Mose Is Back in Town

"Oh Mose, I feel so marginalized!"

It was a late snowy afternoon, just before twilight, I was staring in the windows of the chandelier stores—15 million volts of electric heat, light and gold. The whole street is so pendulous with all that swinging crystal and weeping teardrops—and there was the reflection of Mose, the Bowery Boy! He was standing right behind me. I had never met him before, as he is from the 1840s and I had only read about him in Gangs of New York, where he was a famous fire laddie, but there he was, well over eight feet tall, maybe 10, with his hands dangling below his knees. His laugh makes cars tremble and trees sway. He can lift a streetcar in the palm of his hand and, when Mose is hungry, it causes a flurry in the flour market.

"Why do you feel marginalized?" Mose said, adjusting his two-foot beaver hat.

illustration: Anthony Freda

Details

An Elegy for the Bowery:

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  • Noise on Music Central
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  • The Endangered Garden
    AvalonBay makes concessions, but will Liz Christy's trees and plants survive?
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  • The Last of the Mohicans
    Searching for a place to flop on what was once skid row
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  • "I was just at the top of the Bowery looking up at the tall glass building made with tall money and then I saw that brick one with the grocery and then a green glass hotel off to the east and I kept running and running until I got to lighting and restaurant supply because down here, the Bowery is still like it used to be."

    Mose looked at a man scraping a pizza oven. "I don't remember this."

    "That's more 1950s. Could you slow down." I had to take 20 steps to keep up with Mose's one. "These new multimillion-dollar condominium towers, huff puff, are disrupting my sense of place attachment because they're about huge amounts of capital expenditures. Huff puff. I was just talking to this environmental psychology professor—the buildings are read as belonging to others, not the community. Plus, they're upsetting the intimacy of scale. Wait, I have to cough."

    "You're right, the Bowery was always short," Mose said.

    "Careful, don't step on that Chihuahua." Mose has these heavy copper-plated shoes. "Also, the icy mirrored buildings cruelly force people to stare at themselves. Did you know that the developers of 195 with the Italian marble bathrooms call themselves the Bowery Boys?"

    "The nerve. I was so mad once at theDead Rabbits gang that I wrecked two of their tenements. Do you belong to a gang that could muss up those developers?"

    "Like the Flop Housers, the Bleecker Two-Boots, the Delancey Ducks, the Congee Cuckoos, the Thousand-Year-Old Eggs?—No, I don't."

    "Bust into Tammany Hall then! But, you know, acceptable areas expand," Mose said, as we were strolling down the street of tables and chairs. "It's the history of the real estate cycle. With all the development, perhaps the Bowery will become the entertainment strip it once was."

    "Mose, with your talk of real estate cycles you sound like a developer. Plus the entertainment is just these restaurants with scraps of lettuce and the old Bowery Savings Bank with the Corinthian columns where Heidi Klum, the lingerie model, had her Halloween party. And Mose, I thought you only cared about saving women and children from burning wood houses."

    "That was just my day job. Actually I was in theater." He lit a two-foot cigar. "Rather, they did plays about me. You should have heard the applause. Yes, in my day, the theater was everything. We sat in boxes painted gold and apple blossom, drinking pink lemonade, peppermint kisses, with my gal, Gargamelle. Eighteen forty-nine was the first performance of The Bowery B'hoy at the old Olympic, also the year of the Astor Place Riot, then of course the outbreak of cholera in the Five Points . . . " A one-foot tear rolled down his face " . . . and my dear Gargamelle. . . . " He took out his handkerchief the size of a tablecloth. "If I had been born earlier, the East River would have been formed from my tears."

    By now we were passing Faerman's with the silver cash registers. Mr. Faerman was in the back restoring key tabs—$2, $5. They sell scales too. A plaque reads: "We weigh the world."

    "I used to keep my money in a sheep's bladder," Mose said, "a big one because I had so much. Do you have a sixpence? I want to give one to that child."

    Just then I started screaming. We were near the man who was trying to sell us flannel pajamas by the Fu Wong Restaurant. "Mose, Mose, something is happening to me."

    I looked down. I was so far away from my shoes. I was growing very tall. Soon, I was towering over the True Love Wedding photography center and the jewelry store with Starlight in purple neon. "Mose, I don't have my small cough anymore. I'm almost nose to nose with that 21-story glass penthouse up north."

    Mose said, "You have written a tall tale. Look, something's wriggling in your pocket." I pulled it out. "It's a developer."

    All of a sudden, Mose looked east, alarmed. "There's a ship drifting toward the rocks. I've got to go save it."

    With that, he disappeared in the snowy light. I ran to the Manhattan Bridge. There he was, moving down the river in a rowboat, blowing the smoke from his two-foot cigar to set the ship back on course.

     
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