Back in the Promised Land

Memorial Day Weekend 2015

Borough of Manhattan

New York City, NY


A man in what appears to be quite a hurry coughs in your face on the corner of Third Avenue and something, then openly glares at you for being in his way.

Breathe it in — you’re in New York.

I grin in response, looking up at the buildings like a tourist, because no New Yorker has the time to do either. Then again, a lot of the city’s population is made up of tourists or imports, seeing as it’s hard to get by on an island where it costs more just to exist than it does to live well in most other parts of the country.

Make no mistake, it is not the ‘90s anymore, and life here is not an episode of Seinfeld or Friends (nor has it ever been, by my reckoning). NYC is a metropolitan behemoth moving at the pace of a thoroughbred racehorse on an eight ball and two dollops of speed. It is also more than just Manhattan, contrary to televisual and cinematic stereotypes, in the same way that the State of New York is more than just New York City.

For the next 48 hours, though, Manhattan is where I am staying — Midtown, to be exact — at a smallish hotel off East 41st Street that clearly makes a killing on coming across as quaint and unassuming in an environment where it’s possible to be neither in earnest. I stocked up on tobacco before flying in, so as not to go bankrupt on the ruinous state tax, and also invested in a flask. This ain’t my first urban rodeo.

Cut to a street corner (I shouldn’t have to specify that it’s busy, because this is Manhattan, and they are all busy), where I am reveling in the anonymity of finally being in a real fucking city again. I’ve got love for Austin, really, I do. But I was brought up in the Northeast, and you know what they say about taking the street out of a street rat.

Give me skyscrapers over ranches, pigeons over roaches, bagels over donuts, and garage bands over honky tonk. I want to walk around aimlessly like I always do, but at a pace which suggests I may actually be going somewhere (however doubtful that may be). Thank god I’m alone, too. My family is just over the border in Jersey — another world entirely — but they’ll have to wait until I’ve had my fill of air and noise pollution, along with whatever else presents itself by way of blind luck, or indeed, blind pursuit.

Most of my people here don’t know I’m in town, and I’ll get shit for that later, but so be it. There are times when I really do need to be alone and get lost someplace unfamiliar just to see what happens. You may not get that, or even be able to relate, which is fine. My proclivities don’t have much to claim in the way of sanity, much less conventionality.

Today is a gorgeous one. It’s 70 something outside and sunnier than I am apt to trust for very long. I resist the impulse to check the weather on my phone, because I don’t need a goddamned app to tell me that it’s nice out. Having not showered since before my flight, I am looking a little worse for the wear, but nobody really gives a shit about my self-obsession or personal appearance in the country’s nexus of finance, fashion, and fuckery. New York is very much the promised land where absolutely nothing is promised you.

Coffee. Let’s start with coffee, a big cup of the stuff. Headphones are a must, as are The Strokes. It seems only right to listen to my favorite band in the place where their body of work originated. Following this is an indulgence in my favorite pastime during stays in the big city, a walk. Not through Central Park (although that is sure to come later), but in the concrete jungle itself, where you’re as likely to find a belligerent homeless person as you are a five star meal, Broadway show, or better yet, a world class art museum.

Such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example. I’ve always wanted to go but never had the chance without the threat of being accompanied by the usual suspects, i.e. a school field trip or my mother (I love that woman with all sorts of heart, but she is a nightmare to be in a museum with, stopping at every sign and reading it aloud — shoot me in the fucking face already). One of the cooler parts about the Met is that they are donation based, meaning you pay what you want, be it a dollar or one hundred, and you have full access for 24 hours.

The place is surreal, its galleries stuck in time with countless exhibits larger and more spectacular than imaginable (e.g. full temples, throne rooms and ancient tombs once taken apart then reconstructed, piece by piece). You are literally walking through millennia of history, making it the closest experience to being in a time machine that I can think of. After which one can simply walk out into Central Park, catch some Shakespeare or a bit of sun. So I did, and saw Hank Azaria of The Birdcage going for a walk with his kid.

While very much a remarkable city during the daytime, New York is so much more at night — to an overwhelming degree. My old girl in Harlem tells me to meet her at an upscale restaurant off of West 58th Street, where I find her sitting alone at the bar, looking all sorts of wonderfully chic in a black cocktail dress and touch of red lipstick. Give it a rest, Dre, the woman is spoken for.

She leads me through the kitchen — what is this, a fucking movie? — and through a backdoor into one of those clubs where you have no doubt that everyone present makes a great deal more money than you. There’s priceless pop art on the walls, plush couches to sit on, and playboys of all ages and ethnicities throwing bottles of liquor and champagne at anyone who’s smart enough to flatter them. I’m feeling out of place but not uncomfortable, as the lady keeps me laughing and engaged in conversation throughout.

Next stop is one of her favorites, a bar/club (I can’t tell the difference) which has a reputation for being a) exclusive; and b) lenient with regard to recreational drug use — neither of which, it must be said, are rare attributes of most any venue in this city. It’s off East 19th, somewhere near the Flatiron District, I think. My sense of direction is almost certainly failing me.

At this point I’m more than a little drunk, following my tour guide with absolute trust and absolutely no idea of where I am. The place she takes me to is awesome, my kind of gin joint; it’s really well decorated/lit and full of cool, interesting people whose presence has the perilous effect of making you feel more cool and interesting than you’ve done enough to earn.

My favorite song by The Strokes comes on and I totally lose it, start jamming out in the middle of the bar without really caring how stupid I look — sometimes, there’s nothing else for it. The long lines for the bathroom suggest that not everyone in them only needs to pee. Cocaine is like pizza around these parts (extremely popular and equally so accessible), as are a variety of other drugs, I’ve been told.

The end of the night means the journey home, a short cab ride which I forgo in favor of a long walk. I figure a couple miles on foot might go a long way for my hangover in the morning. I’m stumbling just subtly enough to not have to avoid cops, and smoking at a pace of one drag every ten steps — moderation has never been my strong suit. The streets are quieter than usual, like a theatre full of whispers before the show. It’s a comforting sound, especially paired with the fair breeze and soft lighting.

All of a sudden, it’s 4:30 AM. I’m in the elevator at my hotel, inching my way closer to bed and acutely aware of the fact that my collective sum of actual sleep amounts to a grand total of something like seven hours over the last two and a half days. When I get to my room, it smells all funky and warm, kind of like a cocktail of writerly stereotypes, featuring notable hints of ingredients such as cigarette smoke and whiskey.

Breathe it in — you’re in New York.

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