I had coffee with an old friend back in September — the friend I tend to bump into in airports. We seem to schedule a meet-up in New York once a year, which is the only particularly predictable thing we ever do. With our friendship, predictability is the extraordinary condition; the unexpected and sometimes unbelieveable are mundane.
We were meeting up a day or two after I’d accidentally scalded my arm. I always seemed to bump into him after I’d badly injured myself, or when I was in the midst of some sort of crisis.
As we sat, I looked at him and said: Please stop visiting the United States. I have seen you in this country immediately after I was hit by a car, and when I had a horrible case of shingles. Now, I’ve just been badly burned.
Then again, I’d always joked that his siren song was: batshit crazy.
For an hour, he had coffee and I had tea and talked about things that didn’t matter, using our Daytime Voices. We spoke of financial markets, and trips we had taken, and the weather. The weekend prior to his visit had marked the first days of gorgeous New York Autumn — clear, with a hint of crispness in the air. But those two days of spellbinding Fall had collapsed into the one day of lungsucking dampness and frizzmaking humidity on which we were meeting.
I thought you said the weather was great, he teased.
Indeed, I had been waxing romantic about the New York Autumn; remembering why I loved Manhattan so much. I’d jibber-jabbered repeatedly: I know you’re on a tight schedule, but do get out if you can! The weather is so beautiful.
And then I had stopped myself, because it reminded me of a conversation we’d once had three years earlier; barefoot; at the base of the cliffs in Big Sur: How could anyone come here and not get out a bit?
My renewed enthusiasm for New York had come from a West Side run I’d taken that weekend prior to our meeting. It had been a perfect run, but regardless of the specifics of the jog, I had always preached the gospel of Long-Run-Upon-Hudson to anyone who would listen.
When I first moved to the City seven plus years ago, it was summertime, and I didn’t think the harsh Summer weather would ever let up; didn’t think the trash-stink would ever go away. But then, one day, the heat broke, and Autumn descended. The trees each burst into leafy fire — red, orange, gold.
But in New York, the Autumn always evaporated into gloom.
And like the nice weather on that particular September week, our hour expired, and I had to rush back to the office. Our meeting had been rather unexpected, so I’d moved my morning schedule to the afternoon in a bit of a hurry.
Later that day, he was off for Paris, and I was off for meetings; calls. It was the same as it ever was; the same as it was at the beginning.
Sorry I’m crazy! I said, as we exchanged “Good to see you” messages. I felt; feel crazy sometimes. As if a woman my age, with responsibilities such as mine, should have things more…together. As if she shouldn’t burn herself, or prattle on endlessly, or feel the need to make the rounds and check in on people, as if they might evaporate if they aren’t asked on a regular basis: How are you? Are you okay? Are you happy and doing well?
You’re not crazy.
It seems crazy, now, that I did not cross the Verrazano yesterday and that I should care about that so much in the wake of things that matter more. It seems odd and sad that the Long-Run-Upon-Hudson path along the bottom of the Island is well under water. And where it is not submerged or destroyed, it has been battered beyond recognition.
It seems peculiar that things are not the same as they ever were. Nor will they ever be.
And how do you know what to do next? Is it okay to complain about the guys next-door hammering on the walls at midnight, when you have a conference call at 430am, but when you know that some people no longer have walls? Is it selfish to carry on, when others do not even know where to begin?
How are you? Are you okay? Are you happy? Are you ready to begin again?
It all seems crazy, now.