Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Girls, girls, girls ...

After this sorry showing recently, I shook myself good and proper and delved into some much-loved lady music to redress the balance, and I'm so glad I did. Songs that have hit me like a ton of bricks include 'Dying' by Hole, 'These Colander Eyes' by Alison Moyet and the whole of PJ's Stories From The City ...once again. Outstanding newbies to me are Nina Simone's cover of 'No Woman, No Cry' (just, cry), Randy Crawford's Now We May Begin album. Madonna's first LP I haven't heard in years. and sounds amazing.. simply shit loads of great stuff. And album of the year at this halfway point? Still It's Blitz for me. Anyone heard anything better yet ...?

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Last Day In New York: “I have to maintain a calm demeanour! Somebody has to stay strong!” (Hysterical woman on cell phone, Second Avenue)

Bleary bleary morning. Following last night’s Brooklyn madness we wake late and decidedly dry of mouth. Outside is the last of our Manhattan morning birdsong, in fact everything we do today will have the melancholy ring of finality to it. Intense sunlight pushes at the slats of the blinds to remind us, as if we could forget, that the heat wave is still defiantly on. Day six, 88 degrees.

Sketchy plans for the day include finding somewhere cool, in every sense, to look at art. Our flight isn’t until much later tonight so we pack, leave suitcases at the hotel and drag our collective hungover ass streetwards. Five days of incessant schvitzing has made the populace fractious and irritable and totally New York. The quote above is one of many from people on the edge of deciding to become completely hysterical.

After a short walk we take refuge in a blissfully air-conditioned St Marks Bookstore where I peruse art journals and books about black magic and graffiti. Anticipating a park stop at some point in the day I decide I’ll need a novel and settle on Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story which I ought to have read immediately upon coming out, but better late than never. I also grab a New York magazine to see what scandal, gossip and events have been happening under our noses this week on the island.

From St Marks it’s a mere three or four blocks to Washington Square Park where we are unconsciously drawn by the promise of shade, running the gauntlet of punishing sunlight through Astor Place to get there. The park is inevitably buzzing with people of a similar persuasion. The swing band from earlier in the week has been replaced by a jazz ensemble and a more relaxed, if heat-stricken air. Shade is more of a premium than real estate. We bag a not especially comfy and slightly dusty spot for ourselves, but it’s beneath some beautiful blossom trees and is perfect for people/dog watching.

We both snooze, oblivious to the possible theft of our stuff, until I’m roused by piercing hollers from the enterprising girls selling iced water at a dollar a bottle to grateful punters and their hot little mutts. Leaf through New York magazine, wishing I could stay here, drink water, coffee, smoke cigs, have another nap. The jazz band appear to be playing the best parts of Miles Davis’s A Kind Of Blue and I wish for my life to be like this always.

We don’t appear to be going anywhere in a hurry so we chat idly and somehow verge into a hilarious conversation in which we attempt to decide what our drag queen names would be if we were to jack it all in, move here and make a career of it. We settle on Susan Seran-wrap for me and Tina Foil, or possibly Cilla Tape, for Joff, with dresses made from the appropriate materials of course (Cilla is to have miniature rolls of sellotape for earrings). We waste the sweet afternoon like this and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I drink it all in and save it for home.

Too too soon it’s time to leave and before we know it we’re negotiating a crippling cab fare to Newark, the radio news warning us that the lethal Mexican swine flu won’t be confined to that continent for much longer. The traffic drags to New Jersey but I don’t mind, the rear window of the cab offers one last glimpse after another of the city, teasing out the goodbyes until by the airport toll only the Empire State is once again visible above the heat haze of Manhattan.

On the plane I get a deep and horrid feeling, just like last time I left New York six years ago, that it won’t be there again when next I look, or worse, the magic will have disappeared altogether from the skyline, the store fronts, the streets. I have the feeling I’m heading for somewhere I don’t belong and leaving somewhere I do. I want to play The Raveonette’s ‘New York Was Great’ and REM’s ‘Leaving New York’ but I have neither on my player. I play random shit from the plane selection instead and find Barry Manilow’s rendition of Phil Collins’ ‘Against All Odds’ moves me intensely, which should tell you something about my mental state.

I pick up my novel as soon as the plane begins to taxi, I want to be somewhere else. A Boy’s Own Story is Edmund White’s first autobiographical novel, a young gay boy, a fractured family, a life starved of beauty and kindness. It’s 1950s America and a world away but some of the sentiments might have been lifted straight from me ten, twelve, fourteen years ago, if not the fantasies of rough trade and older men then certainly the persistent, beautiful solace of the dream of a one-way ticket to New York City. That’s when I recall distinctly what New York once meant to me, at sixteen, a lifeline out of an ill-fitting life, a fantasy bigger than the real city could ever be, even, perhaps especially, now that I have walked across it a dozen times and seen the whole of it from the sky.

I think with affection and some dread about the empty flat that’s waiting for me in England, which I can barely afford now. Edmund White writes: “’I don’t belong here!’, I shouted at them silently …” and my lip trembles a little bit.

New York is a shoal of lit fish beneath us. I touch the tiny scabs of the three day old tattoo below my hip. It reads: i am mine.