Last week Joe was in front of our building with the dog, under an awning away from the sun. A homeless guy approached him, wearing clean clothes and a hospital wrist band, as if recently discharged. "I'm done," the guy said. "I've had it and I'm gonna kill someone. I want to go out with a bang." Joe stayed steady, his usual demeanor, though he went on alert. Was this guy going to try to kill him? Joe let the guy vent, he listened, and after a queasy ten minutes the guy walked off. Who knows if the guy stayed calm because Joe acknowledged him as a human being, or if he had other plans. All I cared about when I heard this was that the guy walked away.
The next two days we kept our eyes out and Joe did all the night and early morning walks. This is Soho so it's a constant stream of people, but Joe didn't see him and I didn't see anyone that fit his description. On the afternoon of the third day I was on our block with Ginger when a motorcycle took the corner, broadsided a SUV, and kept going. A bunch of people yelled after him - he caused damage - and I, not being steady like Joe, joined the group who yelled. Ten minutes later I was alone on the block and his motorcycle parked near me. He got off his bike - he was a big fella - and he slowly stalked toward me, carrying his helmet like a weapon. Now it was my turn to die. He was pissed and looked loaded, a dangerous combo, so I put a very concerned look on my face and asked if he was hurt from slamming into the car. All the air went out of him as his fury diffused, and though he eyed me distrustfully he started mumbling about coming back to leave a note. He approached a white van and glanced at me to see if I was watching, and I calmly pointed at a different SUV, the one he actually hit. He looked at the car, then sat on his motorcyle and stared off. I ambled out of their with Ginger.
Yesterday Joe and I were out for a very early morning walk with the dog and as we approached our neighborhood a very large man in a red shirt staggered toward us. "Let your pitbull bite me, c'mon, do it!" We both thought he was joking since we get that a lot then people bend down and hug her. This guy menacingly came at her and Joe walked her out of his radius and we continued on our walk. I was shaken but also felt relieved. Things happen in threes and that was our third run-in.
Our neighborhood has been changing for a while. A lot of homeless people sleep in the park nearby, on the school stairs, on the wide steel ledges in front of old cast iron loft buildings. Most of the homeless I see are gentle, beaten down, trying to get through the day. Some could be institutionalized for sure, but the rage on the street is something I haven't seen in many years. What's different today is our neighborhood isn't sliding down -- it's blowing up. Literally; buildings are coming down fast and a whole new skyline is going up.
Because of that skyline, the way light moves through my apartment is changing. On almost every block there's construction for new condos, co-ops, or gut building renovations. They advertise 'Home as it should be' and start around ten million dollars. Five million is cheap down here. Twenty-five million isn't unheard of. Out of town buyers are rampant, which means owners don't live here. In turn commercial rents are rocketing and the neighborhood infrastructure of laundromats, delis, hardware stores, basic goods, our hospital, are gone or nearly gone. They've been replaced by high-end restaurants, boutique hotels, tea shops, French bakeries.
The changes in the last year have been startling. Many of my regular spots have closed, spots in my landscape that made this city home. Joe's Dairy, Pearl Paint, the gas station and car wash on the corner, Sullivan Street Bakery, Cody's, OK Harris gallery and Loehmann's are just a few. A couple years back my lunch spot, Jerry's, moved ten blocks south, but closed this year when it couldn't survive the move. At night it's gotten loud with partiers screaming on the street at 4 a.m. Living here I'd hear hear tunnel traffic, but never people. Now there's noise day and night from construction cranes, pile drivers, jackhammers, clubbers, angry drivers who are angrier than they were a year ago, hotel doormen blowing whistles to hail cabs for guests. There's a constant hum now. Sleeping has gotten fractured.
I was out recently and ran into a DJ who's been around for 20 years. We were talking about how New York has changed and he commented that his New York doesn't exist anymore. I'm feeling this way, too. Everything changes, change is constant, but what's happening here -- maybe even in the world -- feels fundamental. Even culturally it's gone beige and corporate. In New York City! It's as if the most basic givens are no longer.