New York Tales from Curious Borough Dwellers

009 : Roland Kelts at 362 Riverside Drive, Manhattan
Born 20th Century in New York, USA. Roland Kelts currently works as a writer, editor and lecturer. Why New York? He digs the following Gotham bits: walking everywhere, autumn light, 24-hour subways, protean ethnicity, protean cultural activity. He is, however, a bit miffed by crumbling infrastructure, car alarms, chain stores, chain stores and chain stores. For more info on Roland Kelts you should visit www.japanamericabook.com.

image: M. Mesker

Then the jazz stopped and the radio said the war had started in the Middle East. ”

It was snowing and the three windows were open a few inches each. Earlier I’d heard gunshots cracking off the asphalt near what is called Morningside Park. 

I was listening to jazz radio now, and typing a letter.

It was my first night in New York as an adult—my own apartment and bed and books, and an unpacked suitcase still gaping in the corner.

I had arrived from California, where I’d been held up at gunpoint, gone through the police lineups and courtroom IDs and believed the perps were going to have me killed before I could serve as witness. The letter I was typing was to my California roommate, my closest friend since childhood.

I am in New York, I wrote. It’s snowing over the rooftops outside my window. I heard gunshots earlier.

Then the jazz stopped and the radio said the war had started in the Middle East. 

The war has started in the Middle East, I typed. Shit.

I heard the chants first, and I thought they were coming from the radio. Because the radio started saying that the protests had started in New York and maybe elsewhere, but definitely in New York.

The chants were coming through the windows.

I stopped typing and went to the windows. The crowd looked sluggish but thick, a mass of bright winter parkas and hoisted signs, and when I raised one of the heavy panes higher, I heard honking and the thud of somebody beating a bass drum. 

Someone knocked. I asked who, someone replied, and I opened the door. A Middle Eastern man I would later learn was Turkish said in a thick accent: Will you go to the march? He was shrugging into his down jacket.

Later, I said. 

Soon after, I did, stepping out into the snow, which had grown thick and moist, and walking down Broadway amid several-hundred thousand, heading toward midtown.

Writers call them canyons or tunnels. New York’s vertical thrusts and massive central thoroughfares envelop you. They also point to possibility, and can quicken your heartbeat.

But the city is intensely intimate, too. The character of New York, with its ethnic rabble and American arrogance/ambition, means everyone in its clutches is forced face-to-face. I marched down Broadway into the center of the city alongside men and women of my grandparents’ generation, families holding hands, wayward individuals swaying alongside and chanting their own slogans, unafraid and unashamed.

Once, a fat white guy wheezed past me, brushing my arm and wielding a camera. A young black man was chasing him, loudly shouting, Never!

Times Square loomed before us. Someone gurgled from a megaphone that we’d meet at the U.N. The snow was stinging my face red, and helicopters with searchlights darted above.

I thought of the VE-Day photos at the end of World War II. Here I was: purified, numb, arrived.

I took a taxi home in the wee hours, blazing through the city to my first home.

location information


017That's when I knew I wanted to live in New York: in the midst of those fragile bralets and bodysuits.— Ling Ma

016The guns, we tell the police later, were black like ice.— Tara Deal

015...my own talisman against the folly of my youth.— Andrea Jarrell

014Y'all in a band'r somethin'?— Abraham

013Perhaps it was the lanky teenager with the bright red book-bag that made me think I saw Adam.— Carrie Teicher

012I remember flattening myself against the streaky windows of the PATH train like an insect.— Erin Fisher

011I glanced up to see another shape hit the sand.— Ken H. Judy

010Vibrating almost imperceptibly in the breeze like a woody tuning fork.— Rob Giampietro

009Then the jazz stopped and the radio said the war had started in the Middle East. — Roland Kelts

008Shirtless Boris Yeltsin’s skin reddens as he reads a book.— Michael Maiello

007Port Authority was there with open, non-judging arms.— Khoi Vinh

006His almost-loss was my almost- nonexistence.— Matthew Rand

005On the cold hard floor of the orphanage, I sang, longing for the day that they would come and rescue me.— Jen Egan

004He was a lawyer, after all.— Kristin Gardner

003The parking lot gate was open, and we ran in with the skateboard.— Lorraine Martindale

002We arrived on completely Russian streets, with Russian signs and a familiar rudeness.— Kseniya Melnik

001...the hourly clicking of Oxfords and high heels across the parking lot.— Tam Nomgum


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