4.11.08

Naked as We Came

For your consideration: The first essay I have ever written that I like and the one I will be submitting to collages. Its mostly true, embelished just a little bit. Let me know how you like it

The Only Living Boy in New York

My first day in New York was rather hectic. So hectic, in fact, that I have trouble piecing it all together in my head. Was that all in the same day? It seems that it couldn’t possibly have taken place in less than a week. But I will try to recount the events of that day as accurately as I can recall, though first I believe some contextual information will be necessary.

When I was on the verge of turning 17, I decided I was to move to New York City. This decision came about because I didn’t know what I was doing with the next year of my life. The next year was empty because I graduated high school early, and I graduated high school early for such a great number of reasons that it would take many more essays this long to explain properly. My recent life had been one of direct routes. Earlier that year I realized that I needed to work on film or video production. Instead of waiting until after college, I moved as the crow flies and went immediately to enroll in a digital video intensive at San Francisco State. Having known I wanted to live in New York for a long time, I thought to continue on that theme and simply move to New York a bit earlier then expected.

My plan was first to call up my aunt who lived in the city to see if I could crash on her couch for a week, maybe two, while I found a job and an apartment. I had never met this aunt, at least not as far back as I could remember. I was assured that she had been close with my dad and that there would be no problem with me staying there for a short period. I called her requesting this but she didn’t pick up and I left a message. I also went about looking for an apartment online, mostly using Craig’s List. Because of my (under)age and that fact that I was not already in New York to view the rooms for rent, this proved rather difficult. However a lucky break did occur when I was working as a cameraman for free concerts over the summer. One of the other cameramen held a high post in the Applied Research Center, or A.R.C., a group dedicated to combating racism. He told me that they had a New York office and he could get me an internship in their film and video department. So then I had an internship - it was a start.

Summer sped past and what a summer it was, but all too soon the day of my departure was approaching. There were a couple of parties thrown on my behalf and I was amazed to realize how many people would miss me. I was scrambling around to find an apartment still. It was looking grimly possible that I would be left out in the cold when I got to the city. The day before I was to board the aircraft, I discovered a voice message on my phone from my aunt apologizing for the delay. She had been out of town for quite some time. She had nowhere for me to stay as her place was small and her children were beginning to return to school. So went my safety net.

I said my goodbyes and packed away my life in a suitcase. “What was I going to do?” people asked. Where would I stay? I didn’t know. What I did know is that A.R.C. wanted me for a shoot in two days and I would do whatever I had to do to be there.

The flight was a redeye. I arrived at John F. Kennedy airport at four in the morning. I was more then a little bit tired. I used my first moments in New York, after picking up my baggage, to splash some water on my face and to change my clothes in a bathroom stall. Then I went about the task of getting into Manhattan proper…not nearly as easy as I had thought. It took me just under one hour of wandering around the ground floor of that airport before I was finally able to deduce an effective way of getting out. It entailed a twelve dollar ticket to a shuttle bus which would, hopefully, drop me at Penn Station. I came aboard the bus and took a window seat. The bus, snaking its way towards its destination, can’t possibly have cost me more then an hour - but to me, despite employing the aid of a Modest Mouse CD to help pass the time, it felt rather close to a lifetime. And was it not a lifetime? It could be argued that my life was scraped and returned anew over the duration of that ride. You see, that bus, even more then the plane that took me from California, signified my move from the familiar to the frontier. Airports, as I’m concerned, are mostly the same and finding an escape from them was all but mundane for me. Manhattan, by myself, on the other hand, might as well have been the surface of the moon. How appropriate, it occured to me, to have my recorded little Isaac Brock singing to me “That’s how the world began/And that’s how the world will end.”

I was deposited somewhere in the city, I’m not certain where, and told to wait for a second bus that would bring me to Penn Station. The bus didn’t come for forty minutes. In the interim, I had plenty of time to sit with my thoughts. I was at a loss as to my physical location. The street signs were meaningless as I had no map and did not know so much as the shape of the island. As for where I was mentally, well that was also somewhat adrift in the void. I called my mother. “What am I doing? Where will I stay? Why did I come here?” My mother considered for a moment and I realized how early in the morning it was there. How rude I was! Then came my mother’s reply. Calm down. Breath. I was to make my way to the station because from there it was easy to get anywhere else. She would scour the internet for some temporary lodging, or, if nothing else, a place to leave my stuff so I could move around unimpaired, and she would call me back.

The second bus did eventually arrive and by gazing out its window I was able, at last, to view the city. I would like to state here that the music I am listening to is of particular importance to me. On this bus, having had time to thoroughly digest my Modest Mouse, I took The Velvet Underground and Nico for a spin. Between that and the view passing by my window, I was suddenly in a very New York mind frame. I felt grossly different from my Bay Area self all of a sudden and rather liked it. I quickly resolved to listen to only New York bands for the remainder of the day.

I dismounted at Penn Station and went about locating some breakfast. It was now a small fraction past seven in the morning and the sun also rose, though, as there was no horizon in sight - only buildings - I was not allowed to witness its assent. My goal was to find a diner, but merely looking for one proved nearly impossible. The suitcase that had seemed so small when I had packed it now was gargantuan and poorly balanced, my messenger bag cut deeply into my shoulder and my guitar begged not to be moved at all. Because of this, my search for a diner was forced to come to an end rather quickly. I instead stumbled into the first restaurant I found. It was a terrible little sandwich joint, and none too cheap either. I sat there with my meal thinking how much I had bragged to my friends about the food in New York. How did my first meal here turn out so bad?

I left the restaurant unsatisfied but admittedly full. My mom gave me a call back. She had once again responded to a great deal of Craig’s List room ads. I should be receiving some calls and, secondly, she had found me a gym. “A gym? Couldn’t that wait?” I was informed that rock climbing was very important to me and this place had a good climbing wall. And that it was a good way to meet people and stay in shape. Besides, I could leave my stuff there for now while I found a place to stay. “Okay. Fine.” It was concluded that I would take a taxi out to Chelsea and have a look at it.

My mind first went to all the films I had seen in which cabs were hailed. There always seemed to be a special technique to it and it was never without difficulty. I did consider briefly putting two fingers in my mouth and trying to whistle loudly. It always seemed to work well in cheap comedies, but the idea was promptly dismissed as ridiculous. Most of those movies were shot in LA anyway. So instead, I merely stepped out into the street and raised my hand. I made eye contact with the driver of an empty cab and that was it. Simple and relatively whistle free.
What bands lived in Chelsea? I couldn’t think of one. I did know that I wanted to save my Dylan for the West Village, my Talking Heads for the Lower East Side, and so on, so I figured Brooklyn’s Animal Collective would have to do.

We arrived at the gym and I paid the fair. Inside I was granted a brief tour - I won’t bore you with the details - and a place to store my luggage for a time. Most certainly a relief! To top it all off, there were showers. At that moment, I was standing still in the clothes I had hugged my friends goodbye in. After a six hour plane ride, I was disheveled and smelled rather rank. A shower, an outfit swap, and a quick shave, and I was a new man. A new man, as I saw it - a New York man ready to face the world.

I left the gym past nine o’clock in the morning, at first not knowing where to go. Soon, though, I received a phone call about a room for rent in the East Village. My mom works fast! I took down the address and informed them that I’d come to look at the room in an hour. I quickly moved to the nearest subway station. How much easier it was to move around sans luggage! I studied the map on the station wall closely and popped in a Ramones disc for the ride. It occurred to me that I had now listened to four different albums before ten AM. When you have no one to talk to, what other options do you have? The subway was overwhelming and I got lost. A number of different times lost, in fact. I had plotted out a course where I would board one train heading south and then transfer to another easterly one. My first try, I wasn’t paying attention and missed the transfer point. After a lot of waiting and another look at a subway map, I was eventually able to get on the right eastern bound train. Later, when I finally walked out of the station I had been aiming for, I was shocked to find I wasn’t very near my destination at all. But I had had enough of subways and I decided that walking the ten blocks would be quicker.

I did finally find myself at the room for rent, just before noon, or almost 2 hours after I said I would arrive. Luckily the owner of the apartment was still there and he welcomed me in. It was then explained to me that the space had been one of the original squats in the mid 60s when the current owner was immersed in the Hippy Movement. The building later became a coop and he acquired the rights to the room he had once hid out in. The owner of the room mentioned how much things had changed since then and how greatly he resented the gentrification of the area. This was not a good sign. My biggest dislike about my home town was the old hippies constantly telling us kids how much better the 60’s were. How terrible it must be to live in the past when the past is never coming back. The room itself was large and furnished and I was informed that I could smoke in there. When I told him I didn’t smoke, he shot me back a look of skepticism and repeated that I could smoke in there as long as I opened the window. Then followed the price which I’m told was not high for the area, but was certainly outrageous to me. So I thanked him for his time and I left.

My mom had told me of a decent, inexpensive restaurant on St. Marks Place that I made haste to, but I almost didn’t make it. I can’t say there were any specific obstacles in my way except for my vicious little mind that threatened to stop me in my tracks. Why was I here? I had left my home, my friends, my family - everything I knew to come to this place. Here everyone was a stranger. I had no job and not even a place to stay. Had I come just to waste my savings and my mother’s money? These thoughts burned and they reddened my eyes. The sky was darkening with rain clouds as if in reaction. Never think it can’t get any worse or it will start raining. These thoughts continued to attack me as I reached the restaurant. The food that was placed in front of me was full of flavor yet it was tasteless. The water was dry. I could fly back home humiliated yet comfortable, but what then? What could I do with the next year? Every way was a loss. Through my head phones Bob Dylan told me that there was no direction home. How does it feel?

It was a friend’s phone call that brought me back to reality. He was excited. He told me how much it meant to everyone that I was in New York. He told me that I was proving all the high school principals and all the jaded parents in all the world wrong. He told me he wished he was the one in New York and then he asked me to describe the city.


By 1 AM that night much had happened but nothing had changed. I was pulling my baggage down the street with great difficulty towards the cheap hotel my mom booked for me at the last minute. It was raining and I was tired. A girl walking in the opposite direction shot me a quick smile but it was a smile like you never see. It was not a look of sympathy nor really one of empathy. It did not say, “I know what you’re going through.” But more like, “I’m going through that too. Sucks, doesn’t it?” My bags were suddenly weightless, I was in love. In many ways I hate myself for not stopping her to talk, but I suppose that’s okay too.

she said wake up, its no use pretending

1 comment:

Jacquelyn Nan said...

I love it, Stuart. It's a little unnecessarily detailed and could use some editing in places, but the feelings and points are strong. try to focus more on those and less on which subway trains you took, ect. I love the vibe it gives off though, very honest, there's no hidden agenda. Very New York.