Houston, we have touchdown!
See? A row of yellow taxis, the first sight of the great city from the doors of JFK – right before I realised I’d left my cabin baggage near the luggage carousel and had to talk my way back in to get it! Imagine that, talking your way past American security guards with hearts full of kindness and common sense.
When I was in my 20s, I had this great poster of Manhattan by night on my kitchen wall, right above the yellow laminex table where the kids and I ate breakfast.
It was a mystery at the time, what that skyline represented, the sea of pinpoint lights scattered among the darkness, the mass of long buildings telling stories of distant, yet to be imagined futures.
It has taken another 20 years – more – to get here. If you’d asked me three weeks ago when I might go to New York, I would have said, and I can say this for certain because I have said it recently, ‘oh, four or five years’ (subtext: ‘when I am worthy’).
If you’d told me three weeks ago I’d be stepping out the wide doors of JFK before the end of the month I would have thrown my head back and laughed out loud with surprise, delight and the joy of impossibility.
This morning, a long distant morning away, I stood at Gate 80 at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith, humming Grace Jones’s ‘ju-ust the apple stretching and yawning, good morning, New York’, jiggling from one foot to the other, excited, impatient, animated by the secret knowing I was on my way to visit a newfound lover: the lover of deepest heart, the one who demands all and to whom you’re willing to give more, much more, than that; the one for whom time without is time wasted and denied.
Over the years, when I’ve heard people say they’re going, or they’ve been, to New York, my head has snapped up sharply, my eyes panned wide, a dizzy mixture of jealousy, awe and wonder coursing through my veins, as if they’ve just announced they’re seeing the lover of my own desires.
It seems I am not the only one. At LA International Airport (another song there), amid the chaos of hundreds of inbound passengers streaming through express exits to make their way to the connecting flight to New York, one salient fact stood out: we were all Australians. Hundreds of us teeming towards Gate 121 to catch the second leg of QF 107. As we stripped down for body imaging at security, one by one, confident the plane wouldn’t be leaving without us because it would have been leaving without all of us, a security guard, his face as black as the moon dark sky, grins and shouts out ‘for some reason Australians love New York!’
For some reason, we do!
Is it because it’s bigger than us? Grander than us? It dreams big for us? And accepts us as we are? Small and hopeful.
Flying in atop a thick white bank of clouds, 35 hours into Sunday 22 May, like the Himalayas when I flew into Kathmandu at Christmas, without warning the skyline appeared like heaven in the distance. A sob escaped my throat. Tears filled my eyes.
Who is this city?
In truth I know nothing about it at all. It was the soundtrack to my growing up, as it was for just about everyone in the Western world. But I wasn’t paying that much attention. It wasn’t the conscious. What, then, was in the transmission?
It’s early morning now, dawn in Brooklyn. Yesterday evening’s drab sky and Sunday streets revealed a small surprise – a neighbourhood of brick houses and wide streets that might be anywhere on Earth. Was I disappointed? Perhaps mildly. But only because it didn’t shine. And who am I to expect a Grand Dame to shine for my own unendurable needs?
On the way in I saw a pocket of boys ‘shootin‘ hoops‘. A baseball pitch, tired and empty. Traffic that flowed easily and didn’t honk.
New York, the Grand Dame, will, I suspect, be found in the human collective.
I’m on the second floor of a ground floor flat. It’s probably called an apartment. It is classic Brooklyn: stairs that spill onto the street, a wooden door at the top of the stairs that opens into a hallway. Doors in the hallway harbouring tenants I may or may not meet.
As I peer from my room onto the street below I see a scene of such iconic madness, and sadness, it is as if I’m watching a movie: a pair of old women, trading something or nothing, bag ladies in ill-fitting overcoats and hats, old-fashioned shopping trolleys spilling their worldly goods onto the ‘sidewalk’. A snapshot, unphotographed.
And now I wait for the morning light. Monday morning and the rush hour heading ‘downtown‘, to Manhattan, on the subway, me amongst it for day one of my needle in a haystack adventure, a day filled with two important things that occurred after I booked my random ticket:
- international publishing rights boot camp, one whole day devoted to setting the stage for my mission: to find an international publishing deal,
- awards night, a gold medal evening for Hymn for the Wounded Man.
Tonight, in my own small way, New York is cheering me.