Last week, I boarded a flight from Los Angeles to New York City. I sent a last message to Dan, my friend and director of a filmed version of Richard the Third I was to act in, while there.
On plane. On time. See you in 6 hrs.
I turned off my phone. The rest of the passengers boarded, sent their last texts, turned off their phones, settled in for the flight. But as we waited to taxi to the runway, this message came over the PA…
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have word our 1st Mate is stuck in traffic. Looks like there’s some wildfires wreaking havoc on I-5. We are currently trying to find another pilot to take her place, but until then we must ask all of you to deboard the plane and wait at the gate for further notice. But it looks to be at least an hour before we can board again.”
Off plane. Delayed. Who knows when.
Back in the terminal, I sat next an electrical outlet so I could charge my phone. A few passengers hovered over me, rather irate now that we wouldn’t be landing in New York until late in the night. I wasn’t, because Dan texted back…
Will track ur late ass. Get here when u get here.
45 minutes later, I received an email alert telling me my flight was delayed 45 minutes ago. That’s helpful, you silly little machine. At the gate’s kiosk, a passenger argued with the gate attendant who kept smiling and uttering statements anchored with the words force majeure. The passenger was bald, the pate of his head glowed red. He wore the remains of a business suit, sweated through it as he shook his phone at the attendant. But the attendant held her smile…force majeure…so Baldy walked away, dialed a number, then shouted into his phone statements anchored with the word f#$k.
An hour and a half later we were in the air.
“For couple of years there,” said Dominic, who sat next to me on the flight, I pulled in like a hundred grand. Then a couple of years later it’s back to setting up tents at weddings. Catering.”
Dominic had been watching the movie, Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks, through the little viewing monitor on the chair in front of him. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, was playing on the screen in front of the passenger on my other side, but he’d fallen asleep. Little Hobbits fought the fire-breathing dragon in front of their sleeping audience as if movies weren’t made for people, anyway. The guy sitting in front of him watched The Wolf of Wall Street, but he was drunk and just kinda moved his head around as Leonardo DiCaprio and Co. screwed the fools of America out of millions until they drank, snorted, f#$ked and wrecked themselves into prison and money went on being made as if it didn’t need Us to make it. I was watching Her, a beautiful movie about heartache and moving on and falling in love with an Operating System. Well written and well acted, the movie’s frighteningly foreseeable. The drama unfolds in a Los Angeles set somewhere in the near future, but not yet the LA of the film, Blade Runner. Throughout the movie, more and more people are seen cooing into their computers or listening to the sweet nothings of The Cloud from their ear pieces.
When the movie ended and the credits were rolling, I took a look around the cab and saw everyone plugged in to the screen in front of them. I rubbed my eyes, unsure if I was still watching the movie or not. I noticed that Dominic had paused Captain Phillips sometime just after the evil black pirates had taken Christlike Tom Hanks hostage, ordered him into the escape pod, and jettisoned into the sprawling blue ocean. Dominic was staring blankly at the illuminated screen.
“Couldn’t get into it?” I asked.
“Uh…I’ve seen it before, so…” He shrugged his shoulders.
Dominic was from Ohio, been in LA 10 years. He liked LA but didn’t know if he wanted to live there anymore, but of course, didn’t know if he wanted to live anywhere else. And, of course, didn’t know what he’d do Anywhere Else.
“That’s good, man,” he said, “that you gotta real skill, building things. Me, I’m catering, waiting tables, bar-backing and whatever I can when I’m between films. It’s such a hustle, man. Everyday. Everything’s always up in the air. I’m supposed to act in and oversee the production of a film my friend’s been able to put together, as soon as the money comes through, which is supposedly soon. At least that’s what I’ll tell my brother I’m visiting in NY.”
Dominic and I exchanged info at the baggage claim and bid each other farewell. Will I ever see him again? Will I not? It seems a simple decision to make, seems I have all the power to say yay or nay. It seemed a real possibility that we would indeed meet again, just before I turned and headed to the taxis, just before I pulled out my phone, texted Dan…
Getting cab. Be there soon.
…just before another email alert popped up telling me that my flight will arrive at JFK late, just like it did. But Will I? Won’t I? Will I? Won’t I? may as well have been the riddles of Taoist Monks. Will I? Won’t I? Will I? Won’t I? as a cab came approached. I stepped into it helplessly, a being guided by an incomprehensible fate.
I spent Friday walking around New York. It was a cloudy contemplative day. Strong memories came to me at every corner. But they came in blurry. I couldn’t recall a single, specific moment of the 10 years I spent in New York. Block after block, the harder I tried the blurrier The Past became. So I gave up trying to remember and when I did I realized New York City was the memory. The honking horns. The ambient roar in, out, over and underneath everything. This is all a huge part of me. The walk lights flashing, the stopping and going of people and traffic. The endless chatter that no one on the street seems to be speaking. Everyone walks with shoulders tensed, mouths slightly open, their eyes behind fixed protective expressions, their gazes falling upon a point of distant calm through the vast realm of chaos. Wires running out from their ears, pumping The Cloud into their brains. A huge part of me...
Rain drops began to fall from real clouds, and the rivers of humanity on the city’s sidewalks flowed harder to the subway drains. I helplessly flowed down the drain and was spat out in Astoria, Queens where Dan lived. The wind was hard and knocking down awnings and whisking trash all over the place. Then came the hard rain and in seconds I was soaked, through and through. The rain came in from the side, so I held my head to the opposite side as I negotiated the storm, glancing in one eatery after the other. It was evening now, and the Fridaynighters ate and spoke with silent mouths, leaning close together and smiling in dry clothes just a thin pane of glass away from the biblical deluge through which I trudged.
31st Street, below the elevated N,Q train line was river. The sewer drains were clogged with plastic cups, plastic bags, plastic bottles. The water rose over the curb. The roar of the rain and wind and trains pummeled my consciousness. My soaked hood flapped about my face like hound dog ears. I felt my Self disappearing into just a moving shadow seen only on the edge of the headlights of passing cars.
Then the rain stopped. The wind stopped. The city was now calm and quiet. Smokers crept outside of bars. One smoker saw me, let out a one-syllable laugh, tapped another smoker on the shoulder, who looked at me, laughed the same way, took a drag. Then they turned to each other, huddling in a cloud of nicotine the made all by themselves.
I got to Dan’s, threw my soaked clothes in the dryer, put on some warm, dry clothes, kicked back and relaxed. Sleep was fastly approaching when my phone chirped out another email alert: Flash Flood Warning!
But there was nothing but sunshine the next morning. I ate breakfast by the kitchen window and let the sunrays warm my skin. The same sun would rise over Los Angeles a couple of hours later, 2,500 miles away. The same sun but a different shine. One spoonful of yogurt and granola after another, I kept thinking a hard thought, I don’t miss New York anymore. I love it, but don’t miss it.
After breakfast, I hopped the Long Island Railroad out to Ronkonkoma. There I met up with Dan and the rest of the cast and crew of Richard the Third. I played Clarence, imprisoned by his brother, King Edward. The first scene we shot was mostly a long monologue through which Clarence describes a nightmare he’d had the night before. He dreamt he escaped prison and sailed with his other brother, Richard the Third, across the English Channel. But Richard knocked him over board and…
Lord, lord, what a pain it was to drown!
What dreadful noise of waters in my ears.
What ugly sights of death within my eyes.
Methought I saw a thousand fearful wrecks,
Ten thousand men that fishes gnawed upon,
Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl,
Inestimable stones, unvalued jewels,
All lay, scatter’d in the bottom of the sea,
Some lay in dead men’s skulls, and in those holes
Where eyes did once inhabit, there were crept,
As t’were in scorn of eyes, reflecting gems,
Which woo’d the slimy bottom of the deep
And mock’d the dead bones that lay scatter’d by.
I rode back to the city with Ben, the costume designer. Ben’s been a friend of mine for over 15 years, since Texas, and we’ve been working together off and on ever since. We began to chat – as Ben drove us out of Ronkonkoma – about old times, new directions, etc. Conversation was easy as we cruised down streets that could have been anywhere in the USA. One-story houses, small green lawns, one tree on either side of the sidewalk leading to the front door, an SUV or sedan in the driveway, the occasional rusted, dusty and dented sports car parked on the curb. Georgia. Minnesota, Texas…
…then we drove down a street we’d already been on and Ben hit the brakes, stopped in the middle of the road. He huffed and puffed and picked up his phone, and spoke, “Get Ben home.” The kind lady in the computer agreed, and led us to New York City.
On Monday, I met up with my friend, Lauren, in Central Park.
“Yeah,” she said, “I got fired from the restaurant, sublet my apartment and have been crashing on couches ever since, getting some clothes out of storage every now and then. It’s great. I feel it now, Todd, the freedom you have.”
“Well, I’ve been feeling it for 4 years now and don’t know how much more of it I want. I’m broke, and I gotta do something about that, or more of what I’ve been doing, or more of whatever–”
“You’ll be fine. We’ll all be fine. See, it’s not just you or anyone of us, but all of us. We’re all highly unstable. Pluto may not be a planet anymore but it’s still a powerful force on us. Right now, it’s squaring up against Uranus. Those are two powerful forces. Pluto’s a slow mother#$king tugboat of hell and Uranus is lightning. They’ve been at it for a couple of years but next year they’ll stop going at it. Then our paths will be clearer. This is all crazy shit happening at the end of a larger 13,000 year cycle. During that time, Humanity has been defined by brutality. It hasn’t been pretty. But we’re about to enter a new age of Man…you know, the Age of Aquarius (rolls her eyes)…a time when we’ve gotten all the rape, murder and rule out of the way…a time of great enlightenment.”
My phone in my pocket was warm on my skin. An app was running. An app’s always running. The phone’s always running. Always. Everywhere. At once. Always will. I stood up. “I have to pee.”
“Oh god, I do too,” replied Lauren. “I mean, I’ll probably have to be wheeled to the toilet I have to go so bad.”
The next day, I took the N-train to the 7-train to the E-train to the Air-train to JFK. Just before the train pulled into my terminal, I saw all of the borough of Manhattan Island clearly, completely. So small in the distance: the skyscrapers of the financial center downtown to the low buildings of Greenwich Village to the skyscrapers of Midtown and then the consistent range of mid-level buildings to the end of the island. A small simple city. The sun shone brightly upon it, as it will on all cities. As it has on all cities over the last 13,000 years. Cities built by a small simple species that almost has all the rape, murder and rule out of its system.
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“The endless chatter that no one on the street seems to be speaking.” So true! What IS that?!