Times Square, New York, August, upper 80’s, 2016. We rode the subway into Manhattan after spending a drunken and raucous night getting kicked out of DIY venues in Brooklyn and using shitty fake ID’s to procure corona bombers in small Balkan delis from anxious shop-owners who knew they werke breaking the law. My partner - a radically queer anarcho-punk with a vicious streak a mile wide - spent most of that morning staring pensively at the filth-coated ubiquitousness of the The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s utilitarian expanse. The subway ride was marked by silence on my partner and I’s part. We absorbed the muted audiovisual din of a young mother with baby in stroller looking stern and worried, a black woman talking gently on her cellphone with a loved one and the constant shuddering of the aluminum bullet that rushed us under spider works of steel, rebar and dripping filth. The train was hot. I was standing with my partner, but they quickly took a seat the moment one opened up. They were glued to their phone, headphones in, jagged blonde pixie cut illuminated alternately by the screen, the lights of the train and the burning august sun. Sweat was beading its way down my back, under unassuming band shirt and sleeveless denim that smelled of cigarettes and a home thousands of miles away. I was worried. Which stop was ours? I gestured at my partner, but they either didn’t notice or chose to ignore me. Stop after stop rolled by, esoteric glowing maps indicating what must have been useful information to the scholars learned in New York holography. We approached one of the final stops on the line, and my partner jumped up. Apparently this was where we get off. Had they known from the start?
We disembarked and were immediately hit by the shift in atmosphere - gone was the ruddy brick filth and general piss-scent of Brooklyn, and in its stead came the dusty, clean steel grey of Manhattan. My partner brightened - were they finally excited? We emerged from the underground to a bustling street. This area must have been some sort of general transit hub; crowds of people were dwarfed by looming bus-bulwarks bearing a muddy soup of chinese, latinate and arabic scrawlings. I pulled out my phone, hoping to navigate us to Times Square, the only landmark I could think of worth orienting towards. The hot air bore on it the stink of gasoline and sewage, the cloying scent of dust and particulate matter, and the absolutely overwhelming din of city life. Engines ran and electricity buzzed and tens of thousands of lost voices babbled in confused unison. This must be the New York I had read about - but it was different. It was visceral, touchable, real and deadly. I think my partner fit quite well here (a point they didn’t fail to make many times as that day progressed). My navigation app centered itself after a brief moment of syncopated panic. We were close, a ten minute walk at a brisk pace. We set off in a direction. My partner, though they were significantly shorter than I, maintained a couple stride lead on me. Was I following them? Were they leading me? Their sun-touched skin and shredded black garments were the perfect camouflage for this city. I stood out like a sore thumb - my shirt was white, my denim was light, and the patches it bore were the vaporwave pinks and blues that I had considered in on the west coast. Clearly New York in its endless diversity and chaos adhered to a different set of aesthetic rules. This was one of the billowing red flags that should have indicated to me how ill equipped I was to contend with this alien environment and the alien that guided me through like a bratty Virgil.