I knew as I stepped out of the revolving doors onto Penn Plaza that I felt like walking instead of taking the subway. I’ve been on a snow-induced lockdown several weeks, and I’m getting tired of riding in a hole in the ground. Besides, the more time I spend in Manhattan, the smaller it seems.
So I walk down 7th Ave in the Garment District, past the nameless delis with their steam tables; past the countless bodegas packed with beer and cigarettes that I have no desire for, past the pizza shops. New Yorkers do a lot yelling, or at least emphatic exclaiming, about which pizza shop has the best slice in Manhattan. I think they’re so emphatic because they know people don’t care.
I cross into Chelsea and a black man is asking a white man the time. The white man ignores him, so he turns to me. It’s a quarter to seven, and he doesn’t thank me. The delis give way to restaurants that I’ll never eat at. I wonder what it would be like to work in an embassy or a consulate somewhere, a lonely life where all your friends are political science majors. I would have to take a test to work at the State Department, a test I wouldn’t want to study for. I wonder if I can just recite the New Colossus. I get to the part about the beacon hand and world-wide welcome and I’m glad I never had to memorize "Still I Rise" or Luke 2:11, How I struggled to recite "Me gustas cuando callas" in my Spanish Lit class in college, yet without a lick of effort know all the words to any song that was played on Top 40 radio between 1986 and 1990.
Shape Of My Heart came out in 1993, and I’m thinking about the part where it goes "he may play the Jack of Diamonds, he may lay the Queen of Spades, he may conceal a king in his hand, while the memory of it fades." I cross 14th St. into the Village, and I’m thinking about buying a slow cooker like the one I had in China. I think for a second about my friends in China; the ones that turned out to be bullshit, the ones who have faded away gracefully. I think about the friends I was sorry to leave behind. I wonder who’s thinking that I turned out to be bullshit. 7th Avenue turnes into Varick St, and the Woolworth building shines like a beacon directly in front of me.
I’ve been in New York for nine months now, but China still feels like yesterday, and those people still feel like my present and future, instead of my past. It is unlikely that I’ll see them ever again; there will be no efforts to come and see me. I wait for the light at Canal St. and jaywalk in front of the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. I think about how I don’t understand how a pressure cooker works.
"and if I told you that I loved you, you’d maybe think there’s something wrong… I’m not a man of too many faces; the mask I wear is one.
I turn onto West Broadway. The Woolworth Building shifts to my eleven o’clock, and I wonder if I’ll ever feel like I’m in New York. Maybe when there’s a little money in my pocket, maybe when I’m playing in a band again. I pass a dude on his phone, saying "that seems a bit dramatic, doesn’t it" sounding like the BBC, and I try to think if any of my friends have that accent, the one where you pronounce all the /t/s… two women do, the two that showed up to the happy hour on my last day at SpanishPod. The dudes all have different accents.
Oh yes, I remember now… "her mild eyes command the air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. Keep ancient lands your storied pomp! cries she with silent lips." The rest is easy. I wonder if I will make a cheesy video for Youtube, with my American accent.
I don’t know if that was Soho, I was south of Houston, but way to the west. I’m in Tribeca now, and I wonder why I can sing O Canada with no mistakes, why I know the melody to Advance Australia Fair and the fanfare to the Chinese National Anthem, why I can recite "Hail Holy Queen" and Maria’s final monologue from West Side Story. Yet my closest friends mock me (correctly) for my swiss cheese memory. I remember the promises and the disappointments, but I forget the plot and the details.
Is accuracy every really the issue? What part of my upbringing taught me about loyalty and self-preservation, but not about intimacy or fulfillment? Loyalty is the most worthless.
I turn onto Chambers St, and the Woolworth Building falls to my seven o’clock. From the front door of my building, I can turn right and see the colors of the Empire State Building. If I turn left, I see the harbor. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
I think about larvae that eat and eat, and then retreat into themselves and emerge later with colorful wings, a tired metaphor.
I think about the shiny soreness in my hip and knees. I think about stopping for Indian food.