Sunday, March 6, 2011

Manhattan Memories

Back in the 1990s when I was a fledgling teenager, my father used to live on east 15th street in Manhattan. Since my parents had divorced, I'd go and visit him sometimes on the weekends. He lived in this tiny railroad apartment in a prewar, 6 story walk up that was so old and rickety, the floors and walls were literally caved in. There was this sense that the whole building could collapse at any moment. There was never any sun light that shined through the windows because there was another building about 6 feet away. This meant you had to keep the lights on even in the middle of the day. Depressing at this may sound, what made up for it was the fact that right outside was downtown Manhattan.

My father had close friend who had two sons a little younger than me. He had an Italian wife and they lived in Stuyvesant Town just a few blocks away. They were a typical Manhattan family, politically liberal and cultured, although they were not quite yuppies. This was the mid 1990s, back when a working class blue collar family could afford to live in Manhattan. We would all get together, sometimes accompanied with my dad's girlfriend, and go do things in the city. We'd go to the South Street Sea Port, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Central Park, Museums. Sometimes we'd just walk around downtown and take in outdoor street festivals and shows. We'd always eat out at restaurants. They were good times. There was always an exciting cultural event that was going on. After all, this was Manahattan, and rarely ever a let down.

I have few pictures from that era; this was the days before digital cameras. I do have memories however. There were these neighborhood kids several years older than me who we knew that would hang out on the stoops of the apartments. They were Latino, new-yoricans, most likely. Downtown kids, before it became so fashionable. We went to Katz Deli over on Houston street, and my dad, always the outgoing one, would joke about the orgasm scene from the movie When Harry Met Sally that was filmed there. We'd go to Greenwich Village when it was still very bohemian and absorb the culture. I think one time we even went during the gay pride week or parade and my dad's Irish girlfriend pointed out a bald headed man in full drag. "Only in New York" she commented. We all laughed.

I was along for the ride. My dad would pick me up in Queens and drive me to the city. We did an awful lot of driving around the city back then come to think of it. My dad after all was a limousine driver. That Lincoln Town Car I remember took us so many miles.

We'd all go out to Veniero's on 11th street and indulge in the Italian pastries while making a lot of noise. We'd walk out into the hot summer night air feeling a little relieved, still cold from the air conditioning. The hustle and bustle of the city providing the ambiance around us. Summer nights in the city when you're a teenager, so many unforgettable memories.

And it was all so secular. Religion was never a part of our adventures on the town. There was never any church or inculcation into any faith. We seemed like a bunch of secular humanists/cosmopolitan New Yorkers. There was a slight Buddhist/Hindu element from my dad's side, but never anything actual meditation or chanting. It was more like the occasional wishing to an unknown energy that you'd strike it rich. It was more like the self-serving god than anything real, whether tangible or otherwise. The secular element made it that so much better. There was no religion trying to make me feel guilty or for me to rebel against. There were no forced rituals or scriptural memorization. Religion simply just wasn't there. Thank god for that.

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