Australia is pretty far away. Movies come out about 29 months after they’ve screened in the US, and about 1 in 40 Australians know how to pronounce ‘Moët’. Of course, herein lies its charm, but once you hit your early twenties, the allure of a city like New York is pretty hard to ignore. Once my visa was approved, I fantasized about my future in NYC—my exposed brick apartment, my creative, multicultural friends, and my pivotal role as lead triangle player in a 12-piece alt indie band from Brooklyn. I was convinced NYC would be where I “found myself”, and three months later such a discovery did occur, when I found myself under a Williamsburg overpass at 1am on a Thursday morning digging a grave for a rock.
Rewind. I was 23, naive, and eagerly G’daying every Brad, Chad and Walt in America. On the night before my flight out of LA to NY, a homeless man approached me on Hollywood Blvd. I told him of my travel plans, and he took from his pocket a rock—not a crystal, not a shimmering metal, but a sand-colored rock. He pressed his dirty hand in mine and said, “Carry this with you everywhere, and no harm will come to you.” Do you know how strong the marijuana is that they grow in California? It has names like ‘Purple Monkey Balls’ and ‘Rhino Diesel’. I believed every word he said.
It’s funny how little life can prepare you for New York City. Sure, for the born and bred-ers, it’s no big deal. But for a 23-year-old who grew up in a place still waiting for Titanic to hit the big screen: HUGE deal. I arrive homeless. I desperately need a place for me and my new rock to crash. I find a room in a house in Williamsburg, sharing with three young girls who all go to the same art school, one which after seeing their work I could only deduce was very easy to get accepted into.
Girls are filthy. They are feral. Forget everything you think you know about women’s hygiene and step inside a female public toilet. It’s like a scene from Saving Private Ryan, which was a huge hit in Australia when it premiered last year. I burden you with such horrific details only because it was due to these three pseudo artists’ revolt against housecleaning that I fell ill a week after moving in. As I late night googled symptoms, it became apparent to me that I had strep throat, and if I awoke in the morning (god willing), I needed a doctor, stat. Yelp directed me into the old, frail, technologically stunted arms of a Dr. Louis C Barricelli. While sitting in the waiting room that hadn’t be updated since the 50’s, the receptionist, Elaine, started asking me questions in a heavy Jewish accent. When I told her I was over here by myself and anticipated a stay of at least a year, she gasped in real, honest shock. She asked if my mother were still alive, assuming the only logical reason I had been allowed to leave my childhood home was her untimely death. “I’m 23”, I reminded her. “I’m 47. I moved out of my mother’s house 8 years ago when I got married, and now I live next door.” By the time I was called into Louis’s room, she knew the middle names of my second cousins.
The image above is what I saw when I walked in.
Oh, cool, I’m going to die, I remember thinking. I’m pretty sure I just told him what I had, googled the antibiotic I needed and was on my way. The next day, I got a call from a random number. “Hello?” I answered. “Hello. This is Elaine from the Doctor’s office. I was wondering if you’d like to come to Rockaway Beach with us today? Your mother isn’t here to take care of you, and you’re all by yourself.”
Elaine was right. I was all by myself. I didn’t have a job, I hated my housemates, I hadn’t taken my triangle out of its case once, and I was walking around this big scary beast of a city with a fucking rock in my pocket for protection. I was overcome with loneliness. And then, Michael Jackson died.
Don’t get me wrong—I don’t think Michael Jackson dying was that terrible a thing. I am unequivocally positive that he was a serial pedophile, and have refused to listen to his music from the day I had the epiphany (sure, I’ll share it, very simple—think of a friend or family member of yours who is 45 years old. Now imagine him saying he had his 13-year-old friend, Gavin, over for a sleep over in his bed last night. See? Very simple.) Anyway, after a day of riding trains to nowhere, I stepped into a Mexican restaurant for an early dinner. While I was waiting for my nachos, I noticed they were playing the Michael Jackson memorial on the TV. Suddenly, the weight of my loneliness hit me, right as Usher was singing a song called ‘Gone Too Soon’. Who would care if I died in New York? The dam wall of my ducts burst, and I sobbed heavily and freely. The waitress raced around the counter to comfort me, and with her arm around me, she began to cry. “I know, I know”, she sniffled. “I loved him too.” I was too far gone to explain, and her embrace was the first human contact I’d had in weeks. So there we stayed, weeping as one.
I put my hand in my pocket for a tissue, and grazed upon my rock instead. That’s when it hit me—this rock wasn’t protection, it was a bad omen. It was cursed, and it was rubbing off on me—physically and metaphorically. I called my brother at 1am EST, which is around 4pm Australian time. “Hello?” he answered. “Do you know how to bury an omen?” I asked, quite frantically. “How big is the object and how loud can you yell?” was his reply. I was struck by how obviously we were related. With him on the line, I walked in the dead of night to the nearest square of dirt I could find, which happened to be one of those little sidewalk gardens with a tree in it. I’d neglected to pack a shovel in my luggage, so I got down on my knees and began to dig with my hands. Cars were driving past, slowing down. I thought, “this is a pretty dangerous place to be by myself at 1am”. But then my brother told me to cover the rock, draw a circle around it, and chant at the top of my lungs, “Mok Sha! Mok Sha! Mok Sha!” Then three times more, louder. “MOK SHA! MOK SHA! MOK SHA!” I was possessed. I was no longer in any danger—cars were speeding up when they saw me now. With the deed done, I walked home with my fingernails full of dirt and my pockets empty for the first time in weeks. I booked a flight back to LA the next morning. New York City, man. Nothing can prepare you for that.