My Silent Captor

By James Noonan, currently Melbourne-based writer

59th Street Station, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York

59th Street Station, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York

It was like a sucker punch, hard and fast. One minute I was sitting there calmly on the subway train hurtling beneath Manhattan, the next like I was fighting for my life. I felt like I’d been dumped in icy water, my skin tingling, my lungs reeling for air. In those dizzying moments that seemed to stretch endlessly, I became convinced I was going to die.

As the train came to its next stop, I leapt up and jumped out, even though my friend and I were nowhere near our destination. I may have mumbled something at her, I wasn’t sure. I was focused on only one thing: getting to street level. Racing up the stairs, I felt I had only seconds to reach the surface, to safety. My senses were dulling; the world around me grew vague and fuzzy.

When I finally made it out onto the sidewalk, I doubled over and heaved in lungfuls of air. My heart was still pounding and that cold pressing dread had yet to lift. I tried to imagine that I was on a beach, the warm ocean breeze washing over me—somewhere far removed from the garish lights of Times Square, the ceaseless bleat of traffic. The streets seemed to be closing in on me and I needed to escape—but from what exactly I didn’t know.

My friend was suddenly beside me, asking what on earth was happening. I kept saying, with a growing anger, that I had no idea. I knew it wasn’t simply a bout of queasiness or a migraine. I thought for a moment it could be a heart attack or a pulmonary embolism (I have a history of blood clots), but in a matter of seconds my mind had jumped to a hundred other fatal conclusions—poison, accidental drug intake—all of which somehow seemed feasible.

I walked around Midtown that night for hours, unable to be indoors or to take the subway any further. My friend and I ended up getting a taxi back to my apartment, the windows fully down and my head between my legs the whole time. I just didn’t think I’d ever stop feeling this way. I’d forgotten what it was like not to feel this way.

I returned home shortly after that frightening episode, having grown increasingly unhappy in New York. Things weren’t much better here though—I couldn’t find work, I had no money or place to live (other than with my parents), and I felt terribly alone. I felt, in all senses of the word, a failure. And I slid into a major depression. I completely withdrew into myself and stopped going out to see friends, frequently making up excuses as to why I couldn’t hang out. I’d lie in bed all day, just staring up at the ceiling, not wanting to face the world.

New York's Central Park Wollman ice rink, backgrounded by mid-town

New York’s Central Park Wollman ice rink, backgrounded by mid-town

I knew this lifestyle—or lack thereof— was bad for me, but I didn’t have the motivation to do anything about it. In a weird way, I felt almost comforted by the absence of activity and excitement in my life. I frequently found myself wishing to sleep, or ‘turn off’ for a month—maybe more. Depression was my warm bed in the dark. It was my morphine, coursing relentlessly through me, numbing my senses. And I was entirely under its command.

It was this other strange phenomenon, these frequent overwhelming feelings of acute and disabling fear, that really shook me. I’d been robbed of my sense of self, of all my confidence. I was no longer in control. There came a period when I couldn’t even leave the house for fear of public judgement, of attracting unwanted stares. I was assailed constantly by a voice which questioned everything I did and thought. Why are they looking at me like that? Was it something I said? Whenever I heard laughter, I assumed—however irrationally—that I was the focus of such amusement. There was a stain on me, my fly was unzipped, or countless other humiliating scenarios…

It was only after I cancelled a job interview on account of not being able to enter the office building that I sought help. My family were worried about me—they could sense something was wrong, however well I’d tried to hide it. So I booked in to see my GP, who diagnosed me with an anxiety disorder. He explained to me that what I’d been experiencing were panic attacks. He prescribed me some meds for my depression and referred me to a psychologist for treatment of my anxiety. I found it initially nonsensical. I didn’t consider myself a stressful person; I went with the flow. I didn’t let things get to me. Why, then, was I suddenly struggling under the weight of everything?

In the six months following my diagnosis, I had regular therapy sessions, and read up on a lot of material, particularly online—some of which I found incredibly helpful, e.g. Beyond Blue and Man Therapy. I felt less alone knowing how common anxiety is among men and women. In many ways I learned how to be myself again, step by baby step. I focused all my energies on getting better, not on trying to live up to the perceived expectations of others. I learned to challenge my negative thinking, assuring myself that I was in control of my life, despite what that sinister voice kept trying to tell me.

Anxiety is often grouped with depression, but while many people suffer from both (as I did) and the treatments that work best for one may very well combat the other, they aren’t, I would argue, two sides of the same coin. Anxiety is still heavily misunderstood, and is often used interchangeably with stress. But whereas stress is a rational response to daily pressures, one that carries certain benefits relating to performance and decision-making, anxiety is a mental disorder, and does not usually have a readily identifiable root cause.

It’s also very difficult to open up about—especially with those that haven’t ‘been there’. Comparatively, depression—its causes, its effects—is quite a prevalent topic in today’s world. If one hasn’t personally experienced it, they usually know somebody who has—whether it’s a close friend of theirs, their favourite film star or musician, or a character on a popular T.V. drama. But anxiety is an affliction that still isn’t widely talked about, in its own right, even though it can be just as debilitating to one’s health (it certainly was for me). I remember I’d say to my friends whenever I was feeling anxious that I was just crook. On one occasion when it led to my being physically sick on the pavement outside a café, I said that I was simply nursing a chronic hangover from the night before. And we all laughed it off.

Eventually, however, I was able to be honest with those close to me. And I’m so glad of that, and often wish I’d done so sooner. Trying to bottle up such an intense internal struggle is poisonous to one’s health, and sadly does often end in tragic circumstances. For me, battling my anxiety remains an uphill battle. There are no quick fixes—contrary to enduring belief, one cannot simply ‘snap out of it’, much like with depression. Mostly I’m grateful for the people in my life who have supported me, even when I’d practically given up on myself. For it has been they who have reminded me when I’ve needed it most that there is a light at the end of even the longest and blackest of tunnels.

Brooklyn Bridge, from the East River Bikeway, below  Franklin D Roosevelt Drive, Manhattan

Brooklyn Bridge, from the East River Bikeway, below Franklin D Roosevelt Drive, Manhattan

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Purpose

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the purpose of life. Increasingly, I can’t see that my life has purpose. Which is confusing at best, as without the courage to kill myself I am merely drifting along aimlessly. Two purposes I’d like to have are: 1) work, with the caveat that my boss and anyone else I have to deal with in the course of my employment not be an arsehole, and; 2) female sexual and emotional companionship, with the caveat that she be comfortable with my socially awkward and more often completely unmotivated nature. But I’m not optimistic that either of these two purposes will come along any time soon. Or perhaps ever again.

It’s important that we differentiate between the word “purpose”, and the word “meaning”. I don’t believe there is meaning, in a spiritual sense, to my or anyone else’s life. But there can be purpose, either to oneself or others or both. Work is purposeful because it achieves things for people who give you money so you can pay people for things you need. And female companionship is purposeful because it creates more life. If you’re into that sort of thing. (I’m not.) Plus it fulfills emotional and sexual desire. I’ve not had good experiences with work, and I’ve had too few experiences with women at all, let alone good ones. I want good experiences with both, but am tired of instead experiencing the bad.

I’ve also felt poorly treated by many people in my life. In fact it’s getting to the point in which those negative experiences are weighing so heavily upon me, the only way I can think of so as to not add to the weight is to avoid contact with other people as often as possible. Obviously this is difficult in the face of work and female companionship. I don’t know where to from here. Obviously. Because I have no purpose. Just sought after purpose. I guess you could argue that sought after purpose is as good as purpose. But it’s really not, because it holds no promise of reward. Just more searching. It’s an empty feeling, having no purpose. It drains energy and creativity and passion. There’s little to be done about it, though. Either I’ll find my purpose at a time I’ll likely find surprising, or I will never find it and the world and its people will hardly notice.

Most of all, I’m tired of feeling pressured to justify an existence I didn’t choose.

On Booze (phone blog mark two)

One of my proudest moments, God bless me, comes from more than a decade ago when I was 17. With my best adolescent poker face I purchased a case of Carlton Cold from the 7th Avenue Palm Beach bottle shop. Minus a fake ID but plus an early or perhaps about rightly timed bloomer couple of days’ stubble. Success. I will always remember with glee strutting across the Gold Coast Highway with the case on my shoulder to be consumed by my two years younger brother and few months older best mate. They both passed out before me. Relatively naive to the ill effects of alcohol, I alternated, concerned, between the two of them trying to figure out if they were sleeping or in some kind of alcoholic danger. My brother woke up with purple bubble gum stuck to his face. It was awesome. Fuck any prudes, lame-os or conservatives who think otherwise.

But then again, more than a decade later, perhaps I should give pause to the effect Lady Liquor has since had on my life. It’s actually hard to identify the negatives. Or the alternatives. Perhaps I look older than I might otherwise. My liver might not be as healthy as it could be. Maybe I’ve missed out on pleasurable romantic experiences with women that I could have had with more frequent sobriety (or less-frequent drunkenness). Such hypothesising is merely speculation on an alternative universe – one in which I’m doing God knows what with my time in the absence of the brown, red, amber or clear liquids. I could have been religious, which would go dead against the skepticism (cynicism) I’ve cultivated that I can’t be sure isn’t itself influenced by the devil drink. Or I could have been a fitness freak. Not a footy boy at a high level of fitness who nonetheless gets drunk and rowdy with an entire team at his back. But a serious amateur or professional athlete with blinkers on for such distractions.

I’m just about done already, in light of the fact that there’s a large amount of hard liquor coursing through my system as I tap frustratingly at my phone while my laptop sits dejectedly nearby. I think, to be honest and not particularly positive, alcohol is a self-destructive indulgence for me. (Although I’m almost without exception a happy drunk.) I’ve never been terribly fond of the pain associated with life. The reality of living in a capitalist society, in which people will profess to care only should there be an advantage present for them to seize at my expense. A society in which the most deserving of wealth are judged not enough by their character but by the wealth they already possess. A society in which my good manners and gentle nature are seen as a weakness and my self-destructive tendencies self-perpetuatingly seen as an excuse for avoidance and malignancy. I don’t drink to forget. I don’t necessarily drink to be more social. I drink to be happy. To be more insulated from this world’s superficial and heartless realities. I drink because as people go about their lives around me I feel more content with mine only because I find their possibly ridiculous choices and opinions to be less grating. I drink because I can. Because it’s a legal and socially accepted escape from the fucking circus we call post-World War Two Western Society which has more evils to answer for than any evil empire which came before it. I drink because my knowledge of history and shame at a present I can too little control permits me to do little else. I drink, and that’s ok. I drink.

US and UK – I Lived By the River – Part Four of Nine

Somewhere in Oregon, US - November-ish, 2012

Somewhere in Oregon, US – November-ish, 2012

Portland, Oregon, was as you may remember a progressive Pacific-north-western American city I missed while riding a dragon (Wicked Camper) from California to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. This is a little regrettable because since then I’ve learned without much effort more about the city’s vibrancy, despite its almost year-round wet-and-cold-weather. Such weather was itself credited by I don’t remember who in a magazine I can’t recall the name of as being the reason why Portland’s creative culture was blossoming like a sunflower despite or perhaps in spite of regularly dark clouds above. Because such foul weather more often than, say, on the Gold Coast, forced people inside to paint, strum guitars or write fiction. Now, at this point of my US and UK journal I’m in London, and the reason I’ve taken you back to Portland is to make a comparison between the two cities. By no means am I going to suggest that London is not nor never has been an international artistic centre. Hardly. But while Portland and the US north-west it calls home is known as a cultural “up and comer” (Lonely Planet), I felt London was long past its prime in that regard. Of course even or maybe especially for such an ancient city bohemian blossoming in whatever art form must come in cycles, but I couldn’t help but detect a certain stagnation, weariness or perhaps arrogant complacency in that old world town.

I'm posting either too many or not enough photos of London.  Hard to guess when I've started posting as I write.  Oh well. . . .

I’m posting either too many or not enough photos of London. Hard to guess when I’ve started posting as I write. Oh well. . . .

While this feeling was evident, to me, everywhere I went in London – it was no less keenly felt in Clapham, where I was presently riding the bus with young Kristy. We were sitting atop the double-decker heading along Clapham Road back to her townhouse somewhere in or near the Brixton area. At some point during this trip I remembered, loudly and vocally, that during late-2011 London had been rocked by widespread rioting in response to corruption, depressed economic circumstances and, I believe, isolated police brutality. Clapham itself, as Kristy confirmed, had on August 8 of that year been hit by more than 1000 disaffected youths who laid siege to Clapham Junction – one of “Britain’s busiest train stations” – through an orgy of violence, destruction, looting and general anarchy. When I much too loudly started discussing these recollections Kristy shooshed me, then glanced around the bus as if sensing danger. And finally that event brings me to my point: the only thing progressive I sensed about London during my time there was a distinct undercurrent of social angst and anger. But, hey, the Global Financial Crisis was kind to no-one, not least the British. And at least in the UK, unlike Australia, its people bother to notice their elected representatives’ corruption and contempt and voice their disapproval of such outrages. The whole “she’ll be right, mate” sentiment is something that must make our wealthy and powerful rub their fat pink hands with glee. Back to where I left off with the last blog post. . . .

Didn't go inside Shakespeare's Globe - too expensive

Didn’t go inside Shakespeare’s Globe – too expensive

Even with Google Maps streetview I really can’t figure out which Clapham pubs I’d been to during that Friday night in London with Kristy – a pretty friend of my half-sister and brother’s sister. Even memories of the first pub we visited, after leaving central London with her two full-bodied buddies, are hazy due to the amount of gin and tonic I was drinking. I remember enjoying myself immensely, though, and that the atmosphere was quite amiable – despite the fact that being a long way from home and escorting three women I barely knew through an area I knew even less well was a decidedly foreign experience for me. Still, we chatted and danced and drank and indulged in that time-standing-still atmosphere unique to Friday nights out or pleasant sexual experiences. The pub seemed a microcosm of that not-quite-eternal city; it was standing room only, unless you could actually find a seat on the sides of the room. We had, and it was warm inside so I’d removed my scarf, jacket and second jacket down to but a t-shirt and jeans. Not long before leaving entirely I stepped out for a cigarette quite bravely without wearing warm clothes and when I tried to return, they were closed. Of course the pub wasn’t actually closed, but that’s what the security staff told me. I said my friends and jacket were inside, but they were indifferent. So I stood there jumping slightly up and down with my arms crossed for warmth, until the meat-heads said I could go back inside to get my stuff, under one condition: they’d be following me. Naturally, once I’d taken a few steps inside and turned around to check I was being followed, the bouncers had lost interest and were nowhere to be seen. The fuckers were merely messing with the rare Australian guy who’d mindlessly followed a beautiful woman to Clapham.

London Bridge from the Thames south bank

London Bridge from the Thames south bank

So after I uncharacteristically kissed her friends goodbye European style (one kiss on each cheek), Kristy and I headed for hers via another pub to visit the bathroom and the abovementioned bus ride which could have turned ugly due to my indiscretion. Unbeknown to us, Kristy had lost her wallet at either the second pub’s toilet or simply anywhere within the first. We got back to her flat and I was all ready to make my move – I have no idea how but it’s happened before and hope I manage it again – when she discovered her wallet was gone. That’s a big thing these days. I mean all those cards can be painful to replace and anxiety-inducing to possibly have on someone else’s person. Actually, it probably was worse to lose a wallet back in the days in which money wasn’t electronic. But still, she was hardly pleased. And it was hard to pretend that the hour or two she spent on the phone with places she’d been that night – investigating the location of her misplaced treasured possession – were arousing in the slightest. At least her couch was comfy. In the morning. Well, 1pm really. The next afternoon I didn’t give her so much as a hug before I stepped out of her door and onto a street that was more bewildering than any I’d yet come across during the two months of the trip so far, because my smart phone and hence only real means of navigation had died. I regret not hugging her. At the time I was planning on seeing her again that night, for the 12 Pubs of Christmas. That, I should explain, involves while dressed as Santa visiting and having at least a couple of drinks at 12 pubs (or taverns or bars) – or as many pubs as you can before you wake up in bed the next morning dressed as a less-than-jolly Saint Nick, wondering what the fuck happened. I’ll explain later on why I regretfully didn’t make it to that event. It had something to do with an unplanned twilight stroll through the slums of east-London. I also regretted my phone being dead. Regardless, and filled with fragile confidence constantly battered by a savage hangover, I set forth boldly down the road with extremely little idea of either where I was or where I was going, surrounded by very Dickensian-looking inner-suburban London.

I would have taken photos of Clapham, had my phone not depleted its battery.  God knows my camera would have become lost/stolen, had I taken it. This is Westminster, backgrounded by a simply mesmerising dusk sky

I would have taken photos of Clapham, had my phone not depleted its battery. God knows my camera would have become lost/stolen, had I taken it.
This is Westminster, backgrounded by a simply mesmerising dusk sky

US and UK – Love and Other Deprivations – Part Five of Nine

Queen's Road, Brighton

Queen’s Road, Brighton


“It’s my role in life to be an observer. I was not the perfect journalist – quite aside from whether anything or anyone can be perfect – but my observational skill was valuable to my craft. The most notable characteristic of women’s rise in the workplace is that aggressive, insensitive men should professionally fear them; and sometimes meek, sensitive men such as me must be wary of the positive or negative effects their ambitions could have. I like the fact that I’m able to think and act instinctively whether over the short or long term. And I don’t believe in love at first sight, though anyone with a heart and brain can, I think, see and speak to someone and be immediately at least on their way to love.” This was how I felt when I met Emma, in New York, only a few days before but several thousand kilometres away from where I presently am: Brighton, England. At a guesstimate I’d say it was Thursday December 6, 2012. That might be without taking into account the time difference between the US east coast and the UK, but if it helps I would spend Christmas Day in Scotland and had about two weeks to go before that. This day, whenever it was, Christ was not with me, as evidenced by the fact that since I’d woken up at 3am after only getting to sleep at about 1 or 2am, I went back to sleep after breakfast at about 10am. Then woke up at “4pm!!!” Emma, in one of her Facebook message replies that were increasingly gathering exclamation points of their own (not a good sign), said it best when she called my unholy sleeping pattern “a waste”. A very intelligent woman. More’s the pity. There was nothing for it: while I was supposed to be enjoying Brighton and possibly still salvaging some romance with one of its female natives, I also had to pull myself out of a sleeping cycle of engines blown mayday mayday tailspin into flaming wreckage proportions. Good times. With literally the whole night ahead of me, I found the most authentic British pub so far: The Market Inn. I stayed there for an Angus burger and chips, Guinness, cigarette, then returned to the hostel. I met a bloke named Bob, from Tamworth – country New South Wales – in my room so downstairs we chatted over a couple of mulled wines and rums, before both remaining in the lounge area so I could catch up on this journal and he could download music onto his laptop. At roughly this point Bob interrupted his data hoarding and came conspiratorially over to where I was sitting and scribbling; a little blue plastic wrapper in his fingers and a strange redness to his eyes I’d only just noticed.

Brighton's Pavilion Gardens

Brighton’s Pavilion Gardens

This plastic wrapper had two small sections, and one of them was torn and empty. The other section contained an apparently legal cannabis substitute called Blue Cheese. I had no idea what it really was, but Bob said he’d bought it at a Happy High Herbs-like shop in Brighton. So based almost solely on his eyes – though bloodshot – not appearing full of pure bullshit, to me, I decided to trust him. Newly recruited as partner in probably not literally crime, he stipulated to me that what we would smoke delivered a very intense high of about a 30 minute duration. My God! He was right. While keeping in mind that I’d previously sent myself into catatonic states by smoking stuff I didn’t ask enough questions about, I was resolved. So we prepared for the munchies by visiting a local convenience store for some chips and chocolate. Then beside a building near the hostel and overlooking the Atlantic, we toked that spliff away. I felt it in the plastic before Bob rolled it into a joint. It was hard; certainly didn’t feel anything like a herb, weed or plant. Instantly after inhaling, it was great.

“Wow,” I expressed to Bob. “I feel all warm even though I know it’s colder than Satan’s arse crack.”

He closed his eyes and nodded. Then shit got weird. First my skin started tingling. This lasted a minute or two. Then time began to distort. Tom was talking to me, but I had to sort of lean in because he sounded really far away, and underwater. Plus his muffled voice was going a million miles an hour while me, my movements and my own speech, seemed lazy and hampered by delayed reactions. It was like I was in a time vacuum. I was looking at a rapidly changing world from another, smaller, much different and slower world all of my own. Then I got the fear, and went to bed for, yep, you guessed it: 30 minutes. A half an hour spent lying rigidly on the top bunk rock hard mattress conceiving infinitely dark and numerous ways the world and everyone in it was out to get me. Bob was unfazed. He calmly lay on his bottom bunk next to mine, watching a movie on his computer. These actions might have calmed me if I hadn’t woven him into my paranoid delusions of persecution. Eventually, it passed like these things do and I tentatively crept down from my bunk, and said to Bob: “Well I guess I can go back downstairs now.” Grabbed my notepad and headed for the door: “Because I no longer feel like everyone down there could be the architect of my destruction.”

“Uh huh,” he simply said.

I warned him about how I was liable to react. Never saw him again. He’d taken off the next morning for London, where he was planning on spending the week partying like there was only seven days’ supply of every type of psychedelic drug left in the world. “Feigning ignorance is a useful survival skill. At the very least for exposing peoples’ ignorance or malicious natures. Or in the case of a deliberately lost taxi driver, a still proffered tip can actually inspire instant guilt in him. Well bought. After seeing only a small part of the outside world, I would define Australia as confused – culturally, sexually, geo-politically, and etcetera. So we take in people from all corners of the planet, profess to seek to learn about their cultures and laws so we might refine our own, but in reality many of us simply ignore or even ostracise our immigrants which leads to a country with many cultures. Instead of a national culture with many sub-cultures.”

Brighton Eye, early morning

Brighton Wheel, early morning

US and UK – Love and Other Deprivations – Part Eight of Nine

Deli east of the train station

Deli east of the train station


Amsterdammers’ Cycle Hire was down an alleyway amid the tangle of roads and alleys surrounding Brighton’s train station. So naturally I got lost trying to find it. But this gave me the chance to explore the artsy area off Trafalgar Street between the station and London Road. Maddening would be the best way to describe the eventual cycle to the beach while extremely tired and three sambucas down. Brighton’s streets really aren’t designed like most of Australia’s urban roads, with bike lanes, so I was obligated to duck and weave between double-decker buses and myriad other traffic to end up heading east along Marine Parade in the afternoon sunshine. The ride was largely uneventful, but at least I was getting some much needed exercise in order to burn off alcohol I hadn’t planned on having in my system. The cliffs of Dover are world famous, and many kilometres west of them just on the other side of the Brighton Marina Village I came across bleached-white imitations of them on the Undercliff Walk. This was the turning point of my ride, so I rested awhile with a cigarette and gazed off over the English Channel to France, before heading back. Once I’d breathlessly dropped the bike off at Amsterdammers’, I returned to the hostel via buying a copy of Oliver Twist from a street vendor. I had almost or actually finished Youth in Revolt, and Dickens seemed an appropriate purchase considering my present location and state-of-mind. To be precise, this was the afternoon in which Emma had decided finally to reject me. If not for how much I was enjoying her home town, I could have wished she’d been so decisive before I’d jumped on a plane from New York to get there. She made the “you’re a lovely guy, but” remark. Any girls reading this: never call a guy you’re rejecting “lovely”. Among many other things, it’s simply lazy and shows a lack of respect for the fact that someone regardless of how deserving has shown an interest in you. So I replied graciously, and went out alone to watch James Bond battle evil in Skyfall. It was cool watching Bond while surrounded by a bunch of British people. Bastards really got into it. I went to bed early after such a draining day, then woke up a couple of hours later and was forced to wait out the dance music playing below me, which was so loud it felt like I was trying to sleep on top of a music festival speaker. Finally, after a fitful hour or so sleeping in blessed silence, I quite without regret checked out of the St Christopher’s hostel and headed west with a full pack.

Brighton's cliffs

Brighton’s cliffs

Weariness, now, has overcome me – probably as it did while I walked from St Christopher’s to check in for a badly needed night’s sleep at a Granville Hotel private room. At almost 8000 words into the Brighton leg of my trip, and at the risk of needlessly expanding such a number further, I feel my narrative like my present journey is listless, joyless; full of the more run-of-the-mill details and missing many of the more interesting highlights. I’m drinking cheap shiraz, smoking Port Royal Original Rum and Wine tobacco and listening to 94.1FM Gold Coast Radio jazz. Why have I not either headed back to London or hired a car and surfing equipment and burned off toward Wales’ waves, by now? It wasn’t just because I still wished to bike to Devil’s Dyke. I also hadn’t yet managed to defer my flight back, not to New York, but all the way to Los Angeles on December 29. Procrastinating, I explored Brighton’s west, known as Hove, then took the last of my afternoon jet-lag catch up naps. Only took a bloody week! This time without any planning I found myself at The Brunswick pub off Holland Road and enjoyed not a big jazz band, but an enormous jazz band. Contented, with three pints in my system and countless instruments ringing in my ears, I retired to a bed which was just as hard as at St Christopher’s but bigger and minus the dance music playing until 2am. After an “excellent sleep!!!” I indulged in a complimentary breakfast of a bagel with smoked salmon and eggs before finally sorting out my needing to be adjusted flight at a nearby (working) traditional English payphone. During the hour I spent on this phone with Expedia and then American Airways, the positive was that I could delay and extend my flight to December 29 and Los Angeles for $900. The negative was that because I didn’t have a US credit card I had to present in person at Heathrow in order to pay for it, within two days. So, dreams of surfing the UK dashed, I checked back in to the Granville and spent my final afternoon in Brighton by working off my newfound daylight energy and lingering heartbreak by finally cycling to Devil’s Dyke. This time without coming across a sambuca wielding weirdo at the local pub, I hired another bike and aimed it toward London.

Marine Parade

Marine Parade

US and UK – A Small Sweet Bite of That Biggest of Apples – Part One of Five

New York City, looking across the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir on a cold November afternoon

New York City, looking across the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir on a cold November afternoon


New York. The Big Apple. And particularly in reference to my journey, what I’d term Mighty Manhattan. A place that has enjoyed arguably the greatest economic and cultural flowering of any one city at anytime in humankind’s history and endured probably the worst example of human ignorance and hatred in the form of the September 11, 2001 terrorist destruction of the former World Trade Center towers. Without forgetting the Holocaust and other war crime related tragedies, of course. Shit. How even and especially through a highly personal perspective do I adequately convey just how large in every way that place was, and is? I guess whatever I write will ultimately be dwarfed by that cultural colossus even as it joins countless creations laid at its artistic altar, so I might as well just quit stalling and get started, hey. A complicated yet not insurmountably difficult journey lay ahead of me from JFK International Airport, in Queens, through Brooklyn and under the East River to my Upper West Side, Amsterdam Avenue, Hostelling International New York domicile. It was late, about 11pm, and after trying to figure the logistics out on my smart phone, I gave up that approach and asked a random for their advice. It was to catch the Air Train to the E train which, within Manhattan itself, would connect me to the (what would become very familiar) One train. Keep in mind I’d never experienced a subway before, unless you count the one occasion while at San Francisco in which I went underground simply to buy a tram ticket. Which I don’t. Count, that is. But the friendly advice was sound, and I checked in at the hostel about 1am for one night – because my room was booked the following night. This meant I had to wake up after not nearly enough sleep, lug all my stuff downstairs, check out of my second floor dorm room and check in to one on the fourth floor I was lucky enough to be able to stay in for the rest of the week. This, and anything else I had to do within the hostel over the next few days, was more taxing than usual because of what I’d describe without exaggeration as the slowest elevator I’ve ever experienced. Seriously. I remember one day while waiting on the ground floor and bitching about it, with Jayapel the Indian guy with whom I’d shared a few beers and cigarettes out the front of the hostel. He made the astute comment that it was weird for a city famous for its frenetic pace to have such a slow elevator located anywhere within it. I suggested “Maybe the lift (as Yanks call them) engineer had a healthy sense of irony”. He chuckled, after which we probably waited another 10 minutes for the bloody thing to take us upstairs. Regardless and especially after the disappointment, due to my own health, of New Orleans, I wasn’t going to let that kill my Big Apple buzz. No fucking way! And, in any event, the glorious albeit grungy subway more than compensated for any time lost due to that slothful stair substitute.

Me, from within the Slowest Elevator in the World - Hostelling International New York City

Me, from within the Slowest Elevator in the World – Hostelling International New York City

Best Times Square photo I took.  It really was difficult to get a good shot of that shrine to excess

Best Times Square photo I took. It really was difficult to get a good shot of that shrine to excess

A place to rest my sure to be nightly wearied head secured, I walked around the corner to and followed West 104th Street straight to Central Park. This being early December, after the trees had lost all except their every leaf but before a snowfall: the park was quite dead. Few people, biting cold wind and intermittent cloud cover that kept most things, mostly, shadowed. Brown leaves drifted with wind gusts along and to the ground like mournful snow. But every so often, while for example standing on the Great Hill, looking downtown across the placid Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis reservoir or admiring a single weeping willow caressing the surface of The Lake in front of The Loeb Central Park Boathouse. Every so often, the sun would peek from behind passing cloud and reveal an almighty city seemingly hewn by some godly sculptor from a solid mountain of glass and concrete, within which I was presently standing he or she had also grown an enormous rectangular garden. The mortal awe it inspired was boundless. Deeply, instantly in love with the city and its heart and lungs that I’d found myself within, I spent the rest of the afternoon ice skating the Wollman Rink; alone but amid other tourists and New Yorkers, under Mid Town’s twilight shadow. It was “very pleasant” according to my notes, which is in some ways accurate and in many others a dramatic understatement. I visited the Smoke Jazz and Supper Club on Broadway that evening. The music was legendary. Really what I’d expected of New York. But the only problem was some bastard tried to ruin the atmosphere by launching into a loud coughing fit. That bastard was me. I still hadn’t completely escaped the unholy affliction that had dragged me down and almost killed me in New Orleans. I swear the woman running the joint was quite not empathetically shooshing me from behind, until an attentive barman passed me a glass of iced water. After sucking on the ice I managed three Scotches and Coke, enjoyed the rest of the gig and retired to bed – which was conveniently two blocks to the south-east. My first visit to Times Square came the next day, on Thursday December 6. Wow. I mean I wasn’t exactly impressed in many positive respects. More struck dumb by the greatest monument to advertising and natural resource wasting electricity I’ve ever seen. While surrounded by so much unnatural light concentrated in a roughly half-mile stretch of road, night turned to day and stayed that way eternally, in Times Square. After the obligatory few photos I made it back to the hostel on the good old number one train for some free beers and good music in the form of Baam! Formerly known, minus an “A”, as Bam, http://www.reverbnation.com describes the young musician-songwriters as “an energetic indie rock band with a strong jazz influence”. Couldn’t – I really couldn’t – have put it better myself. Supporting them was the darkly humorous, languidly melodic Superhuman Happiness. Possibly the best age-appropriate music I heard the whole trip, and I’d stumbled across it by returning to the hostel early. No plans: it’s the only way to fly. Or perhaps Publilius could put it better: “Malum est consilium, quodmutari non potest (A plan which cannot be changed is a bad one).”

Baam!  Awful smart phone photo, but excellent musicians, so there they are, dear readers

Baam! Awful smart phone photo, but excellent musicians

US and UK – A Small Sweet Bite of That Biggest of Apples – Part Five of Five

Ridin' those rails - 59th Street Station, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York

Ridin’ those rails – 59th Street Station, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York


It’s so appropriate that New York gets five blog posts. A real testament to its imposing in every way scale. Plus I know I, predictably, got enough photos to go with so many words, which is reassuring. This bit is worth the extra thousand words or so. You’ll enjoy it, I guarantee it, or your money (by which I mean time because of course you didn’t pay for squat besides data allowance to view this blog) back. Here we go! 5.15am. If that’s not shocking enough for you, I’ll spell it out: quarter-past five in the God, damn, morning. That’s after many drinks, loud music, enjoyable yet draining (for an introvert) company and going to bed at, oh, I dunno: 3am? And at the risk of throwing chronology out of kilter again so soon after getting it back on track, I’d say it must’ve been Tuesday, December 4, 2012. Not even 6am. Jesus. I would pay for it later. Pay with my heart. But at this moment it was prudent to live in the moment, or at least the very short-term future. In this sorry state I had to while hungover, savagely sleep deprived and carrying about 50 kilograms get to, then ride the subway through one of the most densely populated areas on the planet – thankfully before rush hour, and going in the opposite direction to most commuters. I had to go back the way I’d come when first landing at JFK International Airport a week earlier, which simplified matters. But the kicker was how it all began. I’d set an alarm, of course, but what I actually woke up to was Carlo shaking me because I’d slept through my alarm. I’d become the drunken alarm sleep through hostel staying wanker! The horror! The fear and fucking loathing! Unfortunately, I had no time presently in which to reflect on this episode of severe pain, because I was running late, so I mumbled thanks to my saviour – who promptly returned to sleep – endured one last trip downstairs on the Slowest Elevator in the World, threw my key card at the reception staff, and burst – as much as it is possible for anyone to “burst” anywhere considering my condition at the time – out on to Amsterdam Avenue.

A photo within Central Park, that I used at the end of my New Orleans blog posts, that by virtue of its singular beauty deserves to be used again

A photo within Central Park, that I used at the end of my New Orleans blog posts, that by virtue of its singular beauty deserves to be used again

Alright, and perhaps not so obviously: I made it. It was not, and I stress NOT, fun, though. While I was slumped within a carriage hurtling underground, and contemplating the positives of death, some bum moved through the carriage asking everyone within it for money by using some fabricated sob story. He got to me, looked me in my bloodshot eyes and moved on without even having a go. My aching, angry soul was clearly hanging somewhere beyond and around me, warding off anyone whether their disposition toward me was positive or not. A friendly yet probably naive young Indonesian woman unknowingly tried her best to improve my mood, when she asked me if I was going to JFK. Because, duh, that’s where she was going. She reminded me of the short amount of time I’d spent in Indonesia, in Jakarta, particularly, before a flight home from a surf trip in which I’d spent about 10 days on a boat with eight other Aussie gents and three native crew members – around an island west of Java called Panaitan. The boat’s crew, and my brief experiences with Indonesian mainlanders, imbued in me a lasting impression that Indonesians are beautiful, generous, if largely impoverished and sometimes corrupt people. I never saw her again after leaving the train. And I suspect she went in the wrong direction, because she was nowhere to be seen as I awaited the airport connecting Air Train. I hope her travels then and future journeys through the grand theatre of life treat her well. I arrived with plenty of time before the flight. It must’ve been later than I thought. I had a gin and tonic, which had by now become my airport drink of choice, and read and used the airport’s wifi. In between drifting in and out of badly needed sleep, I enjoyed watching movies – Total Recall and The Campaign – and TV shows – New Girl and Curb Your Enthusiasm – during my third international flight (not counting Vancouver-Vegas via San Fran). And finally, after looking out at darkness that might as well have been the endless emptiness of space, I was struck by lights below sprinkled across the flat expanse that was England, west of London and Heathrow International Airport. The Old Country. In many ways, despite my Irish and Scottish heritage: home.

A quite cynically and kind of bitterly hashtagged photo from my former Instagram account, which accurately conveys my mood at the time - while connecting to the JFK Air Train

A quite cynically and kind of bitterly hashtagged photo from my former Instagram account, which accurately conveys my mood at the time – while connecting to the JFK Air Train

US and UK – A Small Sweet Bite of That Biggest of Apples – Part Three of Five

Looking across Turtle Pond from Belvedere Castle, Central Park, toward Yorkville and East Harlem, Manhattan, New York

Looking across Turtle Pond from Belvedere Castle, Central Park, toward Yorkville and East Harlem, Manhattan, New York


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.

Wollman Rink and Mid Town, Manhattan, New York City

Wollman Rink and Mid Town, Manhattan, New York City

The Statue of Liberty, on my way to Staten Island

The Statue of Liberty, on my way to Staten Island

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.

Lady Liberty, on my way back to Manhattan, New York City

Lady Liberty, on my way back to Manhattan, New York City

US and UK – Big Easy Illin’ – Part Three of Four

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Tree-lined Esplanade Avenue led all the way from the French Quarter north-west to New Orleans’ Lake Pontchartrain straddling City Park. So, perhaps suicidally in my condition, I decided to walk the approximately six-mile round trip to, through and back from the park. After passing stunning French-colonial homes, relaxed bohemian cafes and clapboard churches, I was greeted by the New Orleans Museum Of Art at the park’s entrance, but didn’t go inside. This only literally walk in the park took me through the Botanical Gardens, within which lay bizarre sculpture and installation artworks such as a small-tree-sized red safety-pin. Then I drifted ghost-like through an almost devoid of buildings and other people, dry-grassed and overgrown north of the park to the Bayou Oaks Golf Course, where I swilled a Pepsi and took a photo for and of a group of Italian tourists on bicycles. “Uno, due, tre”, I said before clicking the shutter. The women giggled, and cycled away. I continued up Wisner Boulevard and Beauregard Avenue, the wretched illness inhibiting my every step, to sit beside the lake and gaze across it into the heart of those United States of America. Then I crossed the lake-fed Bayou Saint John to follow St Bernard Avenue past stately and not-so-stately homesteads to Harrison Avenue, which I used to cross back over Bayou St John to the park. I bought a burrito and homemade lemonade at the Pan-American Stadium – where a soccer match that sounded more like a Latino music festival was underway, and I swear I was the only person of non-South American descent there. Not for the first time, I had experienced that unique American reality: that by travelling through the US one can in many ways visit every country on earth. After following the sun setting through haze rising from distant swamps back to the dubious safety of the Tremé, a third night sleeping prostrate on Jo and Flo’s lobby floor followed. Then I spent Sunday doing little else but booking a Tuesday flight to New York and washing my clothes. The only two reasons I didn’t book the flight for Monday were first that it was cheaper the following day, and secondly I hoped to recover enough in order to enjoy one last night in New Orleans – exactly a week since I’d arrived. Final night sleeping in the common room, before a mid-morning delirium nap in a proper bunk bed then a checkout from Joe and Flo’s. Despite everything, I still have fond memories of that place. Memories of hiding out from a world that had briefly defeated me in the hostel’s backyard listening to jazz on my phone, smoking and watching stray cats stalk through abutting properties still recovering from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina damage.

Hiding from death - Joe and Flo's Candlelight Hostel, New Orleans, Louisiana, late November 2012

Hiding from death – Joe and Flo’s Candlelight Hostel, New Orleans, Louisiana, late November 2012

With one night left in the Big Easy, I walked with a full pack to the Olde Town Inn, north-east of the French Quarter in the Marigny area. According to conversations I’d had during the previous week, Frenchmen Street nearby the inn was famed. I walked it in the Monday afternoon sunshine, though felt a real fish out of water slinking through a street featuring poor black peoples’ homes. Though the south of the street did host some interesting looking music joints, this was not surprising as they were all gathered by or near the Mississippi, adjacent the French Quarter. Unfortunately, and depressingly, I simply still wasn’t strong enough for a night of loud music and heavy drinking; and the afternoon reconnaissance into Marigny’s beating instrumental heart only reminded me of what I would miss that night while lying disconsolately in bed before 11pm. Deliriously belligerent, I trekked into the French Quarter’s riverfront one final time to choke down a Hard Rock Cafe burger for dinner, which was accompanied by overbearing yet friendly service. After being assured “I bet I can tell you where you got your shoes” by a street-hustler for the last time I could tolerate, I limped back to the inn. But I guess I should explain the whole “shoes” scam, hey. During that fateful first but hopefully not final night ever out in New Orleans, I was quite aggressively yet smoothly stopped-short by an energetic black bloke offering shoe-shines.

“I bet I can tell where you got your shoes,” he drawled, pointing to the pair I bought in Las Vegas. “And if I can, you have to give me $10.”

This should be interesting, I thought, knowing there was no way he could even suspect I’d bought them in Vegas and that a grift (deprivation by deceit) was afoot.

“Alright,” I responded, figuring 10 American bucks would be worth the entertainment-value, “go ahead.”

He proceeded to clarify very quickly and lengthily something to the effect that he had never exactly said that he would tell me where I’d bought them, but simply where I got them. “You got ‘em on your feet,” he concluded.

I gave him the $10, he shined my shoes with a rag after spraying some unknown substance on to them, we grinned at each other, and then parted ways.

So you can surely conceive that by the fourth or fifth time from different swindlers that I’d experienced this routine, I was literally and figuratively sick of that particularly seedy aspect of New Orleans. Back at the inn I indulged in some escapism by spending a great deal of time finally emailing some photos of my now two weeks previous Pacific north-west road trip in a Wicked Camper to Mr Dudgeon. But it just made me miss the Dragon and that wonderful period of the journey prior to Las Vegas in which I wasn’t concerned I was dying from some unknown illness. And I was tired. And thoroughly tired of being sick. So I retired early to my surprisingly cheap private room.

French Quarter, looking toward Jackson Square

French Quarter, looking toward Jackson Square