If you’ve got a week to kill, N.Y. is the best place to do the crime. So now I’m in Manhattan going “Where is everybody, already?” – after Hong Kong, it feels deserted.
I’m at the Harlem YMCA – tiny room, single bed, bare bulb, bathroom down the hall, no hot water, crack heads, etc.. I’m suing the Village People.
Henny Youngman once said, “Why get married? Just find someone you hate and give them a house.”
My marriage is thoroughly over – sad but not too dramatic – but apart from that I’m having a great time.
So the first thing I did when I got here was to go downtown to the New Victory Theater on 42nd Street, take off my wedding ring, and leave it on the stage I got married on seven years ago. I put it back where I got it. It was a kind of premeditated impulse. It felt weird and good, like the cold, smooth indentation it left around my finger.
The effect of this little ritual is almost immediate. That night, I go alone to a midtown bar called Smoke where they have a big B3 Hammond organ. Emboldened by jetlag, I walk up to a lady who catches my eye and ask if I can sit. She says sure. Just like in the movies.
She’s a South African guide-book editor named I., living in Dubai and holidaying in Ma’ha’an, as they pronounce it here. We dig the music and talk for a couple of hours, I give her my number, she leaves, a little abruptly maybe, and I think that will be it.
But the next day she calls, and we go on a date to Katz’s Deli (where Harry met Sally, but it’s a dive), then the Empire State building (it’s on her list) then dinner and drinks at Sardi’s (my idea) which is that place in old movies about Broadway shows where the cast wait anxiously for the reviews to come out. There is always a bunch of wiseguys in there and tonight is no exception; in particular, an acquaintance of mine called S. regales us with amusing anecdotes about his efforts to meet women since his divorce five years ago.
I. and I seem to be hitting it off, but when the cab gets to her hotel she firmly directs the driver onward to mine, making it clear that the whole enchilada was not on the menu. She’s gone now, I think; that’s the whirlwind New York dating scene for you.
I find my friend F., an aspiring music producer from Haiti who always leads me on a crazy dance through all kinds of music dens around Greenwich Village and Alphabet City. I only ever really know how these nights end by checking the pictures in my camera in the morning. There is a sexual frisson between us but nothing ever happens.
I leave her place on Avenue C the next day dazed and horny, and meet up with D. and R., a muscular circus couple who met at my wedding and who are now raising their two-year-old in Lower Manhattan. They take her to synagogue for cultural reasons and go to a gay-and-lesbian one because it’s more fun. They claim they know a Catholic guy who goes there to meet straight women.
Circus folk gather in a Lower East Side children’s playground, and the day ends at 5 a.m. listening to free-jazz in a place called Fat Cat’s which features ping-pong, chess, and a kind of indoor bocce.
My last day here begins contemplatively, walking around Harlem. I’m struck again by the meanness of American society: so much wealth so poorly shared; almost redeemed by the vibrancy of the culture, but not quite. How is it possible to maintain a situation where people can live, speak, dress and work so completely differently a few hundred metres apart?
A tune comes to me on 135th St; I think it’s good, the ones that just come usually are. I don’t need to write it down. It’s been a few weeks since that happened.