Being There, Being Here
As I followed the camera into the lobby and fixed on the familiar features of Stanley Bard, I tried to resist the inevitable nostalgia -- after all, nostalgia’s not what it used to be -- and to simply enjoy the show. Fred Guilhaus, another novelist, was visiting from Adelaide. He’d once sent me the words of Leonard Cohen’s song and we’d laughed at the typical Cohen rhyme: giving me head/unmade bed.
For a long time after Robyn and I returned to Australia we couldn’t talk about New York. The feeling of being away from everything -- reflected in the yearning voice of your Sydney correspondent -- was too painful.
What do I think now? I’ve just finished my fourth novel, called “The Museum of the Self,” in which the protagonist cleans up his shed, mourns his losses and begins to construct a museum of his life. He’s a bit like me. I still have my membership card of the McBurney YMCA, member since 11/11/1999. Before that, I have a memory of staying there in 1969, when I had taken a train down from Toronto to pick up a battered VW, shipped to Elizabeth, New Jersey from Germany. At the McBurney that first time, I witnessed a brutal inter-racial punch-up between a redneck New Yorker and a much larger African American. It was like everything else in America: too sudden, too loud, seductively dangerous.
Now, nostalgia’s a luxury I can’t afford. I can live at the Chelsea any time I like, go there in my head, read the thousands of words I’ve written about the place, imagine you two writing and publishing your wonderful blog, wonder what Tony Nota is up to, all without leaving home. And pray that Stanley resists the inevitable pressure to condominimize. As for the queen in her penthouse across the road, she needs a personal taste trainer.
At the end of the show, the kids recalled for our visitor some New York adventures: how we turned the couch against the wall in Tony’s apartment so Clare wouldn’t fall out of bed; how we watched a dramatic fire across 23rd Street from our apartment window, the Chelsea sign reflecting in the floods of water the engine were pumping into the street; how we somehow all crammed into one room for our two month stay at the old palace; how a mix-up about the rent left us facing eviction; how at the end of our stay we packed all our belongings into a taxi and left for our next digs with barely a whimper.
But I don’t miss it, oh no. Not a bit. Not much.