New York

HALF A MILE TO CHINATOWN

My favorite music venue is now a J.Crew. If you want to find a reason to complain about New York, it’s not hard. Everything Good dies. But if you accept it, there is no better place.


Eastwood is a bar on the Lower East Side that is just down the street from a friend’s apartment. It’s the kind of place you pray doesn’t end up on a food blog or a top ten list. The bartenders play records, the beer is good and no one has ever put avocado toast on the menu. As we do more often than we should, we are there on a cold and rainy Sunday night. Halfway through my falafel sandwich - the phone rings. A Friend wants their keys back. It’s cold and dark and the last thing I want to do is go to Chinatown.






It feels like another world but I realize it’s half a mile. I convince my friend David to join me and we jump on our bikes. We weave through traffic on East Broadway and pedal down the barely paved streets towards the Manhattan Bridge. This part of town feels stuck in time; the buildings are dark with soot and the air is thick with unfamiliar smells and seafood. Riding here is flat out dangerous. We are swept into the chaos of traffic and I squint in concentration; it can be dangerous to slow down or to pay attention to the street signs and red lights. We pass a line of white buses, marked in Chinese characters. Crowds wait to board them, preparing for the journey to another chinatown in DC. Philadelphia, Boston or Chicago. The neon red glow cast on the sidewalk reminds me of Blade Runner. It’s depressing but it feels good.








The neon red glow cast on the sidewalk reminds me of Blade Runner. It’s depressing but it feels good.




We stop in front of a 1980s shopping mall that is squeezed under the bridge. The building itself is squat and looks like it was built out of legos by a small child and left there forgotten. David’s neighbor had mentioned something about a strange book and record store on the second floor, sandwiched between shops crammed full of Chinese herbs, and bootleg DVDs. It seems too out of place to not investigate. We chain the bikes and wander through the maze of stores. The halls are filled with signs in Chinese and the sensation that we have left New York is overwhelming. The staircase is in the back, and unmarked. We wander in circles for five minutes trying to find it.







Finally upstairs, in the hallway, a cluster of abandoned stalls are hung with paintings. A group of pretentious looking 30-somethings drink beer in a circle. A sign explains that the artwork was borrowed from a (very fancy) gallery on the Upper East Side. A guy with camo pants and a heavily weathered face is giving tattoos in the corner. I find something pleasant about looking him in the eyes, like a free vacation to somewhere I’ll never go. He is finishing his last one for the day. He grins sheepishly with warm, unfocused pupils and we walk away, a little disappointed.







Inside the shop, I don’t recognize any of the musicians or authors on the shelves. The pleasant rumble of a turntable is in the air and the pulsing funk of underground South African hip-hop pushes through speakers. The owner seems constantly deep in thought and his stare is intimidating. He watches us with the intensity of a gatekeeper, unsure of our worthiness to pass into his kingdom. He is both dapper and disheveled. He reminds me of the pictures I’ve seen of Ian Curtis when he was in Joy Division. I sit at the window and listen to records. The owner cracks a slight, proud smile and I realize there isn’t one album in the store that he hasn’t scrutinized. There is a magic to that kind of obsessive selection. Each record I play makes me feel like I’m a genius. It’s a great trick. The books on display are eccentric and willfully eclectic. I get lost in a catalog of photographs of North Korea. The images are unexpected and I am shocked that this book even exists. David stands in the corner chuckling at a title so obscure and overly academic that it might as well be in another language.




I realize there isn’t one album in the store that he hasn’t scrutinized. There is a magic to that kind of obsessive selection. Each record I play makes me feel like I’m a genius.




As we pedal onward I realize it’s true, New York is probably dead but who fucking cares? Where one scene fizzles, another will take its place. There is something interesting happening in a building you have passed countless times. It's up to you to find it.




Howard Hurst
David Trumpf