Lower East Side
. Winter, 1985
? The whole damn decade's a blur
. I was on my way from Down South, headed up to Poughkeepsie
. Or both? Or was I headed
Down South? Whatever the itinerary
, it involved crashing
for a few days on my old roommate
's couch, at his place off Avenue A.
But I get to the apartment that evening to find him leaving - the couple with whom he shared the place were having yet another knock-down-drag-out; it was as if the two had been standing there yelling since I last saw them, a few months previous. We go, instead, a couple of blocks north, to hang out with some new friends of his who are squatting in an abandoned apartment building, one that has, so far, resisted the rush toward gentrification.
The various squatters are gathered in one of the apartments; we join in the general hang-out-itude of the evening, some wine, some cannabis, some gossip (rumors of impending violence from the local Puerto Rican community...), some info (the legalities and logistics of squatting...); I give a brief review of some of the Nashville tourist traps. I get a grand tour of the apartments - some are more apartmenty than others. Many rooms require a flashlight to see.
My roomy and I decide we'll crash here, and I'll give him a ride to work in the morning; someone will give us a wakeup call. There are no couches or beds - we'd been sitting on crates and stools - but there's a mattress in the "spare bedroom", a tiny unlit space. We head there.
A woman's voice: "You're gonna need these."
We turn around; she hands us a couple of fur coats. Apparently it's the coldest night of the year, and there's no heat in the spare bedroom. Oh. We take the coats and crash on the mattress. He falls asleep.
I don't. I can't; my teeth are chattering. Big time. Among
the amenities lacking in the homestead is architectural soundness. Walls aren't all in place - I can hear WNEW-FM on a neighbor's stereo just as clearly as if I were there in that apartment. More to the point: the window in here is
shut, and it has a layer of plastic taped over it, but the urban decay is too much: plenty of outside air is getting in. Even with the fur (animal rights be damned, at least for tonight), I'm freezing.
"Oh God, if you let me survive this, I'll buy breakfast for everybody..."
This must be karmic revenge meted out upon me, for playing hooky from the band, for playing hooky from the family... I'll gladly get out of Jack Benny mode and buy all of Manhattan breakfast; I'll give God my first born, should I live to have one. Anything...
I manage to doze off, just as the morning drive crew comes on WNEW ("Eleven degrees in Midtown right now..." Oh shit). Which means the wakeup call came ninety minutes later. Breakfast cost me $50.
Whenever someone asks me, during a mild winter, "Aren't you gonna put on a coat?" I always say "It's not that cold." Let me tell you about cold...