HE TRAVELLED a long way to get here. Ten thousand miles on a cargo ship. He was twenty years old. He waved goodbye to his mother and his friends on the dock. His mother was crying. She turned and walked quickly away. He wanted to run after her. The gangplank was up. What had he done? He cursed the chief magistrate.
The dock became smaller. It slipped away. All the people disappeared.
He shared a cabin with a religious fanatic who read the Bible day and night. The religious man looked at the shabby paperback the young man was reading: A Season in Hell by Arthur Rimbaud.
“We are all going to hell,” said the religious man.
“Go alone,” said the young man.
He went up on deck. A large beautiful woman was leaning on the railing. He stood next to her.
“Hello,” he said.
She looked at him with contempt.
“Beautiful ocean,” he said.
She sneered and walked away, fat ass swaying.
“For god’s sake,” he said to her fat ass, “say hello for god’s sake, we’ll all be dead soon.”
On the second day the boat steamed into a storm. He had been told when he boarded that the boat had no stabilizers. He didn’t know what that meant until now. The old boat tipped over one way, almost all the way, and then it tipped the other way, almost all the way. People stayed in their cabins and threw up.
The religious man read the Bible aloud: “I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest…”
“A pox on your throat, you bawling dog,” said the young man, remembering his Shakespeare.
He lurched from the cabin, staggered along the pitching passageways and clambered up on deck.
It was daytime but the sky was black. The rain hammered the deck. The wind screamed. He gripped the railing. The boat tipped over almost all the way and then for some reason righted itself and came back the other way.
He was swallowed by the waves crashing over the deck, but he hung on. He wasn’t scared and he wasn’t seasick. He was invigorated. He didn’t worry about the outcome. He lived in the moment.
No one died and no one went to hell and the boat pulled into New York harbor and the young man bade a flourishing farewell to the large beautiful woman, with regret that he would never have the opportunity to unfold her prodigious labia; and flicked an extravagant wink at the religious fanatic, with the hope that he would get to heaven—and then, canvas suitcase in hand, he walked to Times Square.
He was six feet tall and 160 pounds with light brown hair. He was wearing a blue cotton shirt, black leather jacket, blue jeans and black Alfani loafers, all of which had weathered several storms.
He stood in the center of the great city. He had seen it so many times in movies. The packed sidewalks, flashing neon, stunningly beautiful women, rubbernecking tourists, endless streams of yellow taxis, men in hardhats ripping up the street with jackhammers. He was riveted by the noise of it all, the exotic, erotic, overwhelming madness of it all.
He didn’t want to look like a tourist. He kept walking, a man with a destination. He walked to Ninth Avenue and turned right. He had arranged lodging before he left and secured it unseen with an international money order. A furnished room on 48th Street. A third-floor walkup. Number 3C on the door. And inside, a wooden floor, double bed, chest of drawers, black and white television and a tiny bathroom.
He put his suitcase on the bed and unpacked. He opened one of the drawers. A cockroach was already living there. He put his clothes in another drawer and sat on the bed. He looked out the window at the fire escape landing. His own private balcony.
He was alone in the city. He knew no one. He didn’t care. This was his room. This was his address. He was in New York City. He would never leave.
“I’ll never leave New York, brother,” he said to no one, perhaps to the cockroach.
He walked to Times Square. It was now the center of his soul.
“Hello,” he said to a wild-haired girl who was looking all around. “What’s in the knapsack?”
She looked him up and down. He looked all right.
In his room she put the knapsack by the bed. Her body was warm and strong. She was about eighteen. She was hungry with need. He was hungry with loneliness. Afterwards, they slept. When he woke up she was gone.
A week later he received a post card of a print of Picasso’s “Guernica.” It was from the girl with the knapsack. On the back of the postcard she had written in a childish hand, “This is how I felt when I left your room.”