A woman sits with her arms around her knees framed by the brick of her 2nd story window and the metal scaffolding of a fire escape. I imagine it a rather romantic respite from the muggy confines of a New York apartment.
In a moment, the image has fled like all the others seen from the taxi taking me to the West Village. The ride from La Guardia is easy and fast, as if I’m sampling a system that has existed long enough to be convenient. The cabbie tries his best to point out sights and districts as we pass them but it’s all I can do to watch in amazement a city lit from the inside boil and pass by. It has an organic chaos derived from an excess whose gavitational pressure induces it’s own crumbling and necessitates a patchwork of continuous rebuilding.
I’m in New York for the first time.
The flight from Vancouver was split by Montreal, a hurried airport sandwich and the intimidating address of a humourless US customs agent asking if I had a job. I remember waiting in line, casually dressed among men in business suites returning to Manhattan after a day of dealings in Quebec. It was a switchback queue and during your wait you were guaranteed at least 2 forced opportunities at squinting under the low setting sunlight from the high windows.
James lives on the 4th floor of an old tinder box of a building in the West Village, a part of Manhattan strong enough in its historical identity to defy the rigid grid of the city’s streets. You continue on your merry way along 4th street until you hit the prism of a glass wall that surrounds the old village and suddenly you are crossing 11th street before the confusion of a 45 degree shift and triangular intersections starts to set in.
Julianne Moore lives across the street. The super’s name is Mike and I don’t know where he lives.
The whole scenario is a bit surreal. Aside from a day and a half in France and half a day in Vancouver years ago, James and I have had a handful of Skype conversations in July. It seems absurd to base a friendship on such a small foundation but when you really think about it, under no lens is life any less absurd.
James and Sam greet me at the top of the flight of stairs. Sam’s friendship with James stretches back to several months after I met him. They take my luggage, hauling it past lighting and grip gear stacked up in the kitchen. James has just finished the busiest week of his life, scheduling a shoot for tomorrow and completing an entire production office’s workload by himself.
Seeing the apartment is like getting a backstage pass to the theatrical release of the Skype chat I’ve been having with him since the summer. The shower really does stand unabashedly in the kitchen, closeted between the sink and the stunted washing machine. A baby grand piano snuggles under blankets from the humidity and the living room furniture exists only to please their cat Franny as scratch posts.
When I first met James, I had long hair, a backpack and a lonely planet guide as a compass in my hand. He asked me then if I was a traveller. This time, James opens with the same astounding ability to reveal the obvious when he says, “You ARE tall.”
We dine at Gobo, a vegetarian restaurant as busy as it is loud on roti canai, butternut squash risotto and grilled oyster mushrooms. James’s girlfriend, Bridgitte, greets us on our return before bed. I’m between the scratch-post-couches, Sam at the foot of the closet, squeezed between the piano and the wall and James and Brigitte sleep in the small room just before the kitchen.
It’s a wee bit crowded, but hey, I’m in New York and I have a 7am call time in Brooklyn.