he found me a spot. It meant a pay cut, but by then I was fixed on it as
my destiny. I did more running around than what I’d told my sister—
there was always a drive where I was handing out pamphlets outside a
hospital. Plenty of people on the street ignored us. Reagan had fired the
striking air controllers the year before, so it was not a cheerful time for
unions. This made us cozy with each other. I dated quite a few nurses.
I followed one of them to New York. It was the summer I turned thirty-
one—Angelica, my girlfriend, got a gig at St. Vincent’s, right in the Vil-
lage, and I managed a transfer to 1199’s big central office. I went around
saying I loved this city, a statement that surprised some, since a flaming
desperation ran through certain districts, certain parks, at the time, and
its name was crack. Used vials glinted in the gutters, and the rest of the
city went on being stylish. Angelica was a tough bird, but ravaged addicts
made her hard job harder, and she sort of hated my being so upbeat. “Do
you like,” she said, “being in a place where the worst is happening?”
“Not when you put that way,” I said. “But I do.”
I had been brought up to despise chaos, which probably gave me an
affection for it. I was not too old to have actually tried crack—I liked the
insidious brain-lift of it, all too brief. And I was on the side of anyone
holding on to a repertoire of reckless hopes. “People have a right to fuck
up,” I said.
She groaned. And yet Angelica and I got along very well. She was a
practical person, a fan of evidence before theory, much less opinionated
than anyone I knew. The hospital had put her on night shift for now—
our schedules did not sync—and that may have helped us live together.
Sometimes I got out of bed in the early morning to greet her, fed us both
dishes of ice cream before we slipped back into bed.
One December she took me home to meet her family in the Philippines, in a town outside Manila. The family wasn’t crazy about me,
but I loved that part of the world at once. I couldn’t get over the palms,
the ferns, the hibiscus, the heat, the haze, the ambling pace. I was in
another time zone of history. (Angelica said I was attracted to underdevelopment.) Even Manila had beauty around the edges of its streets.
How could I, with my Anglo genes, be such a tropical creature? But I
was. I took off for a few days without Angelica and did some hiking in
the highlands. It beat Vermont by a mile, in my opinion.
Angelica was glad I liked it there, but she was suspicious of my getting so carried away about it. Did I not care about the lack of a living