This sticker is dangerous and inconvenient but I do love Fig Newtons

Friday, January 4, 2008

New York is the Center of Everything

There's a scene in the musical Gypsy, where Mr. T.T. Grantziger's secretary and Momma Rose are in a heated argument over Dainty June's audition for the big New York producer and Rose says sarcastically: "They're so smart in New York!" Cratchitt, the secretary, answers with haughty confidence: "New York is the center of everything." Momma Rose doesn't believe it of course, calling Grantziger a hick and New York the "center of New York" and nothing more, but to a young girl aged about twelve, Cratchitt had it right. Sitting on my living room carpet, up way past my bedtime on a school night, watching the great America musical tale about showbiz stardom, I secretly wished one day that I could be in the center of everything, pushing my way down the glittering and grimy streets of New York, a writer, or a performer, or a critic, or some other dazzlingly sophisticated career that would let me catch a show on Broadway before dashing off to whatever fancy soirée would follow for the glamorous New York set. I stayed up to 2:30 am that night, unable to go to bed until the movie finished, and it felt like just the sort of hour to be up in New York, and most definitely not the hour to be up in middle-class Michigan.

When I was in high school RENT was on the cover of Time Magazine and our marching band did it for their show and won states. I was not in marching band, but I did play in the symphony band, so the band geeks were my people, and I was captivated by their show. Unlike a normal marching band performance, the band didn't wear their typical marching band military getup. Instead they wore outfits inspired by the show, Salvation Army Value Village resale clothes and their parents' old hippie garb and some stuff of the punk/grunge aesthetic. And midway through the performance the whole band would put down their instruments and sing Seasons of Love and I had chills in the gym that Spirit Week Friday afternoon. Of course, a year or so later we stood in the freezing cold outside the Detroit Opera House hours before the opening curtain, waiting in line with all the other teenage bohemian-wannabes for those $20 front row seats, and when I finally saw RENT on stage for the first time, New York had once again become the center of everything. It helped that by that time, after eleventh grade AP English and my first student film, I had decided I wanted to write and direct films, and there was Mark with his sixteen millimeter shooting gritty documentaries about Greenwich Village artists and it seemed like my destiny. NYU became an obsession. New York became an obsession. I had created a fantasy based on movies, tv, musical theater, popular songs and my own fevered (delusional?) imagination and I knew New York was it for me. I had to get there.

Reality set in when it came time for college applications and my parents informed me that not only would they not allow me to go to NYU, there was no way in hell they could actually afford to send me there even if they would let me go, and the whole filmmaking thing was too weird and impractical to their Michigan ears, so I dicked around, lost in impossible dreams, and without the metaphorical stones to apply there in rebellion of my parents' soul-crushing decision. I never even applied to NYU on a whim, such was the level of my laziness and pessimism. I never got to go to New York. And for years after, with two trips to Europe, and various other vacations elsewhere under my belt, I had still never been to that faraway neverland of steel and celluloid dreams. The fantasy of New York only grew with each passing year that I stayed in Michigan. My version of New York had reached such a grandiose level that many friends and family were sure the real thing could never live up to what I had created in my mind. My New York was two-parts Hollywood hokum and three-parts teenage romanticism, and there was no way the reality could match the illusion...

So I went to New York for the first time last week.

St. Stephen's Day, and I was on a plane to Newark, and then a few hours later on the PATH to the World Trade Center subway stop. It was three days and it was everything I had imagined only better and more. I wrote psuedo-Kerouac style prose-poems each night in my journal as a way to commemorate the experience, and they're terrible and sophomoric, in the style I tend to slip into when I'm lazy and want to write fast, that horrible stream-of-consciousness thing that I thought was IT when I was sixteen and that I can't help but revert to when I'm faced with all the giddiness of being sixteen again, which is what the City reduced me to the second I saw its skyline. I'm gonna post the journal entries here because I'm a narcissistic exhibitionist and simply can't help myself. And they remind me of my trip so I'm sentimental about 'em. And besides, who reads this damn thing anyway. But New York was great. It was just as advertised, the city that never sleeps, a helluva town, the center of everything. Now I just have to figure a way to get back.


AMac said...

Sometimes, check out James Lileks' accounts of his trip from hometown Minneapolis to the Big Apple. I wonder if he feels kind of like you do, if in a more understated way.

The Derelict said...

thanks, I will! I like Lileks' writing a lot, so I look forward to it. If there's one thing I know about myself, though, it's that i'm certainly not understated! ;)