… we are just pure delicate spheres of perfectly liquid yolk floating about the Nevada desert.
Sitting at bar in midtown Manhattan swilling gin at 10am on a rollover is a curious and often wonderful position to be in. It’s a position from whence friendships can be formed, mischief made and adventures embarked upon. However it is unequivocally not the position from which one should attempt to catch a transatlantic flight that is departing on the same day.
Yet needless to say this was how my last day in America began.
We were at T-9 hours. Not critical, perhaps, if I was ship shape and drinking up my last, but I was only on the first gin since this particular establishment had opened for business, and I fully intended on stretching the legs of the bar’s hospitality before I handed my glass back for the last time.
For full transparency I’ll reveal that this was the last of 19 glorious days spent merrily gamboling on Uncle Sam’s Ole US of Stateside, or whatever the fuck it is they call the place.
The trip comprised of my maiden voyage to the much feted Burning Man festival, followed by 48 hours of unadulterated debauchery in some 3000-room playpen in Reno, and bookended by a full week in New York with my rather beloved sister, where we rampaged solidly through the streets of Manhattan, Brooklyn and even Queens; no hedonistic stone left unturned nor vice left unindulged.
For the purpose of brevity I won’t ramble too much about BM as the charting of the odyssey that ensues from this point demands more attention, but I will concede this; My cynical mind was blown wide open by the spirit of human kindness that prevailed throughout the playa.
To use a half baked analogy, if humans are all soft boiled eggs; the default real-world paranoid state we inhabit is the the full egg, complete with shell. When we’re in love or on large amounts of Es we’re the white of the egg. However at Burning Man we are just pure delicate spheres of perfectly liquid yolk floating about the Nevada desert.
New York had left me bedraggled and skating on the outskirts of rehab-worthiness
Back to the bar, which was incidentally being manned by the aforementioned sister, who we’ll just call *Gina.
*Probably because that’s her actual name
Time had ceased to be measured in its traditional units, having been replaced by the accumulation of gin-stewed limes in my long-suffering glass. So it was about 6 limes o clock.
To the casual observer at that moment I was undoubtedly a post-watershed individual that you would steer small children away from.
My hair was a bright green, having been dyed for the aforementioned festival, and was clashing offensively with my drink-stained neon-pink tracksuit top, and try as I might no amount of showering had erased the last shreds of Burning Man glitter from my scalp.
The subsequent seven days hard drinking and carousing in New York had left me bedraggled and skating on the outskirts of rehab-worthiness, and my maudlin demeanour over the imminent end to my American journey, combined with present drunkenness, had my head lolling like one of those utterly pointless dogs that people put in the rear shelf of their cars. In short, I looked like the fully-grown bastard love child of Shane McGowan and Rainbow Brite.
…and it was going to be delivered by a speeding 747…
I wanted nothing more than to stay put at the bar and spend the remaining hours before my flight in the company of Gina while she pickled me with liberally-administered, oversized gins.
Alas, the stool I was currently precariously balanced upon was on East 30th street, and Gina’s apartment, which contained every possession I owned in America, (most crucially my passport) was several time zones away on 200th street.
Gina’s neighbourhood is a friendly Hispanic ghetto so far north on Manhattan that it’s inside the Arctic Circle and is a great spot to catch the Aurora Borealis. To get there from East 30th street one needed to board the A train, sit on it until you had aged a year, detrain and hope that some husky sleds would take you the remaining distance.
There was no avoiding this hurdle on said afternoon, so I slid off my stool and lurched out the door, zigzagging like a late-season wasp through the Manhattan streets. People were disinclined to show me their kind side as I clumsily made my way uptown. I was fighting a serious lack of serotonin in my brain, drawing my mind back to the piercing happiness of my memories of Burning Man.
This only served to induce more lament that it was over and the dearth of happy hormone made me tearily reflect as to why there wasn’t more kindness in the world, and how our outer eggshell stopped us connecting more with people.
The level of cliché to my behaviour and thought patterns was outrageous. The post-BM comedown that I had managed to offset for a week with the help of most of the bars and petty drug dealers in New York City was catching up with me and it was going to be delivered by a speeding 747… to my face.
I was coming down. Hard.
Abogado Para Todo
I neared the subway station and realized that I required some crucial tools in order to complete this journey to Hispanic Oslo successfully.
I needed a stationery shop.
Thankfully I was on Manhattan and every conceivable service a modern human could want is available within 100 yards of everywhere, so I spotted one and went in to purchase some sheets of A4 paper and a black marker.
I explained what they were for as I was paying but the woman was so amused with their purpose that she declined to take the cash.
So I tottered down the steps to the A train and sat back on the hard plastic orange seat, holding a crudely written sign saying “Wake Me At 200th Street, I’ve to catch a plane to Ireland today”.
Within seconds of the train pulling away from the station my eyes were heavy and I had just enough time to see someone across from me taking a photo of my ridiculous state before I blacked out like a surgery patient.
It was a massive gamble for me even getting on the train.
In that state, moving vehicles are like Rohypnol to me. Miraculously, I was woken at the requested station by some conscientious passenger, who had the misfortune of almost being knocked over as I leapt up like a startled baby wildebeest and flung myself out the door.
My dishevelment was at industrial level at this stage but nobody paid any notice to me as I walked past the lawyer’s office on the corner of Gina’s block.
The sign over the shop read Abogado Para Todo, (lawyer for all) which would no doubt have been reassuring to any potential customers, had the words not been written with a spray can.
I felt my throat tighten a little in panic
Having retrieved my possessions and successfully negotiated another A train back downtown with the help of my sign technique, I was back on East 30th, gin in hand and diving into a well of sentimentality over leaving the New York-dwelling Gina to catch this godforsaken plane back to my pitiful, banal and inadequate life on the poxy Old Sod.
I took an executive decision to get a taxi to the airport, rather than take the one-tenth-of-the-price train, in order to enable me spend an extra two-or-three gins with Gina.
Naturally the time passed in a mere moment and suddenly I’d made my tearful farewell and was on the streets with neither sobriety nor dignity.
I switched back to real time units and noted it was 4.40. I hopped in the first cab I saw, lay on the back seat and slurred “Newark Airport” at the Asian woman driving before passing out on the back seat.
I was woken on arrival at Newark at 5.30, bang on time to get checked in and get airside for some airport scoops and nosh before my 7.30 flight.
I whipped out my card to pay for the fare, a snip at only $97 dollars.
The card however wasn’t playing ball and was declined. I’d checked it only earlier that day and I was still well in the black with holiday cash so I assured the woman I’d be back with some greenbacks and went into the cash point in the airport.
I felt my throat tighten a little in panic before a solution came to me and I rang Gina asking her to cover the fare.
I went out and explained to the woman that my card wasn’t working however my sister was going to pay it over the phone.
This was met with a flat refusal.
“Ok,” says I, “can you go back, meet my sister and she will give you cash for the fare that I’ve just incurred and also for the return journey, so a full $200?”
My throat was getting tight again. I passed the phone with Gina on it to the driver, to try and talk some sense into her. I’d starting to pace the pavement outside the departures hall.
Still no dice.
Yer one was now on the phone to her husband and shouting at me telling me that I have to pay. I’m begging her to just go back into the city and get the cash.
The tightening of my throat had now spread downwards to my stomach and I was sweating profusely. I had entered a physiological state of panic.
I look at my watch and it’s 6pm. The check in deadline is 6.30. Fuck this, I thought, this needs mediation. So I pulled over a cop car.
A tall cop in his late 30s with the kind face of a teddy bear gets out and asks me what the issue is.
I explain as politely as I can that my exodus from their great nation was being road blocked by a complete geebag who would not accept my rational offers of double remuneration to go and get cash from my sister.
Officer Kindface goes over and speaks to the driver and comes back to tell me exactly what I knew already, all dressed up with its felony title: “See ma’am over here that’s called Theft of Services and they take it pretty seriously so unfortunately you’re going to have to pay the lady”. No shit Ted.
At this point, the panic trip-switch flips and I start to freak the fuck out.
Words are absolutely no use at describing hysteria.
Tears, pleading, rage, trembling, palpitations, and so much fucking sweating.
“You’re going to have to calm down ma’am” says Officer Kindface, whose face I now want to punch, “this sort of thing happens every day.”
“Yeah but across a range of people”, says I, my voice now being bedded down with a high-pitched whine, “this sort of thing does not happen every day to one person, this is a cataclysmic clusterfuck to one person.”
Officer KF at this stage radios for backup and two others arrive, a grey haired veteran (Officer Pop-pop) and a somewhat roly-poly female (Officer Ban-Cop)
“What seems to be the problem?” they say in their frustratingly calm tones.
My shit has been well and truly lost at this stage and I am unintelligibly racing through the events of the previous 45 minutes through a waterfall of tears and trembling.
I was the utter opposite of dignified.
“There’s no bloody compassion left in the world”
My brain was in utter crisis mode, not a shred of serotonin to its sorry name, flooded with booze and addled by the remainder of whatever else I’d been at, wracked with sorrow at leaving my sister and the end of the best trip of my life, and now, the Grand Master of airport fuck ups (and I should know, I’ve had a few) decides to make an appearance just to really get the boot in.
It was more than I could take.
The time was now 6.20, I had ten minutes til check in closed.
“Let’s see can we get your bag on the plane” says Officer KF.
We walked into the building and I was overcome with a sense of sadness at the hardness and cynicism of the world.
Why wouldn’t she just believe me and go in to meet Gina. I wasn’t trying to pull a fast one.
“Where’s the compassion?” I pleaded to Officer KF. “There’s no bloody compassion left in the world” I said, somewhat melodramatically, but my tear-soaked face could have pulled off the closing scenes of King Lear at this point so melodrama was the bare minimum output.
The check-in desk dolly seemed happy enough to put my bag on the plane when the situation was explained by Officer KF.
Their Stepford faces had no-doubt seen every airport drama in the book so a green-haired, hysterical woman being led by one of New York’s finest was not going to induce the batting of either one of her perfectly made up eyelids.
Hope began seeping into my senses as as I watched my bag disappear into the bowels of the airport.
“Can she go through now officer?” enquired the check-in lady. “She needs to go if the bag is going.”
“No she’s gotta stay with me til this is resolved” said the dutiful Kindface.
Then to my horror, without even a moments hesitation the Check-in Bint swung her dainty arm and hit a stereotypical-looking red emergency button that sounded some manner of klaxon and stopped the carousel.
Next thing I knew my bag was being unceremoniously returned to me in the departures hall and the last hope of me making my flight back to Dublin slid down the plughole of my expectations and made that gurgling sound before draining away completely.
I buckled down beside my bag, put my head in my hands and closed my eyes.
The time was 6.32.
The check in desk was closed. I wasn’t going home.
I breathed in deeply. The drama of the preceding 62 minutes had distracted me from the fact that I hadn’t had a drink in over 2 hours and hadn’t slept in over 50. My head began to pulsate with what I assumed was a heady mixture of withdrawal and exhaustion.
I was now resigned to the fact that the battle for the 7.30 flight was over.
The plane was leaving without me. I would get the taxi back in to the city, pay the unfeeling taxi wench the king’s ransom she’d demanded that kept me from boarding my plane and then purchase a new flight.
A man tapped me on the shoulder and started talking to me. I was looking at up at him but his voice was echoey and I felt detached from everything by the sedative effect of not trying to make my plane anymore.
“I’m the airline manager”, he said to me. “Don’t be upset, I’m going to go out with the police officers and speak to this driver and see what needs to be done and then we will look at getting you another flight.”
I didn’t really care at this stage. I just wanted to sit down and not be hysterical for a bit. My head was reeling. I looked through my knees at the cold floor and saw tears I didn’t even know I was crying splash onto the cold marble.
I was so fucking sad. I was sad to be leaving Gina, I was sad that this trip was over and I was sad that my final hour on US soil had been such a brutal reminder of the hardness of the outer shell we all wear.
Wanky as it sounds I was still in runny-yolk mode after the magic of The Burn and this maelstrom of mistrust and cynicism had made me fall and splatter my yellow goodness all over the airport floor.
Next thing I see the Airline manager rushing back towards me with the three cops. “OK it’s taken care of ma’am, your plane hasn’t left yet, you can go through.”
I jumped up like I’d been tazed. “What??? How!!?? But the Driver???!!!!”
“The police have taken care of it ma’am” he said to me.
I ran over to the nearest one, which was Officer Ban Cop.
“Who do I give money to? Did you get through to my sister?? What’s happened? Can I hug you?”
She deigned only to shake my trembling sweaty hand before saying, “It’s been paid for, but not by us by him” and point at the towering benevolence that was Officer Kindface.
He looked acutely bashful as I caught his eye and my face crumpled in gratitude and yet more tears, but this time happy ones.
I waited for no permission before launching myself off the ground to give him a full arms-and-legs hug that he was forced to reciprocate or risk falling over.
“Can I pay you back?? What’s your name??” he rebuffed my enquiries before the airline manager took me firmly by the elbow. “Ma’am you have to leave NOW, your plane is still on the ground but not for long. This is your last chance.”
So I walked backwards through the gate, all the while staring at the Angel Of Newark, my head awash with gratitude and my faith in humanity restored.
Gina called me as I was on the way through screeching in disbelief at what Officer Kindface had done as she’d been on the phone to the police throughout the exchange.
I was moved so deeply by the gesture he’d made and gutted that I had no way to thank him properly.
Viewed in retrospect, though utterly horrific, it was a fitting end to my physical and emotional journey across the Americas to have had my final hour pit the mistrust of humans against the spirit of kindness and see the former defeated.
So all’s well that ends emotionally. I’m ok with the shell we wear now, fuck knows we need it, but it’s comforting to know that the yolk lies within. I could tie this up with a vow swearing that to be the last time I ever go on a rollover the night before a flight, but I’m not going to insult your intelligence with such bullshit.