Happy New Year Frank – a friend indeed (New York, USA)

By Ian Cochrane, January 2, 2013

East Village, New York

East Village, New York

A guy has fallen on hard times, huddled under gentrified tenement stairs; on one side his clapped-out shopping trolley bound by trash bins and black cast iron pickets. The stairs span from streetside pavement up to an ornate doorway, moulded guardian face glowering overhead.

He seems in his 60s, but his real years are anyone’s guess. One day I ask, but my question is met with a non-committal nod of his grey face and averted blue eyes. The voice is a low cigarette-drenched rumble, sentences broken with a retching hack of a cough.

“Yeah, times are not so good buddy; rents are steep.” There’s a raspy sigh of resignation. “It’s still home though.” He peers up and down the street and waves a bony hand. “I know every alley, and every dry spot in this town.” This time the cough seems a little self conscious. “I moves around a bit.”

His name is Frank. “Like the singer,” he croaks. “You know, as in Sinatra.” I’m thinking more Tom Waits in a ratty leather cap with ear flaps.

We’ve been here for 2wks now; our plan being for a white Christmas and New Year in the comfort of a designer apartment. Passing Frank most nights, we sometimes offer food leftovers, always accepted – remnants of New York dinner serves far too big – pizza, Hungarian meatballs, the occasional doughnut or giant cinnamon pretzel.

It’s New Years Eve and we grip throwaway cardboard cones in gloved hands, munching on the sweetest red strawberries pre-dunked in dark chocolate, ambling on 5th Avenue en-route to Times Square. We’ve an early evening play booked, followed by finger food and drinks in a `Warming Lounge’; all planned 6-months previously, pre-empting our anticipated entry to the legendary Times Square Ball Drop viewing.

`Apartments for Rent' - East Village, New York

`Apartments for Rent’ – East Village, New York

By 11.30pm we’re on the street – to be assured of our vantage point – the play and drinks over, the door bolted after us. Once outside, it slowly dawns on us we’ve been victims of an elaborate scam. There are no assured pre-arranged Ball Drop viewing areas. We spend News Years Eve on an otherwise empty Subway carriage back to East Village.

Turning off 2nd Avenue, our steps echo close to home now, the air is chilly; street lamps a dull golden glow. Our steamy breaths dissolve in damp night air. My whiskered face is cold, but I’m warm in my mandatory hiking boots, woollen cap, Windstopper jacket, scarf and thermals.

There’s the distant bleep and whoop of police cars towards Alphabet City. I pause for a moment. There’s a stirring off to one side, a voice from the gloom seemingly insistent, laboured but loud. “Hey buddy!”

I freeze for a moment, with sudden flashes of an East Village that once was; a rough and tumble place of ramshackle squats, risks and rougher times. I’m so close to the voice, I smell wet wool and cigarette smoke; but really, there’s no need to worry.

He’s hunkered down in blankets and plastic sheets; Frank’s voice deep and worn as always. “Happy New year,” he says.

9 Comments

  1. Charlene says:

    If you stayed in East Village, I HOPE you had time to go here. The second oldest pub in the US. One of my favorite places when I visit my friend just south of East Village – Delancey and Ludlow. There’s a cool bar there where lots of locals go called Max Fish. Billiards, beer, 60’s mod and horror films on the teley.

  2. Charlene says:

    wow, how I love this post! So sorry you got scammed! If it makes you feel any better, most are at one point or another, especially their first time. My first time was in high school for a cultural trip to the museums, Broadway, etc. We were in Battery Park and we saw one guy on a park bench roll out a collection of Gucci watches. For a group of status-concious 16 and 17 year olds from a middle class suburb in Ohio, this was the opportunity of a lifetime! Gucci watches for only $50 in 1988. Within seconds of us kids digging into our purses and wallets at least 10 other guys with watches came out from behind the trees – it was darn spooky to see all these guys appear from what seems like a vacant area. In a minute, there was a line up of fake Gucci and Rolex watches at our feet. And, the prices suddenly went down to $20 and $30. I paid $20 for mine. We knew they were fake, but were confident that they were ‘good’ fakes. Within 4 days on our return, my watch stopped working. I took it to a jewelry store in the mall, and they almost laughed at me. They showed me what terrible shape it was in. I let it there. Only a few of my friends were lucky enough with working fake watches. Most of them busted within the first two weeks.

    • IanC says:

      Wow, you’ve got some memories there Charlene!
      The scams? They can happen anywhere I guess, & NYC remains one of my favourite cities in the world. I do love it! Yeah we did get to D& L’s. Great tapas as I recall. & those watches of yours…so funny!
      Thanks for dropping by with those tales.
      Cheers, ic

  3. JerseyLil says:

    The warm Happy New Year from Frank, reaching out to call “Hey buddy!” while “hunkered down in blankets and plastic sheets” presented the better side of human nature, especially after having been scammed about the New Year’s Eve viewing (so sorry that scam was perpetrated on you and your girlfriend). I took a liking to Frank “you know, as in Sinatra,” looking more like Tom Waits “in a ratty leather cap with ear flaps.” Yes, I can see him.

    Ian, I admire your ability to describe every detail with such remarkable clarity, even the “low cigarette-drenched rumble” when you spoke to him. Many people will pass someone like Frank on the street and recall no details at all, except perhaps that they had passed a desperate soul. Averting their eyes, they never see the humanity. I like that you gave him food leftovers, something I’d have done and have done.

    Great shots of the East Village, and I especially like the camera angle on the street scene. Ah, miss NYC. Btw, those sweet strawberries dipped in dark chocolate, yum!

    • IanC says:

      Ah yes JL,
      We do indeed share a great love of NYC.
      I should also say, that from my experience that city has the `best natured’ street people. I really did find them often friendly, & although will accept offerings, many did not beg.
      Much appreciated.
      Cheers, ic

  4. Hmm, sounds like Frank could’ve had TB; hopefully not. That sucks that you were “had” on the pre-ball drop festivities. Somehow, it sounds as if smelling and hearing Frank was a comforting constant at that particular moment.

    • IanC says:

      Ah yes Kris; that time ball. I put it down as life experience, & we still love NYC.
      TB? Hadn’t thought of that. I do read that it’s on the increase.
      Cheers, ic

  5. umashankar says:

    Oh God!

    And “God ‘s in His heaven—
    All ‘s right with the world!”

    You are a master of details, Ian. And a past master of understatements. I smell wet wool and cigarette smoke; but really, there’s no need to worry.”

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