Bad Liver in the Big Crapple

My anti-New-York-City bias kicked off on roughly August 21, 1968. That's when I first arrived there, via Methodist Hospital, from the warm and quiet confines of the womb. It was a rude awakening, to be sure, and the doctor's initial slap on the keister would seem to have been a fitting welcome.

But it wasn't.

Moms McP's obstetrician would have needed to substitute a half-smashed malt-liquor bottle for his open palm, stuffed dog waste into my wailing maw and maybe flung me into a flaming trash dumpster -- and then subsequently submit a video of this particular blessed event for consideration in the Whitney Biennial - to even begin to properly prepare me for the 24 years of endlessly inventive Gotham afflictions to follow.

You might think that developing a drag queen's sense of irony and all-consuming obsession with camp by age five would have made me feel right at home in the burg that bills itself as the universal standard-bearer of such things. Bear in mind, though, that I was not raised in Andy Warhol's factory.

The Irish, Italian and Jewish working-class broods among whom I was brought up were good people. Solid, generous people. Law-abiding, hard-working, church-and-synagogue-going folk with hearts in almost all the right places and their minds, for the most part, on their own business. But, you know, overall they were a cascading mass of total morons.

Flatbush lies, geographically, less than five miles from Manhattan, but in socio-cultural terms, it's in another dimension. This is why I chose to attend high school in "the city" as it is still called by Brooklyn natives, and why I was particularly tickled to know that my secondary learning institution was located in Chelsea, a five-minute traipse from the storied Greenwich Village. At last, I thought, I'd be free to cavort with artists, kooks and deviants of all stripes amidst revival movie theaters, used record outlets and freaky book stores.

In short order, I ended up hating the creeps in the Village - and, by extension, the rest of what I'd soon enough deem the Vile Isle - far more than the liverwurst-for-brains alongside whom I grew up.

Flatbush was for dummies, no doubt, but Manhattan was for the pretentious, for snobs, for fakes, for rich kids wearing Sex Pistols t-shirts when, in fact, they were listening to Depeche Mode (transgressions on this specific order were what drove me away from my early adolescent punk fandom and into a teen age scored by long-haired psychedelia and dirtbag metal).

My hurt horror at New York's unwitting betrayal of my disgustingly nave high hopes has ruled much of my life ever since. I eventually found my place there as a young degenerate - letting loose on the trash-movie/hard vice wonderland of 42nd Street and bellying up at a scum-core saloon called Downtown Beirut on First Avenue - but I was drunk and/or high on illegal narcotics the whole time. And I do mean the whole time.

With a clear mind, I hated that city. And I still do.

I hate the filth.

I hate the crowds.

I hate the stink.

I hate the noise.

I hate the hostility.

I hate the expense.

I hate the omnipresent garbage (human and otherwise).

I hate the sucky climate.

I hate the superior attitude.

I hate the self-obsession.

I hate the acceptance of the fact that everything is broken, rundown and useless.

I hate the CELEBRATION of the fact that everything is horrible.

And, ragingly above all, I hate the wads who relocate to NYC from lovely places like Iowa or South Dakota or Alabama or even New Jersey and then - desperately, deliriously, deafeningly - LIE and LIE and LIE to perpetuate the myth about THE GREATEST CITY IN THE WORLD!!!

And all because they just can't possibly face returning to the cornfields that they felt trapped by and the hayseeds who goofed on their cosmopolitan ambitions to confess the truth: New York sucks and blows and blows and sucks and sucks and blows and sucks.

So you can imagine how happy I was when I moved away to Los Angeles in November 1993. And you should just as easily be able to imagine how out-of-my-gourd insane I was two years later when I moved BACK.

My stint in L.A. was an experiment in sobriety that, initially, didn't work out so good. But I liked it there. In general. The weather was perfect, the mountains and palm trees appealed to me endlessly and there's no more ideal locale for a movie fanatic to loll around in.

Sure, L.A.'s crawling with "industry" creeps who refer to celebrities by their first names in casual conversation, but they were (and are) no different than the trolls in New York who yammer too loudly about fashion or lit'ra-chuh or the lineup at the Angelika Film Centre or whatever other inanity into which they frantically, fearfully buy and buy and buy.

The only truly damnable aspect of the City of Angels, to me, was that local customs and overly excitable law enforcement made it so goddamned hard to get drunk.

At first, I managed to put together a year free of mind-altering substance while living in L.A. Then I didn't.

Dodging both a sober boss and a concerned girlfriend, I commenced stealing up to San Francisco, where I had numerous booze-bag buddies. My excuse was wholly fantastical "business trips." I was in the business of being an asshole and, oh, was that business grand. But the commute was a hassle. Man.

Eventually, I longed to get loaded in peace, in place where you didn't have to operate potentially deadly machinery to travel anywhere, and where the bars stayed open until dawn like they're supposed to.

With my eyes on that cirrhosis-coaxing prize, I quit my job, broke it off with the lady and aimed myself eastward and landed in the back room of an old candy store in which a shower had been installed so that, within the most laughably broad definition of legality, the place could be rented as an apartment.

The joint was not without its charms.

What remained of the windows, following decades of decay, essentially amounted to giant holes covered by metal grates. The breeze flowed through non-stop. Plastic tiles didn't quite cover the floor. There was a half-size refrigerator and a rust-encased kitchen sink. The front area, which years earlier had been a functioning little sweet shop, today just contained junk from the landlord's family that had heaped up over generations. Someone had written in Magic Marker on one wall, "Yankees #1." On a floor level electrical outlet, ominously, someone else had applied an AIDS-awareness sticker that declared, "Silence = Death."

This single-occupancy, faux-wood-paneled storage slum was just a dry-heave's distance from the Gowanus Canal and cost me a scant $450 a month - a steal in New York, even back in 1995. Utilities were even less because, aside from electricity to power the overhead fluorescent bulbs, there weren't any.

There was no gas for the single burner stove-thing , which was okay with averse-to-cooking me. Then, as I found out only as autumn careened into the record-breakingly arctic winter of 1996, there was also no heat. And I do mean none. At first I thought it was just drafty, but reality stung me one morning - cold and hard - when I discovered that my toothpaste had frozen solid. And I do mean solid.

But this was okay. I could deal. I had my methods. They involved intoxication. And for that I was in the right place.

The nearby Brooklyn Inn and the Doray Tavern made for easy escapes, so I simply stayed there every night, liquefying my salary and developing an impressive shitty-cocaine habit to better stave off the nightly return to my igloo-with-a-mattress-in-it.

I also stuffed my gullet with pizza, burritos, calzones, White Castle, foot-long heroes, black-and-white cookies, canolli, Cuban sandwiches, Key Lime Pie, and any and all other manner of fat-crammed, sugar-spackled delicacies of the neighborhood, all to better facilitate a breathless collapse into system-overload slumber each near-dawn.

As a direct result of this exhaustive regimen, across the span of my first year back "home," I expanded from a 32-inch waist to a previously unimaginable 40 inches. Never again would I wear Levi's jeans, what with those mortifying numbers printed on the back label.

My mother visited my ice-hole one time. She almost started crying. I threw her out. My friend Kate came by. She told me she once stayed in a wreck like this when she was hiding from a guy who had vowed to beat her to death. Even the most homicidal mooks have some standards, apparently, and there are lows to which they won't sink. My buddy Spike happened over and laughed. He called my domicile the "Travis Bickle Arms." Aaron Lee, my best friend who was staying with me for an entire weekend from California, noted that, "Travis Bickle lived better than this. At least he had some stuff on the wall."

Aaron also thoughtfully added, "This pisses me off. At you. What are you doing? I mean, part of me thinks this place is kind of cool. But it's fucked up. You have to get out of here."

I had to, and I did. But it took a while. First, I needed to stem the flow of inebriates into my already perplexed-by-life psyche. This was a mighty undertaking.

And then, for a spell, even after I relocated to a pretty okay apartment, I annoyed anyone within earshot with my constant, koo-koo-bird bellyaching about my still being stranded in New York. Fortunately, that only lasted eight years.

In April 2003, a hero of mine named Mr. Skin, who I knew from the radio show of another hero of mine named Howard Stern, cartoonishly burst into my office at a nudie magazine and offered me a job. Writing dirty jokes. In Chicago. For twice the money that I had been earning. Starting prontissimo.

I hopped a plane at once and I've never looked back. Except to point. And laugh.

It is the best medicine, you know.

 

- Mike McPadden