Leitrim / Ditmas Avenue / Mexico City

An Orthodox man comes out of “Laundry Mania” with a white shirt draped in plastic, freshly-laundered and ready for tomorrow. A thin, young Hassidic man in a brown, furred hat like a lamp shade has his crying daughter firmly clasped in his arms. He’s marching ahead, wheeling a suitcase. It’s the eve of Sabbath, much work still remains to be done before the sun goes down, to prepare for when work must cease. There’s no mitigating circumstances when it comes to the Law. Auburn-wigged young wife walks behind in black, registering the argument in her demeanour, registering the husband’s stress in the downward-looking gaze and gait of her wife’s body.

Seriousness struggles with another kind of vigil: Friday night, and cheesy, sweet Latin American music pipes out of the shops, floating on the air. Clutches of Uzbek men in plastic leather jackets and 70s ‘taches, smoking rancid fags, eye the young women, who shun them with a self-turning shoulder. Some of the men feel like mafia, probably because they’re always around, doing nothing specific. They’ve claimed this pavement; you have to walk around them. Same with the Poles. (Hipsters, beware. Locals Rule here enough to resist gentrification. Ah… but gentrification is like Manifest Destiny. An inevitability in the U.S., and its empire abroad.)

A Mayan boy on the pavement in three-quarter-length khaki shorts is blowing bubbles upward into the Indian Summer evening sky, and I cross into Latin America. Passing the barber shop, Abel the barber from Mexico gets up from his ruminations to greet me: perfect grey flat top like a 50 year old punk, he wears a bone necklace, and has features like Quetzalcoatl. His wife is Irish. “David? si. Yo estaba pensando. el nombre de mi suegro es Mc…Dermott: y es de una ciudad que se llama Leitrim. Si, Leitrim.” (“David? Yes. I was thinking. My father-in-law’s name is Mc…Dermott, and he’s from a city called Leitrim.”) I go up the rickety wooden steps to the subway, laughing to myself and, in fact, some tears of connection squeeze their way out with the laughter: about how only New York, perhaps, can connect the watery fields of Leitrim (otters and loneliness), to Mexico via Brooklyn.

Abel’s daughter cut my hair the other day: “Blade 1? Easy haircut.” And yet, she dedicated a plethora of blades, scissors and talc, a wealth of pleasant attention to my pate, my beard, my neck. She taped old style, elasticated tissue around my throat; a sharp, pleasant, wet straight razor gliding down the back of my neck. Her hand adjusted my head with a firm, woman’s touch. She was wearing a water-based cologne that opened a wound of nostalgia for Spain. In the background, heroes and heroines swooned on soap operas piped in via satellite from “el D.F.” (Say it Day F-Aay, bud.) I get a chill when Mexicans say, “Soy del D.F.”, in response to my inevitable, “¿de dónde eres?” / “where are you from?” The sound values of those sibilants contain something of the day-to-day heroism and chaotic aliveness of Latin America: it’s Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Cuzco, it’s Asunción; it’s Sao Paolo, and of course it’s the Distrito Federal. New York may be the shit, but the true motherlode, the big hearted Mother City, is “el D.F.“, homes. Mexico City, baby.

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Like Something out of The Warriors, Paranoid Version

Not For Tourists says: “if you’re bored in New York, you have only yourself to blame.” I’m sure that’s true. While having lunch yesterday with the poet Philip Fried in Edgar’s Café, right beside the site of Edgar Allen Poe’s farmhouse on the Upper West Side where the streetscape, elegant, sunlit, airy, reminded me with a “keen nostalgia” of autumn in Madrid eight years ago, he said: “where else in the world can you go out your door and, within half an hour, be looking at Rembrant?” I asked him how he dealt with all the possibilities, and he mentioned the flip side: getting sucked into one’s daily routine, and how you might, out of all the ways to walk to work, always take the same route. (Surely, though, that’s the antidote to possibility-madness: carving out a village in the city.) He also admitted to “New York guilt”, something most likely shared by many: that you really should be out there, attending the latest opening, restaurant, or bar, or whatever…

It’s Saturday night, and I’m not out. I’m lying on my bed, watching the quirky French documentary The Gleaners and I, while I take my time writing this. Staying in and “not giving a damn” (a phrase in quotation marks ever since Gone with the Wind), is surely assisted by having a hangover: oh… because I went out last night with the MFA kids and got rat-arsed in the East Village, after the NYU reading at KGB, and ended up somewhere in the West Village with a Southern, Floridian writer who has lived everywhere, is a perfect raconteur, who regaled us with tales of Southern literary mischief, as well as the perfect wing man, who possesses a leg as hollow as mine but is probably better able to take the morning-after consequences. By 1 a.m., we were the last ones standing, and washed up like storm debris at a bar full of stockbrokers and thin blondes in miniskirts. Before getting in, we alienated the tank-like African American bouncer by smoking in the wrong place (“I told you to smoke by the ash tray”, and then he proceeded to let other people in ahead of us for 5 minutes).

Having gone outside with a cute black girl, she and I were immediately surrounded by smooth-talking, cock-blocking Swiss and Brit Euro trash. We made up, however, by smoking a communal roll-your-own “cigarette” that induced what the posse calls a “whitener”, which apart from pale nausea and head-spins, created the urgent need to sit on an adjacent stoop for half an hour, and whispered the fear that I would never find my way home – “ah, Existential Angst, my old friend! Sshho, you’re still working for Largo” (forgive the Sean Connery-esque, James Bond interjection). I was also afraid that if I stood up, I’d immediately fall down, and that if I stopped a taxi, I wouldn’t be able to make myself understood.

Luckily, I finally left the stoop, stopped hypnotically watching high heels and leather loafers pass by (so this is what it feels like to be homeless: invisible), made for the nearest “boulevard”, and realised (a) that I could walk and (b) that West 4th Street station was only 10 minutes walk away. What bliss! The city was finally comprehensible. After buying a 1$ bottle of water from a tender, white-haired Indian man, and being buttonholed by a hustler to whom I paid 5$ for the privilege of listening to a series of racist and homophobic jokes, and after being accosted by a lunatic woman in the subway, who turned aggressive when I foolishly answered one of her rants (she was booted out by 5 of NYPD’s subway division who appeared out of nowhere – “GO! I’m tellin’ you! Get outta here!”) – after it all, I found my platform, feeling like something out of The Warriors, paranoid version.

Twenty minutes later, the F came slowly round the corner of the tunnel – oh, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home! – and me and the Seven Sleepers were on the train to Stillwell Avenue and Coney, nodding in our respective corners. Coming down the old wooden steps of the elevated station, I stopped off at the local all-night bodega (corner-shop) to buy crusty bread, humus and milk, which I proceeded to eat in bed while watching a cheesy rom-com on Netflix. And then, at 5 a.m.: sleep. So, no: tonight I’m not tempted. And, I’m not guilty.