Saturday, February 25, 2012

Chinatown Beat by Henry Chang (Soho Press 2006)

Manhattan was twenty-two square miles and if he took his time, he'd cover it in two hours. He needed the air, needed to clear the alcohol from his head. The perspective from the driver's seat was a bittersweet pleasure to him.

He continued east.

The Greater Chinatown Dream, the Nationalists had called it: an all-yellow district in lower Manhattan running from the Battery to Fourteenth street, river to river, east to west, by the year 2000.

Then he turned the car north and made all the green lights through loisaida, the Lower East Side, past the Welfare Projects - the Wagner, Rutgers, Baruch, Gouverneur - federally subsidized highrises, which ran along the East River, blocs of buildings that stood out like racial fortresses. Blacks in the Smith Houses, Latinos in the Towers.

That's how the Lower East Side really was, not a melting pot but a patchwork quilt of different communities of people coexisting, sometimes with great difficulty.

Manhattan was symbolic of the rest of Gotham, the Big City, where the best walked the streets alongside the worst.

When the red light caught him, he was already past Alphabet City, in that part of the East Village where the druggie nation came to score: smoke, crack, rocks, pharmaceuticals, and a brand of Mott Street H tagged China Cat, so potent and poisonous it had sent twelve of the hardcore straight to junkie heaven in August, keeping the Ninth Precinct narcs tossing.