It's raining in New York City and your author on tour is tired and melancholy. The overpriced hotel room he wakes up in is dreary and cold. Years ago, this was a cheap bohemian dive in Gramercy Park where $129 a night bought you a small suite with smoke-infused couches and bad light fixtures. It's still a dive, though smoking is no longer allowed and the suites are twice as much. The clientele has changed, too. The provincial artists in New York for another stab at the big time, and the black-clad Eurotrash looking for the fabled underground night, have been replaced by families on vacation with $100-per-person tickets to Broadway shows. The hotel is halfway between the Village and Times Square, but few of the guests head downtown. The magnetic poles have been reversed, just like everything else in America. Up is in, down is out. The bar downstairs, known since the 1920s as a place where rich older women, including many faded movie stars, came to pick up younger men, is now just a bar for mildly affluent not-so-young office workers. True, there is a new rooftop bar with a magnificent view of the Chrysler building, but it's one of the chic spots now, so if you want an unimpeded view you have to get it over the gym-toned shoulders of suburbanites out on the town.
OK, OK, kvetch and complain. The tour's been going great, people actually come out to buy the book and stand for the question-and-answer period. There are still people who read literary books instead of political exposes. The bookstores are warm and the clerks friendly and curious. My writer friends show up with their own books and manuscripts and all of us head for the hotel bar. It's not the dive of yore and I try not to think of the bill. There is no smoke and everyone looks slightly older. At around midnight, there is a public performance of a poem we've all been writing by passing napkins around the table. It's a magnificent lyrical lament for the old days, shot through here and there with sexual references like a head of white hair with a few dark streaks. For a moment, everything is perfect. We are writers, we are immortal, the Cold War is over, maybe all wars are over. Then everyone leaves. I go to the all-night newsstand to buy a paper. Ronald Reagan is dead. The room is cold. It's raining and the Cold War and the 20th century are indeed over. But the bill is still due.
Andrei Codrescu is touring with Wakefield, his new novel.