Ellington Boulevard

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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-05-26
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
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The author of "Crossing California" delivers this ode to New York: the story of why people come to a city they can't afford, take jobs they despise, sacrifice love, and eventually become the people they never thought they'd be.

Author Biography

ADAM LANGER, the author of Crossing California and its sequel The Washington Story, earned his brokerage certification while writing Ellington Boulevard. Born in Chicago, he now lives on Manhattan’s Duke Ellington Boulevard with his wife, daughter, dog, and a pair of pigeons who roost on his air conditioner.


( I )

I’ve been down in New York City, brother,
and that ain't no place to be down.

GIL SCOTT–HERON, “Blue Collar”


On the evening when he will learn that his apartment is being sold out from under him, Ike Ambrose Morphy finds a good parking space on Central Park West, then walks north toward home beside his dog, Herbie, through the early–December snow. Though he has just spent the better part of seven and a half long months in Chicago at his mother's bedside, Ike can already feel the crisp New York air instilling in him nearly the same energy and sense of purpose he felt twenty years ago when he dropped out of college, left his mom’s house and his hometown, and moved to this city that, for him, always represented freedom and possibility. Man, he can barely wait to get to his street, return to his building, climb the stairs to the second floor, enter his apartment, lock his door, drop his suitcases, take his clarinet out of its case, and play once again just as he promised his mother, Ella Mae Morphy, he would on the morning earlier this week when she closed her eyes for the last time.

At the corner of Central Park West and 106th, Ike turns to cross the street. He is bound for the Roberto Clemente Building, where he has lived for just about all of the two decades he has spent here in Manhattan Valley. But the moment the traffic light changes to green, Ike’s unleashed seventy–pound black retriever–chow mix bounds up the steps of the park’s Strangers’ Gate entrance. Ike now recognizes just how stifled Herbie must have felt in Ike’s ailing mom’s drab, run–down house on Colfax Avenue on the South Side of Chicago. “Wait up, Herb,” he tells his dog, and then he jogs the half block back to his maroon Dodge pickup truck. He puts his suitcases on the front seat, locks and closes the door, and returns to Strangers’ Gate with an old white tennis ball. He flips the ball to Herbie and soon the man and his dog are running up the steps side by side.

The steps here at Strangers’ Gate are divided into eight segments, and as Ike follows Herbie up toward the Great Hill, he counts them-ten steps, ten steps, ten again, eleven, eight, eleven, another ten, then seven. To Ike, who has always found inspiration for his music in the sights and sounds of this city, the arrangement of steps seems suggestive of a progression of notes, unpredictable yet part of some pattern, vaguely reminiscent ofA Love Supreme, but he is trying too hard to keep pace with his dog to discern any specific melody. After they have climbed the steps, Ike and Herbie briefly continue to run, but when they reach the temporary black fence surrounding the lawn on the hill, the animal stops. Now, Herbie begins to whine. He crouches down and he jumps up; he puts up his paws and barks at a sign on the fence: CLOSED FOR THE SEASON. NO TRESPASSING.

Ike Morphy can remember when he first came to this part of Central Park. Then, he was just some poor, gangly, bespectacled nineteen–year–old kid only trying to make enough dough playing music or working construction so that he wouldn’t have to turn around and head home, so that he wouldn’t have to go back to Chicago, where he’d found himself finally unable to study or play his clarinet since he always had to mediate the incessant arguments about money and boyfriends and God–knows–what–else between his sister, Naima, and their widowed mother, Ella Mae. During Ike’s first days in New York in the late 1980s, nobody seemed to give a damn about the park lawns this far north. Ike slept for three straight nights amid overgrown weeds and broken glass, and never even saw a cop. But now that every inch of Central Park seems to have become as pristine as the rehabbed buildings that s

Excerpted from Ellington Boulevard by Adam Langer
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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