By Roger Paradiso
Village Music World at 197 Bleecker has been Jamal Asner’s home for 28 years. I was there when Covid had taken over the city. I was there the day the city shut down. Jamal shrugged his shoulders and proceeded to close his store. No one knew what would happen, but I don’t think anyone thought we would be dealing with the repercussions to this day.
I recently asked Jamal about the difference he saw between Thanksgiving of 2021 and Thanksgiving of 2022. He said, “It’s not a big difference from last year. It’s less traffic in the store. The streets have improved with a little policing in the streets and subways, but we need more so that people will feel safe again. Most people don’t feel safe at all.”
Back in 2020 the streets had been emptying quickly for a month when the city turned the lights out. That led to a dark Village which is never a good thing for most of us. But for the bad guys out there it was a good scenario to sell dope or rob a stray pedestrian. Once in a while a store would be hit up. Most mom-and-pop store owners would travel to the Village during the shutdown and babysit their stores until it got dark, and it was time to get on a subway home like Jamal did for months and months. They didn’t want to have their stores looted, but they also wanted to survive the trip home on the subway or bus. Once in a while a mom-and-pop owner would stay late into the dark night. It was not a pleasant experience. I would often call Jamal on those nights to make sure he was all right. It was a scary time.
But now, Thanksgiving week of 2022, Jamal tells me, “I close the shop an hour or two before the normal. That’s because I don’t feel safe at night which has an impact on most of the city, I can see that all over.”
On Tuesday night November 22, I have a screening for my film. It’s called Searching For Camelot. My son and I are waiting for our guests. They wander in out of the darkness. The streets at Cinema Village are quiet but it is still early, and it appears safe, but I don’t know.
When the screening is over, we rush to our car parked on West Third. We pass dark streets and suddenly see a line of young people waiting to get into a club. There are people braving the dark. Is the lighting as bright as it can be? We go in and out of darkness until we reach our parking garage near Sixth. I wonder if this is how it always was. Was it always dark with strangers passing by? I don’t think so. Not like this. I think of Jamal as I get in the car. I call. He is still there but ready to leave. I worry about Jamal like a war buddy in the Covid War. “Are you all, right?” That is our mantra. I get some quotes from Jamal. We talk about his three children, two in college, one in high school. This is why he works so hard.
It is now Wednesday night in suburbia. It is dark here too. I call Jamal to clear up some quotes. He sounds weary. Jamal says he’s got to stay up to midnight tonight to put away a shipment of records. I ask if he has help. He says yes. I ask if he is all right. He says he is looking forward to Thanksgiving with his family tomorrow. I worry about my war buddy. Get home safe I say. He laughs and says, “We have always to think positive and I am, even with the hardest situations.”
Good night, Jamal and have a great Thanksgiving, I say. He says, “Thank you and you too.”
I can’t wait until this is over and we can stop worrying. I pray that day comes.