Now that I have some free time, I’m becoming reacquainted with my neighborhood. It is, I’m discovering, a strange, perhaps even sinister place. I live in Chelsea, on one of those nondescript, mix ‘n’ match side streets that exists only in New York: movie stars in lofts, a mysterious convent, tenement-style walk-ups, quasi-government agencies, strange old guys who sit around listening to transistor radios, a drunk who free falls on his face like clockwork every three months (I’ve called the medics twice myself). And drug dealers.
       There used to be a high-volume drug operation further west on my block, but the cops blocked off the street to cars and the Jersey-plated Camaros eventually went elsewhere. Or so I thought. Really, the transaction just became more subterranean. Walking west last week, I saw a complicated transaction in which a car with the obligatory Jersey plates pulled up in front of a parked car. A man from the Jersey car jumped into the parked car, which sped up 15th Street. Parked-car guy got out and went into a building. Meanwhile, the other guy in the Jersey car moved up to block the second car. Parked-car guy left the building and got back in his car. Then Jersey guy got out of the car, back into his own ride, and headed for the West Side Highway. Now, you tell me.
       Walking my dog this afternoon, I saw one crusty old guy pass another crusty old guy in the street and hand over a baseball-sized wad of what appeared to be $100 bills (I was literally two feet away). They exchanged very Jim Jarmuschian “my man”s and sauntered off. Looking on the bright side, there are always people standing around on the street waiting to be helpful. This evening, seeing that I was in imminent danger of dropping a rickety tower of birthday presents and cake I was trying to shove into a waiting car, a young guy came to my rescue. Moments later, someone else wandered by, and the two of them snuck off into a dark driveway to transact who knows what.
       The birthday was my father’s and, picking up on a series of hints over the previous year, I bought him a computer–his first. He has done an extraordinary amount in his life–he’s basically the guy who pioneered the idea of noise control–but he has managed to become a prototypically American success story while remaining blissfully untutored in the American cultural and consumer culture that is most everyone else’s lingua franca. In a recent effort to, like, clue him in, I had mentioned the magazine Rolling Stone.
       “Mort Kondracke writes for that,” he said. “I saw it on that McLaughlin show.”
       “No, dad,” I said testily, “I promise you that’s not the case.”
       My father was adamant: “He writes for Rolling Stones.”
       “Rolling Stone, dad. That’s a music magazine. The Rolling Stones are a rock band. And Mort Kondracke writes for Roll Call.”
       In any case, he seemed to like the computer–a Compaq laptop–but became flummoxed by the tabs you press to open the thing. When I opened it for him, he grabbed the Compaq by its scruff end, jabbing his thumb into the screen, and began poking repeatedly at the on/off key as if at a typewriter. I am hedging my bets. If he ever reads these words, we’ll move on to Step Two: that big Keith Richards/Jack Germond reunion tour.