The other night – after a dinner party – I decided to take a long walk through the Lower East Side. As I walked down the narrow streets of the old tenemant neighborhood, I realized that I could easily swing by 70 Allen Street. In the nearly 10 years that I’ve lived in New York City, I’d yet to visit 70 Allen Street – even when I lived two streets away, 4 years ago. I know, I couldn’t believe it either. But now I would get my chance!
A few moments later, there I stood, at 70 Allen Street. I stared at the corner building with wonder. What’s at 70 Allen St, you ask? Nothing out of the ordinary, a company that sells ticket and ID scanners, and a furniture repair shop. But I didn’t come to 70 Allen Street to see what it is. I came to ponder over what it was, and – according to legend – 70 Allen Street was the birthplace of Billy the Kid. In 1859, Billy was born to a young Irish woman who’d come across the pond to escape devastating famine. The threat of starvation was tenacious, however, and she soon ran face to face with hunger in New York. She did whatever she could to keep young Billy and herself from starving, but finally – around 1869 – mother and child headed west, like many other starving Irish were doing at the time. America seemed to spring up from the ground – right under little Billy – as they ventured further west. After his mother died of tuberculosis in Santa Fe, Billy had to go it alone, doing what he needed to do to survive. He would turn out to be a defining ingredient in Experiment America – the outlaw, and ultimately a legend. But we all know that, it’s old news. But who could’ve known what was to come of baby Billy when he slithered out of his mother’s womb at 70 Allen Street? Nobody probably thought much. Just another Irish baby – slap him on the ass, knock on wood and hope the back alley typhoid doesn’t get him.
A taxi horn and some profanity at the intersection brought me back into the now. I quit staring into the past and moved on. A few moments later, I stumbled onto Mulberry Street, the heart of Little Italy. Mulberry also happens to be the arms, legs, head and private parts of Little Italy, too. After the Irish headed west, the Italians came in and claimed the Lower East Side. But like the Irish, their tenure in the neighborhood played out as more and different immigrants came to America. Today, Little Italy is only Mulberry’s row of Italian restaurants which range from quaint to downright molto bello…mhwa! Two very Italian hosts of neighboring restaurants flirted with the two ladies walking in front of me.
“Hey, look, it’s two ladies,” said one.
“That’s right, two beautiful ladies,” said the other. The ladies giggle.
“And there’s two of us,” said the first host.
“That makes two beautiful ladies, and two of us,” replied the other. The ladies giggle again.
“Numbers add up, this just might work out. Whadd’ya say ladies?”
The ladies thought about it for a split-second and giggled off into the night. The hosts weren’t disappointed. They were already awaiting the next set of beautiful ladies by the time I walked by. Sooner or later, a couple of girls are gonna go for it. It’s only a game of numbers. Across the street was an old cafe – an old Italian man sat at an outdoor table. He didn’t seem to mind the cold as he sipped his little cup of coffee and simply existed. There was a newspaper on the table but he wasn’t reading it. I doubted anything was news to this old man – he’d heard it all before, I’m sure. And he’d heard the hosts before too – been hearing them for decades now, and seen many a pretty lady walk by. The man looked like he’d be perfectly fine with dying at that moment, for it was a bella noche to do so.
From Mulberry, I turned onto Canal Street, right smack into Chinatown. The streets were dark and the markets were closed, but the smell of fish hung heavy on the air. The signs just above the storefronts couldn’t brighten the sidewalks. There was only a dull glow from above as if an acid trip was happening on the second floor of your brain as you stared into a 13-inch black and white TV in your brain’s kitchen. I came upon a group of Chinese-American teenagers whose clothing suggested they came from The Future. They talked so fast and over the top of each other, which sounded like many squirrels screaming ownership over the last nut in a tree.
As I waited for the walk-light with them, I was reminded that America is a living, growing thing. Like all living things, it must adapt, or die. The Lower East Side grew, adapted, changed – Irish to Italian to Chinese – but remained America throughout. It’ll be something different than Chinatown, in the future, yet won’t be any less American. Understanding that kind of evolution keeps me away from the more dangerous American ideals, such as an English speaking blue-eyed blond-haired Jesus, or righteous chopped-down cherrytree aristocratic fairytales of white goodliness that symbolize only one perspective of America. Those fast talking kids reminded me that America can only be defined through many eyes, many tongues. E pluribus unum.
The story of Billy the Kid is forever changing, too. Legend has it that he killed 21 people, though in-depth research suggests the actual number to be between 4 and 9. While he was alive, the New York presses painted him as a modern day Robin Hood. In death, he has been described as nothing more than a two bit thief, to a near a Jesus of the High Desert. But whatever he was, he seemed to pull away from it shortly before he died. It just so happened Young Billy fell in love with a Mexican girl, and when a young man finds love he begins to wear his guns a little less often.
I hopped on the R-train at Canal Street, and sat next to a group of Manhattan teens who were on their way to a liquor store in Bay Ridge that would supposedly sell them alcohol. From there, they would go meet up with a friend who had some painkillers. They were jittery from excitement over the awesome night ahead. Then they talked about guns.
“OMG,” said the one girl of the group, “I HAVE to go to a shooting range, I swear, like in the next couple of days. You guys have to take me.”
The guys performed for the girl, one-upping each other about their experiences with firearms. One boasted that his dad had two guns – a sawed-off shotun and a pistol. The other said he shot a kid with his bb gun – twice, because he was being a douche. They all really liked guns.
***BUT WAIT! How can this be?! We are in the Northeast, for Chrissakes! We don’t want guns up here. It’s the safest damn place in the USofA and we wanna keep it that way. It’s so safe, a gay man can get married up here, if he wants. Well, sure, there was the Newtown massacre in Connecticut, but….well…we still want gay marriage! So, no guns, yes gays. It’s places like Texas that’s gun crazy. All you have to do is watch the news. And they don’t want the gays to marry down there. So, go Northeast! Yes gay, no gun!!! Rah, rah!***
I would be inclined to think as such, too, based on what I gather from the news. But I have to say, Facebook cracked a big crack in the wall of Coporate Owned American Media. During Supreme Court Gay Marriage Week, I was surprised to see so many of my old friends from South Texas – my homeland – showing support for the right for gays to marry. Most were straight, yet still posted the red and pink equal sign, or some kind post stating solidarity. Turns out there’s a lot of Texans that support gay marriage. Jiminy Cricket, Houston even has an openly gay mayor! And Texas’ bright son, Willie Nelson, vocally supported gay marriage. Willie has consistantly walked the walk for human rights. Willie’s my hero and life example. Absolutely EVERYONE is equal in Willies’ America, NO. MATTER. WHAT. There’s a great saying in Texas – that, sadly, gets trumped with the hateful wealth-motivated faux-religious speak that is so loud down there – and that’s you go your way, friend, and I’ll go mine. That’s the real Texas. Granted, those gay marriage supporting friends of mine would shoot you if you tried to take away their 18-shell 9mm pistols or AR15 rifles, but gay marriage? Sure.
It’s a Texan’s natural urge to to champion the underdog. Texans only need the slightest reason to tell Authority where they can stick their unmanned drones. There’s another theory that Billy the Kid born in Texas. That makes sense, because he told Authority where to stick it right up to the point when Pat Garret shot and killed him. Billy had escaped from jail shortly before he died, and could’ve disappeared and lived on. But love was too strong. Billy wanted to marry his Mexican girl. So he came back to New Mexico, ignoring all risk. Her father did not approve and alerted Pat Garret that Billy had come back to the area. Soon, after, two shots in the dark put an end to the forbidden love.
Of course, there is no way to know the truth about who Billy the Kid was or wasn’t. But I prefer to believe he was born in obscurity in New York, that he wandered westward with his Irish mother and found his American self out there. I choose to believe he made the Western Trip – a pilgrimage into the wilderness – all the way to the setting sun if necessary – and through the toil of such a journey, prejudices are stripped away, and we become who we are supposed to be, love who they need to love, even if the law gets in the way.
The next morning, I got up and did what I always do – drink too much coffee on an empty stomach to piss off my ulcer. Of course, to add to the misery, I checked out the news. Like every morning, it told me what side I should be on, on just about every subject possible. A recent poll shows 42% of Americans think this about this. A recent poll shows 59% percent think this about that, now here’s a whole slew of commercials about pills and clothes and cleaning products that may cause tremors, impotency, psychosis and dragon tails, so be sure to ask your doctor which one is right for you, but rest assured, there IS one for you. I’m a straight white Texan, so I must be a gun lover and who’s against gay marriage, because in a recent poll…NO, dammit! Don’t tell me who I am!
Maybe I wanna see two ten-gallon hat, pointy boot wearing gay Texans get married with six-shooters on their hips. Let’s shoot down the roof after they get hitched. My friends from South Texas would be there too, loading and unloading. Bang, bang, bang. Then Willie would come in, calmly tell us we don’t need the guns no more, and we’d lay our weapons down. When everybody was unarmed, he’d light up an Austin torpedo and pass it around. The first to take a hit would be Billy the Kid, then he’d spend the rest of the night dancing with the ghost of the Mexican gal he loved enough to die for. Soon enough, we’d all be laying around, looking up at the starry sky through the holes in the roof, eating moonpies. We’d all agree with Willie that everything’s just stardust. There would be absolutely no fear, no need to load even one pistol. I’m not a fortune teller, but I’m willing to bet with less fear there’ll be less guns.
After a lengthy debate, I make one more cup of coffee, so what. But I stay away from my computer and the news. Then, my stomach doesn’t hurt so bad. I look out the window and the sun is shining. My, it’s a pretty day. And I don’t see the America that the news tells me is out there. I don’t see it toward my left. I don’t see it toward my right. Don’t see it anywhere. I just see you and me. Funny how that happens every time I turn off the news.