I am going to start this post with a foreword. The tale that follows may give the impression that I am not excited about moving to America. I would just like to be clear and say that I have been living here for a handful of weeks now and I am living in a near-constant state of boggle-eyed excitement. Here are some reasons why, in no particular order of importance.
- Almost every beverage known to man is available to purchase by the gallon here.
- My apartment is enormous and right round the corner from campus.
- I have finally got a handle on the metro, well, enough to get to midtown and back at least.
- There is a shop that delivers cookies to your door until 3am.
- The library is so huge I can always get a seat (that one maybe only fellow nerds will appreciate.)
- I have discovered that even after two years away from academics I can still read!
- I am officially registered for enough credits and will not get deported for not having a full course load.
- … I live in New York.
Ok, I’m done boasting. 🙂
I was reading Joan Didion on the plane over here. It probably wasn’t a strong choice. She is a total joy suck. Every last shred of happiness or contentment that you have squirreled away she will find and vaporize. A potent brand of misery breathes from the pages of some of her books. This is not your basic favourite-character-getting-killed-off-in-a-rock-slide kind of thing or the downward turning mouth of unrequited love. This is deep, slow, inexorable misery of the existentially moribund beautiful woman in a loveless marriage. Page after sluggish page of interminable depression that throws shadows over the sun and robs the stars of their shine. She’s kind of a downer.
So landing at JFK to start my new American life I was in a pretty introspective mood. Smart move, I know, to cross the Atlantic with an Olympic level buzz-kill on my kindle. But she did get me thinking about one thing that didn’t make me want to spend the next twenty years hiding under my duvet. Nose-deep in a novel you know exactly what to feel. Miserable writing evokes misery, funny writing makes you do that goofy thing where you burst out laughing in a public place. Etc. Here’s the crunch though. In real life it’s not so easy. Real life tends to take its thumb and violently smudge the emotional clarity of a moment, blurring it with things like hunger, having to pee, a long form to fill out, fees, people with the spacial awareness of a fossilized dinosaur turd and the manners to match. I have been known to be uneasy on airplanes: take off gives me the heeby jeebies. But the flight to New York had been fine, minus a few bumps and Tom Cruise’s total lack of sex appeal in Oblivion, it was a breeze. So we land. I’m officially in America, my life as a grad student is finally beginning. I should be excited, brimming over with giddy happiness, buzzing with giggly anticipation.
I am bored.
Bored. Bored to tears. We are taxing toward the airport at the speed of a centipede with 100 shin splints. Then we stop for a bit and the captain spouts some garbage about being early, which of course means you have to wait until you’re late before you can go anywhere. We move a bit. Stop. Move a bit. Listen to some excuses. Move a bit. Stop. Massage our pins and needles. Move a bit. Stop. 500 years later we’re let off the plane to join the ample queue, sorry, “line,” it’s not a queue here, it’s a line. We move a bit. Stop. Move a bit. Listen to the world’s most inane family compete for each others attention. Move a bit. Stop. Make forlorn jokes with fellow queue victims. Move a bit. Stop. Stop some more. You can see how the excitement, so mandatory in theory when arriving in one’s new home, could get hopelessly lost in transit.
Then I’m a little nervous. That bizarre, unaccountable nervousness that is a glorious part of the customs process. Have I got the paper work right? Am I actually going to be allowed into the country? What if they turn me back? What if I’m falsely accused of some customs infraction and arrested on the spot? What if they go through all my bags right here in the airport? What if I just have to turn around and go home right now?”Welcome to America. Enjoy your stay.”
So now I’m through customs, now I can be excited right? Wrong. I’m knackered. And travel-gritty. My eyes are a bit sore, as is my head. I have more possessions than the King of Siam so I am wrestling heavy bags. I keep banging into people and banging my bag against my thigh. My hair is reacting to the NY summer humidity and frizzing into my eyes, which is driving me nuts. I smell a bit like I just spent 7 hours in a confined space with 300 other people. Excitement is on the back burner for a little longer.
I’m at the hotel I’ll be staying in until I move into my Upper West Side apartment. Surely I can be excited now?! It smells like aromatherapy candles, a hunky man is carrying my bag for me. The air conditioning is blissfully cool against my skin. The hotel itself is beautiful, an elaborate chandelier hangs low over the front desk. It’s very modern too, which is good fun: the lobby is approached by an escalator lit in bright lime green strip lights embedded in the frosted glass walls. There are small groups of chairs and benches scattered throughout the spacious lobby. They have that rich organic look: driftwood that’s been shipped in from distant exotic beaches and varnished especially for weary journeyman rumps to rest on. The lighting is low, soothing to eyes strained by fluorescent airport lighting. Behind the front desk is a vast wall of glass, looking out over a kind of zen drinking garden, like a beer garden but for elaborate cocktails involving tequila and blue curaçao. Over the right hand wall is a rambling creeper plant of some kind. Maybe ivy. (Hey, not a botanist.) I am so nearly free to be excited at this point. I’m in my own little world, taking in the hotel, on the lookout for beautiful, sophisticated Americans of the type Hollywood has informed me are abundant in New York. I can feel a grin pulling at my lips, there’s a giggle trapped under my rib cage, tickling me to get out.
But oh wait. Here’s a nice dose of embarrassment to put me in my place. The concierge is chatting away as he checks us in.
“So what brings you to New York.”
“Oh, Lauren’s moving here.” Proud Dad pipes up.
“Oh for school.”
“Which school. NYU?”
“Columbia.” Proud Dad is proud. I am embarrassed… and a little proud, not going to lie.
“Oh great. What are you studying?”
My turn to pipe up. “American Studies.” Nervous giggle.
“Oh, I can give you a lesson in America any day.” Dumbstruck silence on my part.
Hello and welcome to America, where we will level scorchingly inappropriate sexual innuendos at you in front of your Dad. Enjoy your stay!