Have a nice day, or else
Sunday 17 January 1999
I keep bumping into people in uniform with badges saying that their names are Joaquin or Mustapha. "Hey!" I shout, shaking them hard. "You are from Istanbul? So which side of the Golden Horn did you fish? Did you sit on the sunny side of the ferry to Haydapasa or did you sit downstairs?" But they just look at me sadly as though to say: You poor deluded fool. You still believe in those old stories that your grandmother told you. You actually believe there are places where the sun still shines. Well, buddy, you have obviously got one hell of a problem. Have a nice day.
It must be true. I've just stepped through the biggest one-way door in the world. People come to New York, but have you ever heard of anybody leaving? Once in a dark lift-shaft always in a dark lift-shaft. A rebellious Puerto Rican told me there was so much artificial light in this city that God decided to save money on sunshine. In the arc-lights I keep seeing stuff floating down past the window. Rain, snow, ash, shredded documents, dandruff. Somebody on the 186th floor of some building must be chucking this stuff out of the window. Why? If the earth does still exist down there, it must be neck-deep in rubbish.
I'm just getting a message asking if I want to delete all my memories of home, now. There go my last few memories of the Old World. Dozens of Canary Wharf towers, and God has forgotten to turn the taps off! You thought the British were obsessed with the weather? "It's 28 degrees. How you doin'?" says the man in the lift. "It's 29 degrees and rising!" says the man tossing my fried eggs. Obscurely, I want them to land on the floor. They don't. Delete all memories now.
What a relief that's over. Now I begin to see how they do it. Just relax. Stay indoors, for example, ordering room service and watching the weather channel. Wow! Ten degrees in Maine! Get me another ice-cream sundae fast!
Funnily enough, in the artificial half-light, I even think I can see people down there. People wading through the rain, running for their lives. Poor souls. These must be the sad deranged types who still remember their grandmother's tales about blackberrying on the South Downs or picking olives on the hillsides of Calabria. I don't think I'll be joining them today.
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