The other night I did my friend Joyce a favor and traveled down most of Manhattan from my home on 152nd Street to Wooster and Broome to take down the garbage for her elderly parents. Joyce was working in upstate New York and couldn’t do it, so I volunteered to do it.
Her parents have been living in this loft in Soho for many, many years; they are part of the original wave of artists who pioneered loft living in the city.
I had a friend who lived in a loft on Greene Street in the 1980s, and I remember there was nothing there at night.
I myself lived briefly in a loft in Williamsburg in the early ‘80s, I’m going to have to write a whole other blog post about being a loft pioneer, but I only mention it because part of loft living was where do you put out the garbage?
Lofts were commercial spaces, and as such did not get a city sanitation department pick up. So if you lived in a loft, you either had to get a contract with a commercial garbage hauler or sneak around throwing your garbage in city trash cans. Or find a residential building close to you and put your trash with theirs. I got a ticket for doing the former once in Williamsburg, and that wasn’t too long ago.
After I took the long train ride down to Broadway-Lafayette Street from Hamilton Heights I walked down Mercer Street to Spring, then across to Wooster to go south. I’d forgotten their cross street, but I knew the building and would find it as long as I walked south on Wooster.
I passed all the fancy Soho stores, Agent Provocateur, Ralph Lauren, Barbour, stores I’ve never even heard of and couldn’t afford to shop at anyway. I was amazed at the bright sparking quality of the new Soho as compared to the Soho of years ago when you actually weren’t supposed to be living there.
My neighborhood, by contrast is filled with dingy bodegas and decades-old Spanish restaurants serving mofongo or cuchifritos. There is a C-Town I Broadway I went into once and I don’t think I’ll ever visit again. But it is pretty up here, and the architecture is amazingly beautiful.
We live a block from the Trinity Church Cemetery. Ed Koch is buried there and the other day I went to visit him, ask him how he was doing.
Here’s the pic:
There are trees and leaves everywhere, and I like that, the feeling of green.
But I also like the feeling of opulence, and walking down the streets of today’s Soho is an exercise in opulence. I can’t have it, but I can at least look at it.
When I got to Sal’s home, (Sal is Joyce’s Italian dad) I rang the bell and he came down to get me on the elevator you need a key to run. It’s one of those old fashioned things with the brass accordion gate and Sal took us up to their floor.
“I just made some pasta, you want some?” He asked. I begged off, knowing I was meeting friends in Chinatown right after. I did use the bathroom; it’s a long ten-mile ride on the subway down from Harlem. After using the John and saying hi to Joyce’s mom I was ready to perform my task. Sal led me to the area in front of the elevator where all the recycling and trash was piled up. There was a large metal filing cabinet that looked like it weighed 100 pounds.
“Is that going too?” I asked Sal.
“Oh, no, just these bags here,” he said indicating one black trash bag and a couple of white ones with either paper or glass and plastic, and a few boxes.
We propped the door open and I started loading. We went down to the street level and Sal almost got knocked over by the spring-loaded accordion door. I can imagine what might have happened if I were not there and he were trying to do this alone.
I took it all out placed it on the curb where Sal told me to, shook his hand and went on to Chinatown to meet my friends.
Now I was in another Manhattan neighborhood with it’s own quirky flavor. When I was a kid Chinatown started on Canal Street, but now it’s spread its tendrils into Little Italy, Soho, and The Lower East Side.
I got to Centre Street and turned downtown and saw a place called The Red Egg. The sign fascinated me, both the painting of the girl holding the egg at the top of this post and the neon one below that was in the window. Across the street from the Red Egg was a different kind of Chinese restaurant, a giant buffet-style place with big plate glass windows that let you look into the brightly lit tables crowded with neighborhood regulars having a cheap dinner. A lot of Chinese immigrants that work and live in Chinatown live in places they can’t really cook, so these buffets are a lifesaver for them.
That’s what I love about living in the city, the wide variety of people, cultures, and things to see. When I lived in Williamsburg the daily train ride over the bridge on the J or M train reminded me of the beauty and vibrancy of my hometown, but being down on the ground in three different parts of the island in the space of an hour is a pretty good reminder too. And I could always hop on a Brooklyn bound J train and have a look form above if I want to, can’t I?