Two months before I graduated college I sat in a cafe at Astor Place with a notebook. I was still at school upstate, staying alone in a friend’s basement-level one-bedroom on my spring break while she was at SXSW. I wrote four angst-filled pages about the uncertainty of my rapidly advancing future, about the paralysis of my anxiety, about fear, and about those mornings when the air is just cold enough and the sunlight on Broadway just angled enough and it seems the whole world opens up before you as you walk to work, coffee in hand.
I drew a messy sketch of the corner and wrote something about the geography of our paths, a record of our movements, a historical topography of the city and our lives. The building where I sat is no longer there - though, certainly, there are greater losses than that of the Starbucks across the street from the other Starbucks at Astor Place. But it’s still a place on this map, this time lapse map of my life, six years of my life in this city, traced out in all the places I’ve walked and lived and loved. A history winding out behind me, my life in New York, my life that I’ve been living.
The last few pages of the notebook are lists of songs: an ongoing ledger which I updated religiously, from when I started the notebook sometime in 2005 to when it finished in 2008, as much of a history as the hopelessly solipsistic journal entries, magazine clippings, and concert tickets that fill the rest of pages. New Order, Depeche Mode, My Bloody Valentine, Songs: Ohia, Cat Power, Nina Nastasia, Low, Ida, Sparklehorse, Radiohead, The Magnetic Fields, Phoenix, Mirah, Four Tet, Pulp.
Living in New York infects you with a sort of deluded narcissism, something utterly false but utterly engrossing, an overblown sense of self importance thanks to the romance of the backdrop — especially when you are young and naive and already prone to things like “making lists of the songs you’ve been listening to.” The narrative fallacy: me and my music video life, forever and always wind-blown in a leather jacket walking down the Bowery or whatever. Always getting out of a cab — the leg first, black tights, a high heel — when it’s just beginning to snow. Always a little bit drunk and a little bit sad on the corner of Houston and C just after midnight, midsummer. Always alone in the park, just after sunrise, my breath before me and the frost crisp on the patchy grass, while the rest of Brooklyn still sleeps.
There is something about New York that does that to you. I try to line them up, that map and that soundtrack. How many songs have I listened to here, on this train. How many people have I known. How many times have I looked up at these buildings and felt the rush of possibility run through me, and how many times have I felt my stomach sink and cried behind my glasses.
Rainer Maria on a CD player in the Broadway-Lafayette station, a humid June afternoon in 2002, cutting class from high school. Velvet Underground on a record player in Greenpoint. Arthur playing Satie on the piano in the loft in Hell’s Kitchen sometime after dark the summer I finished college, in his underwear and a velvet blazer. Ryan Adams as I walk alone down Avenue A in mid-October, that song by that band Fredrik who I know nothing else about as I walk up First Ave in the quiet dark after a blizzard, early December, past the Christmas tree vendors near St Marks Church. The lanky boy I dated for a few months playing guitar softly, some almost-familiar melody, in the next room while I half-slept, early morning light.
Late night on East Third near Second Ave, cold, raining a bit. There’s a boy further down the street, a silver trumpet in his hand. He doesn’t see me and I pause as he lifts it to play. A bit faltering, the first few notes sour brass, and then suddenly clear, ringing out over and above the rush of tires against the wet asphalt.