LETTER EIGHT

THE LIGHTS IN NEW YORK CITY

 

DEAR SALLIE,

I know I said I wasn’t going to write until I was back in Toronto, but I felt inspired today, or maybe bored. Hard to say for sure.  We have talked at length about memory before and given that it’s Christmas I think it’s fitting that I get all sentimental and nostalgic for a few minutes and tell you a story.

 

The first time I came to New York City was during the Christmas break in 2004.

I was 12.

What I remember about that trip are the lights.

Like all tourists in New York City over the holidays, my mum, grandmother, and I, did the normal stuff. We went to see the big tree and the people skating at Rockefeller Center. We caught the Rockettes at Radio City. I think we went to that big toy store from Big (1988). We went to Times Square.

Like all twelve year olds dragged along for a holiday vacation with their family, I was bored and totally unappreciative. I'd seen big Christmas trees before. Besides, the one in my living room back home was better. I fell asleep during the Rockettes. Times Square is completely uninteresting to kids after about three minutes, once the initial shock of, look at all the screens! wears off. The toy store was fantastic. Although, it was too crowded and by 12 I had begun to feel guilty about asking my mum to buy me stuff.

There was something we saw that I did really like. I can’t remember why this existed, or where it was, but somewhere in downtown Manhattan winter 2004 there was a building covered with enormous illuminated snowflakes. I’m talking huge snowflakes! In my memory, there were probably at least fifty of these giant blue and white light-up things, all stuck to the outside of some building. And at age twelve, I found them utterly captivating.

It wasn’t because they were beautiful. Or because mounting this installation must surely have been a massive technical and engineering feat (which is probably how I'd see it now). It was because they lit up and flashed in time with the Trans Siberian Orchestra’s ‘Christmas Eve/Sarajevo’, which was blasted from speakers mounted somewhere on the building. Being 12, and that song being enormously popular in 2004, it was, of course, my favourite holiday jam. These snowflakes would, every fifteen minutes or so, light up and do their lightshow performance of ‘Christmas Eve/Sarajevo’, and it was awesome.

A few years later, let’s call it 2008, tenth grade, I went to my school's holiday concert (what we called The Christmas Show) and was lucky enough to see the school band perform it. Now usually I think almost everything done by a highschool kid is crap. When you’re in highschool you think you’re good at stuff, but you're not. However, the band happened to include a guy called Adam Mitchell. Adam Mitchell was one of those demigod-like students who everyone always referred to with their full name, and he was and still is a truly spectacular guitarist. He was a prodigy no question. And at 18 years old he was both superbly technically proficient and fucking savage. When he played ‘Christmas Eve/Sarajevo’ at the Christmas Show, complete with a full light show and backing orchestra—(our school had a big budget for The Christmas Show, and not much else)—I remember turning to my highschool girlfriend, who was sitting in the theatre with me (oh yeah, my school had a proper theatre), and saying, “Shit, wow”. We both knew we were seeing something amazing.

 

The second time I came to New York City it was exciting, but I didn't see anything as singular or as instantly unforgettable as those Trans Siberian Snowflakes. I went with my high school for our graduation trip. Us being an art school, we spent most of the trip going gallery hopping, which is fun, but not what you want to do when you're seventeen and in New York City with all your friends. On that trip I was served my first glass of wine at a little restaurant in Greenwich Village. I did not look 21. Not even a little.

I’m halfway through my second sip of their cheapest red and one of my teachers walks into the restaurant and comes right up to my table and asks me if I’d seen some other kid from our class. I froze, the wine glass held before me in mid-air, and said I nope. And she left. There was no way she didn’t see it, I mean she had to have, but she turned a blind eye. Sweet woman.

 

The third time I came to New York I was 21 and in university. I went on a whim over spring break, buying the bus tickets a day before I left. I wanted to see a photo exhibit. There's actually very little that I remember about that trip other than the smell of roasted cashews from a cart on the street outside my crappy hotel, and discovering the glory that is the bacon, egg and cheese on a roll.

 

At the moment when I’m writing this, I’m wandering around the city. Right now, I’m at 8th Avenue and 19th looking at a Starbucks and trying decide if I want anything. It’s my day off and I’m just walking around. I’ve only got a few days left in the semester. I’ve already handed in my last assignment, so I’m free to wander.

I bought my plane ticket back to Toronto a couple of days ago, and I'm getting really excited to be back. This is been my fourth trip to New York—although I don't think trip is really the right word—and it wasn't until just earlier this week that I had one of those moments like the Trans Siberian Lightshow that I know will just stick with me for the rest my life:

There's a fairly long walkway at the entrance to my university. It's all interlocking stones and it’s lined on either side by narrow boulevards with trees. The last several weeks the grounds crew has been putting up lights all on these trees. A couple of nights ago I was heading to the university fairly late, 11-11:30pm—I had a project I wanted to finish up and I thought sitting in in the library might be more productive than sitting at home. When I got off the subway at 116th St., the stop closest to my university, I saw for the first time that they had turned on all those lights. The stone walkway between brick buildings all covered in wrought iron details and railings, was lit up by thousands of lights, all shimmering and starlight-gold.

All I could do was stop and stare.



I'm at 7th Avenue and 21st St. now, and I’m starting to get a little cold. I decided against buying a cup of coffee, and I regret it. I might catch a train up to school. There’s free coffee there, and I’m broke.

It is getting a bit too cold to keep writing, I think. Plus, I look like an idiot, taking notes like this as I’m walking along the street alone. I’ll see you soon, yeah? When I’m back in Toronto? I’m not sure how long I’m staying after Christmas, but you've got to come down here in the New Year! I've got a couch if you've got a bus ticket.

Cheers,
H.D.