(originally published on July 21, 2012)
My utopia found me in New York City, in the quietly gregarious circle of two girls and two boys, during three days that I spent visiting a new friend back in April 2011. I arrived from Pennsylvania after a sleepless day that involved going out for dinner and drinks at a local pub and cab-rescuing my Piscean friend who had locked herself out of her house at two in the morning. The cab driver’s name was Mike. He was my father’s age and knew his Chaucer. I could not get past “The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,” but he recited eight more lines of the Prologue with ease.
Upon hearing that I had not slept in twenty-nine hours, my hostess tucked me into bed. New York was crisp and bright that day, and her student apartment sported literature on Vlad Tepes and an amazing sixth-floor view of the Upper East Side. It was a girls-on-a-budget den, with shoes and clothes all over the place, beef marinating in the refrigerator, an over-used rice cooker and the messiest bathroom I had ever seen.
Il Trovatore at the Met was a blur in my drowsy haze that afternoon, but my friend took a picture of me immediately afterwards that always makes me smile. Sitting on a park bench, wide-eyed, goofy and devilish, I have since sent it out to people when I wanted them to have a piece of who I really was. I took one of her at the bus stop. Arms crossed, confident, mysterious and static in the midst of tirelessly scurrying New Yorkers, she looked like the blurb of her newly published self.
It was day two that sent us out into the East Village and prompted the convention of our little group. Between the five of us, we had each lived on at least two continents and spoke at least two languages. Peace Corps missions to Paraguay were paired with accounts of volunteering in Kosovo. The Mediterranean of Barcelona was compared with that of Dubrovnik, ojalá to Insha‘Allah, and A Farewell to Arms with The Sun Also Rises. One of the boys was hopelessly, chivalrically, unrequitedly in love with one of the girls but never said a word. He was talking to me but his eyes were on her with puppy-like devotion.
We made and ate the most unpretentious fusion dinner at one of the boys’apartment. We stepped out for a Yiddish theater show, where I was briefly transposed to the anxieties of Central Europe and Kafka’s museum in Prague, again. I keep re-visiting that place in my head a lot. My friend was cold and I gave her my sweater. An unsuccessful attempt at getting into a speakeasy, which involved the best-dressed of us [read: the Europeans, i.e. my friend and I] getting into a phone booth inside a greasy hot-dog place and whispering a secret code into a rotary-dialed apparatus, sent us off to a bar across the street where we consoled ourselves with gimlets and Mexican beer. Our round was on the house because we agreed to give up our table to a bigger party. As we left the boys, we rounded off the evening by picking up a generously abandoned clothes rack and wheeling it eee-rrr, eee-rrr style all the way back to the Upper East Side, subway included. Who knew that a piece of furniture is like a baby or a puppy - everyone wants to talk to you.
|Ikea owes me money for this|
I spent day three meeting up with family members on vacation from Europe and walking the walk from about Broadway and 37th back again to East 98th, talking on the phone with my then husband and describing every block, brick and corner shop to him.
After the post-it notes of farewell and the usual post-festum thank-you notes, I have not met or spoken with these four people since. In fact, my hostess has deleted me from Skype for reasons unknown, and I have contentedly not missed her. More than the tall, sleek and voracious New York that weekend, more than its gimleted cool evenings and inspiring loftiness of The High Line, more than the topography of three dislocated days, this was a utopia of sensibility for me.
The nine months I had spent in the States before that had been all work-hard, party-hard. The work portion consisted of meetings and conferences where I had to explain to strangers where I was from and what I was working on, and where by default one encounters a great deal of fakery and forced pleasantry. My overactive social life accounted for the rest of my time. Impressive and impressionable, indulgent and extreme, I drove myself into a frenzy of insatiably heightened senses.
In the middle of this flurry, my weekend in New York was a respite of pure event. There was no utility for our degrees, languages and travels other than diversity of experience. There was no reason for our meeting other than our paths had crossed. No sexual tensions to act upon or dilute, no pissing contests of temper or achievement. We were not there to impress but to share. I left my Aries Moon and Leo ascendant at business meetings and in strange beds, while my humanist, idealist Aquarian sun finally shone through.
It was the epitome of how humans should treat humans outside of their immediate circle of family or friends. Warmly hospitable, subtly accommodating, free of prejudice.
This is how I imagine heaven after intellect is spent and passions satisfied. A sanctuary of human spirit serving nothing but itself.
Disagree sans jugement.