I first came to NYC when I was 22 years old, with hair bleached the colour of dry sand on a hot day and dressed entirely in black. I wore pillar box red lipstick and was excited by everything. The world seemed so broad and inviting in its possibilities. I stayed in an over heated apartment in Brooklyn where even in the sub zero temperatures of that winter the windows were kept open to cool the place down. It was in stark contrast to my rented calor gas heated flat in damp north London. Twenty years ago the city was different and so was I. Even Manhattan, which for the most part resembles an enormous shopping mall with better architecture today, then had a certain edginess that I loved. I played at being the native New Yorker, striding on and off the subway with a faux confidence that was largely manufactured in front of the mirror. I played Trivial Pursuits on Christmas Eve in a tiny apartment in Alphabet City and lost as my team mate was Swiss, and being English myself we had no chance of winning the all American version of the game.
Things change. Always. On Sunday I found myself walking through the meat packers district on the west of this busy island. On one side of the street blood marks the sidewalk and the smell of animal flesh hangs in the air. On the other top fashion designers tout for business, their stores looking and feeling more like refrigerated museums than anywhere you would actually want to shop. I was enjoying the intentional irony in this contrast when I saw something that made me think. Ahead of me two tanned, gymed, mannicured, pedicured men were walking side by side. Their demenour, sharp dress and the hurried way in which they walked, as if on the run but not wanting anyone to know, told me that they were gay. Struggling to keep up in my rubber flip flops I noticed that one of the men had a tatoo on his tanned and muscled forearm. A black stripe, 3 inches thick circled his arm. It did not take me long to realise that he was wearing a black armband, his mourning made permanent by the tatooists ink. At first I thought that this was in homage to a dead lover from AIDS, but in truth I will never know. In a city where the permanent mauseleum of 9/11 is in the heart of the financial district I wanted to ask ‘what is it you are mourning exactly?’ The loss of a life, or lives, or the candor of somewhere that used to be angry enough to be a little bit dangerous.
I wonder what my armband is ? The lipstick, the urgent cobbled together confidence or the fact that I have to search deeper within myself to find an enthusiasm and a sense of adventure for what lies outside.