I have Brooklyn blood, but due to the great peregrinations of my family through the wider metropolitan area, I was raised in Westchester, so I always approached New York City from the north. I would eventually cement this orientation by moving into Washington Heights along with my sisters, we all became uptowners. But there was a time when I knew Downtown Manhattan well, and visited Greenwich Village often.
These were my days of listless, aimless madness, when I was living with my folks in between attempts at doing farmwork, which I only did because I thought it was the only way to soothe the rough scraping at myself my mind otherwise insisted on. Heading from a therapy appointment, or a visit at a museum, or a date, I’d take the A down to West 4th, pop my head out of ground at 6th Avenue, and wander Washington Square before heading over to where two good friends were living unhappily together in an oven-like little apartment on Bleecker Street, just where it meets Sixth Avenue and both are intersected by Carmine street. There’s a little triangle of pavement there, that the city has condescended to green, and a fountain. The triangle is surrounded by shops. It’s called Father Demo Square.
The story of my friends’ unhappiness together is each of theirs to tell, not mine, and anyway, it ends in Texas, placing it entirely out of the scope of this investigation, but I’ll just say we were all young and miserable and poisoning ourselves and each other one way or another. We’d meet and laugh at our own sour misery and poor coping skills, over a board game or a pizza. The apartment was right in between two of the finest pizzas in the city, Joe’s on Carmine’s and John’s on Bleecker, and those days, possibly more than any other point in a lifetime of Pizza eating, has led to the great unhappy snobbishness with which I regard the cheesy flatbreads of this country.
The apartment was hot to the touch in all seasons. In the summer, the air conditioner couldn’t defeat the constantly open sultry window, as my friends ducked out to the fire escape for their cigarettes; In the winter, the landlord left the thermostat on a feverish 80. I’d burst in like a bear around 6 or 7, we’d order dinner as I shed layers, I’d ignore the numb sadness in my friends and myself while they played video games, and then I’d notice that it was too late to catch a train back to Westchester and we’d cheerfully agree I had to spend the night. Waking up at 4 or 5 AM, I’d silently dress in my winter apparel, and then make my way out, to an abandoned Father Demo Square, to the A, back uptown, back to my parents’ house, where I no longer felt at home.
Time moved on, as it does, and space stayed still, as it does. My friends and I left for treatment facilities and other opportunities, I found farm work and lost it, fell in love, came back to the city and moved Uptown. My girlfriend, a smarter, stabler student than I, got herself enrolled at the New School while I began a fitful career at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. We’d meet for dinner downtown, and her favorite place was Trattoria Spaghetto, on Father Demo Square.
Spaghetto was a little time capsule, a chip of cheap Little Italy sentiment that somehow got knocked a few blocks north and west. It had red checkered tablecloths, of all the disneyfied, Bella-Notte cliches, and truly delicious pasta. We’d sit there and watch the summer evening end and the night begin, cool air coming off the traffic on Sixth Avenue. Trattoria Spaghetto’s gone now, just like the Italians who used to overflow Little Italy and attend Our Lady of Pompeii just across the street, where Father Demo tended to their pastoral needs. Just like Father Demo himself. Just like the romance between me and the girlfriend I used to take there.
When she left, I had far fewer reasons to go all the way downtown. The A shuttled me between the Upper West Side and Washington Heights, and I viewed my hereditary Brooklyn as distant as the surface of the moon. But one night, the night after the first Women’s March in January of 2017, I found I couldn’t sleep. I had a powerful craving for spaghetti and meatballs, and naturally my thoughts found their way back downtown. My legs were sore and chafed from the long day’s march, but I said, to hell with it, this is New York, I can definitely get spaghetti and meatballs somewhere in this town at 2 AM. So I got on the A.
It wasn’t a cold January night. It was quite warm on my busy little island at the center of this grievously wounded world. I wandered from supposedly open place to supposedly open place, eventually settling for a mediocre spaghetti in bolognese at the 24/7 diner on West 4th. After eating it, I went and sat in the square. I thought about the vile presidency in front of us, and the encouragement of the street rising up, as I thought it had earlier that day. I thought about long nights, and short days. I thought about heating planets. I thought about all those nights, in Father Demo Square. Then I hopped on the A, and went home, where I wouldn’t be much longer.