London has my heart, but occasionally we have to agree to see other people. She knows deep down that I belong to her and that I’ll always come back, and it’s a relationship that we both feel comfortable with, sometimes a little too comfortable. I needed the chance to be lonely, to struggle, and hopefully to remember that I deep down I can deal with anything. And there is no better place for that then New York.
A few months before I left Iain had died. He had driven me so crazy that I learned to draw just to spite him with a comic book about what a terrible boyfriend he was, and I feel like if he hadn’t died I would have always have been on the re-bound from him, in the same way that you never get over being an alcoholic, you just haven’t had a drink for a while.
I was devastated by knowing that he was out of my life forever, so devastated that I couldn’t even really be sad, I just knew I needed to do something.
Sometimes that last thing that you hold onto, that last piece of hope that you have in the world needs to fail for you to be able to finally pick yourself up off the ground and go “oh, yes. Here I am. Right. I guess I’ve got some work to do”.
My hope, and one of the reasons I was going to New York, was a ghost called Sam who had been sending me poetry from motels and lonely sage-infested highways all over the country, beautiful words about singing to the wind and about feeling restless. I was feeling the same, and I was feeling it for Iain, but since he wasn’t there I was feeling it all for Sam.
So, I bought a ticket, put my bike in a box and left.
Arriving in New York meant nearly instant hardship and triumph. The first few nights I had planned to stay with my old friend Brent, who had moved to the city to become the musician that he couldn’t be in Seattle with all of the apathy that thrives on the gloom of the north west coast.
He had some problems with his flatmates, so he had arranged for me to stay with his friend Sam. My ghost friend Sam.
Sam picked me up at a bar and took me to his place out in Queens, an area that I had only known from Coming To America before. His room only held a bed, a few books, and a little bit of recording equipment; he spent a lot of time on the road with his band. Once there he kissed me on the forehead, made some awkward conversation, pointed out a few books I could read in case I got bored and then left for his hither to un-announced girlfriend’s house.
I decided it would be best to look up this messenger girl I knew and try and stay with her after that.
After ringing her phone countless times I finally got a hold of her, and she was thrilled that I was in town and wanted to stay with her. In the way that only young female Americans can, she finished every sentence with an exclamation point.
“Yes! I can’t wait to see you! This is SO exciting! I have to teach a class tonight, but I’ll call you after!”
As a big fan of radical American history, I wandered around the area that 123 No Rio was in, peeking in through graffitied windows and staring at the incongruent yuppies that were frequenting all the boutiques that now had happily made their homes on the lower east side. It was hard to believe that it was the scene of a battle between artist, punks, immigrants and the police only two decades ago. In the end, gentrification, money and the government won, and the radical elements of the city scattered to more affordable places.
As I made bigger and bigger circles I found myself at Blue Stockings book shop, the only other place that was in the same line of work that 123 No Rio was in, that being providing a space for people who don’t want to be told what to do all the time to be in.
Amongst the queers and rad punks that were volunteering there I got talking a guy behind the counter in a Campagnolo hat. We talked bikes, and radical history, and what bike messengers we both knew. Considering that there are hundreds of bike messengers in hundreds of cities, a lot of us seem to know each other from international events. It turned out that he was going to 131 Tompkins for a show in a few hours, and if I hung out he was happy to take me there.
It was everything that a punk show should be, it was loud, it was cheap, there was beer, Black Label bike club was there, it was filled with tiny screaming punk boys with big hair and curvy tattooed bad-ass ladies with hip-flasks and bright-red lipstick. I was in a cliched punk heaven, and I both enjoyed being a part of something so solid and also felt so empty knowing that it could never really be a part of who I am as a dry humoured cynical Londoner.
I don’t know how I lost the boy from Blue Stalkings or how I had picked up Gavin, but at a certain hour this awesome kid just grabbed my hand, talked my ear off and he offered me unlimited use of his sofa. I had spent the night telling everyone who would listen that I was new in town and I wasn’t sure where I was going to stay or what was going to happen, and he was the first person to listen and to offer a hand.
That messenger girl finally called me a few days later, but by then I had found a job as a courier with Top Notch and had moved into a place in Queens with some friends of Gavin’s and I felt like I might finally be ok.