Although I enjoyed the remainder of my visit in New York on that Fourth of July weekend 2005, I felt something was lacking. I regaled my wistful tale of an ill-timed relationship much to the distaste of my friends, who were already displeased that I had stood them up. When I returned to Chicago, I believed I was the unluckiest girl on the planet since everything that consumed my life preceding that fateful weekend afterwards seemed foggy and insignificant. By any conventional judgment I should have been happy. I received a promotion, a pay raise, and an award at work, yet I desired to run away.
I worked to save up money to travel. Motivated by hope, I mailed my unused passport to the Secretary of State to be amended. Finding work became an obsession. I trained for my new day job position with my supervisor until she had to train for her new position. Afterwards, I completed my usual tasks of taking photos for slides to be used in mostly art history classes, sending the film out to be developed, and retouching and digitizing the returned slides in Photoshop. Then I returned to the suburbs and toiled on my freelance commitments. I organized my own extensive concert photography collection and edited two stop motion photography music videos, From Now On for Kill Hannah and Depression Glass for Cameron McGill and What Army. I ran on a treadmill twice a day at the gym twice a day to keep moving, because if I thought about my life, I would admit that I existed, but I was not living.
The bumper-to-bumper snail’s-pace commute from Bensenville to Chicago slowly was extinguishing my will to live. I despised rush hour, complete with blaring horns and obscene gestures, but accepted it as a necessary evil since I conformed to business hours. Knuckles white, I clenched the steering wheel and desperately hoped not to get rear-ended or shot. If I kept the window up and turned on some music, I had time to daydream. I hungered to attend a Jesse Malin concert in New York and to finally travel around the world. Mostly, I yearned to temp fate by visiting this star-crossed stranger.
Months passed, and only a few emails and photos, brief updates detailing the monotonous reality of our daily lives from 4000 miles away, kept me optimistic. Nevertheless, the messages were saturated with sentiments such as: “I am so happy that the last person I met on my travels was you. Our chance encounter will really leave a lasting impression on my whole trip,” “I was at work and just thinking about this time last week, and when I saw you.” All of them signed with “hugs and kisses.”
I sent him sentimental song lyrics that reminded me of our encounter, and confessed how I wished I could journey back with my British girl friend who was returning to Surrey from her New York vacation. He replied:
“I have missed you. It’s kind of strange because we only had a day together, but looking at your photos…we would have so much fun together!! It would be really cool if you could come to stay here when your friend goes home.”
Honestly, I could not afford to travel. I was swimming in debt. I kept a suitcase filled with unpaid bills and paperwork to fill out for deferment and forbearance requests in the cab of my truck. I needed to find a small affordable studio apartment in the city. I had begun the aforementioned new supervisor job, but my did not get paid for a few weeks. My skin was more pallid than normal save for the dark, puffy circles around my eyes. Most days I dragged myself around in lethargy, resigned to the idea that life was as good as it was going to get. Everything I fancied was fantasy. I was not special. Any idiot could fall in love. Any idiot could take a photo. Any idiot could relate to a song. I questioned if I had lied to myself all year since I did not feel as independent as a year prior. Every day I became more withdrawn, preferring the company of my journal to humans. Every weekend I became more dysfunctional, erasing all emotion with cocktails. My composure was bent to its breaking point. I reasoned that I needed to get away or risked becoming a mean, bitter person.
That October, I secretly purchased a flight to London. I was scraping to survive, but scheming. If I had to throw in the proverbial towel and be one of those 30-year-olds who moves back in with her parents and gets a job at Starbucks for the benefits, I was determined to have one last grand adventure. When one has nothing, one has nothing left to lose.
Fate must have had some pity looking down at me, and she must have seen what a sad sight I had become. She spun the stars, and with the support of my boss and my friends, I was on a plane bound for London.
First, I was almost not admitted into the country. Apparently there is an asinine rule stating one must carry the address of the place where one is staying (which, of course, I did not since I am not a planner). After about 20 minutes, I persuaded Customs to allow me into the UK with little proof that I was not some young-crazy-vagabond criminal.
All my friends who have traveled abroad insisted I could use my ATM card rather than traveler’s checks. I should have known better. My bank card did not work in Ohio. I had exactly 20 dollars in my pocket, and after I exchanged it, I had over nine pounds. Taking the underground to downtown London cost about three pounds and four pence, which left me with over five pounds.
Throughout September I messaged a new MySpace friend. He was a mutual Psychic Drive fan who lived near London. Our conversations consisted mostly about drinking, the weather and the dentist, but when I informed him of my visit, we arranged a meeting. He suggested we visit the Tate Modern. I could not believe that A) He allowed a complete stranger his phone number and 2) He, a boy, advised we go to the museum! I planned to spend the day at the museum, maybe have a drink, and catch a train to Surrey for the night. Unfortunately, my friend from Surrey left on tour, but she put me in contact with a mutual friend.
I met this aforementioned mutual friend the previous December following a Jesse Malin concert in New York City. I had been invited to the after party, but, en route to the bar, I walked through a rainstorm. Once inside, I wallowed in misery. I was cold, wet, and broke (did I mention how my debit card doesn’t like to work when I travel?). A woman, from Alsager, had just purchased a swanky new high tech digital Canon camera, and my friend, the one from Surrey, was running around taking photos of everyone. I was hiding by the jukebox when she took a photo of me snarling. Since I was interested in photography, she introduced me to the camera’s owner. We chatted about cameras, photography and music. A few days later she discovered one of my online profiles. Almost as if foreshadowing the future, she wrote if I ever visited near Manchester, I could stay with her.
Things never happen according to plan, but sometimes they work out for the better.
Luckily, my debit card worked in the payphones in London. I received directions to the Tate, and phoned the MySpace boy. Navigating the “tube” was easier than the subway in New York, but cost about two pounds to travel between the first and second zones without a day card, which cost about four pounds. London’s underground is divided into six zones and the price increases the farther one travels into the other zones. I needed my remaining money to get to the National Rail to catch a train to Crewe, and I did not know the zone in which that particular train station was located. There were a few all-night train stations around London. I figured, worst case scenario, I would stay awake all night at a station and call my bank as soon as it opened in America to work out my card issues.
I arrived at the Tate and called the MySpace boy with my magic debit card. He said he would meet me one and a half hours because he lived outside London with his parents on account of quiting his job two weeks prior. The weather was unseasonably warm and many passers-by wanted to chat. I sat on a bench, wrote in my journal, and sketched for two hours before I called him again. He wondered if I was nearby, which confused me because obviously I was already there. He was silent for a moment then, with a slight chuckle, he informed me of the Tate Modern. I was at the Tate Britain (well, who knew there were two Tates?)! I did not want to tell him I was practically destitute, so I told him I would meet him there. He insisted on meeting at the underground station. (In all fairness, when I looked back at our messages he did write we should go to the Tate Modern. My bad!)
He was a tall, lanky boy with two-toned, teased hair. My locks were green. We greeted each other awkwardly and roamed around Bankside towards the museum. On the way there we commented about the weather and tried to make small talk. As we walked up to the doors, he explained how the museum was built in an old power station. He warned me that he was nearly kicked out before for being too loud and touching the art work. Unfortunately most of the exhibitions were closed, so we settled for ambling around the collection, pointing and giggling like school children at the abstract nudes. I saw my favorite Pop art, including a Warhol. At the time, I felt surreal, almost like I was outside myself.
As soon as we walked into Turbine Hall, we were miniaturized by 14,000 casts of the inside different boxes, stacked like giant sugar cubes arranged in a gigantic labyrinth-like structure (Rachel Whiteread’s EMBANKMENT). We looked at each other, smirked, and took off running around and taking photos with his old film camera (remember film?) before we were out of breath and hysterical! Outside was a public art exhibit consisting of paper taped to the ground, but most people were walking around it. We promenaded on it, leaving dirty shoe prints paths. The artists thanked us for participating.
We then strolled along the Thames, and I hesitantly mentioned my money situation. Undaunted, the gentleman insisted on carrying my heavy book-bag. He offered to show me as much as the city as possible. We roamed down the river, searching for “treasure” and asked each other all sorts of mundane getting-to-know-you questions. He was interesting, but often times the conversation would fall short, and we would find ourselves hastily smiling at each other. I often wondered what he thought since he emanated a childlike charisma. We passed the Tower of London on our way to the financial district, where he informed me of how prisoners would at one time be beheaded and their heads left on stakes as a deterrent to enemies. I told him I was glad Londoners had become more agreeable. He bought me a day pass so I could ride all day between zones one and two by bus or by the tube.
We rode on a double-decker bus, which I found odd and disorienting because of the height and backwards traffic, so we exited. He apologized for being a bad tour guide, but I was happy to have such wonderful company. Besides, I liked dragging him around his familiar city and seeing it not only new, but also through his eyes. At Trafalgar Square as we sat around the fountain, I splashed him, to his surprise, but not to his dismay. I tried to climb on the giant lion statues, but I was exhausted, so instead he took my photo. We chased pigeons around the square, and he said the square used to be infested with diseased pigeons that the city poisoned. I was shocked, but shrugged it off as we made our way to Soho.
He informed me about the sex shops as we sojourned down Carnaby Street, where we both drooled over shoes we wanted, but could not afford. By evening, he offered to get me a drink in one of his favorite pubs, a quaint, dimly lit place with a lounge upstairs. We sat at a table downstairs . He had a cider and ordered shandy for me. Shandy is beer mixed with carbonated lemonade. After a few and for the rest of the night, I was called Shandy.
Later, we went to Camden Town. I was having such a wonderful time, I nearly left my bags at the bar. He cautioned what a tourist trap the markets became on Sundays especially. Since everything was closed, we moved to another of his favorite pubs, The Good Mixer. The pub was old fashioned and unpretentious, populated with regulars. It was trendy with the younger generation because, I was told, in the early 1990′s, it was the Brit-pop crowd’s boozer of choice. The jukebox played heavy metal music, and I was intrigued by the pool table because its smaller table pockets and lack of striped balls.
Without thinking, and much to the amusiment to the Mixer’s crowd, I blurted out, “Your balls are different.”
He continued buying me shandys and guzzling ciders. For amusement, we pretended to be married and played AC/DC on the jukebox. Whenever our songs played, the bartender turned the volume up. By the time the Mixer closed, my chivalrous host refused to let me go to the train station. Instead he insisted he PAY for a hotel room. Unfortunately no nearby rooms were available. He led me, literally by my arm, to Belsize Park, an expensive borough of London. As we approached the doors to the Holiday Inn, he said not to worry about the price. Of course, I immediately panicked and protested. He would not listen so I insisted that I would pay him back. He said not to worry. I think he paid over 130 pounds for a room for the night!
The next day, he took me to the train station to catch the train to Crewe. First we went to the wrong rail, but, undaunted, he directed me to the correct rail station. I straighted out my ATM / money situation and attempted to pay him back, but he refused any kind of recompense. I begged and pleaded to no avail. He finally let me buy a medium vanilla milkshake at the nearby Burger King for him. To this day, every time I have a vanilla milkshake, I think of him and that day.
When I tried to use the payphone to call my acquaintance in Alsager, he insisted I use his mobile phone instead. At that point I realized arguing was moot. My acquaintance in Alsager did not answer, but phoned the mobile immediately after. I booked a seat on the next train, and she, Alsager, was going to pick me up at the Crewe station.
My new companion walked me to the gate. I took one final opportunity to offer him money, but he refused. Wistfully, I pleaded with him to meet me Monday so I could buy him a coffee, lunch, or a drink (or a few drinks) before I returned to America. He was an unexpected surprise on my impromptu excursion. My Delusion Angel promised he would try to meet with me, kissed my cheek, and waved goodbye.
To Be Continued….
Delusion Angel by David Jewell
oh, baby with your pretty face,
drop a tear in my wineglass,
look at those big eyes,
see what you mean to me,
sweet cakes and milkshakes,
I am a delusioned angel,
I am a fantasy parade,
I want you to know what I think,
dont want you to guess anymore,
you have no idea where I came from,
we have no idea where we’re going,
launched in life,
like branches in the river,
caught in the current,
I’ll carry you, you’ll carry me,
that’s how it could be,
don’t you know me?
don’t you know me by now?