6:30 A.M. I’ve only been able to sleep about six hours because there are three bars downstairs which close at around 3 A.M. It’s just getting light. I’m in a corner apartment on the 6th floor overlooking Orchard and Stanton Streets facing South and East. The morning sky is streaked with indigo, pink and brown. I close my eyes hoping to sleep another hour. I lie in bed as long as possible listening to the radio because it helps me wake up thinking about something other than the job I don’t want to go to.
With my eyes closed, I listen to: war in Iraq; a black man killed by cops on the morning of his wedding day; mental exercises to keep you from losing your memory.
But what if you lose your mind first, or get killed by a terrorist, rogue cops, or die from lack of water, air, or a planet to live on?
8: 00 A.M. I get up from the air mattress, which is covered with navy blue bedding except for a red pillowcase—I only mention this because I’m renting a room, so they’re not my sheets, and I’m enjoying the exoticism of someone else’s color sense.
8: 30 A.M. I usually get up because I want time make coffee, but it doesn’t matter today because I ran out about 10 days ago. I’ve been buying my morning coffee at the deli on the corner on my way to the bus stop.
Everyone speaks to each other in Arabic, except when they ask how you want your coffee. I wish I could understand what they’re saying. There’s a young guy at the cash register whose name is Ahmed. His eyelids are always half-closed I ask for a cup of coffee, and he says before I do, “coffee—no sugar, milk.” He smiles because he knows what I want.
8:45 A.M. Today I I’m working in the West Village and can walk there across Houston Street, which I don’t enjoy because part of it looks like Dresden after the war, and another part looks like a big night in Cincinnati. But I can walk along Allen Street past the Chinese pastry shop and get a red bean bun, to go with my coffee, breakfast on foot, even though I would rather eat it sitting down.
Houston Street is a broad boulevard that runs east/west from river to river. I come to the first big intersection, which is Lafayette Street. Kate Moss and Kate Moss loom overhead, with four breasts as big as cars and four eyes as big as windows. The two of her peer down at the chaos below, silky clean, threatening to step off the side of the building onto Houston Street like Kate-zilla.
9 A.M. I turn up Sullivan Street, late for work, where I spend a few hours and get it over with. It sounds like prostitution, and that’s pretty much what it feels like.
2 P.M. I leave work hungry, so I walk east and stop at Yonah Schimmel’s Knishes. The place smells like fried onions mixed with mashed potatoes—the homiest smell I can think of because after school my grandmother used to give me warm potatoes mashed with fried onions and chicken fat, spread on matzoh.
I’m eating my knish in mindless bliss, walking past the Indian guy who sells fruit on 1st Street and 1st Avenue. He jumps into my path and says, “What are you eating!?” I tell him and he asks if he can have a taste. I break off a lump. “That’s good!” he says and asks where I got it. I point across the street. “Can you get me one? I can’t leave my fruit stand,” he says. “I’m in a hurry,” I say, “Want some of mine?” “Sure,” he says.
3:00 P.M. I drop in on my friend Shalom Neuman’s Fusion Arts Museum at 57 Stanton Street. He bought the building about 20 years ago from a man named Mr. Human, who kept it full of garbage and dogs who never went outside.
Shalom cleaned out the building and opened his gallery, which features art that is “multi-sensory.” He asks, “Why (does the artist) have to submit to a canvas?” We talk about the current exhibit, “Heavy Water,” honoring the work of Italian artist, Enrico Baj. This is a fitting show in this neighborhood where neighborhood artists are threatened with extinction in the wake of rising real estate prices and more bars per capita than Dublin.
9 P.M. After a nap, I take a bus down to the Seaport area where some fashionistas are having a party. A couple with a baby bought this historic building near the old Fulton Fish Market. They occupy the top three floors. I try to find the right buzzer and see a sign for the party, which reads: “If we don’t answer, call somebody you know.” Someone coming out of the building lets me in.
The crowd is young and well-groomed. Happily, I see two friends, poet, David Henderson and explorer/writer Susana Sedgwick. The wine flows, we talk about nothing I can remember, dance like idiots and soon it’s time to go. As I’m leaving, I look out the front windows at the parking lot below and the glass and steel monoliths a few blocks west. Why would anyone want to spend so much money to live here? I wonder.
1:30 A.M. I get off the bus and decide to buy a candy bar. I go into Ahmed’s deli where he’s still behind the counter, his eyes, half-closed. “You’re still here?” I ask.
He smiles. “Yeah.”
2:00 A.M. Lights out. In a few hours it will be another early morning that comes too soon.