I’m indulging a little bit today in writing without any major agenda, but that’s something of a theme for the week ahead. I’ve been off the road for a couple of weeks, which has on the one hand been nice but on the other has forced me to sit down and confront a phenomenal backlog of work. In the grand scheme of things that’s very good. Most of that work is coming from good things that I’m genuinely, in the terribly un-ironic businessman part of my soul, excited about. On the flip side of that, I’m also realizing that the first quarter of this year is not going to yield a lot of what I’d been hoping on that same front. Honestly it’s nothing really bad – it happens – but a couple of big deals have pushed out into the second quarter, and a few of the things on my own docket just didn’t get where I needed them to be, in large part due to the run of travel that kicked off, and consumed, the first two months of the year. They flew by in a haze of airport lighting and Southwest Airlines drink coupons, and I’m just going to have to catch some things up in April. That’s going to cost me a few bucks too, which is frustrating but fair. I’ll make it back up in a couple of months.
Good news though – the week upcoming is spring break for the boys, which means that it’s also a bit of a break for me. Their mother and I have a general structure for vacations and holidays, in which they usually do spring break with her, off at some resort somewhere. I’ll miss them, but it’s also a chance to get away and do something else for a few days. So we’re off to New York, Jenn and I, to see some dear friends, bum around, and introduce her to the city which she has, to my dismay, never visited before.
I’ve visited before, many times, and I’ve always enjoyed being there. The question of whether I’d have it in me to live there or not is academic at this point, though I’ve thought about it. What’s funny is that I remember a very vivid dream about New York that I had twenty-odd years ago. In the dream, I was standing at the end of a tremendously long bridge leading into Manhattan (it didn’t correspond accurately to any of the actual bridges). It was night and the city glowed in the distance. One by one, I was bidding farewell to a number of my friends, who were crossing the bridge and going there to live. I was not going with them, and it was clear why: I needed more money before I could go.
In the year or so after I had that dream, it more or less came true. A number of my friends did move to New York, and established an expatriate beachhead there that I’ve been taking advantage of ever since. The financial admonition in my dream was also basically accurate, but in retrospect there’s a certain irony: most of my friends who actually made the trip had less money than I did at the time. The issue wasn’t a simple question of money versus no money. It was just that they were willing to go and share grimy studio apartments in Dogdick, Queens, and I wasn’t. It wasn’t penury that kept me from New York. It was bourgeois sensibility, the fatal vice of the landed provincial.
So, in that very same provincial bourgie way, I’m off to pay touristy homage. And for the most part I’m okay with that. The adventures and misadventures of my various friends who did go have been varied enough to keep my own decision from being any simple matter of regret. They chose to roll some dice that I did not, and I admire that, but the results were uneven. I have my troubles but a lot’s turned out well for me, not least my brilliant children who are nowadays nestled in the bosom of one of America’s best and most richly-funded public school districts. Why complain?
But I still get excited to go. I was there for the first time in probably 1979 or 80 (my dad would know). We went to visit family near Philadelphia and went over. I don’t remember much, but it was a genuine glimpse of Warriors-era NYC in it’s dystopian prime, and it stuck with me. In the acute sense-memory of childhood, I recall subway cars covered in graffiti, summer heat, pervasive odors of sour spoilage and poo. I think we went another time or two in the mid-80s, though that’s foggier. But we definitely went again in 1988, and that trip I remember well. My uncle (this is really true, by the way) was, at the time, an authority in the park service and actually lived in government-provided housing on Liberty Island. As such, we got privileged, after-hours access to the statue, and actually got to run around inside the lady herself, with the whole thing to ourselves. The next day was equally monumental, as the final stages of the ’88 presidential campaign were in full swing. Dan Quayle came to the statue to speak, where he was greeted by a modest, quiet contingent of Republican supporters, and a riotous army of AIDS activists. I didn’t really grasp what the epidemic was doing, at that moment, in New York and San Francisco, but these guys sure as hell did, and they were going to give little Dan a piece of their minds about federal inaction. Talk about provincial sensibilities – I was blown away. It was great, I took it seriously (at least privately), but it was decidedly new. Later in the day we got on the ferry with the same protesters and went over to Manhattan, spending time in the village. I wanted to find a punk rock shop but when we saw a couple (was Trash and Vaudeville around back then?) I didn’t have the nerve to go in. But it was a magnificent September day and the city buzzed and roared. I saw men holding hands. We went to a Caribbean restaurant. I took a photo of the Marquee for “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom,” the sight of which had my friends back home in stitches for weeks. It all seemed wild and alive.
Like anyplace you visit infrequently (though I’ve been there more often these last couple of years), it’s different every time I go. That’ll be part of the fun. And going with someone who’s never been will be lovely too, seeing it through fresh eyes a bit. And I’m aware completely, writing this, of how naive it all must sound to my hardened New York friends. Any of the ten billion recent immigrants to Colorado could probably write about this place in similarly breathless tones and my eyes would never stop rolling. But you get less self-conscious as you ease into middle age. I’ll gawk, and point, take pictures and eat hotdogs and all the things I usually do, and I regret nothing.
Which of course isn’t true at all, but we get the whole idea of regret wrong anyway. More on that in another post.