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.