A recent transplant to the city, Dashiell continues his quest to discover the "real New York." Help him find it at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Destination: 125th Street, Harlem.
Guide: The Assimilated Negro, black guy.
I was both surprised and honored when The Assimilated Negro graciously offered to give me a personal tour of Harlem. Imagine me getting a Ghetto Pass from the man himself! I definitely need a guide too, because that's not a part of the city you want to be in by yourself at night, at least according to everyone back home.
TAN asked me to meet him at "125th and St. Nick, because that's where I get my sticky-icky" (whatever that means) and even though it's already dark by the time I arrive, the area still feels pretty safe. The sidewalks are busy and people are going about their business like any other neighborhood.
"Harlem isn't as rough as everyone says it is, is it?" I ask, after we make our introductions.
"Oh, no way," he says. "It's rougher. You gotta be hard if you want to survive up here. I'll prove it to you. But first, give me all your money."
It seems like a strange way to avoid "trouble," but I hand over all the cash in my wallet and we begin the tour. As we walk down 125th Street, TAN asks me what I'd like to do first.
"Well, I'm kinda hungry. How about some authentic soul food?"
"Sure thing," he says. "There's a Popeye's right up here."
As we eat our chicken, I try to explain that I'm not sure if this qualifies as authentic, since it's a lot like the Popeye's I always stop at on the Ohio Turnpike, but he just keeps shouting things like, "There's a white boy in the house, so bring out the good stuff! Make sure the spicy version is really crispy! Not that fake shit!" Most of the other folks in the restaurant ignore us, although the manager does come out to ask him to keep his voice down.
After our meal, we head back out to the street where TAN informs me that he's still thirsty. "Give me your credit cards," he orders and ducks into a bodega. Moments later, he emerges with a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor.
"You bought that with a credit card?" I ask, still wondering where all my cash went.
"No, man, I cracked the shopkeeper over the head and walked out with it. That's how I roll when I'm uptown and not blogging. It ain't a game."
"See," he explains. "You've got to know how to handle yourself up here, but you also need to learn how to handle other people. Like that shortie over there?" He's pointing at a lady wearing a nice business suit. "You need to know how to treat a woman like that. I do what the rap stars do in their videos." Then he begins spraying his beer all over her clothes and hair. I guess she's never seen those videos, because she isn't too pleased by that.
As we run away from the angry mob, I start to suspect that TAN might be showing off a little bit for my benefit. For example, even though he said the "drug game is crazy" up here, not one of strangers who passed us stopped when he asked if they wanted to buy some "rock." Even that homeless guy thought it was weird when he asked us for some change and TAN made me give him my watch. "It's Christmas," he told me. "Don't be a racist ... help the man out."
Finally, we reach Lexington Avenue and I figure it's time to make my way home. As I head down to the subway, I remember that I haven't taken any pictures to remember my visit. I whip out my new camera phone to snap a few shots.
"Hey, man," he warns me. "You shouldn't carry a nice phone like that out in the open, someone is liable to swipe it. You better let me have it."
[Photo by TAN, taken with
my his new camera phone.]
Later that night, I could have sworn I saw TAN cruising down Park Avenue in a Lincoln Town Car, but he was wearing a suit and laughing about something with these two white guys. I think one of them was wearing my watch, too.