Dig this. I grew up between Central Park and Riverside Park. We saw the sunrise from our balcony and could walk to Columbia University. So very pretty. But right on our block it wasn't all so pretty. The shooting galleries across the street gave us a regular supply of junkies, sometimes unconcious or dead in the gutter. The addicts and street kids playing until 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. in the basketball courts right below us would have been loud enough if they had just played but instead we got a regular diet of arguments, knife fights, and broken glass and blood on the streets in the morning.
So when I tell you that I grew up in New York City I want you to understand that I don't mean Park Avenue and I don't mean the cleaned up, prettified world you see now. The seventies were rough around my part of town and it only took a couple years in P.S. 84 to guarantee that I would never sound or move or think like the products of the suburbs who now make up most of this country.
But I want you to understand something else. The sounds of our blocks had plenty of crazies and beatdowns on hot summer nights but we also had the funk. We had boogie and merengue and salsa and my stepfather's old jazz albums from back when he had a band hitting the small towns of the south in the days of Dizzy and the Duke.
If you kept your shit together and you never got sloppy or stupid or looked like you had something valuable to steal, my little piece of the city could be a beautiful place in it's grubby, hustling, drugged-out way.
I don't know if I would ever want to go back there but I miss it sometimes. Eating french fries out a paper bag and watching the people go by. A big steaming plate of arroz con pollo served by a Chinese-looking guy with a full Cuban pompadour and a guayabera peeking out from his stained white jacket. A bunch of guys in a rough circle around a splintery bench, jamming with bongos and guitar cut by somebody's sweet, longing voice. Sneaking into the abandoned rail yard with a friend, keeping out of the burned out twisted metal former loading docks where the gay guys were hanging and cruising and fucking. Having my own little corner of the then unstaffed northern Central Park, with my little "streambed" I had cut out of the swamp over the course of a few years where an overflowing water pipe provided my stream.
And when I miss that world, nobody brings it back like Howard fucking Chaykin. The man was there. He knows it and he brings it back and soups it up and makes of it a fantasy of sex and menace and hot, languid nights filled with operators and rubes and people just keeping their head down and trying to get by. Rude, lewd, and always trying to get into your mind and your pants.
That's my city, baby. Come on in, take a seat, and order a drink. Keep your eyes open and your eye on your wallet and you may just have a hell of a time.