I am a ghost hovering over my friends in New York. I check my footprints in the snow. At the Vindigo office, Joe now sits in my old seat, and I startled former co-workers when I borrowed it to read email.
My first morning back, I went to Gristedes to buy bread, eggs, an orange, and milk. I called Jason in bleary horror when it came to $12.63. ‘Sounds about right,’ he said patiently, while I gibbered about feeding Cambodian families for months.
In Central Park, the huge double strollers provoked me further.
‘Lord Jesus, that five-year-old should be carrying the other child! In a sarong. While collecting firewood.’
Later, in a Starbucks, I tried to figure out why the interviewers on my left and right kept asking illegal questions. But these weren’t job interviews, it turned out, they were online dates. Database-driven sex is the new job-hopping, with the same protagonists wearing the same expressions and the same clothes. I am gloomy about this. Everyone else is gloomy about Bush, unemployment, and the New York winter. It is bloody freezing.
When Manhattan got too much, I went out to Sunset Park for arroz con leche and a visit to Lola Montez’s grave in Green-Wood cemetery. I was restored by dollah-fifty Budweisahs in a combined baitshop and bar on City Island in the Bronx, where I watched a pollution-filtered sunset that was richer than any on the Mekong. That old skyline I watched in so many hotel-room movies still romances me.
My friends are patient with my unease. They have housed me, nursed me, and fed me everything from Cocoa Pops to lobster. Though I schlep a backpack from couch to couch, I feel most at home with these sharp, spiky, kind New Yorkers. But without a work permit, I am still a ghost here. You can’t come home through the Visitors Channel.