Wednesday, September 15, 2004


Night and the City

For a long time I used to go to bed late. 4 a.m., 5 a.m. on the weekends. Sometimes more. Eventually not coming home to Queens at all. "I'm staying over with a friend," I told my mother, not bothering to mention that the "friend" was someone I'd just met and likely wouldn't be seeing ever again. I couldn't have stayed home if I’d wanted to. The night was much too attractive. It had a "character" of its own -- like a person.

New York at night was cozy, seductive, warm -- even in Winter. Especially in winter. The "dead" of it. I loved the stillness so much, that there was no reason to "find the courage" to walk out into it alone. I felt perfectly safe. Even in the park. Even at the docks. Even at the trucks in the West Village. Everywhere, really. I could sense that safety, like a presence in and of itself just outside my bedroom door, out of the house, down the street, across the marshes of Flushing Meadow and onto the IRT.

When I was very young I would curl up in bed to listen to "Ol' Shep" on my transistor radio into the wee smalls. When I was older my favorite became "The Adventures of Johnny Nightsounds" (John Leonard’s misspent youth) on WBAI. What John Schlesinger said about listening to "Soave sia il vento" from Cosi Fan Tutte applies here. It was "music to be listened to late at night. But in my case that music was "Mas Que Nada" which a late night WBAI d.j. (whose name I've completely forgotten) used to play with almost as much regularity as the p.a. system at the Bleecker Street Cinema used to play "Sans Toi" from Cleo From 5 to 7 and the main theme from Shoot the Piano Player.

"I would pretty much go out every night until really late. I did that for a good 10 years. And I had a wonderful time. I highly recommend it, but there just comes a point when you have to take care of yourself." -- Rufus Wainright

By the mid sixties I’d learned how to move through the city in that perfect hush of ease that’s the soft underside of the "danger" of "being out late at night." I was, in point of fact, perfectly safe. Looking for sex in the never-quite-empty streets, dropping in and out of the bars, then riding the subway home to Queens in happy solitude -- even if I hadn’t "scored." I had a set routine of places to drop in on along a route I'd developed in the West Village. A few beers at the bar across the street from the Theatre de Lys, then down to Kellers and The Ramrod, then on across the vast empty expanses of cobblestone to The Anvil, The Eagle, and The Stud. A ceaselessly revolving repetoire of characters would assemble and disassemble in suitably dream-like fashion not so much to "have sex" as to think about it. We were "up late" yet at the same time fast asleep, drifting off in a dream of sex as warm as a bed in winter after a late stroll, a nightcap, and a fast fuck

"As soon as one penetrates there, writes it, one realizes that one is in a privileged corner of the world, like a square. Mysteriously left with the abandonment in the medium of a garden; a place where the normal order does not exist but where another order, very curious, was created "-- Bernard-MarieKoltes

He was writing, of course, about the the piers -- abandoned like the West Side Highway that loomed above them. But these "empty" spaces were full of life, especially during the day. But those days -- shadowy, delicate, warm, were in many ways indistinguishable from night.
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