Theme I, Wayfinding: Under the Influence

The writer of this piece has asked to remain anonymous, due to questionably legal content that will shortly become clear:

Photo by Alyssa Matesic

Photo by Alyssa Matesic

I should’ve skipped smoking that bowl two hours earlier, I realized as soon I finished smoking it. I was sinking into sidewalk cracks, as I stepped out into Alphabet City, into the dark of an autumn night, into an unfamiliar neighborhood, head fearing its height from the ground, mind inside crippled by the often mocked, but underestimated cannabis-induced fear. The city felt far away, but steadily rolling towards me — impossible to dodge.

I needed to get home — wanted to get home — but home was in Chinatown, at the much beloved Lafayette residence hall, some twenty or thirty blocks away. No matter, I thought at the time, gathering my senses. I was a veteran, with four and a half semesters under my belt, sans smartphone maps, and a comprehensive understanding of the Manhattan grid system.

Unfortunately, as those readers who have used cannabis or taken a DARE course know, the drug is not known for enhancing navigational capabilities. My trusty mental map of the city was as jumbled as the paranoid thoughts bumping around my head — silly concerns over appearing high in a city that generally doesn’t care about anything, but impossible to ignore at the time. I decided simply to head straight. I was bound to hit something familiar eventually.

I found familiarity in Tompkins Square Park, in a way. The park was different that night. In my state, everything had taken on new significance. I couldn’t resist the scene — lit up in sodium-yellow street lamps like an electric garden of earthly delight. It bore immediate exploration. I took a lap, and in so doing, completely lost myself, recognizing only Avenue A. My moment of glee quickly gave way back to panic. I turned in every direction that seemed right, though every direction seemed wrong, forgetting the fact that all I had to do was go south.

Were people looking at me? Was I making a scene? Was I a target? These were the questions in my head when I hit the dead end deep into Alphabet City, surrounded by stout apartments. For the first time in a long time, I had no idea where I stood. I was unmoored from reality with no reference point but the ground beneath my feet.

Photo by Alyssa Matesic

Photo by Alyssa Matesic

The whole place was dead quiet — no taxis, no trains, no music coming through open restaurant doors, no laughing couples — none of the typical sonic indications of privilege and safety for an NYU student. It was dead silent except for the sound of three guys arguing, intensely, in this dead end where I found myself, stupendously high.

It had to have been obvious to the few people who populated the street at the hour. I was stopped there, wearing all my worries on my face. What would happen if something happened? What would my mother think of me right now? How would I get home?

The answers to those questions are obvious now, being “Nothing’s going to happen,” “Who cares?” and “Turn around,” respectively. Eventually figuring out that last solution, I turned around and tried to keep my head down. I still felt alien, the landscape alien to me.

I can’t say when or where I crossed into friendly territory. I can only say that I recognized it by its signs — NYU flags, smiling young faces and the expensive bars they were bound for. I was Broadway-bound, where I beelined south for the safety of my bed.

Photo by Alyssa Matesic

Photo by Alyssa Matesic

We returned to the neighborhood of my nightmare months later, for the purpose of writing this article, a photographer and I. The neighborhood was stately, looking as nice as the East Village could look. The dead end was lined in trees and adorned with street art, people swinging by on bicycles. It was a place I could see myself living, through sober eyes.

Photo by Alyssa Matesic

Photo by Alyssa Matesic

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