Halfway through 2015 and I am still scanning through a list of films from 2014 that I might have missed. Friday nights are better spent dodging phone calls, text messages and emails as I began to unwind for busy yet lazy weekend ahead. I scanned through a list of films I had written on my notebook and my eyes caught a title that was too cliché: Love is Strange. Indeed, love is strange. I began searching for a copy and ended up at the right place within few minutes. Thanks Google! Without any background information about Love is Strange I hit the play icon.
The screen lit up brightly with a scene of two pair of feet resting upon each other filled with preludes of Chopin. Ben, late 70s, is in bed awake, lying next to Ben is George, early 70s, still asleep. Our bodies get very intimate once we are in bed with someone we love. Sweat dripping every morning when you wake up beside your loved ones and hope you never leave their side. Ben and George, two aging New Yorkers decide finally to tie the knot in Manhattan. Nearly 40 years together and full of joy, Ben and George prepare themselves and as they walk to their wedding destination in Lower Manhattan, Ben lags behind and has to catch up. Within the first few minutes of the film, we expect a subtle hint of what’s coming our way: detachment.
George, a music teacher, at a private Catholic school loses his job once the administration discovers he married a man. The administration, the parents and the children knew he was gay and living with Ben. Struggling to pay rent; George and Ben call their close ones to discuss some potential places to crash till they find an affordable housing in Manhattan. Ben lives with his nephew, sharing a bunk-bed with his grandson and George with two gay party-loving police men that live in the same building. As they settle into their new homes, Ben, on the phone with George on the other line, says, “No, they’re very nice, but sometimes when you live with people, you know them better than you care to - that’s all.”
The dialogue stroked a chord with me. I had to stop the film and think. I’ve been afraid to ask a friend or family member to sleep over for more than few months or a day/week if I was in Ben and George’s situation. When we intrude and abolish their time, priorities, and routine we are left with no options, but to think that they can tolerate us for another minute. Our lives are impeccably gray and Love is Strange breakdowns the mechanism of modern relationships, diving deep into our careers we forget about the elderly thriving to survive and capable of attachments.
Love is Strange is one of the biggest surprise of 2014, and I’m glad to have seen this after the SCOTUS decision. Love is Strange is directed by Ira Sachs. Sachs, a gay man himself, has immense love for New York and uses real life locations to tell a wonderful story of two lovers in a lonely city. This film stars Alfred Molina, John Lithgow, and Marisa Tomei. Cinematography is by Christos Voudouris.
As I end this note, I want take this moment and thank Oliver Sacks for writing wonderful essays on New York Times I would re-read them every time I had a chance. He leaves us with his brilliant mind for all of us to soak in. Thank you for all your contribution, Mr. Sacks!
October 1st of 2014, I started a new job and my bulletin was full of travel plans. I asked myself how nice it would be to become a vagabond and fall of the map for years. This plan didn’t fall through, but my plan to visit to NYC before 2016 was on the right track. I’m currently an auditor for a mid-market firm, and my schedule was lined-up for the busy season of audit. I had no idea that there was a company ill be auditing in New Jersey. My co-workers told me the schedule changes periodically so I shouldn’t depend on it. Middle of January arrives and I am packing for New Jersey. Besides asking for work and learning something new, I was preoccupied with my travel plans with NYC. Friday, January 23rd, my ears were covered under the filthy white linen sheets in an extended Hotel. I woke up on a snowy morning around 3:30a.m (2:30 a.m. Houston time), followed by a shower not realizing the pipes were frozen that morning. I let the water run for 30 minutes while I packed my backpack with Contax T2, film rolls and few warm garments.
I called the taxi service and asked them to come around 5:30 to pick me up at my hotel. They were already there since I cannot request a time frame to pick me up. The taxi driver had trouble finding me since I was covered in snow, a white ghost to be exact, outside the hotel lobby. The taxi driver snaked through the snowy roads to Amtrak station in Long Branch, New Jersey. As always, I arrived 20 minutes early and there was no sign of a train since the roads were covered with snow and it would take an hour to start the trains running. The urge to explore the city had guaranteed a vehicle for future travel plans. I was the first one at the train station, and bought a ticket through Kiosk since the ticket booth doesn’t open until 6:30a.m.
NJ Transit arrived shortly after 6:00. I was in the first compartment. It was completely dark outside and still no sign of where I was. I noticed it stopped every 10 minutes at different towns in New Jersey. Quickly, the NJ transit wasn’t empty. At Perth Amboy stop, a female in Hijab entered the train. She was old, lanky and walked like a child. During the train ride to New York Penn Station, she was on her phone and there were few more people sitting in front of her annoyed by her loud voice. There was a sign that read, “Quite ride.” However, she clearly didn’t see it or that she just wanted to ignore it. I don’t remember the last stop before NY PENN, but there was a black man who entered and was equally loud, yet, none of the other passengers said a word to him. While the Muslim woman was on the train people shouted, “Be quite” and made faces at her.
The train made a final stop at Penn Station and I ran towards ACE rail towards downtown. I asked the helpdesk which track I need to take to get to Franklin Street and buy a Metrocard. After shuffling through my backpack for my wallet, I bought a Metrocard through the kiosk system and walked towards the track 1. After few stops, I finally arrived at Franklin Street. I walked up to a narrow staircase and realized my hands were freezing even with the thick gloves on my hands. I was finally on the streets of Tribeca – NYC. It was a beautiful sight with a sort of New England feeling. Tribeca stands for Triangle Below Canal. I took out my cellphone from the right pocket of my trousers and googled, “Bubbys.”
After circling the streets, I finally made it to Bubby’s. It was closed. The place was being renovated. I texted Kirsten that Bubby’s was closed. She said to wait there and she will be with Brian in few minutes. That Saturday morning, it was raining. I saw small shop across the street from Bubby’s and decided to go shop for an umbrella. I went inside and bought the cheapest umbrella I could afford. I noticed someone walk inside the small shop and it was Kirsten and Brian. We exchanged hugs and figured a place out for us to rest. We walked towards Lower Tribeca trying to score a place that was open to serve breakfast. Brian spotted a place, but it wasn’t opening until 9a.m. We went inside a coffee place nearby where Kirsten treated us with a cup of hot coffee. The last time I had seen Kirsten was back December 2012, when she was leaving for NYC. Our conversation was now settled inside a breakfast place, which I forgot the name of but I remember us joking about how the place looked like a little kid’s room painted by a pedophile. After the meal, we walked towards the Hudson River. I noticed my tennis shoes were soaking as I walked inside the snow. For a minute, I began to feel tired and my hands, face and feet were cold as ice. I knew this weather would bring me down to my knees and it did the following week. We sat inside a CVS like store – Dunne (?) and found a hotel I could settle in. They dropped me off at the subway gate and we parted off.
I checked into Cosmopolitan Hotel Tribeca. I quickly undressed myself through all my clothes on top the shower rod and let them hang dry. I covered myself with a blanket and walked inside the bathroom once again to fill the bathtub with hot water. I took off the blanket and placed my body inside the hot water. At this point, I was already missing home. When I was out traveling for work or traveling in general, my Sunday daily routine missed smelling fresh ginger chai early morning. I grew up eating mostly at home. There was a nostalgic smell of spices that lingered around my house, and every time I came home from work I knew I was home because my mum’s cooking various Indian dishes spread the smell around If I eat out too often my stomach punches me right back in the bed for weeks.
Eating at home has always been a more of “poor” man’s meal after I moved to the states. I began to eat out once I made few friends during college before then my eating out consisted of Taco Bell, which I absolutely hate now. Many of my colleagues were shocked when I told them I had never stayed in a hotel bedroom until my New Jersey trip. I would wake up every morning in New Jersey overwhelmed in cold depressing weather. Every morning, I would take out the orange juice carton from the fridge inside my hotel room and sip on it before work. My co-worker would take us to Starbucks every morning and buy us lattes and mochas, but that wasn’t doing it for me. I began to realize how much I missed fresh ginger tea every morning at my home in Katy, Texas. My desire to drink tea came in frequent cycles.
The next morning after spending a night at the Cosmopolitan Hotel Tribeca I checked out around 8 a.m. and grabbed a cup of coffee from The Laughing Man just around the corner from the hotel. I noticed a couple stare at me with a strange look as if they had seen an Indian man for the very first time while entered the coffee shop. I noticed I was teary due to the cold or I might have been crying. I asked for an extra hot coffee and a croissant. I walked out to the streets of Lower Manhattan and bit into my croissant in my right left hand and sipped on the coffee. I couldn’t swallow either of them and threw in the trashcan near by. My throat felt numb and felt someone had inserted needles through it. I began to feel stuffed. I missed home.