. Nonetheless, the occasional blast from the north continued to blow the smell of the coffee roasters and spice mongers on Franklin or Harrison Street down south, replacing the prevailing south-westerlies, the Jersey refineries’ sulphuric eggs. The streets between North Moore and Duane [whatever happened to the Moore that must have lived somewhere further south?], and between Hudson and Greenwich, a fine ten square block area, was a set of parallel streets, too, whose buildings, though lacking cast iron facades, also lacked any of the charm or convenience of, say, a New York Brownstone; no front porches and stairways; the interiors barren and open, unstructured: however, structurable. As a matter of fact, only a heavy-duty artist working in the grand imperialist mode, or a musician or theater artist who needed ample rehearsal space deserved 4,000 square feet or more. There was much to be said against loft living, from any number of perspectives aesthetic, utilitarian, as I would realize; unless you liked camping out. Cheese and shrimp and egg mongers had held on to some refrigerated basements units south of North Moore, too. Quite a few of the buildings were small warehouses or had once held small manufacturing units. Variegated area below Canal, VAC, might have been the most neutral of names. Moreover, you find your fair share of avenue vistas there; one of them, the almost uniformly, if you look closely into all its grimy darknesses, magnificent Broadway, penetrates towards the tip, to Battery Park, but is the only one to extend all the way, a diagonal that runs the length of Manhattan from Battery Park to Morningside Heights. The mile or so long stretches Church and Lafayette Streets and West Broadway are placed amidst something halfway irregular and unpredictable. Overall, the layout of the area’s streets resembles sheaves from a game called “sticks” that have been dropped there, and if you look at Microsoft’s Streets software, which I am using to make sure that memory has not played too many tricks [and which features all the newest restaurants of course] you realize that, many of the sticks are broken, foreshortened, that sets of them have been sectionally created, that of some, there’s just a tip left. Discounting that major interruption Washington Square, West Broadway is the southern extension of Fifth Avenue which is the divider between east and west and for the East and West of Manhattan’s street #s; the east side of the streets in Manhattan that run north-south have the odd house #s, as do the northern sides of the Manhattan streets that run from east to west, but the lengthwise streets lack the directionals S and N. East Broadway lies a half-mile off from Chambers Street to the southeast, and I don’t know right now what side it’s odd # are on, in Chinatown, and the southwest-northeast directional on which it lies makes it something quite odd. The twenty blocks of Church Street, Trinity Place extending out of Wall Street to the north, lie twixt the diagonalizing Broadway and its western by no means non-parail West Broadway. Church Street, an architecturally uniquely miserable, congested shopping haven that, with the advent of one-way streets, was forced to absorb Broadway’s uptown traffic, despite the left divergence of 6th Avenue at Walker that absorbs a fair share of its traffic, implodes in terrible traffic mayhem at Canal near Wooster [Robert Moses did have a point, albeit his fetish was his kind of efficiency, if only human beings had been born as automobiles]. The dank Lafayette, an architecturally grand Roman dream turned grimy, a wide, underused artery, has its beginning on Chambers just north of City Hall and peters out at Peter Cooper Union around East 8th Street and Broadway and Third Avenue ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…“ it has nowhere to go on to, apparently there is even less use for it in that part of the town than there is for it further south; much of the time when I walked, it seemed a vacant invitation for a drag race. Below Chambers Street, another of those divider cross-connecters, though I am hard put to say what it divides from what on the West Side [Chambers Street to the East, via the Court district and the city jail, is one of the demarcations of Chinatown] connects the Brooklyn Bridge to what was once the West Side Highway, no end of intersections angle at other than that of 90 degrees, and the further south, below Fulton and closer you get to Wall Street the more jumbled the streets become, evincing memories of Europe, of circular medieval street development, of walls, of moats, of enclosed meadows and fields, and of venues demarcated by older, more modulated proprietary laws than the fiat of a geometrical eminent domain. Snippets are really all that is left of these. Of course, you found some truly ancient streets, cobble-stoned, with small buildings called Mews, quite a ways North in Manhattan, not just in Chinatown. At one such, around Sixth Avenue and 9th Street, I actually knew the three successive owners of a single one of these tiny buildings: EE Cummings; Michael Lebeck, both dead, and J.L., who might as easily be, his creativity these days consists of lording it over people, turning on them and jerking them off; none of whom knew each other, though it turned out that J.L. had bought the Mews from Lebeck; a one in a million chance in New York I would think, except that all three were poets who shared an eye and a notion of what was human-sized living, a sensibility, which with respect of size was not mine. In that suite of Mews I also visited the mad mad mad Djuna Barnes, to obtain a copy of Ryder for a German publisher. Why did I think she was mad? Because she said afterwards that I had sat on her table: that is not the sort of thing I do, certainly not on immediate acquaintance, moreover it would have been impossible because her small table was filled with more pill bottles than I have ever seen on a table then or since. She was in her pink nightgown I recall, a patient of some kind whom I might as well have visited in Bellevue. The magnificently beautiful and statuesque Hannah Butter was also seen wandering around the cobblestones, her sister, married to someone who worked at Dutton, had a mews too, and might come in and say hello. Less than half a mile south of Chambers, below Fulton, the divide between City Hall Park and Canyon Country, you can even find a few other sets of 17th century dolls houses that have held out, no doubt not without assistance of some preservation league, in the shadow of the collection of stalactites hanging from the capitalist grotto in the sky, to call skyscrapers by a name they might acquire on a drippy day and that may make you look differently at them ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…“ I would for about ten years, neck-craning-time to espy the gargoyles and odd modernist art nouveau of all kind detailing at 40 stories on high, the washes left by rain in cement, nooks for falcons and red hawks, swallows, the infinitely-patterned play of light and shadow which made for innovative perspectives on each of those many weekly walks that either started on “the beach,” [see anon for this improbable development] and rounded Battery Park; or at the Fulton Fish Market, just south of the “The Bridge,” and wound or zigzagged their way to “the beach,” with a drink at one of three bars. There was also the board game reminder, second access to the bridge, the oddly angled and architecturally again magnificently well-aged Park Row at the southeast edge of City Hall Park, it runs southwest to northeast, as though the broken-off southern leg of the not terribly broad East Broadway had drifted tectonically down, or vice versa. In the oldest parts of the city you find one-block vestiges with names like Marketfield, Beaver.
Around 1970 I started going to the occasional party on the fourth, the top floor, and aroof of a 150 plus year old building with the street number 65 West Broadway. 65 West Broadway is two and one half blocks south of the Chambers Street IRT subway stop, and three blocks north of where the WTC, which was being built at that time, used to stand, not that I took much note of all this activity, certainly not at night; the occasional look into the pit was about all; and considering my only occasional day-time visits and the fact that from early fall of 1972 until late spring 1973 I traveled half-way and back around the world on the not particularly splendid but perfectly adequate 12,000 ton freighter Hellenic Splendor, and then, except for twice weekly visits to the city, the gradual rise of the twin towers, their addition to the downtown clump, so overwhelming from up close, seemed, from ten miles off, more like two larger, thicker mushroom stems that were outgrowing the rest, at least so they did from my out of downtown perspective of the Atlantic coast at Belle Harbor, the Rockaways [the site of yet another recent crash, but not a totally unanticipatable one considering the number of plane’s overhead the Rockaways at all times of the day]. The experience of the construction of the WTC, therefore, for me, was scarcely overwhelming as no doubt it must have been to those who lived in their ever-increasing shadows or were there robbed of their light and view; or compared to the extraordinary Destruction of Lower Manhattan during the 60s that preceded the erection of the WTC and the World Financial Center. That destruction extended about a mile, twenty blocks north, all the way to Laight Street, and from Greenwich to West Street [or what was then the West Side Highway], obliterating a mile of Washington Street along the way, and comprised a minimum of twenty square blocks. In lieu of tearing down a further twenty square blocks in TriBeCa and there build what became The World Financial Center, an area to the south of what would have been approximately Chambers Street had you extended it several blocks out into the Hudson and down nearly as far as Battery Park, was excerpted by eminent domain from the great Hudson River, had a miles’ worth of piers extending out into the Hudson torn away, was walled in and filled with sand buggered out of the area of New York Bay known as The Narrows, which is spanned by the Verrezano Bridge between Staten Island and Brooklyn, and which was silting in. This sand, dredged up and then pumped into the huge walled rectangle, section by section, by big dredges from Hamburg, had real seashells and an unexpected admixture of anthracite in any variety of sizes. This anthracite derived from the Pennsylvania coalfields and had been deposited in the Narrows either by slipping off barges or by barges that had sunk there in the 19th century and later. For nearly ten years, from the mid-70s to the mid-80s, there was this beach on the southern end of the west side of Manhattan, an area of Manhattan so narrow that west and east lose their significance, where you could walk your dog or the dog inside you, sun-bathe, put up all kinds of downtown art, whatever, especially at night, and where in fact I took Wooly Bear and myself and various amants, and once a Swedish poet who, we calculated, was in a very long next line for a Scandinavian to receive the Nobel prize for literature, for many a walk. On the beach you could do what most folks do at a beach: lie down in the sand, sun bathe [once a madman started screaming at me and throwing things at the sight of a naked human body] play volley ball; listen to the Hudson rush along or splash against the sides of the retaining wall [diving into the Hudson was inadvisable since the wall was too high and lacked any kind of hold to climb back up] and just contemplate: the great Hudson and its oily sheen and flotsam; the sky and clouds [Handke’s _expression “Cloud Home,” comes to mind]; the barge and ship traffic; or the shore of New Jersey across the way. Jersey City, at that time, from this perspective of a mile and a half off, the entire shoreline it seemed, could not have made a more dilapidated impression. First of all, there was a huge clock, what might its size be at this remove? 16 feet in diameter? 32 or 64? Rusting, it had not moved a hand for who knows how many years; a huge building, allegedly an ex-Ford factory, looked enticing for loft development. Something along those lines was happening a bit further up along the Jersey shore: Hoboken was in the process of becoming a more reasonable beachhead of the downtown life style. Once built, all 110 floors of them, plus a 20 floor long antenna on the North of the two boxes, early on a morning, they cast their shadow onto my Sahara. I used a photograph of the Twin Towers as seen across these sand dunes of our then Battery Park beach for the cover of Peter Handke’s poems Nonsense & Happiness ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…“ the reference was to La Defense, a modernist complex outside Paris whose aridity terrified Handke; if I had been in a humorous mood I might have also put in a camel, and perhaps even done so ÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¡ la Road to Morocco, licking one of the towers; that would have been too cute for words. However, one thing to be said for downtown was that, until the coming of the artists, it was relievedly free of American cute; it did not go down easy. The twin towers lacked windows that could be opened and, in that respect, were a reminder of the most horrendously air-and-ion-deprived year of my life working on the 25th floor of one of the slabs on Sixth Avenue, but the best paid. Not a single downtown visitor or visitor of any other kind or guest ever asked to dine at Windows to the World, not once did I have the urge to ascend to the top floors on my own, as I probably would have had I not had so many other perspectives, from planes and Helicopters, to draw on, and only twice did I behold the WTC from two nearby sky-scrapers whom it now dwarfed: from the Woolworth Tower, from the office of a purblind lawyer who said he had been the only Jewish Colonel in the United States Marines during World War two and one of whose sons had dropped out into Montana where he moved in a horse-drawn covered wagon from town to town giving readings from a manuscript I was meant to look at; the other time, from nearly as high a perspective, from the office of some huge investment organization to which an uptown restaurant acquaintance had sent me. I loved the view of the bay of New York and regretted that money meant little to me except to the extent that it involved the firm, for if I had been less nonchalant about money I’d sure as hell would have wanted to have his office as a perch, but the maximum 500,000 dollars that I asked for, that the firm could justifiably ask for to put itself on a sound financial footing, was such a tiny peanut that it was like asking the very nice investment banker, Schlesinger may have been his name, for cab fare, and his firm did not invest cab-fare-sized amounts! That was a new one on me. At any event, the WTC looked deadly boring from those perspectives, too, say compared to the Pan Am Building, if it still called that now that there is no more Pan Am, which also blocks two powerful views as it towers over Grand Central Terminal and divides Park Avenue from Park Avenue South .
65 and 66 West Broadway lie midway Warren Street to the North and Murray Street to the South; the straightened out part of Park Row becomes Park Place; Barclay, Vesey, Fulton, Gold, Liberty, Rector is the order in which the parallels descend. In Warren Street, locating myself when back downtown at those parties, in what is perhaps the ugliest building in all of New York City, in the block between West Broadway and Greenwich Street, I remembered I had gotten my first paying New York job. It was the stupidest brick building, a building with nothing but job brokers, I had gotten the job, as a dishwasher at a truck stop in the Bronx, I lasted half a day, they fed me and terribly kindly told me, who had just come from a job as a lumber jack in a forest that had been shut down because of extreme fire danger, and who had failed to find a job tobacco picking in Simco County, Ontario, the tobacco wasn’t ready, the work would most certainly have ruined my back, but hitchhiking around I had made it as far as Stratford, that they didn’t think I was cut out for the work, no hard feelings, and paid me ten dollars, they had wanted a Puerto Rican, no doubt. Once loft fervor hit downtown full force even this, the ugliest stupidest squarest of two story rectangles, 81 Warren I think is its #, with glass-bricks for windows, was turned into lofts in one of which I knew a highly intelligent, successful, upwardly mobile schmoozer who was becoming as smooth as pebbles in a brook whose every second sentence was a lie - that of course only resembled stupid apartments; and if I can trust MSN’s Street’s and Trips, it too has a restaurant now, Giglio’s. The construction of the WTC, of course, did not just abbreviate or interrupt certain streets, John and Gold and Nassau, Greenwich and Washington, some that were already vestigial may have disappeared altogether.
65 West Broadway consists of two joined pre-Civil war buildings. The southern part had been a hotel once upon a long time ago; Lincoln it was said had slept in its dinginess during the Civil War, what remained of it as a hotel was a dimly lighted, six foot wide, step-worn, marble stairway, marble sidings with marble borders that no longer fit snugly, and not terribly interesting, standard mid-19th century, small, octagonal white tiling which some equally tiny but square red and black tile stripe arranged into repetitive patterns, what a long way from Greek and Roman and even older tiling we had come, in the disintegrating bathrooms, and a huge shaft-way staircase that irrupted in the shape of a big black box, covered by a sectioned, grimy chicken-wire-glass skylight, onto the roof: had someone had ideas for an elevator at one time? The northern part of # 65, it seemed, had never had plumbing of any kind. A long, flat vertical turn-of-the-century telephone connection panel, of grimy sooted tin, on the first staircase landing, afforded amusing access on its ancient bolts and screws to variable, jumbled, free long-distance service via the building at the southeast corner of the intersection between Murray and West Broadway, the building across the street. That building is one of those twenty-five story high 50s glass boxes, with one or the other setback tier, occasionally you catch a glimpse of it in shots of the disaster, it has the kind of hideous maroon and crÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¨me de menthe glass panels designed in the vain attempt to attenuate the fundamental stupidity and medicality, hideousness and vacuousness of buildings such as these, it houses the IRS, and it seems forlorn in that part of the world. In Midtown on 2nd or 3rd Avenue it would feel right at home. It is the predecessor to the glass slabs on Avenue of the Americas, just as SoHo is its predecessor; that impulse for uniformity, geometrics, modularity, and cubicularity of bureaucratic warrens, born of the monastery and the casern, the dictatorship of the # persists, that fundamental American hatred of Nature, and by the time you get to the great state of KansasÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦ seems to consume the entire heartland; and here, as on the Avenue of the Americas, its neon lights are not extinguished on weekends. The thirty some story pinkish-maroon slate A.T.T. [probably Verizon now] computer switching unit at Church and Walker I think it is, which has not a window to its name, built at a time when computers were room-sized, does not count for comparison, it stands out - and does it ever! - as a unique and somber aberration all its own, a huge gravestone as yet uninscribed with the date of what died inside it. It could not really be said to be an eyesore, which is perhaps all you could really ask. After all, so far at least, the area was devoid of those Saran wrap buildings that mirrored the world around them and housed tax shelter specialists and who knows what but remained entirely impervious to the outside gaze.
The ground floor of 65 West Broadway consisted of three kinds of eateries. The Murray Street Corner of 65 West Broadway was a pizza joint; a steaming, cramped, early morning Greek slither of a greasy-spoon whose waddled owner served delicious eggs served as book end for the midways Boars Head, one of those dark downtown merchant places that were dying out fast then. Having breakfast at the Greeks one amazing morning after, a riderless police horse galloped past, up West Broadway, to the north, against traffic, it had tossed its mount at Vesey, by the World Trade Center, and collided with a Mercedes at Leonard and Varick, its dismounted mount running haplessly after it, for what kind of reception at the Mounted Stables at Beach and Varick? The appropriately carved wooden entrance to The Boar’s Head adjoined that to the lofts’ totally inappropriate modern two-sided metal door to the stairwell. Mickey, the famous owner of Max’s Kansas City, everyone looked like Mick Jagger the one time I went there in the 60s, converted a far more formidable old merchant restaurant on Chambers Street - it ran all the way through north to Reade Street - into the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club, it had a too narrow bottleneck opening as so many of these railway car restaurants and bars have, and this time round Mickey hung neon art from the twenty-five foot high ceiling of the cavernous dining area, whose ceiling, as was often the case on ground level, was far too high: but Mickey’s antennae were too finely tuned to the ground, the groundswell he heard was too far ahead of the herd; if, instead of arriving in the mid-70s, had he waited a few more years he would have struck it rich once more. The only old time merchants’ eatery that remained in that part of downtown was Suerkens at Church and Barclay; I frequented it whenever I had the opportunity and its owner in his comfortably square tie and suit became a friend. The Boars Head, to the best of my ascertaining it lacked a Falstaff of any kind, took the option of turning honky-tonk early during the course of my fifteen-year acquaintance with the building. The dark, wet-ash, burnt-tree-stump-gray outside of 65 West Broadway - searching for the building in the now so over-photographed area I notice that these uniquely drab walls, no one had ever used them even to post anything! at what Navy surplus auction had the cheapskate landlord found that paint? ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…“ had become an impromptu bulletin board for those touchingly hopeful against-all-the-odds “have you seen” posters. The second floor of 65 West Broadway, just up from our telephone connections, had been the honky-tonk’s service area, we squinted through the badly blocked hole of the ripped-out door knob in what called itself “emergency exit” on this landing and espied the occasional couple glowing in the candle light emitted from red, fish-netted glass bowls on small round tables with red table cloths, what French painter had arranged that? The honky-tonk spirit pervaded the building. Third floor of 65 was the rehearsal and living space for some dancers; they also did work for the director Robert Wilson; anyhow, looking for a brand-new, quite fabulous, sleek silver-gray tomcat, the O.J. of gray tomcats, that had absconded, disoriented no doubt, on the day of its importation from Brooklyn, I once came on him in the most compromised position.
The ascent along a sufficiently sturdy, suspiciously somewhat too modern iron railing eventuated at a landing just short of the top fourth floor where you had the choice of taking a few further marbled steps up to go out to the roof, or of turning left and up to the many-bolted door to the southern hotel end of the suite. Compared to the third floor, whose ceiling was perhaps ten feet high, the fourth floor ceiling had a low, very low, undulating tin ceiling. The tin had been stamped with a standard fleur de lils design, lilies of the ceiling, low because of an overhead storage area, an attic of sorts, only accessible via a hatch on the roof, forever the soot of ages trickled down between the cracks in the crumbly, rusty, disintegrating tin that perhaps did not entirely disintegrate because it had been painted so many times, you wagered on when it might actually come crashing down with whatever mysteries had been packed in the barge’s hold on top. The fourth floor space of the northern of the two buildings was a huge square box of a room, comparatively by surprise feeling twice as roomy, the more so because you were forced to step three feet down a shaky three step staircase, and it lacked a “hold” on top to foreshorten the slanted, irregularly brown-water-marked, like soiled underwear, whitish sheet-rock ceiling. This “living room” as it was called, as though not an equal amount of “living” went on in the hotel part with its open kitchen and that ancient tiled bathroom and its long, old dining room table, on which you could lay out any number of things, had, to your right as you entered, the standard loft gas space-heater suspended on high near that room’s own exit to the staircase. To save on gas and soot I put in a set of removable plastic double windows all around both rooms at one point. Directly in its center stood a rectangular, very low slab of marble top table with a broken-off corner, which had come off the side of the stairwell, which was surrounded by as motley an assortment of chaises as you can imagine. The parties that I first started going to in the early 70s were dancing and talking parties. The talking was done in the hotel room, near the kitchen, sitting at the dining room table, or standing in small groups, while the dancing proceeded in the living room. I moved between the two. The song I associate with dancing in that space at that time is the Stones “Brown Sugar”; that song’s rhythm and how it influenced the way that feet bounced had a trampoline-like effect on the highly elastic, ancient, wooden floor boards. Dancing on such a floor literalized the saying “The place rocked.” The talk was chiefly of an intellectual nature, not many of the people there knew each other, so they were get-togethers, feeling each other out; in retrospect, once you discovered, during the course of a ten year period, who your then ingathering host, a prematurely aging German, then dressed as a hippie clown, now as another, turned out to be, you were the insects that had been invited to the meat-eating flower that would eviscerate you.
Eventually the living room’s fitting piÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â©ce de rÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â©sistance became a green Nougahyde couch that derived all the way from St. Louis. It had been built there during the 20s, was seven feet long, comfortably backed and side-armed, with rounded corners and room enough for one central square and two well-fitted cushions. It had six EmpÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€šÃ‚re legs, and its near indestructible Nougahyde had been nailed down all along every edge on the wooden frame with gilded brass tacks, too many to count; the fitting compliment to SoHo architecture. The hideous green that this precursor to plastic had been dyed had barely acquired a few black marks over the years of its long usage, and only a single tear, the Nougahyde did not absorb sweat, so it did not breathe, you slithered on it, particularly on a hot day, even with your clothes on, there is no telling about its memory though. It’s original owners, who had brought it with them, were the Skouras brothers who were reputed to have struck it rich in St. Louis in the nickelodeon wars during the 20s - against the Wurlitzers? - before they made it in the movie business. I had actually been assigned to be the host of Spiros Skouras when he had been an invited guest at Haverford College; in his talk, I recall, he had inveighed against showing bare breasts on film. I recall feeling relieved of some nausea at his unctuousness once I had seen him back to the train station, yet here we met again, by means of an object that had once been his that had traveled with them to, I don’t know, New Rochelle or Rye or Larchmont or Scarsdale, that kind of suburb, upward in the scale of things of the world; and when the Skouras estate was auctioned had come into the possession of a firm amazingly called Vicland Productions [it dubbed American pornographic films into German, which is why you need to pronounce the name of this firm the German way.] Vicland, so I found out, within a year of Urizen’s Books founding, not the claimed little documentaries for West German television, was the source of one of the partner’s monies; and when the partner, whose ambitions were directed towards Central Park South, as mine were in the opposite direction, had taken the first big step North, via a well-secured Mews! [off Carmine Street] I not only inherited the partying loft but also the couch once that embarrassment Vicland Productions had been shut down, which could easily have supported even a profligate book company, and the partner’s Vicland partner, Victor, who had provided the contacts and the first syllable to the name of that firm, had been driven, by means of a variety of three card monte tricks, to drink and to confused and florid consternation with which this soldati occasionally showed up at the Urizen offices to everyone but the inherited, and sympathetic, Ingrid, the firm’s first secretary’s surprise; and in this fashion this casting couch, via a brief stay at Urizen Book, across the way at 66 West Broadway, migrated to the fourth floor of 65 West Broadway, which, if it could talk could tell many further stories of its own, if only if I knew where it was, because I do not remember into whose hands it passed, one of its central legs broken, Nougahyde intact after fifty some years, when I sold the key to the loft back to the landlord and sold everything in the loft that was saleable in spring of 1986. So, in some respects, the story of the book company and of the loft can also be told in terms of what the green Nougahyde couch saw, experienced, and heard [a picaresque]. End of digression
The northern end of the square living room had yet another space which was divided into a bedroom on the left, with the flimsiest of walls, and, to the right, a sheet-rocked, narrow stairway, with its own gold-lame door, led up to the captain’s bridge as it might be called, with the captain’s quarters. A most somnolent Aussie revolutionary exposed his marihuana in the crawl space beneath that stairway to ultra violet rays. A shoebox-sized vent at the edge of the living room ceiling provided heat from the living room to the captain’s quarters. When the Arctic Express hit in fall and winter the joined building creaked and swayed and breathed like a barque in a heavy sea. When the Northwest Express hit the WTC, the WTC complex compressed the wind and turned the nor’west express into a southern blowhard that, starting at Vesey, lifted up the tin garbage cans, so that by Murray and West Broadway, just a few blocks north, the garbage cans, their covers and their contents clattering and banging, whooshed and flapped coldly, four floors or higher above West Broadway, at twice the speed at which the nor’wester had hit the confining WTC, towards the Empire State Building to the north. It was a big surprise the first time I saw this from my office window at 66 West Broadway, and every time thereafter, not the sort of thing I get used to, as you did to the tremors that the underground West Side IRT trains transmitted through the wooden beams of the aging, creaky landlocked barque.
The captain’s quarter, about three times as wide at twenty feet as it was narrow, had a loft bed at its south-eastern end, two and a half feet off the floor, a walk-in closet, and, midway, facing south, a small door that provided access to the roof. To exit through this small door you had to step up a few steps while taking care to stoop unless you were a midget; not that the threshold was level with the roof, you needed to step down onto it, which turned the threshold into an obstacle; the two loft rooms and the roof, too, were an obstacle course, entirely unpredictable obstacle courses, until you had lived in them for a while. The floors mirrored the uneven ceilings, on the fourth floor everything gravitated towards the southwest, on the several roofs ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…“ they could not be considered as one except from on high - things might roll any which way. Altogether, that roof was like that of a river barge, with big, sloping six-foot sidings that swung out to the south and west, the cornice - what building of a certain age in New York is without a cornice, here like a building’s hat with only a couple of its sides uncurled, which formed a balustrade wide enough on top for it to be used for a walk-way. This roof, paralleling the oddness of the two joined buildings, of course was of two different levels, just like the floors below, except that the storage space above the hotel room on the southern end bulged upward into a hump and then sloped down toward the south, while the sides sloped somewhat west and east, sort of like a whale, partially encased by sidings, beached in tar paper and tar; and the roof of the northern non-hotel end, because the ceiling of the room below was so much higher than that of the hotel room, was therefore unexpectedly radically lower than you would have anticipated it to be judging by the living room ceiling. You had to, and of course, once accustomed, did carry these dimensionalities around in your head, and knew how to adjust to them, they became second nature; but the levels of the north and south sides of the roof, as compared to the two rooms below, had no set of stairs, as opposed to the quarters below you had to clamber up to the southern part or leap down to the flat northern part of the roof, which sloped to the north-east where you could make out the burnished marriage angel atop the Municipal Building at the end of Chambers Street, the kind of figure that might inadvertently invade your dreams. “The Bridge” was not visible because buildings on Church and Broadway blocked your view. 65 West Broadway was devoid of the usual roof signature of the area, that array of huge, barrel-shaped, cone-hatted wooden water towers on metal stilts with metal ladders.
To the south, as we know, was the horror of the IRS building, whose inhabitants must have been equally horrified by the goings on on the roof of 65 West Broadway. Talk about culture clash! 66 West Broadway, directly opposite and west, across the street from # 65, was the only building on the west side between Murray and Warren, a six story building with a most impressive and solid, engrimed, reddish-yellowish faÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â§ade and of course a huge cornice; but, once inside, astonishingly, only twenty feet deep, 20 feet by ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¾ of a city block wide! A good thing it did not stand in the path of the onrushing WTC winds in winter. As a matter of fact, 65 West Broadway was built lengthwise, just like its opposite building, too. The second floor of # 66 was occupied by a printer with a fine lengthwise set of presses, and had a series of huge, angled bay windows; the fourth floor, during the seven years of its existence, was occupied by Urizen Books, first half of it, then all of it for a few years, then just half of it, then just a few rooms. At the northwest corner at the north of 66 West Broadway was a small parking lot, what might have stood there at one time? No one remembered. Stringing a South American rope bridge between the fourth floors of 66 and 65 West Broadway would have saved me a trip with Andy or Egbert in 66 West Broadway’s wheezy elevator and some exercise for my legs; and, on a slow day, might have made for a New York Post or Daily News photo. What was amazing was that with all the destruction that Governor Rockefeller and his authorities had wrought in the 60s in Lower Manhattan, 65 West Broadway and its adjacent equally nondescript, miserable tenement 71-73 West Broadway had not been turned into kindling. Compared to the splendor at which the wreckers had had their go, especially in the area where the WTC complex came to stand, that east side of West Broadway lacked any but the most obscure kind. Although the WW II carpet bombers had managed to time their bombs and train their sights so finely as to excerpt cathedrals from their designs, in the matter of city planning their art-historical impulses did not come into play. They just lacked the right advisers I suppose.
If you looked to the southeast from the northern end of the roof of 65 West Broadway your eyes following a seagull might be swept on high to the high yellow of the gothicked marble of the seventy stories high Woolworth Tower and its verdigreed copper spire. A dead bird plummeting thence down would take you right back down like a falling elevator, of the Woolworth Tower, to the turn of the 19th century, 75-foot long twenty-five-foot wide marble swimming pool, which Mr. Woolworth, who had been wealthier just than in wool, had built himself there at that time, and which had become a Jack LaLanne health club, sometime in the late 60s or early 70s. With aging soccer knees unwilling to take the pounding administered by running on the cement of the abandoned West Side Highway [abandoned in the mid-70s to pedestrians and bicyclists after several cars dropped through a hole onto West Street below, amazing isn’t it! That and the devastation of the South Bronx! And the many likes.], and lacking venues like Central or Prospect Park with gentler paths, the local dance or exercise clubs were your recourse. Many a morning I was part of the early crew in the pool, and wasn’t I ever amazed the first time I saw him, looking so much like the chicken-monger Jack Perdue, with just his head, a little too small for his body, sticking out of the water, dog-paddling, but as soon as upon eye-contact he raised a hand to wave hello, politicking even there, instantly identifiable as Hizhonor, the mayor, Ed Koch. If it had been Jack Perdue I imagined him swimming with a plucked chicken between his teeth like a retriever. Once out of the water, a further memento of politicking became evident, a further connection between him and Jack Perdue, a belly that had been acquired on the chicken circuit. There it wobbled those extra five pounds, as though Ed were carrying, but a little high. I saw no diminution in this fascinating glob of Jell-O over the several many years that Ed and I shared these stinging waters during which, in the late 70s, I was sorely tempted to whisper to him, in the water, who could overhear us, if his body guards had not drowned me, “Mayor Koch, f.y.i., your comptroller and two of your commissioners are on the take. Why not talk to the FBI.” “And who are you to give me this bit of good news on an early morning?” “I apologize, Sir, for making your morning a less than happy one, I realize that I could as easily write you, or drop off a note at City Hall, but I happen to be the sounding board for one of the principals at Bus Stop Shelter, Inc. Surely, Sir, you have heard of this estimable firm and its travailsÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦” - It did not sound like the kind of conversation you could conduct while swimming splashing alongside each other. The sauna was more appropriate for it. And so I, with a few too many hats on my head at that time, kept this bit of information to myself, the news would reach Hizhonor, who, to the best of all this inside knowledge, hadn’t the faintest. It was the time of disintegrating law firms, people were flinging themselves out of windows, no end of legislators were suddenly behind bars, the principal of Bus Stop Shelters of my acquaintance, one old lover with whom I had remained friends, was not only using me as a sounding and sorting board for a kind of nefariousness with which I would soon enough make personal acquaintance, but also sleeping with every newsperson she could to get her story about Saul Steinberg and the Pritzker brothers out. I finally had the opportunity to get to know a congressman, my congressman, at a town meeting in some arid meeting hall, it could as easily have been in the old East Berlin, at a development near the Fulton Fish Market on the East River, Beekman Street. His bailiwick, Staten Island, and perhaps a bite of Brooklyn, included the under-populated tip of Manhattan. I had only read about something as sleazy as the impression that he and his florid, oily retinue made on me. Could they be so unaware? This creep was a U.S. Congressman? In another year there he was, my congressman Ryan, caught in the Abscam scandal, a West Pointer too! Having survived six weeks walking most of the streets of Calcutta, it was beginning to dawn on me that I was living, as some of us called it, in Calcutta on the Hudson; and forever thereonafter I would be variously amused or enraged whenever I read stories, especially those in the New York Times Sunday Magazine keep getting my tender goat, expressing outrage at the corruption in far away places, like Moscow or Belgrade or Managua. In retrospect, I doubt that I could have withstood all the hard living and working at that time without Jack LaLanne. Once I was so out of it, that after a night at a punk rock club, a party given for friends to help them digest the most suicidal of American holidays, those family getbacktogethers called Thanksgiving, the loneliest day of the American year, the punk music had been so fiercely piercing I had stuffed napkins into my ears to salvage my ear drums, I leapt into the pool the next morning and by the afternoon was coming down with ear aches of a kind I had not had since early childhood. A visit to a downtown clinic revealed that the napkins had not only been pushed too deep into the ears, but had expanded. Meanwhile they had dried, which then made for the painful confirmation that your eardrums indeed have the most delicate of hairs, the finest antennae, and that like hair of any kind it is painful to pull on them, but especially so if the surface to which they are attached is as tender as your ear drum. No wonder everything had sounded so oddly muffled during the day! Pain, however, can set things clear and straight. Who might have been the painter to render all this?
As to other perspectives from the roof of 65 West Broadway: 71-73 West Broadway being two stories higher than # 65, all you saw looking directly north was 71-73’s southern, entirely unwindowed metal-bracket-reinforced wall [had it not had a fading advertisement of some kind? No: trompe l’oeils, that was for SoHo] that is unless you craned your neck across the balustrade or went out through the cut in the cornice onto the fire escape whence you could see the Empire State Building, which Patrice clambered up one night, her usual eight hours, at least not two days, late for a date, before totally besmooching me with lipstick ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…“ and, being the small tank type, had needed someone to lock his hands in a step-hold for her to get initial purchase on the extendable ladder part of the fire escape! Leaving one sneaker dangling on it behind.
Looking down while you stood by the railing at the east end of the roof you noticed in the depths below the extensive standard industrial air conditioning units and their big upturned fans, for the various eateries, and for yet another one on Murray Street, adjacent the pizzeria, which certainly kept your nose on its toes, and all the crap that had been tossed or windswept into that pit there.
One of the bridge’s two 24 by 12 inch windows was above the loft bed that I had built in the south-east corner of the Captain’s quarters, pour une amant, once I moved into those quarters in 1977, by a lean, terrier-like carpenter, who so it turned out was a bomber for the IRA, there are some folks you can sleep on the floor with but not everyone, and Ian, who did the work courtesy of his acquaintance with the revolutionary-minded Aussie, was another of those people who suddenly pop out of a manhole into your life and who had at least one story to tell that is worth passing on: As an IRA bomber he was definitely small time, a Marlboro bomber as it were, so watch it if someone tosses a box of Marlboro cigarettes your way. It appears his modus operandi was to put the chemical fertilizer inside the box of Marlboro’s, together with an acid that would burn through latex rubber and set off the chemicals. Just crush the box, toss it casually, and within a minute or so your house will be on fire. I made sure to pay and tip him well. What is interesting about this story is his very Catholic mother’s reaction to his explanation why he was carrying prophylactics in his pants pockets. “Oh, in that case it’s all right, son!” The particular amant for whom this loft bed had been built also introduced the only other dog into my downtown life, a chow the color of an Irish redhead, whose name would have to have been Bear and whose fluff no doubt has been turned into birds’ nests meanwhile. However, half a name was all that Bear had in common with the by then already abducted Wooly Bear. Bear was familiarly known as “bird brain,” and you couldn’t just let this high class dog, who lacked all discretion about whom to be aggressive to or not, out on the street on its own, as you could Wooly Bear, this dog had to be walked, as did the girlfriend, on a regular basis, so that is it Junior Walker and the All star’s? “Walking the Dog,” which could be found on the jukeboxes of all three bars that Ace Nova managed in my neighborhood, took on a special significance in my life. The girlfriend, who was part Sicilian, bit and scratched; it wasn’t until I learned that the Romans had settled Sicilian legions in Romania that I began to understand Fascism of that kind; her father, among other achievements, was famous for having developed lockjaw on the lower leg of a NY Policeman after having been asked not to lie like a bum on a Central Park bench. As a matter of fact, her dog had once bit the Aussie revolutionary, somewhere in Long Island, perhaps for no good reason, and when Bear appeared on the scene the Aussie revolutionary who had had an affair with the artist coke dealer cleaning girl who was then having an affair with the Sicilian girl’s father, picked up and split. That turned out to be the most incestuous all around arrangements imaginable, and such darlings and monsters incest inevitably brings more than intimacy into your existence [a novel, tellable only by the one and only Habsburg, the Owl of Minerva reincarnated as a paraplegic analyst].
The first thing that you, who had been sleeping with your head to the east, saw, off to the southwest, was of course Building One, the Northern of the two WTC buildings, blocking the sky five blocks off, day or moon or sunshine or none, perhaps shrouded by illuminated fog, as though there were ocean-liner-sized steam pipes that evacuated the overload from the City’s Con Edison Steam plants not just onto the city streets, occasionally blowing a manhole cover 75 feet into the air, but even into those higher regions with that antenna with a red blinking light on top to warn planes that were flying too low. The WTC was a wisp of cloud and fog collector the way Mt. Rainier is here, it made its own weather, it was that formidable and different. The so very linear lattice-work-like vertical facades could be brilliant sun and moon and cloud reflectors, coloring boards, or blocks, they could focus the sun like torches and burn and sting and blind your eyes, perhaps you could have fried eggs by their focus or set paper afire, and so they became time-pieces of sorts, to be seasonally adjusted, as the case might be, and they could of course also be a dream screen: now imposed on it, enshrouded by whose face?
And so as the enormity sank in, was being worked through over the course of the past weeks, my immediate concerns with its affect on me, a warranted near tearfulness, certainly not for the buildings, has begun to expand into speculating on its effect on the affects of all the others, friends, acquaintances, and those les amants who spent time in the building, who visited and lived there during the 15 years of my acquaintance and eight of occupancy. The event must certainly have brought their memory bank back downtown. I should take a poll I suppose. Many story collections in the making. One long one, Betsy’s Fridge, used the permanent non-arrival of this item that the American one of the half-Abo of the two Aussie’s two wives had promised as her dowry for living rent free in the impromptu commune as the hook on which to catch a long line of some of the most unsavory fish then swimming around downtown Manhattan. [Be careful if Caliban is a great actor, it does not mean that you can live with him.]
From the southern end of the roof, at that time, a slither of the Hudson was still visible between 66 West Broadway and yet another building that then belonged to A.T. & T., now to Verizon, a first rate twenty-five or so story tower built in the 30s, with an ample set of quickly rising sets of terraced set-backs, art nouveauish, at Greenwich and Vesey, it can be seen with great frequency in shots north across the WTC pit. The block to the west of the IRS building and south of 66 West Broadway, the first square block there, was a one-story garage, with roof parking, for a parcel service? armored bank vehicles? The garage had entrances and exits on West Broadway and on Murray and on Greenwich Streets, but being only one story high, I forget how many basements deep, did not block your view from either of my two chief views of it. Sometime in the late 70s, demolition began on this expansive but very low-level garage; subsequent to demolition there follows the inevitable Manhattan excavation in granite, drilling, small time explosions, reverberations, the loading of the trucks that cart the offal off, a noisy affair, especially if your south-facing office windows are exposed to all this activity day in day out for years. My ears had suffered the erection of the slab on Sixth Avenue between 55th and 54th street, and the loss of the minute view south I had had then from my 6th floor study at 105 West 55th Street. The sky only felt truly free right above you on the roofs of 65 and 66 West Broadway; from 66 you even had an unobstructed view of New Jersey. The steel girders of Building 7 at # 30 West Broadway, which had been constructed another block further south, subsequent to that excavation, had been filled in meanwhile, and now the newest set of girders was rising and arranging the sky, and everything seen through these quadrants, into something that would have given RenÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â© Magritte great pleasure, you knew the sky was free between the quadrants, the confinement was only one of semblance. Yet there it was disappearing, yet another section, and of the afternoon winter sun, but for a while I had those characteristically promising geometrics in pure air. Lacking for an American synonym for “jack of all trades” while translating Handke’s Walk About the Villages, one major effort completed at 65 West Broadway after the book company was no more, I learned the term “all around man” from one of the workers there. The useful euphemism honey bucket I picked up in the West.
If you wanted to see the Hudson or New Jersey from the north end of the roof you had to climb up an eight step ladder at the side of the captain’s bridge to the bridge’s roof that itself slanted to the south and towards you, whence, valiantly craning your neck at the northwesternmost corner, your eyes could find another slither of the river and its opposite shore, hemmed in between the north end of 66 West Broadway, the brick monstrosity on Warren Street below, and the southern end of the Washington Market South Complex High Rise at Greenwich and Duane where I had had an apartment for a short while preparatory to moving into my first loft, which had been on Duane Park.
I have wondered, of course, whether I would have vacated my offices at 66 West Broadway on becoming aware of the crash of the first 767: I most certainly would have been at my desk in the corner room to the south. Building 7, just a block away, immediately to the south, would not have been aflame yet. Would the ears of someone whose earliest traumas are mingled with bombers grinding overhead or careening and crashing [I derive from the age of lumbering props not of the steady roar, whoosh and screech of the Jet plane], of camouflage fog in a region of the lowlands, of bombs exploding not that far off in the woods, or right on top, of bunkers, of window glass mirrors musically painfully shattering, with bediamonized shards the morning after, of fighter planes raking streets with their machine gun rat tat tat, of flaming B 17s and 29s, of theatrical dogfights and of planes caught like moths in a night sky criss-crossed by huge search beams, fantastic theater for a child that thinks that the world will be like that forever and that the show has been put on just for him, what did I know then that an entire region’s economy was dependent on Boeing and that I might one day live there, at the same latitude of my earliest childhood, the sound of airplanes always inducing wariness, no matter some of the contraptions I had flown in, flinching at every siren, for that and any number of other reasons: in fewer words: attuned since the earliest childhood to sirens and danger from the air, wary of planes, the wide windows facing south no doubt open on a warm autumn day, have made out the roar of a 767 flying in low over the Hudson from the North? For sure. With the view of Building One now blocked from my office window, curiosity would no doubt have made me rush out to gawk? Well, I would have heard the resounding smash, then the sirens screaming in from all sides. If for some unusual reason I had overslept or had a sunny [no, the WTC would have blocked the sun at that time of year] breakfast on the roof, I might have seen the first 767 hit, also through the small window in my perched captain’s bridge. Had I seen the 767 fly into Building One, would I have for a moment have regarded it as, possibly, an accident? On a clear, sunny, cloudless, well-lighted morning? Wishfully so perhaps? In the face of the knowledge of what Japanese Kamikaze fighter planes had been capable of during the second world-wide war and of the certain knowledge that anything that can be fantasized is also capable at least of attempted enactment? What about that huge explosion of dust subsequent to the implosion of Building Two? And then Building 7, # 30 West Broadway, of the WTC complex set afire by molten steel spears shooting down from the crumbling WTC, diesel fuel tanks in the basement and several floors up. What must it have been like to have had your office midway up either tower and have seen the behemoths flying directly at you? Perhaps their fronts ought to be painted to look like a Chinese dragon to give a hint of their potential. The behemoths in whose shadow we had lived, their shadow had been the extent to which they intruded on our lives. Now the roofs of 65 & 66 West Broadway are inundated by the over-flow of their collapse, quite uninhabitable.
Late one night, at one early 1970s party, looking to buy a pack of cigarettes in that then so utterly shutdown deserted part of town, perhaps also for a break from whatever intensities at the party, about to concede the impossibility of my task while I was walking about in all that unfamiliarity, a speck of light on the north side of an unusually short block between Hudson Street and West Broadway caught in the corner of an eye. Hudson Street ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…“ a left leaning north-south diagonal just like Broadway, which becomes 8th Avenue in The Village - has its inception on Chambers Street, so that the blocks between West Broadway and Hudson as you head north are at first very short, but by Canal Street become very wide indeed. There is a sharp V at that inception, a tiny cement park, perfunctory metal art, and a few trees which, if they have survived the years, may be half-way tall by now, as there is another V where Varick, which becomes 7th Avenue, veers left at West Broadway at Leonard Street, near an ancient diner and a Con Edison Sub-station, about six blocks north, where the riderless horse from the nearby New York Police Stables collided with a Mercedes on its race, like a cowpony on its way back to a coral, back home; as there is yet another V where Sixth Avenue diverges from Church Street at Walker. Diagonals replicating each other, shooting off from parallel streets and turning into Avenues as twelve-mile long Manhattan bulges for a mile or so, turning into another set of parallels.
Midway Chambers and Duane was Reade Street, where Aaron Burr was alleged to have had his law offices. Reade and Duane had been captains in the Revolutionary Army so it was said, and now provided the names for a drug store chain; quite a few other streets further north, Franklin [?] and Harrison were said to have been Revolutionary captains too; and so I think had Warren and Murray and Debrosses, and Lispenard, the original lisping nerd [just to keep you awake]. Either the war of the secession from the United Kingdom had had no end of famous captains, or lending their rather ordinary names to streets was a form of payment, or even back then giving streets names instead of numbers was a democratically problematic activity. After all, New York with its Madison Avenue and Lafayette Street was amply served with Jones, Smith and Jane Streets, and who was Jones the Lesser now that there was a Greater Jones Street? Or how teensy or narrow had the other Jones been?
Talk about a light in a window. No, Barnabus Rex was not a trucker’s whore house; it was a pub, a shoe-box sized pub, 15 by 25 feet, say 400 square feet max was all there was to it including the bar itself on the Western side and the cubicle; a juke box to the left as you entered from the vestibule, Mustang Sally, Z.Z. Tops’ Tush and the decrescendo of Fame are three songs on that box that come immediately to mind after all these years. Handke, who does not mention this box in his Assaying of the Jukebox, though he might - he was there once ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…“ may recall others, but then he perhaps never visited Barnabus again, in History of the Pencil he notes that he found me to be as playful as serious there, and I had not anticipated it would be so difficult to find others who were like that or that there would be so many intentional obstaclers; he was so pleased to be there I recall he shuffled his feet a little as though to dance, [although that might also have been Michael Brodsky] something he says he only did once to jukebox music, with an Indian girl in a bar Anchorage. It would be twenty years before I found out that jukeboxes were an obsession of his, an obsession so as to dream himself free; though I was of course aware that he had dedicated Public Insult to John Lennon, among others, and that he seemed fond of Dylan’s music, and that by not naming him had somehow managed to capture a quality of Dylan’s and of himself as no one else had, at least to my knowledge, in the San Francisco section of A Slow Homecoming. You could dance all around the mid-sized pool table at Barnabus Rex, and if you were a regular you knew how to do so without ever jostling a pool stick that was poised to shoot, but you rocked, chiefly, pretty much on one tight spot, dancing in a small space was the name of this ballet, right next to the jukebox, as much inside the music box as you could. Come out of the cold into such a mass of compacted human warmth and the memory sticks in the cold of your New York existence. Evidently, as I would find out, I was not the only one! Within several years, by 1979 at the latest, Barnabus Rex had been “discovered,” by folks all the way from hated Jersey and Long Island, pioneers too, adventurers of sorts, looking for what was not to be found in their regions, but who quickly displaced the “natives,” themselves so recently native, within a few years, especially so of course on weekends by arriving early, by 8 o’clock, whereas the locals, artists of one kind or the other most of them, certainly did not go out before ten, most of them later, and found the place jammed with unfamiliar faces. [So, don’t advertise, keep your mouth shut unless you want to be discovered; once discovered you will be devoured.] ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…“ I, so it turned out, was one of the first wanderers, part of the vanguard, and the herd, whose tramplings I did not want to hear, was close upon me. My move was that of the first small wave that followed on the heels of the very first few real pioneers who were all it took to fill Barnabus Rex in the early 70s, gradually displacing the seceding truckers. One of the truckers even kept showing up until the bitter end, a humongous suitcase from Minnesota, with the tiniest dog on his lap, his road companion; an inadvertent living TV commercial as it were; all that was needed was that he had a squeaky voice and for the dog talked in a basso profundo. The absolute first pioneers looked askance at the first real wave, the first real wave, in retrospect, was the real beginning of the end. Gritty, and with its promise of the hard work required of restoration, transformation, Pioneering in the Urban Wilderness was the consolidation of the beginning. The end was style, like the dust the folks in Beverly Hills spray on their SUVs to show that they’ve been off-road.
I had learned a little to do what is called “hanging out” during my first ten years uptown of course, perhaps a little bit during my six months in Alaska, Jazz clubs didn’t really count, and the various odd jobs I had held in college and high school had helped acclimatize me, lend me a bit of a common touch, as Marc, one of three owners of Puffy’s, put it once, had certainly helped with the vernacular aspect of translating, but Barnabus Rex was the beginning of my pool education, and my teacher was Boris Perlman, a.k.a. Boris Hotchkiss, a.k.a. Policeband. Boris, who turned out to be one of the least dangerous people alive at that time in the entire world, nonetheless frightened people on first sight. Boris did this because he was dressed as the original punk, original in those environs not used to black leather, metal studding, dark shades. A motorcycle gang would have raised an eyebrow, not the sort of thing motorcycle gangs do, because he did not look even fiercer. That style itself was of course recycled from The Wild Ones, whose director had borrowed the style from real cyclist gear, which had been created by whom? From Jean Cocteau?, and the time would come when plane-loads of young Germans, their gear bought courtesy of ads in the Village Voice, arrived dressed like that; later, back in California, I once came upon a whole troupe of Swiss Harley-Davidson cyclists on the P.C.H., next to a genuine biker Sunday Morning hangout, Neptune’s Net! Moreover, Boris was quite tall and very thin, his pallor morgue-like, he also must have had acne as a youngster, and aside his finesse with a viola and pool stick his greatest claim to fame was, as I put it, introducing him: the fastest mouth this side of the Mississippi. Meanwhile, I have forgotten what his wry repartee to that backhanded compliment might have been. Oh yes, this apparition tended to drape or hang itself into the corner of bars; it was like something out of a horror movie that appeared in the flesh in a nook. Which is where and how he first frightened me, and Handke too, whom I sent this rabbit in Paris, who, in his usual autistically asocial fashion, sent him away after five minutes saying that he ought to “call again,” the only time which they did see each other again being, to my knowledge, Boris supplementing his meager pocket book playing the viola on a sidewalk. Boris took my pool game under his wing [I am leaving out the influence of an NBC cameraman known as Black Bobby, a look-alike for a famous not so very black C.I.A. TV sleuth who lent my game an entirely other dimension, because, aside this sentence, I don’t know how to work him in here, we were so hip with each other I would introduce him as White Bobby and he called me nigger] and so I learned that the need for Boris hair-trigger tongue was not just that he was a city boy, but that he had such a lousy ticker that the slightest cold, not to speak of physical altercation, might kill him, his mouth indeed was his gun: he lacked physical defenses of all kinds, unless he happened to have a pool stick in his hand I suppose. Urizen Books with a small room to spare rented him his first room away from home for a token sum deducted from his SSI. Boris only drank Coca Cola as I recall, a trained violinist, he developed one-minute art punk acts that combined classical scratchings with city noises and sirens, memorably so, obviously, and ate Snickers and lots of other junk. Boris was also a good reader. If there is the tao of in-country, Boris was an exemplar of something much rarer: the tao of in-city, which is not to be confused with any form of being hip or cool. The combination of his various unusual qualities made him my kind of fellow. Just as Boris’ mode of attire belied who he was, in as much attire is telling except to what it means to conceal, the man whom I here call Peter Puck, one of the three main Barnabus Rex bar tenders, on first acquaintance, reminded me more of someone I might have met in Whitehorse in the Yukon territory. Burly, overweight, as bearded as one of the ZZs, dressed entirely in denim, short, squat, but amazingly quick on his feet as I was to discover when he darted out from behind the bar one time to break up a fight, Puck, the son of abstract expressionist painters from The Springs in the Hamptons on Long Island, had soured on the Art World at an early age. Ace and Gary, the other two bar tenders, dressed normally, I myself wore jeans and something like a Brooks Brother’s tweed jacket, true to my hybrid nature, which has not changed much, except that I’ve found Davis Jeans, and the tweed, after nearly ten years in the southwest, has been replaced by one or the other many-pocketed desert drape. Ace had been the student of a director then friend of mine at N.Y.U., and so we could talk about theater, and I will always recall the happy surprised _expression that came over his face the time that Handke showed up with me that one day. Ace retained a touching shyness throughout three bars, but kept a cudgel at the ready; realizations could still be seen dawning on his face. Gary was seeking to find a replacement for his regular job for the custom service and was the most seasoned of the bartenders; very professional, yet laughter had not yet died in him Altogether, you might say, that “hanging out” in this fashion we were living the existence of people with whom if we lived and hung out among them we did not share all that much in common, the operators from the Hamburg dredge, too, hung out at Barneys as Barnabus was familiarly known, save for their style of hanging out, drinking, playing pool, dancing and playing hard, and for a few years there the loving was as easy as breathing, until and whenever, inevitably, “love set in”. Barnabus, of course, also had its daytime Sunday and Saturday afternoon moments, and I associate different songs or only resounding quiet [in my head] with them, it even had a flower box with begonias; and two tables [weren’t they cable spools set on end?] outside; where I had spent a few hours once with that most terrible of childhood victims of Oedipal Austrian rural ways, my author Franz Innerhofer, of Beautiful Days, who just committed suicide.
At that time, it was the exceptional woman at Barnabus Rex or its successors who was adept at the pool table. Most played pool to indulge their boyfriends or have their boyfriend or would-be boy friends help them with their shots. Lily and Claire were two such exceptions, Claire, as a matter of fact, was the only one who came to mind when I thought of anyone whom I knew from those days who might have worked in the WTC, and so have been endangered by the attack and the collapse [I have avoided the necrophiliac’s six degree search]; she had gone over to “the enemy” as it were, to support her young son, working for American Express, Lehman Brothers, something like that, since her ex was living as some kind of Hippie in some California hill county. Lily, who was half American and half French, and who therefore was drenched in the most dangerous of deja vues, when first met was part of the kind of occasional downtown couple that was as tight as Siamese twins, look-alikes at an early age, paired like Lhasa Apsas, which is why it was that much more of a surprise when one of these couples, the incarnation of hopeful possibilities, were suddenly sundered; usually with the distaff side assuaging her hurt by wanting to bed the entire neighborhood. Downtown romance was messy, more than usually messy I think, and I also think that describing it realistically is entirely the wrong way to go about it, something on the order of nymphs and arrowed glances shot by Rococo opera backdrop angels would do it far greater justice. One night, sitting next to Lily, at the far side, the opposite ends of the bar had two stools each, the farthest nook inside the nook, she suddenly disintegrated on my shoulder. Her handsome, strapping pretty Irish-Columbian badboy lover had jilted her from one day to the next. Impossible proof indeed. Lily wasted no more than two weeks in finding an even prettier boyfriend to replace Ed, and Lili and Ed then became the proverbial on and off again couple during those ten years. I remained chivalrous in my consolation to the end, besides Eddie was a friend, and for once I exercised good sense. I was playing pool with Lily one late afternoon in 1977, and just as she, who had been well taught by Ed and who could now hold her own, made the 13 ball in the side pocket, at that very moment, the lights began to brown out, before quickly going down altogether, all over New York, you could watch the “brown out” turn into a “black-out” as you stepped outside and looked north from the corner of West Broadway and Duane Street toward the Empire State Building, still our beacon then. As compared to the summer of 1966 New York blackout, the first of my experience, the behavior of the populace during the blackout in the summer of 1977 was anything but loving. I went out to the abandoned West Side Highway to get a whiff of the darkened city, darkened cities mean impending air raid to me, when I was suddenly tackled by L., who had dashed back through the Holland tunnel from her composing at Bell Labs, to make sure I was all right which I nearly wasn’t after being so tackled. At that time, in the earliest 70s you could fit just about every fairly immediate illegal loft inhabitant of the vicinity into Barnabus Rex, the very earliest of the pioneers, who mingled with the truckers from far out of state, who still came there then. At the bar, after you had danced fought your way through to it and turned around to survey the scene, you saw a painting above the doorway, done by a barrista I believe, of the mayhem before her nightly eyes, it was very detailed, the pool sticks were there, you might succeed in identifying a regular in the messy paint, but also nearly Soutine-like in the flow of its colors. The first bar to go down was Barnabus Rex; by 1979 news of its warmth had spread too far and wide. Ace and Gary and Peter Puck moved on and took over a worker’s bar called Mickeys, which was at the corner of Greenwich and Warren, just a few blocks down the road and to the west, and left Barnabus Rex to its owner Louise and her petulant eight-year-old son. Louise was a southern lady who had wanted to be an actress and had married a trucker and had inherited the lease on the bar on the end of her marriage. Mickeys was pretty much out of the way, not in any line of sight or near any passing traffic. From Mickey’s you could look across several blocks of the destroyed landscape to the west at the inactive West Side Highway and beneath it through at our dunes.  In the early 80s, John Belushi and Ackelroyd of Saturday Night Live and their crowd started sloshing drunkenly and druggedly into TriBeCa and its incipient restaurant boom, and they bought Mickey’s outright from its owner and turned it into their own television watching room. As a matter of fact, the demise of Mickeys was not so much announced by these two comedians but, best as I could tell, by the appearance of some very young commodity stock brokers who had gone to second tier prep schools, Michael Milken and Boesky wannabes, arbitrageurs in the making, perhaps Boesky was even one of them, preppies in other words, a mode of dress you had never seen in these parts before, there was the influx of no end of professionals who wanted to walk to work and live the bohemian life style, the combination of what TriBeCa offered these escapees from vapid suburban childhoods was irresistible. They showed up at parties to which they had no invitations and had eaten up and drunk everything before the first invited guest arrived. They were amazing! Where had they come from? Who had bred them? Was Dr. Seuss to blame, the culture? Following on the ethos of the anti-war movement and all that, what a surprise. Well, a goodly number actually derived from a variety of Art schools, they were the most energetic of rattily stylish maggots or maggoty rats, they turned downtown into a moshpit, S&M became a component of the atmosphere.  Belushi and A. and their crowd sat outside Mickeys and watched the television set which stood a little ways inside. Around the mid-seventies it had begun to snow downtown. In the very early 70s I had seen two friends, estimable talents both, make such utter fools of themselves taking cocaine, that I did not want to even try it once. But there are sweets and then there are sweets: if it did not snow cocaine in every restroom it would appear as a line on a mirror held by a pretty blonde flying into your window at any time of day, I meant it when I said that a Chagall would have been the appropriate painter for the era and area [I had only suggested it until now], and I had a rather common weakness for blondes which my first wife, a brunette, had been unable to extirpate.
Ace and Gary, Peter Puck had o-deed on speedballs meanwhile, another long short story] took over another dying working man’s bar, at Warren, barely more than a block further east, just east of West Broadway, just around the corner in other words from 65 West Broadway, and called it The Raccoon Lodge. This was the largest of their three venues, a true railroad type bar, and I give you one guess what TV show it occasionally featured on a large screen set up behind the pool table in back. Later in the 80s Gary started a bar of his own near Area on Hudson Street. By the late 80s, Ace became an absentee owner of The Raccoon Lodge and moved with wife and child back to Pennsylvania. By the time I returned, after a five-year absence, for my first look-around, in 1991, The Raccoon Lodge had become part of the itinerary of a tourist bus line, and I think may even have become the take-off point for a chain. By the time of The Raccoon Lodge I had become so good at bar room pool that one night “Happy Hank,” who worked for A.T.T. and who would take off his coat and loosen his tie and who took his wife and kids on summer drives throughout the entirety of the US of A, and I, playing partners, held the table for four hours straight. Also, after months of trying, I finally broke the million barrier at a computer game which I think was called Centipedes, they kept cascading down as you fired your ack-ack upwards at them, which, during a tense period, I was using as a kind of tension meter, and I finally won once I relaxed.
Someone who works until midnight, if he was not living with someone, or often even if he was, found the sudden early 80s mass-influx of restaurants to TriBeCa both mind-bogglingly surprising, and on a little reflection highly improbable - where would all the customers come from? - but also by no means inconvenient. Besides, I like eating well prepared food, more frequently, too, than I liked taking a vacation on Park Avenue. It was something I could stand on a daily basis. Until that time it was a question of going to China Town or up to SoHo, or to an all-night greasy-spoon at Canal, though our favorite downtown eatery was a working diner at West and Vestry, a few blocks south of Canal, which turned really busy once the Westside Highway traffic was dumped down onto West Street, first rate hash. Of daytime restaurants there was no shortage. The first new restaurant to open, best to my awareness, in the mid-70s, was a health-oriented, blonde space next to Barnabus Rex that baked its own bread, of a kind that you can still find in Seattle, say The Grateful Bread. They were as much behind the eight ball in their way as I was I suppose. In 1980, returning from six weeks of hard work in Europe, I recall finding an outdated invitation among my mail for the opening of a restaurant in what had been the great space of a Horn and Hardhardts cafeteria at West Broadway between Jay and Duane Streets. I may have heard a rumor, perhaps even noticed some construction going on? I came on Jay McInerny’s Bright Lights Big City on the bar of The Odeon in 1984 and my memory had accumulated so many associations during the interim that until I looked at again just now I thought that its opening sentence had referred to the venue where I first read its opening lines! Well, not quite. As a matter of fact, although “bright lights big city” may be appropriate to those years, I was working too hard to become aware of much of it until it had taken over the entire area: uptown, at least a goodly segment of the young of uptown, had decided to eat way downtown; excellent business for the cab drivers; uptown had decided to come downtown and en masse. That that might happen is what I, a walker, had failed to appreciate. Appropriately enough, there was even that place called Area, a huge space, it took up an entire city block at Hubert and Hudson, it had been the 19th century Pony Express wagon and horse stable. It had looked like a great place for a theater; so had an abandoned Subway station; so had a long West Side Highway overpass and it supports which curved over part of the abandoned West Side Highway across Canal where once I walked crawled across one of these curves with X, of “it’s called a quiver with quick, a sweet so low lick” fame. Someone scouted the Pony Express Building and turned it into a disco in the 80s, all 25,000 square feet or more of it; and with lot of weight lifted off inside that had weighed on my shoulders and kept my feet from being sprightly, I soared there many an after midnight after night for a long stretch once in my life. The Odeon, in short order, was joined by a host of restaurants of all kinds; they were popping up in old shoe stores [Le Zinc, with a beautiful curved ceiling, on Duane Street midway West Broadway and Church], owned by three French Comedians, whose original pied de terre was Un Deux Trois in the theater district. A most fancifully wrought Brass Moon, in the same block, though closer to West Broadway, was a modernized, cherry wood version of the ancient eateries of the neighborhood, with booths on various decks, brass railings, where you could read and edit over a late dinner, and which therefore became a fairly expensive standby, it too had been a shoe outlet in what had been that block’s former specialty! Even in TriBeCa’s darkest quarter, the dank northwest, a fine pair of hosts were hanging out their shingle in a grand space: that is what it was about: s-p-a-c-e. Hadn’t I too migrated there for reasons of space? A restaurateur could afford a large theatrical space: “Richard Gere, Richard Gere” ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…“ a date’s exclamatory scream at The Odeon summed it all up. The Brass Moon was micro theater. The Odeon big time style theater. My own favorite became tiny Kahlil’s utterly spacious 211, at that # on West Broadway, because it had huge windows looking south and west and across that V-shaped cement park, and therefore had sun, and which cement V for a while had a rusty Richard Serra sculpture with lots of pairs of sneakers on their knotted shoe strings dangling from its top edges where kids had tossed them. 211 had the highest of beautiful tin ceilings and because it was clean and sparse, especially in the afternoons, when there was no longer a book company, it was a good place to work, and it had tables that could be put outside, on was it one or two terraces [?] made up nearly entirely of bull’s-eye-sized glass nodules, dim light for 19th century basements. The folks who arrived by cab fare were from uptown; they went to eat at the theater. “Richard Gere, Richard Gere.” The Odeon’s bar was for adventuresses. Some obviously simply needed to get laid; others were exuberantly manifesting their liberation; some of those were the ones who took the same pride in “making” a man that men had had in “making” a woman, not that a share of them did not really want to be atavistically crushed. Yet others - in this age of disintegrating taboos - wanted to sleep with their father, and would tell you soon enough that that was the play they wanted to be in, on whom they would soon enough wreak their vengeance. Some young women were seriously bored with young men. Some - barely able to suppress their laughter - still went through the motion of not really wanting to go home with you after they had run the gamut of their flirtatious repertoire. There were still a few who wanted to be “taken out once” before they let you enter them, they were the ones who were interested in “a relationship.” Some picked you up to impress their sister, or roommate, to whom you had been or not been attracted but had been a good and interested friend. Some hyper-sexed furies, who had stepped out of Philip Roth books, were entirely out to destroy men. Was Phillip to blame? They were the ones whose sexuality was writ so humidly in their faces they exuded sex the way that some young gay men did. Or was he just fated? Others managed to abbreviate the creation of a triangle instant on dropping one date and running off with another. Speedy Juanitas or xxx as the case might be. These might or might not be the same ones who exerted their power by getting these men to fight over them, and sometimes they actually went around humming The Supremes’ “I’ve got two lovers.” There was a quotient of the seriously aberrant and disturbed, but no Ophelias. Some would grab you by the crotch or take you hand and place it on theirs, or press their pudenda against the most easily accessible part of your body, perhaps an elbow. Those were the same one’s whose first words might be: “I want to do everything,” whatever that then might be. Some seemed to feel that having slept with you once, having given their body once, entitled them to instant right to permanent domicile. Or any combination of the above and below. But none of these boys or girls were really marriageable and so no wonder Yet in some instances you did find instant “true love,” if only briefly [N.] but you would not forget it for several of your nine lives. A lot just wanted a sleeping buddy and you might pick each other up as you had already stepped outside and were heading your separate ways. Most of the time there was no telling what they were up to. Or as Black Bobby said, “you got to put it in once before you find out,” his way of saying sui generis. Some suddenly got cold feet at the last moment. Some were deceptively passionate, but only in bed, devious in every other respect. Some one-night lays might comprise a lifetime of passion. Some wanted instant three-somes, of whatever kind. Often “the guys,” as they started calling each other around that time, went out in twosomes, the better to advise each other and avert picking up Mr. Goodbar. I observed my own candidate for the title, night after night, and was amazed at his success. The best attitude to have to their infinite variety proved to be a line from Leiber & Stoller’s faux, birdshot-aged blues, Kansas City: “I hear they’ve got a lot of crazy women, and I’m going to get me one.” For those who had been through the wrestling matches of the 50s, it was like manna from heaven, all you needed was to lay back. The crowd circulated and occasionally ventured into the old standbys Puffys and Mickeys, into whatever was left of Barneys and then to The Raccoon Lodge, and I was not the only “old timer” to check out the new arrivals and be smitten by all that unaccustomed light that allowed such much harder examination than our dim venues had. There was even an outlet kind of bar at Greenwich and Harrison, that had been there for years, quietly, not part of the circuit, for the overflow and those who sought an out-of the-way that was not too far off; owned for perhaps a year from summer of 1975 to 76 by its founder, a friend by the name of Nick Bentley. A nice woman aficionado tried making a go of a jazz club called Salt Peanuts, on Greenwich Street and Laight, it did not last long, no matter the appearance of legendary musicians some of whom, like Red Garland, I had not seen live since my days in San Francisco, but however many friends I dragged there to keep jazz within easy walking distance, rock and disco and punk drew the crowd. The original for Stallone’s Saturday Night was I believe somewhere on Franklin or Harrison and a smell other than that of spice and coffee wafted from there now on Friday and Saturday nights when that part of TriBeCa was full of Ford Ltd.s with young men with gold chains dangling around their hairy V-necked chests, and girls in prom dresses, the smell of sweat. They were from Queens, Jersey and Long Island, anyhow a long ways off, the old time sodbusters had no relationship to them whatsoever and the visitors’ relationship was entirely to the venue where they had come to dance their dance. By Sunday morning not a single LTD was left. And so it was no wonder that one day I suddenly found myself sitting next to the motley-looking director of Flashdance at the bar of Le Zinc, casing the area. The Half-Note at Spring and Hudson, whose owners and but not their meatball sandwiches, had moved to the 50s, had been turned into a set for fraudulent punk movies, and so fraudulence would be perceived as real somewhere in the heartland if it even mattered. No end of dance clubs of all kinds opened up, the well-named Heartbreak and the equally well-named Danceteria where the emblem for the period to be had looked like an indifferent talent to me who however signed one of her gangster retinue for a piece in the American section of a punk book which, ought I even bother to say “of course,” was never delivered, allegedly his even talking to me was sufficient recompense for the pittance of the $ 500 advance; occasionally I still run across the fellow’s name in one or the other music mags. What expressed the changed ethos from 1975 to 1985 in one sentence was something I overheard a pretty blonde shriek one night at the Brass Moon: “All those asshole do-gooders.”
Duane Street, of which this one third of what used to be a Barnabus Rex block is part, as it crosses Hudson Street on the west, doubles back east on itself at Greenwich Street, at the angle of the tip of an isosceles triangle. However, this doubling of Duane between Hudson and Greenwich does not cross Hudson Street a second time, it comes to a halt at a stretch of several wonderful four or five story high studio-type buildings at Hudson with big display windows at every level, ochre, muted and aged colors, very dark brick, especially one twenty-foot wide, squat four-story building with a lot of verdigreed copper sidings stands out in the memory, thus creating what is informally known as Duane Park: Place des Vosges I thought dreamily as I came on it the first daytime visit: trees, a half dozen of them inside a fenced triangle within the triangle, a monument on a pedestal with a plaque dedicating the area to a namesake, Roehlof, a Dutch-American farmer who, there, had owned “the last green sward in Lower Manhattan.” Where there are trees there are birds and there is birdsong, pigeons and starlings and smaller critters, but no coven of crows as there would be here in Seattle. Until the 80s there were also the nighttime trucks from all over the U.S. of A.; their refrigeration units humming or clattering, making a racket as they cooled their produce until it was trans-loaded into or from the refrigerated basements in the morning; there were pallets and crates, broken wood, you had to wend your way between the trucks and the crowded loading docks, as did the dogs and cats and rats of Duane Park.
Regarded en face, the edges of the roofs of several buildings on the southern edge of Duane Park were multiply indented, step-like, like a stairway for a trapeze artist, another Chagallian touch, that told of their Hanseatic origin; and, in lieu of elevators, had that beam sticking out their top floor to hoist up the bales of this and that, flour, coffee, beans, spices to the storage bins on the upper floors, tokens of Nieuw Amsterdam. The 40 by 100 feet building on the northern dogleg that I lived in for two years originated in the same architect’s shop who was alleged to have designed the Vanderbilt mansion on Fifth Avenue. Though merely used as a warehouse, tossed off one easy afternoon, the six-floor high dark brick box yet had a fine faÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â§ade, a cornice of course, brick arches sticking out an inch above the windows, not totally barren of detailing. Next to 173-5 Duane Street clung, barely, a slight crack was widening and not all that imperceptively between us and the cast iron, the most delicate of all the cast iron buildings in New York, fluted iron, the caster had used as little as possible so as to reserve as much space as possible for windows, natural light had been at a premium in the 19th century, and always either ready for lift off or to collapse in all its immanent fragility into the adjacent [surprise of surprises] multiply bridged one-horse-carriage wide Staple Alley that separated it from a veritable twelve story high brick hulk of a castle that also squatted on a goodly section of Hudson, a ribbon factory once so I recall. That hulk was probably the newest building on Duane Park, say vintage 1910 and, on Hudson Street, it faced what I still regard as the most extraordinary building downtown. That building, we [or at least I] referred to it as the ITT building, runs all the way from West Broadway to Hudson and occupies the entire block between Thomas and Worth Street, a block the shape of my favored rectangle, the Trapezoid, although I think that Thomas is now called “Justice Harlan Way” because you enter New York Law School’s main building from it, a block or so farther to the East. Built it in the late 20s, of imported Italian brick that glowed deeply and richly in the afternoon sun, it had flaring art nouveau copper and brass detailing on the outside; and the ITT was not merely terraced, in the fairly standard art nouveau architectural manner, the terraces, separated by three or four floors, had been given modest turns, twisting just a little, from one set of levels to the other, breaking up the uniformity, or at least giving you the idea that the entire building was somehow twistable, as some gigantic safe lock might be. Its base made you believe that it could easily have become an aspiring skyscraper, perhaps a successor to the Empire State Building, other buildings, such as the depression-interrupted Tin Pan Alley Headquarters at 52nd and Broadway had so aspired; but the ITT apparently had not, it remained something along the lines of a hulking art nouveau Tower of Babel and was traversed by a slightly arched but not terribly high corridor that ran all the way from West Broadway through to Hudson. When you entered this corridor you felt you had entered a chapel, a nearly endless chapel to capitalism, it was more than just gilded, it was mirrored and so cleverly lighted that you seemed to be walking through a vaulted canal of glistening gold, capitalism, too, availed itself of the tricks of religions and situated them in your intestines. Sometimes I dreamt of the Tower of Babel being entirely occupied by downtown artists! What a madhouse that would have been!
Both legs of Duane Street, especially at the Greenwich Street intersection, have some square, utterly plain, box-like buildings, providing contrast for the more exotic, ancient and ambitious. Altogether, this assemblage of Dutch, early American, mid and late 19th Century, working and storage lofts, some of them unique in their own right, several downright indifferent, like so many large and smaller fortutuities of this kind, formed an unusually attractive agglomeration, that is how they had come to be and, in company, they gradually acquired a considerable beauty, the more so because of that stretch of Hudson Street midway the two Duane Street legs with its series of studio-type buildings. At Duane Park’s southwest corner, next to the studio-type buildings and close to Barnabus Rex, was a roundish-cornered turn-of-the-century American merchant-style oddity, as I designated that kind of brick construction, yellow brick, reminiscent of Pioneer Square here in Seattle, with sudden lines of red brick, and even a brick railing at the edge of the roof in lieu of a cornice with little arches inside it, running along on the edge of the roof like an aqueduct! - it seemed like something made from a child’s drawing - and cracks, it was sinking if not about to topple, towards the south west, as was Barnabus Rex, the southwest pool table leg needed at least one fresh coaster a week, beneath was a swamp, a sinkhole; that greensward might have been a pond. The occasional brick descended from the aqueduct and, unless I am mistaken, the ground floor of the studio building with the verdigreed copper sidings, now houses a muy caro restaurant called Danube. I resolved I would live in Duane Park one day, and I did for a couple of tempestuous years, visually I did not regret a moment of it, especially not in the late afternoons with the sun blazing through Duane Park’s Greenwich Street entrance from across the Hudson bringing each of its colors back to life.
173-175 Duane became known as “The fighting building” [not all that long a story]. A floor that I lived in during the mid-70s now costs around 250 thousand dollars, we bought it for ten back then. One day 150 pound me and 150 pound scientologist and ground-floor and 2nd and 3rd floor carpenter-shop owner G.P. Winters confronted O.J. Simpson on the fourth floor who had cornered his blonde art-jewelry making wife and their two latte-colored children, shouting at them, over and over: “You are children of the revolution.” Gil and I trembled like the leaves on the trees of Place de Vosges in a stiff northwest wind. To our forever-after amazement the O.J. look-alike did not tear the two of us to shreds, stopped, did not leave like a lamb exactly, but moved out that day. [Churchill was right, all you had to fear was fear itself] The heavy-duty metal sculptor who had the top sixth floor kept sending one beauty after the other bawling down the long long flights that zigzagged the length of the six-story 100 foot long stairway lengths; or hollering for X. The building, the square, the sculptor, with the over-all of whose Brancusian work, no matter that it requires tons of steel to manifest those lines of beauty, I continue to be impressed, were suitable material for an Italian opera. With a particularly brutal Arctic express hitting New York early one November, L. and I went to an excavating square block near Greenwich and Hubert, 6 blocks north, and took in a stray dog whom the denizens of Duane Park familiarly knew as Ladybitch, and her dozen puppies, who peed down on Cara’s Thanksgiving Turkey between the floor-board cracks. Lacking for animal warmth there is the solution of a dozen puppies outgrowing their enclosure and deciding to race each other on the diagonal in your 4000 square foot loft to your pad to give you a morning slobber. We advertised them in The Voice as Shepard/Doberman mix and Puerto Rican shop owners from the East Village took them all in a single day. Is there any need, really, for crime statistics? The sculptor, who had the top floor, cut a skylight in his roof with a thunderstorm in the offing. We had a fine party there celebrating the sail-by of the ships in 1776. Also a fine New Year’s party with someone playing the grand piano that had been put where the puppy compound had been. There exists an interesting photo of me holding onto the handles of a sanding machine, trying to sand the molasses out of 4,000 square feet of boards. The loft was maybe 1/4 completed when I moved out within two years. I learned to be wary if a wife said she had an aunt who was so stubborn she had to be lobotomized. And wary of myself of thinking that 4,000 square feet was just like an apartment; and building a house a firm with a three-cornered hat that intended to share profits with its authors and meant to be owned by its employees and a marriage all at the same time. I was more in love with L.’s music, I think, than with her; anyhow I continue to love the music. Shortly after we took in Ladybitch, a sturdy 85 pound black and brown, coarse- and curly-haired male dog with webbed feet began to post himself on our metal loading dock, according to Duane Park lore the progenitor of the dirty dozen; not just post, if the door to the stairs was open he would come knock on our door upstairs; well, tap with his soft paws. I wondered how long it would have taken him to learn to run the freight elevator. It was an instance of profound and persistent dog amour, of the non-run-away dad who only wanted to come home to his wife and kids. Since he was so adamant and attractive, Wooly Bear as I named him for his obvious resemblance, became part of the household; and he and Ladybitch gamboled more pleasantly than most downtown couples. However, Wooly Bear, it turned out, unlike Ladybitch, was not a homeless. He had been, until starting to “hang out” on Duane Park, the mascot of the Department of Sanitation garage at Canal and West Street, about a mile northwest. Whenever we passed one of those fine, hulking, never quite white, always slightly soiled, flecked, mechanical would-be rhinos, the garbage men would moon for Wooly Bear under his given name, something as simple and straightforward as Punk or Jack; and Wooly Bear leapt up, using the steps to he truck’s cab to catapult himself into the truck window, or flew into the window, kissed the driver and leapt out the other side, I kid you not. Wooly Bear was the kind of dog who might have become the first flying dog, the kind of dog a good children’s book is written around. Wooly Bear had the run of my office, I could trust his growl in the matter of dark and dangerous people, whom he would not allow to cross the threshold, and after I moved out of L’s and my loft, he continued to alternate between the both of us; however, without ever being used as a go-between or messenger service, until someone abducted him, to the country I hope. A bit chewed up on one ear, like a Tom, a slight limp in one hind leg, for a city dog he must have been the best. Duane Parks’s third dog was an [unusually? normally?] stupid sweet little Beagle by the name of Possum who would not have survived had it not been for Claire’s ministering to her. After I found it entirely impossible to live with my shrieking composer I first moved down two floors to the third floor at 173-5 Duane where Gil fixed up the back third for me [if Gil has hung on to all three floors he will be wealthy just in real estate] Then, with a few too many 2 by 4s flying out the fifth floor window when I walked through Duane Park, I sublet a photographer’s loft at Canal and West for a summer, and so Wooly Bear and I were living vis-ÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€šÃ‚ -vis his former home, the Department of Sanitation’s Canal Street Station. That loft was a fine clean space with a view not only of the spacious intersection and one of the Holland Tunnel’s air circulation towers, and of that famous West Side Highway over-pass, but it had some of the worst air in New York. Wooly Bear had taken to loft living with a vengeance, though I have a hunch that he kept visiting his former friends for scraps, now and then he’d go off on his own for half a day, anyhow he did not come home drunk or drugged up. That was the summer of 78 and C. occasionally came running by in the shortest of garish green short gym shorts from her loft in SoHo on Greene Street.
In 1970, the approximately twenty square block region that Mr. Rockefeller and his authorities had razed between Laight on the North and Vesey and Liberty Streets on the South had not been rebuilt yet, it lay fallow for quite some years. However, by the mid-70s the rebuilding and extension of the area destroyed in the 1960s Destruction of Lower Manhattan was well underway. You can find the initial protracted series of destructive events memorialized in the Magnum photographer Danny Lyon’s book of photographs of that name. Suddenly a cast iron Dorian broken column, with a hardhat holding a steam-powered drill in the rubble, puts you in the vicinity of the Parthenon. All that this pseudo-European architecture really needs to acquire the feeling of real age is a bombing attack or two. As the publisher of Jim Stratton’s Pioneering in the Urban Wilderness, a gritty and grittily over-inked volume that chronicled the origins of the loft movement, chiefly but by no means only in New York, I used a few of those excellent, nearly romantic Lyons photos, also for contrast to the amateur snaps that Jim Stratton had collected from cities all across the country, though chiefly from Manhattan. Jim Stratton, who was from Shaker Heights in Cleveland, which forever after predisposed me favorably to that otherwise unknown section of a town I had no other relationship to then, had run the UPI television crew in New York after apprenticing at the Plain-Dealer, and, after being enlisted to lay the wiring at L.’s and my 4000 foot loft, including L.’s soundproof electronic recording studio [a protracted activity since Jim was also the part owner of three bars two of them in NY, and had the fortunately foiled aspirations of being a video artist & the laying of a lot of wiring being the kind of activity during which you get to know a worker] turned out to be such an adept at the history of the burgeoning loft movement that I convinced him to write a book on that subject, from which I learned what a much greater pleasure it was for me to work with a journalist than many a Kafkaesque poet. It is of course difficult to maintain that SoHo or TriBeCa’s wilderness was comparable to any true natural wilderness; and there were truer wildernesses of many kinds in Greater New York than downtown Manhattan. However, the designation “pioneer” was apt. Few if any of those so engaged in sheet-rocking, laying toilet-pipe or electric wiring, of the sanding of ancient floors, sand-blasting the dirt of ages off brick walls had ever engaged in anything of the like. I at least had once been an apprentice marble man and tile man during a summer stint, not that what I had learned from my Italian and Polish specialists, in as much as it was not entirely forgotten, was applicable to the basic tasks at hand, nor an exchangeable craft, until some years later perhaps. A lot of the lofts were built, half-built I should say, by means of the exchange of barely learned crafts, and looked like it; and frequently remained half finished for many years; the “drop-dead” lofts that would be featured in Vogue and the architectural journals and the equivalent films were some years off. Until L. and I moved into our barely inhabitable floor at 173-75 Duane Park I rented an apartment on the 25th floor of the south tower of the Washington Market South complex, a three-tower 40 floor high development that took up all six blocks from North Moore down to Duane and from Greenwich to West Street. The three towers were interconnected by a three floor high base with 17th century type dolls house townhouses I suppose is what they were fronting on Greenwich Street. I forgot whether these dolls houses had been especially recreated to give these formidable and, as apartment complexes went, halfway, comparatively, interestingly designed and solidly built towers [a set near China town was far superior] some semblance of a connection with a past, or whether the dolls houses had actually been salvaged during the destruction and then entirely renovated. While already living in the Duane Park loft, but prior to passing my 25th floor perch on to an author, I gave it to Handke and his 7-year-old daughter Amina, who were in New York, but my guest was gone from the apartment within a day. What’s happened to him I wondered? The view of the WTC indeed might not be enticing; there they stood, from the perspective of the 25th floor, two huge, naked and stupid overpoweringly high vertical blocks, like monstrous milk quarts, Nelson’s Rockefellers’s two legs bestriding the earth [I better use “Rockefeller” only as a metaphor since a relation of his wrote a fine preface to a book on re-cycling that I published, anyhow he and the various metropolitan authorities], towering over everything, unskirted and untrousered from that perspective yet non-transparent with that grid hiding their windows. But you had compensating views of all of downtown Manhattan, of the Hudson, of the Ellis Island part of New York Bay and a long stretch of the Jersey shore. That certainly set your eyes free, you could even see the upper parts of “The Bridge” as though they were the tops of masts. “Suicide building” our “Cottager,” who within another year or so would expose himself to the pigeons of Central Park from on high the Hotel Adams at the end of A Slow Homecoming, and soon thereafter occupied even higher perches, had burst out when he called - from his usual escape hutch, the Hotel Algonquin. And a few people of course did toss themselves out of those high, inviting windows; but then, from which high rise didn’t they? Perhaps it was the sheer drop-off from the balcony that frightened the man who knows how many times stated that suicide was always on his mind and who had written a famous book about his mother’s taking that kind of leave? Or that it was overly designed for efficiency? I made no inquiries; which was probably a mistake, I might have learned something that took me years to figure out. From the balcony of the 5th floor of 173-5 Duane, ten blocks north of the WTC, the two towers blocked the noonday winter sun and a goodly section of the sky year-round. Just as the inhabitants of these lofts were pioneers of the various crafts required to make these huge spaces barely inhabitable, so some of the first entrepreneurs who were finding loft spaces that might be developed were pioneers in the craft of real estate development. Our John E. certainly was, poor John, his wife was the literary editor of The Nation, lost money on most of his “developments”, which I don’t think was the idea, for a “developer” he was doing about as much moving from one space to the other as a deadbeat renter, renting, half-developing and moving on was his way. Those who made a killing came later, and were, I suspect, the usual suspects. From what I read, SoHo loft spaces rent for about as much per month now as it cost to get one 30 years ago. If you live long enough in New York you realize that, from its inception, it has been one huge real estate circus. Once an area has been aged, like a ham hung out in the grime, it has acquired a patina, an aura, charm, and then you let it dangle there for a while; for example the grand turn of the century department stores on 6th Avenue just north of 14th Street had sat there aging for at least two quarters of a century before they were “rediscovered”; what you need to redevelop an area are artists to lend some pizzazz, the rest will follow. One or the other area is always ready for resuscitation. Would the WTC have aged? Was it ageable? as so obviously so many of the other buildings in downtown Manhattan were. Or was it like that building at Warren and West where I had gotten my first NY job? Stylistically derivative of European architecture as most of the buildings, even many of the skyscrapers, were, they aged as European architecture did. Original, American was the art nouveau architecture, so I thought, and what I called the turn-of-the-century mercantile style, I had encountered little of that in Europe and it had stood the test of time without being in need of aging as an assist; in Seattle, along the entire West Coast, you find the Craftsman style, writ both in small and large; comfortably lunging buildings that breathed and were expansive or that were delicate, on the exquisite side; wonderfully, unpredictably proportioned [Rockefeller Center is well but predictably proportioned, to give my reader some small reference to my approach]; in Seattle, the Humboldt Current has washed the Japanese influence ashore, or at least it did so once upon a time.
One of the bars of which Jim Stratton was one-third owner was located just a few blocks north of Duane Park at the intersection of Hudson and Jay Streets. As compared to the homey Barneys, its only alternative [barhopping in that neighborhood initially meant darting three blocks back and forth between Puffys and Barnabus Rex!] Puffys was nearly entirely visible from the outside through a two-sided suite of huge, chest-high glass windows; it had a twenty-foot ceiling with revolving fans that hung ten feet down from wobbly poles, well hung fans, the same kind of standard 19th century tiling on its floor as my ancient bathroom; uniformity and perfect replication had already been abroad in the 19th century; and looked out north at the old, beautiful brick-red mercantile style Commodity Exchange with its battleship-gray dome. On the floor above, of this odd two story building, whose seemingly marbled outside exuded the faintest of mid-eastern traces, resided the second of its owners, a professor of political science and former legislative aide to the great Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana, who would be replaced by that milquetoast Dan Quale, it was amazing what the American political establishment foists on its people and what the people sometimes elect even when they have a real choice, no matter how often they are blindsided or clipped, who had the occasional fantasy, much encouraged by his friends, of becoming the successor congressman to Mr. Ryan of Abscam fame. Jim Stratton himself, too, was very much of an activist in the progressive wing of the downtown Democratic Party, as a matter of fact Jim eventually, so I heard, cared and worked himself into a heart attack, stemming against the tide, and aside some Greeks on the Hellenic Splendor Jim was the only man I ever square-dance-type danced with, at Puffys, doing which amused us as much as the attendant crowd, which, another distinction from Barnabus Rex, was not a dancing place most of the time, and which I don’t recall for its juke box, which was Jazz oriented. The third owner, an ex-marine with the smile of a Cheshire cat pretending to be a Marx brother, did not live in a loft but in the Washington Market Complex. “So many buddies!” Lissa exclaimed in 1986.
One day, taking J.L. on his one-time tour of these southern-most loft regions, who had spent his early childhood years in a Baltimore deli next to a slum but now was very much an uptown person, residing as he did at the Vougeria on 57th Street, and also stopping by at Puffy’s, which had been strictly a working man’s bar for the life of its existence until the majority of the working men were replaced by working artists, his near instant comment was that it had a touch of evil to it. J.L.’s sixth sense was to be heeded. That part of downtown was crime-free except I suppose for purse snatching and shop-lifting on Church and Canal Streets; it had its share of cat burglaries because of the accessibility of its fire escapes, all you needed was to reach up and pull the ladder down and clamber up, and also because loft building at that time were never really locked ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…“ excepting white collar crime with its humongous consequences committed commencing from Fulton Street on down, or of the corruption of Tammany Hall. TriBeCa, for fairly obvious reasons, was an area free of muggings and murder, several years passed without a single murder while something on the order of 2000 a year were being perpetrated in the five boroughs. The first murder committed in that part of the world during its re-incarnation as TriBeCa may have been that of a young Scots visitor by the name of Irenee Maxwell. The keening doubled ee at the end of Irene sticks in your memory. We had had a kind of downtown date, which meant that you said as you separated at a bar, perhaps I’ll meet you here tomorrow night. I had returned the following night but my friends had not seen here. Ah well. The evening passed and Irenee was not entirely forgotten. The following day, as I left my office around 4 o’clock slump time to get a Snickers at the corner candy, tobacco and newspaper monger at Chambers and West Broadway, the New York Post had one of its full-page photos, I never bought the Post except when it featured someone I knew on its front page, of Irenee Maxwell; who had been knifed to death by a mugger across the street from Puffy’s the night before; right into the heart. Professional muggers do not knife people to death. The muggers had been two kids from Long Island, out on the town for their first mugging spree, one of them a preacher’s son, one white one black as best I recall, the rare case of an integrated mugging team, everyone all over town had told them to bug off, they were such amateurs at mugging; till something snapped, so it appears, across the street from Puffy’s, no not the pretty girl too was going to tell them to bug off. The suburbs were coming downtown all right. I knew of one other violent incident associated with Puffy’s, it had to do with its owners punching out a bright alcoholic cobweb-chasing Princeton mathematician, who had kept making it a point to behave as obnoxiously as possible and who usually succeeded because no matter how drunk, his mouth kept jabbering intelligently. Well, yes, and my sculptor friend and I nearly getting in fight over his interfering in my love life, but we made up. [A fine long scene in a film, during which the camera notices my gradually dawning realization that this is happening, that the fellow is serious, and anger slowly begins to seethe; a whore for good reviews even from bad critics is his Achilles heel, and what he’d do for that.] My recollection of Barney’s, except for one fight, broken up by a certain Olaf Hansen, a then alcoholic, and Urizen author so it happened, is free of violence; I myself once slugged someone a foot taller than myself at Mickeys because he whispered racial slurs into my ear as I was playing pool with Black Bobby, the only time this dangerous defensive fighter hit first in his entire life, I was on edge, and the force of the blow, the pent up anger, was meant for someone else, as I realized subsequently; and they tossed the big fellow out, he’d been like that all evening, but I’d forgotten how long your fist would hurt if you slug someone on the chin. The only matter making for occasional acrimony at these bars was competition for and use of that rare pool stick with a good cue on it, you hoarded it. But that was it. No fights over women, no cat fights. Well yes, I’d once put someone down at The Odeon who’d thrown a punch in my face, but doing that took maybe five seconds before, my hands around his throat, I had forced him down on the floor where he clawed at me like a girl as I would have predicted if I’d had I given it any thought beforehand, and as amazing as I subsequently found my hair trigger reaction to have been, I found my knowledge that what you did then, the fellow pinned below you, was wait for the owner and a waiter to take him, one of my partner’s minions, the very person who had physically dubbed those pornographic films and plied Belushi with cocaine, hoist him up and literally toss him out onto West Broadway as he would then be spat out of the country in its entirety. The owner and waiters had watched the whole thing and sometimes life was fair. My subsequent reaction was: Hey, I love to fight! I’d nearly entirely forgotten since the days I had learned to box, in camp, one guess who was my model in the mid-fifties. However, I knew I that I was only semi-tough and didn’t have it in me to keep fighting up front and keep being cut down from behind, as I was being with one of the partners at the book company. I’d be a Hagen to him yet. I still am not sure what J.L. had sensed; perhaps it was the violence in himself for which actions on my part might have been the occasion that day, but J.L was keeping his cool and J.L., who’d been halfway well-analyzed, and at the very least had learned an analyst’s cool, was very good at keeping it until acid reflux got the better of him, he’d just come downtown to do a little checking around. When quiet and free of the crowd, Puffy’s had a faint aura of a bar not out of a film noir so much but of the kind that Hopper might have painted, it stood in a some need to appear a bit more attractive, that space it needed something, I have a hard time putting my finger on what was wrong with it even now. Was it just a touch not deep enough? It’s ceiling too high? The windows just too large?
Few if any other uptown friends ever ventured downtown, which I suppose goes to show what kind of uptown friends I had. And if they came downtown to visit me, most of them were like fish out of their east side watering holes, J.R., en especial, comes to mind in that connection, the lordly mouth of the big table turned out to be tongue-tied in different environs. The exception to this rule was Paul, a film maker and production designer, who had seen, if not quite everything, who has after all, but enough, and with the eye to appreciate the architectural finesse and play of colors to be found in this exceptionally picturesque area. As a matter of fact, unbeknownst to me, he had used the first downtown building I lived in, in Duane Park, for Wolfen, and then, beknownst to me who took him on a walk-around, right around the corner from Duane Park, next to the hulking castle, used a faux Florentine building, which had a two-sided staircase leading up to a pedestal on the second level and a black wrought-iron balcony on its third floor that I dreamed off holding forth from if the firm ever really flew, for The Pope of Greenwich Village. Nor did many of the profit but not loss sharing authors express interest in venturing to an area where Urizen was the publishing pioneer. Nor, for that matter, was I myself ever entirely a downtown person; especially not what with my yen for well-bred girlfriends, one of whom I had dragged, from her uptown slum lair, by the scruff of her obstreperous reddish-blonde hair, into the loft on Duane Street, and the occasional weekends with one or the other beauty who, though they might have a loft downtown, still had a pad or a relative’s pad on Park Avenue, which provided a nice vaccaciones from the roughage of downtown life. However, one long weekend in the ghetto of the rich was all I ever needed, before I began to yearn to be back down in the streets.
With the end of the firm in 1982, I suddenly had not only time but daylight time to explore uptown again. Only rarely venturing further north than Houston Street, sometimes a month might pass before I did so, my walking expeditions having been confined to my part of the world for nearly ten years, now that I had had as much of a neighborhood as I had ever had since 1950, it was easily possible to live nearly entirely within it. Over the course of that ten-year period I walked the area so that its street plan became like my hunting ground. Much of the better part of my childhood had been spent exploring woods and meadows, the country-side, and at a certain point I had even been instructed in the art of this kind of exploration by that German writer of adventure stories set in the Middle East and the Americas, Karl May’s various surrogates. Rather simple-minded buddy, good versus evil books though they are, May’s knowledge of the flora and fauna and of the geography of the worlds where he set his tales was quite accurate, and his protagonists scouts, trackers - had conveyed that information, and also how they came by it, to the fantasizing reader. Meanwhile, I had spent a month here, a few months there in a variety of real American wildernesses, and I think I transposed this childlike, less and less goggle-eyed way of exploring very different environs directly onto the city. There, too, if I wanted to get to know a city be it London, Madrid, Mombassa or Calcutta - I allowed myself to just wander around, to become lost, as I actually really did, physically, only once in any kind of territory in my entire life, it happened in nature, inside a 20,000 acre burn in Alaska, near Galena by the Yukon: all that ashen moss and those ghostly trees in Arctic Summer Light, suddenly I was devoid of every orientation point, and since I had just been appointed straw boss was mortified to be forced to consult my geodesic map. No wonder, then, that I was so pleased at the occasional dogleg, a curve, an angle other than 90 degrees among all the maddening geometry, and to come on odd streets like Ann [once utterly overrun by Norwegian rats, why were they called Norwegian? ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…“ another Post cover photo I think, another quarter for Rupert Murdoch- 5] or Frankfort [it runs alongside the Brooklyn Bridge and has a whole series of surprisingly ancient, arched storage holds [which contained what?] or Pearl Street or... Many of the best walks were longer expeditions across “The Bridge,” as far as Red Hook, or to Williamsburg, and back across that bridge, but never as far as the Verrezano and across to Staten Island, if you even can, which I regret, and one of those walks was in the company of Handke. It was snowing; there probably is no better walk in New York than across the Brooklyn Bridge on a night when it has just begun to snow. It was a fine dry snow and we were walking all the way to Park Slope to link up with Brodsky. Urizen’s Books’ Brodsky, Michael Brodsky, whom the freight elevator had evacuated into the book company’s front office one day with two large valises full of manuscripts, each one of them better than the other, you didn’t know where to begin publishing these difficult deliveries, had somehow run into Handke in Paris who had passed him along. However, though the walking and snowing and fine white grains of snow nearly sizzling in out of the black onto the wooden planks could not have been more perfect, Handke, who had recently returned from Alaska, did not want to hear anything from me about Alaska, he had had enough, he was like a stuffed goose, his liver was cooking the experience, it nearly sounded like that Bach Cantata Ich Habe Genug, though I really for once wanted to tell him something of myself, and was rather worried [Michael in his occasional capacity as Mother Hen] that his at most half dozen brief trips there scarcely qualified him to write on the subject, even though I knew how much a far less talented but more brilliant writer, Norman Mailer, had managed to pick up in one two week visit for that unfortunately so tendentiously mistitled Why We Are in Vietnam. Little did I know what Handke was writing, what’s he doing there anyhow, in Alaska, that Carinthian “cottager” who’d nearly committed suicide in Paris, since I made it a point never to ask a novelist, especially one who specialized in the verbal induction of states of mind, about his current project; nor did he seem to remember, the second time within a short time that I found his memory to be failing him, that it had been I who had written him that winter’s in Alaska were something truly different, not that it necessarily took me to do that: New England was like Bavaria, Colorado not that different from the Alps, but winters in AlaskaÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦ It was a question of the light, of the permafrost below the foot of frozen moss, of the infinity of the quietness, the outline of the so widely sinuous Yukon, of the dark green-black of the scrub pine and fir forests. So I had some sense, then, of what he had in mind when he dedicated A Slow Homecoming to “the snow.”
Having come to know the regions South of Houston as though they were a hunting ground, what a rediscovery in particular the Village became once I had time to roam further north. TriBeCa being intensely heterosexual, in The Village and the area around Gansevoort it seemed every Marlboro man was gay, nor had I ever encountered such a concentration of Marlboro men. I started taking a closer look at well-kempt mustaches, all that extraordinary self-preoccupation; an entirely different crew from my homosexual friends who were exceedingly literary nor especially fey.