In Egypt, a long time ago, I once saw a B&W movie called the Americanization of Emily. It featured James Garner, Julie Andrews, and the incomparable Melvyn Douglas. It was this movie, coupled with The Great Escape, which came out at roughly the same time, that turned me into a lifelong fan of Garner’s sketchy but charming screen persona.
Twenty years later, on the UPW of Manhattan, I found myself sharing with Erin (we were not yet married) a miniscule apartment on the last floor of a 5-storey walk-up on 103rd Street and West End Avenue.
Somebody had been shot on the roof across the street around the time I moved in with her, but I was again broke, and jobless, and such things didn’t phase me. This was, after all, the 80s.
The city was a different place in the mid 80s; much of what made it a fantastic place to live in during the 70s was still around, the residual bohemian space dust of the explosion of creativity in all the arts that typified the late 60s and much of the notorious “Ford to NY: Drop Dead” era.
If ever there was a time when I felt most alive, when you did not know who you would meet in some LES dive bar in the afternoon, and how an evening might later unfold, it was then.
But let’s get back to James Garner.
My girlfriend (who would later become my wife) and I shared this hole-in-the-wall apartment (there was literally a hole in the ceiling, and water occasionally dripped in from the roof after it rained or snowed); she worked at Columbia University doing PR, I worked hard at being the writer boyfriend.
It was not easy playing the role of a failed NYC writer, especially with all the heroic drinking that it involved.
A typical day would start around 8am when I would come to.
Erin would shower and get ready for work, while I groused on the bed or the armchair, waiting for her to leave. The bed and the armchair were in fact the only two pieces of furniture that one could sit on, as the rest of the apartment was barely big enough to make room for a small TV and bookcase with a record player.
I would gather some money, whatever I could find on the carpet, under the armchair pillow, or in my jeans pocket, and give it to Erin, but it was rarely enough to cover the cost of her upcoming errand.
Erin would then leave for work, but not before stopping at a bodega on Broadway and 107th, buy some remedials with whatever money I had given her, plus money of her own, and return to the apartment with the beer.
She was in her 20s, mind you; to this day I wonder what the Spanish guys who ran the bodega thought of this prim, very pretty young woman, who came in every morning to buy four or six cans of Bud or Miller for breakfast every day of the working week.
And of course she would get all sweaty from having to climb back up the 5 stories, as the building had no elevator.
But I did not think about that.
Instead, I was more concerned with getting into right frame of mind to pen my long-awaited opus.
But one cannot simply get down to the business of writing an opus, just like that. You have to work up to such a thing, with due deliberation and pace.
For me, this entailed taking a long first sip of beer just before 9am, turning on the TV, and settling down to watch Bonanza, which I also watched on Egyptian TV in the mid 60s.
Hoss, little Joe, the good episodes with Adam, Hop Sing, all were old friends, a warm-up act to Rockford reruns, which came on at 10am.
By then I had usually consumed 2 or 3 16z cans of Bud (Tall Boys had not yet been invented), so was already in the right frame of mind to truly appreciate the clever banter between my antihero, James Rockford, and his shifty sidekick Angel Martin, played by the extremely funny Stuart Margolin.
I write about this now because Erin, yes, the very same one who used to get me those morning remedial beers in the mid 80s, is leaving Gouna on Saturday.
Yesterday, I booked a return flight to CAIR, as I will be seeing her off, then coming back the same day to Gouna via Hurghada.
And with Erin’s looming departure, I have started to think about my return to the States in mid April, which is still a comfortable two months away.
Unfortunately, my rental agreement in this villa ends in mid March. So last night, I put out email feelers to several real estate agents about renting a small villa in North Golf, a slightly more upscale neighborhood than where I am now.
What is obvious to me is that I am in no hurry to return to America, and I have even started to wonder if it is possible to de-Americanize oneself after living most of one’s life in a foreign country. Remember the neo-con so-called “de-bathification” program in Iraq? And speaking of Norwegian immigrants, how about this?
All that is sort of what I am talking about, but without Abu Greib in the picture; in other words, a concerted effort to rid oneself of every last bit of American bullshit that has crept into my soul.
This is of course an impossibility. It’s not only that there so much bullshit, but in fact that there is much bullshit that I look on with a sense of nostalgic affection, such as the years Erin and I spent in that sordid apartment, where, nevertheless, we used to on some days have constant sex, when not painting the nights a particularly deep hue of red, 10025-style.
How can you de-Americanize that? How can you mend a broken heart?
And why would you even want to?
What all this boils down is a sort of waiting game.
Inevitably, the political tides will shift back home, and it was home, that long stretch time we spent in Manhattan, home in a way that El Gouna and Egypt can only approximate.
But until then… what?
Whatever happens, it comforts me to know that Erin and I are still together, despite everything, like those two Red Sea birds huddled together on that precarious slip of beach, managing to survive, come what may.