If you're a European in a partying mood, go east. Jet lag will keep you up 'til all hours, and help you sleep through that tedious bit of the day known as work. On the other hand, if you find yourself travelling west, then you'll be punching zeds before the cocktail hour kicks in.
Early to bed, the saying goes, means early to rise. Which is how I found myself wandering Soho at 5 am on a Sunday morning.
My time of day
is the dark time
A couple of deals before dawn
When the street belongs to the cop
And the janitor with the mop
And the grocery clerks are all gone.
When the smell of the rain-washed pavement
Comes up clean, and fresh, and cold
And the street-lamp's light
Fills the gutters with gold.
Yes, there is something beautiful about this time of day in the city. There's a peace that lets you see things. One begins to notice the built environment.
You can see how much of this town was built in the first decades of the twentieth century, just when America (and this part of New York, in particular) began to understand its own energy and importance.
When I lived in New York, it wasn't around here. I took an apartment in Turtle Bay. The name suggests, accurately, a slow backwater—not interesting enough to be Murray Hill, and not posh enough to be Sutton Place. "If you must live in midtown, Husband," scoffed one expat-Brit hipster, "you could at least go to Hells bloody Kitchen." Nope, my neighbourhood was NYC in vanilla.
In Soho, you can glimpse the Damon Runyon side of the city; a Gotham of small-time gamblers and hopeful starlets; of bootleggers and greengrocers; of Luckies smoked on fire escapes; of families who rolled up their rugs in the summer. This neighbourhood was once the thick of it.
Now, the gentry has conquered Soho. Condos. Microbrews. The Apple Store.
The kind of place where your Vespa matches your house. The kind of place where designer moms with expensive prams need to be warned against bumps.
That's why this sign caught my attention. A last hold-out against middle-class order. A playground for defacers, each wanting his three-square inches of fame.
"You a photographer?" he asked, testily. (Ah, the new camera seems to have made a good impression.)
"No, I'm just an amateur," I replied.
He barked a string of paranoid demands. "You're not gonna publish that picture, are you? What's your name? Show me some ID. If you publish that picture, I'll sue the shit out of you. I'm an attoyney."
This made me smile. Not because a half-drunk stranger was threatening to take away my house. But rather because he actually said "attoyney".
Usually, the first time one hears a New York accent, someone plays it for laughs—especially if you're my age. Bugs Bunny makes a lasting impression.
When I lived in New York, I had trouble taking anyone seriously. The whole city sounded like a Stooge. I expected people on the street to poke my eyes out. I feel sure they wanted to, sometimes.
"Here's my detail,." I said, cheerfully, as I reached in my pocket and handed him a Drinking Card. For those of you who don't hang out in bars, a Drinking Card is kind of like a business card, except without information that makes you stalkable—in my case, an anodyne gmail address and a mobile number. Gay gentlemen of my acquaintance sometimes call this a Trick Card, for reasons irrelevant to this discussion.
My suitor (is that not what you call someone threatening you with a lawsuit?) took out his Blackberry Curve (Coyve?) and angrily tapped a message. It arrived on my phone a moment later.
DESIST FROM USING ANY OR ALL PICTURES TAKEN, read the title line.
"I will desist, with pleasure. Since you asked so nicely." With a tap of a button, his image disappeared from the camera display. Of course, I hadn't actually deleted it, but he didn't know that. I didn't know that either, since I hadn't read the camera instructions. Real men are above such things.
My hand reached out for his. "You know my name, but I don't believe I caught yours May I have the pleasure?" This was a lie, since he had just sent me an email, but hey.
Niceness caught him off guard. "Look, y'know. Sorry. Caught me at a bad time."
Apology accepted. If one leans against a signpost at dawn, half-drunk, in depserate need of a cigarette, one can't expect to sparkle.
But just in case New York's collective mood hasn't improved, please enjoy these entirely people-free photos of the Bowery and its environs on that summer morning, not long ago.