So I’m sitting in this quaint, little wooden house in Athens, Ohio, amongst a mess of dirty laundry and even filthier bed sheets that could tell you tales that I probably can’t even imagine myself and I’m thinking that I should write about my recent experience in New York City while it’s still relatively fresh in my mind before it escapes me as so many memories tend to do the older I get. The point of this whole trip was to not only travel, but more importantly, to write. To write about it, to write about the people, to write how I felt, to write what I knew, to write what I learned, to just fucking write. Now is just as good a time as any to begin chronicling my misadventures in hobo-land.
There needs to be an appropriate soundtrack, I tell myself as I sit down to write this, so I YouTube some Ratatat. “Loud Pipes” is playing and I can hear the fan in the corner blowing air across the room on the lowest setting possible, just good enough to keep it from getting stuffy but not so loud that I can’t hear myself think.
A splash of pavement from Williamsburg, a tiny sunset in the Financial District, steamed dumplings the size of a watermelon, and all those bridges connecting, keeping a city afloat and connected to the rest of the world – all random flashes in my mind of the places etched into my mind, forming one big picture of New York City to me, the visitor, the outsider from Miami.
There are all these songs and stories and movies written about the city that it makes you wonder why anyone would live anywhere else. But maybe it’s because of all the hype that so many people choose not to end up there (I know that was my experience when I was in Pittsburgh). I, myself, constantly struggle on the fence of desiring Native status and simply wanting to accept my place as the occasional drop-in guest. I went to New York this time around without any real expectation, which was probably for the best since there was really nothing to find. In the end, all I left with was a heavily depleted bank account and a sense of confusion about who exactly took my money in the first place, like a broke(n down) amnesiac.
My flight picked me up out of Ft. Lauderdale, about an hour north of Miami for the non-South Floridians, and flew me over to Queens – LaGuardia Airport, paid courtesy of JetBlue (my favorite airline, despite the fact that they turned down my application for a position as a flight attendant).
“I’m really doing it,” I thought to myself as the giant rubber tired crashed onto the pavement. I grabbed my heavy, Adidas backpack that I bought about a day or so before skipping town to live life on the road for a while, and made my way to the bus stop right outside. The bus was packed and I stood there waiting for a seat but ending up getting off the bus before one ever became available. One of many analogies for the city, I guess. I huffed it to a train, then another bus, and finally found Jefferson Street, where my buddy CJ lives. CJ was a kid I knew way back in high school, someone I didn’t entirely get along with because he seemed way too uptight for my teen taste (I was too busy being an asshole, yelling back at Mrs. Brown and getting in trouble for the fuck of it. Mrs. Brown taught English and in retrospect, she was pretty damn nice to me and I was just a stupid kid, but that’s young angst for you). All I could remember about CJ was that he was a good student, spoke with a unique sort of accent, and sold Argentinian alfajores (a type of sweet) at the end of class. I myself was also fairly entrepreneurial, and I had my mother bake brownies that I sold at about .50 a pop. It really pissed some of my teachers off.
It’s funny how life works out though, and after 10th grade, I never saw or heard from CJ again. That is, until the advent of Facebook, where he somehow found and friended me. After reading about his job at a local Broward newspaper and all his penguin-related joke statuses, I started thinking CJ had actually grown to be a pretty awesome guy. Then, last year, as I was visiting NYC after a failed relationship and a number of other unpleasant events, CJ asked if I wanted to meet up. And meet up we did, at a gay bar near Christopher Street. It was pretty fantastic because I always had my suspicions but seeing as CJ had been involved with the far-right clubs in high school (Republican and Christian groups), I was never 100% sure what was up with his orientation. These days, he’s much more open and relaxed and it was really grand to meet up with him and get to know him under new circumstances. That night, CJ told me to look him up the next time I was in town. And so, a few weeks before leaving Miami, I sent him a quick Facebook message asking if he’d let me stay with him a few nights and if he’d like to hang out some more, to which he very cordially replied: yes.
CJ lives on Jefferson Street near the L, in a multi-bedroom apartment he shares with about 3 other roommates (I can’t remember if I met them all or not?) Walking into the hallway of his complex, you’re greeted with the delicious, familiar scent of nice-quality herb, the kind I wasn’t fortunate enough to partake in as it was never offered and the only offer extended was that I buy $40 of more worth, which was way beyond my budget. Nostrils flared, I let the smell sink deep into my lungs as I entered the apartment. I think it’s safe to say that the majority of places i’ve crashed at since then have all had the same lived-in, dirty dishes, lack of feather duster, tell-tale art on the walls kind of feel that this joint had. These apartments all have this quality of desire to them, a combination of grunge and grit left behind by the over-booked lives of 20-somethings. They’d make great anthropological studies: notice the caked on cheese left on the plates, the gum and cigarette wrappers and beer bottle tops strewn about, hurried messages scribbled on napkins, half eaten sandwiches barely wrapped in the fridge, a compost heap or recycling bin because even though they’re busy, they still kinda care about the planet, an instrument that’s played on drunken nights by the musical talent of the house, well-worn shoes that have traipsed the city one hundred nights and then some, a fancy bike that cost more than everyone’s rent combined leaning against a wall with chipped paint, some books written by dead authors and dead poets about how to survive stacked tightly in a shelf to show that someone is well read, and maybe a refrigerator magnet from each of their home towns holding up a local chinese food menu. Beautiful.
The main thing I noticed, and what I hadn’t exactly prepared for, was that New York City would be hot. And not just hot, but really fucking sweltering hot. I’m from Miami, i’ve grown up under the sun. But i’ve always had air conditioning available. And when that wasn’t, due to some major natural disaster or power outage, there was always something else, like a battery operated fan. Never had I experienced the stagnant heat of a NYC basement in the summertime. I hate to sound ungrateful, and to be honest, I am not and would gladly sleep there again no question, but now I would go in with a much more prepared state of mind. CJ led me down the metal steps from his apartment’s kitchen to the shared basement space that divided his bedroom from his roommate’s room. Right in the middle was a big, grown, fuzzy couch with a wool blanket at one end and a pillow at the other.
“I hope you don’t mind, we don’t have a fan or anything. This is the couch though! Let me know if you’re not comfortable though!” CJ said to me, so kindly to the girl he really didn’t know much about at all except she was kind of a pain in the ass when she was 15 and probably was still somewhat of a pain over a decade later. I plopped my stuff down by the edge of the couch.
“This is perfect!” I smiled, and it was, because I wasn’t paying one red cent for it, and sleeping there meant I could be in New York City, the holy land of dreamers who imagine their own towns to be much too small for their big ideas. There were no expectations, only gratitude to have a small space to call my own, even if only temporarily, in a city of 8 million other confused individuals just trying to get by. It felt good. It felt really good. I sat down on the couch, opened my bag, and got acquainted with my first free home on the road.
(Check back for continuations throughout the week. For now, enjoy the music.)