The first time I visited New York I stayed at the Vanderbilt YMCA on East 47th Street. At $35 a day it was the cheapest place in town, and I needed that: the pound had reached near parity with the dollar, its all-time low, and I found myself paying £2 for a cup of coffee in some of the swankier locations like the Guggenheim. The Y was well-situated in mid-town, but the accommodation was basic: rooms bare except for a bunk bed, a sink and a television; fairly primitive communal bathrooms, and a depressing, institutional dining room serving institutional food. The presence of a gym and a sauna did little to dispel a faint air of seedy malodorousness.
Nonetheless, the trip was deeply stimulating - it would have required a blinkered churlishness bordering on genius to have made New York otherwise. My stay included many memorable experiences - a helicopter flight over the skyscrapers at dusk, night rides on the stinking subway, circumnavigating Manhattan Island on the Circle Line, and a walk through Harlem; but one superficially insignificant event sticks out, unassimilated to the overall pattern of my first encounter with the city.
One evening, I returned to pick up my key after visiting various sights during the day. As I did so, I was given a telephone message. It said that Sheila had called and asked me to give her a ring, but that she would in any case call back. She never did. That did not worry me; the fact that I knew literally nobody called Sheila, did. However, I assumed that somebody had mistaken the number, and that the front desk had confused the message. It seemed unimportant, if curious.
The next time I went to New York was for business. I stayed at the Dorset Hotel on West 54th, an altogether grander establishment than my first. Day rates were $150 and up. My room was spacious, the en suite bathroom luxurious, and the inevitable television bigger and better and with more channels than the one in the Y. My stay was short, and mostly occupied with work. One night, when I came back reception told me that somebody had called. I thought that perhaps my company had tried to contact me. But instead I was handed a message which was even more disconcerting than Sheila's.
The caller's name was indecipherable. Not simply illegible: it was more that it was written in such a way that it could have been several - Dydio, Difao, Dixio, Dajaio, Dqeio - all of them strange, all of them unknown to me. The message was unambiguous enough, at least in terms of what it said; what it meant, I had no idea. There were just two words: "Please Duvox". It was as if a huge rent had opened up in the fabric of reality, and a hand had reached through from another world, and passed me a message. A message written on an ordinary piece of notepaper, perhaps an ordinary message, too - but not in this universe.
Now I visit New York with a sense of trepidation, of expectation. A part of me is waiting for that third weird message to be left, the one that will tell me something even more inexplicable, something even more disturbing, than the last two. For I know now that these things happen in New York; in the meantime, I try to understand the city which spawns them.