It's 11 p.m. and I'm antsy in New York. I've been up since six, did a yoga class at 7, sat in meetings all day wearing my corporate face and trying to play the game. It's not as hard as it used to be.
I eat an expense account dinner with my coworkers. People I honestly like very much. They make me laugh. They are twisted. The conversation is about sex shops, butt plugs, politics and the London bombings. These people are OK.
I'm exhausted and keep looking at my watch. Finally we leave the table and start ambling back to the hotels. There is a lesbian coworker I am inexplicably fascinated by. I spend the meetings wishing I weren't so thoroughly straight. I could watch her forever. She makes me laugh. She has more balls and spirit than many men I know. She uses the language well. I want to be her friend. And yet I cannot muster up one iota of sexual desire or interest, no matter how much my brain would like me to try. I simply am not wired that way.
My group of comrades and I get back to the hotel and I go up to my room. Our last conversation before saying goodnight has implications of everyone going back to their beds alone. Again I wish I could say something or do something that would change that. But I get off on my floor and wish everyone good night.
I'm in my room. I call my boyfriend back in L.A. There are some issues. My phone is crapping out and the conversation is stilted, disjointed. I am antsy. I hang up.
I put on jeans, tennis shoes and a comfortable shirt. Fuck it. I leave the hotel room and ride down the chi chi elevator.
I go outside and feel the hot muggy nighttime air of the city. Instantly I feel like I've gotten a blood transfusion. I am a hunter on the prowl. I have legs that cannot stay still. I must find this city and conquer it.
I walk a block east into Times Square. People are milling about. It's midnight and people don't care one bit. A black guy has a sign; "I rap for money." The smoke from the sausage carts surrounds me, winds its way into my hair as I wait at a corner for the traffic to break. I instantly fall into New York walking mode. No sense of the signals at all. Just spidey sense glancing quickly at the cars and walking obliviously through them. I start riding the blocks like surfer rides the waves.
My walking slams me straight to the subway station at the bottom of Times Square. Fuck it. I'm taking a train.
I buy a ticket with change and run down the stairs. I stop for a millisecond in front of the map. Red 1, 2 and 3 go down towards the Village. Good enough. l'll go to the Village, maybe walk over to Washington Square, listen to the music and then figure out what next.
Maybe I'll find my lost youth down there. Maybe I'll lose myself in some jazz riff and never find my way home again. Maybe I'll fall into one of those swirls and eddies of people and drink my way until dawn. Maybe there will be a time warp and I will wake up in my 20s, hanging with the earnest funny intellectuals that seemed to always be there for the taking whenever I used to visit.
I find the entry to the trains, run down the stairs and jump on the first local that pulls up. Sitting in the train I remember the sound, the sway, the smell. As we pull out of Times Square station I remember a moment with a lover, standing in front of the post with the Times Square sign and taking pictures of each other. I am assaulted by memories. They battle with the intensity of the present.
I stand up and check the route. I don't want to get off at Penn Station so I confirm that I'll keep going down to 14th. That's pretty close to the Village, I reason. 14th is fine.
I get off at 14th and emerge on 12th, facing east. Rows of brick apartments flank the streets. I start walking east. I come to 5th and figure it's time to start north.
I stop and look up and realize I'm in front of the Forbes Magazine building. The Times Square lover used to work there. I start walking faster. I decide I'll walk all the way back up to my hotel. And I tell myself that on this journey I will learn something. I will have a conversation. I will work out some angst. I will figure something out.
I pass countless icons of my life. Dramatics Hair Salon reminds me of the first magazine I was published in (Dramatics). Lucky Jeans reminds me of my boyfriend. Union Park is where I walked with the kids one freezing winter day.
What would I do if I lived here, I wonder. I would have to have some money. I would have to be authentic. Which means I would only want to live here as a writer. A writer who could afford to live here, which means a writer with really good fucking sales. Would I get antsy sitting in my little brownstone apartment all day, the city pulsing and writhing outside my window? Would I ever be able to stop walking?
Worse, would I become immune to it, calloused, my hearing shutting out all the glorious noises, my sight blinded to the endless depth of detail and humanity and history and depth? Would I stop smelling the sausage carts in an effort to shut out the rotten sweetness of the garbage? Would I be one of these people who just passes through without seeing or stopping or getting this place?
I tell myself, out loud, that within one hour I'm going to have a conversation that will change my life. I will allow it to do so, I vow. I will allow the conversation to change me. And then I realize that the conversation may not be with a person. It could be between me and this city, or me and my fear, or me and my past. Or . . . just me.
I had hoped I was below NYU but I'm not. I've moved from 5th Ave to Broadway and I start getting into an area that is darker and darker. The upper 20's and low 30's. Not good. Clusters of men hang out in the shadows in front of a building. There are no tourists, no people around besides them. It is dark. It is 12:30 in the morning. I am stupid.
I wonder if I should hail a cab, but keep going. I'm glad I'm wearing nondescript clothing. I review my martial arts moves in my head, trying to feel in my muscles what would be the most effective thing to do, trying to guess what situation might occur.
I mentally detach from the things in my pocket. The worst that would happen is they'd get some cash, a credit card and my ATM card. Maybe my cell phone. They wouldn't want anything to do with me, I tell myself. I'm a middle-aged woman. I walk with strength. I swallow my presence so I move through the streets invisibly.
It works; no one bothers me.
I emerge into Korea Town, just south of Herald Square. I didn't know New York had a Korea Town.
I get to the bottom of Times Square and emerge back into the lights, the people, the scenes constantly going on. I realize that's one reason this city gets me so insanely amped up; there are stories going on with such density it's impossible for me to sleep.
I keep thinking about my sense that I'll have a conversation that's important. I think maybe I'll come back to the hotel and call my co-worker. Invite her down for a drink. Tell her I'm really sorry but I'm totally wired to be straight but I'd like to know her anyway. I work up the nerve to do this, knowing I won't, when I run into my boss's boss. He's standing on the corner just drinking it in. We say hi and chat and walk back to the hotel together.
So it did transpire that within one hour I had a conversation. It was with someone I probably will not know forever, who could never be a lover, who is important to me in my life as a corporate employee and who is a friend, but not much more. The conversation ended up being short, and light, and about the energy of New York. We talk about how it's impossible to sleep with it going on sometimes. How we both just like to walk the city.
And then I come upstairs.
The place I call home is a place I've always fought to breathe in. I have never felt completely comfortable in LA although I've come to sincerely respect and, in a way, love it.
San Francisco and Boston give me a complete sense of being in my own skin. The first time I was ever anywhere up in Northern California I knew I'd come home. Which makes sense: my dad was born in SF and four generations of my ancestors made northern California their home and their history. Boston I feel the same way in; completely at home; completely at ease; transparent and whole at the same time.
New York is the only place in the world where I feel a sense of potential far bigger than myself. New York is where I am MORE than myself, where I can see huge spaces for me to grow into. Oh yes, I am myself here. But I am also on edge, aware of being a small dot in a large swarming hive. But it's so much who I am, and who I want to be, and what I want to conquer.
Before going to sleep I jot this down on the hotel stationery:
Picture the person in the world who most turns you on. Everything this person does is HOT. The way he moves, what he talks about, the look of his hands as he holds a pen. . . or a hammer . . . or your hand. There is nothing about this person that does not completely do it for you.
Say you're in bed with this guy. And you are feeling GREAT. You are alive and vibrant and the night will last as long as you can. Every time you touch each other you get a tingle of pure joy, animal lust, insane desire for more.
Now translate all that into other things. Say you know a place that is as hot as that lover is to you. A place filled with as many restaurants as sexual positions, as many bookstores as long intertwined conversations, as much music as laughter, and as much architectural beauty as his hand and body and arms.
Picture a city where you curse your need to sleep and bitterly regret that you cannot see everything, be everywhere, apprehend ALL of it totally all at once.
It's a city of the biggest orgasm you've ever had in your life. All splayed out and screaming with lights and pulsing music and pounding movement. A city one could never fully know, could never get enough of, could never get boring.
Welcome to New York.