New York Shots #6


He banged from below over the slightest noise but he was quiet tonight. Then the buzzer rang. Most of the time that meant it was the landlord or a vulturous religious nut, but when I opened the door, this time I found a small thin man in his early fifties. His suit, although sickly green, was crisp and neat. His greying hair was styled as if he had nothing else to do with his time. He pushed his wire frame glasses up his pointed nose and smiled. Although I had never met my cantankerous neighbor from the apartment below, I knew it was him.

“Can I talk with you?” he inquired as he entered my apartment.

“Sure” I said, pretending I had any choice in the matter. He scanned my sitting room smiling as if it was exactly as he had imagined it.

“Your water is leaking down” he said, pointing to the bathroom.

“That’s impossible.”

I was in the bathroom, casually showing him the bone dry floor tiles when I realized we were actually strangers.

“The water is not coming from here.” My voice became stern.

“Let me show you.” He said motioning for me to follow him downstairs.

His apartment was organized and sterile. It was a mix of fashions from several past decades. The furniture ranged from retro to antique; collectively it resembled a thrift store. The bare light bulbs made him look older and the apartment far bigger, but less inviting. It lacked a woman’s touch. It was a man’s apartment, minimal and efficient.

He showed me the ceiling where I eventually spotted a faint watermark. I decided to put an end to this as I had cold beers waiting upstairs and a free evening in which to drink them.

“I work in construction,” I said. “What’s happening is that some water has leaked in through the outside wall between our apartments and trickled down. It’s not coming from my sink, toilet, kitchen or shower, okay? I suggest you let the landlord know about it as it’s his responsibility. Get him involved, not me.” I was polite but firm.

“I’ll call him I suppose, maybe tomorrow.” He shrugged. It didn’t seem so urgent now. “Another thing…you have music here.” He pointed up to the corner of the ceiling.

“Yeah, that’s where my computer is. You’ve seen it!”

“You have a subwoofer or something.”

“I don’t, but I’ll try and keep it down.”

“I can hear it sometimes y’know? Boom! Boom! Boom! Y’know? And the walking, you make a lot of noise walking around.”

“All I’m doing is living up there and that’s not going to stop anytime soon.”

I snapped. We stared at each other in silence for a few seconds. I felt guilt rising in my gut.

“How long have you lived here?” I asked him.
“20 years.”
“Where are you from?”
“Romania. Where are you from?”
“You here long?”
“Five years.”
“That’s not very long.”
“It is to me.”

We stared at each other again in silence. This happens with immigrants sometimes. We should have so much in common but we don’t. I turned to my left and saw a cabinet with a large collection of vinyl records and a record player. Below it was a large bar with every liquor you could want. He saw me looking at it and snatched a bottle like a child grabs candy.

“You want a drink?” He widened his eyes.

“No thanks” I said. He forced a smile and lowered the bottle back.

“You live here alone?” I was just trying to make conversation.


He leaned back into the cabinet and told me a brief history of his life up to the moment he rang my buzzer. He came to New York with his wife to study. She died soon after arriving and he married again. His second wife left him. They had no children and now he lives alone. He showed no bitterness towards his second wife and I could tell how much he loved his first by his face when he spoke of her. He was a software engineer but lost his job many years ago. Now he worked in wallpaper.

“You design wallpaper patterns?” I asked.
“No, I hang wallpaper.”

I looked around his apartment and its bare painted walls. “You don’t have any wallpaper in here.”

“I know” he said with that dismissive shrug again. The silence started again as we both stared at the walls.  

“I gotta get back.” I started moving towards the door.

“What have you got planned tonight?”

“My girlfriend is visiting her mother so I’m gonna sit in and have a quiet night. I need to catch up on some stuff anyway.”

“You sure you don’t want to have a drink here?”

“Thanks anyway but I really should be getting back.”

I made my way to the door. He followed me out to the corridor.

“You should call the landlord,” I said.

“I will if it happens again,” he replied. “It’s not really that bad”

“No, it isn’t I guess.”

I was making my way up the stairs when he called after me.

“Do you like fishing? I go fishing.”

I made a face, I did not.

“I like eating fish.” I smiled.

He nodded and returned to his apartment and I returned to mine.  

Both of us spent the night drinking alone for entirely different reasons.

– April 2008


New York Shots are those small moments that happen while living in New York. They’re so small that they are rarely mentioned yet take up considerable space in various notebooks I carry around with me at any given time. This blog was started as a writing exercise and I thought this would be a nice way to write shorter snippets of life in NYC. They won’t always be interesting but I don’t want them forgotten either. 

New York Shots #5

A Tough Room

I was terrified. I rested my head against the wooden door that separated me from a room full of people howling with laughter at the worst jokes I had ever heard. I was up next.

I had been unofficially “passed” at the comedy club a few weeks earlier. After failing an audition they called me back anyway and gave me paid spots every Wednesday night. The crowds were light and any heckling was good natured. One evening I got a call to do the late Friday night spot. I agreed. Simply being asked to perform was reward enough, but a weekend late show? Absolutely.

When I got there I noticed that I was the only white comic on the bill. I had learned that being Irish had rendered me neutral in such affairs but I then noticed that I was still the only white guy among the entire crowd waiting to enter. The host was a polite skinny comic with wild hair. He seemed confused that I was on the bill and said he would put me up first. Something wasn’t right so I hit the bar and immediately began double fisting Indian Pale Ales, as they have the highest alcohol content and tend to render even the toughest gigs smooth as a sad Lincoln car ride home.

When the MC hit the stage he morphed into an furious street thug and screamed up into a microphone that he held upside down just above his face.

Where my Puerto Ricans at? A small table clapped. Oh yeah, there you are! Hey ladies watch your handbags and cover yo’ assholes! Boom! The room erupted. Dominicans were next. What kind of show was this? Why was I booked? I thought of my set and how whimsical and nice it all was. Maybe I should write more edgy material or perhaps I should just check the shows i’m booked on in future. Christ, i’m opening with a bit about my Irish mother. I’m so fucked.

To my growing horror I listened to the MC talk at length about a recent event that had happened in New York in which a black man was pulled over driving home by two white cops and shot over fifty times because he reached for his driver’s license too quickly. The room vibrated with anger, and oddly enough, laughter. I seriously thought of running away. Every time the MC acted out the gruesome killing, more people slapped their hands on the tables and shouted out with incredulity.  

“The first comic tonight is a real good friend of mine” he said as he fumbled for a piece of paper before turning it around in his hands a few times. Please welcome to the stage…Mr Collins Dempsey.

As I walked to the stage through the crowd I got an applause so loud I presumed it was sarcastic. Grabbing the microphone I looked into the crowd and was met with a mix of confused, disinterested and genuinely concerned facial expressions. I started into my material immediately.

Three minutes in and barely getting a chuckle someone shouted out, “Hey, do you work for UPS?” I looked down and realized I was wearing a brown shirt, brown trousers and brown shoes. My lack of fashion sense often means I leave the apartment in a less than aesthetic coordination of color, but this was a major oversight. I did indeed look like I worked for UPS. The crowd erupted for the first time and I turned to address the heckler only to see her texting. 

A large man sitting in front of the stage shouted out something I couldn’t understand. I turned to address the new heckler by asking his name. “Flip” he said. All I could do was ask the obvious “Why are you called Flip?”. “Oh you know, because I like to F to the L to the I to the P,” he responded. 

This sounded more like subway directions than an answer. 

He continued talking but his accent was so strong I couldn’t understand a word of it. As I tried to have a conversation with him in order to mine some jokes, a table at the back of the room began talking amongst themselves. This is the worst. Another stream of heckles came from Flip but the more I tried to hit him with a comeback the more I realized I had no fucking idea what the hell he was talking about.

Normally you get the crowd on your side in order to shut the heckler up. Unfortunately, in this case, I learned he had brought the crowd. In just a few short minutes I had lost the whole room except for three girls in the front row who grimaced through it all, wanting me to do well.  

I tried to move on to other material but it was all story-based jokes with no real zingers. I struggled to remember my earlier stuff that had actual jokes but it seemed pointless. After an attempt at recalling a funny anecdote at a recent concert of The Shins, someone in the crowd cried out “Will somebody please bounce this motherfucker from the stage!” The room cheered. The MC appeared at the side of the room as my lifetime of fifteen minutes was up.

As I walked out through the crowd, Flip called me over in a manner that told me I had no choice. He squeezed my hand and pulled me close, “You passed the test, you’re an American now. Well done bro, you’re alright”. I thanked him and left confused for the stairs. Outside the room I heard the MC explain to the crowd that it was my first time on that particular show and that I deserved a round of applause. He could have shit on me but didn’t, and I got the applause.

My embarrassment exploded to new levels when I remembered that the show was being shown live in the lounge upstairs on giant flat screen TVs, a lounge I had to go through to leave the building. I tip-toed to the top of the stairs and peaked around the corner. The manager and other performers had their backs to me at the bar. There was no way I was going to collect my $20 and when I was sure they weren’t looking I ran out the door to the street outside. I made my way to the subway and tried to evaluate what had just happened all the way home.

It was late when I got back to the apartment, I opened the fridge and found my roommate’s bottle of vodka. I poured myself a stiff drink, crashed on the couch and turned on the TV. Comedy Central came on and a comedienne was shouting at an audience similar to the one I had just died in front of. It was a lot of noise about nothing. She seemed as disconnected from them as I had been, but she was winning. She was awful, the absolute worst. In a strange way it made me feel a whole lot better.  

– June 2009

New York Shots are those small moments that happen while living in New York. They’re so small that they are rarely mentioned yet take up considerable space in various notebooks I carry around with me at any given time. This blog was started as a writing exercise and I thought this would be a nice way to write shorter snippets of life in NYC. They won’t always be interesting but I don’t want them forgotten either. 

New York Shots #4

Two nights was all I needed. I’d take my laptop and head upstate alone to the smallest town I could find and dissolve myself in it. I had a romantic notion that in isolation I would finally finish that short story or other loose end I was lost and tangled in. The train trip was long but the walk to the hotel was short. The main street was both the good and bad part of town. Everything looked haunted.

I dropped my bag off at the hotel and spent a few hours walking around the outskirts of town. I always gravitate to these places as they’re the most interesting, the graveyards being my favourite. Always empty, even on weekends and it’s the only place to find guaranteed stillness no matter where you are in New York. I watched the distinctness of the gravestone styles fade as they got younger. Some were so old that I could only read them by tracing the worn letters with my fingers.

Here lies a man who died making this country, here lies a man who fought his brother for a better one, here lies a man who fought foreigners who tried to take it from him, here lies a man who fought in a war, here lies a man who was rich, here lies a man who had a family, here lies a man who owned a store that looked like every other, and here lies a man who once existed.

I tried writing in a coffee shop but the staff and fellow patrons were trying too hard to be a hipster cafe. I stocked up on booze and returned to the hotel. I set in for the night with my laptop and got to work. After a few hours of writing the booze kicked in and I decided to do what I love most and reached for my guitar. I’ve always mixed up the importance between the two. I learned to write but I found music. The last thing I remember was sitting on the porch with my guitar drinking beer beside a candle watching the house lights of the street slowly fade out.     

I spent the following day staring at deer staring back at me confused from within various abandoned buildings. The kitchen of a house, a gas station forecourt or a train station storage shed. I had rented a bike and ventured further from the town in a bid to burn off my hangover. I found a disused railway line that once connected the town to a river port. It was lined with several abandoned buildings from more prosperous times. As I cycled past each of them I tried to imagine the people that once lived there.

I should have been writing but I had the sun on my face. I was too damn happy cycling through webs of light, down small tree-lined back roads. I was as far from people as you can possibly be in New York.

Later that afternoon I found an old bar near where the railway line cut the corner of the town. Inside was dark, long and narrow with a covered pool table at the back. The bar itself was small, overstocked and tended by a middle aged woman too large to function in it but she did. Her actions as she served the three barflies were as mechanical as a submariner under attack. I bought a beer and listened in on the locals. A tall thin man walked in and scanned the bar. His black hair was combed back by manic hands, his wild eyes never blinked and his mouth hung permanently open. He let out a squawk, and then another. The locals ignored him but the bartender stared at him in curious silence. He squawked again before I recognised the sound, early morning crows. He continued trying to communicate like this before he stormed out frustrated. Nobody mentioned what had just happened. Unusual, that a man would try and order a beer speaking as a crow and nobody even comments on it. Two barflies staggered out into the evening and left just me and an elderly man who had been quiet since I had arrived, lost in his own thoughts fumbling at a notebook. The bartender started a conversation and we spoke about nothing for half an hour before I decided to leave.

It was dark so I made my way to the lights of the main street and hit a place I’d seen earlier. Inside was an old bookstore that doubled as a bar at night. A band was was setting up so I decided to stay. On a shelf near the back I seen a book on hunting with a deer on it’s cover staring back at me.   

After my second beer I looked up and saw The Crow Man at the end of the bar, he let out a squawk and the bartender poured him a drink as if fluent in his language. He smiled to himself, licked his lips and sat waiting for the band. A short time later he squawked again and the bartender brought him another beer. He smiled at a few locals and they smiled back.

The band started up and were beyond terrible. An incoherent mash of inconsistent rhythm and disconnected melodies cut through my beer buzz and left me feeling nothing but anxious. Their family and friends cheered them on but their growing confidence brought no repair to the broken ensemble. I had one more beer but it didn’t help. The Crow Man was loving it while the staff and barflies tried to talk amongst themselves against the onslaught. In between songs the silence was stolen by squawks of approval and beer requests.   

I left early so I could catch the liquor store before closing. When I returned to the hotel I sat on the porch and wrote about nothing in particular in silence with beer. One by one all the houses turned off their lights again and the stars burst into full bloom. What a strange little town.        

Waiting for the train home the next morning gave me the time to conclude that these breaks from the city were not as productive as I had romanced.

When the train entered the city I felt the comfort of distraction. Buildings sang with people, crowds heaved like music on platforms and cars shifted light around in the darkness. I love living in a city. The last three days were the adventure I wanted, and yet, again I was glad to be home. Sometimes you get what you want and it just doesn’t feel right.     

Emerging from the train station it began to rain. I waited in a long faceless line for a cab home and thought of the silence of the graveyard and it’s sunlight. I thought of what it must be like to have all you were carved in stone, weathered by storms and read by strangers’ fingertips.

– June 2010

New York Shots are those small moments that happen while living in New York. They’re so small that they are rarely mentioned yet take up considerable space in various notebooks I carry around with me at any given time. This blog was started as a writing exercise and I thought this would be a nice way to write shorter snippets of life in NYC. They won’t always be interesting but I don’t want them forgotten either.  

New York Shots #3

“Drawbridge Over The Manasquan River” Sue T. Oliver (edited)

The bridge was midway, that I knew. I had done this late night walk from the beach bar to the house where I was staying a few times before. Now I was lost. This particular night I was sober, even with a belly full of booze. Bad company will to that to you. I noticed everything and knew nothing. I could not rely on my fail-safe drunken autopilot in this condition, I had to really think about this. As I walked down the other side of the bridge into the darkness I called my friend for directions. He didn’t answer so I left a message. At the bottom of the bridge I passed a bored looking girl calmly smoking outside a chaotic house party. Hey, she said, are you Irish? I hung up immediately upon seeing her. I heard your accent, she said. We chatted for a few minutes about how she was Italian but grew up in an Irish neighborhood in The Bronx. We talked, exchanged some Irish slang we both knew and laughed enough for her to invite me into the chaos behind her.

The back lawn had several tables on which people played beer pong, leaned drunkenly on, or both. At the far corner near the water was a beer keg and that was it. It was mostly all guys. Big tanned muscled Italian guidos with waxed eyebrows and tattoos of their grandmothers. Of the few girls I had seen, it was clear that I had been invited in by the most beautiful one. They all hated me. I knew this from the simple observation of how they stared at me in silence when I spoke. One guy with a crooked grimace and perfectly bleached hair never took his beady brown eyes off me.

The more we talked the more we laughed, you know how it goes. My head was spinning after only one beer. Good company will do that to you. I don’t know what I said but she laughed so hard that an angry guido ran inside the house and reappeared back on the porch with a Fender Stratocaster and Peavey amp. He was awful but he strutted about like a bronzed chicken for her attention anyway. What madness was this? She seemed completely oblivious to the growing guido tension.  

She offered to get me a refill and took my cup. As she walked towards the keg, beady brown eyes turned his face to his friend’s ear beside me and said without breaking eye contact with me.

If that motherfucker drops that Irish accent for a second, i’m going to end him!

That was enough for me. I was drunk now and suddenly I remembered where I had to be. I left without saying goodbye and I never saw her again.  

– June 2003

New York Shots are those small moments that happen while living in New York. They’re so small that they are rarely mentioned yet take up considerable space in various notebooks I carry around with me at any given time. This blog was started as a writing exercise and I thought this would be a nice way to write shorter snippets of life in NYC. They won’t always be interesting but I don’t want them forgotten either.  

New York Shots #2

By C. Dempsey

It was sometime after lunch when I heard the noise from outside my office. I work in construction as a project estimator which means I spend most of my days scouring blueprints with a scale rule alone in absolute silence. This has allowed my hearing to over compensate due to the dulling of the other senses. The office is the converted ground floor of a residential building right in the heart of the bustling borough of Queens. I work with the door open, weather permitting. I am well educated on squirrels and their feeding habits, birds of all sorts, postmen and their uniquely squeaky trolleys and the laughter of various kids that play hooky.

This sound was different.  

Upon walking out the rear entrance to the side lane to investigate I was confronted by an NYPD Officer gingerly making his way down the same lane towards me. He had already been defeated by his hard soled shoes. He drew his gun and pointed it at me. “Put your hands up” he shouted repeatedly until I did. I reacted as only a person who has never had a gun pointed at them before can react. “Stop pointing your gun at me” I said. We argued briefly back and forth until he shouted convincingly enough that I should turn around and put my hands on the wall and I did. “Stop pointing your gun at me” I continued. He didn’t.

Seconds later a dozen officers noisily flooded into the rear yard and surrounded me while the first officer asked me who was inside. “Nobody, I work alone” I explained not realizing how incriminating that sounded. They frisked me twice before asking me to get some identification. I went inside and pointed to my jacket which they would not allow me to touch. When my expired drivers license confirmed who I was they relaxed. I didn’t. After they explained that they had been called out to the address as a mistake I realized that they should have been at the other corner house. There is a big drug problem in the neighborhood and everybody knows about the other corner house. The initial officer pulled me aside and gave me a textbook apology. I followed him out to the street beside two police cars and a police van to fill out some paperwork while surrounded by a horde of bored cops. I joked that they should have known I wasn’t a criminal because I was too handsome to commit crime, some of them laughed. It was a stupid joke but I needed the silliness. Deep down I was just relieved that the whole thing was over.

I went back to work and tried to forget about it but felt uncomfortable for the rest of the day, and for many days afterwards. I joked about it with my boss, in a strange way it was exciting. It was a funny story to tell my mates but I left out the part where for a very brief moment I was terrified. Then I felt guilty for the lie, it wasn’t funny or exciting anymore and I couldn’t shake it. Two weeks later when I was alone in the apartment I suddenly became incredibly angry at the memory of it, teared up and flattened my knuckle punching the wall. Somewhere downstairs my landlord stopped shouting at his wife. There was silence, and I felt I had control over something again.   

– August 2012

New York Shots are those small moments that happen while living in New York. They’re so small that they are rarely mentioned yet take up considerable space in various notebooks I carry around with me at any given time. This blog was started as a writing exercise and I thought this would be a nice way to write shorter snippets of life in NYC. They won’t always be interesting but I don’t want them forgotten either.  

New York Shots #1

By C.Dempsey

I walked into the bar for the same reason I always do when I’m alone, to kill time. At least that’s what I tell myself. I heard it had a great jukebox also. James was a washed up rocker from the early eighties selling Marilyn Monroe portraits at the bar. I sat beside his empty seat while he was outside smoking, upon returning I became his temporary best friend. The bartender asked him to put on some music and gave him his tips. It’s alright he said, I just started my shift. How could I not talk to this guy?

Every song was a gem and I screamed over each one battling James’ tinnitus when I answered his questions. Yes I’m a musician, isn’t everybody? When conversation turned to starting a band together I made my excuses and walked across the street to another bar. They had a jukebox too but it was democratically run. I tried to write but my pen and notebook stuck to the bar just as my feet had to the floor when I entered. Pretty soon I was licking my fingers apart and contemplating returning to the first bar. Drink will do that to you. Music too.

I went home instead and obsessed on the subway over that persistent thought again, that we are all made from the smallest possible indivisible things and the empty spaces in-between.

– September 2012

New York Shots are those small moments that happen while living in New York. They’re so small that they are rarely mentioned yet take up considerable space in various notebooks I carry around with me at any given time. This blog was started as a writing exercise and I thought this would be a nice way to write shorter snippets of life in NYC. They won’t always be interesting but I don’t want them forgotten either.