Thursday, May 28, 2009

A little death and a little grief

So Todd moved. Not too far from where he was living, but as I have explained, that makes a big difference: everything (deli, dry cleaner, hardware store) is everywhere, so the city is big internally, and your life and your routine become very local. Which means that in moving he is (I am) leaving a whole world behind: Zahadi's and that incredible green grocer on Atlantic, Borough Hall subway stop and the quiet walk down State Street. And a certain neighbour - speaking of locality, the most rooted man I have ever seen. A hobo, in the old fashioned sense (minus the transience) - he simply lives outside. In fact, he lives on a very small stretch of a certain street; for all intents and purposes he has an address. I most often see him outside the funeral parlour, I think it's because the reception area looks like a living room, and the lights are always on inside. He's not always there, but you're not always at home either. And he has, for all intents and purposes, a job: he sweeps the sidewalk and binds the newspapers and sorts through the trash. I think the neighbourhood takes care of him - I know he's welcome at the bodega on the corner. Sandwiches and coffee and newspapers? One time we tried to offer him a slice of our pizza, having needlessly bought a whole pie (cuz if you ask the pizzeria for their abandoned orders at the end of the night they will sell them to you for cheap), and he declined, politely, explaining that he had just had a sandwich, he was really full, thank you, he just finished it now.

After a year and a half, we knew the looks of each other, and I would acknowledge him if he looked up. The thing is, he is most often looking down, in fact hunched very close to the ground - sometimes I think he sweeps just so that he can lean over - sometimes he even just stands there and slowly lowers himself to the ground, rocking, trying to sink into the earth - not drunk, not altered, more like Oedipus, like he is carrying the burden of a profound grief or regret, and he is waiting to be taken away by the gods, relieved.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Forget it, dear reader, it's Chinatown

Today I saw a guy walking down the street in Chinatown - let me preface this by saying that there are two Chinatowns. There is the Chinatown of Canal St and Mulberry St which is basically a Potemkin village for the tourists (handbag? rolex? handbag?), and then there is the area on the far east side of the island, sometimes referred to as "Two Bridges" because it is between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, which, holy shit, is a different world (if you are tired of this world or your life in it, just go there for a few hours. Mark Helprin knows what I am talking about). If you try to go into a store in real Chinatown, they will just sort of shoo you out, either because they're not interested in your curiosity, round-eyes, or because they just don't speak a word of English, so whatever it is you're looking for they can't help you.

But you can get helped at the grocery store built right into one of the pillars of the Manhattan bridge, and there is a lovely produce market lining the very narrow sidewalk leading down to it.

S'wanyway, I was walking down the street, with my pound of ginger (that's the quantity they sell it in; it comes out to five or six big sticks; I think it cost $1.50), and who crosses my path but this guy, carrying a black duffel bag in one hand, and a semi- automatic handgun in the other, strutting with a purpose, cutting a path through the ginger peddlers and the grocery shoppers. He was accompanied by a guy dressed in a sort of official-looking security guard outfit (Ricky's, $39.99), who also had a gun, but in a holster around his waist. Now, I always assume in this situation that this must be normal, it's just me who finds this insane, I'm the Canadian who is weird about guns, but everyone on the street was stopping and turning and looking too (it probably didn't help that these two guys were the only black people on the street). I wonder where the money came from. I wonder where it was going.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

106 Greenwich St

This is my building. I finally found out when it was built: 1900. "The tenement buildings along Greenwich Street were dark and noisy because of the Ninth Avenue El, which ran along Greenwich Street. While sitting on the fire escape, one could almost touch the train tracks. When the el was torn down sunshine shone in the apartments. The building at 106 Greenwich Street is still standing, and its apartments continue to be occupied by tenants."

That's where I live, right there. Can you believe it? No you can't. It's pure fantasy. Like this story about someone who used to live at my address.

New York Times (1878, 20 October, p. 5)

[click to enlarge]

Detective brothers? Pantaloons? Low groggeries? I love how people would just "free fight" the cops.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How much do conductors make?

So coming back from the end of line today, I met a conductor just coming off shift. His name was I don't remember, I am terrible with names. He sat next to me and we chitty chatted about baseball. He told me where to get the best meat patties (Kingston Tropical Bakery, underneath the 2 train at 226th street). He also told me how much conductors make.


Wait for it...


$25,000 a year. Wtf? I asked him about their union and obviously he says it sucks, although they do have very good benefits. He is applying for an operator (i.e. train driver) position, because they make 29 grand.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Oleg Roitman

So we got into a cab and our cab driver turned out to be this guy. He is from Ukraine and tell him your birthday please, and he will tell you what day of week you were born. Tuesday! Also lots of jokes about how "you get married? One more prisoner of war!" I asked him if he meant men and women both and he said "only men" and I asked him who does the dishes in his house.

A few years ago, the New York Times wrote an article about him, which he has plaque-mounted in the cab, and he makes you read in its entirety (don't worry, you have time - he tends to take the long route).

In the time that I moved to New York, cabbies have been forced to accept payment with credit / debit cards and to put tv screens in the back of cabs, both of which they protested. Well, this guy's cab has no tv and he complained when friend tried to pay with a credit card, so we paid cash instead. He also asked us for way more than our fare, and when we only left him a 20% tip he yelled "Fine, next time don't take my cab! Ride with stupid regular cab driver instead!" Hm. Awkward.

Here's the most priceless part, however. He has a website (just a link to his NYTimes article, actually) and it is: