Somewhere in the depths of Terminal 8 inside JFK international airport is a wall. That wall has a painted mural depicting a multicultural market in Central Park personifying the foundation of America’s diverse history. However observing it imbues a sort of cynicism of any sincerity as the mural is subtly plaster by Coca-cola billboards, bottles and cups. Leading me to assume it’s nothing but a badly drawn advert for the worlds leading monopoly in soft drinks.
The reason I’m talking about this is because unfortunately I lived under it for two days during New Yorks ‘‘Super Storm”. As a native Englishmen I’m quite familiar with the ”we’re all going to die in three inches of snow” phenomenon however I never had the pleasure to be on the other end of it. Upon arriving, penniless, tired and a little sexually frustrated I immediately became aware of our inability to fly. The building was empty, the mood tense and apathetic. The only people left were the staff handing out travel itineraries for flights later in the week. With a 24 hour travel ban we had no escape.
So that’s where I ended up. Cornered in the basement of a makeshift refugee camp. Surrounded by a family who only spoke spanish but decided anyway to build a fortress out of camp beds. This monstrous construction went on throughout the night and before dawn the family had constructed an impenetrable fort that seemed to suck all light away from the sun and leave my humble corner cold and void of all light.
I began to compile a diary of my thoughts, believing that indeed these would be my last hours on this green earth, here is my first entry:
Hour: 1 (47 hours remain)
With no food or water, my body has quickly lost strength and disease runs unchecked throughout the camp. I have not eaten solid food in over an hour. I have yet to have a drink. In fact, swallowing causes such intense agony that I can’t even swallow my own spit without curling up into a ball and crying. To compensate I’ve got a cup that I spit into every minute or so. When the cup is full, I simply pour it on the floor and hope the building river of saliva will wash me away and back home to my comfy british isles.
Hour: 6/6.5 (42 hours remain)
My companion braved the sea of the unwashed to reach the bathroom. I have not seen her since. I tried to convince her instead to rest, but in my weakened state my protests were less than eloquent. She has not returned…
Hour: 11 (38 hours remain)
I’ve recovered substantially thanks to the help of some badly made convenience store sandwiches and the return of my companion. Thankfully she is unscathed apart from a rather awkward social encounter with a clerk who conversed far more than necessary.
Things were looking promising until my mental state deteriorated. I begin murmuring uncontrollable about Earl Gray and pork pies. I decided I would attempt to clean myself to calm my state. I began my trek with nothing but a wet wipe. Hopes were high.
The journey itself is not difficult, except for the sidestepping of sleeping families and lonely travelers. Once inside the restrooms I retreat to the disabled stall, wanting both privacy and space. I stretch, let my T-shirt ride up and reveal my pale stomach. The light here is different. Whiter, purer. It reminds me of looking out of my bedroom window, the sky diffused and grey, the light framed in a square bracket on my wall…
As I continue to stretch I notice something, the perfectly grey floor was marked by a little wet red spot. Then I realise there are more red spots. A few dozen of them of varying sizes. If I wasn’t in the mens I would have assumed it was sanitary related but no. It was blood and it had no reason being here… I leave hoping to find some TSA officer and inform them of this peculiarity, but find none. My conclusion is that a rogue villain is picking off refugees one by one, smothering them to death before cutting them up in the disabled toilets, flushing the evidence down the loo.
It distresses me greatly.
Hour: 18 (30 hours remain)
It’s late, it’s dark. I want to sleep. My companion in their bed has pushed their cot against mine. She whispers to me. ”Be careful”, I was told, ”There are a lot of homeless people around…” I murmur some sort of empty assurance but they promptly close their eyes and fall unconscious leaving me with the task of protecting our wellbeing and luggage.
I do not rest.
Filled with a McCarthy sense of paranoia I fiercely glare at the camp’s other inmates to decide whether they were homeless and if they were, would they stab me and steal my stuff? This goes on all night. The only other conscious soul in the camp is an elderly man with a limp. He keeps pacing back and forth from this one spot but he can’t walk right so instead he leans on a trolley for balance. I don’t see him again after this. I guess I’ll never know what he was doing…
Hour: 29 (19 hours remain)
It’s morning… I leave for food and a general stretch returning once more to the top floor. I mournfully glare at the departures board only to see canceled flight after flight. Yet something’s off, my brain doesn’t tick at first but there’s a flight not branded with that depressing red text. ”Holy shit”, I whisper to myself… There’s a flight to my fucking home… Why aren’t I on it? I wonder. I run to the check-in desk. There’s a man, not in uniform but some red shirt. He claims that there’s no staff to talk to me, that all of management is swept up in a flurry of hectic meetings and couldn’t possible asses my situation. I ask him a hundred questions and demand something more, I was so hungry to leave I didn’t mean to be rude so I used by Radio-Four voice. His posture changes but he is still useless.
In this whole airport, a space covering almost 5,000 acres there isn’t one staff member I can talk too…
I return to my companion with the news. There’s a flight, but damn… We ain’t on it.
Hour: 30 (18 hours remain)
We began feverishly searching through our travel documents. Reading fine prints of insurance coverage and googling FAQ’s with inept broadband. Finally we found a number, it was an english line so we made some arrangements and had our domestic families make a case for us. It was tense waiting, longing for good news. It took awhile for someone to get back to us but finally smiles! We were promised a seat ”no problems”. Yet…. There was a catch.
The person who made the call could not actually confirm the seats for us as they didn’t have permission to change our itinerary. We roll our eyes. Our only option is to find the American number, hope to talk to someone and either get the seats ourselves or okay our English compadre.
My companion leaves to make the call…
I stay with the camp beds and our stuff just incase.
Hour: 33 (15 hours remain)
I have still not heard from my companion. She has not returned and I can’t leave our luggage unattended to search for her. I hope things are well but I am increasingly feeling inept and impotent to help in our share catastrophe. I find myself staring at the mural for extended periods of time. It brings me back to our moments in the MOMA. NY’s Museum of Modern Art. I find the term modern and it’s connotation quite confusing. It’s a term that covers a very broad range of subjects but really it describes and incredibly brief period of time. Now we find ourselves folding the future into the past with our post-modern autopsy of the now past present.
The volume of exhibits were overwhelming but there was one Artist I clung to for stability. Mary Weatherford. Her minimalist use of colour and speckled forms invokes the image of a cave painting. Primal and powerful. The light has a way of drawing you into this other world of childlike comprehension. Matched only by sensations of plunging into oils of vastly different colours… Only to have them peel away with your skin to reveal something other, something raw.
She single-handedly justified my visit.
Hour: 38 (10 hours remain)
We’re at a different terminal now. We’ll soon leave this country and be flying across the oceans. My companion achieved their goal, not without flare. My quiet british reserve might not of carried us this far. Thankfully she was willing to get a little vocal about her distress.
After burning through several useless agents she managed to find one willing to grovel for forgiveness and offer us up some premium seats.
We had been ”booked up” to business class. Free leg room here I come. We’re waiting now for the final call. We spend the rest of our time talking about each other in an empty food court. It’s nice and I almost regret leaving now. Not being able to have full and convenient access to a mind I love is frustrating at best.
I can hear the low announcement of the final flight.
Like always, I just keep on staring blankly ahead.
My eyelids a little heavy, I close them for just a moment. I’m holding someones hand but it slips away as they escape in front of me.
I’ll never forget the night that the fierce typhoon passed, I was looking down on the city from the top of the skies horizon. The wind still a little erratic, tearing at the edges of its departure. The lights of the houses nearby shimmered as though searing the air. I’ve never witnessed a scene like it, though I was used to seeing it.
I spoke to myself softly and said ”goodbye”.
More coming soon