Thursday, March 12, 2015

East Village in Manhattan

I was not born in New York. I am not a New Yorker.

When I read about the East Village, I am responding to an author. I am responding to a narrative by means of which that particular author recreates a section of Manhattan.

I have personal memories of the East Village, but they are few. Those few take on importance, however, and even vividness. No long-term familiarity with the rest of the city has dulled them.

At one point in my late twenties I considered moving to New York and making my living there. I interviewed for jobs and got an offer. By the time the offer came, however, the man whose apartment in the East Village I had visited one eventful evening no longer lured me. What had begun as a chance meeting between strangers in a gift shop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art continued long-distance until a weekend in off-season Provincetown and then it gently faded.

I had my image of that part of Manhattan, however. I had never imagined an apartment so small, its walls and ceiling a patchwork of half-done repairs. An evening from La Bohème touched by an intensity I had not considered possible in my life.

In time I would be visiting New York regularly with a partner whose best friend from high school lived in another apartment in the East Village. A man who would have given anything to be a writer, Michael lived in literary elegance and occasional penury. He owned a second-hand tuxedo for those New York occasions that demanded it. At one such event he had his picture taken with Ian McKellen.

With denim and leather that grew softer over the years, Michael walked New York tirelessly and at all hours. New York was home but a home with which he wrestled, argued, made vehement pleas for a recognition that eluded him. When the epidemic hit, Michael fought but eventually succumbed.

I did not live in New York during those years, and so my impressions remain those of a visitor. When I sit in a restaurant in the city, alone or with friends, I can find myself staring out over the heads of other guests. Through the windows I may glimpse a row of brownstones across the street, and I wonder who would ever exit those doors with the least thought of those of us looking out at them.