On the Quietest Hours in Washington Heights


In which The Gay Recluse walks through the mist of a Sunday morning.

Saturday nights can be particularly trying in Washington Heights.

Especially now that it’s getting cool out, and you want to keep the windows open.

But somehow a cool breeze at one in the morning just isn’t the same when it brings with it the constant din of screaming children and their drunk parents, along with the cacophony of forty or fifty stereos, punctuated by glass breaking, engines roaring and disturbing slams of metal lids against metal containers.

But then at 5:30 or so, the encroaching light of day quiets the revelers. Children are locked in their rooms, parents crawl into the bathroom to vomit and for a moment regret the pitiful state of their lives and the certainty that it will never get any better, and the stereos stop playing when they are accidentally kicked over. The souped-up cars are driven back to driveways in New Jersey and Westchester. Even the drug dealers abandon the corners and go inside, knowing they need a good night’s sleep before heading out the next afternoon to the Mercedes dealership to spend the night’s take on a new SUV.

This, of course, is when we like to walk the streets of Washington Heights.

Although there’s garbage everywhere, at least it’s quiet — even more than quiet given what so recently passed — and the exhausted buildings are most unguarded.

They seem to reclaim a certain grandeur in the eastern light that makes it easy to imagine what they looked like 100 years ago, when they were first built.

We often wonder what these old buildings think about, whether they, too, are dismayed by the erratic, impoverished indulgence in which they have been fated to live.

And if they ever dream of escape.

We smile sadly, knowing that — barring a miracle — we are as stuck as they are.

Yet we walk home and go to sleep feeling somewhat more thankful.

Knowing it could still be so much worse.

Of all the Manhattan venues available to the gay recluse, Washington Heights is undoubtedly the preferred. Here we live among extremes of material decadence and breathtaking neglect, apparent in the crumbling cornices of Ft. Washington Avenue and eroding limestone facades of St. Nicholas, not to mention the tiled mosaics in the entrance foyers of the apartment palaces of upper Broadway — grand, tessellated spaces reminiscent of The Alhambra — through which uncountable millions of apathetic feet have passed in the decades since their painstaking construction. Only here among the ruins can we permit ourselves the indulgence of a certain wistful nostalgia for the past, knowing it is one that we can never hope to live.

— The Gay Recluse, September 21, 2007

One Response to “On the Quietest Hours in Washington Heights”

  1. 1 c.

    Your knack for for distillation — here, of the need to see the sane and beautiful amidst the insane — is rewarding.

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