A LONG WAY FROM MANY PLACES
First, We’ll Take
Winter travel is a crapshoot, tumbling dice. Ann thought we were overdue for a trip to
to visit with my mother and my
sister’s family. And Ann thought it might be fun to preface a return to my
hometown with a couple of days in New York City because she’d never been, I
hadn’t been there for 35 years and she knew I was busting to experience the
Rolling Stones Exhibitionism show,
and anyway, what better way to spend an ageing Stones freak’s birthday?
Inclement weather chased us along the continent’s eastern seaboard and though
we fumed through flight delays and missed connections, we were never stranded
by cancellations thanks to the hairs on my chinny-chin-chin. Montreal
Last Wednesday night we touched down at LaGuardia hours overdue. The rundown, shabby airport in
was deserted. We may’ve been on the last plane in before the weather warnings
demanded a cessation of incoming air traffic. We took a black town car to the
Ameritania Hotel at West 54th
Street and Broadway in . Our driver was pregnant and her
boyfriend had left her because she was pregnant. She said he was only 21 and
not ready for the responsibilities inherent in raising a child. She’d quit
smoking ‘Like that!’ snapping her fingers. She wondered why women were so upset
with President Trump because she really didn’t pay attention to the news. I
glanced at Ann and looked out the window, Manhattan Central Park:
yeah, I took a long territorial piss there once a long time ago.
When you change the backdrop you change the conversation. Around midnight Ann and I left our hotel and went next door to a pub called The 3 Monkeys. The joint was long and narrow. The walls were white subway or bathroom tile. The ceiling was stamped tin. Judging from the flags and pennants, The 3 Monkeys is a midtown haven for
’s NFL Packers and Patriots fans. We
were too tired to sleep. It was officially my 57th birthday. We
discussed the digital human condition, global politics, our present and our
future plans – from a new coat of paint in the laundry room to travel to
somehow getting my third novel out there for readers. I am reminded of my only
other trip to New York in that I can’t remember much as we both drank four
pints of Old Speckled Hen English ale. I do know that Ann and I agreed that we
love each other. New York
We awoke in a fog; the snow had fallen all through the night but we couldn’t gauge its depth peering down from our tenth floor room into a window well of leaky air conditioner rust stained white washed brick.
New York is an old New
World city, its streets are narrow and if they ran two-way the
carnage would be horrifying. There’s a hole in every street surrounded by heavy
vehicles and attended to by work crews decked out in florescent vests. We
staggered out of our hotel into a honking car jam exacerbated by a cordoned off
vented sewer, double stacked rows of garbage bags, driving sleet and windrows
of heavy, wet snow. Chaos.
We negotiated Broadway as best we could, mindful of our footing, the foot speed of the locals, the pointy parts of their umbrellas and our eyes. We gazed upon the Disney grotesque that is
Times Square and admired the marquees in the Theatre
District. We passed Lindy’s deli which is Mindy’s in Damon Runyon’s delightful
Jazz Age short stories of ’s
gamblers and gangsters; Arnold Rothstein the New Yorker who fixed the 1919
World Series and who is mentioned in passing in ‘The Great Gatsby’ appears as
criminal genius Sky Masterson. I was most struck by the shuttered New York ,
symbolic of an entirely different era of music. If you consider the music
industry perpetually troubled, you need not think beyond the fate of the Brill.
Initially, player pianos, phonographs and radio were perceived threats to a
business that thrived on the sales of sheet music. Ultimately its three chord
death knell was sounded by Bob Dylan and the Beatles, performers who wrote
their own material. Songwriters associated with Brill such as Carole King, Neil
Diamond, Paul Simon and Lou Reed (!) moved on to do other things. Brill Building
We caught a Yellow cab to the
to go through Exhibitionism. We
could’ve ridden the subway but you can’t see much underground. It was closed
for the day due to weather conditions. Ann and I looked at each other and
started to laugh. There was nothing else to do and where were we stranded
anyway? Keeping the West Village Hudson River to our backs
we wended our way through the snow and dog shit to Eighth Avenue and flagged another Yellow
cab to take us back uptown. We ate dinner at a pizzeria on Broadway called
Angelo’s. A decade-old New York Times
story in the window announced that one of ’s great pizza families was back in
the game. However, a food critic in a recent issue of The New Yorker sniffed that while Angelo’s was fine for tourists
there were better pies to be had in the Big Apple. Fuck it; we were hungry and
needed something in our stomachs for a return engagement at The 3 Monkeys.
‘Beast of Burden’ played as we enjoyed our first pint of Old Speckled Hen.
‘Cheers, baby, I love you.’ New York
The Rolling Stones are a seminal band. Beyond the music and the live performances is another layer of cultural depth. They explored other media. In their heyday they drove fashion. Mick Jagger, a London School of Economics dropout, and drummer Charlie Watts, a commercial artist, understand the importance of branding, graphic design, promotion and advertising. All of these jigsaw pieces, stage costumes, Andy Warhol Polaroids, enlarged printer’s proofs, lyrics on hotel courtesy notepaper, assemble into a somewhat complete though obviously orchestrated picture. Keith’s used syringes were not on display.
was essentially a commando raid or
a heist, in and out. When we eventually exited the Exhibitionism merchandise emporium the sun was out and the sky was
blue. The time was around noon on Friday, February 10th, our second
and last day in the city. We had a sense of Manhattan ’s grid now. We wandered from the
Meat Packing District and strolled through a portion of Manhattan Greenwich
Village, zigging and zagging between Seventh, Eighth and Ninth
Avenues. We explored the Chelsea Market for too short of a time because the
frenetic crush of people made me uncomfortable. We were hungry and thirsty but
the crowd just didn’t suit. Ann said, ‘We’ll know it when we find it.’ We did.
We pried open a 7-Up screen door and ducked through some plastic meat freezer
curtain strips into the Trailer Park Lounge and Grill on West 23rd
Street; black velvet Elvis was in the building as was every other item of
kitsch you’ll find in a dusty low rent antique store. The tikki bar was open.
The beer was cold. The food was basic but delicious: tater tots.