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Rick Monaco

Depression is a flaw in chemistry, not character. So claims a huge sign, painted high on the side of a brick building at 72nd and Amsterdam. And it's a good thing too, or there'd be no drug money to keep it up there. It's a nice fantasy, that someone might post this sentiment just to cheer the downhearted, but this is New York City and nothing flies without cash, beauty or balls. I've been here eight months, but it took only a few days to realize this.

I sense my character dipping a bit on Saturday night. I should be thankful, having managed my way into an actual dinner party, after only a week in my current sublet on the Upper West Side. I still don't really know anyone in New York, but when the occasional invitation is extended I don't turn it down. She's from Belgium, the one I'm talking to, a European transplant with two female roommates. This is the stuff videos are made of. Her English is a bit broken, and this along with the leather skirt works for me. I don't mind a woman who begins most sentences with "um, how you say.." It takes the pressure off coming up with new conversation.

This flirty translation game works out reasonably well for an hour or so, until my competition shows up. He's a tall albino and Julliard actor who more than makes up for his lack of pigmentation with a scintillating string of bullshit. Albinos are big these days, or so I've gathered from reading The Davinci Code and seeing Cold Mountain. They're popular culture's new ice-cool villains, and this one's jacking any potential I had for not walking home alone. How can I keep up with this? He's all over the place with his love for bluegrass guitar, politics, and chocolate from her homeland. I don't think she's following much of it, but after three vodka-raspberries seems content to watch his bleached eyebrows arch and rest, lending expression to a passionate, pink face.


And so it is I'm alone again, but with a short walk home from West 83rd to my apartment. It's a good thing too, as winter has yet to pull its teeth back in. This one's been particularly harsh from what I've gathered, but it's hard to tell, coming from California. I flip up the collar on my long coat, picturing myself like Neil Young on the cover of After the Goldrush, but probably more resembling Clint Howard in his brother's adaptation of Nanook of the North.

My sublet is a bit of a dump, but it's warm. This is the latest in a series of temporary moves, fueled by the reasoning that I'm paying for the neighborhood, not the apartment. I'm down the block from the Beacon Theatre and Fairway Market, allowing quick access to pre-made Caesar salads and Elvis Costello with the Brodsky Quartet. But I do have to return home at some point, if for nothing else than to sleep. Rest has been more difficult of late, as the tenant above has had his stereo on continually for three days. This, along with the fact that I've heard no footsteps has me a bit concerned but I'm reluctant to contact the landlord, as my tenancy isn't completely on the up and up. This is Manhattan after all. Best to let the music play and allow the authorities to deal with the rest.


The main branch of the public library on 42nd has free Internet access and the glorious third floor reading room makes grand office space for the self-employed, or those looking to kill some time. But you have to put up with the general public, sitting shoulder to shoulder at long wooden tables. This fact hits home hard on Wednesday when a twenty-something kid pulls in next to me and plugs in his laptop, not bothering to unwrap from the cold. He then utilizes the high-speed hookup to join a one-on-one pornographic chat room and taps furiously away until the young lady on his screen strips and assumes the instructed position. I watch nervously to see what might transpire next and whether I need to find another seat, but after ten minutes he folds the machine shut and goes calmly on his way. I admire his singular focus and specific intent, if not his choice of venue.

But that's New York; without direction you get trampled. It almost happens to me later that evening in the middle of Times Square, during the evening rush. My cell buzzes and it's my Belgian friend, apparently having passed on Mr. Freeze and asking me if I'm interested in sharing some champagne at a gallery opening. I struggle to find a pen and scrap of paper, and in the process nearly get trampled by a mob of teeny bopper tourists, straining to catch a glimpse of some MTV hip-hop heartthrob, basking in the hot studio lights above. I huddle against a store window for relative privacy, with the phone pressed to my ear and coming face to face with Ozzy Osbourne's autographed Harley. The connection is fading and it sounds like she may have reverted back to French, anyway. I try and get out the pertinent facts: Times Square, loud, Ozzy, no pen, please call back. Hopefully I'm speaking her language.


I'm awoken the next morning, alone again, to the sound of Con Edison utility workers banging on a pipe outside my basement apartment window. They're yelling something in Spanish and having an unusually jovial time for seven a.m. The gas has been out for three days, and I'm beginning to better understand the "Con" preceding "Edison." On the up side, the music upstairs has stopped and I hear footsteps. Life-affirmation comes in oddly small moments in this city, and you have to grab it when you can. I walk down the street to Levain Bakery, an early Upper West Side discovery with exceptional oatmeal-raisin scones and good coffee. I enjoy my first cup and eat the scone from a bag, taking in the early morning foot traffic. Any comparisons are irrelevant -- this city is one of a kind.


Rick Monaco is a freelance writer living in New York, currently paying twice the market rate for a shabby sublet on the trendy Upper West Side. He has lived most of his life in California, where his family operates a motion picture laboratory. His work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, American Cinematographer, and most recently he has written a series of articles about living in Brooklyn for New York Newcomer Magazine. He is composing a still untitled collection of his short fiction.

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