There is, I swear, one of everything in New York City. My first day there--the day of my interview with the “incomparable” J.S., I went to Union Square for a haircut (running into Lizzie’s little sister on the way). My hairdresser was short, with long curly black hair, manicured nails, an accent and a big ass--Puerto Rican, I thought, or Dominican, or Hispano-something. But no. An Uzbeki jew, she was, recently moved to Brooklyn. This encounter set the tone for the week. My trip to the States was so impromptu that I figured I wouldn’t get to see many people. But I’d underestimated New York City. Throughout the week I saw twenty or so of my recently estranged, much-missed Brownies--MPJ, Laura, Lizzie, Russ Baruffi, Meg Robson, Jess Grose, Seb and Matty among them, plus David Carrell, always a pleasure, and ran randomly into five different acquaintances on the street. I caught up on the phone with Alex, John, and my lovelies Judy and Alisha. On the plane flight back to Italy my seat-mate and I even found out that we shared a gaggle of mutual friends. It was good to reconnect.
My favorite thing about New York City is that most people there speak some English. This means that if I’m lucky, they’ll answer enough of my questions so that after five minutes of bus/bar conversation I can see to the color and core of their being. The ex-girlfriend they still write unmailed letters to, the kind of bagel and flavor of cream cheese they order every morning, the week in Bermuda they’ve been fantasizing about for six months, the gravel in their shoulder (remnant of a bicycle accident at age ten), plans for their next haircut (but more importantly, what else they hope will have changed), the best birthday cake anyone ever made them. Quotidian details, banalities--but isn’t the stuff we do every day the stoff of which our lives are woven? Doesn’t who we are hinge on those very minutiae, even when we’d least like to think so? Arguably, don’t volumes of meaning lie in the purchase of Dr. Bronner’s over Crest, or in the preference for parking tickets over jury duty?
Sometimes who people are (or what they do) is more interesting to me than what they wish they were doing; sometimes the opposite is true. I look carefully at both sides of them, the real and the imaginary, and weigh each equally. Seems to me like the character lies somewhere in between.
New York was rife with opportunities to talk. David and I went out to pizza at 4 a.m. with a crackhead named Al who gave us a tour of the neighborhood. I was about to buy him a pack of cigarettes, too, until I realized they cost nine fucking dollars. In the end he didn’t want pizza--"just, uh, them three bucks...no, how about a fiver," so he could buy a “sandwich” at the bodega on the corner. I wasted twenty minutes with a guy who’d installed a lawn chair on Houston St and was interpellating passers-by about his movie, which was called, and I am not kidding, No One Wants This Movie. (“You must not be from New York,” he said. “You’re much too friendly.”) The guy in the Village who pierced my nose was named Spliff and for fun hangs by the holes in his ears. Then there was the amateur stripper I spent a few hours with who by day is an elementary school teacher in Brooklyn and loves French cave paintings and Russian literature, especially Kafka and Dostoevsky.
And after every conversation in which I think I understand where a person’s coming from and what they think about the world I feel my worldview shift one degree outward, see the shadow of a bump or curve or spike add to its silhouette. John and Alex and I once talked about the one superpower we wish we had--I said I wanted to know the true state of the world and everything in it. Talking to everyone is my way to get there, I think.
But New York was fantastic even besides the great conversations. I got my ipod fixed, finally. I went out to dinner at a gastro-pub in the meat-packing district with the food editor of the NYT (I ate off her plate! She ate off mine! We talked till midnight!) I walked through Columbia and NYU, wondering what it would be like to be a college student again. I had a great conversation at a wine bar with an editor for T&L, and went to the anti-Republican protests in Union Square. I caught up with the events of the lives of John and Judy, sitting on a rock in Central Park watching the city’s buildings knife through holes in the trees. I had a Krispy Kreme, standing right in the shop, and brought the rest to Queens, where Seb, Darien and I walked around and I found an L.M. Montgomery fan even bigger than me who was having a yard sale on her front stoop (bought a pack of Anne of Green Gables cards for a nickel). And even though I spent way too much money, I fell in love with the city. I don’t know when, but I’ll be back.