I am pleased that my colleague comes out again, despite it being on a limited drinks token basis. I edge against caution and take four out of the purported six at Toshi’s Living Room, on Broadway. The waitresses wear next to nothing but that’s okay because the house band are hot. We move: downtown to the Village, and across to 9th, but not before going to the Nandos version of Texan cuisine. My colleague is secretly horrified but keeps it together as I pull apart a chicken leg and leave greasy remnants on a Pabst Blue Ribbon. Later: drinking ale at a bar made out of a hollowed Airstream next to a rude Villager who gets a drink spilt on her precious laptop. Later still: I go to Wendy’s and eat a burger and take a piss as a privelidged and over eager American woman bangs on the (locked door). Now: I lie, looking up at architecture and slowly remembering who I am and why I would never consider even for a second some of the things I have considered feasible this past week. I look at the scratches on my phone (which fell out of my pocket running across the street) and know why I am here and what has happened to me on the way here.
I ran my fingers through auburn coppertone hair almost unexpectedly and despite walking from West 23rd to East 84th today, I am unable to forget how good it felt. It returns, viscerally. This is how I carry baggage: uselessly, forlornly, optimistically.
A Sbarro pizza disappoints as I walk past 30 Rock and I can’t outrun the fact I’m wearing a turquoise tie with a metallized sheen.
This set of flats in the East Village has an elevator guy. It smells of money but is small in a way that shocks me. A recurring theme. I get an email that upsets me. I meet a colleague before the book launch at said flat and then we head to a Peruvian restaurant on 1st Avenue and talk about Alphabet City. We head to a bar and then I walk up Broadway and randomly go into a place to get a panini and the guy is from Punjab, could be my Dad, almost, is the same kind of age, has lived in NY 27 years. I buy some Lucky Strike but they are the kind with no filter. I keep thinking about that email, check my Inbox: there’s another. From my room, I hear sirens, people, road noise. CNN on the TV, the talk is all about the Zimmerman case. I bought a Joan Didion novel and read some of it at the Chelsea Market but all I can really remember is that the woman who served didn’t say please or thank you once. New York, then. I wait.
L’Aquitaine has a Restaurant Week menu and I try a red dessert wine. We’re in South Side and we’ve just had a few drinks at the Beehive. Live jazz begins and we can’t get a table. I speak to the girl to my left, and to my right. At the meal, a fellow publisher makes a joke and everyone takes it too seriously. I go to the toilet and try to send a text message. It is humorous and little sad in equal measure, the lengths to which I go. I think of the Belgian who owes me a Facebook message reply and of the girl from near Manchester who sounded to all intents and purposes like a Blue Peter presenter. That was last Summer. This is Spring and it is Boston.
Immigration at Logan takes an hour and a half but I take the time to take the time, listen to ‘Grace and Danger’ by John Martyn and the first half of Geneva’s debut album. There are some upbeat songs I had missed first time around. My bag has at least arrived at the carousel before me. I get a cab and as we cruise through Back Bay my jaw drops, old money, as it did as we arrived low-slung though the Cambridge end of the Charles River, from the North-east. This isn’t Atlanta. Drexel chests of draws in the Lenox and a log fire. I wait.
How many times to ponder what I should
Have said to make it stop, imbued with
The knowledge that what I said to make it
Stop would not have served to make it stop.
Now you are fragile and inconsistent, but I’m
Not sure if you have always been that way.
How many times, if it had stopped, the endless
Ruction, might we have built some new dawn.
I don’t indicate on the roundabout and my brother raises his voice just like he did when I gunned the engine up the hill in the wrong gear and with the clutch not down far enough. The Fiesta bucks angrily. U2 are on the stereo talking about a New Year’s Day. We swerve into the Halfords car park and I leave our ride with the front bumper pushed hard against the bushes, diagonally, and I prepare myself to enter in the odd blue light of a shop full of masculine things. Sunlight is sloping down making the 24 hour Tesco look unreal. There’s a fog in the air, or a smog. I can’t tell. Inside the shop, I walk past a whole row of oil filters of various sizes. I can barely understand this place. There is a set of £600 chrome rims mounted on the wall. I touch them, gently, and try to feel what I should or shouldn’t feel.
I don’t swerve that hard on the Greenway, or else my bike would lose its grip and I only have one working brake which always complicates the mathematics of stopping distances these days. If I forget which hand to brake with I will crash, it’s inevitable. I sit, front wheel crossed and I’m stationary as the Eastbound District chugs into the parking bay at Plaistow. Another chugs past, Westbound, leaving sparks on the metal, metal on metal, metal on metal on metal as it brakes and squeals. The c2c blazes past to Fenchurch Street.
I don’t swerve much as I reach Westfield. I just stop, and turn back, rather than go through Stratford town centre and navigate the broken cycle lanes on the High Street, loop around to the Bus Terminal and park my bike, staggering around shops that have no real place, or time, or meaning. I might buy a tie. I might not buy a tie. Get a late lunch in the Food Court or get some FroYo with blueberries? I don’t swerve much as I reach Westfield; instead, I sit on a two-person bench noting that there are ants everywhere and oddly a propeller plane that looks vintage does laps over E12, droning. Vapour trails criss-cross the sky and I realise the reason why children are shrieking and that I can hear them shrieking is that there is the top of a slide visible from where I sit. I think back, a long, long time ago. The disused track ways across the Black Country, a lot like this Greenway. That sinister patch of dug out land that ran past the canal, green and choked with algae in summer. I remember running down a hill alongside a slide. I remember hitting a bump with my feet and sprawling onto the tarmac, splitting my thumb open from top to bottom. The dirt in the cut, the thickness of the skin totally cut through all the layers. The scar runs right down it, even now. I can remember the sun and the metallic taste of pain.
I don’t swerve at all, that’s the problem —
You never sang for me. Despite my entreaties, my pleading. My repeated questions, at random, at moments I thought you might reciprocate. I sang snatches of song all the time: here and there, along with a track, humming as we promenaded awkwardly across a city you hated [disclosure: interpretative]. I sang in the shower when I was happy [aspectual hook, past tense (possible lie)]. I played the songs my old band had put onto record. You sat there, dumb as a stone, and you never sang, for me. Except for one time, one time I remember very clearly. You were cooking, in the kitchen, the door shut, against whatever I was doing [metaphor, only partially untrue].
I think I had music on, of some sort. There was always something playing, always my choice [heavy-handed; domineering; suffocating]. I turned it down, maybe, I can’t remember [selective memory when indulging in nostalgia]. You never played a single damn track off the collected ABBA I bought you [demonstrative request], but this was on Spotify, on your laptop, in the kitchen, door shut against whatever I was doing [repetition, cohesion], when you felt some kind of contentment. And you were singing.
And it was nice, and your voice was pleasant, and I listened. I listened for as long as I could bear. I didn’t listen all that long. Because you never sang for me.
The jeans, the game, the darts. We play with the pub set from the seven foot line, more in an experience of flight, arc and motion than any skill. Sarah rapidly catches up to my initial flurry of high scores. We end by seeing who can get closest to the bull. We’re drinking halves in what used to be The Stamford Arms and it’s barely changed, better music, a lick of paint. New chairs, it seems. That’s good. The music is belting upstairs.
We sit, and talk. I mention Joan Didion. Elton John’s ‘Border Song’ comes on and at one point, ‘All Together Now’ features, its empty terrace anthemic redolent of stale dried Carling on the back of someone’s boot cut denim, or maybe a helplessly euphoric kiss, I can’t tell. A man and woman are smooching by the dart board.
As I order another half a Guinness, I look at the barmaid, and she looks right back at me, but we’re not thinking the same thing. That much, I know.
We’re dining at The Cinnamon Club, a place we can’t really afford but there’s a special offer which always makes you conspicious but maybe that’s the point. There’s only one woman in here, eating, and three businessmen drink coffee and have their petit fours near me and say things like “well, they are basically spongers” and I momentarily get distracted from Walt Whitman talking about chest hair. I get lost near Westminster beforehand because my sad already faded print out of a map has no river on it. I have to run to make up some time but it’s hard in Loakes that are too heavy for me if I realistically analyse it, and I sit down and there it is, a tap water and a menu. Vittles is late, but he’d said he would be. I am wearing a grey tie with a white Zara shirt, he is wearing a grey jumper with a soft collar shirt underneath it and we eat and then we walk down Horseferry to Millbank and up Whitehall to Leicester Square via Charing Cross Road, where it’s time to get a Sidecar in a cocktail bar. We are the first people in there and one of the barmen is hammering a nail into a wall to hang a picture. It smells, like it always does in this place, slightly of vomit. But the price is right, and so is the ambience, or so we say and it’s okay. We talk, and talk and it’s good. There’s the next round: Espresso Martinis, and then I have some tea, and then Raph arrives and I’m surprised by how much I feel and how much it totally throws me off my stride and I am not sure what to say and I go to the toilet more than I strictly need to get some headspace and there’s a girl doing her lipstick in the communal mirror and a man and I keep remembering the girl with the incredibly tan arms sat at the bar with her date at Baltic on Thursday, where we sat, the Humanities Editorial department of a well-respected international publishing house and yet there’s a crackle of electricity somewhere and something about the surface of things: Pierogi arrive and people are distracted and someone has left half of a flatbread on the plate for some reason and then we go Jack’s and its heaving and no one can really concentrate and there are fragments of song in off-tone manly voices on the patio and I guess it’s okay and someone gets me a pint of Guinness and it doesn’t really taste of Guinness but that’s okay and I’m not sure if I spell Guinness right but that might be okay if you think about it, and I have run out of cigarettes and that’s okay too because I don’t smoke and the DJ is spinning the decks but when I go to the toilet and see him on the balcony he is playing his music off of an Apple laptop and that ultimately makes me feel slightly sad for a few seconds and then I walk carefully down the stairs —