1982: Approaching the New Year

by

01/07/2023

Neighborhood: Harlem, Tribeca

The Times Square ball has dropped, giving birth to 1982, unnoticed by me and my friends who have been prowling the city streets for hours. We ricochet from one dimly lit bar to another, drawn to brain-damaging music and access to drugs. In the Mudd Club, where we’ve landed, the entrance to both bathrooms is jammed; getting in or out involves persistence and the timing of a pickpocket. It’s not that everyone needs to pee; no, it’s because the bathrooms are where it’s possible to cop a line or two from an addled stranger. At this hour, though, it’s difficult to maintain the high. My restless friends decide to head uptown to a party in Harlem, and I tag along. We grab a cab that has just dumped a load of underage kids and take it to 125th street — a lovely old brownstone, but the party is much too crowded.

I am crashing; the night’s glow is tarnished and whatever it is I’m looking for, it’s not happening. I slip out the door and walk east. In a stroke of good fortune I haven’t earned, a bus pulls up that’s going downtown and will stop within a block of my apartment. The bus is full, but soon enough I spot an empty seat, and the bleakness I’d felt begins to lift.

The warm bus, and the predictable rhythm of stop and go, every few blocks, is comforting. Soon the streets are calmer, the bus practically empty, and, wonder of wonders, thick flakes of snow are drifting down. I look around me, hoping others have seen this beauty, but there is only an older man seated across the aisle from me. He looks familiar, but it is not until the bus slows for the next stop and the man rises from his seat and nods briefly to me, an adieu of grace on this New Year’s Day, that I recognize him. Allen Ginsberg gathers up his satchel and carefully negotiates the steps down to the curb. The driver shifts gears, the engine rumbles, and I pull myself together to get off at my stop. Against all odds, I am almost happy.

***

Susan T. Landry is a writer and an editor. For life-blood money, she is a medical manuscript editor, editing articles for medical journals; and for pleasure and less money, she is also an editor of other writers’ stories. She founded and managed an online literary journal about memoir, called “Run to the Roundhouse, Nellie,” which is no longer publishing; Susan previously edited the print journal, “Lifeboat: A Journal of Memoir.” She lived in NYC for many years, and on the Bowery from 1978 to 1991. Susan now lives in Maine.

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§ 5 Responses to “1982: Approaching the New Year”

  • TSB says:

    Lovely sketch of a moment in time. It is enhanced, for me, by my growing love of New York City busses, for reasons you capture.

  • Susan T. Landry says:

    Thank you!
    I still love the buses of NYC. When I visit the city I walk a lot, but I rarely pass up the opportunity to take a bus up a long avenue. Years ago, I was thrilled to discover I could take a bus from the Bowery to my friend’s apt on the Upper West Side.

  • Alice Smith Duncan says:

    Love this one, Susan.

  • TSB says:

    Second time around: the nightclub bathrooms of the 80’s, excellent. The night tipping into despair, excellently. Swarming l, cereal, yellow can NY, all good… But what was Ginsburg up to, what would his version of new years on that night have been? That is the pleasantly lingering question.

  • Susan T. Landry says:

    Dear Mr. Beller, i can only give you a semi-clairvoyant guess at what Ginsberg was up to. He got off the bus near his apartment, which I knew was on east 10th st. He was alone. His longtime lover, Peter Orlovsky, was not accompanying Allen on this well-past-midnight bus journey and even if he were, it was well known that he was not always in a condition to be what we might politely call a reliable narrator. Without further information, I can only assume that Ginsberg was — on this rare occasion — doing exactly what I was. Heading for home, eager to get his jammies, on and to rest his weary head.
    But wait: another possibility just popped into my mind. If he had been on the bus all the way from Harlem, as I had been but I would not have noticed in the stream of folks who got on at 125th st, perhaps we would not be totally off the wall to imagine that he had been having a quiet visit with others of his ilk — writers — many of whom lived in Harlem at that time.

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