“Whattaya mean it’s ‘just’ New York?” is probably how she’d say it, except she wouldn’t speak with a dragged out Italian/Jewish accent or use contractions. She’s Aisha, the girl who showed me NYC by way of showing me her favorite places to eat and drink in the big city.
When I said visiting the people of New York is better than just visiting New York, I meant her.
NoLiTa. LES. SoHo. Times Square. Union Square. The Rock. We walked those the first time I was there in March 2013 and the places we visited gradually became my personal version of a New York visit. In contrast, I’ve never been to the Empire Estate, Statue of Liberty or Brooklyn Bridge. I’ll save those for a time when I travel and I cannot meet with a good friend to show me the other, real stuff.
Aisha is an NY Law School graduate who moved from California to study in the east and just like most people who see The Big Apple for the first time, she probably fell in love with it, to the point where she walks that big ass jungle like she owns it. Waiting on those walking green lights? Ain’t nobody got time for that.
During my second visit, we only saw each other one day because of her work schedule. This time I got to meet her boyfriend Mike, also a Law School graduate who struck me as a very nice guy. Like seriously, these two embody the antithesis of every New York cliché I’ve heard. They take things really calm, no fuss, no hurry, often smiling or goofing off and showing plenty of patience for a guy with a bunch of questions.
On that day, we met by the Best Buy store in Union Square, since Aisha had to go to one of the stores nearby to change a piece of clothing. I think it was shoes, but can’t remember. Then we waited for Mike and we tagged along to get a bite. On the way, Aisha explained how we had met back when I was working at the hostel in Panama and we went on a daytrip to a beach in Portobelo, Colón with some of the members of the hostel staff. Everyone had a chill time that day and since then we kept in touch whenever I was going to NY.
Before meeting, Aisha hyped this halal “place” which turned out to be a street cart by Union Square. That was some good halal, but the experience was enhanced by our choice of where to eat it. It was a gay/lesbian bar in the street nearby. We got in there and started eating, at which point we realized that gay bars serve really cheap beers in New York. Take that as a pro tip, if you’re ever really thirsty on a budget.
So we’re sitting in the bar eating food and drinking, with Mike and Aisha sitting on one side of this low wooden bar table and me on the other. I’m facing the entrance and while I’m eating I get a glance every once in a while, which got me thinking, maybe the people in this bar think Aisha is tagging along with Mike and I. Which was weird, but funny.
In any case this is where I tell the story of the tiger dream.
The Tiger Dream
The halal was pretty good, but it was way more than I could eat. So instead we caught up and talked about what I was doing and where I was going and so on. Both Aisha and Mike heard the whole spill which by now seems tiring to repeat.
But then, I started talking to them about how one of my goals in the trip was to bathe an elephant. The reason being that I felt like it was a rite of change.
Back in 2011, when I was working at the hostel in Panama I had this dream that was so livid I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. It was back in the heyday of my time at Luna’s Castle. I was having lots of fun, meeting new and exciting people every day, and generally discovering a part of myself I didn’t know I had.
That’s when one night I dreamt something weird, but amazing. Astonishing even. I dreamt I was fucking a tiger. Not just fucking a tiger, like having sex with it, but also doing so while free falling from the sky. Like skydiving without a parachute.
Now, wait a minute.
As bad as I know it sounds, stay with me for a minute. I’ll try to redeem myself. The tiger who doesn’t show as male or female in the dream (it was a dream, I didn’t get around to ironing out the details) didn’t like me having sex with it. It clawed and growled at me as we kept spinning and falling in the air. It was beautiful and at the same time messed up, because it would try to claw at my face and I would dodge and then punch it while continuing to bang it.
So by now, I could see it in Mike and Aisha’s faces. They couldn’t believe what they had just heard me say. They’re like “alright… ok” and we are all aware that the conversation has gone to a dark place, which is kind of why I like telling the story in the first place. So I continue onward, looking for the light out of this tunnel I got ourselves into.
I woke up in a cold sweat that morning, chest pounding. Feeling weird, but also strangely enlightened. Like that scene in Boogie Nights, when you see the dream with Dirk Diggler written all in neon lights blowing up:
That kind of enlightenment. The dirty, mischievous, but ego-propelling kind. The I-got-tar-for-blood-and-can’t-die-Keith-Richards kind.
You see, the way I interpreted the dream is that the tiger was the world. And the world does not like to get fucked. On the contrary, in spite of all the things you’ve achieved and all the good people you know, the world doesn’t give a damn and will — if you let it — screw you over. Not because it’s mean or because it’s got something against you personally, but because everyone else is also trying to avoid getting screwed by it, which turns us all into a big running herd, trying to stay as far in the front as we can.
But the dream was over.
I woke up to realize that, if I didn’t try to do what I wanted with my time, I’d go desperate and the tiger would win. I’d be dead before hitting the ground. We’re all falling and it’s just a matter of time, but we gotta do our best to bang the shit out of that tiger before it’s all over. Make it to that Tiger Bang Hall of Fame, if you will.
So that was me back in 2011. I was 26. And now, my life had changed. I’d gone from being the guy who was partying every week while working to being the guy who had travelled around the world and seen stuff way beyond what I thought I’d see in my lifetime. Like a storm just passed and I’m just standing in front of the one house that wasn’t torn up and whisked away with everything else.
I’d gone from being the tiger fucker to being the elephant bather. Now I wanted to find peace in taking care — not hurting — a beast much bigger and stronger than I am. Hoping I could find some sort of meaning to how everything led to this moment in time.
Aisha and Mike probably weren’t sold on how I landed that analogy. Perhaps they’ll be scared of me for the rest of my days, but then again I guess so will anyone who reads this and then goes “that boy’s got problems”. In any case, my halal was cold and our beer was gone, so we left the place.
Bricks and Frogs
After that we hit the East Village, with its beautiful brick buildings and a curious place called the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop, which was pretty fucking awesome. This is where the “New York magic” starts to kick in. Here’s a place that’s decked with rainbows and a pretty cool She-ra action figure (because, fuck He-Man, right?) on a unicorn, no less. They have an ice cream called The Salty Pimp, and it was the best ice cream I had in 2014.
It wasn’t the ice cream alone that made the experience worthwhile though. The lady at the counter serving the sweets could’ve been in her mid 40s and she noticed I was acting like a typical foreigner, all big-eyed, marveled at the design of the place. As usual, she asked where I was from and then we got into the whole beauty of the “older parts of town” as she called it (“you should really see Brooklyn. It’s changing”); she hated the big buildings in Manhattan (“all that glass”).
She then told me that when she used to live closer to the East Village, that she loved hearing the sound frogs and crickets made at night, in the marsh next to her building. She said nowadays it is a soothing sound that brings her back when she’s lucky enough to hear it and that when she moved out of her family home and the sound was gone she had problems sleeping.
I loved talking to this lady. It was a random conversation, sure. But it was also a genuine one, about nothing extraordinary. Just people. I figure that if I lived in New York I could probably have lots of conversations like that every week.
Time to Say ‘Goodbye’
Aisha somehow discovers these amazing places between her time at work and life, then freely shares them with me when I can visit. New York is just that kind of place, where if you’re observant and curious, you’re always tapping into that next cool joint that only serves mac ‘n’ cheese or that place that serves cupcakes the size of your head.
Seeing Aisha and Mike was easily the best sendoff I could have hoped for in my adventure. It made me hopeful that I’d be as happy as they were upon my return. We said our goodbyes at the Starbucks by Union Square and I stayed for a while just looking at the plaza, while stealing wi-fi from the overpriced coffee joint. Finally I decided to walk around and got into a Barnes & Noble because books.
I still haven’t seen Central Park or the Charging Bull up in Bowling, but I know what an Artichoke’s pizza slice tastes like, I know a really cool place that serves deep fried Oreos with powdered sugar, and I can tell you what line you need to get on if you’re going to the 5 Pointz in Long Island or the Nintendo World Store in Rockefeller Center. The LEGO Store is right by that too if you want directions.
If I could work and live anywhere in the world, I wouldn’t think too much about it. I would go to New York City. I would just walk streets all the time and I would probably just enjoy seeing new places and not having to drive, and picking apart all the curious things I see as I wait for a train or look through an elevator window.