Both happily surprised and comically disappointed that Emma was much more co-ordinated on ice-skates than she’d suggested, I spent three hours or about five or six miles skating around the Wollman Rink with that energetic and diminutive lady of the old country. She talked constantly. About everything. Like she was a paintbrush that had been waiting for my blank canvas to come along. Beyond my normal reservations, and whether it was intentional on her part or not, she’d stunned me. I was a zombie: still walking, still skating, but suffering from severe blows to the head and heart. Her green eyes were as hypnotising as a field of well-wetted grass in the bright sunlight, and her cold-bitten rose-red lips concealed perfectly white teeth – despite the cigarettes she also enjoyed. We wandered Christmas-theme decorated 5th Avenue and Times Square before enjoying dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. We took photos of each other at the 2012 Rockefeller Christmas tree. My God. I just realised while outside my parents’ Tudor-style Gold Coast home and enjoying some wine, a cigarette and jazz music on my phone, thoughts of her awoke in me briefly my love for everyone who I have had and do have love for. Emma did and has made an impact on me I’ve tried not to acknowledge, due to reasons you’ll read about in blog posts coming up. “It truly seemed I could do no wrong with this girl,” apparently. We returned to the hostel by about 2am after our night gallivanting around New York, and I left her to battle the busy – even at that hour – reception staff for her third replacement room card-key in five days. “By some miracle” she agreed to see an off Broadway show with me the next morning before her flight back to the UK. I struggled to get to sleep for obvious reasons. “Despair!” cried my notes. Emma’s 6pm flight from my life forever, or so I thought at the time, required a 12.40pm shuttle pickup from the hostel. The show I wanted to see with her was at 11am. Still, we wandered Central Park together in the time that was left. At one point she incorrectly asserted that we needed to walk in a particular direction to return to the hostel – which would have taken us to the Upper East Side – and I equally assertively overruled her. I shouldn’t have. She would have definitely missed her flight if I’d not succeeded or not tried to correct her bearings error. I made a critical romantic error when we were close to the hostel, and I pulled out and used a ChapStick. She asked if she could use it, before which she also asked if I’d “ever had a cold sore?” I admitted I had, and suggested if she was concerned about oral transmission she could pick off the top of the stick I’d just applied to my lips. She did, but my unfortunate fate in regard to her was sealed – and it would be entirely my fault. But the rest of that story is for a later blog post. Outside the hostel, we hugged, waved goodbye through her shuttle’s windows, and I dragged my suddenly broken heart slowly up that Goddamn lazy elevator.
Despite one of its drawcards being on her way to JFK – where she’d talk her way into the VIP lounge, drink wine, pop a couple of Valiums and drunkenly achieve her childhood dream of visiting the plane’s cockpit – I wasn’t done with New York just yet. I spent the Saturday reading, drinking, smoking and coming up with the financially irresponsible yet romantically outrageous idea of an $800 round trip to Heathrow Airport, London, in order to “gain the kiss I should have already planted”. Then I went out drinking with Carlos. After five Budweisers and four Guinnesses, I brazenly challenged this apparently former pro pool player to a game at the hostel. But the table was taken by a suspiciously all male and well muscled group of French guys. Spent, I retired to bed. Managed movement about noon the following day, which was a record so far for that city. Enjoyed an expensive but delicious lunch at the Big Apple Cafe downstairs in the hostel. There’s a word at this point of my notes that I can’t decipher. Which is a shame, because it ends with an exclamation mark. Which you know means it’s gotta be good! Looks like “8hjes!” I have no idea. Must’ve been something to do with the food. The previous night I’d eaten an enormous and tasty $7 Singapore noodle at the Asian joint across Amsterdam Ave. New York is foodie heaven, and its food is one of the few cheap things it offers if you know where to look. Back to the present and with a full stomach, I rode the subway down to the Whitehall Terminal Manhattan (South Ferry) to ride the free Staten Island Ferry – famed for taking tourists directly past the Statue of Liberty, to Staten Island, and back again. This was the touristic highlight of my time in New York, especially when compared to my Mississippi trip on the Natchez paddle steamer back in New Orleans: firstly because I was no longer sick (though as usually hungover); and secondly because, unlike from the Natchez, the views from the Staten Island Ferry just about wore out my eyes and my camera’s shutter button. I sat, shivering, on the ferry’s top deck and gazed at enduring Lady Liberty, thinking proudly of the freedoms from tyranny, repression and censorship she represented. Freedoms which had gloriously and ironically allowed me to be gazing upon her splendour. I looked at Manhattan to my right, and as the ferry pulled into Staten Island I was saddened by the absence of those long-gone now twin towers. Towers that did probably represent greed and tyranny at least to the people who succumbed to the temptation of symbolically and tragically destroying them. But that overcomplicates my feelings at the time. As I returned on a different boat to New York City, I passed the Lady once more. The sun had set, darkness had reclaimed its 12-or-so-hour reign, yet even all the stronger it seemed she shone around the globe with the light of freedom loving people everywhere. And I without exaggeration was strengthened by her passive magnificence. May she remain standing as long as the human race endures.