Pt. 2 (Piano Intro)
Toni-MariE Gallardo & ADAM LACANILAO
I had just moved to Alphabet City from my friend’s futon in Harlem with only two suitcases of shit. The day I moved out, I said bye to the guys who spent nights listening to music on the stoop outside the barber shop with their kids and bought my last pack of saliditos from the market next to Comida Mexicana, the only place I knew in Manhattan where the people spoke Spanish the way my grandma does. I would come to miss this version of New York. In the Uber on the way downtown, I passed the then-under-construction Whole Foods on 125th street. “Coming Soon!” Now I wonder about my own complicity.
But at the time what I knew was that for my last month in the city I wanted to live as “New York” as possible. I was squatting in my friend’s place, living check to check, making art – and complaining about it all in the same few bars, always feeling like there was more the city had to offer but never feeling like waiting for the fucking F train. So like clockwork, we started our week at Goodnight Sonny's and by Friday moved down a few blocks to Elvis Guesthouse, repping the somehow both grunge and bougie atmosphere which only it can pull off, where you see either everyone or no one when you finally get in. On a good night, you can get a quick Instagram with the flower wall and dance for a few hours before you start to realize that they’ve been playing the same beat for three songs, and is white dude really twerking? Walking home, I would think about how tired I am of feeling like I don't belong here. Saturday morning, I’d wake up and write about it on the fire escape. I knew it couldn’t last, but it was exactly the New York I always wanted.
Last week, my ex-girlfriend texted me to tell me Elvis’ Guesthouse closed down.
“It was the staple of our summer.”
It was in a poetry class about three years ago where I learned that New York City was divided into these things called boroughs. My professor, a middle-aged white male with a soul patch, excitedly explained the origins of the Harlem Renaissance to a class whose darkest member was me, a NBPOC (a non-black person of color). It was the Langston Hughes section of the syllabus. “Now for those of you who’ve never been, New York is split into five boroughs, or municipalities...” I had never heard that term before; prior to learning about Hughes, New York existed only as a collection of ideas brought to me in part by Spike Lee, Jay-Z, and my grandma’s VHS cassette tape of Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx.
I don’t really know what to expect besides more white men explaining to me the importance of their landmarks – I’m mostly just excited to walk. It’s almost passe to talk about the traffic where I’m from because LA Traffic has its own pilot it’s shipping around to different studios and is more successful than you and like honestly doesn’t have time for your bullshit. Sitting alone in your car in a five-lane highway with three lanes shut down due to construction that’s scheduled to last the next four years forces you to think: to consider things such as Future’s redemption or super fun existential problems like which of your two Instagram accounts you should post on today and the duality of the true self vs. a marketable online identity. Heidegger’s Being and Time vs. Silicon Valley. People also just text.
I’m so excited to feel these same things while walking at a New York pace! Which I assume is similar to that of the passive aggressive yoga mom in a Prius on Cahuenga cursing at Korean people on the crosswalk. She’s probably in love with me. Anyway, like that but surrounded by gingham button-downs and Clarks? Like my liberal arts college but all the diversity-scholarship students live in Queens or the Bronx. I’ve never been to New York before and I’ll be staying in Manhattan.
White spaces are so much fun because they’re everywhere and when you’ve made peace with the fact that you might not belong anywhere, you turn your body into a home, and despite probably having the lowest-rated insurance policy, they can’t remodel you into a Soul Cycle. But open mics are fun too and I think I’m going to Greenwich Village fingers crossed!
I want the ATM at the Duane Reed to charge me for more than the original amount I was hoping to withdraw. I want to purchase a hookah in a Bodega. I’d like to see Knicks fans in person and talk about Melo’s alleged affair you guys! I want to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge in the middle of the night and listen to stories of subway stops and fire-escape adolescence. I want to send my mother a picture of me under The Arch at Washington Square Park and know for sure which account I’ll post it to. I’ll imagine Radio Raheem and Mookie in front of the brownstone in Brooklyn instead of seeing that same yoga mom in her Prius magically materialized, contentious as ever. I want to walk through the municipalities of New York with a soul patch and get caught in a congestion of silent bodies and glance up to see someone who looks just like me. I want him to cut across me walking the opposite direction, the other walkers groaning, raise his hand and look back at me, and I’d respond in the same way I would anywhere else in the world, but I’m not sure what that would look like yet. Did I mention where I was from?
I try to picture you and I bar hopping in the Lower East Side, showing you what, who, where my life had been for the last three years. When people ask about New York, I give the usual textbook answers I’ve learned in order to avoid the complex questions that New York left me with: “Fast paced, good pizza, Seinfeld! Hey, I’m walking here!” Most laugh in acceptance, securing the New York of their minds. But now, bringing you to the landmarks of my early twenties is manifesting as anxious Yelp-searching. Where else can I possibly take you besides Elvis’ Guesthouse to immerse you in what it felt like to be a brown west coast kid, praying for a DJ who knew YG, or at least more hip hop than the Drake album released last summer? I wanted you to meet my memories exactly the way I had – a New York that was relentlessly elusive and contradictory, a New York that wasn’t always good, but it wasn’t fucking bad either.
The New York I knew was like this –