Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Hustlers and Midwesterners

I can remember an evening when my friend Greg and I
had some time to kill. We were meeting some girls for
dinner; we had come across to Manhattan early to hunt
around in the used record places and thrift shops down-
town. The restaurant we were going to was somewhere
in the neighborhoodless area where the West Village
bleeds into Chelsea, that place where the streets first
straighten out into the grid that went on for the next
two hundred blocks. Before heading over that way, we
wandered through the Meatpacking District all the way
to the Hudson piers.

For some reason, I wanted to wander out onto one of
them–a weedy, concrete strip that jutted a hundred or
so feet out into the oily, slow water–and look over at
Jersey City. This was back in that strange age of mine
when I considered a glimpse at a beaten-down New
Jersey town something worth going out of my way for.
I was a connoisseur of urban monstrosity, I had a fetish
for decay. With Greg trailing along, we went out to the
cyclone fence at the far end of the pier and gazed through
it at the sun setting amid the grimy buildings over there,
the sad skyscrapers and the sooty spaces in-between.

There were a few other people on the pier, many more
were milling around the patch of land that it poked from.
I don’t know when it first occurred to us that most of
these were boy prostitutes. They hung around in packs,
wearing denim jackets over bare chests, smoking pot and
drinking from paper sacks. Some laughed loudly, like
transvestites, while others whispered and let their hands
make quick gestures I couldn’t translate. Most of them
ignored us and, once I figured out what they were, I did
my nervous best to ignore them. Still, I wouldn’t say
that we were objects of curiosity. Maybe it was odd that
we weren’t trying to pick any of them up, but turning
tricks in New York forces someone to see far odder things
than that on a hourly basis. We certainly weren’t of their
profession. I mean, that much was obvious. We were too
old. We were both twenty-three.

Greg mentioned that we should probably go on if we didn’t
want to be late. I nodded my head and, with leaving the
boys behind, we hurried across the busy street flanking the
Hudson and started back towards the tamed parts of the
city. It weirded me out all through our fine dinner, though.
In the night out there, runaways were climbing into cars
with strange men, children were becoming decades older
than me after just five minutes in the back of a Lexus.
On the subway back to Brooklyn, I wondered at it as hard
as I could. Who were these kids? Who was paying for their
bodies? The city was always posing those questions for me
then. It hit me hard every day: lives a million miles from
mine were right down the street, areas of existence I could
barely fathom bumped up against me everywhere I went.

It might seem strange, but I miss that sometimes. Minne-
apolis is a bubble. Minneapolis seldom forces you outside
yourself. Here the world can be what you assume it to be
and you don’t have to worry about someone screaming out
how wrong you are with every corner you turn. I don’t
know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.