Monday, June 20, 2011

New York, New York IX.

241. Almost noon. All luggage is packed, the Hard Rock's café paper bag lying near the doorway, left behind as it now serves as a garbage bag, containing brochures and free daily-printed guidebooks accumulated over the week. Facing each other, we are sitting on the edges of our own double beds, legs swinging, grinning like two little kids who have just spent hours in a candy store. 
"Who is younger, me or you? You, so you stand up first," Anna tells me. 
"Because it's a tradition." 
"Is it an Anna's tradition or a Russian one?" 
"Russian," Anna says, half-convincingly. 
I am skeptical, because as rich as the Russian culture is, surely they do not actually have a tradition that says, the youngest has to the first person to stand up from a hotel bed on the last day of a trip. Nevertheless, I do what I am told, as this has worked out well for me throughout the visit, standing around taking in the view while others hunched over paper maps, scrutinizing subway lines and trying to figure out the next destination. As we leave the hotel room, we whisper, almost idiotically, "Goodbye," to our temporary home in the city that never sleeps.

242. JFK Airport. Being politely pointed out that, perhaps, we are not meant to be in the First Class queue to go through security checking. "How did they know?" I ask Anna, while trying not to vomit from motion sickness after the car ride, as we, in our baggy clothes, leave the line of suits and crisp pants.  

243. Broadway. We have just finished our last bagel and cream cheese breakfast, and are now standing in front of a rusty, dark blue US Postal Service box. The illegible white graffiti scribbled all over the box makes me question its authenticity, but the concept of someone placing a fake postal box on the street (even if it is America) seems unlikely. Apparently, Anna has the same thought process, but in reverse, because as soon as she puts her postcards in, Anna asks if I am sure it is a real postal box. "No," I reply, "it's actually a fancy rubbish bin. Christian might have to come all the way here to read what you wrote." Smiling, I pull down the metal handle to deposit my postcards, one by one, while counting theatrically, "One, two..." The performance quickly gets old, so I put in the remainder in one go.

As we walk off, I feel pleasantly proud of myself for having sent the postcards without a hitch this time. On the postcard to Gaston and Tintin, I have anticipatively written, "PS. Did not miss the flight because of this postcard," as a self-mocking reference to the missed London train and as yet another proof that (most) painful mistakes seem funny after a sufficient amount of time.

Fast forward about eight hours. We are on the plane, heading back to reality. I am reading One Day, by David Nicholls, a story about a boy and a girl, starting out on a St. Swithin's Day, July 15, 1988, when they first spent a night together with different perspectives (one night stand for him and the result of a four-year secret crush for her), and then their friendship developed, in a platonic manner, over the next twenty years or so, but we only get its snapshots on St. Swithin's Day each year. In the beginning, still in their mid-twenties and full of ideologies, hopes and dreams, Emma writes long letters to Dexter about her theatre plays that fail to educate teenagers from rough neighborhoods, and Dexter sends her heartfelt postcards ("VENICE COMPLETELY FLOODED!!!!") from cities around the world as he travels to "broaden the mind." Emma does not like the fact that Dexter replies to her several pages of stories and jokes with three-word sentences, but treasures the postcards all the same. Postcards are tangible proofs that people think of you when they are away, I think to myself, and, briefly distracted from the book, I mentally go over my Postcard List. 

There are two types of lists: the ones that accumulate (The Presidents-of-United-States-of-America List, The Countries-that-You-Have-Visited List, The Stupid-Things-that-You-Have-Done List, etc) and the ones that keep changing (The TIME's-Annual-100-Influential-People List, The New-Year's-Resolutions List, The I-am-Never-Going-To-Drink-This-Again List, etc). Formed almost fifteen years ago, my Postcard List belongs to the latter, partly because people wander in and out of my life, partly because I am terrible at both remembering addresses and keeping them easily accessible while away. One entry, however, has remained constant ever since the debut of the Postcard List: my parents, despite their moving houses almost as frequently as I travel. Parents. Houses. A realization dawns on me. Wincing at this thought, I turn to Anna, "Remember how I showed you one postcard because your name was mentioned, and you couldn't read it because I wrote in Vietnamese? And, after trying to decipher the handwriting covering completely the back of the card, you asked me why I did not leave any space for address? And, I assured you that I would put the card in an envelope because my parents started to prefer it that way?" Anna, too, winces as she realizes where this conversation is heading. I suppose my parents might need to travel to that postal box on Broadway to read about my NY stories and about how sitting at the lunch area on Liberty Island reminded me of our family holiday trips...

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