Monday, October 30, 2017

A rainy day in New York, 1979.

It's raining, and has been for 36 hours, and the wind is blowing like a sonofabitch. They predicted last night wind gusts as high as 50 mph, 70 mph on Long Island. 

In the entire five boroughs of New York, there's barely one umbrella that hasn't been turned inside-out, exposing its rib-cage to the world, before being tossed in the garbage like yesterday's news.

In short, to pilfer from Herman Melville, 'it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul. Though we are two days short of that benighted month and that even more benighted spirit.

The office is, of course, empty. There's not a soul here, save for the decorous gentlemen who man the security desk at the front and who greet me like an old friend when they see me, simply because I arrive early and greet them, too, like old friends.

The weather is making me recall one wintry November back in 1979 when I was a graduate student at Columbia University. I had decided I would interview poets who had worked with Budd Schulberg and the Watts Writers Workshop, which grew out of the Watts riots in LA nearly 15 years earlier.

I had contacted a writer called Quincy Troupe and was invited to his apartment in a noble building called Graham Court on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and 116th Street.

In those starving student days I had no money for a taxi and it was nearly impossible to get from Morningside Heights, where I was living, to central Harlem where my appointment was. So, I wrapped myself in an old oil-skin and walked down to 110th, over to Adam Clayton Powell, then up to 116th to meet Quincy Troupe.

It was raining hard and windy and before 9AM on a Monday and the streets were empty, or very nearly so. These were tough days in New York, just four years from bankruptcy and two years from the summer riots of 1977, and I was scared walking alone in Harlem, but I made it without a hitch and Mr. Troupe buzzed me in and I took the tiled stairway up to his place, the elevator being out.

The first thing we did after we sat down in Troupe's wood-paneled study was have a glass of sweet wine--nothing I had ever drunk at 9AM before, but I knew enough to be polite and sipped quietly at my glass, filling up yellow pad after yellow pad with notes on our conversation.

At about 10:30, he was talked out, and I was a little drunk, and I walked back down the stairs and out into the rain and walked home through the still-empty streets, breathing easier when I reached the campus of Columbia. Thank god, I hadn't been mugged. 

It's funny, I think, having lived your life in the same place for so long that you can remember things about the same place in three or four or even ten layers like the striations of different geological eras you can see sometimes in an old rock wall.

I can't walk out, alone and cold and wet in New York, without traveling back 40 years. And without once again breathing the deep breath of relief when I make it home once again.

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