Thursday, July 28, 2005

Washington Heights

I live in Washington Heights, in the northwest of Manhattan, where the street numbers approach the Mendoza Line. It's a good neighborhood, all things considered. During the summer, it almost appears to be a parody of the multiethnic urban paradise showcased by Sesame Street-- which, incidentally, was the primary window through which a suburban kid from the Bay Area could view New York in the late '70s/early '80s.

Fire hydrants with FDNY-approved spray caps shower cavorting kids. People actually play stickball in the streets, though they don't wear newsboy caps or baggy suspendered trousers. Dozens of children chase each other around a playground while teenagers practice breakdancing moves on a nearby mat. Old men stand lookout for one another's incredibly scarce parking spots. Malcolm X was killed here, and Clinton drops by once in a while to clean the fat out of his chest, but otherwise, life rolls on without fanfare. Lest I be accused of spearheading some sort of gentrification, I should point out that (a) I'm flat broke, (b) I'm a grad student at Columbia, which has maintained a stable student presence here for decades, and (c) no hipsters would follow me, even if I were to don a lifelike Chuck Klosterman bodysuit. They can smell me.

It's primarily a Dominican neighborhood, though there's an Orthodox Jewish area just north of me. Rotisserie chicken, mofongo, merengue, and Red Sox hats. There's an interesting bar nearby called Coogan's. At first glance, it's just another awful Irish pub. But then you notice all the photos of dignitaries shaking hands with the owner. Gerry Adams was apparently here on St. Patrick's Day a few years back. Manny Ramirez grew up here, so his autographed jersey hangs on the wall (Indians, so as not to offend some locals) alongside a signed copy of West Nile Story by the noted (and sort of crazy, in a good way) parasitologist Dr. Dickson Despommier. And the burgers are pretty good.