Coco McPherson's New York Obsession (2008)

Until recently, the meat market was my secret dreamworld, a place most alive in the middle of the night, surreal for its rows of hanging animal carcasses and the white-coated men—with names like One-Eye (blinded by bleach after he bugged a waitress once too often), Dog Eddie, and Rabbit—who attended them, and the prostitutes who fought on the cobblestoned streets and who later gathered at Dizzy Izzy's (closed this spring) for coffee. All this is over now, and a new neighborhood is rising like Disney's version of New Orleans, drunk and rich, with lots of money and a little help from writers who shill for developers in the Sunday real estate section. My neighbor rides around on his bicycle shouting into a bullhorn, "Go back to Soho," and like a gentle but insistent traffic cop, "Soho is south of here," and only occasionally, "GET OUT OF MY NEIGHBORHOOD." Indeed.

Remember that scene in Fellini's Roma, where workers using an electric mole break through a wall and expose ancient Roman mosaics, which vanish seconds later? These days, walking around the meatpacking district is a lot like that. Vanishing but still standing is the market's industrial beauty, and unless you're devoted to new stores selling little gem prayer bracelets and minaret-shaped candles, there's nothing to buy. One exception is Bahay (24 Ninth Avenue, 989-9412), which sells the owner's own beautiful ceramic pieces and the work of local artists. Across the street is Western Beef (403 West 14th Street, 989-6572), where I shop for incongruously labeled staples like Western Beef Sugar and Western Beef Cornflakes. For actual beef, however, see Adolf Kusy (861 Washington Street, 242-4755) or Steve Brooks at Diamond Meats (37 Ninth Avenue, 727-2067). In the early morning, you can still expect to weave through restaurant trucks picking up meat—boxes of triangles, rounds, circles, flaps, and other mysterious cuts—for the day's meals. For a taste of the neigh- borhood's other flesh, go straight to Hellfire (28 Ninth Avenue, 647-0063), where men pay $30 and women nothing at all for, among many other things, the pleasure of riding a man with a saddle strapped to his back. If you're actually hungry, do as I do and order a good diner cheeseburger from Nick's City Kitchen (44 Ninth Avenue, 929-2807) or the steak frites at Florent (69 Gansevoort Street, 989-5779), then walk to the corner of Little West 12th and Washington Street for a look at the Miami-inspired "pink building" and its lovely decaying neighbor, Loew Avenue Beef (closed this year after nearly half a century—RIP). Across the street, the elevated track known as the High Line is covered with lush green weeds. See the trees growing from the metal girders and say a prayer for gentle pioneer Lee Brewster; at his Mardi Gras Boutique, even the tallest gentleman was a lady.

When you've watched the death throes of the meat market for too long, go to my other secret dreamworld, Coney Island. There, the decay is still beautifully intact. On your way, hit La Taza de Oro (96 Eighth Avenue, 243-9946) and order Spanish coffee to go—it's the best in New York and still only $1. Proceed to West 4th Street and get on the B train. Get off at Stillwell Avenue. As you exit the station, stare at the sturdy candy apples at Coney legend Philip's Candies (1237 Surf Avenue, 718-372-8783). Cross the street to the Sideshows by the Seashore (1208 Surf Avenue, 718-372-5159). Notable for its wondrous humans, it also has excellent souvenirs. Buy a set of brightly tinted postcards of the Parachute Drop or Luna Park, only 50 cents each, or a giant 1949 black-and-white postcard of the boardwalk in its heyday. Next door, find independent oddity the World's Tiniest Woman. ("29 tiny inches," her barker intones. "She's here, she's weird, and she's alive.") On the other side of the shooting galleries (and the figure perpetually vomiting brown water into a barrel) is the beautiful wreck of the Thunderbolt, with its mysterious entrance overgrown with vines. Up on the boardwalk, take a long walk down to Café Tatiana (3154 Brighton Beach, at 4th Street, 718-646-7630). Get drunk and watch the sun set as beautiful Russian ladies of all ages perambulate the boardwalk. Address your postcards. Tell your friends you're never coming home.

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