It is a beautiful weekend in New York City, and all you want to see is ghosts.
You’re turning the corner onto Sixth and Washington Place. Or you’re wandering down St. Marks, trying to figure out why the sock store is still there, but your favorite record place isn’t. Or you’re just staring out the window of a restaurant on Hudson that wasn’t there ten years ago, and won’t be two weeks from now.
You close your eyes and you open them and you close them again, and somewhere in that split-second you swear that you can see them.
They flicker in the corner for a second. You can hear their laughter, and the old jokes and stories that were old even then. You turn to get a good look at them, and that very act makes them disappear.
You’re still there, though. You’re there for a few days. You’re there for a few days, and you dare yourself to try to occupy as many of the same places you used to. A neat trick in a city that seems to be working overtime to turn itself into a Hanna-Barbera background loop of Chipotles, Duane Reades, and Chase Banks.
You make sure to hit as many of the old places as you can, and you realize it’s not that many. You realize it was never that many. You realize you lived in the greatest city in the world, but your world was four bars, three restaurants, a few bodegas, and a handful of apartments.
You see as many people as you can, sometimes for as short as five minutes, sometimes stretched over the course of many hours, and whatever the length, it’s not enough time. It’s never enough time. People have places to be, lives to get back to. They only have the babysitter until 7 pm. They’re starting a new job tomorrow, they can’t stay out too late. There’s a wedding in Maine, but they can swing by and watch you drink half a cup of coffee.
You are grateful that they are taking any time out of their lives to be with you. You buy them drinks, you buy them snacks, you let them do the same. You try to cram what feels like decades’ worth of catching up while a giant timer floats over your heads, counting down, always counting down.
And you want to grab onto them, all of them, and not let go. You want to hold onto them and make them stare at the same corner of the bar, the same subway entrance, the same place that used to be a place, and you want them to all see the same things that you think you see.
You want them to see the ghosts of you. Goddamn it. Look harder. Look harder.
“THERE WE ARE,” you want to shout. “There we are, do you see us? Do you see us camped out here for hours, setting world records for who can drink an espresso slower? Who can make a soup and salad last nine hours while we figure out all the world’s problems, while figuring out none of our own? Do you see us wandering around tipsy and giggling, with no particular destination, because we were already there?”
There was no timer floating over your heads. You all had jobs, sort of. You all had lives, sort of, but they never felt like a priority. They never got in the way of a good time.
You used to have forever. Now you have a weekend. Now you have four hours. Now you have five minutes. Now you’re on a plane back home.
You love your life now. You don’t want to go back. You don’t want to live those days again. You’re not old enough yet to see your twenties as a flawless, halcyon, perfect time, through glasses equally rose colored and sepia-toned.
You don’t want to go back, but you want to be there then and now. You want to be everywhere at once, every time at once. You want it to be 2014 and 2004. You want your friends to have amazing lives, jobs, and families. But you want to be able to call them at a moment’s notice and say, “Let’s get brunch,” knowing that’s basically an all-day proposition.
You want to be you and the ghosts of you at the same time.
It’s the night before you go home. You sit alone at your friend’s bar, and if you had a PKE Meter, it would be going off the charts. You drink and you squint, and you try to see everyone you ever saw there one last time.
And then you see you. You see you sitting by yourself, lost in thought. Nothing deep, probably something like, “Can I afford one more beer and my share of the electric bill?”
You see you, and for one incredibly brief moment, the two of you lock eyes. You want to tell this ghost that time is running out. You want to tell this ghost that his now, his right now, his forever now, has a giant timer floating over its head and it’s always counting down.
The ghost of you squints. The ghost of you stares at you and through you at the same time. The ghost of you blinks, and is then distracted by another beer, another game of pool, another chance to put some songs on the jukebox. Another endless night with the friends he will know forever. The ghost of you has no idea what forever means, but he doesn’t have to, because at that moment there is no end to this in sight.
The ghost of you squints. The ghost of you stares at you and through you at the same time. The ghost of you blinks, and in the time it takes for him to blink, you flicker and disappear.