It was Saturday, October 21, 1988. It was my “free” day in Manhattan. I was going to reward myself with a day, and night, of…
…I had no idea what. Roaming the city, doing whatever sprang to mind, mainly.
I walked down to Washington Square. Had a bagel at some kosher bakery just off the Square. Grabbed a copy of the Times and sat on a bench and read for a while.
Took the subway downtown. Got off at Cortlandt Street, and looked up at the World Trade Center towering above me. It was about 10AM. I stood with my back against the wall next to the stairs to the subway and just stared up, not caring that I looked like a total tourist. I crossed the street, and stood for a moment at the northeast corner of the North Tower, just looking up, taking in the huge-ity of the whole thing. It was a brilliantly clear morning, a couple of cirrus clouds accenting the sky like pieces of white garnish on a huge nouvelle cuisine plate.
I went inside, and got into the very, very long line of people waiting to go up the elevator to the observation deck.
I stood behind a couple of very Italian-looking girls from New Jersey – Camille and Angela. They were students at some college or another. We struck up a conversation. I mentioned I was from the Twin Cities. Both of them were huge Prince fans. I regaled them with stories of running into Prince and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in Minneapolis, popping tops with Brown Mark and Matt Fink, shooting pool with Lisa Melvoine, running into Marty Z at First Avenue.
All bullspittle, of course. But I was in New York, place of new beginnings. I wasn’t going to get a little thing like my boring past from four days ago get in my way.
Finally, we went up the elevator. It took a couple of changes, as I recall, to get all the way up to the observation deck (106th floor, I think), but finally, we were there.
I spent an hour and probably a couple of bucks worth of quarters using the telescopes; it seemed you could see halfway to Iceland. Or Iselin. I scoped out the Hoboken docks (I loved On the Waterfront) and the “Swamps of Jersey” between Jersey City and Newark, and the whole panorama of Manhattan and the boroughs across the East River. I circled the deck several times, drinking it in for a solid hour, losing Camille and Angela in the process and not really caring all that much.
I could really learn to like this.
I finally made my way back down the elevator, and jumped on the train. I ran over to Battery Park to the South Street Seaport museum (?) – being a North Dakota native, naturally, I loved ships. It was all a blur, even then, but I was enthralled. I could have spent hours more, but I moved on. I figured I’d be back soon enough.
I grabbed a kebab from a pushcart and sat and just watched New York harbor for a while. I was too excited to think much; I remember sitting and feeling aware of my blood pounding through my head, my fingers, my teeth, as I sat, ate, watched and dreamed about what a future here could be.
Then it was off to Central Park, where I wandered around for hours, ending up in front of the Dakota on the place where John Lennon was murdered, watching a raucus double-dutch competition across the street.
I could really, really learn to like this.
I got back on the subway as it got toward suppertime, and went back downtown. My mind churned. What do do? Take the voiceover gig and get a job in a video store or driving a cab to make ends meet until something else comes up that’ll pay the bills for real? Or hold out for one of the better gigs – like the overnight or the network jobs? One of them has to come through – right?
Well, I had some time to think about it. I figured in a week or so, it’d all get clear enough.
I stopped back at the loft, clipped some cash into my pocket, and turned around, locked up, and left again. As the unseasonably warm day started drifting into a fairly balmy evening, I walked down Broadway, sauntering slowly, marinating myself in the sights and sounds and smells of the Village. I lost track of how far I walked, but I hung a right on Bleecker Street – mainly because I remembered it from Springsteen’s “Kitty’s Back”, I think – and kept going.
I walked through a chunk of (I think) NYU campus, and then into a warren of clubs, dive bars and little diners. Guys roamed the streets, pressing “complementary ticket” flyers for bands playing up and down the street into my hand. I grabbed a Gyro at some little diner at Bleecker and – Sullivan, I think? – and sorted out what to do, luxuriating in having too damn many choices, and loving it.
Went into a couple of bars; one horrible punk band, one really good “white soul” band, and a couple of two-drink minimums later, it was back out on the street. It was closing in on 11PM when I walked into a comedy joint.
A woman – the manager? – met me at the door, and ushered me to a table for one. I bought a vodka sour, and waited five minutes for the show – a triple bill featuring a couple of comics and an improv group, “Noo Yawk Tawk” – to start.
The first comic, a guy from Champaign Illinois, who looked for all the world like Mystery Science Theatre’s Mike Nelson, made the biggest rookie flub a non-New-Yorker performer can make in Gotham; he admitted he wasn’t from New York. The hecklers chewed the poor guy to bits. He was a trooper, and he held on by the skin of his teeth, but he got rattled, bad.
The next guy – a short, bald fellow who looked a little like the Gestapo guy from Raiders of the Lost Ark – got the payback, though. He took the stage, stared at the hecklers, and tore them to shreds, shutting them up – I really, really wish I remembered how – before starting his real routine. I was agog; I wanted to learn this.
And then I noticed; he seemed to be playing to me. And not in the whole “make everyone feel like you’re playing to them” sense of the term. As in, lots and lots of eye contact.
He killed. And then he left the stage, and “Noo Yawk Tawk” started their routine, taking suggestions for topics, nouns, verbs, activities and so on from the crowd. And I was gratified to notice that just about everything I yelled out made it into the act. And, like the second comic, they seemed to be giving me a lot of attention.
Twenty minutes into their act, the manager came over to me. “Excuse me, sir – are you a producer?”
I probably did a double-take. “Huh?”
“Are you a producer?”
“Well, I used to be…”
She grimaced. “I’m sorry – this table is just for producers! I’m sorry – could I get you to sit over…”, and she pointed toward the bar. “I’m so sorry – I’ll comp you a couple of drinks. I’m sorry for the misunderstanding…”
I had, and have, no idea why she put me there in the first place. But for a couple of free drinks, it was a worthwhile flub.
I wandered up and down Bleecker for hours afterward, finally walking home up Broadway at around 4AM. I felt – and this was the last thing I’d expected – without the faintest worry about anything going wrong. Even at 4AM, the streets were still plenty busy; I walked past dozens people in small groups.
I got “home” to the loft, and flopped into bed.
I could really, Really, REALLY learn to like this.