Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood published a wonderful story by Jacob Margolies about his friend “Monte” and Washington Square Park in grittier days:
I have a friend. For the purposes of this story, let’s call him Monte. When I was a kid there were lots of guys in the neighborhood named Monte. Now I don’t know anyone with that name.
From the time he was 13, just after his bar mitzvah when he first had a few bucks in his pocket, until he was well into his 40s, Monte liked to cop dope at Washington Square Park.
He started out, like a lot of the other crazy kids I knew, buying all kinds of drugs there—black beauties, Quaaludes, mushrooms, blotter, whatever. But mostly pot. As he got older, he straightened out and learned to steer clear of the nasty stuff. But this guy just loved buying pot in the Park. Even after he had left New York and moved down south, where it’s warm and the housing is cheap, Monte could be counted on to head over to Washington Square Park during the two or three times each year that he’d travel back to the city to see his mother.
For middle-aged Monte, who now lives in Florida, visiting mom was an occasion to score. Haggling with the Washington Square Park pot dealers summoned nostalgic feelings. Even when he stopped smoking dope entirely, Monte would wander to the Park to do business. I guess it made him feel like he was 16. While the city, especially the Lower East Side, had changed in ways unimaginable to him, at least some traditions of his youth still held true.
Occasionally, especially when I was younger, I would accompany Monte on his expeditions and unobtrusively read The Daily News on a park bench while he did his thing. Over the years, the negotiations seemed to get longer and longer. At some point, I began bringing both The New York Post and The Daily News to read while transactions were conducted. Once I read an entire Hemingway short story as Monte insisted again and again that the dealer put some more dope in the bag.
Washington Square Park has been cleaned up for years now. The place is positively wholesome. Sure, you still got the chess players, acrobats and musicians. There will always be the Arch and those beautiful old townhouses along the north side of the Park. Washington Square ain’t Wichita, but it’s a lot less edgy than it used to be. These days Monte must satisfy himself with going to Chinatown and eating at the Peking Duck House or getting one of those monstrous pastrami sandwiches at Katz’s if he wants to feed his New York soul and summon the childhood ghosts.
Read the whole story here.
Photo: Roey Ahram