Why would we ever need to visit space and its assorted rocks? Why dive into the sea to see what there is to see? Why stink of pachouli and backpack all over Europe?
Within my own country, I am still a foreigner with much to see, much to mock and not understand.
Remember that rather embarrassing song where Sting sang, "I don't drink coffee, I take tea my dear. I (something, something more genteel with my toast than you Americans, and then something, something classier than you Americans, tra, la, la)....I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien, I'm an Englishman in New York!"? Of course that's a blushingly silly song, one Sting certainly hopes nobody recalls, and yet, and yet. I'm ashamed to say it, but I feel you, Sting.
This week, my mother visited me from the Colorado orchard town where I grew up, bearing along with her a shimmering attitude and some family videos from the '80s. In days of yore, the days of antetechnologia, the gods lovingly allowed Man the gift of forgetting his past and replacing it with some generous reconstructions and revisions. I was quite enjoying this nice gift myself before my mother's visit. Eyes shut and peering down a hole which with a little effort widens upon my fuzzy teen years in Colorado, I have seen the vignettes I've created, the self-portraits and dioramas of a heartbreaking teen loner with madly dyed hair and artfully altered mall-clothing skulking and kicking along crow-ridden vacant lots at a bruised dusk. She is shunning the ever-so-ordinary citizenry of the orchard town who would have loved to have known this special teen if she could only have risen through her soul-pain to let them in. But why bother? She was too deep for them. She had to leave.
But alas, the hard evidence of my youth is now before me, crammed into a pretty little disk. I see now that I wasn't a loner in any cool, photographable way. I was actually a loner in a walking wound, smell the tortured trying and recent crying sort of way. The me I am now would cross the street to get away from the disaster of the me I was then. I was clumsy and never got around to fixing the back of my hair as I don't think I realized that I could be viewed at 360 degrees. My facial features were rounded, puffy, and ill-defined, still deciding which way to go and sprouting shadowy fuzz in suprising places. I wore what my mom gave me for Christmas because I didn't know better and it was ruffled and patchworked. One developing breast outpaced the other. I was cruel to my mother on Christmas, sneering at her video camera nastily while my sisters and brother were cute, sassy, and joyful (yet pretty ugly as well at that point.) The gist of the past is really what matters I guess. We dress it up however we need to. I was alone then, just like Sting (though he wasn't quite alone at that time but rather surrounded by the Police. He would speak to his alienation in four years hence, the years when I really got a grip on New Wave in Utah.)
So, where am I now? I'm not decorating the present too much when I call myself a loner with no sense of home planet. I do not belong in the orchard town of my messy adolescence. I never did. I no longer belong in Utah with its unrecognizable but predictable strip-malls sprouting up where the landmarks I've known have, sadly, vanished. ( I find this very painful.) And here? Here in New York City? I still step outside my building every morning as I drag the kids through the streets of Brooklyn to PS 108308 and wonder how I got here. I feel like I am participating in a fictional accounting of Me. And yet, and yet.
I stopped an ancient Chinese woman in the park this morning to ask her what she was collecting off of the ground. Hurricane season has whipped up a little weather in the city and the gingko trees have much windfall at their bases today. The woman wore a garbage bag over her clothes in the driving rain and gathered the gingko fruit with surgical gloves into a burgeoning grocery bag. It smelled like vomit. "Ugh. Why? What do you do with them?" I asked. She made a motion with her hands up to her open mouth in a pantomime of happy eating. I wanted to know more because I couldn't see any good reason to ingest these foul fruits. She just shook her head, waved me on, and got back to collecting. We don't have language in common and so I can't get her recipes for, oh, essence of regurgitance soup. We are both alien visitors. We both walk this city in the way that we need to for totally different reasons, Gingko Lady and me. And Sting.
Perhaps this is how I belong then. Perhaps this is what makes New Yorkers.