I’m sitting at a desk. In a large rented bedroom with a single bed, dresser drawers, and clothing rack. The ancient wood floors squeal when stepped on, much to the chagrin of the residents below. Two windows with deep ledges look out onto a non-descript, tree-lined street in Alphabet City. The only building I can see with clarity is the spire of the Empire State Building, and only when I lay my head on my pillow. A pillow that has seen dozens of heads before mine. A sight that has spurred dreams for thousands before me. I wonder who has lived here, in this building, before me. They say it is over one hundred years old.
It has been exactly two weeks and four days since I arrived in New York. Those two weeks and four days have not transpired in the ordinary fashion of time. If it were revealed I have been here for months, I would believe it. Time doesn’t seem to exist here. It stretches like elastic. It changes in shape. It heaves and shrinks. The ages are layered underfoot and years run parallel on the streets. One can feel the past as an elixir in the air. I brush shoulders with ghosts of the dead, the once was, the long past.
The other day, I specifically sat and drank tea in a café that once saw the likes of Anais Nin and Ernest Hemingway and Robert Mapplethorpe and so on and so forth. I hoped I might collect some of their essence under my fingernails. I pondered what thoughts may have been streaming through their heads as they sat in that space, what they may have seen, who they may have met. What messages did they leave behind for others to find? I fear I linger in history more than I favour the future.
I haven’t written all that much here, in New York. Not the novella number two or the second script or the slew of articles I had planned. Only abstract scrawls and disconnected nonsense that fill the pages of the journal I carry with me in my purse everywhere I go. I’m distracted here. There is so much to look at. There is so much to absorb. The buildings, the traffic, the energy, the people.
As I waited to cross the street the other night, close to midnight, I watched a young woman stand at the window of the Steinway & Sons showroom on West 43rd Street. She was under a spell. The black and white keys had hypnotized her. I could almost hear the music play in her head as she dreamed of sitting at one of those grand pianos. She was not unlike a child with hands on the glass of a pet store, staring at the tumbling puppies. I silently sent her a wish for her dreams before walking on.
There was a young bassist in a jazz club, exuberant and flushed and focused as his fingers strummed his strings in ways many women would like to be touched, you know, down there. There was fire in his eyes as they darted between the jazz veteran on the piano to his right and into the crowd of adorers. That night, as I left the tiny basement club, an older fellow took my arm and invited me to another establishment down the street. I accepted. He talked a good game. He was dapper in a tailored, old fashioned suit, with a cravat around his neck and a fedora on his head. A moustache only slightly thicker than thread lay down across his upper lip. He was a singer. A real jazz cat. It could have been 1947 that night. The stars opened up another dimension.
And then there was the man, likely my age, who sidled up next to us, two gingers, at a diner counter closer to dawn than dusk. The alcohol in his blood spilled his story to us. He showed us the new splashes of rainbow colours on his arm that symbolized peace. They were an attempt to negate the fading gang tattoos. He told us about the people he had killed. He spoke of redemption. He asked for our numbers.
Every day, I cross lives with people from all kinds of backgrounds, with all sorts of aspirations – or perhaps with none at all. They are all fascinating, each in their own way. I’d like to know everything about them. Follow them, watch them, speak to them. The diversity is delectable. It encourages me to accept myself, to be me.