I did not want love. Love is trouble. Love is a saddle hewn from chain restaurant menus and other people’s problems. No, I wanted the breathless pursuit of excellence, and if I squinted at the picture on my phone, I could see the pixelated edges of My Ticket Out of There. So I flew down the tired staircase, into the streets of Sydney, into the pink and viscous twilight.
It was Australia Day night, a muted cover of the Fourth of July, purged of the verse where the white people stake claim to amber waves of grain--waves mysteriously devoid of amber people.
I’d arrived the morning before, bought some cheap imitation bananas, and spent the day narrowly avoiding sunstroke. But I did find time to coerce an internet woman into meeting me.
As it turns out, jettisoning the conveniences of stable employment and hurling yourself into the void is a thermonuclear dating strategy--reckless, omnipotent, ironically captivating.
90 degrees and 10 meters to my right stood Helen of Fucking Troy in a Ferrari Red jumpsuit. She had the posture of The Rich, that posture that leaves you wondering if they're a different species.
An upturned chin, thin lips, glacier blue eyes, John Lennon’s sunglasses. Brown hair reached for her shoulders, tabulating all the fucks it didn't give on the way down. We exchanged formal sounds and one of those uncertain hugs reserved for friendships begun on the internet. Movement began.
What was said over the first seven minutes is unclear. I just remember waking up to the triumph of her legs a kilometer from where we started. My memory proceeds from there with uncharacteristic coherence. Five feet and ten and a half inches of Australian magic matching me--stride for stride--past neon signs vomiting commerce to the four corners of the earth.
Brutalism, marriage, my passionate and cultivated hatred of New Orleans--we walked and talked while gravity worked at three quarters strength. Our only concern was to find a bar and a vantage point for the fireworks. First bar: closed. Second bar: closed. Third bar: open.
In pursuit of feng shui equilibrium, she switched seats--twice--while I resolved to stab the bartender in the hand if he lingered. I vacillated between hiding my grievous character flaws under the table and trotting them out as punchlines.
But I’d caught sight of the purpose radiating from her hips and the jet black doom beyond that. Stray one meter and deliver myself into the abyss. So I followed closely and forgot the inessential.
I forgot famine, predatory lending, 400,000 corpses in Syria, and the cruel mistress laundry.
Hell, I forgot that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s never coming back.
But I'll never forget the way they stared when we walked into the next stop. It was a nice place. The sort of place where people use summer as a verb. The sort of place I wasn't dressed for.
So they looked up from their white tablecloths and stared.
But they weren’t staring at me. They were staring at Us.
Their eyes are seared into my memory. This isn't some vain and desperate lunge for attention as the sun implacably sets on Me. Fact: forty six people ripped from conversations and frozen in time, forks halfway to the finish line, seeking to impose the minimum inconvenience as they carved our souls from our bodies and inhabited Us for eternity.
Their stares were triggered by the unshakeable tyranny of a good silhouette, but lacked sex or violence. Instead: the ineffable desire to turn back the clock. The way old ladies look at babies at the grocery store.
We made our way to the elevator, for the Hotel Palisade has a good bar on the first floor and a much better bar on the fourth floor. Inside, an army of men named Charles who could assemble a navy and the widest glass door I’ve ever seen.
Composed of a single massive pane, it was ungainly, impractical, achingly gorgeous, and existentially impossible in the lawyer-infested waters of America. Fingers--perhaps entire hands--have been lost to that thing on windy days. But tonight it was merely a portal to the green and yellow night. We walked through it.
Faces turned. Conversations stopped. One and a half seconds elapsed. Conversations resumed, but with a muffled, self-conscious volume that let INXS’s “Not Enough Time” seep between syllables. They knew what I knew--that you could pluck her from the roof and drop her behind velvet ropes at the Louvre (I intend to ask about that fucking R as soon as I arrivre).
Moving with the lazy confidence of a leopard in a tree, she installed an unspoken hierarchy in the capricious world of men. People offered seats. We declined. I felt two dozen eyes darting between the small of her back and the base of my neck. We stared expectantly into the night, consumed by a moment veering dangerously close to perfection.
Once or twice, fireworks started and abruptly stopped. I got the impression that, like me, the pyrotechnicians were professional incompetents. Finally: thump, flash, iridescent rain. This went on for some time. I explained my theory that we should compress fireworks displays into the sort of barrage not seen since the Battle of Verdun--one minute of irrational passion, divorced from the maggoty tragedy.
I don’t remember most of what was said thereafter, except for one thing. She looked at me from the far side of ten thousand years and asked if I’d ever wanted to bottle this feeling, this moment.
It was time to go, time to see the Opera House, time to carefully pick our way through the imploding relationships that spill onto the curb at the end of national holidays.