What I meant to say, when I took a cheap shot at young creatives, is only this; that I have dreamed of this city for so long – sixteen years – that I may never grow immune to its charms, nor feel quite worthy of my place here, despite moments, many, where I am lugging groceries up Broadway, or emerging from the subway on West 23rd, or throwing my bag over my shoulder outside the barber shop on East 9th, when I realize that for several minutes, or an hour, I have forgotten the lovely, anxious thought – I live here. And it’s that thought that I’m inclined to conceal from others, as if it’s the very thing that will dispel the dream. As if to admit to this thought is to admit to an unflattering earnestness. As if earnestness were a liability, which, on the Internet, is sometimes true.
I feel, in my university-owned studio, like I’ve been granted a reprieve, one that will come to an end, at which point I either will or won’t land on my feet, here, and that it will depend on a combination of resilience and luck that today remains incalculable. I’m trying to describe this strange dream to you, seeing or studying with people who wrote books that have stood on my shelves for years. Or meeting someone who appeared in a movie that I saw when I was sixteen, or twenty-three. Or sitting in a restaurant, at a long table cluttered with dessert plates, silverware, and cocktail glasses, with people who are seated at places I’ve long coveted, and I want them to talk forever, in hopes that their combination of resilience and luck could be learned, which it can’t. All of us have been granted a reprieve, a temporary pass.
And I misread others, that they don’t feel the same, when maybe they do.
He says, defensively. I admit to defensiveness, I admit to a life-long habit of it. And when one is in grad school, having one’s work dissected on a regular basis, one may feel just the slightest urge to withdraw, which may explain my postings as of late. Or maybe it’s just that my current activities lack a narrative arc: Watch him open his laptop! Watch him reheat a half-pot of coffee! Watch his iPod battery die! I do hope that, eventually, I will redeem myself with this memoir, if I do it justice.
What I meant to say was this: I’m a very lucky man. I still, for instance, love the subway. Which is easy to say when you don’t ride during rush hour. I love the descent down poorly-lit fluorescent steps, my hand reaching for my wallet, opening it, plucking out the MetroCard, running it through the sensor – the digital screen displaying my depleting balance – my hip pushing through the turnstile, hand returning card to wallet, wallet to pocket; one fluid, efficient motion.
I love that after two weeks I knew which side of the train the doors would open on at 72nd and 96th Streets. After two months I figured which end of the train would get me closer to the steps at 42nd and 14th Streets. After six months I realized, by looking at the scuff marks on the yellow line, where to wait on the platform so that, when the train pulled into the station, I’d be standing at a door.
It’s this reclusive existence – watch him read four books a week! – that gives each trip downtown a certain thrill. Standing on the platform, watching a column of snow falling through the street grates onto the tracks below. The restless motions of commuters pacing the edge of the platform, peering down the tunnel for the train’s lights, the train pushing a bank of cold air through the station. And in each train, each car, potential stories. Never knowing what will be inside. A man with dirty fingernails scratching through a stack of lotto cards. A young woman knitting, the latin boy across from her watching the needles flick back and forth. A man with no teeth, empty cup in hand, telling bad Michael Jackson jokes. A straight couple, sitting close, bent over a copy of Scientific American. A family of four, theater programs curled in their fists. Matthew Broderick. And the doors open, at 14th St, and I walk to the end of the platform, up the stairs, arranging myself, anticipation, defense; above me the sidewalks teeming, anxious, and sublime.