Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I was 35-years-old the first time I visited New York City. When I mention this to people, I am often asked, What took you so long? Truth is, I never had reason to go until I went that time I went with Judy. She was there to interview for the Bard College graduate program. This was March, 1998.

We arrived on the Cathy Pacific flight, the one that got in at 8PM. As we approached all I could see were the lights of Manhattan, the outlines of buildings I had grown up with on television and in magazines. The Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building… We were travelling hundreds of miles per hour, but everything felt so slow.

Disembarking, the first thing I saw was a tired-looking South Asian family waiting to clean the plane. Beside them, a broken wheelchair against a smudged yellow wall. Things intensified after that. The line-up at customs reminded me of pictures I had seen of Ellis Island, 1903, except the people around me were better dressed.

The customs official was a heavy-set man, white, and in his fifties. He looked tired too. Thumbing through my passport he wanted to know why I was there. Pleasure, I said. What do you do for living? I’m a writer. This time he looked me in the eye. You like your work, Mr Turner? Sometimes, I said. I thought he might smile at that, because in making eye contact, in saying my name, I felt a connection. But no. He stamped my passport, handed it back to me, then turned off his wicket and stepped away.

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