New York Monologues
New York tells me a story. A relentless tale that doesn’t stop to draw breath. Even though I’m all beat up. It’s a tale that comes at me, artillery style, and continues firing rounds into my untidily slumped carcass. New York, as embodied by my friend Lucia, wants me to cry Uncle. And then some.
I’m riding on the subway and a woman steps forward, “I was just like you once, getting up, getting dressed and going to work, I didn’t think I would be in this place, but I am. I’m doing what I can to keep body and soul together but I need a little help. It doesn’t have to be money; some food would also be appreciated.” I stare. I can’t avert my eyes. She is dignified, standing tall. Meeting the gaze of her fellow New Yorkers. They don’t visibly react, twitter amongst themselves or shift uncomfortably in their seats. They stay present, in the moment, offering silent solidarity. I give money.
I take a ferry out to the Statue of Liberty. The New York skyline is shrouded in fog and as Liberty comes into view I’m mute audience to the theatre of trauma. The tour guide sounds like a standup comedian. From the gates of hell. “How can I talk about New York and not talk about 9/11? How can I stand here before you and not share the horror of that day? What I saw from this spot, on this ferry? What I will never, never forget?” I don’t get to be a mindless tourist today. I realise that I don’t get to be mindless tourist any day, anymore. People deserve better. He makes a request at the end of the tour for a tip, for all the crew. A shared thank you. I give money.
Each day as we walk up and down Lucia’s street we pass a man sitting on the sidewalk. He asks for money. “No, sorry honey” says Lucia, “God Bless you”. And “God Bless you too sister”. We pass him again the next day and he is the first to say, “God Bless you sister” and Lucia responds, “Man, do you need some food?” “No sister, just trying to get a dollar”. “God Bless you” she says. I am alone the next day when I pass him. In my world, invoking God is no blessing. I’m struggling. Right here in this moment I’m doing an Angels and Demons in a one woman play, set in the Bronx with an Australian costume designer. It’s incongruous, incomplete. Disingenuous. I give money.
Over the days I put change into the upturned caps of buskers. I offer a dollar to the melodic guitarist who serenades us for one whole subway stop. I wrestle the tipping behemoth to the ground and make it speak to me in a language I can understand. I try to keep the story at arms length. Bargaining for time. To protect myself.
Lucia provides the narrative voice. Every place we eat, every subway stop, every building, every bar, every Deli, every single New Yorker is a part of her rich relationship with her place. She is the story of New York. Throughout the week she wryly repeats her mantra, “You can have anything you want in New York, so long as you are willing to pay.” I take it literally.
The incessant, complex and confronting voices of the city beg me for air time. I am Sybil. I have one hundred personalities talking, singing and playing in my head. I try to listen politely. But this is no debutantes’ ball. This is the voice that arises soulfully from the life of a city. And will be heard.
I begin to hurt. From my boots up.
We take a taxi home tonight. My pain has become burdensome. Lucia skillfully negotiates with the driver in Spanish. In rapid fire she has discovered where he was born, who he knows, what time he started work and what he charges for a ride to the airport. I miss the subtlety. By the time we reach our destination they have agreed on a reasonable fare and a pick up time the next morning. It’s a dance. One I haven’t learnt the steps to. As we exit the taxi the deal is confirmed. In a clumsy encore to their tango I pay the taxi driver. Too much. And Lucia says “it’s not about money Lisa”.
New York is a story that money can’t buy.