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Memories of Manhattan
It had been a long trip. A series of hops between bus and train and plane at unsociable hours, and taking a roundabout route unpopular enough to be significantly cheaper than the usual London-to-New-York redeye, and unusual enough to earn me an interview with suspicious Canadian customs officials all too wary of prospective illegal immigrants abusing international airconnections to sneak in through the back door. They need not have been worried. My only interest was making the next leg of my elaborately choreographed dance of pre-booked, budget transportation that would land me at my destination.

So many years have gone by since I'd spent those years in this jeweled metropolis, since I'd stepped off the plane at LaGuardia, passport adorned with its freshly pasted H1-B visa looking forward to a new life and new adventures in a place I had only ever seen in the movies. I'd spent two long years in the East Village, before my teleworking arrangement had finally been terminated and I'd been finally forced, reluctantly to move to a place on the far outskirts of the sleepy city of Charlotte, North Carolina, a place I found so soul-crushing and banal that I only lasted a few months before packing my bags and returning to Britain.

Here I was back in my old stomping grounds, the crazy patchwork of apartment blocks, cafes, bars, miscellanous stores that spanned a jumble of rustic streets and art-adorned byways that ran through the East Village and south across Houston Street to the Lower East Side. Even thirteen years ago people were lamenting the creeping gentrification of this neighbourhood, the way the wave of escalating rents and refurbishment pushed ever further east through avenues A, B, C, and D even right into the projects that teetered on the edge of the East River. But despite these concessions to a burgeoning yuppie population, this place had lost little of its essential character.

There was something stoic and determined about its energy, something fundamentally corrupting about its presence. It survived by infecting its newcomers with its own craziness, earning their love and transforming them rather than being itself transformed. There was something to be admired here, like a post-urban David and Goliath story: All of the blue collar workers, and software developers and insurance salesmen and accountants and marketing people could not hope to make any real incursion within the walls of this place. Its spirit would bend, but it would not be broken.

Its essence had remained untouched by the years, and all my little landmarks where still there. The little shoe and leather repair place around the corner from my old place on 3st and 2nd Av. The string of bars, and the restaurants with their little penned-in outside eating areas. St Marks Place had suffered its losses, falling to a more mediocre and midtown feel. But 7A and Sidewalk cafe still took their places, essentially unchanged at the end of 7th where it abuts Tompkins Square Park, which itself is still host to the same population of hobos, bums, oddballs, bottle-and-can collectors and alcoholics. The Pyramid Club still endures, evoking memories of nights spent crashing around to 80s and industrial music, awash in a haze of dry ice, sweat, prefume and liquor fumes. But the little cafe on 3rd between B and C, where I used to frequent a writer's club in a back-room - and where I met so many people who would become my friends - was gone, long since replaced by a n innocous Cuban Restaurant. This is truly a city with a strange gravity all of its own, exerting a hold that only people who have lived and breathed it across months or years can truly understand, who have grown used to the noise and stale warm breath of the subway in summer, who have negotiated the icy sidewalks and piled up snowbanks of the depths of winter. It gets into your veins, infuses you with its vibrancy and elan, makes you its willing prisoner.

As I stood on the roof of an apartment block on Rivington gazing at the vista of the Manhattan skyline, generous tokes from a joint in my hand lending an added air of surreality to my presence here, I reflected on the passing years and what they had brought. One obvious loss was poignant as ever from this standpoint, those two bejeweled towers that once stood so proudly, and which so many times in my lost wanderings around muddled downtown streets had acted as a vital beacon, a compass-point to guide and direct me to more recognisable surroundings. Gone now. Their destruction still sending ugly echoes down through history, splitting the world down multiple, violent fissures of dissent.

The weed was courtesy of a Hispanic guy, who had been hanging out with friends on the sidewalk by a people-carrier in front of the building twenty minutes earlier. "You smoke weed?" he'd shouted across at me as I smoked a cigarette on the stoop outside the main door. What was it, I thought? Was there a look about me, something about the clothes I wore or my easy familiarity with this corner of the world. He'd strolled over proudly and waved a $40 baggy in front of me, then slid into five minutes of idle banter about the neighbourhood, what had changed, and the friend whose block I sat out front. In the end he agreed to split a $20 deal off his baggy, and gave me a generous helping wrapped in a piece of card torn from something in his car.

I wondered somberly how things could have been if I had stayed, why I had ever left at all, why I hadn't jumped ship to another dot-com, stayed in New York and waited out the tedious green-card process that would solidify my residency. I felt like I had somehow betrayed this place, allowed myself to be torn from its grasp by sordid and inferior considerations. I had sold my soul for a small pile of stock options.

Most shockingly, I also realised that the friends I had left behind those long years ago were still my friends, essentially unchanged and ready to greet me back into their lives with open arms, as though my years' absence and the only fleeting nature of our re-unions throughout the years were of little of consequence. Gina was still in the same apartment on Rivington, still working at a homeless shelter and spending her free time embroiled in fan-culture escapades, Zena Warrior Princess giving way to Harry Potter, in turn giving way to Dr Who. Lisa, with whom I had shared an apartment on 3rd street was now in East Harlem, but still with the same cat, Butchie, doing the same nursing job, and in a neighbourhood every bit as cheap and borderline. Peter, too, was still there, still playing slumlord and juggling properties through the booms and busts of this last turbulent decade, and his siblings Mary and David were still in town doing much the same as they had ten years previously.

Looking across the patchwork of rooftops to the familiar array of landmarks leading uptown, the Empire State, the art-deco spire of the Chrysler building, the imposing obelisk of the Met-life building dwarfing Grand Central below, I felt wave of nostalgia and regret. My heart was still in this place. Some part of me never left. I would return again, I was sure.

And one day I would stay.
I think you should put this in a journal if you havent already.  Smile
"I want to thrive, not just survive." - Thrive, Switchfoot
(04-29-2010, 08:30 AM)Lurker.In.The.Night link Wrote: I think you should put this in a journal if you havent already.  Smile

Thanks. I don't actually keep a blog. My life is too dull, I think.

But I enjoyed writing again, even if nobody else read it. I'm surprised you found it, it seemed to have slipped by completely unnoticed. Sad

Thanks for noticing.
You know what. I sort of skimmed it at first glance, but this time I read it more thoroughly and actually enjoyed it.

It makes me want to live in NYC too...

"I want to thrive, not just survive." - Thrive, Switchfoot
I love visiting NYC..... I'm hoping to go there again if my mom and stepfather will fly me and my daughter up for a visit.... I haven't been to NYC since the WTC was hit.... I love Times Square.....

Peace &  :ht:,
The Eleventh Doctor: Nobody important? Blimey, that's amazing. You know that in nine hundred years of time and space and I've never met anybody who wasn't important before.

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