My hard drive failed a couple weeks back. Most of my stuff was backed up but horribly disorganized. Years of memories and files going all the way back to high school were scattered across external HDDs, flash drives, email attachments and cloud docs. Scrounging through the shreds of my life I came across a ton of old writings, mostly fragments, half-finished drafts and experiments of writing under the influence. I’d forgotten about most of these. They’re pretty terribad in terms of the actual writing, but they have fantastic titles. One is called “Some Weird Lesbian Fantasies I’ve Had.” Another is titled “Notes On A Coke-Fueled Orgy Held On The Occasion Of The Seventieth Anniversary Of The Sinking Of The Battleship Bismark By Her Majesty’s Royal Navy.” I’ll post those when I need some clickbait. But I think this one’s gotta take the cake in terms of sheer weirdness. I wrote this about six years ago right after I moved back to Ohio from New York City. Yeah I was going through a bit of a phase or something, I don’t know. There’s really no explanation.
A Masochist’s Guide to Manhattan
Tucked between the scripture-sprayed graffiti canvas of East Village dive bars, within earshot of the Tompkins Park’s acoustic panhandlers, a sidewalk’s length from the number 6 line, in a back room off a back room off underneath Luigi’s Tavern, a man named Sergei will punch you in the testicles for a dollar. In a corridor starved of clean oxygen, the men squeezed tight. The ceiling leaked black tears. Bass from the tavern’s jukebox shook the walls and the stench of feces and newspapers grew stronger the closer the line moved to Sergei’s office. I tried making small talk with a Japanese businessman beside me, but everyone seemed withdrawn and embarrassed, sheathed in shadows and silence. Here is the world’s forgotten crawlspace. Here are pennies lost beneath cushions. Every so often a man would stagger past us, clutching his crotch, stopping every so often to reel over in pain. “Anyways,” I said to the Japanese businessman, “I’d say it’s a bargain. Not much you can get in New York for a dollar these days.”
On the uptown Q train there is an MTA employee named Willard who will beat you with a broom if you board the train drunk. Most days I don’t have money for booze so I just shamble around like a puppet corpse flailing and shoving and pickpocketing until someone calls the cleaner. After a time I began to recognize the regulars. Some men from the line at Sergei’s made weekly appearances before Willard, but some women were return customers too, the trash of the city, come not to be cleansed but swept uselessly, bouncing around a filthy bathtub without a drain, drowning but not dying, existential excrement.
On 86th and Fourth there is an alcoholic named Valeria who will slash your face with her fingernails in exchange for an argument and red wine. After a particularly brutal beating, Willard palmed Val’s business card into my jeans pocket as I lay bleeding amidst a forest of apathetic feet. He whispered something in my ear but that time I really was drunk and I don’t remember the details. We watched Humphrey Bogart movies and drank and I found her clipboard between the couch cushions. She shrugged.
Kathy, a retired classics professor in Chelsea, will break your heart once per month if you agree to water her plants and feed her fish at precise intervals. Once I deviated from the schedule and killed a goldfish named Sam, and Kathy showered me with so much love that I had to stand at the ledge of her apartment rooftop and threaten to jump unless she’d promise to spit on my grave.
Dollar Wash, a dry-cleaning service on Broadway run by two identical Lithuanians named Natalie, will hire and fire you once per week. The sisters wore matching outfits every day. Nothing at Dollar Wash costs a dollar. Once I stumbled in drunk and started a fight with a customer and ended up damaging two of the industrial strength washers and a Lithuanian mobster beat me near to death with a wooden bat. A week later the sisters hired me again.
On my last day in the city I stumbled through the park, nursing my scabs and my scars. I found a plot of grass under a willow tree and watched children throw a football in a field. Summer sun felt scalding on my scalp. I sat and watched a mass of humanity circulate like an atmospheric pressure system, laughing and sobbing and texting and walking dogs, eating ice cream and flying kites, hailing taxis and holding hands and watching planes write love notes in the sky. And if I could have that moment back, just for an hour, an instant, a day, just one last time, just a blink of a strip of film negatives to be experienced afraid and alone just once more.