Thursday, July 10, 2008

Layer Cake

Some places have so many memories in them; it practically chokes you to be near them. Manhattan is getting like this for me. I’ve been in the city for seven and a half years now and the island is awash in memories and flashes from the past. Tonight I headed downtown after the show to Comix to see Michelle Collins on her birthday, and the journey ended up being more like a trip back through time.

I first met Michelle after she blew the doors off PS122, a performance space downtown where Michelle did stand up in something called the WYSIWYG Talent Show, where bloggers get up and read from their blogs. I ended up doing the Talent Show twice myself, once doing a set of truly libelous celebrity stories in front of three people that killed and then later true tales of extreme drunkenness which ended up as the “live” season finale of my video podcast “The So Real Life” as well as the unofficial end of the WYSIWYG Talent Show. But Michelle endures, adding hilarity to our radio show, trips to the Olive Garden and most recently July 4th on Kevin and Christopher’s island.

I love Michelle so it was a given that I would abandon my usual early train home for a not-so quiet drink with her in Chelsea. I took the subway down and now that I live upstate and no longer take the subway, the experience was a revelation for me. I had forgotten the evil efficiency of the subway platform to retain all the cold of winter and all the heat of summer. The train deposited me on 13th Street at 7th Avenue and I walked across 13th toward the comedy club. Along the way I passed the Gay Center, where I ran into Cory out front when I was there to cheer Chip Arndt on when the AIDS Ride returned last fall. Cory, so full of Iowa goodness, who unwittingly helped me through my darkest hour two summers ago with a simple greeting at Therapy. Then it was on past the triangle shaped park that Dan and I walked around endlessly one sunny afternoon while very politely breaking up during the Pride Garden Party, June 2001.

Happily, I had never been to Comix so the ghosts of hot gay men past could not follow me in. True, Hell’s heavy gate was just around the corner, but not close enough to get me this time. Michelle looked beautiful, made up for the stage and wound up like a top. A whirling dervish, she spun fluidly from social friends to college friends to work friends, stopping only long enough to get a genuinely tasty margarita at the bar. As one of her friends pointed out, “The best five dollar drink in town.” I hate margaritas generally but on this one I am forced to agree.

While Michelle bounced back and forth, introducing me with unrealistically lavish praise, from friend “Red Eye” to comic “hilarious” to spouse “MoveOn.org,” my eye kept wandering over to the devastated pile of cake sitting in the middle of the center table. It looked like one of those houses that recently floated down the Mississippi out of Iowa and got stuck up against a metal train bridge. Every time Michelle left me alone for a split second, my fingers dove into the cake for another tiny wedge. “That was my last piece” I kept telling myself while simultaneously reaching in for just one more. I think I might be an addict. But the cake was very good. As usual, the frosting was just too sweet and much for me, but the cake was the real deal.

I couldn’t stay long. I wanted to take the midnight train home and I knew there would be a pile of other memories waiting for me along the way. The pizza place on 14th street where I tried to get a slice for Chi Chi La Rue and failed. Up near Times Square, my old Starbucks near my office at 1440 Broadway, where Tim and I finally made our peace, such as it is. The Mr. Softee truck by Bryant Park where I had to stop for a cone, like I always do. And finally the steps of the New York Public Library, where Dan and I first met, that warm spring day. I was just new to New York and in those glorious months before 9/11 the city was filled with all of the promise of a Sex And The City episode. And there under the watchful eye of the Chrysler Building, leaned up against the stone lion, my first Manhattan crush.

My cone finished, and my journey nearly ended, I wandered into Grand Central Station, as I have a 1000 times before. I used to walk through Grand Central on my way to work, thrilling to the sounds of that woman with the haunting voice who used to sing “Summertime” echoing through the hall. I still get a chill thinking about it. But there is also sadness for me there too. I can’t go down the West corridor without thinking of the horrible dark night Jonathan broke his cell phone. So many memories, rushing around me there, like the magical moment of dancing in The Fisher King.

And then the train home. I wish it was an escape, a way to wash clean those old memories in the calm waters of the Hudson River and start anew in the morning. But the memories, while triggered by places, don’t reside there. Good and bad, you can’t escape them, because they live inside you. And every day in the city is filled with the promise of new memories just waiting to be made. The memories layer, like Michelle’s collapsing birthday cake, mushing into each other, flavors you like on top of ones you don’t. Together a complete taste and experience, and sometimes, just a little too much.

1 comment:

Michelle Collins said...

This was one of the nicest things I've ever read... screw unrealistic praise, I mean it!! Thank you for everything.

I have something to give you. It will be in a small gift bag. Let's rendesvous on 6th ave sometime today.