For a long time, every night, police horses used to pass by down on the street when it was very late and quiet—as quiet as it can be with the subway and a firehouse around the corner—and their approach could be heard from a distance before they reached my block. I thought of them last night very late, as I sat reading beside the window and the sizzling radiator, about how they don’t pass by anymore and how I’m not sure how long it’s been since they did. Is it a year? Or more than that? I was finishing my last book of 2017, a very pretty little book called Night Thoughts by Wally Shawn with a picture of him on the cover. Like most of what I’ve read of his or seen him perform onstage, Night Thoughts had the effect of making me take up where he left off, on his momentum, and ride off on thoughts of my own as replete with questions and wonderings as his seem to be.

I was sitting with the book in my lap when I heard a plow coming. No snow was falling and there was no snow on the street, but the plow came anyway, grinding against the bare dark asphalt in a shower of golden-orange sparks. Old subway trains came to mind, the way they squealed into the stations like giant iron comic strips in showers of sparks like that, but in my memory those sparks were blue, not orange. And I thought of my coffee wagon from that time, down near the New York Stock Exchange, and my long-dead friend Charlie who worked it with me. He was old school, a real Guido, and he loved to pretend to have intimate married-people fights with me in front of customers he disliked. He would see one of them float up out of the subway and as they neared our wagon he would be yelling, “When I got the guys comin’ over to watch the game I don’t want them lookin’ at your panties dryin’ in the john like that, aright?” Then he’d pretend he’d been caught and enjoy their embarrassed expressions.

I thought about something a Dutch lady friend told me yesterday, about a furry black dog she’d seen, as big as a pony, standing on the end of a leash waiting for the light to change. A few nicely-dressed men were gathered around the dog, talking, all wanting to pet him but being careful because although he was magnificent, there hung from the corner of his mouth a thick rope of slobber. She watched, wondering if the slobber would stay where it was since it was freezing, but then the dog shook his big head and she saw the men all jump back at once and check the fronts of their coats before each going their separate ways.

When she told me about the slobber dog, I was reminded of something that happened one night on Seventh Avenue a few years ago, and I told her about it. It was a hot summer night and I came upon a police horse standing unattended outside the deli on the corner. He looked at me and stamped one foot. I stopped in front of his long face, which was brown with a white stripe, and put out my hand to pet him. That’s when he stretched forth and wiped his huge nose, which I had not noticed was very slick and drippy, against me from my neck to my waist. And as he did, the cop who would normally have been sitting on him emerged from the deli with two handfuls of paper towel. “Oh, no!” he exclaimed. “I was just going to wipe his nose!” He apologized all over himself, stuffing the paper towels into his pockets “for later,” and climbed back onto the horse.

There’s a remarkable dog I see around my neighborhood a lot, a pretty golden retriever type of girl-dog who loves her man so much that she spends a lot of time outside sitting upright on the sidewalk with her arms wrapped around his legs. She hugs him very tightly and desperately, like an old-fashioned goodbye scene at a railway station, and there is usually a gathering of people standing around watching, and whenever I see them I wish I could know exactly what the lady dog is thinking and feeling while she’s doing it, this curious embracing that can look so tragic and private.

On Christmas Day a handsome 19th century building caught fire right next to the fire house. I stood with other people on the corner and saw bright flames flickering within its old cornice of verdigris copper at the rooftop. Everyone seemed to have been evacuated safely, so I went home, but with the odd feeling that always comes with things being okay here while being not okay just over there. My building has caught fire a few times, and so far we’ve been lucky. Later I learned that among the tenants burned out but unharmed in that fire was the lady dog and her man. How sad and how lucky!

My Dutch friend told me that something distinctive about New York is the way we all talk to each other. New York, unlike Amsterdam, she said, still has its Radio Trottoir—its pavement radio—meaning that we find out a lot from overhearing talk on the street. I had never thought about that, although it rang true as soon as she said it. “Don’t strangers talk on the street in Amsterdam?” I asked her. “No,” she said.
“Why not?” I asked. “I don’t know,” she said. “We don’t anymore.”
“Why do you think we still do?” I asked. “I don’t know,” she said. She told me that for her the fact that we do is one of the things that sets New York City apart from all other cities, like the steam that pours out from beneath its streets.

 December 31, 2017


  1. I love your writing. I'm downtown and also miss those horses. Especially in the snow. Two months ago a small band of Mounties went by after many years of silence. It was one of my favorite sounds when I moved here eons ago.

    1. Thank you for writing, Pamela. It feels as if the police horses are going the way of knife sharpeners and lamplighters, but I hope not.

    2. They still exist though because they lead the Halloween Parade each year. With a lone Sanitation Dept. guy walking behind and sweeping up the poop.

  2. When I lived on Canal Street, we would have very loud rooftop parties in the summer. Occasionally one of our "neighbors" would call the police on us. The First Pct. which at the time had Lower Manhattan's Mounted Patrols, would send over a lone rider on horseback to quiet us. You could hear the clip clop of hooves in the distance as the rider approached. Very Nineteenth Century. I also would get manure for my rooftop tomato plants from the bins out front. Sadly, the horses have been relocated.
    BTW thank you, Adam from the Beastie Boys for making all those noise complaints. No sleep till Brooklyn indeed!