Monday, September 07, 2015

The Four Million

Jerome walked out of the building on 23rd Street having just finished physical therapy. It was a brilliant August day, shimmering and alive with energy. The morning sun chased Jerome into the shade. He paused and looked east. Sixth Avenue was intensely clogging up with traffic, and Jerome knew if he went that way he would leave Chelsea. There was something about the day and Chelsea that enticed him westward toward the Hudson River.

When he first came to New York, Jerome would hear about Chelsea, but he couldn't locate it in his mind. It was as though people were talking about someplace in England. Everything that happened there seemed so distant and foreign. But he was from Texas, and everything outside of Texas was foreign. That was long ago.

When Jerome was a young boy, he had dreams of being a composer, of going to New York, of becoming George Gershwin. He improvised and composed songs, shows, and ballets. His father always thought that Jerome's music was a waste of time. "Jerry," he would say, "You should become a writer. It's what you do best." But Jerome stuck to his dream. He followed it all the way to New York, but somewhere along the way he floundered. He got side tracked. It was the story of The Natural all over, the baseball player who had it all and was tricked and lost his world. Now Jerome pondered his similar fate.  Everyone had been convinced of his great promise, so what diverted his destiny? Who was the trickster? Look in the mirror, he thought.

Now as he walked along 23rd street in the mecca of the New York art scene, Jerome paused. Across the street was the Chelsea Hotel, the home of some of New York's greatest artists, writers, musicians, performers, and ne'er-do-wells.  He crossed the street and walked up to the entrance. The hotel held its age well, going back to another century, another era. Jerome had heard that O. Henry may have lived there, but always under a pseudonym, as he was always dodging bill collectors.  George thought it was odd, because O. Henry wasn't his real name any way.

Jerome's father had given him a copy of O. Henry's The Four Million, a book of short stories about every day New Yorkers. The book was a rebuttal to a remark of a rather stuffy wealthy gent who observed there were four million people living in New York, but there were only about three or four hundred of the wealthy elite that were worth knowing.

Jerome held the The Four Million tightly as though his grip might empower him to absorb the substance of being a New Yorker. At this point, this was the closest he had been to New York even though he had been trying to get there most of his life.

Jerome stood by the Chelsea Hotel feeling the energy of the past, hoping to find some thread of meaning to why he stood on this historic spot. It seemed he was always searching, looking for some clue to explain his life. Was there something here in this old, historical building, now a relic from a past that almost no one remembered?

He walked further west toward the river.  There were so many wonderful places he thought he might like to visit, the restaurants, coffee bars...and especially the galleries. As he approached 9th Avenue, he saw the red trim of the Chelsea Square Restaurant, a landmark for him because he liked to go there. He could order coffee and a roll, and they never bothered him or hurried him to leave.

Suddenly he noticed Suna and Hana. They were sitting at a table near the front. Jerome paused and watched. Hana seemed animated and was laughing, and Suna was listening and nodding. It was like watching a silent film. He was tempted to go in, but he thought better of it. He loved seeing them through the window as though they existed in another dimension. As he looked at them he noticed his reflection on the window. He was looking through his reflection to their images inside...a kind of trio.

But he had another destination... galleries that he had neglected so long that he was out of touch with the energy that young artists were launching. Jerome moved on, flooded by images of so many young people around him headed to their own destinations... in the midst of their own adventures.

Everyone he saw had their own story. Now it was The Nine Million creating and pursuing their own narratives, their own happenings. They were tapping out messages on their phones, snapping pictures as they passed by, gatherers of moments chronicling their own stories.

Who needed O. Henry now?


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