On the winter holidays of my first year in Canada I decided to pack my bags and go collect some memories, see the greater world and maybe get a bit of that open mind that travel is supposed to give you. I was inspired to do so partly because of a newly refreshed sense of adventure brought about by my moving to the country of the north. But mostly because I didn’t want to seem like a boring old fart when my children asked what I had done with my life as a youth. I wanted them to think I was a bold and audacious youngster who had hurried toward gayety at every waking second. I wanted strangers to look at me and wish they had been in my shoes at some indefinite point in the past, because even if you can’t see the mountain while climbing it, at least you can get consolation by watching the poor people in the planes below.
So when my friend offered her place in new York for my visit , I bought the plane ticket so fast that I had it in my hand before I could even tell her I had accepted her offer. Time after that was defined in terms of the trip; days until the trip, hours until the trip, meals until the trip, and so on ad infinitum. And finally, on December 23rd I got on a plane, surfed the skies, and landed in the city that never sleeps. My first impression post-landing was the fact that I was over prepared for the weather, with a temperature that never went below 0 degrees Celsius and not a speck of snow, my furry brown parka was rendered useless; this had somewhat of an impact on me, I was already disappointed, I had expected this to be my very first white Christmas, but I guess new York didn’t have time for white Christmases. I disregarded the fact immediately, thinking that my present letdown would be made up for later when I unravelled the many more tangible pleasures the city had to offer. My second impression was the lights, all of the lights, fluorescent, incandescent, tungsten-halogen, neon, everything was so bright it hurt your eyes, like they couldn’t give you time to absorb the images for yourself, so they had to push them inside your brain. I would come to realize time is not something they play around with in New York, not even to think. Andbutso with my bag in one hand and the camera in the other I immersed myself neck deep into the rhythm of the New York life style, even if it was only for a couple of weeks. My friend’s apartment was nothing beyond usual, even a little small; it had a small TV mounted to the wall in front of a big red velvety sofa with a couple of mysterious stains in it, a bunker bed, a small iron table with a rusty leg so crowded that one always ended up eating sitting in the aforementioned sofa, and a kitchen that was so small I wondered how my friend managed to get anything done in it; the apartment also invariably smelled of instant noodles, which may have accounted for why the size of the kitchen wasn’t a big concern. Life in New York (I’ve been told) doesn’t allow for many amenities if you are anything but rich, but people go with it for a small chance at being the next big thing, at being noticed.
The day after my arrival, Christmas eve, wasn’t a major day for me, everything was too crowded to do anything, people flying from place to place hurrying to get the best last-minute deals, people hurrying from work to their homes to see their kids and spend an evening of quality family time, people hurrying from their own homes to another person’s for a wild pre-Christmas-day-party, people hurrying everywhere. I for one woke up at noon, recuperated from the jet lag and decided to take a stroll in central park. So at about 6 o’clock in the afternoon I put on my (lighter) yellow winter coat, a pair of leather gloves, and headed to central park’s conservancy. The slight cold was reinvigorating and I got my first good look at the city: the faces of people that called it their home and these their lives, the 24 hour delis, the signs and billboards so auspicious in their buildings, the somewhat boozed party-goers emerging from doorways trying to joke with me; but most of all the twilight, when the nightlife is beginning, there is this moment of stillness, almost imperceptible if you’re not paying attention, when everything stops as if preparing for the new cycle of liveliness to begin, it breathes life into the bodies tired from a full day of hurrying. And right after that moment, normality resumes somewhat more hurriedly as if to make up for that little space in time when it indulged in taking a breath. 20 minutes into my analytic afternoon walk, I crossed the entrance to the park, immediately amazed by its absolute beauty. Lighted-up trees, elaborate mechanical decorations that imitated moving animals, and the trees in an amazing arrangement that perfectly pleased the eye. It was hard to think that every last tree and stream on the park had been strategically placed, that it was all artificial and that even though it seemed like a natural oasis in a convoluted city, it was just part of it, engineered to extract a desired emotion from you. I walked around for about 30 minutes, long enough to learn from an employee at the park that the ducks didn’t leave their ponds in the winter, that even though some of them did, as long as there was enough food to not die, they were more than happy to endure the hardship and avoid leaving, I didn’t understand, but the employee didn’t look very inclined to answer my questions, so I left it. The walk back was nothing special; I wasn’t in the mood to analyze anything anymore. Even the easiest task in New York is very energy draining, it’s like you tire just from looking at other people doing things, at the buildings rising to the sky, as if the city drained your energy in order to keep going. As soon as I got home I changed into my pajamas, ate a bowl of instant noodles with my friend, lightly discussing my first day in New York and her work day, and went to sleep right after.
The days after that and preceeding New Year’s Eve were nothing but hectic shopping, partying and drinking. My relaxing time had been over since the stroll at central park. the days were reduced to a cyclic chain of buy-dress-drink-dance-eat-sleep, with occasional interruptions for a photo or two and some touristic visits. And then on the 31st came the big day. The big ball drop at Times Square. My friend and I got up at 10am, got ready, had some brand-less stale cereal for breakfast and headed down to times square with a couple of my friend’s friends that I had gotten to drunk-party with over the last couple of days. We got there at 11am. with 13 hours to go until the ball drop and plenty of booze to drink we settled into our places, that were not half bad, maybe we could even, with a little luck, get a sight of the celebrities that were showing up later at night. A couple hours passed, and with some alcohol already in my system I was starting to get in the mood for a good time, time advanced faster the tipsier I got, but I was always keeping in mind to not actually get drunk because that would ruin the enjoyment of the rest of the night. We got moved around by security a couple times, once closer to the stage, once further away; and among gulps of tequila and whooping burst of laughter, the clock announced it was 9 o’clock, and I, or rather my bladder, decided that I, or rather my bladder, needed relief. I don’t have a particularly bad bladder, but 10 hours of drinking beat even the strongest bladders. I left my friends at the place we were (there is no more-distinctive way of calling it, it was a little place amongst thousands of other little places in a huge place) and went on my venture to find a bathroom. I, of course, was drunk enough to not realize that I had no idea where out little place was. And so, after taking care of business, standing by the door of the bathroom, i felt absolutely lost in the midst of the great city’s greatest celebration. Music was blasting from every corner, shouts of joy, cries of ecstasy; and where I had felt so at home, so native a couple of minutes ago, I now felt astray. I tried asking a couple of people too drunk to understand and too apathetic to try, for help. Needless to say it didn’t go over very well. On hindsight I can’t even blame them, if a girl came to me asking for directions to find her friends, and her only description of where they were was “close to the computers store” I would have ignored her too. So I took it upon myself to find them on my own, the cold has sobered me up a little and my cheeks felt kind of numb. Every turn I made, and every step I took led me to a new bunch of dazzled faces, and anonymous bodies. I found a man, who seemed sober and caring enough to help me, he took me to this less crowded place and then tried to kiss me, he played it cool as hell too, like it was not a big deal and he was some sort of great Casanova. I bit his tongue and ran away. I was kind of crying by now, not because I thought I would never find my way, but because it had been close to two hours since i got lost and I was alone between thousands of people, and also (and even to a greater extent) because an unknown men had just tried to get with me, the thought not crossing his mind for a second that things could ever not go his way like I was just a piece in a game that he could manipulate. I was cold, and thirsty, and hungry, and lonely. The walls were shouting at me, the people were shouting at me, trying to get noticed, trying to get the city to notice them. Everything was a blur of color, of sound. I grabbed my bag, checked I had my wallet with me, and started for the nearest exit.
I walked down a couple of streets; the ball was still visible in the distance, shining with a thousand different patterns of different colors. And the sounds were still ubiquitous but dimmer. I sat down at the curve and tried to phone my friend. She didn’t answer, I didn’t get mad at her either, I wouldn’t have picked my phone were I her. But I guess I just wanted to talk to someone. While sitting at the curve I took out the almost finished bottle of tequila from my bag and had a couple sips, the sour taste brought me back a little to my senses, the void in my chest filled up slightly. Looking at the ball, assuming by the chanting of the crowd there were only a couple of minutes left for the ball to drop, suddenly I got a sense of understanding and of scorn for the city. And even though I had had a ball the last couple of days, I finally understood what felt so off. it was the incessant inflow of information, the unending diversions that keep us busy, that prevent us from ever sitting in a curve and listening to what is left when there is nothing. It was the phobia of dullness that veers us from that deeper pain that is always there if only in an ambient kind of way, from listening to that aching part of ourselves that yearns to be a child again and not having to deal with broken dreams and impossible outcomes. It is the incessant denial of the fact that the city can’t notice us, and no matter what, if we try hard enough, there will be a fine morning, and the orgastic future won’t recede before us and that we will catch the green light in the end. Because we can’t fail. So it builds the illusion that if you failed it is because you didn’t want it enough, and you have to try again but harder, an illusion that keeps bringing us back ceaselessly into the past to try and correct our wrongs, that makes us shout louder, but listen less, and it doesn’t matter how loud you shout if there is no one to listen. When the ball dropped I felt bad for the people at times square, the people that would probably die reaching for a better day, the people that thought today would somehow be a better than the day that was a couple seconds ago. And then I felt bad for myself, because I was no different from them. We all are after all identical in our deep belief that we are different from everybody else. I too reach for a magnificent life that may never come. And which even If it did came would feel anticlimactic, because life is always a little disappointing, and after some point, we have to make peace with the fact that what we have is good enough. The tricky part is recognizing that point.
When I got on the plane to go back to Calgary three days later, I felt relieved to get back to that less agitated state of being, that even though is not as exciting or joyous, holds up under microscopic observation, and can fill us up and fill un in, that leaves us time to be alive, time to be engaged and contemplative, to be listened and to listen. I don’t know what I’ll tell my children when they ask me what I did as a youth, I don’t know what life has in stock for me, but whatever I say i hope they’ll be climbing the mountain and I’ll be in the planes shouting at them how great they look from down there.
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