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Down and Out and ... Up and In on the Bowery

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A suite—with factory windows—at the Bowery Hotel.  

As you might guess, the beds at the Bowery Hotel are somewhat more plush than those at the Whitehouse, where the mattresses are encased in piss-resistant plastic that crackles every time you turn over. The Bowery sheets regale the naked body with a 400 Egyptian-cotton thread count, and the ocher blankets will set you back $450 if you happen to mistakenly shove one into your suitcase. But I couldn’t stay asleep. Maybe it was those ghosts, the way the window in my room, 602, overlooked the old Marble Cemetery, which Eric Goode said was one of his favorite things about the Bowery Hotel property: that “expanse of green, with the fireflies.”

“So the Bowery’s done, big deal,” says an SRO employee. “You can’t cry about it. It’s the Bowery, for chrissakes.”

It is a nice touch, the cemetery, death. I remembered the night I was walking past the Merit gas station on the corner now occupied by the Bowery Hotel. Some bums were warming themselves by a fire set in a 55-gallon drum. One of them leaned to light a cigarette, stuck his head right into the flames. His beard must have been soaked with booze; how else could he have caught on fire so fast? One of the other bums tackled the guy, made him roll around in the dirty snow. “Call the police!” he yelled, which I did, flagging down a squad car. By the time the cops got out, hands on their pistols, the fire was out, the shivering bum balled up in a fetal position. “Nothing to see here,” the cops said and told everyone to go home. A few days later, passing the same spot, I noticed the outside wall of the gas station was singed. It stayed that way for months. Now, so long after the fact, the building long since torn down and replaced by a $550-a-night hotel, the mark remains, inside my head—my personal, permanent record of 3rd Street and the Bowery.

It was one more item to process while lying in my beautiful bed at the Bowery Hotel. Here, in postmodernia, the Gideons don’t put Bibles in the night-table drawer, but I could see the back of the Third Street Men’s Shelter. On the wall were the words men. welcome. lodging. meals. employment. Painted who knew how many years ago, the words were faded now, nearly impossible to make out. But still there. Still there.


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