The bathrooms at LaGuardia Airport remind me of the Taste of Chicago’s Port-a-Potties, but I have to drop a deuce before I head to Manhattan.
Car service would be $50, a taxi $30, a shuttle $25, so I decide to walk to the M60 bus at the terminal stop because I’m in no hurry. I’ve traveled from Midway to LaGuardia via Spirit Airlines to see my daughter, Madison, who is three-years-old, and lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.
The M60 lets me off in Harlem. The people here aren’t tourist. It’s loud, fast, and overwhelming. Strollers, languages, and teenagers. A man is yelling something in Spanish. He stuffs a flyer in my hand that says, “We Buy Gold!” I don’t look like a tourist. I have no suitcase, no bags, my only camera is on my phone. I don’t have a hotel room.
The subway to Times Square is quiet. I look at the covers of people’s books—James Patterson, Lee Child, Nicholas Sparks. I like to write. I imagine how my name would look in foil letters on a paperback.
Times Square is a nuisance, but it’s a good starting landmark. My daughter left when she was three-months-old. The mediator helped set dates for visitation. This weekend I’ll visit with her between 9 am and noon, Saturday and Sunday. Today is Friday. Late afternoon.
There’s this exhibit at The Museum of Modern Art that has naked people. They’re hugging skeletons. They’re suspended on a white wall. Two naked people are standing in a narrow corridor and the museum patrons line up to squeeze through them. Someone says the artist is present somewhere. There are kids squeezing through naked people. I wait until there are two naked women, then I do it. All of the women need to be waxed.
Nightlife in the city is like a jukebox. It’s bright and it can play anyway I like. There’s a club on the Lower East Side that plays good hip-hop that stays open until 4 am. I still don’t have a hotel room. I buy a bottle of Jack and get a cup from Subway so I can drink while I walk. This club also has expensive drinks, so I plan to be drunk beforehand.
Okay, I’ve been walking around for an hour and I have no idea where the fuck I am. My iPhone ran out of battery. Even with the buzz, I’m embarrassed to ask for directions in New York to LES by train. I don’t want to spend money on a cab. I had a great time with my daughter my last visit. We rolled around on the carpet and acted like different animals.
Everyone is pressed against each other like a music video, dancing to a Biggie song. I’m drunk. I lost my chewing gum in some girl’s cleavage as I was screaming in her ear above the music. People are beautiful. This one girl is in really great shape.
I walk Jennifer to Houston Ave. I can’t tell if I’m holding her or she’s holding me. I try to hail her a cab, but this is New York. I’m a black man. It’s 3 am. So I let her get one on her own. I kiss her like I care about her and I’ve just now noticed her strong arm muscles. She says she’s a gym rat and to call before I come to town next time. I fumble in my pockets before the cab drives away and give her a twenty-dollar bill for the ride.
The red stairs at Times Square are partitioned off. I sit on a border, just off to the side. There’s a group of young girls in miniskirts. They are laughing and dancing. They aren’t older than twenty-two or maybe nineteen. One of them lifts her skirt and dances with her ass showing. They’re laughing and they notice me. They don’t care that I’m watching. I look old and invisible. I feel sick. I stare at their thighs and think about kissing Jennifer. Even her ass wasn’t soft.
There’s a man sweeping trash in the dark. A teenager smacks a street sign. Two guys are talking outside the twenty-four-hour McDonald’s. The security guard in McDonald’s tells me I can’t rest my head on the table. The black coffee tastes good walking in the morning grey to the PATH train to New Jersey. I can’t wait to see my little girl.
At the retirement apartments, I can’t remember if my daughter’s great-grandmother’s buzzer is E-13 or E-15. I get buzzed in and I talk with Mrs. Gilyard until my daughter shows up at 9:20 am. She’s acting shy, as though she doesn’t know me, and I’m dying and smiling, sitting on the carpet around all of the toys I bought at the twenty-four-hour Duane Reade.
I color a picture of Boots the monkey yellow and Madison, my daughter, comes over and reminds me that everything is hers, including me. We’re playing animals and I’m starting to cry. I try to hold it, but all of my suitcases unpack right there on the carpet, acting like an alligator. Everyone is looking at me. My daughter says the most beautiful word.
“Daddy,” she says. “Daddy…why are you crying, Daddy?”
That afternoon I’m walking around Soho, wondering what to do ‘til Sunday morning.
Shannon Cason is a writer and award-winning storyteller. He has shared his stories on large stages, dive bars, and small living rooms. Shannon is a Moth GrandSLAM champion; a contributor to NPR’s Snap Judgment; and hosts his own storytelling podcast called Homemade Stories. He is originally from Detroit.