The approach to La Guardia over Manhattan on a late night in November included a blood red moon. Blood red. Hovering over the skyline of the city. Seen from above. Immediately, this was a place different from every other. If not different for having an exceptional moon, different for bothering to, for caring enough to put on an exceptional show.
That was sixteen years ago. I live here now. I recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C. that involved some policy work, and visits to Capitol Hill. Returning to New York, I stepped into Penn Station, into the eye-rolling, mind-singeing, claustrophobia inducing wonder of architectural achievement that is Penn Station–and the first thing that hit me was a pick up band with an electric guitar and, at least in the way this memory encoded in my brain mush, too much pick leopard skin spandex and not enough…not enough… No. Just enough. Because this is New York City. This is why we can’t be in charge of things like Washington, D.C. can. Most likely we’d do it better. But the country…nay, the entire world, but likely, would be covered in pink leopard skin spandex.
For the record, that wouldn’t be because we’re imperialistic. Most of us can’t find New Jersey with both hands. No, it’s because everything happens first here. Except boots. Boots happen first in Paris. Dammit.
In any case. Because of Penn Station, NYC should not be in charge of any policy matters that extend beyond the the boroughs, which is really rather a shame, but this is the way it must be.
I mean. I’m sitting on a train at 96th street that isn’t going anywhere. It may never go anywhere, ever again.
I flew to New York for the first time in November of 1997 on a whim. For a week. Here is how it happened. I was getting divorced.
What? It’s what you do. Like gets weird, you go to New York.
Textures. I am originally from Southern California where there is no texture. There is one texture: it is stucco. Other textures are forbidden. Or faux. Faux textures are allowed, and even encouraged. In New York, I noticed the range and variety of texture. Of stone, weathered, copper, patina-ed. Faces. I saw the passage of time writ large and without shame. I felt in the presence of a world I had read of in books with mythical things like “seasons,” and “the country.” Texture.
Tendons. The mere act of getting on a plane for a week’s visit strained them. The moving here tore them. There are connections we don’t see, holding together bone to bone, muscle to bone, friend to friend, friend to lover, lover to love, and flesh, and bone, and blood. They hold. They tear. They heal. Or they don’t.
Transplants. I have an idea I didn’t used to have. My notion is that some people are content only by finding what is new. To banish us to sameness is on par with solitary confinement. My new (once) idea is that for others, the uprooting causes the same distress. You can test this. Move a family across a large country and watch who freaks out. Gardeners know who and what and when to transplant. Mothers, some, perhaps not so much.Tenderness. That plane circling the blood red moon landed safely at La Guardia and disembarked around one in the morning. I had a note pad with listings of cheap hotels with possible vacancies and no reservation. I had platinum blonde hair in a pixie cut, green fingernails, a motorcycle jacket, and a bad attitude. I was packed lightly, except for the books. Rimbaud. Baudelaire. Bukowski. Possibly, quite possibly, Salinger. Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters. These were not reading material. I had read them all. These were friends, traveling companions.
In short. I was looking for trouble.I took a shuttle to Grand Central, and a gypsy cab from Grand Central because I had read not to do that. Twice a cab driver in this city has picked me up from someplace I did not need to be and set me down some place better. On that night, it was in front of my hotel, as intended. But unexpected was the hour long conversation. No charge. We talked about the heartbreak of a marriage ending. Children. He told me proudly that he put four children through college driving that cab. Life. Change. “Some people come to New York in pain,” he said, “looking for something. Looking for trouble.” He told me “You’re not one of those. Find what you need. Leave the rest.” That’s the gist of what I remember. Mostly I remember the tenderness of a stranger to another stranger, in what would have been the dead of night anywhere except New York.