March 1st, 2015.
The space. Blocks. Delirious. Rectangle. Square. Rhombus. Orthogonal equilateral quadrate. I can think of many more synonyms to make this intro literarily more appealing. I really can.
Looking down on the vast Saint Lawrence estuary through the porthole is a first shock. I imagine Eskimos fishing on the island beneath. North of Saint Lawrence there is nothing, as far as the eye can see. White. Nothing. I have never seen this much of nothing.
Before entering New York City airspace, we fly into a snow blizzard. It obstructs our view of the skyline. Left and right, I hear dissatisfied grunts. Below the wet flakes, I catch sight of black rectangles in a white plane. Endless. Regular and limitless enough to frighten me. How could they? Within each square one solemn house, wooden and dull. Weighed down by snow. Incapable of more harm.
First contact. “Ooh”, the black and heavyset police officer at passport control yodels with a pitch way too high for his size. The name “Jefferson” flickers on his police badge. “Oo-ooh”, he yodels on, adjusting his glasses and going through my immigration forms. I stare at his figure. It makes me think of a mountain of slush with a hood on top. If that makes any sense.
“My-my”, he sings, “this document right here says you are a Ful-bright scho-lar. Is that correct?”
“Ooh. That means you must be very good at what you’re doing. Else they wouldn’t have given you the grant.”
“What if I was the only applicant?”, I joke for modesty.
“Now don’t you be saying that now.” He takes it bad and turns back to the computer screen. “Mm. Mm.”
I look into the country. JFK is not as fresh and clean as I had expected it to be. Far from it. What’s in a name?
“This right here says that you are a journalist. Is that correct?”, he yodels some more.
“May I ask – what kinda journalist exactly?”
“Investigative. I write.”
He looks up from the files, at me, and fathoms for an instant.
“Then let me ask you the following: would you define yourself as someone who is concerned with telling the truth?”
“In that case, may I be frank?”
“Over there”, and he points in the direction I had just been gazing in, “you must know people have long forgotten about the truth. Be prepared for that. They think it’s entertainment. Nobody knows the difference between what is real and fiction anymore and our journalists are to blame for that. They are the ones who started it. They say they write about the truth. But it is nothin but entertainment. So can you make me a promise, just before you go in there and disappear into that huge country of ours?”
“As you walk in, that you will commit to telling the truth about what is happenin?”
“Alright then. Then I think there is no reason to keep you here anymore, is there?”
“No”, I smile.
He stamps my passport.
“Have a great day.”
A small shock. Disbelief. No one has ever wished me a great day before. But he seems to mean it. “You too, have a great day, officer Jefferson”, I stammer.
“Ooh”, a jolt and a quaint smile. He turns to the next in line.
The cover of Sports Illustrated shows all-American fake-yet-modestly boobed blond bombshell Hannah Davis pulling down her bikini brief, stopping right before it’s too late, showing off the space from her lower abdomen to her hips, down her upper legs, the skin sliding inward to the gorges between the hips and the mons pubis protuberance.
“No!”, I think, struck by the picture’s aura of innocence. How could they? I get caught with a copy in my hands by Marco, the Brussels-immigrated Italian doctor who sat next to me on the plane. He chuckles, pats me on the shoulder and wishes me “Tante Buone Cose”.
“You want taxi?”, a big black man asks, “I give you cheap taxi.”
I follow the man through deep puddles of mashed snow into a dark parking lot. Then into a staircase hallway. “How much you gonna give me?” His accent is not American.
“Don’t you want to know first where I want to go to?”
He laughs. “All the same. What’s your budget?”
I don’t get this. “Where’s your taxi?”
“I have many.”
“But where is it?”
“Down there. It’s a limousine.”
“I don’t need a limousine.”
“You gonna pay much more for a yellow cab.”
“I don’t need a limousine. Sorry.” I open the glass door, walk back through the snow marshes to the terminal and wait in line for a cab.
The taxi driver – short, wrinkled, amiable – can’t stop smiling. “Everyone like you wanna be in Brooklyn”, he says with a delicious West-African rhythm. “What is in Brooklyn? I can’t understand.” He looks at the case in my right hand. “And what’s this?”
“A saxophone.” An even more intense smile. Musicians can’t be bad people, a universal though counterfactual belief.
Huge wide lanes full of snow. Bridges. The driver is from Ghana and moved to the U.S. twenty eight years ago. “Hm, life is good in the Bronx.” His mother just passed away and he is intent on getting drunk tonight. “Ooh, I’m gonna get fuckin drunk tonight. That’s what I’m gonna do. Oh yes. I’m gonna drive this cab down to Midtown and go home. I gonna tell my wife and kids they can just go to hell and I’m gonna get so-o fuckin drunk.”
Cars are huge. Heavy traffic goes snail-like. Commercial industral wastelands and parking lots on both sides, then my first American house. Light blue, bourgois and petite, laughable and lost between concrete roads, bridges and old warehouses. Shops with Spanish slogans. Warehouses with Chinese characters. Silos covered with frost and snow. “Oh yes. That’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna drive this cab down to Midtown and go home. Oh yes. I’m gonna get so-o fuckin drunk.”
More warehouses. “I’m gonna get so-o fuckin drunk. Oh yes.” More snow. Fences. Fences. Barren cement and car cemeteries. Parts at five bucks. Something doesn’t feel right.
“I’m gonna drive this cab down to Midtown and go home. I gonna tell my wife and kids they can just go to hell and I’m gonna get so-o fuckin…”
“Sir, sorry to interrupt.”
“When do you think we will arrive?”
“Oh, in just a minute.”
Blood rushes through my vains. “What? Where are we now?”
“This here is Brooklyn, my brother.”
I stare outside with some degree of despair. This looks like Ledebergh, my home town’s little-appealing industrial suburb. A few minutes minutes later the cab stops in front of a tall red warehouse without an entrance.
“This is you.”
The windscreen fills with snow, darkening the inside of the cab. I don’t feel like getting out.
To be continued…