Monday, August 20, 2012

Don't You F*** with New York!

I find it hard to believe that it's been a solid year since I was in New York City, a trip so magnificent that it seeped into my bone marrow. Not a day goes by that I don't think about New York and at times, I can't help regret that I didn't reside there in my lifetime. But reality is not exactly my specialty. for one thing, I was on vacation and certainly in a different frame of mind. For another, I'm at the age where it's not exactly feasible. When I had youth on my side, New York was still a helluva town, but also a helluva lot different. My first trip to the Big Apple scared the living shit out of me. Talk about your mean streets...

In honor of last year's redemption vacation, here's a piece from IN THE DARK, a little slice of biographical history from me to you, here is the New York Cherney Journey v.1 


There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This isn’t one of them.

Like many people, I always had a fascination with that town that is so great they named it twice-New York, New York. With its legendary status in modern times, it became necessary for me to experience this place that many believe to be not only the greatest city in the world, but perhaps even the center of the universe. Therefore, at the adventurous, youthful age of twenty years old, I followed through on this wanderlust and made plans to take a trip across the United States of America with a final destination point of New York City.

Being a young man of so very few means in the world, my choice of transportation was, once again, my old friend, the Greyhound bus. I purchased a 30-day all access excursion fare called the Ameripass after saving every shekel I could for the trip. By August, the world was my oyster as I boarded the Silver Dog on Wheels and headed for the Apple they call Big. Weeks later, after several adventures of an R rated nature later, there it was it all of its glory…New York City, the Final Frontier. When I got my first gander at the awesome skyline of the city, it occurred to me that I had one little problem. Once I set foot in Manhattan, I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do.

In the Port Authority Bus Depot, I stored my luggage in a locker and got ready to venture out into the wilderness beyond. A decision had to be made. Which way, Jose? I spied a sign stating that the subway was just downstairs. As I descended the steps, it became crystal clear that if I got onto a train-any train-could I really make it back? Stymied by my lack of preparation, another sign caught my eye-an arrow pointing upstairs to 42nd Street.

42nd Street? Where I could hear the beat of dancing feet? The avenue I am taking you to? Finally! A decision had been reached! Without a moment’s hesitation, I breathlessly climbed the stairs in anticipation of the things that dreams are made of only to be greeted with…

What the hell was this?

This, my friends, was pre-Guiliani Manhattan.

As far as the eye could see were adult bookstores, pawn shops, porno theaters, strip clubs, gift shops with signs that read, “WE LOST OUR LEASE! GOING OUT OF BUSINESS TONIGHT!” (Of course they’d always reopen the next morning. One could only assume they found their lease.) Then the people...hookers, pimps, junkies, drunks, crazies, lowlifes…hey! This all looked very familiar to me. This was Market Street in San Francisco…to the nth degree! Where the hell is Ruby Keeler? Oh, there she is turning tricks in the back of Travis Bickle’s cab.

Here I was, twenty years old and I might as well been wearing a diaper. I was no bigger than a cotton swab as it was but somehow I felt the size of a flea as I wandered wide-eyed down to the corner of Sodom and Gomorrah. Up ahead, there was a refrigerator with a head on it heading my way. He looked as though he would crush me in his path and, by the expression on his face, that is exactly what he intended to do. Thinking fast, I turned the corner and…

Everything went quiet. Had I just stepped into an air pocket? The hustle and bustle of 42nd was suddenly muffled and all was very weirdly calm. A handful of pedestrians occupied the sidewalks compared to the flotsam and jetsam that I had just swam away from. I was thankful for the apparent sanctuary I had just discovered. Halfway down the block was a poster for A Chorus Line, the biggest Broadway show at that time. Wait a second… Broadway? Nah, it couldn’t be that close…could it? Treading lightly, almost warily down the street…oh, my sweet Lord…

Times Square! I found Times Square! Way to go, Magellan!

I stood transfixed, soaking it all in. I felt as though I was in one of those 360-degree camera shots in a Brian DePalma movie. Never had I ever been so overwhelmed in my entire life by the sheer majesty of it all. I turned to face the Winston cigarette billboard. A smoke ring the size of a hula-hoop blew out from this now-dead giant smoker’s mouth, welcoming me to the city. Holy smoke indeed.

Once I gained my composure, a time worn cliché became a very stark reality. It wasn’t the heat all along. It WAS the humidity. Holy crap! Sweat was gushing out of every pore on my body. According to my astute calculations, the calendar read August, hence the goddamn heat wave. Since I was beginning to cook in my own juices, I thought it might behoove me to find something perhaps a bit cooler. I entered another of my natural habitats-a bookstore. Immediately, every open pore on my body froze over by the most incredible air conditioning system I’d ever encountered. I didn’t last two minutes before stepping outside again to thaw out, which happened instantaneously.

What the hell was I going to do? I couldn’t keep that up all day. Wandering around aimlessly, I finally stopped next to the statue of George M. Cohan to figure out my next move. All I had to do was look across the street for the answer for there stood the DeMille Theater, a legendary Times Square establishment that was currently showing Norman Jewison’s Rollerball. With my mind made up. I gave my regards to Mr. Cohan with a quick salute and set off in the direction of the theater.

To my pleasant surprise, I discovered that the next showing of Rollerball was just about to start. I paid my admission and took my place in a sparse audience, a good location far enough away from everyone to be able to relax and enjoy the show.

After the lights lowered, the first thing on the screen was a NO SMOKING spot. As if on cue, whoever had ‘em, smoked ‘em because they all fired up at the same time. Not wanting to be left out, I joined right in. Something about this blatant defiance of authority really appealed to me. For some reason, I found it rather comforting. It allowed me to loosen up and just sit back to enjoy the show.

Rollerball was only okay as I recall. Norman Jewison certainly directed better pictures in his career as this seemed like it was all paint-by-the-numbers. One of the few things that stand out for me is John Houseman referring to John Beck as “Mooooon-pie”. However, what became memorable about Rollerball had less to do with the film itself and all about location, location, location.

Near the halfway point of the movie, there is a post-game celebration when a Rollerball coach stirs his team up with a pep talk. “We’re going on to Chicago and we’re going to beat Chicago,” he tells them. “Then we’re going on to New York and we’re going to beat New York!”

A tough yet proud voice from the back of the theater exclaimed, “Don’t you FUCK with New York!”

I smiled at this. Damn right. I’m with you. We watch a movie together. We smoke together. Damn it, I’m a New Yorker now. Don’t you FUCK with New York.

Then, at the end of the movie, James Caan as Jonathan is the only Rollerball player left standing after an ultra-violent game that has left bloodied bodies strewn around the track. He holds the ball in his hand but refuses to make the final score. All is very silent in both the arena and the theater. That same voice, the one I had admired so greatly several minutes before, spoke up once again. This time, he didn’t sound so angry, but no less serious.

“Hey! I’ve got a good idea! Why don’t all the black people in the audience go down and kill all the white people in the audience?”

My inner voice said, “Whuh…?”

Near the front few rows below me, someone agreed with my friend in the back by seconding him.

“Right on!” came the retort.

I couldn’t move. I didn’t move. I could only stare at James Caan rolling around that stupid track as the onscreen crowd began to chant, “Jonathan! Jonathan! Jonathan!” Jonathan my ass! I thought. What about me? Oh, my brothers. Things did not look good for your humble narrator. My bug eyes were darting back and forth to see if there was any movement at all in my general direction. I tried to listen for any sounds about me, but all I could hear was, “Jonathan! Jonathan!” Fuck Jonathan! I’m in danger here! He’s got a metal ball in his hand. I ain’t got shit! I held my breath and began to act without really thinking about it. Slowly shrinking in my seat as though I were melting, I slithered out of my seat ever so gently with all the cunning of a ninja. No sudden moves now. The chant grew louder and louder. “Jonathan! Jonathan! Jonathan!” Freeze frame on Jonathan. I chose that moment to duck out of the auditorium to the safety of the lobby. I exited out the doors of the DeMille in seconds flat. I had no desire to catch the end credits, then or ever.

After spending a whopping eight whole hours in the city, I was back aboard a Greyhound bus westward bound with my tail between my legs. I admit it. I got skeered. There wasn’t any massacre of white people at the DeMille Theater that day nor was there ever going to be. Chalk it up to Stupid White Boy Paranoia. Or you could call it a little lesson in humility for a dumb little hick from California from some teachers who weren’t even aware there had been a class that afternoon. They were just being themselves and I couldn’t handle it. The bottom line was that I felt that a big bully had picked on me and I wanted to go home.

Wah.

This vacation of mine, one of many over the years that I’ve referred to as a “Cherney Journey”, must seem to have been nothing but a series of missed opportunities. Au contraire. Leave us not misrepresent ourselves here. I did everything I set out to do. No regrets about this have I. This was a true Cherney Journey, one of self-discovery, enlightenment and a pretty damn fair amount of whoop-ti-do. And, on top of everything else, at least I can always say that I’ve been to New York City.

What did I do while I was there?

I went to a movie.


IN THE DARK: A LIFE AND TIMES IN A MOVIE THEATER (SPECIAL EDITION) is available on Amazon Kindle
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