My first trip to New York City happened in April, 1980. It was a family trip in a new car, a dark-brown Datsun 210. Though we lived in DC at the time, nothing prepared me for the new sensations of the Big Apple. Two years later, when I flew from London (cold, not much light, lots of clouds/pale people) to Lusaka (hot, lots of sun/black people), I discovered Darwinism. Four years after that, when I flew from England (lots of extreme poverty/very rich country) to Sweden (no poverty at all/very rich country), I discovered Socialism. But it was when I entered Manhattan that I discovered the city.
And it wasn't the height and abundance of buildings that sounded the deepest sense of the city. Nor was it the crowds going up and down Broadway. It was just one moment that lasted maybe one minute.
There was a sudden downpour. It was heavy and hard and loud. I was in the backseat, on the right side, looking out the window at all of this water, which seemed to come from nowhere and without warning. The car, driven by my father, stopped on a corner not far from the porno theaters that lined 42nd Street and would be gone by the middle of the next decade. (In 1999, science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany would write about their disappearance and the general extinction of the erotic city in the book Times Square Red, Times Square Blue.) And then it happened: What looked like a black man with what looked like pink and purple hair run into a red phone booth to escape the rain. He held a magazine over his pink and purple hair. And he wasn't really a he. She wore a gold lamé mini-skirt and gold elevator shoes. The rain messed with some of her hair and glittering eyeshadow. I could not take my eyes off this ambient, god-like being.
Nothing but the city could make such a vision possible. She could only belong to the biggest of cities. Anywhere else, she would be crushed like an iridescent mermaid crushed by rude and superstitious villagers. The light turned green. The boy in the Datsun began to move, and slowly the eternal moment came to an end. He was never the same again.