27 April 2009

It may have been a mirage, but I'm pretty sure it was a...

About a month ago on vacation I read Lawrence Block's A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES, a detective novel in which a P.I. investigates the death of an attractive young woman and finds she may be just the latest in a series of grisly killings. The book is set in New York City, and while most of its locales were remote enough from me that I didn't actually feel any fear, there was one -- a stretch of Park Avenue South which a near-victim describes as the place where she was plying her trade as a sex worker when she was abducted.

As it happens, I do some business at a widget factory* nearby and can occasionally be found making widgets late into the night.** I always thought of the neighborhood as pretty good -- its branch gym is freaking spectacular compared to mine -- so it surprised me that this kind of trade would be going on there, even late at night.

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES was published in 1992 so I took its gritty details to be a remnant of the pre-Giuliani era, a time in which I never lived in New York but keep hearing about as either the best or the worst of times. Besides, the only people I usually saw out after a day of industrious widgetry were workers from the 28th Street Duane Reade taking smoke breaks and clumps of tourists who had taken a wrong turn from Union Square... until early this morning.

I would like to give Ms. 3:15AM the benefit of the doubt -- after all, I was out there too, albeit dressed more like the hipster grifter*** than in shorts and fishnets -- but what struck me as odd was that she didn't seem to be going anywhere. There's pleasant loitering, such as I was doing earlier that afternoon on Amsterdam Avenue in the sunshine, and then there's a deserted street just begging to be crossed. She lit up a cigarette and sank down to the sidewalk looking more bored than anything, while I was so tired I found myself putting the word "cab" into this little ditty (0:57 if you're in a rush). Cabs were scarce that night, so I could overlook her pacing east from Park and back again, but when I finally found one she didn't even attempt to beat me to it.

It was a glimpse into a different New York -- or a sign that I really should try getting more sleep.

*much more colorful than the truth
**behind two levels of security, Mom
***if you haven't heard of this story yet, perhaps don't read New York-centric media, you are simply missing out. As a correspondent put it, "Never, ever start a relationship with a tattoo as stupid as 'I love beards.'"

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