A New York State of Mind

Some folks like to get away
Take a holiday from the neighborhood
Hop a flight to Miami Beach
Or to Hollywood
But I’m talking a Greyhound
On the Hudson River Line
I’m in a New York state of mind

-Billy Joel

In 1984, my family took a memorable road trip to the Massachusetts.  My mom had relatives in Fall River, while my cousin T would join us after staying with family in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.  Both states had a strong Portuguese population, with many more spread out in other seaboard states like Connecticut.  Remember Mystic Pizza?  It’s a film about three sisters of Portuguese decent, with one of them played by Julia Roberts.  I still remember feisty Daisy Arujo’s speech the spoiled, WASP-y rich guy.  Mostly I remembered thinking there is no way that broad is Portuguese.

My mom’s cousin, and his partner, ran a store in Fall River.  Every Tuesday they would make the four-hour drive to New York to buy goods for the shop.  My exposure to New York came from a small, smattering of television shows like Welcome Back Kotter.  I knew New York looked smudgy and crowded.  Turns out it looked slightly less cleaner on TV.  I realized we were not in Winnipeg, nor Fall River, anymore as a prostitute working the outskirts lifted up her top to a parked car.  My sketchy memories also included breakdancers, actual, real-live breakdancers, outside of Flashdance.  I saw the late John Candy, truly larger than life as he walked down the street, a film crew busily setting up a shot behind him, to shake a fan’s hand.

Suddenly the film/movies of this city came to gritty life.  The cherry on the experience..a walk down Times Square.  For those only familiar with Times Square in this century, a comparison:



Image: TravLang Travel Guide

Circa 1984..actually this one proved tougher. If you want to see Times Square,and New York itself, in ’84 this page is the best one to see.  No picture of Times Square in 1984 would do justice to what I saw.  Dirty billboards advertising for peep shows, porn movies, while the residents hang out in the door ways advertising their wares.  Strangely, I walked down the street feeling fascinated.  One of my mom’s cousin’s wanted to show me, and my other cousin, ‘life’.  On that day we got an eye-full of it.  Life in New York can also get summed up in another word as well-dense.

It’s not dense as in ‘stupid’.  New York has inspired poems, songs, short stories, novels, and more screen plays than hands have fingers.  It’s dense as in ‘density’, the close quarters of people, matched my the close quarters of buildings stretching to the sky. Winnipeg does have tall buildings, but we seems a little more spread out.  In short I can see the full blue of the sky on a given day.  New York’s buildings blocked out the sky.  I remember seeing grey, black, brick, and steel.  It gave me an anxious feeling.  I felt closed in, not knowing I took the sky for granted until the sky seemed taken away.

Here’s the funny part…

I want to go back.

With fingers crossed I hope to return to New York City.  I was 14 in 1984. In 2015 I will still be 44.  While I saw Rockefeller Plaza, I really want to see a number of sites capturing my imagination.  I want to visit the New York Public Library to actually sit in its reading room.  I want to see the museums, the art galleries, and experience the hum the city radiates from page and screen.  I want to see an actual broadway show. This last part I emphasize a bit as people think ‘musical’, but I want a play.  I want to see a play performed on stage, on broadway.  I will also take a show from New York’s Labyrinth Theater for more experimental fare.

While I spent most of this post remembering New York and its crazy, frenetic energy, now I realize why I keep remembering.  I want to go back.  I want to walk down those streets in February to take that crazy energy in.  May be I made it there, and took it with me at 14 to make it anywhere.

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