In Which Downtown Diary Makes Its Impact On Our Uptown Unsettledness


Although we categorically hate newspapers, especially The New York Times, which is probably the most boring thing in the history of the known world, we have lately begun subscribing to The New York Sun. When I spent my first summer in New York, I read the Sun every day. It is good to know it has only gotten better since then. Despite not having box scores (grr…) its arts coverage is so much more sophiscated and interesting than any other out there that’s it’s really not even fair. Do you think the Times would ever have the balls to run this?


Once after leaving the World, a club on 2nd Street, I was riding in a taxi with J and R. Rounding a corner, we saw a mutual acquaintance, using a car hanger, breaking into a parked car. We knew he did things like that, but none of us had ever seen him in action. It was like watching a nature documentary — or better: It was exactly like looking out the window and seeing an egret building its nest.

* * *

When I felt that prices in Manhattan were getting too high, I would cross the river to Hoboken, where you could still find $1 shirts and $5 suits. One day I passed the window of a residence in which two or three old paperbacks were displayed along with scrawled sign saying “For Sale Inside.” I knocked and was admitted. In addition to a couple of revolving racks of fantastically gaudy crime novels from the 1940s and ’50s, the room also contained three generations of a family, apparently Southern, from a babe in arms to a grandmother sprawled hacking and gagging on a couch, with a sheet twisted around her middle. Something was cooking on a hot plate. No one spoke. At least five pairs of eyes regarded me hollowly. I browsed in record time, paid, and fled, feeling like a census taker.

* * *

Z had come from Germany to make his way as musician, and after a few years his career was progressing rapidly. He played in three or four bands, all of them admired. He had also, over the years, become a heroin addict. As addicts will, he was driven to ever greater exigencies to raise money to support his habit. He therefore became a burglar. One night he set out to rob the apartment of a former girlfriend. She lived on the top floor of a tenement, her bedroom window about four feet from the fire escape. Grasping the railing of the fire escape, Z swung his legs over to the window ledge. He inserted the tip of his right sneaker beneath the top of the frame of the lower sash and pushed upward. The window, as he hoped, slid gently open. When he had raised it as far as he could, he dangled his feet inside and gave a mighty push, hoping that momentum and gravity would propel him in. He had fatally miscalculated, however, and dropped five stories. A day or two later, the Daily News covered the story in an inch-length column filler, headed “Romeo Falls To Death.” It told the poignant story of a young émigré musician who was such a romantic that he contrived to slip into the bedroom of his beloved as she slept.

* * *

Sooner or later everybody I knew tried to buy something from the deli on Spring Street, and everyone had the same experience. Usually it was a hot day, and the store hove into view just when the need for a can of soda presented itself. So you’d enter, go to the cooler, pick out a cold one, and take it to the counter.

“Five dollars.”
“Excuse me?”
“You heard me.”

Some people left meekly; some tried arguing, to no avail. If the owner didn’t know your family, he didn’t want your business, and that was that.

“My dream,” V told me more than once, “is to come upon a parked truck transporting Kodak film. Think about it: Film is small, light, untraceable, easy to dispose of, and proportionately expensive. A find like that could set you up for years to come.” I lost track of V, so I don’t know whether he ever fulfilled his dream.

From “Commerce,” included in “New York Calling,” a collection of essays by various authors, edited by Marshall Berman and Brian Berger, to be published September 15 by Reaktion Press Ltd.

The Sun also has its favorite cities. It likes London, it tolerates Paris, it surveys Berlin. It makes an effort to expand beyond Europe, but it writes interesting and curiously of the other cultural centers–the writers of Australia and Israel and Poland have all recently appeared in their pages–admitting their importance. It is an international paper for an international city, another one in a string.

Buy Luc Sante’s Low Life here. His collected is coming out in August.

“They All Surrounded Me” — Eisley (mp3)

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