(7th October, 2010) After a busy day (as the monkey said to the bishop, “is there any other?”) went to hear Helen Krauss read from her new novel, Great House at the Lillian Vernon House, NYU’s Creative Writing Program’s building. Transited by students drinking paper cups of coffee and dropping crumbs on the carpets during the day, the house enters its own at night, when the mouldings and white 19th century cornices come into their true elegance. Packed venue, she talks, then reads, and the talk about the process of writing a book – the indecisions, byways and false starts – is curiously beguiling. She talks about Francis Bacon’s studio, “meticulously boxed up and transported to a museum in Dublin” (where it was miraculously reconstructed, down to the last scrap of paper, everything was put back in its original position.) I smile to myself. It’s like hearing your lover’s name mentioned by someone who doesn’t know you know her (the small inlay box in your body humming with warmth); The Hugh Lane Gallery, on Parnell Square, of course. She talks about Hampstead Heath. Another internal smile.
At the reading, I meet a gang of students from NYU’s MFA in Spanish, who’ve come to the reading to make a kind of cross-discipline bridge to the CWP in English. We talk in English a bit, but mostly in Spanish. Great to hear all these Latin American accents, slang from Chile, Colombia, Mexico. When a young woman says, “I’m from el D.F.” It gives me a ridiculous chill: there’s a grandeur to it I can’t explain. Maybe it’s because I’m a fetishist of language; maybe I miss Latin Americans, their warmth, the way they instantly include you. We excitedly exchange email addresses, promise to get in touch, and possibilities start to develop; webs of translation.
It’s dark by the time we leave. We walk east along West 10th Street’s tree-lined, lamp-lit quiet, cross Fifth avenue, look towards the Empire State – its top 20 storeys illuminated white. We say goodbye, I walk on towards the East Village, where I’ve arranged to meet friends at the posh speakeasy Death & Co., where booths are rare, and no standing is allowed. The doorman, a thin, cool guy in skinny jeans, white sneakers and grey cardigan and shirt, disbelieves that I’m meeting friends: “we’ll see,” and in the face of all those waiting, whose mouths hang a tiny bit open, he leads me in. My friends are in the first booth on the left. I swing in, and 5 minutes later the beautiful waitress has brought me an extremely expensive cocktail. In the company is a literary editor (my flatmate Scott), a student (me), Beth, a Korean American psychologist from Alabama, and Richard, a cherubic, chubby attorney from Connecticut, his slight preppiness delightfully dishevelled.
I only know one person in the company, but an hour later, after Richard has paid for all the drinks, we’ve jumped into a taxi uptown to a private booth of white leather in a Karaoke bar in Korea Town in midtown. Later still, Scott and I are in a 3 a.m. taxi home over the Brooklyn Bridge, all the contrasts and possibilities clashing together in my mind producing an intoxicating dissonance. I lie back and look out the window as we cross the bridge, the breeze in my face, the radiating suspension lines creating the illusion of intense speed.