Last Thursday I walked from midtown down to West 4th, weaving between 11th and 8th Avenues most of the way. It was a warm Spring day, I was on vacation, and just enjoying being part of the city's drift. There was no hurry. I was thinking about the awful matinee audience I'd sat amongst at the Music Box theater for Jerusalem (great play), and the absurd disconnect between that pant-suit set and the play's uniquely English fusion of alcohol, drugs & and mythic sense of place. I was thinking how that sense of place is both a blessed inheritance and a narrow, confining curse. I was thinking of being a kid, and of spending my first nine years in a small Cheshire village. Of country superstitions, foxes at dusk, dead magpies and weasels pinned on a keeper's board, of witches, Puck, and Herne the Hunter, of my excitement when the gypsies appeared each year. I was always jealous of the girl in the story who dyed her skin with hazelnuts and ran away with the gypsies, and each summer, when they came to our village, I wanted to be that girl. I was thinking about provincialism, of the mind-numbing boredom of a quiet seaside town, where even your parents accepted that underage drinking was pretty much the only entertainment, of not getting how any teenager in their right mind could be content to stay there as an adult. In my 8th grade homeroom (or its English equivalent), pairs of us had a rotating assignment to decorate the bulletin board with some appropriate seasonal theme or civics topic. My partner, Carol, and I chose graphic scenes from a recent Sunday Times magazine feature: crime in New York City, with shots of bodies lying in pools of blood on barroom floors, and splayed across beds in cheap hotels. New York, circa 1972. We were proud our work, but, as expected, it didn't last out the first period.
I marked time for a few more years and then got away from the town, but Carol never did. At 19 she married a boy from a neighboring school, and settled into a life of discontent. Carol, with your straw blonde hair, your brilliant mimicry, and encyclopedic knowledge of show tunes! Remember dying your blonde hair green for that Roxy Music concert? Remember injecting "Alexis was a little bleeder" as often as possible into our Russian history homework, & the poor faded history teacher's gentle distress? Remember abandoning that Greek play on a classics outing to Cambridge, and hopping on the train to London instead? You should have got out for good.
By Chelsea, on 8th Avenue, I was walking along, sun-soaked, when a cyclist, on the sidewalk, swooped by with a "Fuck you, asshole!" as he passed. I didn't care much, but was a bit nonplussed. I hadn't blocked his path. Whatever. I was feeling too content to care, and the blip of a comment came and went. A couple of blocks later, pausing to cross the street, another cyclist swerved tightly round the corner, and (I guess) noticing my caution, yelled out, "Bless you!" This was really more surprising than "Fuck you asshole!" Who on earth goes round saying BLESS YOU? It seemed like such a wet, asinine comment for even the newest New Yorker. Still, it really happened, and there was such a symmetry in the two cyclist encounters that it made me pause. I'm fucked. I'm blessed. I'm fucked. I'm blessed. This is me, in the city, able to slide along more comfortably here than anywhere else I know. I got here twenty seven years ago and I can't see what other place would do the trick, would accomodate my outsiderly self and my mixed moods of gloom and excitement. Even with the slow, steady loss of places and people, even at the times it seems to drag you down, I love the city prodigiously. It still doesn't cease to thrill me: the crazy conversations I hear, the odd, glancing encounters of the day. There's still a sensory overload, and a huge, undiminished thrill that I'm a part of it all. I'm fucked. I'm blessed. I'm fucked. I'm blessed. Let's just leave it at that.