Thursday, October 21, 2010

The faces of the cleaning crew, the wheelchair and the customs official remained with me as the cab sped west on Van Wyck. Everything on the Expressway seemed five-percent faster than other freeways I had known. As we slowed towards the Midtown tollbooth I thought we had arrived at a rave -- for cars.

Our lodgings were at 11th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues. The Larchmont describes itself as “European Style” (the U.S. American version of a “pension”), which meant shared shower and toilet, something we were fine with, given our budget. Once settled, we set out for a bite. Washington Square, then east along 4th to Avenue A, up to 12th and, because Judy had to catch a 7AM train to Annandale the next morning, home.

Being spring break, the streets were teeming with college kids, though there were enough stereotypes to remind me of the city’s endless representations. Everywhere I looked was an episode of That Girl or Rhoda, a Woody Allen film or Law & Order. People seemed hired to live there. At the same time I wondered how they could afford it. Only London was more expensive. Only then did Andy Warhol make sense to me.

As I said, Judy had an early train to catch, so when I rolled out of bed at 8AM, I was alone. The view from our window was of the rear of the building behind it. Just above that, a thin strip of sky, hard and blue and pure (which I have since added to my collection of indelible images). A half-hour later I was out the door, vowing to walk wherever my eyes took me. Nine hours later I was back at the Larchmont, in time to meet Judy for dinner.

Your shoes, she said. What did you do to them? I looked down; they didn’t look right. I don’t know, I went for a walk. What did you walk in? Nothing. I took them off, turning them in my hands. These were leather Dayton Oxfords, a workingman’s shoe, but somehow I had walked them into a state of permanent disfiguration. I’m serious, she said, they look broken.

And she was right. Alphabet City, Little Italy, Chinatown, Wall Street, TriBeCa, The West Village, all the way up to Columbia University, over to East Harlem, down again, around again. I must have walked 25 miles that day. I had never seen anything like it.

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