We Have No Past

Cyndi Lauper

I moved to New York City in June of 2002, less than a year after 9/11. The city was suspended in sadness underneath two invisible shadows. A resilient, loud, dirty and beautiful urban recovery zone. When I would ride the local N/R train from Brooklyn to Manhattan, the train would fall silent as the conductor slowed down to pass the closed Cortland Street stop. I thought about my childhood friend from Wisconsin who was headed uptown at the Wall Street stop in the moments right after the first plane hit. He explained how confused he was about the huge group of people who rushed onto the train, fleeing downtown onto what must have been the last train to make that stop.

Fall makes me miss New York. And the season always starts in such a reflective time as the names of the victims of that tragic day are read aloud during the televised memorial. New York is such a goliath. A place that can not be conquered. Can not be overcome by the extraordinary or by familiarity — it is always changing and there is always a new corner, a new store, a new exhibit you have not seen no matter how long you have lived there, it seems. I always felt simultaneously swept up within the flow of pedestrians while strangely an outsider to the city’s inner-workings. People would often ask me if I loved living in New York. I could never answer the question, I couldn’t look objectively at myself in relationship to the behemoth that was that city. It was work. I was learning. I often wondered what would have happened had I moved to New York in June of 2001.

Becoming a young artist there at the time always felt like I was chasing something that no longer existed or that was way beyond my reach. Generations older than I talked about walking out of their apartments in one of the villages to see their friends show. We were on the subway for an hour to see our each other’s performances. But we did. And we were caught without knowing it.

Caught between eras. Well after the Judsons, the NEA wars, and just before youtube. In a city many of the elders called homogenized but before the Nets stadium went up on Flatbush. Perhaps it was just that, after the fall but before the next. I still had a landline.

I babysat for an incredible family during that time. She was a heartbreakingly talented painter and her husband was an uber eccentric film maker. Their child was a wondrous little kid, a total genius and is now, so I’ve seen online, a voice of the young generation of LGBT as a transgender male. They were so kind to me. They taught me so much about art and New York, she told me to be an actress instead of a dancer. I took a class. I had no idea at the time what a bad ass apartment they had. I loved that family.

Despite their  creative cores their kid wanted to take Hockey lessons (and, I should add,  watch Some Like It Hot and Annie Get Your Gun every afternoon). So we would gear up and head to Chelsea Piers. Often times I was with the whole family for the Hockey outings. I was not the only babysitter to be tagging along with both parents.

One of the other babysitter + parent teams was Cyndi Lauper and Co. My midwesternly earnest self of course did not even notice it was her until it was pointed out to me. Every Tuesday afternoon I sat on the bleachers with Cyndi, her babysitter, and my employers watching our two charges in the crew of 7 year olds on ice.

To me, no one is more New York than Cyndi Lauper. When I hear her music or her Queens accent I think of those afternoons in that cold indoor rink as I babysat — wondering if I was  going to survive let alone actually make anything as an artist. Waiting for an opportunity; the afternoons between taking a dance class, an acting class, not taking class because I was hungover, going to a rehearsal and not getting paid, going to the audition, blowing off the audition. The months and years as I struggled to know who I was as an artist in the in-between time, in an in-between era where we didn’t belong to the past but the future was just on the precipice of the new.  She is the *old* New York of Studio 54 and seedy letter Avenues, and the *new* mega Broadway productions and Williamsburg Condos. She is timeless. The real deal. The artist who remakes herself and responds to the world around her. She is not overcome by the goliath in its rise or fall. She is simply alongside, within and becoming.