March 2, 2015.
“This is crazy!”, the girl on the zebra crossing shouts. From the safety nets on top of Bush tower, big chunks, daggers of ice detach, fall down, the wind scoops them up into the stratosphere, then aims at the heads of unwitting pedestrians on ground-level. New York City pedestrians are actually at risk in every season. In the fall of 1988, 37-year old Vito DeGiorgio died after an air conditioner fell seven stories down on East 23d. People around the city use beer cans or lighters to support protruding airconditioners. Nevertheless, up until now only four more people got smashed on the head by airconditioners falling from the sky, without anyone loosing his or her life.
The sky is needle blue and perfect today. I drift through the elegance of Fifth. There’s Italian monasteries and French mansions built on top of tall buildings. Park Hotel is a giant art deco stove belching smoke from inside like a volcano. In the ravishing wooden interior of the library’s reading room, some of these skyscrapers have had their portaits painted.
I am not half as cool as the ice cold guys at the Fifth Ave apple store. “What’s up man?”, they say and I wouldn’t know the right answer to that. I blame myself for being all European and stiff. On the other hand, that’s no way to greet a customer. I watch tricks with seals in Central Park and walk back down Fifth.
“Yo brother, how’s it goin?”, a black doorman with a cap says as I come through the revolving door.
“Hi, I’m alright. And you?”
He doesn’t answer and throws me an indifferent look.
“Is this the La Quinta hotel?” I am looking for the best spot with a free rooftop view.
“No. Take the first left over there.”
In the elevator, I am treated to the company of a very fat boy with a red visor hat. He is wearing oversized dirty pants and rubber slippers. His face is red.
“Hi ya’ doin’?”
“I’m fine, thanks. How ‘bout your good self?”
“Couldn’t be better, gomma soul all fixed up.”
“Whè ya fro-om?”
“Whè ya fro-om?”
“Neve head o’ tha’ place.”
“It’s between France and Germany.”
“Yes, that’s it. Belgium. What about you?”
“West Virginiah. When d’you arrive in New Yoak Cidde?”
“Man, ahn’t you in foa treat!”
The bell rings and the elevator stops. “This hea my floa! Have yaself a great stay man!”
The metallic doors open and in comes another fat boy with a red visor head, oversized dirty pants and rubber slippers. His face is as red as his predecessor’s.
“Whè ya fro-om?”
“I’m off to see mah preache’.”
“I’m off to see mah preache’. Gotta say mah prayors.”
“Okay. Good luck.”
“God bless ya”, he says before stepping out.
On my way back down two boys and a girl my age walk into the elevator.
“Awè, wa haje doën tè? Tzwin deu de bjèten joahn? Hie zotje hie.”
I’m too tired to react.
All is marble and gold when exiting the subway on East 42nd and Park Ave. I like this. It has started snowing again. Heavily. It sticks to the vast gothic brick facades. The person helping me opening an account at Chase bank is called Bob. I can call him Bob. Bob is from Boston and came to New York City looking for experience in finance. Before starting, he warns me this procedure will take up one hour to one hour and a half, due to counterterrorism provisions in the Patriot Act.
“Knowing that, are you still willing to do this?”
“Alright man. Let’s get you started!”
Halfway through the procedure and the accompanying light conversation, I bring up the subject of books. For instance “Lyla”, Robert Pirsig’s brilliant cross section of American psyche.
Me: “So it basically says that American culture and the American way of dealing with social situations is a mix between European and Native American cultures. Which, now that I see it with my own eyes, makes a lot of sense.”
Bob: “That makes sense. Yeah. Sure.”
It is silent for a while.
Bob: “You know, in college they also made us read books. Three I think. There’s one you might find very interesting. But I can’t remember its name right now.”
Thirty minutes later, the procedure is over. Bob hands me my first American credit card.
“Oh yeah, while I was printing your card I remembered the name of that book.”
“Dude you’re a fag.”
“Read it. It’s really something for you.”
“Do you see that?”
Sara – a friend of friends of friends in my home country – points at pedestrians outside. A white and bearded man with a little dog under his arm is halted by a black man clearing snow from the sidewalks. This is my first night in the magical West Village. We have dinner on the corner of Dutch Street and Christopher Street.
“Can I? The black man just asked if he can touch the other man’s dog. People are crazy about dogs here. Did you notice they wrap blue tape around the dog’s feet to protect them from the snow?”
“Yes, and when they cross the street they carry them over.”
“Exactly. And have you ever heard of debarking?”
“So you haven’t. Insulation in New York City is overall very poor, you must have noticed that. Walls aren’t soundproof, to say the least. Instead of investing in soundproof walls, most people cut the vocal chords of their dogs so they don’t upset the neighbours.”
“You must be joking.”
“It sounds cruel, I know. But most of my colleagues have done it. You wouldn’t believe how much they talk about their dogs. As if they’re talking about their boyfriends. Did you know there’s only one man for every three women in this city? Women get lonely. There’s even a dog-day at work. Once a week. Every week. All the employees take their dogs to work and let them run around and play together on the work floor. Everybody’s cuddling each other’s dogs. There’s no work getting done on those days. It’s absurd.”
“And you should see the dogs: all pussylickers. Because, in the end, that’s what they basically are.”
“Nothing.” I quickly go back to staring through the window. West Village looks like a Tim Burton fairy tale.