At 2:35 last night I was jostled awake by Dame Insomnia.
"Come on, George," she beckoned. "Let's fly! Leave the warmth of your bed. Leave the sanctity of your home and visit with me. Leave behind peace and quiet and comfort and routine--leave behind all you know and love--leave it all, and come with me."
I had no choice but to comply.
I pulled on a pair of heavy flannel-lined jeans, a hooded sweatshirt of the type they now call a hoodie (because everything is today reduced to baby-talk) my waterproof hiking boots, my insulated oilskin and my Astrakhan hat. I snapped on Whiskey's leash and the three of us headed out into the darkness.
Usually, I head over to the East River Drive when I walk with Whiskey and the Dame at night, but this morning, for some unknown reason, I was drawn west. Whiskey and I walked to Central Park--so frightening when I was young, so somnolent now, and then turned north and walked the bridle path up to Harlem, where the park ends at 110th Street.
I had lived up in that neck of the woods when New York was brutal, in the 70s and 80s. I had a night job then and would walk swiftly across the Columbia campus with my keys laced between my fingers, ready to slash back if I were accosted. Whether by dint of luck or my lumbering, bear-like mien, I survived my years in the darkness fairly without incident--having never been mugged and pick-pocketed only once, though that was while I was underground at the huge subway complex underneath what was then the New York Coliseum at 8th Avenue and 59th Street.
The Coliseum is gone now. Replaced by the Time Warner Towers and mall. Yes, New Yorkers, you have let a mall into your midsts. The mammon of shop shop shop has eradicated all. All character. All humanity. All life. All low life. And all bookstores, the cavernous and obtuse Coliseum Books having been ploughed under like an Okie's land, more than a decade ago.
I walked west when I exited the park at 110th and 8th. I walked west to my old haunts and went to visit my friends, the smiling gargoyles who adorn 527 W 110th Street. Maybe they would know the answers--after all, they had been watching New York since they arrived on the cityscape back in 1909.
It was well after three now and the rain was beginning the fall. I asked them for answers. But they merely smiled. They smiled as they do.
And sat there, as they do, stone-faced.