Friday, December 10, 2010

The Enterprise - 18

Outside of work I drifted around Manhattan in endlessly overlapping figures. The gym on the Upper East. The bar in Gramercy for shooting pool. The Park, the Village. Trying not to let the antenna of my StarTAC poke me in the balls.

I lived in Spanish Harlem with my sister Sue and our friend Sean. Every day I'd walk home from the 6 at Lex and 103rd: down the sidewalk blown by wisps of trash; past the garden cantina with the plastic chairs, the tires in a pile, the knee-high grass and weeds. The liquor store on the corner with the yellow sign and the bulletproof booth. I once bought a bottle of wine I'd noticed in the window, vintage 1972. For twenty-eight years it had rested in its spot in the display while the hood lived and died beyond the glass: babes paraded in prams by proud and hopeful moms turned into truant youth, dealers and gangstas, some to be felled by rivals for turf, some by brothers in arms for a trifle – a slight, a rumor, an accusation. A girl. The man who once screamed and strained for his mother's breast now lay on the corner in a gently expanding pool of blood. Through it all the stupid bottle of French wine looked on. I took it home. It was piss.

For many years before I moved I'd ride the Metro-North down. My sister already lived here. But a Connecticut boy never really needs a reason to see the City. It exerted a magnificent gravitational pull, out of the woods and down the coastline, through the dollhouse towns of Fairfield Country, behind a jumble of graffiti'd warehouses and finally: Grand Central Station. I was always fascinated by the stretch of elevated track between 125th Street and the plunge under Park Avenue. I recognized that this was, objectively, a bad area. You could tell from the overgrown lots, the cracked windows, the peeled-paint signs. But in the late sun shining from the west it sparkled like a jewel. This was the paradoxical result of decades of violence and neglect: glass everywhere, crushed nearly to powder, from car accidents, break-ins, discarded bottles. It gave the impression that the streets of this city were paved not with gold but with diamonds.

It would be crazy to live here, I thought to myself, gazing out the train. I tried to imagine how different my life would be, how strange and wonderful and awful it would be, if I lived right there in that scintillating ghetto.