Bear with me because this story needs a back story… When I first moved to Harlem seven years ago I really had no idea what to expect. I was coming from the familiar comfort of the west village, from an apartment I had lived in for 25 years and was forced out of by developers.
I liked Harlem, I had a few friends who had moved up here and I was acquainted with the neighborhood because I visited them often. The people were cool, lots of stores and restaurants, amazing train access (even though I hate the subway), it’s an overall good vibe. A lot of people asked me if I was crazy moving up here, it’s too far, too dangerous, it’s too (insert minority here), basically telling me it was a mistake. Imagine, advice coming from idiots who considered it a crime to go north of 14th St.
I was absolutely devastated by having to leave my home of 25 years. Moving day came quicker than I would have liked but, off I went, 135 blocks north to my new apartment. A completely renovated, big 1 bedroom apartment that I hated (great floorplan, but a cheap reno) and have since moved out of. I’m actually only one black away from that place but this apartment is far more interesting.
I have truly wonderful friends and knowing how sad and depressed I was, they rallied around me. They were all at the new apartment unpacking boxes, putting things away, assembling the bed and assorted furniture, and cleaning, really amazing people. I stood in the kitchen drinking wine out of the bottle and half heartedly pointed at things…no put that there, no other corner, etc etc.
It was about 8:30ish that night and things were winding down and thanks to my friends the apartment actually looked pretty together. We were all sitting or standing and talking when the door to the apartment burst open (it wasn’t closed all the way) and I heard an obviously drunk woman yell “Who livin in this motherfuckin apartment?” And there she stood…a five foot tall, black hurricane with a shaved head and a cute, chubby round ass.
She came right in, didn’t ask, didn’t wait to be invited, just barged in. “I live here,” I told her, “and who the hell are you?” She abruptly answered me, “Kim, I live on the 6th floor but I lived in this apartment 32 years ago. So, you bitches got anything to drink?” Well, to make this first part of this story shorter than it (could) should be, I’ve seen Kim almost everyday since that first night. If I were Batman she’d be… well, she’d be Batman too.
A force to be reckoned with this one is. The next day was Miss K’s birthday so I gave her a bottle of champagne (someone gave me the night before) and we drank it on the street. This is okay I thought to myself. Kim took me around the neighborhood and introduced me to everyone. Pointed out what bodega had the cheapest cigarettes, what liquor store had the best prices, who to avoid, who was cool. She’s the unofficial Queen of St. NIcholas Ave. She knows everyone, or thinks she does and most everyone knows her. I’m the weirdo white guy with the long hair who hangs out with Kim.
Alright, let’s jump forward 7 years and here we are, in the middle of a pandemic. Kim was having trouble remembering the word pandemic so I told her just remember fryingpan-demic, which is how she now refers to Covid19, as the fryingpan-demic!
When the whole thing started, we, like most people, weren’t afraid because Gov.Cuomo and Mayor Warner Wilhelm Jr. (Bill DeBlasio’s real name) were telling people well into the first week of March to go out and have fun, which we did. I would work on my art a few hours a day and then Kim and I would hook up and I’d have some wine and Kim would have her Tequila and we’d chain smoke and gossip. Then things started to get a little crazy so we were hanging out but 6 feet apart. All while the hand sanitizer, toilet paper, masks and ventilator hysteria kicked in. We went along with it all but still hung out everyday. We figured if one of us was gonna get it we’d both probably end up getting it but by this time the world was on lockdown and we were basically the only people the other saw. So things really hadn’t changed.
The weather started to get better so we’d been hanging outside more. One day about four weeks ago, it was a Wednesday as I recall, I suggested we go over to 146th and Broadway and get tested. Better to know we thought. So we started our trek up the hill to Broadway. Normal people could make this walk in 15 minutes.
45 minutes later we arrived at City-MD. We walk slowly, Kim has COPD and I have two bad knees. Plus we have to stop on the street in the middle of a story to make a point, and to light a cigarette. Once we arrived, the line wasn’t too long but it was moving slowly. After about an hour of waiting I walked to the first person in line and asked how long he’d been waiting. I was horrified when he said four hours, so I went back and told Kim the info, we both decided to come back earlier, another day. Kim summed it up best when she said, “Fuck these motherfuckers, we got shit to do.” I completely agreed, especially as I was in the early stages of a panic attack. So we decided to thank ourselves for at least making the effort to be responsible citizens and walked over to the discount liquor store on Broadway and 145th where we treated ourselves to a bottle of wine for me and a tequila for Kim. We eventually ended up back where we usually do, sitting on my stoop, drinking and smoking! I guess this was the shit we had to do.
A couple cocktails later, and we were feeling very determined. We made a plan that we’d meet up at 7:30AM the next day, take the bus (because the bus is free and who wants to walk that much so early in the day) and be at the City-MD when they opened, we’d be the first in line or close to it. Plan made. We were feeling very proud of ourselves.
The following Tuesday we finally made it back to the City-MD at 2PM exactly. Took our place at the back of the line and began our wait. At 2:20 I said to Miss Kim, “Shit, we should have brought something to drink with us.” Kim opened her purse and pulled out a pint bottle of Jose Cuervo, and I pulled a small bottle of wine out of my jacket pocket. We started laughing hysterically at our shady behavior. “Shiiiiit, I knew you had something with you,” she said. I told her I figured she had something too.
By 3:30 I was out of cigarettes so I left Kim in line. Securing my nicotine I got back to Kim who looked like she made about 5 feet of line progress. I lit us both a cigarette and there we were, leaning against the City-MD on 146th, standing right next to each other, masks around our necks, smoking, drinking and laughing our asses off. To say people were social distancing from us would be the understatement of the decade.
In the meantime everyone on line looked like they were falling apart, sickly, weak, tired, hot, bored and generally over it all. We on the other hand were fine and time flew by. We finally made it in at 5:20 and walked out at 5:35 having had both tests, blood and the evil nasal swab.
Now we were really feeling proud of ourselves so of course another stop at the liquor store was in order. Back on my stoop, as we recalled our latest adventure and patted ourselves on the back for actually doing it, it struck me like the proverbial bolt of lightning.
“Miss K, I just realized something…” “What?” She asked me as she lit us both another Newport 100. I told her, “Of all the people in New York City, the fryingpan-demic has probably affected you and I the very least. I mean, day to day, what’s changed in our lives? Other than everything being closed we still hang out most days, we’re still drinking and smoking way too much, there’s nowhere to go but who cares cause we usually don’t have any money to go anywhere with anyway…”
“Motherfucker, you’re so right, nothings changed,” Kim said. We started laughing again at the basic ridiculousness of our lives then we both took a swig out of her bottle of tequila, virus be damned.
By the way, three weeks or so went by when we finally got our test results back and we are both negative. But, we want to go get tested again because we decided if we were ever going to get the fryingpan-demic, it would have been in that broken down line of messy people on West 146th St. and Broadway.
A little side note for anyone who is reading this: if you’ve never visited Harlem, please do so. It’s absolutely one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city. It’s been torn down and rebuilt countless times and it’s endured; it has a magic to it.
What Harlem still has that most of the city has totally lost is a sense of community, Harlem watches out for itself. During the riots that have been happening across the entire country recently, all protests in Harlem have been peaceful and respectful. No looting or damage. It’s a testament to a big chunk of the city that’s seen it all, too many times. Everyone wants justice, but no one wants to burn down what’s taken so many decades to get back. Also the police in Harlem have a real relationship with the community, I see it every day. Harlem feels like the West Village used to before it became a mall where all the stores closed and the streets are overrun with strollers. The countless parks of Harlem are beautiful, public pools are amazing and the heavily tree lined streets are home to the most beautiful brownstones in the city. Please come and visit this magnificent, and incredibly historic part of New York. Even if it’s just to see a show at the legendary Apollo Theater, you won’t be sorry. I never have been.
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