Two months in NYC, and not much has changed. Freelance work here and there, first dates, movie nights, housewarming parties, dinners with friends old and new. But still no full-time job, and with unemployment benefits running out in two weeks, it’s hard to feel optimistic in a city that shoots its wounded. You’d have given up by now if you hadn’t promised people you love that you wouldn’t.
What “giving up” means, you’re not exactly sure. OK, suicide. That’s one definition. But it could also be going to live in Montana without leaving a forwarding address, catatonia in Bellevue, not answering your cell phone, or joining the circus as a tattooed lady. Somewhere between hopelessness and despair the lines blur between giving up and selling your soul.
New Yorkers sit on park benches looking forward — in this case, at the rear of the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park — and not really talking (unless they are sitting with a friend). At lunchtime, you’re fascinated by this: hundreds of people in invisible cocoons, staring straight ahead at nothing, thinking unknown thoughts as they experience “nature” in 30-minute increments. It’s four-thirty now, though, so you’ve got the after-work staring-straight-ahead crowd, people maybe relaxing from a long day or wanting a breather before going home to the second shift of life. You’ve come from a job interview, the second disappointment of the day, and you’re contemplating a thousand versions of “giving up” when you see a chance for escape.
It’s a mini-car, maybe a modified golf cart, on the park path between the Shake Shack and Madison Avenue. Looks easy enough to drive, you think, sauntering over to see if some moron’s left the keys in the ignition. But you know that if you look, and if they’re there, you’ll do something stupid. “Stupid” being the 39-year-old approximation of things that were “spontaneous” and “reckless” at 19. Like “kidnapping” the friend-of-a-friend after you saw him on a payphone on Chicago’s Belmont Avenue, when Punkin’ Donuts was still the best place to score drugs and not a 2am hangout for the homeless ghetto-tranny-kid crowd. The days after the “kidnapping” were like something out of a Penthouse letter, but really it was just being 19 circa 1992 with a helping of acid and coke and whatever else came your way.
You can see it playing out on the 11 o’clock news: crazed woman steals mini-car/golf cart and goes on rampage down 23rd Street, tackled by upstanding citizen/gunned down by rogue police officer/smushed by M1 bus who didn’t see her coming, now she’s dead/in police custody/under observation at Bellevue. An adventure, to be sure. The question isn’t at what cost but at what diagnosis. If you’re looking to escape hopelessness, the last thing you want to do is convince people you had a reason to abandon all hope. So keys are left unchecked, the mini-car stays parked, “giving up” doesn’t happen (today), and you take the N to the Q to the place you’re staying.