New York City Scenarios: 1 to 5

Mar 23, 2013 by

PictureThis

Playing with blocks. | New York City, March 13, 2013 | douglas imbrogno photo

Playing with blocks. | Millennium Tower near 9-11 site | New York City, March 13, 2013 | westvirginiaville.com photo

Just returned from a family trip to New York, a city with which I have a little history. We created some more. Here’s the first part of a mixed-media accounting of some past and present New York states of mind. I decided to leave my heavyweight camera at home and shoot only with an iPhone 4, armed occasionally with an iPhone mini-telephoto lens, pressing the volume key for often random and surreptitious shots. | douglas imbrogno

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Vendor man near Union Square. | New York City March 2013 | westvirginiaville.com photo

Vendor man near Union Square. | New York City, March 2013 | westvirginiaville.com photo

1.

Her hands are the thing I notice first, not the sunshine-yellow mangos.

She’s a solidly built, middle-aged black woman with a knife in her hands. The card table full of mango slices first catches my eye from a few feet away. But then the hands, once I come close to her corner stand. She knifes a peeled mango into pieces, then loads a half-dozen slices into a plastic baggy. A half-dozen mango baggies await customers.

“How much?” I ask.
“Three dollars,” she says, her accent Caribbean. Maybe Jamaican.
I peel off the bills, take a bag of mangos. Stuff it in one of my cargo pants pockets.

She has a working woman’s hands, slick with mango pulp. They’re cocoa-dark on top, but with sallow ivory-colored palms and fingers, visible as she turns them up into view to load a bag. Her palms are etched with a network of crisscross lines that would give a palm reader a field day for interpretation. It’s 8:30 p.m. on our last day in New York City. Where am I? I’ve just dropped off my 22-year-old son at a movie theater near the corner of Union Square. It’s a frigid Wednesday night in March. His face had been obscured by his hoody as we trekked to the theater. He wants to see an evening screening of “Springbreakers,” which has opened in the city.

What is this neighborhood? My New York neighborhood mind-map is 35 years old and was never so good in the first place. I got around way back then with an annotated subway map, courtesy of an old girlfriend. She still lives in the city somewhere, but I’m pretty sure has no interest in seeing me these many decades later.

I keep an eye out for her, though, through the crowds coming my way up the Bowery sidewalk. Watching for a short, blonde-haired woman amid the tangled river delta of humans coursing Times Square. Peering past the middle-aged gay couples in black leather jackets, clutching hands on Chelsea sidewalks. She could show at any moment among the mass of the well-heeled in Jimmy Choo boots, the well-poor scouting dinner and plastic bottles arms-deep in trash bins, and the polyglot, camera-strung tourists that part around me as I stride the city.

I don’t know what I’d do if I saw her. Smile, I suppose. Say “Hi.”  I fear what she might do. Frown? Turn away? Walk off.

When it comes to New York and me, it gets a little complicated.

Riding Spiderman | Times Square, New York City, March 2013 | westvirginiavile.com photo

Riding Spiderman | Times Square, New York City, March 2013 | westvirginiavile.com photo

2.

An hour back, I’d said goodbye to my daughter and wife some 30 long city blocks ago. I kissed my wife, as the daughter gave a little ‘ta-ta’ finger role and says: “Peace out!” They strike off for Broadway. All four of us are bathed in the unholy illumination of the aggressive Technicolor glare of Times Square. The girl, an 18-year-old Broadway-holic, had bargained her mother into them buying two $130 seats to a preview showing of “Matilda.” Yes, she promised, yes! She would pay half the cost of the fifth-row seat tickets that the box office had on offer from her mall pretzel stand salary back home.

We leave them to it. She loves Times Square, its near-rabid assault on the senses. I initially enjoy the massive spectacle of multiple, grandiose video screens hung in the sky, each as big or bigger than half a football field. We step from a subway out into the racket of arresting visual pitches for Broadway shows, pink panties on impossibly darling young models, a hundred-foot tall Kevin Spacey with bloody hands advertising “House of Cards.” Down on the sardine-packed streets, there’s a round-bottom, buxom woman in red-spangled bikini and white cowboy hat this freezing day, banging a guitar badly. She’s part of the whole Naked Cowboy thing — a Naked Cowgirl. I pass her ass as tourists snap her chest. There’s Spiderman posing for tourists. A ‘Rat-a-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat!  polyrhythm pulses across the square, from a man banging drumsticks on can lids and metal pots splayed across a sidewalk. A black man, his face concealed by a black hoody and wrapped in a filthy black sheet with a sleeping bag worn as a cloak, weaves in curlicues through the masses like a dark ghost, taking long strides past women whose black-and-silver knee-high boots probably cost more than a month of my salary.

It’s dizzying, Times Square. Then, it makes me dizzy. I have to get away. I feel a weird suffocation, imagining some future dystopia where corporations decree you are required by legal fiat to be immersed in full sensory advertising. My son says the nearest theater showing his movie is 34 blocks away — he has pulled it up on his iPhone and Google-mapped the walk there. I will walk with him, despite the stress I know this will place upon my bad foot. “Dad, you don’t have to do this,” he says, as we leave the neon efflorescence blessedly behind us. Looking back, the light spills off the square and illuminates the side streets that funnel tourists to Broadway.

I don’t, I know. Have to do this. Which is maybe why I want to. My son is 22. Has strolled home from bars as dawn broke over Rome. Has wandered massive festivals for days from Miami to California.  He’s a competent young man. But, well, I am still dad. I want to make sure that when he strikes off across more than 30 blocks of New York nighttime streets he returns to us later at our Sohotel room in the Bowery.

So, we walk. And talk. Through the dodgier, old-school, porn-shop streets that used to hold sway about Times Square. Through the streets of Chelsea, bulging underwear window mannequins in whitey-tighties and leather straps advertising gay shops. Past Union Square and the mango lady. How did it come up? We are talking about the famous faces on the mammoth screens on Times Square. We’d passed a startlingly accurate life-size model of Justin Timberlake in front of some tourist hangout. We are talking about how everything fades: fame, wealth, power. How you have to keep it all in perspective. New York and New Yorkers, especially the wealthy ones, keep coming at you. Intolerably attractive men and women with $250 haircuts. Power suits. Power dresses, power heels. Limos of power.

And — I have so few at my command — a patch of poetry comes to mind. Shelley and his ending bit from “Ozymandias.” We are passing a vinoteca somewhere, a 24-hour video shop, a Cuban restaurant. I recite as we stride:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings.
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Later at home, Googling the quote I will see I’ve left out the third and fourth lines, which I’ve added below (take note, Luka!). So, my Dad poetry mojo is not so impressive as all of that. Here’s the correct ending:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings.
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

When my son does return to us out of the New York night, he has a middling reaction to the deliberately provocative movie, loving it most for its Skrillex soundtrack, a hero to my EDM DJ-performing offspring. I listen to his review in our hotel room as I massage my bad foot, which has been bolloxed by our long journey down the west side of lower Manhattan. Then, he says something to warm the cockles of a father’s heart, whatever the hell cockles are.

“You know, Dad? Years from now, I’ll forget everything about that movie. But I’ll always remember you reciting that Ozymandias poem to me as we walked through New York.”

I will accept these Dad points, gladly and with warmth, from my boy.

And for desert, a slice or two of fresh mango.

Born Again. | Little Italy, New York City, March 2013 | westvirginiaville.com

2.

My dad was born in a house on a hillside in Calabria. So, Little Italy, of course, speaks to me. It makes me an offer I can’t refuse, you might say. I like to wake early when in big cities, to hit the streets and see how the streets wake up. I head to Little Italy, just down the street from the Bowery. Know this: there appears no place to get a cappuccino at 7:15 a.m. in Little Italy. The place is a graveyard. A few restaurant workers have arrived to set up shops. An eight-foot-tall, snow-white polymer replica of the statue of David standing outside one establishment is about the only pedestrian on Mulberry Street, his penis greeting the dawning light of the new day. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Yes, young students of writing. If you work hard enough, one day, you, too, may get to write the line ‘… his penis greeting the dawning light of the new day.’). The other thing to know about Little Italy is that it is especially little these days. Chinatown has been expanding its boundaries at a speedy rate, carving out new territory and new outposts from Little Italy, the Bowery and beyond. I find a baby Jesus in a religious supply shop, arms outstretched to its diminishing Italian neighborhood.

3.

One guy’s morning in Chinatown:

Chinatown morning. | Chinatown, New York City, March 2013 | westvirginiaville.com photo

Chinatown morning. | Chinatown, New York City, March 2013 | westvirginiaville.com photo

Another guy’s morning in Soho:

morningSMOKE_nyc2013_wvville

Soho Smoke. | Soho, New York City, March 13, 2013 | westvirginiaville.com photo

5.

I am not averse to rubber-necking in New York City — the consummate tourist. There is as much to see looking up as looking straight ahead.

Old School, New School | Near Times Square, New York City, march 2013 | westvirginiaville.com photo

Old School, New School | Near Times Square, New York City, march 2013 | westvirginiaville.com photo

Ho Yip | Near 9-11 Site, New York City, March 2013 | westvirginiaville.com photos

Ho Yip | Near 9-11 Site, New York City, March 2013 | westvirginiaville.com photos

 

Fire Escape Still-Life | Near Little Italy, New York City, March 2013 | westvigriniaville.com photo

Fire Escape Still-Life | Near Little Italy, New York City, March 2013 | westvigriniaville.com photo

To Be Continued

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