Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Solo Ventures: New York City 1988

When I was in NYC I lived in Queens--in Flushing--with Jimmy. We had a sublet on 67th or 69th Street (I don't recall exactly) from someone who was a friend of Jimmy's. Jimmy was from Florence, Alabama and we'd met while working in Seaside, Florida, but I had just moved to Champaign, Illinois before I went out to spend some time in New York City, New York . . . Anyway, Jimmy knew the city pretty well but I had never been before. So he showed me around those first few weeks while I got a sense of the place. I also met an old friend from Iowa City, Donna, and she lived in Manhattan--the East Village--which gave us a central meeting point and reason to go into Manhattan most of the time.
And I got to know Manhattan pretty well--at least that mid to lower east side section of it. But as the first month turned into the second, I ventured out a bit further and I ventured out alone.
I'd figured out the subway system, knew it without having to look at a map all the time, and so it was no big deal to walk up to Roosevelt Station in Queens and head into Manhattan and make transfers to where I wanted to go. I don't know where Jimmy was or what he was doing on the days I took my solo trips, but I took a few of them. I know I went up to see the Guggenheim Museum on my own (I had invited Jimmy along, maybe even Donna, but they declined). This was on a Tuesday and it just happened to be a certain Tuesday of the month when the museum was free (ah, Jimmy was upset he didn't go when he heard that). So in I went and wandered the inner nautilus-like spiral, looking at artwork I had only seen in books prior to that. There were a lot of Van Goghs, I recall. Another trip I took was up to Columbia University. I had heard it wasn't a nice neighborhood, but I wanted to see the place for myself (I had considered going there for grad school at one point) and there it was. I went inside and looked up the English/creative writing offices--but that was it. I had a drink in a little below-sidewalk bar before heading back. I also took a solo trip to somewhere on the east side where I looked up an apartment where Jack Kerouac had lived. I think it was when he was writing his On The Road book, where Ginsberg and Cassady and others hung out. I don't know. But I went there and it was cold and there it was--an old nondescript brick building--still apartments--with rusting metal mailboxes and a locked street door. I peered in the door's window, saw no signs of life, just a dirty hallway and closed doors and a smooth-worn wooden staircase leading up into shadows. Hmmm. Very interesting.
The longest trip I took via subway was out to Coney Island.
By this time I'd made the decision to leave NYC, so I wanted to get out to the famous Coney Island while I had the chance. I'm not sure why, exactly, I wanted to go. Out of all of New York, there was plenty more to see than Coney Island (I never did go to the Statue of Liberty [saw it from Battery Park and the ferry to Staten Island] nor did I go up the Empire State Building, or the Boathouse or St. Patrick's or the Whitney Museum, etc etc) (okay, maybe I did go to the top of the Empire, when Fru and Don came out to visit), but it--the name alone--is part of our national consciousness. So, I went. And it was a looong ride. I'd gotten used to things being compact and close while in the city, and though this was all still a dense urban area, I didn't realize how much time it took to get out there. But, I did it. And it was still winter in/on Coney Island--just like in Queens and Manhattan. I wandered around with my hands in my pockets, cold, looked at the gray ocean, the scant people, the boardwalk. I went by the amusement park--all its rides frozen, dull, Ferris wheel clipping in the wind like a forgotten flag pole. Rather depressing, actually. I had a single dog at Nathan's Famous, a drink. I had to take a piss but--like the rest of New York--there were no public restrooms. So, I jumped down into the trashy sand and walked beneath the boardwalk and went. I had a fear, not so much of being mugged, but of some cop getting me for public urination. Coney Island seemed more dangerous to me than Manhattan, than the East Village. And then I got back on the subway and made the looong ride back.
So, the solo ventures were not much. Lonely, full of simple observations, somewhat pointless. Yet, I still recall them. They are part of my consciousness, just another part of the mental mapping I do--I did--in my single brain as a single human during this time span in history. I saw it, I walked it, breathed it, ate it in a way. Nothing big or flashy, but then I'm not big and flashy. There were more things I did alone, and am glad or satisfied I did them, but I had more fun when I was with people I knew (which isn't always the case with me).
Though I'd spent time--intimate lengths of time, lived--in Los Angeles, in Seattle and Chicago, New York City was different. I became a true city-dweller for my brief time there. I understood it to some degree. Those simple solo trips helped solidify that.
And this elongated trip to New York was a solo venture in a larger way, too. Because it was the last time I traveled by myself without the full knowledge that I'd always come back to Fru--who I had moved up to Champaign for. Yes, when I left for NYC, I had no real plans to not come back. But then again, I knew my history of 'moving on', of having weak plans. But Fru came out and visited me. I stayed in touch with her. She didn't give up on me and I didn't give up on her. She was even willing to move to NYC. But I went back to her and to Illinois--got a job--and we moved out to Montana by that fall. So, in some ways, going to New York City itself was a final solo venture.

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