Thursday, December 18, 2008

Leaving New York City: 1988

It was mid-March when I decided to leave. I'd been in NYC for over a month, living in Queens with Jimmy, playing in Manhattan--the East Village mainly--drinking and goofing around with new friends and old (Donna from Iowa City). But I was broke. It was winter, still, and had snowed and Jimmy and I lived on beignet-mix pancakes and cheap whatever-we-could-find-and-afford foodstuffs. I actually had a job lined up--construction--but the madhouse of NYC was already getting to me. I'd lived in L.A., Seattle, spent plenty of time--weeks--in Chicago, but they did not match the density and intensity of New York. That's not to say I disliked it--far from it, New York was like an addictive cocaine-cocktail, such energy in a relatively small package. But I was broke. I was in love and that love lived in Illinois.
Fru did come out to visit while I was in NYC. She and Don flew out for a week (or was it just a long weekend?) and Fru loved it. She told me she'd quit her job and move to the city with me, if I wanted to stay. But, after she went back home, I thought it over deeply and decided I didn't want to stay. Even broke, New York was fun, exhilerating, but the idea of finding a place to live (we sub-letted in Queens), of riding the subway each day back and forth to a real job, of scrounging in a city where mucho dinero was, ultimately, necessary made me have second thoughts. Especially compared to a quiet life with Fru in her duplex on Ivy Court in little boring Champaign. If we were to move, I'd rather live with her back in Grayton, or somewhere out West. So, I decided to leave New York City. It had been but a life-experience experiment anyway. A lark that had presented itself during a cold midwestern winter.
I'd been hanging with Donna quite a bit, learning the larger city and hitting small bars in the East Village, eating Rays Pizza at St. Marks Square, visiting museums, took a long lone subway ride out to Coney island one cold day. So, the last night--before my flight the next day out of La Guardia, (a flight that Fru lent me the money to fund because I was honestly seriously broke)--Jimmy and Donna and I went out, caroused with some poets and other ne'er-do-wells , and I got very drunk. I spent the night on the floor at Donna's little shotgun hole-in-the-wall expensive knock-down apartment on some street in the village (east, that is). I was committed to Fru and did not sleep with Donna (though had, numerous times, back in Iowa City) and I can't recall if I took a cab--yes I did take a cab--to the airport the next day, hungover like a bad vampire bat.
I never flew much in those days, but I was feeling low, broke, cold, ready to get back to a sane existence with Fru, find a job in Champaign and pay off my debts (not too much), eat big hearty midwestern meals, sleep and sex with the woman I'd come to love. And so I did. Got on the jet, said goodbye to New York (never to return until over a year ago--almost twenty years) and off I went in the sky.
What I recall about the flight is that it's the first time I ever had that sinus-afflicted headache you can get as the jet ascends or descends--that shift in cabin pressure. And it was so painful. Man, it hurt on top of the hurt of the hangover. But I landed--in Indianapolis. (One rarely flies into Champaign--adds $$--usually it's Indy or Chi-Town.) And there Fru and some pals picked me up. I recall, they took me downtown and we went to Union Station, a cafe there, and I ordered a pork tenderloin sandwich--a midwest thing, really an Iowa-and-Indiana-only kind of sandwich. It was huge but I was hugely hungry. I ate it up. The waitress came out and asked if I'd eaten the whole thing, and I said yes--the cook was looking at me from the kitchen--and she said no one ever eats the whole thing. I was actually surprised, because I probably could have eaten another one after the time of almost starving in New York.
After that we wandered Indy a bit. I was disinterested. It seemed small, pedestrian. Some old homeless guy stopped me in the street, was trying to tell me something that was important to him but I interrupted, asked if he wanted some money (by then, I was quite used to panhandlers--a lot in Seattle, some in L.A., even a few in Santa Fe, and of course many many in NYC). The old man, unstable, began to shed tears, accepted my dollar or so, but still tried to tell something (I can't recall what it was he said, exactly or even inexactly) so I listened a little more--it was more interesting than the city of Indianapolis--and then moved on . . . Eventually, we drove back over the barren landscapes to Champaign.
And in Champaign I readjusted. Hadn't spent much time there, really, since I came up from Florida to stay in January. I looked for work. Finally found full time employment at a nursery just east of Urbana. Later I got on a concrete construction crew. 
Sure. It was but a foray. It was a smidgen of a moment of a drop-in-the-bucket when it comes to knowing and understanding New York. I don't know the city. Yet, I do. Sort of and almost. I was more traveller than tourist. One and a half months, not working, living in Queens. A short stay but not a weekender, not a one or two week tourist. Sure. I'm a novice when it comes to the Big Apple. But New York was with me, is with me. The true Big City was and is part of my brain pan. And I'm glad for it.
Allow me this, at least.

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