–55 West 13th Street, Manhattan, New York, late morning
Last Saturday night after cutting out early from the party Villedrouin took me to, I went with a couple of friends of his, Dwayne and Michael to see music at a club called St. Nick’s on St. Nicholas street in Harlem. James Carter, a young alto-saxophonist showed un-announced, played a set and prompted me to holler, “Cat Can Blow!”
The party was a Holiday dinner get-together held by Villedrouin’s self-styled Gourmand Club – a revolving potluck dinner club – at a pretty big flat on Upper West Riverside with a penthouse view of New Jersey. The beautiful people were bumping into some nice grooves. There were young women moving in time, loveliness surrounded the basstones. Downtempo and mid-tempo soul music. Lots of chocolate-colored skin: African, Indian, Haitian and others. It felt good to be among like colors.
I couldn’t dance. For me it wasn’t that kind of party. I couldn’t find a groove. But I had a nice enough time. I spent some of it talking with a young woman from Syria (via Kuwait) with whom I connected. But I found myself preening and dancing like a peacock in my desire for companionship. I wanted a conversation … some intellectual stimulation. This turn of fate drove me to spend time with this beautiful, tea-totaling, Muslim from Syria chatting about the writing process and the realization of the first dual, then multiple selves which are unrevealed in the context of cross-continental migration.
She was studying at the Teacher’s College near Columbia, had been here in New York for 8 months from the Middle East. And we talked about the changes she had gone through. “When I first came I was wearing all colors,” she said, “but now,” she pointed to her own shoes and pants, “I see I am wearing white and black and my overcoat is black and my shoes are black.” We talked about how “everyone” in New York wears black. We also talked about perceiving things in terms of Black and White with regard to the races. When she first came to New York, she didn’t want to see the world as divided by race, but she found that after a short time she became race-conscious as a result of her time here. She lamented this sensation.
She was not supposed to be at the dinner party, she should have been in Kuwait. But as she put it there was some kind of political problem which didn’t allow her to return on her flight that morning. “The country which sent me here to go to school, my country now won’t let me go home to see my family.” She was hoping she would be leaving on Tuesday but still wasn’t sure.
I asked her what she would wear on the plane when she goes back. She laughed and said she would wear black and white and a black coat. I asked her who would be meeting her and where. She told me and so I asked her to recall Kuwait International Airport in Kuwait City to her mind, to see her mother and father and her siblings there to pick her up. I asked her about the weather there which she said would be pleasant at this time of year. Then I asked her again what she would be wearing when her family first saw her, “I will take off my jacket on the plane,” she said smiling, “because I do not want them to see me all in black.” When I asked her what clothes she would change into when she got home, I expected to hear the name of some kind of Muslim cloth or dress instead she looked at me with a big smile and said, “Red! I will change into a red dress!”
I met a friend of hers named Sonal who was on her way to San Francisco the next morning and to whom I gave information regarding gigs she could check out. I set her up by calling DJ Consuelo out in SF the next day and making sure she was on the guest list for the New Year’s Eve party at The Justice League.
Thanks to Villedrouin, I had been kindly afforded a share of a “blunt” that was going around in the hallway area when Michael passed by on his way toward his coat and hat. Michael kindly explained to me that a blunt is a tobacco leaf wrapper wrapped around a fat collection of herb. It was a stony treat which I shared with Chitra (one of the Gourmand club members) and the cat who rolled it whose name escapes me just now. We were getting quite high when Michael announced he and Dwayne were going to see Jazz at St. Nick’s.
I felt out of place at the party. I was dressed differently from the others and wore a West Coast posture, thought parties were about something different from what I sense the people here perceive them to be. I see I am an amateur in the New York social scene. I have few guides to it, but I know myself. I hold my own with some small fear, though I have a lot to learn about the locals.
Michael, Dwayne and I left the party and headed up Broadway toward some friend’s place. A word about Michael, a dark-skinned, very laid-back Arkansan who moved to New York a year-and-a-half ago to be a teacher. Michael’s got dreadlocks and the raggedy beard of a thinking man. I like him. He is solid. A bass player who named his two cats after his two favorite bass players, Mingus and Percy. Young. Cool. It was good to be in the company of somebody straight-ahead for a change.
Dwayne had a couple of friends who wanted to join us. Bill, a Harvard student visiting New York on holiday, was staying with a couple on the Upper West side. Notably, the young woman whom we briefly visited was a Rabbinical student at the Seminary in the Columbia University area. She described this course as challenging. She and her boyfriend were staying in that evening to watch the film “Big Night,”on a video which they had just begun, but their friend Bill, the Harvard student visitor was down to coming with us.
After picking up Bill, we had to meet still more friends of Dwayne’s which delayed us a little, Tomar, and her roommates, whose names I cannot remember, live a tad further uptown. Michael and Dwayne argue as old friends, Michael expressing his displeasure at being led around to pick up all the people Dwayne needs to meet, and Dwayne defending himself. Michael was to meet some people at Nick’s, whom he was concerned about delaying. The two of them talk like a married couple, but are clearly friends who respect one another mutually.
We were in the process of deciding whether to walk, take buses, trains or cabs when we walked out of Tomar’s place. There were too many of us to take one cab and we began that usual debate one hears in towns like New York or San Francisco or Paris about transportation. Suddenly, just as I stepped out into the street, two yellow cabs, one directly following the other, pulled up. It was remarkable – on a small side street in the upper upper west. I raised my arms like an MC, held my hands out and stopped them both, feeling stony, high and just a little outrageous, I hollered, “Yo! It’s too perfect! Hop in!” and we all got in. We went to the club from there.
The club is long and narrow, with a low hung ceiling and a long well-lit bar. The bartender, a pretty light-skinned woman with a gently rounded face and slightly slow and lazy-lovely features, had on a little red “santy-clause” hat. The waitress was an older dark-skinned woman with a bright smile and a graceful manner. The crowd was thin and the club mostly empty.
But the sound which filled the place was huge.
It was a quartet, a tenor, alto, keyboards and kit. And then it was time for the kid to solo. James Carter is the name, and let me only say, “CAT CAN BLOW!”
It was a good set and I was blown away by the sounds of that kid who played at me. I appreciated that: I was in Harlem, it was night and I was hearing a kid blow his horn.
Afterward, I went back to Michael’s place to check it out. I have been trying to find a place to live and Michael had earlier told me the place he was living in was cheap and good living. One of my motivations for checking out Harlem that night was to see what kind of a place it might be for me to live. Dwayne is Michael’s upstairs neighbor.
Michael’s place was big, three rooms in a one-bedroom apartment and it was well-priced at $500 a month. That’s the cheapest, clean, big place I have seen on the island of Manhattan. We all sat around and had a few bowls and chatted about all sorts of things.
I left that night and went walking. It was three-thirty in the morning in Harlem and I was walking to the A-Train.
Let me repeat. It was three-thirty in the morning and I was walking alone on 145th street toward the A-train and it was a cold, clear and beautifully star-filled night a week before Christmas and I was in Harlem.
I stopped in the street and pulled my big, black overcoat tight around myself. I stood for a moment, very high and smiling and stared at the night sky, at the few stars. I felt some terrific joy then. For a moment, I was resolved. I remember being a child of 14, 15, 16 and reading about this world, about Harlem. I remember putting the needle down on revolutionary vinyl by Coltrane, Bird, Monk, Ellington, Mingus. And for a moment, that child, that 14-year-old was resolved. Brought home. I was an American.
The next morning Michael’s father died and he flew back to Arkansas.
And now it’s Christmas Eve. The last few days have been busy with apartment searching for me. I was growing concerned about it and yesterday I “broke,” that is to say, I felt really worn down and run-ragged by the process and I let it affect my mood and attitude. It was bad. New York is a powerful place. It tugs at the mood and attitude.
Sunday I slept in and mellowed down. It was a good day after a long night on the town.
I have been seeing places for a week now and I haven’t found anything I like. I am fortunate I have the means to get a good place now that I have a good job.
<Break – to get lunch and a couple of glasses of champagne>
I am lucky to be able to do what I want when I want all over the world. All is cool.
To return to a slower slower slower s l o w e r s l o w e r s lower … slow ….. deep breaths
the life oh the life …
In the last six months I have been in twenty five states of the US and untold millions of states of mind. I am in new york now and the objective is to establish some kind of long-term mindedness.