I'm originally from North Jersey and remember the "bad old" Times Square from when I was a little kid, and from some of my favorite literature. (Anyone who can find it should read "Close to the Knives" by David Wojnarowicz!) I hadn't been there since before Rudy Giuliani's anti-smut crusade, and I was taking a red-eye bus trip from Virginia back to Boston. This involved a 2 hour layover at Port Authority from 4 AM to 6 AM, so I decided to see for myself if any vestige of the Times Square I know and love still remained. To my relief, a few of the porn shops were still there (2 years ago anyway), and I was hassled by a few homeless guys.

But the real proof that the heart of the city could survive any oppression came after I circled the block and came back to 8th Avenue, two blocks north of the bus station. A line of crackheads was standing by the wall, and as I passed them I smiled inwardly at their presence and the resiliance of the underground (at least I think the smile was inward, but from what follows I can't really be sure). When I was about halfway to the corner, a short stout crackhead with missing teeth stepped away from the building and approached me. "Where you going tonight, honey," she said. "I bet you got a big one. Let's go have some fun." I smiled at her and said that I had to get going, but this was New York so of course she persisted. Reaching down to my crotch and showing no hesitation as she grabbed my package, she said "Ooh baby, you don't have to go nowhere without me. Let's go get a hotel room." Somehow I had the idea that it would be wrong to forceably remove her hand from my genitals, and I may have been just a little intimidated by all the people around, and my being the only white boy, so I just kept walking. My suitor stayed in pace with me, all the while her hand on my jewels and scepter. "What's the matter baby, you don't like to have fun?" she said, and I had to break it too her that I guessed I didn't. But that was a lie, because I did have fun that night, and I think all the spectators did too. I swear on my honor that all this is true, and as I got on the bus that morning with the sun rising, I was satisfied that some things don't change, and that our most primitive agressions will always have an outlet.

A bizarre little ditty written by Rogers and Hart in 1925.

Summer journeys to Niagara and to other places
Aggravate all our cares
We'll save our fares
I've a cozy little flat in what is known as old Manhattan...
We'll settle down
Right here in town

We'll take Manhattan
The Bronx and Staten Island too
It's lovely going to the zoo
It's very fancy
On old Delancey Street you know
The subway charms us so
When balmy breezes blow, to and fro
And tell me what street
Compares to Mott Street in July
Sweet pushcarts gently gliding by

The great big city's a wondrous toy
Just made for a girl and boy
We'll turn Manhattan into an isle of joy

We'll go to Greenwich
Where modern men itch to be free
And Bowling Green you'll see with me
We'll go to Coney
And eat bologna on a roll
In Central Park we'll stroll
Where our first kiss we stole, soul to soul
Our future babies
We'll take to Abie's Irish Rose
I hope they live to see it close

The city's clamor can never spoil
The dreams of a boy and goil
We'll make Manhattan into an isle of joy

Also a classic cocktail. There are several variations on this recipe, but this one claims to be the original

Classic Manhattan

Stir with ice in shaker and strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry. Some varieties require you to coat the inside of the glass with dry vermouth

Back to the Everything Bartender

Widely considered to be Woody Allen's masterpiece, this 1979 homage to the city he loves is filmed in gorgeous black and white and appropriately scored with George Gershwin tunes. The movie is littered with unforgettable images of the Big Apple: a couple on a park bench under the massive Brooklyn Bridge at dawn, the blackened trees of Central Park outlined against the lit up skyscrapers of Manhattan, two dark figures perusing art on the spirals of the Guggenheim.

Of course, this is Woody Allen, so the movie is not all about celebrating New York; it's also about the screwed up people who live there. Allen plays Isaac Davis, a 42-year-old writer who rashly quits his TV writing job and then has to move out of his fabulous apartment because he has no income to speak of. He is seeing Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), 17 in the movie and in real life, a high school student who truly cares for him, though they have little in common and he spends half his time trying to convince her to move on and let him become a fond memory. His ex-wife Jill (Meryl Streep) has become a lesbian and is writing a book about their marriage and divorce; he is driven to hand-wringing horror at the thought that everyone will know the sordid details of their breakup. Meanwhile, his best friend Yale (Michael Murphy) is cheating on his wife of 12 years with the brainy but insecure writer Mary (Diane Keaton). When Mary wants more from the relationship than married Yale can give her, they split; she begins seeing Isaac, who dumps Tracy, who cries. Eventually Yale decides he loves Mary after all and leaves his wife, and, too late, Isaac realizes that there may have been something real with Tracy.

This was once my favourite Woody Allen movie, but on rewatching it recently I found that the beauty of the imagery was marred by the ugliness of the characters. Sadly, all of Allen's witticisms cannot make these self-centred men likable: they are immature and can't commit and put the women they're involved with through hell as they try to decide what they want. The women, though similarly self absorbed, are somewhat more sympathetic; Tracy is the nicest of the lot, though we know that at 17 she's sentimental and imagines that what she feels at that moment will last forever. The acting is all good, but Hemingway shines; she brings a clear and open honesty to her role that strikes a poignant chord that all the other neurotic characters lack, and justifiably received an Academy Award nomination for her performance.

If watching this movie on video or DVD, make sure it's letterbox: Gordon Willis' cinematography often utilizes the whole frame, and you'll miss much of the beauty of this film if you can't see it. This isn't my overall favourite Allen movie, but it is the most visually stunning, and for that, at least, it's highly recommended.

I♥NY. I hadn't been there in almost a year when she told me she was coming for a visit. That was all the motive I needed. It was time to go back.

Crossing into the city by train is always a bizarre experience. Like going into hyperspace and emerging into another continuum. At T minus 10, you're above miles of marshland somewhere in Jersey, looking at distant freeways and perhaps catching an even more distant glimpse of a skyline. By T minus 5, you're rolling through the blue-collar aura of Secaucus, surrounded by the familiar sights of the Northeast Corridor: auto repair shops, run-down row houses, perhaps a distant smidgen of stickball.

And then, suddenly, the train goes into the tunnel. The world goes black. Your ears pop. The rumbling tells you that you're still moving, but you stop keeping track of how fast. There's a stop, then a go, then a stop. All you see in the window is your own reflection against a dim amber outline of stone walls and traffic signals.

When the train is moving again, you finally catch a glimpse of skyscrapers, a premonition, and then the world is dark again, and then you're surrounded by Penn Station, herded onto a slate platform and up a narrow escalator, surrounded by crowds, signs covered with foreign numbers and letters—blue A, gray S, LIRR—the city's native language. And then you escape the wormhole, and you're in the other dimension.

Around Columbus Circle, Manhattan ceases to feel like a city, but more like a SimCity. You look up at the Twin Towers of AOL Time Warner and imagine a caffeine-addicted 16-year-old modeling the angles in Blender. You look down Broadway to rows of picture-perfect brown stone, streets lined with green, long lines of yellow cabs running up and down like ants, cycling in 256 colors. And Central Park, going on for what seems like forever.

Further down in midtown, the illusion is even greater. Streets are canyons, buildings are cliffs, people are reflections from the flow of endless rivers. The sky seems to be farther away than you could have ever imagined in Florida, where it seems to be within easy grasp.

Then there's Times Square, the sort of vision that even the craziest of artists could not invent on their own; steaming Cup Noodles facing off against falling stacks of chocolate, Brian Williams the arbiter from his perch atop the arena. Every wall wants to sell you something, be it banking or Broadway or booze. Rasta Man sings karaoke to get dollar bills from the tourists lined up to see The Producers and Rent. Someone addresses a cab driver at several thousand decibels, using the word "fuck" twenty-three times in a single sentence.

Slip across the street and you might see Port Authority grit or tuxedos getting into a limousine or a policeman riding a three-wheeled car that seems to be hamster-powered. A Frenchman raises his voice, a Russian woman lowers hers, and someone issues stern criticism in an impossibly gay voice from the line for Chicago.

But then you wander into Grand Central through a hidden entrance, and suddenly you've left SimCity and entered the Sistine Chapel, where it feels like dusk no matter what time of day it is, and all you can hear are the angels singing the praises of capitalism below the dancing constellations.

And you follow the codes—the green 4s and 5s and 6s—down a shallow staircase into the hyperjump. The spaceship looks like a bucket of parts, but it'll make Canal Street in three parsecs, so you get in. The doors close and you are surrounded by a brilliant white substance, maybe bakelite, hard and cool to the touch. HAL 9000 tells you to watch out for suspicious packages, to Know Your Foe.

When you emerge, you're surrounded by signs in Chinese, little shops selling electronics and insects and legal drugs and not really legal drugs. You're on the lookout for Replicants, ready to break out your cyberdeck and punch GO if the Time Police show up to take you back. But then you slip through a glass entryway, and a fat man wearing a bowtie shows you through a cloud of cigar smoke to the best calamari and white wine you've ever eaten.

And then if you go further into the night, the city leaves beacons to show you where to go: the green triangle of the Woolworth Building points you downtown, the embers of the Empire State Building point you back up. You slip around the Greek columns of the Second Circuit and move across the dead of downtown night, passing dark restaurants named with stock exchange puns.

We stopped on a dusty one-lane street in the spotlights of the PATH station, beautiful in the foreground of the chain-link fence separating the city from what used to be the city.

"How tall were they?" she asked me. She's not from around here.

"Over a thousand feet," I said, "a hundred and some stories. And some people thought they were ugly, but anyone with taste would know they were beautiful, and powerful."

That was what I thought the first time I saw them, from the plane circling around to land at JFK years ago. And that's what I felt when I saw the photographs hanging from the fence: the towers from below, the towers from afar, the cloud of smoke. The big, empty square in Lower Manhattan, a glimpse of what lies beneath the SimCity: dust and memories.

And we reached a dark and silent Battery Park, and saw the shining lady in the bay, French copper turned green, glowing under spotlights from below.

Miles from the city yet right in the middle, in another wormhole. That was where I kissed her.

And I know that long after Manhattan crumbles into the sea, there will be our walk up the avenue, her hand in my back and mine in her pocket, following the Imperial lights into tomorrow, up the island that never sleeps, never dies, never catches its breath, and forever turns to face another Monday.

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