Sunday 8 December 2019

This Man's Life


New York's Central Park
New York's Central Park
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

As much as I love them, my kids drive me insane sometimes. I would, however, be actually insane - banged up in a secure psychiatric ward somewhere humming to myself like a broken radiator - without them.

So be careful what you wish for. You'd think I'd be over the moon with two nights in New York - two nights of proper sleep, of relative freedom, two nights away from my two young kids.

I can listen to Arcade Fire, Lou Reed and Bob Dylan albums all I like, read my books and have a glass of wine in my hotel room before going out for a carefree mosey around the city that never sleeps, and going to see, and interview, Hozier at his concert in midtown Manhattan - the reason I am here.

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The concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom last Thursday night was an incredible performance to have been a lucky witness to, but the rest of my time here hasn't quite worked out as I imagined before I left Dublin. I am walking around Manhattan and the Upper West Side severely jet-lagged, missing my two children and my poor wife, who is at home in Dublin minding the holy terrors.

The hours are going backwards over here. I feel like a character in an old Frank Sinatra song about loneliness. I made the mistake of ringing the kids earlier. It made me feel profoundly lonely to hear their little voices 5,000km away.

Without them, with this hideous jet-lag, fears for the endurance of my sanity are grave. My mind is a mush of nostalgia for the past and general weepy memories. It is like Evelyn Waugh's line in Brideshead Revisited about when "the phantoms of those haunted late years began to take flight".

My taxi inched up Park Avenue in heavy traffic on my first night in New York. I recalled being here as a 10-year-old with my parents, Maureen and Peter, and my little sister, Marina. We stayed with our uncle Joe. We had an incredible time.

In my mind, I can see now the places that mum and dad took us: the Empire State Building - we went to the top, going up in the lift was like that scene in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory - Bloomingdale's, the Statue of Liberty and Central Park.

I went for a walk through Central Park yesterday morning. I remembered walking through here as a kid holding my mother's hand. I can still see her face, still feel her hand holding my hand.

I hope to bring my own kids here one day and hold their little hands as they walk through the park.

When my dad died eight years ago, work brought me to New York a few days after his funeral. My head was upside down and a mess. It wasn't the jet-lag. It was him. I don't think I will ever recover from his death. Still, to quote John Steinbeck, "It's so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone."

I had a long whiskey in a bar near the Plaza Hotel on the edge of the park thinking about him, and what a great guy he was.

He never drank. The only time I remember my dad having a drink was a double brandy he necked in one go on the plane on the runway of Dublin Airport, 42 years ago, before we took off for New York. He didn't like to fly.

My mother, I recall, bizarrely as it sounds now looking back all those years ago, was smoking a cigarette beside him. In fact she smoked all the way until we landed in JFK and then smoked for the entirety of the holiday in New York. She is no doubt up in heaven smoking.

At this time of year, New York is lit up like a giant Christmas tree. The buzz is beautiful to be around. Little kids excited that Santa is coming in five weeks. Writing that sentence from New York with my own little kids in Dublin excited about Santa makes me sad. But I will keep going. I am flying back at 5am this morning. We are going to see Santa with the kids this afternoon.

I imagine it won't be long before I miss my New York freedom.

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