Posted tagged ‘Downtown New York’

NYC – Late Seventies

March 12, 2014
Old painting by me (supposed to be Broadway in Thick Snow!)

Old painting/collage by me (supposed to be Broadway in Thick Snow!)

New York City – Late 70s

Dear City, you were just so grey
sometimes, sky more sidewalk, building-paved–
how we loved it, the grit,
standing outside
the Pioneer Market,
up to the neck
with the two towers, pomodoro and fowl
on sale proclaimed the peeling

How great
that anywhere you were,
whatever tiled cavern you climbed out from,
you only need look up
to find out “down”–
downtown where we lived, like the guys
in the Village Voice who hadn’t been above
14th Street sporting beards–

Sleezy Deli to the East, nights, with
its bullet-proof HoHos,
but to the West by day
we could dash into the refracted brass
of the Broken Kilometer, or up a Soho blankfront
to breathe the air of a white room grounded
with the blackest earth–

Of course there was dirt
everywhere, the kind that kvetched in
our pores, even seeped inside the
cupboards as if our dishes too
wanted to wear black–

colanders upturned for star light
on the clothdroop ceilings of Sixth Street India;
“and what else” kippered the Orthodox counterguys
over brined sweetness,
the crash of Chinese opera (we always
thought) at the Lai Gong, some stringed instrument
mimicking struck cat, pork buns 25 cents–

At the bean curd factory on Broome,
the men wore
rubber boots and the guy who retrieved mine
from the blue buckets that smelled
so strongly of soy always smiling eventually
his smooth face lined with creases fine
as a pressed leaf–
when I felt low there was nothing
like that face and the pure
white cakes–

Everyone’s studio worth a visit and time to do it
with the right gig–
men not yet dying
in droves–red lights we could see forever
if we held our heads right–the night never wholly black
except sometimes on a side street
when I tried for my
hands, feet–or when I looked
for your answering gaze–
though when I moved
I could find my swish
sure enough–and sometimes you would
turn back to me–

and we could always just
look up–


A draft poem about New York in the 70’s posted for the wonderful Margaret Bednar’s prompt on With Real Toads–my computer is iffy so will be brief with process notes, but the Broken Kilometer and the Earth Room are two longterm art installations  by Walter De Maria at the Dia Art Foundation in Soho.  The men dying in droves refers to the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic.   The two towers of course the World Trade Center towers, which being at the very Southern tip of the City provided a directional landmark.   (Painting by me, doesn’t quite fit, sorry.  Margaret has some great photos on the prompt.)

PS – I realize after posting that I have misunderstood all prompts!  My brain is going as well as computer.  I am linking this to Kerry O’Connor’s  prompt on flashbacks–I will try for one with genuine present as well .  (I did at least write this in NYC in 2014, so a bit of a flashback, I guess.) 

City, Rain, Bike

December 9, 2012


New York Noise/Excerpt Nose Dive

July 25, 2009

Silence in New York.  Hard to find.  It’s like an animal here, furtive, shy, our native snow leopard.   Barely glimpsed, in this case, heard (or perhaps not heard would be a better way of putting it).

I am lucky enough to find it usually. I live at the bottom of Manhattan where winds require closed windows in the winter and concrete floors hurt joints but make an effective barrier to footsteps, bass beats, gnawing arguments next door, moans through bedroom walls.
But now it’s summer; the windows are  open wide and the constant whoosh of a broad courtyard of air conditioning units sucks silence like a vacuum right down its multiheaded tube. Drives me crazy at night.   In the day time, I can almost ignore, the sight of sun, leaves, windows overwhelms, the low whoosh, but at night, there’s that big vacuum sucking at my consciousness.

I think “car waiting” when I first hear it, but it’s a car that never drives away.  Whoosh is not the right word as that implies movement and these air conditioners do not move on.  But there’s too much airflow for hum,  and  it’s just too level for roar.
And it goes on and on and on. I know I’m hopelessly spoiled. When I lived in the West Village, three a.m. was frequently shattered by wailing arguments and the harsh splats of breaking bottles, slaps,  cries of “I trusted you.” And then of course there was that bass beat, woofers on every side.

Speaking of noise, Greenwich Village and Bass beats, here is an excerpt from a novel I’m about to publish called “Nose Dive.”

Yes, it’s a teen novel, but it’s funny, and I like to flatter myself- Hiassen-esque.

Check it out below.

Also check out my picture book.  1 Mississippi, available on Amazon.

All copyrights preserved.

NOSE DIVE excerpt, copyright Karin Gustafson 2009:

I remembered the night I first brought up the nose job.

“Mom,” I pleaded, “can’t you just focus on me for a minute?”

“Celia,” she protested. “I am focusing on you.”

But what she was actually doing was bending down on all fours, one ear pressed to the floor. She can often be found in this position these days.

“Why do you think I’m trying so hard to get them to turn down that bass?” she went on. “It’s for you.”

The problem is that my mom has become obsessed by noise. This is a big problem. Because, unfortunately, New York is not a particularly quiet city. Even more unfortunate is the fact that we don’t live in a particularly quiet part of New York. We live in the Village, a place with small, echoing, streets that people like to roam at night, often after drinking heavily.

We don’t even live in the quietest part of our building. We live in an apartment that is partly over a pizza parlor, partly over a Lebanese deli, and sort of catty-corner above a bar.

My mom’s obsession began when the bar got a new sound system and, informally, introduced dancing. At approximately the same time, the staff of the Lebanese deli brought in a private boom box, which, when their energy got low—let’s say at 3 in the morning—they’d turn up to brickshaking levels.

My mom went berserk, quickly jumping into full battle mode. “Battle” meant calling the bar and/or the deli several times a night and going down to talk to them in person every other day.

Victory, which took some months to attain, meant (a) the bar soundproofing every spare surface, and (b) the owner of the Lebanese deli, a super nice guy with thick eyebrows and a sweet, sad smile, making his staff get rid of their boom box.

But just as my mother was feeling gleeful, though also a little bit guilty—she gave a huge tip to the deli staff—the pizza parlor turned up the volume.

“It is them!” she cried. “When I called, they said it must be a car, a woofer—” She pushed herself up from the planking. “Who do they think they’re kidding?”

“Mom, it’s not that bad.”

“Can’t you hear that bass?”

“Probably. If I pressed my ear to the floor.”

Actually, that wasn’t true. I could hear the bass even without my ear pressed to the floor. But I didn’t want to encourage her.
“Let’s just go in the living room,” I pleaded.

“How are you ever going to get to sleep with all that racket?”

“Mom, it’s only 8:30.”

“Come downstairs with me.”

“I really don’t want to stand there while you complain.”

“I’m not going to complain. I just want to take a listen. You can pick up a slice.”

“I don’t like their slices. And I’ve got work to do. And I really really really need to talk to you.”

“Please, Celia.”

I got my jacket. But as we stepped down into the street and she positioned her ear on the glass store front right next to the words “Sal’s Pizza”—

“I’m going back upstairs.”

“Celia, please. They may recognize my voice.”

“You mean they may think you’re that nutty woman upstairs?”

“Stay positive.”

We pushed into the vinegary smell of warmed-over bread—no wonder the slices weren’t great—and yes, music.

Which wasn’t all that loud.

The bass was a little insistent—the melody barely peeked over the drum beat. But it definitely wasn’t deafening.

My mother’s eyes, confused, searched the counter, the walls, the oven—

The pizza guy nodded, waiting for our order.

I went to the refrigerator case, got two bottles of water, took them to the counter.

“Aha!” my mom nudged, staring pointedly upwards. A small boom box was jammed onto a teeny shelf right above the soda machines, about two inches from the ceiling—

I paid the pizza guy, then dragged my still upturned mom to one of the small wooden tables.

“It’s not the volume; it’s where they’ve got it sitting,” she whispered. “Celia, I know. Ask him to move it down.”

“I can’t buy two waters, and ask him to move the boom box. Besides, they’ve got all the pizzas down there.”

“So ask him to turn down the bass.”

“You ask him.”

“Please Ceel. They already think I’m a nut case—”

“You are a nut case—”


I wished (and not for the first time) that I was my sister. Maddy was the kind of person who would either (a) just tell the guy to turn down the bass, because she truly believed that my mother’s rights, as the upstairs residential tenant, were being infringed upon, or (b) just tell my mom to shove it because she truly believed that the guy had every right in the world to listen to slightly loud music before 10 p.m. on weekdays. Either way, Maddy wouldn’t just sit there, feeling like an idiot; she’d have a position.
But I wasn’t Maddy, and, at that point, I still hoped to get my mom’s help with my nose. I stepped back to the counter.

“Would you mind…uh…turning down the bass?” I pointed up to the boom box. “My mom’s a little, you know, funny—” I circled my finger at the side of my head, the universal gesture for looniness.

Then felt a sudden swish of sound and air. Uh-oh.

When I turned towards the door, I expected not to see anything except the far side of my mom’s back. Instead, there was windswept blonde hair. A chiseled nose. Grey-flecked seriously profound eyes that, thankfully, were not looking at me at just that moment.

My cheeks heated up like a slice about to be served. I quickly turned back to the counter.

The pizza guy had propped a chair next to the soda machine. He stood on it reaching up to the boombox. “What you want?” he asked, looking down at me.

What I wanted was to sink into the smudged floor tiles.

“Lower?” the guy asked as the music dropped to a whisper.

“It’s just the bass she wants lower.”

“What you say?”

I refused to allow myself to look in Brad’s direction. Still I could feel him, now to my left. At the refrigerator case.

“The bass,” I tried again.

The pizza guy stared at me quizzically.

Praying that Brad was too involved in the refrigerator to pay attention, “the BASS,” I repeated, voice deepening.

The music swung between whoosh and whisper as the pizza guy fiddled with the boombox. In the meantime, I watched Brad out of a corner of my hair.

He didn’t have his girl moat. Which meant I could actually talk to him, say hi, or hey, or Brad! I could remind him that he knew me from math.

He was taking out a beer now.

A beer?

I gently shook my hair to get a better view. Suddenly the green bottle, which I thought I’d just seen at his fingertips, was no longer visible; I could have sworn it went under his jacket.

“There’s no bass control?” my mom asked, coming up to the counter.

“There just this one button.” The pizza guy turned the volume control back and forth again with one large flour-dusted hand.

Cold air swept the space behind me. I knew, without looking, that Brad was gone.

The music was barely audible now. The pizza guy, holding the soda machine for balance, stepped down from the chair. His face was red from the heat of the oven. I realized that he’d been standing about two inches below and to the side of my bed upstairs. No wonder that part of my floor was also always warm.

“Thank you so much,” my mom gushed.

But the pizza guy just stared at her, wiping his hands on his apron, then turned and went back to the kitchen.

Her face turned almost as pink as his had been. “Oh I feel awful,” she moaned. “Am I absolutely terrible?”

I couldn’t answer her. All I could think of was that Brad had stolen a beer while we were distracting the pizza guy.

I tried to tell myself that I must be wrong, that I really hadn’t been watching him.

And anyway, maybe he had some kind of arrangement with the place. You know, because he was a minor and they weren’t allowed to sell him beer.

So he stole it?

Come on Celia, I told myself. This is Brad, you’re talking about.

But I didn’t actually know what that meant.

As we trudged upstairs, my mom’s voice vacillated between triumph and guilt while I tried to not think about Brad.

That’s not exactly accurate. I tried to not think about Brad’s fingertips clasping the beer. What I tried to think about was his beautiful tanned face, his announcement that he was in charge of the spring musical, and my certainty that he was going to have a lot to do with the casting.
“So now can we talk?” I asked.

copyright Karin Gustafson 2009