Friday, June 27, 2008

Iowa City and the East Village: New York City 1988

I had moved from Florida's panhandle in January to Champaign, Illinois--worked for a bit, living with Fru--when my friend Jimmy gave me a call and asked if I wanted to sublet a place in NYC. Jimmy was a musician and wanderer who I'd met while painting houses in Seaside, Florida. So, with Fru's blessing, I went out east. This was in February.
To get to the Big Appellation, I went to Chicago first--Fru and I taking the train up, or maybe Don drove us--and got one of those car delivery deals where they needed someone to drive a car out east (but that's another story). Anyway, I met Jimmy in New York and he had an upstairs two-bedroom place in Queens for us--it was in Flushing around 69th Street. But we didn't spend much time in Queens.
I had never been to NYC before and I was duly stunned and delighted by the city. I had a back room in the apartment (which was a two-story house, ugly as all get out, with the downstairs belonging to some old woman) which had been used as a storage room. I cleared out an area to sleep and at night--to my surprise--there was a fantastical view of the Manhattan skyline from the small rear window: electric honeycomb, the Trade Centers, Empire and Chrysler Buildings, everything all lit up and aglow in movie-photo-stage-like fashion. But, as said, we didn't spend a lot of time there, we mostly hung out in Manhattan. And in Manhattan, we mostly hung out in the East Village. Jimmy had been to New York a number of times, and he liked the East Village. He was going to look for work at a recording studio, I think. I wasn't really looking for work, not right away, though would try and find some if I wanted to stay beyond our sublease.
It must have been our second or third day in town. We were near St. Marks Place, we were on Bowery, or maybe it was Broadway around 9th or 10th--some big avenue with wide sidewalks and tons of pedestrians. It was cold, grey, interesting. Jimmy and I stopped to make a phone call on that street, next to a subway terminal. I don't recall why he was making a call, to find work perhaps, and I stood there with him, hands in pockets, looking around. And as I looked around, I noticed a young woman walking along the walk. And she noticed me. Our eyes met and it was a look of immediate recognition: it was Donna.
I'd known Donna for almost all my years in Iowa City, we'd both graduated from the University of Iowa, and here she was walking down this particular avenue at this particular time in this particular year and month in New York City. Holy moly. She came over and could not believe it, nor could I . . . Perhaps this is a common thing, seeing someone you know in NYC, but it seemed strange odds to me . . . So we talked while Jimmy was talking on the phone and then I introduced Jimmy to Donna when he was off the phone. They got along fine. Donna was working editing commercials and cartoons and stuff in Manhattan and she had her own little closet of an apartment in the East Village. From then on, we hung out with her and her friends quite a bit.
The thing was, it turned out there were quite a few ex-Hawkeyes in the city. She took me around and I saw old acquaintance-friends from my residence hall days and bar nights and classes, and other's who had lived in Iowa City who I had not known. It was very strange to me--it was like some secret club, so secret I knew nothing of it, and they'd all agreed to move to New York City from Iowa. I'd always avoided the east coast of the USA because I saw myself as a Westerner, then I fell in love with the South (and later South Florida, which is not The South), but the East--and NYC in particular--always represented the old, crowded, blueblood America to me. And, yes, I was wrong. So, it amazed me all these Iowans--or at least ex-Iowa City citizens--were here and that I had so serendipitously found them. It made me feel that anyone could go anywhere: if Iowans could settle in NYC, why not in Paris or Tunis or Buenos Aires or Bombay?

Last year I went back to New York City. My first time back in almost twenty years. And this time, I saw no one I knew from anywhere.

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