This date, February 26, in 1993, I and Suli M Thamma, my lover, were living on West 38th Street (Crack Valley) between 9th and 10 Avenues in Hell’s Kitchen next to the firehouse which also had a gay firefighter, my friend Kevin. Our apartment windows overlooked the Lincoln Tunnel entrances behind Port Authority.
The World Trade Center Towers still existed even though a truck loaded with fertilizer explosives had detonated that morning. Killing 6 and wounding hundreds.
Last year on February 13, 2017, the Blind Sheikh, Omar Abdel-Rahman finally died in prison.
I had lived in that building since 1988 when it was then ‘sold’ in 1990 by expatriate Iranians to a new expatriate Chechen landlord, Heavenly Realty, Inc. The earthen basement floor was dug deeper by the new live-in landlord/manager with a shovel. Every night dozens of 5 gallon pails of dirt and debris were emptied into the vacant lot beside 336 West 38th Street. The basement became an underground dormitory for the night shift of unfamiliar single men now working for the new Chechen landlord who lived down there as well. The first floor apartments became storage spaces for devoutly religious Egyptian falafel vendors and a chicken processing center as well.
For the tenants living on the upper four floors, our lives quickly descended into a criminal slumlord hell of frozen pipes, drug addict doorstops, and constant tension with the intermittent violence that only the New York City of Rudy Giuliani, crack, prostitution, gentrification by arson, and AIDs could create.
Between minor drug battles, landlord threats, court appearances, police visits, and personal arrests related to the foregoing, I’d kept teaching in the South Bronx; writing; clubbing; foot soldiering in city queer activism and HIV/AIDS education locally and globally; and working with homeless queer youth at The Neutral Zone.
By then Suli had had enough and what little was left of our relationship fractured after eight years. His absence meant my return to familiar haunts and quixotic affairs in for a time in a rapidly vanishing Times Square as Disneyfication and de-pornification took hold! And the abandoned or squatted buildings of Hell’s Kitchen burned in the gentrification creation of Clinton as the Jacob Javits Convention Center rose on 11th Avenue. Even the NYPD horse stables were renovated!
But once my Housing Court case judge, Judge Scott, was arrested for corruption (I’d witnessed both my landlords, cash, and he transacting in chambers.); the NYPD detectives decided it was time for me to move.
Later that year when the Blind Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman was eventually arrested and tried; I noticed totally by accident one day at school on the front page of THE DAILY NEWS that those first floor vendors were both his intimate bodyguards as well as followers who surrounded him at every federal court appearance and trial date.
All that time they’d been storing tanks of propane with their falafel carts and dumpsters of chicken leavings underneath the second floor apartments!
In my apartment’s building next to the Lincoln Tunnel’s entrances and vents and the Port Authority Terminal Buildings!
Had I been living over their Plan B all that time?
Finally, I have written some details of those days down.