Friday, March 20, 2015

Doyers Street, Bloody Angle, Dazes Cosa

Maybe the best thing about NYC is it's got more history lurking around than anyone can screw a bronze plaque to or crush onto a museum wall—so much, in fact, the bulk of it (here’s where Marilyn’s skirt flew up; here’s where Stanford White was gunned down; here, somewhere in this Gap, is where Nathan Hale was hanged) goes, of something like necessity, uncommemorated.  

I had dinner in Chinatown a few nights ago with some friends at the famed and ancient Nom Wah Tea Parlor (NYC’s first dim-sum place; same location, basically, since 1927) on oft-movie-setted Doyers Street.  Here they are, Nom Wah and Doyers, in a photo someone else took:

The Nom Wah would have been history-geek pleasure enough.  But the real fun didn’t start till after dinner, when we were all standing stuffed and bleary on the sidewalk outside.  That's when my one buddy pointed out the below creepy doorway (I promptly photographed it) right in the architectural pocket matching the oh-so strange (by Manhattan-grid standards) dog-leg curve of Doyers Street, just a couple doors down from Nom Wah:

That same buddy remarked—astutely, I’d say—that this looked both like a place one might go for an encounter with an underage sex slave and (relatedly) a “portal to hell.”  And though I don’t consider myself in any way psychically sensitive (zero good ghost stories to tell despite an adulthood spent in 19th-century buildings), I must say (and maybe I was in a suggestible state, charmed and a little skeeved by strange Doyers Street) I felt an emanation from that doorway, something like the presence of the Evil One, whoever s/he might be, whatever s/he might be doing in celebrity-haunted (we’d spotted Laurie Anderson at MoMA a few hours earlier) NYC on a windy pre-spring Sunday night.  
So entranced was I by the Evil One, in fact, I found myself leading my buddies to that doorway, close enough for us to make out, among other details, the curious “DAZES COSA” sticker by the door handle.  

The door, as you see, was ajar.  I pulled it open.  I stepped most of the way inside.  Then one buddy’s warning of cameras—plus the throbbing presence of the Evil One—made me wonder what exactly I was doing, and I rejoined my pack on the sidewalk.  

What did I see in there?

Upward-leading stairs, I believe, bathed, as they say, in some unearthly, as they also say, electric blue light—a staircase sensed more than seen, actually, obscured, as it somehow was, I think, by cloudy, cruddy plexiglass.

It was silent in there.

And only now as I’m writing do I remember stepping aside a bit after opening the door, so my very tall buddy whose “portal to hell” speculation had perhaps bewitched me could see around my pea-coated torso, into the blue dimness, his eyebrows raised, his mouth open: “Whoa,” he declared.

I know, I know: Orientalism.  I’m not saying it was my finest hour.

But let me return to the thesis with which I began.

What I discovered when I got home and hit the interwebs is that that mysterious, shadowy doorway I’d for some reason been compelled to enter stands not in the very, very pocket of a strange-for-Manhattan dogleg curve.

It stands in the very, very pocket of the Bloody Angle.

And my buddies and I, studying it, had occupied what NYPD has more or less officially declared the most blood-sodden chunk of urban real estate in the United States of America.

The Bloody Angle of Doyers Street was, you see, ground zero for the Chinese gang (or tong) wars of the early 20th century. Things, in fact, were sufficiently ghastly there—there, where we stood BSing, where once a Dutchman’s tavern stood—to have birthed into our lexicon a colorful phrase we all know:

Hatchet man.

The tong badasses who killed on Doyers Street frequently did their human butchering with, famously, hatchets.

Who knows how many corpses had been strewn, over the years, on the pavement beneath my buddies’ and my feet?  How many gallons of blood let?  How many hacked-off hands and heads kicked to that very curb?

Who knows indeed? 

What we do know is that the Tong Wars—like those between the Bowery Boys and Dead Rabbits—are Real American History.

But in NYC, that history—again, of necessity; we can’t screw a thousand bronze plaques to every damn building façade on every damn city block (here’s where Andy Warhol was shot; here’s where Dylan Thomas drank himself to death; here’s where Lincoln stopped for a beer after the Cooper Union address)—goes all but neglected, all but unremarked upon.

The same ever-ongoing, interdependently arising set of urban circumstances that raised, then razed, a Dutchman named Doyer’s tavern, then, two centuries later, brought into being the brothels, opium dens, and hatchet men of Doyers Street, still continues unabated, uninterrupted, un-museumed, producing, a century after the relatively recent Bloody Angle events, and in place of the bronze plaque that likely would be there were this Boise, or Allentown, or Dallas, an itself-wildly-ephemeral sticker that, to the best of the interwebs’ knowledge, pushes no product, hypes no celebrity, marks no gang territoryjust whispers out, in all caps, to the observant eye in a visually cacophonous environment, a single inscrutable message:


The Bloody Angle points at this door, by whose handle (the Evil One bade me tug it) resides this message.

What does it mean?

Or what did it mean, in the event it’s already been peeled or scraped or graffitically palimpsested away in the four days' worth of NYC history since I photographed it?

What sort of thing is a dazes thing?

A thing, maybe, proceeding in a daze.  In a blur.  Unstoppered.  Undammed.  Un-plaqued.  Streaming.  Unstoppable as a dream.  As narcotized blood. 

As NYC history.