That opening piano playing, gentle, delicate, and instantly familiar, immediately puts me at ease once I start to hear it. Yesterday morning, I was riding Metro North with Taylor en route to go hiking at Breakneck Ridge. We had just passed Spuyten Duyvil and that's when I put on my headphones and lost myself in the scenery out the window, lost myself in the sound coming through my headphones, Billy Joel's beautiful ode to New York, "Empire State of Mind."
He was reading a book. I was listening to Billy Joel and thinking back to the years I have spent in this town, how it is definitely home for me at this point in my life, and how I am increasingly having a difficult time ever imagining myself elsewhere.
A couple weeks ago, there was a fantastic piece, "Street Life," by Joseph Mitchell that The New Yorker teased its readers with, the first chapter of his never completed, never published memoir. I am so hungry to somehow read the rest of this story because it ends on a note that mirrors my own relationship with this city. The piece is a recollection by Mitchell about how much he loves exploring this city by walking around it block by block, riding subway lines to random stops, taking buses to neighborhoods he has never been, and being overwhelmed with all there is to take in in this city, its great variety of life. There are such strong echoes of Walt Whitman throughout the piece, this cataloging of things and sights and taking joy in it all, the experience of being a part of it.
It's a beautiful little essay, but again just a tease, because toward the end of it, Mitchell talks about the experience that anyone who has spent a bit of time living in this city knows, about when the love affair is over, when it seems that this is not the city for you. The piece closes with Mitchell saying that during one of his wanderings, this time around Washington Market, he experiences something that takes him out of his depression.
I want so badly to know what this experience was, and yet am also happy to not know what it is, to have to come about that moment on my own, to find my own Washington Market.
And so, I am riding on this train, Metro North, to go hiking in the woods with a boy I don't know too well, that I met a week or so ago, but who I find myself really attracted to and who I find myself wanting to spend a great deal of time with. He is moving away from this city in a month, moving to Portland. He is over it. I sometimes am, but am other times so in love with this city, head over heels in love with, graffiting its name under bridge in love with. Those opening piano chords start and I exhale and I admit that I can't go anywhere else, that this is home.
"Some folks like to get away/
take a holiday from the neighborhood/
hop a flight to Miami Beach or to Hollywood/
but I am taking a Greyhound on the Hudson River Line."
And so maybe it wasn't a Greyhound I was on, maybe it was a commuter rail line, but the song was having an incredible effect on me as I rode along the Hudson River, hearing these lyrics, looking at rail yards, small towns, leafless trees, and bits of ice bobbing in the river.
There was snow on the ground, a thing we had not really anticipated when we decided to make this trip. We scaled rocks, slippery and big. We made it to the top of these rocks and lay in the sun and made out on a rock overlooking the Hudson. The hike down went on and on, the trails covered in slippery snow, which our tennis shoes weren't doing much to keep from soaking our feet. The sun got lower and lower. We made out of the woods before it was entirely set.
We ate burgers, drank beers, and caught the train back to New York City. We watched "Drag Race" with friends at Macri Park and then went to Metropolitan for dollar PBRs. I was ready to be home. Metropolitan was like what I imagine a sad Berlin gay bar to be, mainly because of the terrible dance music that was being played. The music was really putting me on edge and making me vaguely paranoid. I said goodbye to Taylor.
Waiting for the train, I put on my headphones, played a particular Billy Joel song, and calmed down, immediately felt better, felt secure about where my place was in this world, believed I had a home.