Friday, December 08, 2006

Chapter Three: Incoming

One Hundred Twenty-fifth Street sliced Harlem end to end from the East River to the Hudson and was Jack's favorite portal to Manhattan and a route into the big city that drivers who knew Jack -- or at least knew his face -- would take unless told otherwise. Coming down off exit ramp of the Triboro Bridge and crossing through First, Second, Third and Lexington Avenues filled Jack with a childlike excitement that he never tired of. With the wide eyes of the child who spent his first seven years believing the entire world was as white as he was until meeting a colored boy named Eugene Lloyd in the second grade and not another until high school, Jack was mesmerized by the vibration of daily activity all along the sidewalks of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. In sharp contrast to Boston's Newbury street, where the pavement was scrubbed and swept hourly, or at least looked that way, and where the pedestrians were mostly white, mostly blonde and mostly well off, One Hundred Twenty-fifth Street, even in the stinging cold of this early January morning, was alive with characters of every shape and color.

The planet was well represented on these streets with Africans, Chinese, Puerto Ricans, Iraqis, Jamaicans, and all sorts of other people of color living and working in a buzz of organic harmony that the world outside of New York City was incapable of emulating. Jack loved to watch them all and he particularly loved the mix of old time retail stores, churches and theatres that still thrived here in spite of so-called progress. From the Hue-Man bookstore, where authors the likes of Maya Angelou and Bebe Moore Campbell regularly read and recited for rapt locals, to Triple Candie, a theater where Harlem's best emerging young artists could fearlessly polish their craft, to Kelly's Kitchen, an authentic soul food joint where it would not be out of the ordinary to find Al Sharpton discussing l'oppression du jour with a gaggle of hangers-on, Harlem was the anti-Boston, so wonderfully electric and fantastically diverse. If Jack's plane had delivered him to Tajikistan, it could not possibly feel any further from Boston than Harlem's One Hundred Twenty-fifth Street. And that is precisely why Jack was drawn to this place so.

The Lincoln Town Car headed south on Adam Clayton Powell until it entered Central Park at its northernmost end, moving down through its fifty-two blocks of frosted trees, rocks and ponds, running trails and bicycle paths. On this particular morning, a film crew was shooting in the intersection where Seventy-second Street traversed the Park. Above the broken tree line to his right, Jack could see the twin towers of the San Remo Apartment building on Central Park West, the boyhood home of Broadway lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim, and so many other notables. The San Remo, in all its Italian baroque splendor, represented the quintessential New York City sophisticate lifestyle -- the perfect marriage of art and habitation. Blocking the normally smooth flow of traffic through the park were a trio of large panel trucks bearing the brilliant red logo of Silvercup Studios, an expansive series of soundstages in Queens where countless movies and television shows were filmed. In the middle of the intersection, in the blaze of the faux sunlight generated by the huge lights, Jack spotted actor Kevin Spacey and an actress that he could not put a name with but was sure he had seen on cable recently. Star gazing rubberneckers just made the holdup worse. "A new Coppola film," the driver said without moving his eyes from the crowded roadway. "I heah it's about Mayah Giuliani." Jack acknowledged this little scoop with a somewhat interested "Oh", mentally noting Giuliani's former Mayor status.

Upon exiting the park, Jack instructed the driver to take him to Barnes & Noble at 45th and Lexington and wait while he grabbed an armload of the book that Tracy had so brilliantly recommended. It had just turned eight-thirty when the car pulled up to the curb at the bookstore and the double glass doors were in the process of being unlocked. A long line of half frozen twenty-somethings crowded the doorway where a poorly designed flyer announced "A Book Signing with Noah Levine, author of Dharma Punx". Levine, a former skate punk, drug addict, and petty thief-turned-Buddhist instructor had recently been enjoying talk show ubiquity hyping his somewhat successful chronicle of his miserable childhood in the Bay Area which included stealing VCRs from neighbors to buy crack. I have my own tortured childhood to keep me company, I don’t need to read about someone else's, thought Jack to himself as he proceeded to push his way to the front of the line holding his open wallet over his head to give the illusion of an authoritative badge or ID.

The car limped painfully through the crush of morning commuters to 48th Street then over one block to Third at which point Jack, saddled with briefcase and books, jumped out and walked briskly to the front entrance at 295 Third Avenue, home of FLY and his Bastards.

"If it's Mr. Landers, it must be Monday," said Tulo Ayoolo, the friendly Nigerian security guard posted at the front desk of the expansive marble lobby. "Good morning Mr. Lahnders," Avoolo added.

"Good morning Tulo," offered Jack. "Good weekend?" inquired Jack as he signed the guest register taking care to note the time of his arrival.

"You will be seeing our friends at FLY this morning Mr. Lahnders?" asked Tulo as he checked Jack's briefcase for "suspicious" items, a procedure mandatory since 9-11. "You must like this book very much to purchase so many," the guard said looking in the Barnes and Noble bag.

"Gifts," said Jack, closing his briefcase.

It was 8:50 a.m. when Jack entered one of the building's 16 elevators. In ten minutes Jack's natural talent as a salesman and persuader would be tested.

Coming soon, Chapter Four

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