Monday, March 20, 2006

The Gate

Before I lived in Harlem, I lived in Spanish Harlem. My roommate was an independent photographer who grew crabgrass in a basket on her windowsill and charged me too much rent. I slept on a tiny bed with remarkably squeaky springs, and the evenings were humid and strangely quiet. In the mornings on my way to work I would often step over passages from Lope de Vega poems written in colored chalk on the sidewalk. The elusive Poetry Bandit struck often in our neighborhood; the unmistakable curl of his penmanship marking curbs and crumbling walls. When I returned from work in the evening the sidewalks were wet and dripping color.

My roommate let me know early on that I needed to carry canned goods with me at all times so that I'd have something to give to homeless people if they hassled me. I trusted her: she'd lived in the neighborhood for two years. I also hoped that every hostile homeless person I came across had access to a can opener.

One night I left the apartment to meet some friends downtown. My hair had been freshly dyed a reddish-blond, and I was wearing my lucky black suit. I was almost to the subway stairs when a man called out:

"Yo, yo Scully! Agent Scully!"

Several men on the stoops joined in:

"We love you, Agent Scully!"

I protested:

"You've got the wrong redhead!"

The construction crew (working late on the new high-rise) began to chant:

"Scul-LY! Scul-LY! Scul-LY!"

I stepped into the middle of the street, and waved up at them.

"I'm flattered, boys!"

In 2002, our post office was renamed the "Oscar Garcia Riviera Post Office", but when I lived there the sign said "Hellgate Post Office." After I saw the sign I got confused and told someone I lived in Hell's Kitchen. They corrected me: the Kitchen is West-side, mid-town. I lived at the
Gate.

It was as hot as the Kitchen.

3 comments:

c jane said...

I loved reading this.
Do you think that Oscar Garcia Riviera was actually Lope de Vega? I'd like to think so...

AzĂșcar said...

"Scully," I can see it...

I'm glad you didn't go as far downtown as the Kitchen, the Gate suited you fine.

~j. said...

What a great story.