All my friends were gone and I had to get to Brooklyn. This much I knew. By the time I had parted lips with whoever she was, the room had all but cleared out. I was alone, totally and completely, in a strange and foreign city.
Well, this will be interesting, I thought as I left the bar. Let us survey our location. E. 7th, Alphabet City, Lower Eastside, Manhattan, New York, New York. My destination: Bushwick, Brooklyn.
I thumbed for a cab and realized after 10 minutes I'd have an easier time finding an elephant in an eggshell. I lowered my defeated thumb and trekked in what I assumed was the direction of Brooklyn.
"Excuse me, where can I find the J Train?" I asked a suitcase-wheeling brunette walking toward me, who acknowledged my existence only by stepping around me. I repeated the question to the bearded fellow behind her, who pointed in the direction he was headed and curtly announced, "That way."
No, no, that can't be, I thought, Brooklyn is this way. I thanked this New Yorker anyway and carried eastward.
Houston Street was a monstrous neon bowel movement. Freaks and goons of all varieties were spilling out of bars, onto sidewalks, into brick walls and chain link fences. Eye contact was to be avoided: the wildlings had taken over. Taxis herded along the avenue like a single speeding yellow worm while pedestrians hailed unsuccessfully.
Someone was yelling from way behind me. A mastodon of a man in a red bomber jacket steamrolling down the sidewalk. He was angry, aggression incarnate, in fact, and completely off kilter: berating pedestrians, berating the bus stop, berating himself.
And he was coming up fast. I knew he'd smell my fear if he found me. He'd remove my arm and use it as a flaying stick for unsuspecting passersby. I stepped to the curb and hailed at the yellow worm, noticing too late two young men doing the same. An empty cab sailed past them and pulled up to me.
"Where you going?" the cabbie asked. I stepped off the curb. "Bushwick." He sped away without a word, returning to the worm. I turned and was confronted by two young men —those taxi hailers, in fact, whom I'd noticed too late. They leered down at me from atop the curb with the vacant, bulging eyes of cocaine enthusiasts. Two puffy faces, glistening with sweat.
"That was our cab," one said.
"I'm sorry. I didn't know."
He turned to his friend. "What did he say?" "I'll fucking drop you!" said the other.
"I-I'm sorry. I don't want any trouble here," I said. I offered them each a cigarette as a peace offering, which they took. I stepped around them while they muttered obscenities.
Weird town. But I understood this was par for the course. New York had charmed me in past but it was more than I could bear at this early morning hour.
I leaned against a storefront and wondered if I would make it back before dawn. Would Manhattan pull me into one of its many fabled alleys? Would the authorities find my bones picked clean beside a dumpster in the Meat Packing District? Would they even care?
No. I doubted that they would. I was lost. Terribly, irrevocably lost. I should have taken the bearded man's advice. Heed this, I thought, always take the bearded man's advice.
I looked up then and noticed a monstrous billboard, truly impressive in size, with David Hasslehoff's smiling face beaming down upon the realm below. It was an ad for toothpaste or something. I don't actually know what it was for. It didn't matter. All that mattered was that smile, that beacon of bleached white teeth expressing far more than the advertisers probably intended. He was beardless, yes, but still he said, Everything will be OK —with or without this toothpaste.
I laughed then. I laughed at the absurdity of a 25-foot disembodied Hasselhoff head hovering so blessedly above a scene as anarchic as the one down below. If such a thing exists, I thought, everything must be right with the world. Everything will be OK.
And when I finally stepped off the J train at Bushwick two hours later, I was still inflated by the wisdom invested in me by that jumbo floating head. The whole neighbourhood could use a face-lift, or a power washing at the very least, but in that moment there was nowhere else I would rather have been. I was — kind of, sort of — home.
I walked toward the apartment when a mob exploded from the doorway of a Jamaican club a short way down the road. Two women were clawing at each other's faces. "Fight, bitch! Fight it out!" someone yelled above all the hollering as one flipped the other over her shoulder, rammed her head into the door of a parked car and pounced, raining fists.
Two men came running up behind me, laughing. "I wouldn't go over there, man," one of them said to me, "the cops be coming!" "Christ! I just want to get home," I complained, gesturing to the end of the road. "I'm from Vancouver, man. I'm not used to this."
"Yeah?" the other one said. "Well, welcome to Brooklyn.