On the morning of the feast of St. Nicholas, the edges of Manhattan architecture first glimmered for me in the hard frost of early December. I was about to go ashore after seven miserable days at sea. These last seven days falling at the end of a hundred traveled from the time of our departure at Denver when we were merely just flipping the bird at our past through the eye of an airplane. We had no idea what was coming. Enough said about that for now.
New York, as many have said, introduces America splendidly from its harbor. The Empire State Building stands shoulders above the crowd like a rocket ready to rumble. The Statue of Liberty poses out front in her cloak of million dollar bills.
This was my father’s home port. He knew the harbor as well as he knew my face and though I had not proved a competent seaman, I felt a renewed bond with him as a circle closed that began to be drawn 16,000 miles behind me. When I left I wouldn’t have imagined this possible but I was actually looking forward to seeing my old man. Coming in to the country the way he had so many times before put me in a sympathetic mood.
The noise of the city reached my ears before we even docked, mostly aircraft, then automobiles, a church bell tolled somewhere not far off. It’s sacred toning, homely, droning calm and sincere beneath the urban rumpus. I blinked my eyes and snagged a flashback. It reminded me of the Cathedral bell on the day we buried Mother, its massive clapper pounding out eternity like a boxer hammering at my navel.
In the measure and order of harbor traffic, my attention shot outward like this. After days of tedious swaying to the curving edge of earth my attention went bouncing into that yawning chasm of Wall Street like a pin ball. Eagerly my fellow crew mates and I prepared to debark, but it turned out that the ship, its cargo and crew, including me, were impounded for the night while the captain cleared up some fine that he was in arrears with. The captain said it was a problem between Hungary and the United States, but my shipmates said the captain had a stubborn preference for his own rules and blasé attitude toward everyone else’s. The shipping officials and their guard came aboard. It made me nervous. I stashed the LSD inside a fire hose freckled with black mildew. By the time all this port of call red tape had peeled off we found out the ship’s crew could have gone ashore anytime we wanted. The captain lied to us and caused our delay because they were threatening to send him back, cargo and all, and he didn’t want to have to round up a new crew. I could hardly hold the guy in contempt. It was that very disregard of regulations that had got me on his ship, but everyone was antsy and hungry for action. We were tired of our cold, damp, cage and being bounced incessantly on the nervous knee of the tides. Your legs feel like a pair of worn-out hinges. I thought of the first settlers, the immigrants, and all the singing sailors that had sung them over.
The grease and gears of the American dream machine curve through the docks of New York every day. The city that seems to have something everyone wants. Blinking radio spires atop twin Trade Towers point skyward, like needles full of dope square-rigged and ready to shoot up the world. I was standing up to my eyeballs in it all–those same eyeballs that had recoiled from stiletto raindrops in an Asian typhoon, adjusted to the dark surrounded with stone Himalayan domes and halls and discovered Michelangelo’s deep fried delights on frescoed Sistine walls. Yup, these eyes are different than the ones that had left the country. Umpteen more fleeting suns, they’ve chased over the tips and hips of this world, back to where I wake up this morning and see my country staring back at me through eyes of rosy dawn.
“I’ve met the sunrise. I’ve come from sunrise. Out of the sun I come. The sun has promptly coughed me up today and spit me out.” While I rehearsed those words, anticipating the first that I would speak to Jocelyn, my eyes were confronted with black, graffiti subway camouflage raging through the space travel system of New York’s dim lit transportation entrails. Some long-winded spray cat was writing Honkyniggerspic all over everything.
Honkyniggerspic was a catchy tag. Firstly it was way longer than I had seen. Most tags are initials that also make a word like DIG, or sometimes a tag like AVID is a guy, David, that dropped his “D.” A lot of taggers incorporate a number like 4SEPS or MU6. A long one might have combinations like MO2V8R, but longer tags often also mean, so compressed you and I could hardly read it. Good marks are laid down clear and whisperquick. That’s what made this guy look good. This tagger with the big name wasn’t crowding it at all, just a long chain of cursive—most smokey-trailed and spider webby, but its chief artfulness was in its choice to unify negative racial slang in such catchy, trashy counterpoint. Another thing, it suggests quickness. He had to be fast to spit that thing out so often without getting caught. It was bragging—like, nah-nah cops can’t catch me. Anyone who paid the least attention caught sight of that splendid spew of alphabet stew every which, up, down and mid-town Manhattan. I imagined HONKEYNIGGERSPIC was a brown kid with white and black parents.
Rocking in that grungy subway aimed uptown, it was sinking in that I was home. I had survived my odyssey, and yet my troubles were still considerable. Since I had not kidnapped Lainie, as her father accused, they were going to figure it out sooner or later, so I figured I’d stay out of the way until they did. That would steer me clear of a huge hassle. Could be she was already home, or on her way, for Christmas. She could be dead too—for all I knew. It worried me no end—I’d make a discreet phone call or two and find out so I could stop wondering. I rubbed my temples. She might even be in New York that minute. Would that be great, or terrible? I had ridden a continuous circuit of planes, trains, trucks, cars, tuk-tuks, bikes and buses, had swum oceans and walked beaches and boulevards to escape these same riddles that await me on my doorstep, but that first morning in New York, after the debacle in Amsterdam and then the confinement of the ship, I was feeling grateful, even expansive—relieved to be home safe.
By any measure it was good to be home and exciting to be finally crawling into the mythical Big Apple for my very first time. I had a huge stash in my pocket and was planning to peddle all of it to Ghost McCloud when he got back to the states in another week, if I could wait that long. Other than that, my only plan was to charm Jocelyn into giving me another chance. Otherwise I’d head back to Colorado with a fresh chunk of cash and move into my own place.
The dozens of that subway car’s other occupants minded their business, looking out the window, not having many conversations. Some of them were reading. I had the homestretch jitters and felt like talking.
My attention fell to the fellow across the aisle that looked like he was in transition from an all-night shift. I remembered that condition well from guys who worked graveyard at the steel mill in Pueblo. The look on the face said it all. Your soul squirmed to the surface after hours submerged. I couldn’t say to him what I was thinking so I just smiled. He smiled back, downed his coffee, screwed the cap back on his thermos. I took him for a family guy, midway in age between myself and Dad with the obligations that come from a steady love life. The train slowed. Its brakes started to screech. We set our heels against it.
He nodded at my filthy pack. “Which way you coming from?”
“East from LA last summer.” There was a little feather of down floating around my face, escaped from a small hole in my vest. I blew at it.
He sat back and raised his eyebrows. “All the way by yourself?”
The subway was noisy. We braced bodies. You had to raise your voice above the crescendo of the brakes. “I started off with a pal, but we didn’t get along.”
He nodded. “What happened to him?”
I appreciated my first human contact in New York. He was making the miles shorter for both of us. I had thought about his question a lot at sea and had reduced it to this, “He paid my way and then, like a sap, I punched the son of a bitch out,” I shouted. It echoed. As we were coming to a stop, likewise did the brakes cease their screeching, so that I was left announcing to everyone within 20 feet that I was, or had been, some kind of mad-puncher-outer.
In the sudden quiet, the eyes of the occupants of that car all looked at me. Even though I regretted smacking Kirk, I had felt kind of macho admitting it to this stranger, but then suddenly I was blushing. The doors opened, occupants circulated. The guy collected his lunch pail and got up.
“Welcome home,” he chuckled with a weary smile and walked away.
The doors slid shut, everyone crowded together, we settled in, each in our orbit. Our serpent groped forward through the dark, slanting our bodies at one same, precise angle.
In a bleak, wet morning we tunneled under the skin of New York, beneath apartment blocks with cornices dripping, soggy, bushy eye-browed window boxes full of dead flowers. In all directions spread multiple grids of concrete, glass, and scads of pavement doused with rain, annealed by auto tires and shoe leather. There were blinking, colored strings and lights of holiday commerce everywhere up there, around this and that and back. I didn’t know what to think about Christmas.
In that modern, lurching conveyance, primitive rhythms lulled us into bubbles of drowsy muddlings. Lots of problems waited to be solved as we wormed our way in but I looked past my own. In the darkness of my dreary, neon dream, an A-train sliding sideways in a rain. My eyes slept in details and likenesses. I discovered there was no difference between New Yorkers and the citizens of Liverpool, Bombay, Hong Kong, or anywhere. There was more difference between the subway cars we rode. People were diverse everywhere but diverse in the same way from country to country. You had aggressive people, mellow people, ignorant, creative, and selfish ones all on every train in the world. Having spent a little time with a chimpanzee recently, I was hip to the fact that none of us were very far from our origins. The biggest difference is we get caught up in our dreams. I had heard that from Sydney’s guru in India, too, and just realized its meaning in a new way. Our car bumped along rhythmically, like the chain on a shackle; steel wheels etching themselves into black-bruised rails.
Thoughts were firing in all directions from me that first day back on home soil. Some rogue circuit ran up the back of my brain on high. To slow it down I tried deciphering more of the graffiti. I don’t care who makes it, art is like peaking inside of someone, reading their thoughts, examining their organs. MAD4IT, FIX8, and many other combinations closed around us in crazy caps and colors, and then there was the ever long Honkyniggerspic. I wondered if it was a chick. If so, I’d like to meet her. There was more graffiti on the sides of trains, seen flying out our window, and I saw one guy making it, out in the open that morning, with his nozzle dripping on a platform in a station.
No subway I had ridden, from Tokyo to Paris, belonged so unquestionably to the underground. We screamed through the substrate like the sound of a thousand electric guitar strings. It looked like we were taking over. In New York, we’d made the full circle from natives who depicted, on caves and canyons, the struggles and ecstasies of their times, to the self-appointed scribes of our civilization, whispering now through a vortex of a million colors onto the walls and tunnels of the subterranean urban maelstrom. If these catacombs survive our future ancients will research the spiral of evolution through these enigmatic twists. Paintings of quarry and prey give way to names, in exotic script, of the few who still run free. No more scenes of war or hunt but, like cave art, ultra-personal, encrypted and cult-like; all of them declarations of independence of some kind, whispers of existence to future’s unknown descendants.
I remembered a quote from a character that Clive had translated for me out of one of Oliver’s books back in Paris. This was from the ancient ruler that gave away his kingdom in order to discover the secret of flight. It was a superstitious prophecy about what would happen when men learned to fly. “Verily they spread their golden wings over the populous at noontime,” warned the blind seer. “We admire their magnificent feathers and excuse the shadow creeping beneath us like a reptile.” I liked the Biblical flavor of it, yet I was experiencing my country, like I’d never seen it before and doubted if anyone could adequately describe it, not Oliver, not the Bible, not the graffiti poet, and certainly not me.
An involuntary force in my legs squeezed my knees together and I began trembling. Why? I was experiencing culture shock in my own country.
“Can you help make sense of this?” I prayed to my deceased mother.
Yes, Andrew, what is it my beloved son?
“The insane idea of taking some acid is teasing its way into my thoughts again.”
No. No. Not yet.
I put my hand on the vial in my pocket and wished there was someplace I could just go relax. The 9999 hits of acid that had accompanied me over the ocean, tempted me regularly with its powers, but it wasn’t time yet. Enormous potentials revved in place floating askance like specks of anti-matter in an expanding universe.
I got off the subway at Penn Station with my legs still adjusting to land. It was a rainy day. People were going to work or heading back home from shifts. Umbrellas, boots and slickers of all colors were beaded over with rain. I replayed in my head the take-off from Denver months past. The sight of the American landscape by air had been spectacular, returning now, by subway felt sinister.
I called Jocelyn’s apartment from a free phone in the lobby of the Hotel Pennsylvania across from Mad Square. It rang and rang.
She had no idea I was in town. I had no idea if she was. There had to have been a couple postcards from me in her mailbox—one I sent clear back in Japan. I hung up, revolved through some brass and glass and plunged into the rapids of humanity.
I made my way uptown under a battered umbrella to Central Park, in the vicinity of her address, and then found a joint to smoke with a friendly Puerto Rican who kindly offered to share when he noticed me watching. He had waved at me from inside the park.
“Venga, venga,” he said. I liked his army jacket with the silk-screened Che Guevara on the back. The hood of it was soaked through from rain to his jet-black curls. He looked older than me—times ten—but full of life and good nature.
“Have a hit,” he said, coughing and offering a cupped hand to keep the rain off. The back of the hand was adorned with a tattoo of the head of Christ in agony under thorny crown with eyes heavenbound.
As I accepted the burning number, I pointed at the artwork on his fist and flagged him my upturned thumb.
“Nice.” I inhaled the word and looked him over, thinking maybe he could help me sell some acid. I needed money to get around, but I had to figure out how to cut some single doses out first, so I kept it quiet.
He was checking out my pack pretty closely. “You on the street come night?”
I told him I’d been around the world on the street. It didn’t seem to compute. Maybe he didn’t have the English. Maybe he didn’t believe me. He understood when I finally pulled out some coins in my pocket from places of all kinds. He thought it was funny. He laughed at me standing there in the rain with my fist full of coin from every country and all pretty much equally worthless there in New York. His name was Alphonse. I told him my name and we clapped hands.
He crouched under my umbrella passing his squiggy on a rock of boulder in the middle of an island of sopped yellow turf in New York’s Central Park. Some cops cruised by at one point and Alphonse waved the jay defiantly.
“Hola Cochino.” He mouthed this slowly, so they could read his lips and see the joint then turned to me and laughed, but I didn’t laugh, thinking of the vial in my pocket and my eyes sharpshooting for a rabbit’s retreat.
I was growing weary of outlaws and drug dealers, wanted to stash that vial somewhere, unplug from it for a while, see if I could get back a normal state of mind. I didn’t need to be tripping any more. Life was intense enough. Something told me I should quit drugs, but it was a task that loomed larger and more ominous before me than walking backwards over every bit of ground I’d just traveled; all the way through the first turnstile at LAX. Quitting was something I just could not deal with right then. I wished I had done it already, because now it would take some life changing event or accident to trigger it.
As it was I had consistently coached myself to stay away from the hard stuff since we left India, and for the time being that meant grass was still on the menu because I needed something to take the edge off heroin cravings and I couldn’t imagine being without it from moment to moment because the world looked so brilliant again every time I took it. Of course the minute I got stoned, I thought of how grand it would feel to get high on the precious horse again, get out of the body entirely, wander the misty mountains. It might be the only way you could get alone in a city like this. Sure, I thought about hitting up Alphonse for some smack, but, as sweet Mary Ann had once told me, thinking about it is way different than doing it.
Freshly stoned, I stood there in the rain with a stranger, our senses jacked to the world flowing by like a flood. Dream limousines cruised the park with smiles on their grills. Buildings wore bowties for the holidays. Aircraft beacons on roofs revolved like party favors under a shroud of goofy cloud. Excess electricity radiated off the sky like a halo.
A chill caught up with me, not from cold, but from seeing, in the wink of an eye, everything in its everythingness. It was way too beautiful. I almost couldn’t look at it. I needed all of that holy weed I could get. I took out my last ten dollars and, pointed to the roach, indicating to my Puerto Rican pal I would like to buy some of what we were smoking.
“No pro’lem” he said, and pulled out a Ziplock bag of joints. I pulled out two fat ones and put the ten spot in their place. He fished a fin and a single out of his coat and extended them. In December of 1980 two bucks was the price for a squig of comersh, in the streets of New York City.
“You keep the change,” I said being stupidly generous under the influence of my first smoke since Paris.
“No. You,” he insisted, pushing them back. He liked me. I liked him. He stuffed the bills in my hand. There were words written on one of them, in blue ink, more graffiti. I tucked them into my Levi’s.
“Gracias.” I said. We clasped hands again and he gave me the roach.
“You need marijuana, come see Alphonse any day. ”
I was reminded of the hash dealer who told me that over by India Gate in Bombay. His name was Pradeep if I remember correctly.
Like Pradeep, Alphonse was willing to be my friend as long we had good business relations. He and I were strangers. For all I knew he beat his girlfriend, but I wanted to give him something to remember me, in case I needed him to help me move some acid, or the other thing I mentioned, in case I got too weak to walk by myself and needed a horse to ride. I set my umbrella on edge in the grass. When he saw me reach in my pocket, he started to pull out his baggie again, like I might want to buy some more joints. I pulled out a coin from India, the one with the hole in the middle and the fluted edges, and handed it to him.
He accepted it and examined the Sanskrit. “From where?” he asked.
“India” I answered. He nodded his head, studying it, then put it in his top pocket and placed his hand over his pocket, then solemnly thanked me, breaking eye contact only after the rest of him had turned away.
“Adios, Alphonse.” God bless the guy. Thanks to his grass I felt a lot less alien.
The rain let up then fell hard again. Thanks to the umbrella I’d found in a Liverpool trash bin, my clothes were only damp. I located Jocelyn’s apartment off Central Park West on 73rd. There it stood at a dozen stories even, in blond brick, a block back from the main drag. The place was respectable—not fancy—there was no doorman, but a security lock barred the entrance. I found her name and rang the buzzer. My heart drummed in my ears, but there was no reply. Searching the face of the building, I looked for signs of her inside its fuel-oil exhaust-streaked window frames. She was probably in rehearsal or hearing some lecture on counterpoint.
I had to admit, she’d moved up a bit in the world by moving away. It was a higher-class place than I’d helped her move in and out of since she went on her own after high school. I imagined her cello and music stand snoozing in a corner up there near the sunniest window. Her chessboard was always set up on a coffee table near the sofa. She had that miniature Tiffany lamp on a bed stand that cast rainbows on the wall where she sipped tea, propped in bed and composed music after hours in a silk kimono. Her long hair fell in vines over soft shoulders and lotioned breasts, and all types of candles were arranged in the bathroom around her tub. I wanted to see the wicks burning.
By then it was maybe two or three in the afternoon. Daylight congealed in-between cloud smothered buildings. I prayed she wasn’t out of town, but was sort of glad I hadn’t found her home. I was really too high, too tired, filthy, and jumpy to see her. It was good to have some time to clear my head but I hoped to hell she wouldn’t be out past midnight on a gig in some orchestra.
I sloshed around a bit more on the movie set that is Manhattan, with bent umbrella and nothing more guiding my feet. Traffic swooshed by. The sights went by swiftly on both sides. I glided through this scene in a stoned trajectory, while everyone whizzed past in their straight ones. I ran my fingers through my hair. I’d been skating on thin ice for months.
The December rain would surely turn to snow by night and with no other connections in that city, I’d be taking refuge in The Bowery if my plan with Jocelyn failed. I didn’t even know the Bowery, had only heard of it from my father who talked of it as the last place on earth that anyone would want to be. I watched the busy people go by and famous landmarks, while I was thinking all these things and trying to make the most of the last leg of my world tour.
Occasionally I’d make eye contact with someone, usually a beggar, only to snub. Lots of dead-end lives and Viet Nam vets cluttered up the corners and walkways with lettered cardboard beside alms cups of foam and paper. Some tramps were burned out druggies, definitively retired, by hard luck and full-time tripping, by then, due to some switch stuck-on in the brain. I couldn’t concern myself, but kept scanning the crowd for potential customers, scheming in my mind on how to turn liquid lightning into selfish dollars. Where were all my brethren in that city? Folks in the hive of mid-town were not of my persuasion–so far from it that I gave up looking for heads for a while, and switched to tails, since there were more of those to watch in that part of town.
New York’s princesses were beautiful. I spotted one, all dressed in chic boots and leather trench, floating above the splashy streets like a dove in a cloud. She paid no attention to the ground. A yellow taxi picked her up and transported her through the goddess sphere. In my wet shoes I dreamed of her undergarments all the way down into the subway tunnel at Columbus Circle.
Got off at about 14th and began to feel the difference right away. People weren’t just going somewhere in the Village, they already were somewhere; moving about like they were at home, instead of parasites on the back of a great host beast. The sky was nearly dark by the time I got there. Heavy little pills of snow were starting to drop out of it bouncing off the sidewalk like candies. I ducked into a Chinese tea shop and found a cup of Puerh, an earthy tea from China that I had first sipped in Hong Kong. There were people in there talking and blowing smoke rings. Some of those heads would want my medicine, but I was not able just then. The sound system was burping out Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports.”
I felt suddenly, exhaustedly, mute upon placing my order and dropping my ass. After so much input a person needed space to reflect, peace, quite time to fin around in one’s own depths. I picked up a newspaper while Music for Airports networked its bluish fugue into the delta wavelengths in my brain. It was the end of the year and some journalist was talking about all the famous people that had died. Alfred Hitchcock, Steve McQueen, Henry Miller, Mae West. They forgot John Bonham but not Tonto. My mother’s voice came over the top of all this.
It’s not time yet to catch up on the news.
I discarded the Times on the empty table next to me. It lay there with a picture of our soon-to-be-sworn-in-President Ronald McDuck Regan on the front page looking out over his magic kingdom. When I left it, the country was run by a Southern gentleman, and now he was handing it over to a matinee cowboy. What was going on? I had no clue. I had to get up to speed on elections and such things someday. It was the adult thing to do. People my age in India and all over Europe had opinions about such things. When those cats from Calcutta asked me “What is the attitude of your country toward India?” I just laughed at them. I wanted to say, “maybe my dad could tell you.”
The thought of calling my Dad nagged at me constantly but I wasn’t ready for that either. I had the feeling often that we were thinking of each other at the same time. I could feel him there from his chair in front of the television, but I preferred to think of Jocelyn. I was about clear headed enough to call her, still afraid to though, because I didn’t know if she’d want to see me, but there was a payphone at the rear of the establishment. I inserted a coin, US again, a shiny profile of Jefferson winked at me once on his way through the slot.
Jocelyn’s phone rang six times. I hung up on the seventh for good luck and tried to decide what to do next. It was night, but of course it wasn’t dark out. The sky had city light thrown across it, it was never night even though the clock behind the counter said so.
“Mom, it’s seven-thirty. What do I do?”
Call again around ten.
It had stopped snowing so I went outside and started walking to pass the time. The stars seemed to have all been wrenched out and shattered on the streets. The wind blew frozen buckshot off ledges and tree limbs and crunched under my feet. My shoes were wet with rain and soon would freeze.
It was December by a full week. Santa Claus was coming to town. All the shop windows announced it with the same corny Hollywood fantasy we all grew up with, of a paradise trimmed in icicles and snowflakes. That notorious Christmas curse, Humbug, crept to my lips as the ghost of Christmas lost began to assume its grim posture in the alleyways of lower Manhattan.
It is a devastating moment when a stratum of humanity that you’ve made nonexistent becomes your one true community in the world. Then you feel like all you really share with anyone is a stark vector of alienation decorated with bright lights and paper smiles. That’s what the hazards of sleeping on the street in New York at Christmastime can do to you. The cloth on my back consisted of a thin wool sweater, my baseball jersey, and a holey down vest snapped up to my Adam’s apple. I’d have to stay on my feet all night to keep from freezing to death if Jocelyn didn’t invite me up. On the one hand it fit with everything else that had happened on that trip but I had enough stories to tell already and was in no need of another.
Just to be prepared, the Boy Scout in me went looking for a nook in which to ride out the night, someplace with an overhang, nothing too dark but out of the way and out of the wind. I sized up that neighborhood the way you would a wilderness when you knew you were forced into some emergency hunker down situation. If I hadn’t been forced into the situation several times on that trip already, like the night Peter and I spent in a fruit shed in Nagoya, I’d probably have freaked out and just called my daddy for help. I was tempted but managed to resist. Scout’s honor. The temperature drop was even more lethal in New York than it had been in Japan and while my resistance was growing rapidly softer to the frozen concrete, I thought first of finding a dive hotel that might not cost every last penny and for that, the first thing I must do was locate the Bowery.
Assuming the worst, I was headed nowhere that night and the worst thing about that is there is no such place as nowhere. I went searching for it anyway. Those that were out, had somewhere to go and were swiftly headed there. Many a pedestrian passed me on their way.
I thought back over homeless faces I had encountered all around the world especially one I had encountered that day. There was a man in an army coat, a black mass of matted hair for a hat, sitting on his coat tail against a caged-up storefront. Near Lincoln Center, over a subway grate, I passed a woman squatting beside a shopping cart full of junk mumbling to herself inside clouds of rising steam. There had been a refrigerator carton on its side in an alley as I came out of that coffee shop back there, with a shivering mutt tied to it and growling as I walk by. I envied all of those people. They were all better suited for sleeping out that night than me. I had no war terrors, dementia or mongrel dog to insulate me from the dangers of the fringe. My moorings had not yet been sheered clean by misfortune. Not even close. My biggest liability was not actually, truly being homeless. I could be snug on a jet plane bound for home that very evening. One call to Dad could arrange a credit card payment for a ticket home or a cozy hotel, whatever I asked with a high cost attached to it, of course. I hoped I’d talk someone into giving me a bed for the night, before that, in exchange for work preferably, and I would do it too because I was fixated on reuniting with Jocelyn and even if I found somewhere to rest for the night, I was nowhere until I saw her.
In desperation I looked into the window of a diner that I came across while neighborhood hopping, hoping to find Jocelyn sawing duets alongside a dowdy copiest. However, there was no music in that diner. It was a diner after all. I decided that I had always been headed there, to New York, to rendezvous with Jocelyn and I rehearsed different ways of telling her as I walked along.
“I went the long way around, because I needed time. Now I can’t do a thing until we settle our little misfire.” She might say it was already settled. Then I’d say our friendship deserved more than one chance. Maybe it was the cold but I was gaining confidence with each passing hour. Maybe I’d go back uptown and howl outside her apartment until she showed up at the window. I decided to do just that, but was disoriented by then, and couldn’t find the Empire State, Pan Am nor Chrysler, any northward landmark to be my compass point. I must have walked a mile the wrong direction.
“What part of town is this please?” I had stepped in to a Korean grocery and asked the clerk.
“Bowery.” he answered.
That changed things. Maybe I’d stay put till it was time for the phone call. Central Park West felt a world away. There were supposed to be cheap beds in the Bowery. How bad could it be? Worse than India? How much worse? I was curious. Before I found out, I called Jocelyn’s number one more time since there was a payphone in that market. She picked up after one ring.
“Jocelyn, guess who.”
“Andrew? Where are you?”
“Here. Listen, I want you to imagine three dozen roses in front of your face, crimson and fragrant.”
“You crazy. Are you in town?”
“Can you smell them?”
“Where are you?”
“Nearby.” It was as casual a suggestion as I could manage. “In fact, I was by your place earlier. Can you smell those roses Jocelyn? I’d love to know.”
“When did you get here?”
“Just today, of course, you think I’d waste time getting in touch? I’ve been all over this town thinking about you. D’you get my cards?”
“Yes. It was good to hear you finally got out of town.”
“Boy, did I.”
“Did you get to Paris?”
“It’s been a whirlwind, but I had almost a week in Paris. Oh my god,” I peered into the gizmo of time, “that was less than ten days ago.”
“Good for you, Andrew. I’m happy for you.”
“I’ll tell you all about it. What are you doing right this minute?”
“In bed,” she sighed, “I’ve had a long day.”
“You got that little Tiffany lamp on and a cup of tea next to you on the night stand?”
“You crazy. Where are you? Sounds like you’re in a phone booth?”
“Uh, I’m in the rose garden with you, I’ve just clipped and de-thorned three dozen and laid them in your lap.”
“You shouldn’t,” she said.
“Damn!” Are you’re saying I shouldn’t? Well Goddamn, I apologize, can’t you forgive me?” I was being more direct than usual because I was cold and wanted in. She just let it hang in the air. “Jocelyn, …”
“Are you in town for long?”
“I’m in town right now,” I said, perhaps a little too forcefully.
“I mean tomorrow, or the next day?”
“Yeah, I’m here. I’ve got to take in the sights. I just came from the top of the Empire State Building where I was fondling the Statue of Liberty.” That was one of the lines I’d rehearsed. It got a laugh out of her. I always knew how to make her laugh.
“You crazy. You sound different.”
“Hey, Jocelyn it’s me, Andrew, I am different. I’ve just been around the world. I can’t wait to see you. You want to play some chess or something?”
She yawned into the mouthpiece. That made me yawn. “Can you call tomorrow?” she asked, breathing into the phone until it fuzzed in my ears.
“Early in the morning or, or in the evening around now.”
“It’ll be great to see you.”
“I want to hear about your trip.”
“You’ll be the first to hear.”
She yawned, “Andrew, sorry I’m so tired. I got to go to sleep.”
“I understand, I’m zoned out myself.”
“Where are you staying?”
“Uh, I haven’t checked in yet.”
“Are you sure you have a place? This town books up early.”
Was she dangling an opportunity? I grasped at it.
“It’s not the best.” I dangled it back.
“But you have some place?”
“Yea.” I said after a short pause. I didn’t want to sound like a refugee.
“Where? Where are you staying?”
I didn’t know what she was doing but it sure was fucking with my head.
“I don’t know this town well enough to tell you, downtown somewhere.”
“What’s the name of the place I mean?”
“Holiday Inn,” I said, tired of the game.
“Oh, well you’ll be fine there. Good. Call me tomorrow for sure, Andrew.”
“You can count on it.” I said. I stood there and deliberately waited five seconds. Five seconds of dead air lapsed before I said, “So, I guess, sweet dreams for now, Jocelyn.”
“You too, Andrew.”
In spite of her reluctance, I heard plenty of promise for tomorrow in the tone of her voice. At worst, I sensed the friendship rehabilitating. So began the task of reopening the lover option, but not before that long night was over, not before the thermometer dropped to ten and started climbing back up, not before my next purification, the baptism of frost, impersonally submerged me, by degrees, with all the other lost creatures in the night. Oh God and St. Jack watch over me, preserve me ‘til dawn.