Crime Writing

Episodes in the Literary Life 2: Get Me to Fucking Manhattan

(This continues my series of autobiographical vignettes, intended to demonstrate the neuroses, ambition, talent, chance, mischance, place, and alcohol that go toward the creation of a writer. The tales may be instructive or proscriptive. This one, at least, is mainly about the alcohol part.)

I quit drinking the day after I turned 27. On my birthday, my girlfriend threw me a surprise drinking party. I certainly surprised her. I ruined our relationship with my behavior and nearly fell off the roof of a twelve-story apartment block on New York’s Upper West Side. Still I remain amazed that I waited so long to hang up my beer mug.

After all, in the preceding few months I had blacked out on the Subway a number of times late at night and come around in what can only be described as some of the nastiest neighborhoods in the city.

The first blackout was disconcerting. I was on my way home from Greenwich Village. I nodded out on the A-Train and found myself at the end of the line, at Manhattan’s northernmost tip, way above Harlem. I checked my pockets, wondering how I had slept through 200 city blocks after midnight without being robbed. I immediately traversed the station and made my way to the Downtown platform, wondering when one of the African-Americans (for all the other passengers in the station appeared to be of that ethnicity) was going to jump me.

When the train eventually got rolling, I found myself seated across the aisle from the only other white guy on the train. He, too, had reached Washington Heights because he was too drunk to find his stop. Unfortunately he wasn’t sobering up nearly as fast as me.

Swaying with the train, he engaged me in slurred conversation about the former mayor, David Dinkins, who he described repeatedly as “a Jew nigger.” I made a tactical error, when I demonstratively attempted to correct him by saying that Dinkins was not a Jew. “Or….the other thing, either,” I added, with haste.

The drunk became irascible on the issue, then fell asleep.

As did I the following weekend on the 2-Train. I awoke at 110th Street Station in Harlem. But I didn’t know it.

This time, you see, I was so drunk that not even fear of a mugging could sober me up. In fact, I was like the fighting drunk who aggressively seeks out the very fists against which he could have no possible defense.

I stormed up to the token booth (probably I weaved on shaky legs, but I felt as though I was storming) and handed over the pittance that was then required to ride the Subway. I inquired of the African-American token clerk which platform would take me back to Manhattan. You see, I assumed I had slept right to the end of the line once more. All the way to the Bronx.

“You in Manhattan, man,” he replied.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I raged, impatient to be in my bed, where I wouldn’t be able to fall over. “I want to get out of the Bronx. Which way is Manhattan?”

“You in Manhattan,” he said, with some exasperation.

“I want to get to fucking Manhattan. Get me to fucking Manhattan.”

The clerk shook his head and gestured for the stairs leading to the Downtown line. He had evidently translated my drunken rant as “Get me to where the white people are.”

Surprisingly, once more I was subject to no violence or rapine. In fact, I feel a lot more threat on the streets of my hometown in Wales on a Saturday night than I ever did in the so-called slums of New York. Moreover these incidents convinced me that the nastiest people in New York all congregate downtown and earn millions of dollars a year. But that’s for another episode…

(By the way, Robert Burton wrote that “Diogenes struck the father when the son swore.” So if anyone doesn’t like the use of the f-word in this post, I suggest you get in touch with David Rees of Newport, Monmouthshire. He’s on fucking Facebook.)

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