Only customers come down here: Hell’s Kitchen in 1986



45th St. & 8th Ave., NY, NY 10036

Neighborhood: Clinton

So I found myself on the corner of 45th St and 8th Ave, having arrived ten minutes ago in New York City, October 4th, 1986. I was pretty much sitting in the center of the biggest glut of seed you could find per square inch in any city in the world. Wide-eyed crack heads floated past after scoring at local grocery stores. Tall, black, street-dudes hung out on every corner, offering all sorts of illicit substances. I found myself drawn to them, gaping foolishly at their activity. Enticed by their pupils and erratic behavior, I managed to catch the eye of one particular individual. A giraffe-necked, swift operator with beady eyes and a wee goatee. His stringy lope across the sidewalk was pure pleasure to regard. He adopted a sidewinder gait, tiptoeing across the collaged sidewalk to inquire on perspective clients. My man wore a green army surplus jacket and 70’s pinstripe slacks. An upward chin thrust acknowledged me, followed by a furtive glance for cops or other takers. I nod and he prances over like a black Fred Astaire.

“Whassup my man, you want dimes? I got big fat dimes man, look.” He opens the palm of his hand. Long pink fingers cradle a selection of tightly packed cellophane bags containing bright green buds. I pick one up.

“How much are they?”

“Dimes man, ten bucks…you Australian?”

“English, can I open it?”

“Yeah take a sniff man, I don’t peddle no Parsley Sage Rosemary or Thyme.”

I open the bag with some effort and inhale a familiar smell, somewhat more potent than my normal squeeze in London and definitely a bargain at $10. So I pay the eager twitcher and wander off feeling happy at completing my first daylight drug transaction in the heart of the metropolis, while cops issued a parking ticket less than a block away. I needed rolling papers and so entered one of the many Latin bodegas and my olfactory senses cross filed the rich aroma of fresh coffee with any kind of Deli. A small Latino man stood behind the counter wearing an orange, zippered windsheeter and woolen, gray, fingerless gloves. A retired pirate, I thought examining his face. A whitened beard juxtaposed with bronzed creased skin and sinewy arms. He looked in serious need of a good iron. I approached the counter and smiled. He returned the smile slightly warily.

“Have you got any cigarette papers?” I asked still half-smiling. He gestured over his shoulder and waved at the numerous packets of cigarettes behind.

“Mira, yo no se.”

“I need papers, you know rolling papers.” I mimed the rolling process with my fingers.

“Si, Bambu.” He produced a packet of Bambu papers, fat ones with a pic of a Betty Boop look-alike on the front. I paid and walked West onto 11th Avenue and noticed Manhattan’s Hudson River for the first time. There were a few benches randomly placed and so I perched upon the corner of one on 12th Avenue and 46th and proceeded to roll a joint. It was now around 1 pm, I was in no hurry to find a spot to sleep. I smoked the joint, relaxing, taking in the atmosphere and perusing New Jersey. I lay back on the bench and fell asleep for what felt like hours but actually translated to twenty minutes of real time and was awakened by this sound.

“Hey, hey, what you doing, that’s my fucking car you motherfucker!” I sat bolt upright and focused slowly on the confrontation in front of me. There was nobody around on this beautifully clear fresh day overlooking the river but these two guys who were cussing at one another and wildly swinging missed punches. The first guy, who was driving a bright red, dodge, had run into the back of the other guy who was driving some old brown heap. They were running back and forth from their cars bringing out weapons; a small wrench, tire irons and a plank of wood.

“You motherfucker!” shouted the Italian sounding guy with the van. He smashed the rusted, flaking wrench into the side of the old brown car and the other guy went berserk. This was an eastern European by his looks, he was much larger and slower than the little Italian; thick, dark hair, swarthy unshaven complexion and barrel shaped midriff. When he threw his blows the fleet-footed Mediterranean avoided them easily. The Italian ran around to the front of the heap and planted a neat foot into the headlamp, which shattered instantly. He jumped back into his car and the other guy clambered back into his heap and they drove off hooting and swearing at each other in European accents; “Motherfucking cocksucker! You Pigfucker! Go fuck your mother!”

I began to laugh, loudly swearing to myself in their accents and giggling in a generally pleasant stoned manner.

“What a couple of assholes?” said the authentic New York voice to my left. It belonged to a white female, wearing a fur jacket, red stilettos, stockings, G-string and push up bra. Needless to state her occupation, but hang on, wasn’t it only 2 pm? Now I gawped in her general direction: What a great town!

“Hello there, yes I do agree, what a pair of dickheads?”

“Wot a pair of dickeds. You Australian honey?”

“No I am not, I am from England. Are you a whore?” I inquired totally full of genuine fascination.

“You’re on the money honey, working my sweet ass off till dawn out here.”

“Till dawn? Don’t you get any breaks?”

“Nope, what’s that you smoking?”

“Joint…want some?”

“Yeah why not, so what you doing down here on Twelfth, only customers come down here, don’t you know that? Yuk what’s in that man, tobacco?”

“Yeah, you don’t like tobacco?”

“You’re a European, I got friends from Europe they always do that shit. No, uh uh, that sucks hon, makes me cough like shit. Here lemme roll a fat one.”

What could I say? She picked up the bag and produced a neat, fat, tight “blunt” as she called it. Holly was twenty-six and did oral for twenty and sex for an extra ten. Most guys pulled up in cars or cabs, some did it on the sidewalk and some she went back to apartments with if there was enough money up front. She recommended the Long Acre Hotel on 45th street between 8 and 9th Aves for cheap digs. Holly was cool. She even offered to give me a discount blowjob for the smoke.

“I’m good baby, it’ll only take a minute, get rid of all that stress traveling the world looking for adventure. Well there it is, you won’t have a better time than in my mouth lover boy. No? Well okay hon, you take care now, and you know where I am. Every day the sweetest lay.”

It was peculiar, I would have been mortified had someone spoken to me like that back in London, but here I was smiling, waving and shouting back in a bold fresh manner that I liked. I turned onto 9th Ave and walked south along to 45th street. So I would take Holly’s advice and make the Long Acre my refuge for the night.

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