6.14 New York

I’ve had my ups and downs with New York. My first trip there was for the New York Independent Film Festival. A film I made was screening at the festival and I took the opportunity to spend about two weeks in the city. At first, I loved it, and like most people, believed I could make a go of it living there. After the first week, I still loved it, but also, found the relentless drudgery of intensity the city perpetuates somewhat exhausting.

The film screened to about ten people, five of them friends from Toronto who helped make the film. Disappointed, I was redeemed by an old man who had come to the screening alone. I’ll never forget he was wearing a bowler hat, had stringy white hair, a handlebar moustache and he walked with crutches. He made his way over to us and said, “Did you guys make that film?” Thinking he was going to berate me for making him sit through it, I reluctantly said yes. His face lit up, he grabbed one of the bottles of alcohol we had smuggled into the theatre, took a swig and said, “Congratulations, I really liked that. Keep making more.” Then he limped away on his crutches. As they say, as long as one person takes something away from your art, you should be happy with that.

The next time I went to New York was with a girlfriend. I don’t really need to go into that one or the trip after that. I’ve somewhat documented this in my book. It was a great trip with her, but our relationship would be over soon. The next time I was in the city, it was to take it back from my memories of her.

A couple of years later, I was working on that book. I needed to get away and finish the manuscript. I disappeared to New York, booked an AirBNB at an apartment in Brooklyn. The woman I rented from kept trying to get me to come see her friend’s comedy show in Coney Island. I disappointed her. I had never seen a bathroom like the one in that apartment. Black toilet. A sink that was just a giant bowl sitting on the counter. A shower that resembled the contraption that changed Jeff Goldblum into The Fly.

Everyday for over a week, I commuted into Manhattan and worked out of the New York location of the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI). It really was one of the best writing weeks of my life and I once again found myself wondering if I could make a go at living there. But I returned home and was happy that I would spend the next year or so travelling to different places using Toronto as my base.

Exactly a year ago, I went on a weekend trip back to New York with a bunch of people from CSI. It’s a yearly trip where a bus is commissioned and about fifty people take the long drive to the big city. I signed up for this trip again, but something was different about it. Every time I’ve been to New York, I seemed to be working something out, seem to go there with some purpose.

We arrived - after surviving a bus breakdown in the middle of the night - and were dropped off at the CSI location. I walked twenty minutes away to where I was staying - a small, crappy, cheap, but perfect hotel at 11th and 6th. On the walk there, I felt a certain release, a release I hadn’t experienced in a while. I just relaxed and knew that this was what the trip was about. It was about being somewhere else and disappearing into the city.

So that’s what I did.

The next day, I walked almost 150 blocks down to Chinatown to eat at my favourite restaurant, up to Central Park and looped back around. I don’t know if I figured anything out, but it put my mind at ease.

That night, I headed back to the motel after meeting up with some people in Brooklyn. Waiting for a subway, I heard some shouting from further down the platform. A man was yelling from the platform on the the other side to a couple on my side. I walked closer to hear what they were shouting. The single man yelled, “What does it mean to love?” The coupled man replied, “Fuck love.” Single man said, rather confusingly, “Fuck love?” Coupled man said, “Yeah, fuck love. I don’t even know you, am I supposed to love you?” The single man thought for a moment and said, “What about that woman beside you? Do you love her?” The coupled man looked over at the woman beside him and I felt the pause between them . The single man said, “Love is what makes everything better. We love someone so they’ll make us great, and they love us so we’ll make them great.”

And then a subway burst into the station, abruptly ending the conversation.

I looked at the couple and I wondered if this was an awkward situation for them. Maybe they just started seeing each other and didn’t know if they loved one another yet. If love is seen as an abstract thing, wouldn’t you know? I don’t necessarily mean love at first site, I do believe love can be cultivated, I just wondered that if there was a real and true love between them, wouldn’t that moment a minute ago been a good time to express it?

As I rode on the subway, switched trains and headed to street level, I was lost in thought so much that I kept walking past where the hotel was located. I thought about if I had truly loved anyone, like actually loved them, not in the way that love is defined in societal terms or in movies or in songs or books, but loved them in a way that it was a feeling, something unspoken. Look, that guy on the subway was probably drunk, but also, maybe he wasn’t and I couldn’t stop thinking about what he said before the subway interrupted: “We love someone so they’ll make us great, and they love us so we’ll make them great.” Had I ever helped make someone into a better person than before they met me? Has someone done that for me? Of course, I thought of the girlfriend who I was in New York with years ago, someone that I can’t seem to get out of my head, but things have also moved on, people change, we were different, when it was over, it was over. I thought about other relationships I have had and how they ended, always ended in a whimper like we were just too tired to keep this going. I thought about what I want from someone and what I have to offer. At my age, I see people around me getting married and having kids and they seem happy. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I felt that pressure, the pressure to just find someone, to just shut up about searching for that abstract feeling of wanting and dying to see someone, to miss them after being away from them for an hour, someone that is genuinely happy to see me, someone that is as happy going to a high end restaurant as much as going grocery shopping together, someone that smiles at me the way they don’t smile at anyone else.

Someone that makes me great, someone who I make great.