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DEATH IN THE AFTERNOON
Sam North - on his first time in New York
‘Take a picture, take a picture of the son of a bitch. I want a picture of that bastard jumping.’


She wasn’t being difficult, she was being a New Yorker. These are things you quickly discover when you arrive in ‘their’ city. I had a key, a heavy suitcase and was exhausted from the difficult journey from the strikebound airport. The apartment was on the seventeenth floor - exchanged with a guy I had never met, but who wanted to live in my rather glum Putney flat overlooking the Upper Street graveyard.

‘The lift is for residents only,’ she was screeching, trying to hold back her clutch of horrid yapping dogs, straining on a pearlescent lead. They were dying to snap at my heels and I was dying to given them a swift kick.

‘I am a resident,’ I pointed out for the sixth time, ‘I have a key’.

There was no way I was going to walk up 17 floors, not for her, not for anyone. The elevator arrived and she scuttled into it dragging her dogs after her. She turned around pretty swiftly and tried to ‘fill’ the space and stop me entering with the suitcase. ‘Get him Alonzo, get him Susie,’ she urged her toy dogs that yapped like car alarms at me. I dropped my fat suitcase very close to the dogs and one immediately shat himself on her white summer shoes. We rode on up the elevator accompanied by whining dogs and the growing stench of excrement.

The view from number 1702 was stunning. I had gotten very lucky. Top floor with a clear view over, well over the next building really. But what really struck me was the heat. Somehow the air conditioning was broke and a sign on the switch told me it had been broken some time. Funny he’d not mentioned that when he told me how great his place was. Believe me, New York is just not habitable in the mid-summer without cold air.

The temperature inside was ninety-five degrees and this was 9 pm. By 3 am, utterly unable to sleep I was practically swinging out of the window to get some air, the temperature was still ninety. Fortunately a wet towel draped over a hardworking fan gives some relief. I lay awake listening to piercing incessant police sirens and truly I was in a city that never sleeps.

Using a baking Fifth Avenue apartment in a New York summer isn’t the best idea I ever had, but it was free and the ocean in Rockaway or Long Island was just a train journey away on weekends should one want to cool off. I had made plans to see the museums first, then go and swim.

It was on the second day that I had my first genuine Manhattan experience.

I was taking photos of the demolition of a stunning landmark building circa 1895, a real tragedy when suddenly I heard a shot and a man appeared at a high window threatening to jump. From out of the dust of the worksite a man rushed over to me and grabbed my arm, pointing at the man in the window frame. ‘Take a picture, take a picture of the son of a bitch. I want a picture of that bastard jumping.’

And so, I stood in the dust and heat and took a picture everytime it looked as if he was going to jump. Some fifteen times or so as the man beside me explained that the man on the ledge was his stinking brother-in-law and his sister, was even now probably lying dead in that building he was helping to demolish. I did wonder if I should mention all this to one of the many cops pressing at us from all sides and snarling ‘Get back assholes’. But I figured they probably had enough to do really and the woman was already dead.

After two hours in that heat the man was talked into surrendering and he was lifted down by some firemen. I was putting my camera away when my erstwhile companion rushed forward and stabbed his brother-in-law to death, quickly dropping the knife and waiting for the stunned cops to arrest him.

I missed the shot, I was very annoyed. As the man was bundled into a cop car a cry went up and a young, very beautiful woman with a bleeding headwound came running out of the ruins and shrieked at the cops. They bundled her into the car as well. I began to push my way through the crowd to get away.

As I drunk a long cold coke float in café a block away I thought about all this. The passion, the death, the wounded beautiful woman who would now discover her husband dead killed by her own brother, the demolition of a wonderful building without a thought for history and I could finally taste New York difference. This was why I was here and not Putney. The noise, the dogs and death in the afternoon. The TV doesn’t lie, this is how it happens.

© SAM NORTH


More New York Stories

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The Great Diamond Rush of 1872 - Vivid Account of Greed and Murder in the American West

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