"It couldn't have happened anywhere but in little old New York." - O. Henry
City of prose and fantasy, of capitalist automatism, its streets a triumph of cubism, its moral philosophy that of the dollar. New York impressed me tremendously because, more than any other city, it is the fullest expression of our modern age. -- Leon Trotsky
[This blog is dedicated to Ashley Vedder and Stephanie Stobaugh. To Ashley because I'm visiting her home turf while she slings beer back in corn and god country, and whose hugs I miss ; and to Stephanie because listening to her talk about New York is almost as exciting as experiencing it for the first time.]
Riding through the Lincoln Tunnel on a bus stuffed to the shell with people is probably as close to remembering the experience of being born as I will ever achieve, and as close to that buried memory as I want to get on this side of mortality.
Almost my entire context for the City of New York rests entirely on unreliable sources; mainly television and movies. I can think of countless fictive versions of the city, from Law and Order and Seinfeld to When Harry Met Sally and The Devi's Advocate. Of course, each of these versions is rooted entirely in someone else's vision... the camera, and behind that, a director. The city then becomes at ones a set and an actor at the same time; sets tone, mood, and contributes in the way an unnamed but unmistakable extra contributes to the frame. Cinema and television, boiled down, really is a frame by frame proposition; much in the same way that a poem is always about the single word. One bad frame can throw off an entire scene, and a bad scene can destroy an otherwise good movie. One misplaced word in a poem can do the same thing.
Thank the gods for prose -- at least here, we have a little slop room. Though not much.
The bus was expelled at a traffic snail's pace from the tunnel and into the underground garage of The Port Authority. Then, after squeezing myself out of the confines of the bus -- which, at this point, makes me consider the train a far superior and gentile form of mass transportation -- I found myself in a massive underground garage that led into the bottom level of station.
[NOTE: Having at least a casual understanding of Dante's Inferno is helpful understanding the City of New York. And I mean this not as a negative, merely as map key.]
My first thought was to look for my friends, Susan and Steve, who had graciously agreed to put me up for a week at their place in Queens. Unfortunately, that was washed away by two other immediately prevailing impulses. For one, I had the strong desire to piss. (As I have explained... most eloquently, I believe, in The Greyhound Quarto, I try to avoid a lot of food intake while in the process of traveling, but do work at staying hydrated. The body is, after all, 70% water. (For me, maybe a quarter of that is beer, and other quarter bourbon and gin, and another quarter is coffee... but still, all liquid.)
The other impulse was far less of an impulse as it was the immediate sensation that, if I stood still too long, I might get run over by one or all of the hundreds of people around me who seemed to know exactly where they were going.
Luckily, the people who run the Port Authority realized that unless there was clear signage pointing out where people could piss that they would, in all likelihood, piss anywhere; I spied the restroom sign and made for it immediately.
With that weight off my mind, I looked around for my friends; not knowing whether one or both of them were going to meet me and not being sure where, I decided to take the escalator I noticed to my left to the next level; my thought was that maybe there was an actual waiting space up there, or that there was some restriction on non-ticketed people by the gates.
There isn't. Traveling by bus, and by train, lacks a fundamental paranoia that has been embraced by the air travel industry. And maybe with good reason. As the bus rolled towards the city and I got my first glimpse of the skyline, I was struck by two things: that New York is far more immense than ever portrayed in any movie or television show; and that something is missing. I thought about a conversation I had with my friend George, who grew up in Long Island, about New York after 9/11. He said one of the things that was difficult for him to grasp was having to look at the skyline and have it look so different. There was sorrow, he said, in knowing it will never be same.
Riding up the escalator and into another artificially lit level, I paid heed to the repetitive recorded feminine voice, telling me not to stop at the top and to keep walking. I found a column to stand near, in front of the Greyhound ticket office. Still no sign of Susan or Steve. I checked my cell phone -- the battery was near dead -- but realized I didn't have a corresponding cell phone number for either of them. I decided to message Susan -- who I talked to most frequently over Facebook -- and see if maybe she was online, or maybe had a way to access those messages over the phone.
She messaged back, thankfully. Steve was there to meet me, and she recommended that I stay put and she would try to reach him on his cell. Of course, I had trouble imaging Steve with a cell phone... much in the same way I had trouble imaging my friend George with a cell phone. They're symbolic of a sort of frenetic narcissism that runs contrary to both their natures.
Waiting there, near the column in the front of the Greyhound Ticket office, I was nearly run over by two little girls, no more than 8 years old, playing tag; they were using the column as a defensive/offensive structure to catch each other. Twice the same man came up and asked if I had any change.
You know I'm good for a little if I have it; but when I KNOW it's just a hustle... which I knew it was from the fact that 1) he looked a bit too appropriately dirty and 2) he kept going back and talking to another person, who was clearly his friend and who didn't look appropriately dirty at all... and when I have to watch my pennies ... which I do at this point because the cost of laying out my travel plans back through the Midwest has left me nearly broke, and I knew I'd need money for mass transit... I do hesitate, just a bit. I hope the universe forgives my still present worry for self-preservation.)
I hadn't seen Steve since leaving Cincinnati, but I remembered him as a quiet and gentle soul who was much engaged with his own thoughts, his own teaching and writing process. But I also thought that maybe he had one -- maybe at Susan's insistence -- just to be able to keep track of one another in a place as large as New York. (The only reason I ever got a cell phone was at Melissa's insistence, because our schedules were so at odds and because she wanted to be able to find me in Cincinnati without having to run down a list of phone numbers of various coffee shops, bars, libraries, and friends.)
After having no luck and after Susan suggested maybe having him paged (I wondered at the horror of that... not only the process of trying to find an actual PERSON to do that and the terror of hearing one's name over the loudspeaker, like being beckoned from the depths of Hell.), I decided to go back down to the lower level in case I had walked past him in my rush to not get squashed and to empty my bladder.
The buses were more or less empty and the throng of people that had pushed me, spermatozoa like, through the doorway. And there, standing as if he has always been standing there primordial, separate from the passage of time, as if the Earth and the whole of The Port Authority had risen up around and engulfed him without his even noticing -- was Steve.
[If you like what you read here, you can help by:
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- Graciously donating to the cause using the button on the right hand side of the screen, or by going to paypal.com and donating to firstname.lastname@example.org. THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT. If you DO decide to donate, I will mention you in the blog. Promise.
- Contact Catherine Sellers at Greyhound, 415-331-6049. Tell them you are asking about a sponsorship when the operator picks up. At this rate, they really ARE losing my love to Amtrak. But I'm no easy whore. No. Really.
THANKS FOR READING AND FOR YOUR SUPPORT!!]