I discovered an app this week called HOOKED. It is an app for people to read and write chat stories (stories told via text message). I thought the idea fascinating. I had an idea for a story this past Christmas when I took a red-eye flight home on Christmas Eve. At the time, I thought it would be a fun story if told via twitter. I started it, but didn’t finish it. When I read about the HOOKED app, I immediately thought of this story and decided to take another shot at it. Instead of telling the story via tweets, I would write the story as chat messages.
This is my first draft of the story. It’s a bit rough in spots, but I thought I would share what I’ve have. My goal is to rewrite and polish over the next week and post the story in HOOKED by next weekend.
JFK -> LHR: A Christmas (Chat) Story
I arrived at JFK during the quiet hours and I was in Manhattan an hour after dawn. The sidewalks were peaceful, just me and the homeless. Makes sense, I can’t imagine you get much sleep when you’re sleeping on the streets.
It was 13 hours until show time, so I spent the day with the reminders that New York is one of the greatest cities in the world: the High Line, the museums, Central Park, NY delicatessens. The city captures my imagination. The forest of buildings, concrete and steel, has my mind daydreaming. Each apartment, each office, each space unique. I can’t help but wonder: who are the people that occupy so much space?
I checked into my Air B&B. The view from the 40th floor flat is mesmerizing. Out the south window I see One World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty. Out the East window I see the Empire State Building and Times Square.
After a brief, but much needed nap, I went to the Met. I waded through its crowded halls, observing the framed masterpieces of the greats. I then strolled through Central Park, which teemed with life on this warm and sunny day. I couldn’t have scripted a better day if I tried.
The evening came. I arrived at the theatre and took my seat. I found a friend in the girl sitting next to me. We swapped stories. I discovered she was on a pilgrimage of her own. We waited together for the show to begin.
The danger going into this was that my expectations were so high they had become fantasy. Was I asking too much of the experience? Did the show I dreamed of really exist?
The houselights dimmed and thunderous rapture erupted in the theatre. The audience’s anticipation was feverish. Everyone in the room was there because they wanted to be there. Some, like me, have journeyed far to be there. The show began and I immediately felt I was witnessing something special.
Over the next two hours and forty-five minutes the story of Alexander Hamilton and the birth of our nation unfolded like a Shakespearean tragedy. Courage. Ambition. Love. War. Power. Politics. Pride. Friendship. Loss. Forgiveness. Betrayal. Death. It truly has something for everyone.
I’ve had a week to think about the show and to talk about it with fellow fans. Hamilton is one of the greatest pieces of performance art I’ve witnessed. Its story, and the telling of it, affects me, much like Les Miserable and RENT.
When the bullet exits Aaron Burr’s gun, time stops. Hamilton launches into a soliloquy.
I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory. Is this where it gets me, on my feet, several feet ahead of me?
I see it coming. Do I run, or fire my gun, or let it be? There is no beat, no melody.
Burr, my first friend, my enemy, maybe the last face I ever see. If I throw away my shot, is this how you remember me?
What if this bullet is my legacy?...
In the end, Hamilton does the one thing he swore he would never do: He throws away his shot and by doing so he writes his place in history. He is the flawed but brilliant founding father who overcame impossible odds only to be killed by his rival, Aaron Burr, in a duel.
Aaron Burr goes down in history as the prideful and jealous villain, remembered for his worst behavior on the worst day of his life. What does it say about me that I find Aaron Burr’s character the most compelling of them all?
My 48-hour pilgrimage to see Hamilton was worth every penny. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to go and be a witness to this culturally significant event. I left humbled. I left inspired. And I left with this question: who tells my story when I am gone?
“Wait. Are you guys talking about Hamilton?”
I was in the commissary at work when I overhead two women talking about the Schuyler Sisters.
“I’m going this Saturday.” I said.
The two women turned to me; their eyes grew wide and giddy. “You’re going?! It will change your life!”
They told me their Hamilton stories. One saw it last fall, the other this past January. They are still reveling in the wake of the experience. My relationship with the two women, whom I’d known professionally for a couple years, changed in that instant. We weren’t just co-workers anymore. We were Hamilton fans.
I've been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack over and over and over for the past few months. With each listen I fell deeper into the obsessive trenches of this sort-of, but not really, familiar story. It’s poetic lyrics roll through my head like a new dance I’m trying to learn. I’ve got feel for the rhythm but my feet won’t keep up.
But it’s not just about a catchy tune; it’s those people, the characters. Hamilton. Washington. Jefferson. Madison. Adams. Burr. I know those names. But I didn’t know them, not like this.
The show opens with a question and it concludes with a question. When it begins I think they’re telling me a story about Alexander Hamilton. Later, I think, no, they are telling me a story about America. By the end I understand; it’s a story about me. Those questions are meant for me.
I was visiting a long-time friend and kindred spirit over Memorial Day weekend. She had recently returned from a weekend trip to New York to see it. She said, Nathan you have to go. I hemmed and hawed. As much as I love the music, it’s a lot of money. Plus I live in LA. That’s a long way to go for one show. She said, “You don’t understand. It’s Hamilton. You have to see it. Do whatever it takes. You have to go, soon.”
I returned to LA. I had a dream I was there, watching it. I was moved by it. The next day a feeling of inevitability came over me. It was no longer a question of do I want to go or do I feel like going. It was a question of when. The decision was already made; now I had to make peace with it.
Last Sunday, I decided no more waiting. No more debating. It’s time to go. So I bought a ticket for Saturday night. I take a red-eye Friday night, see the show Saturday night, and fly back to LA Sunday afternoon. A 48-hour trip.
But it doesn’t feel like a trip. It feels more like a pilgrimage. I’m going by myself. The thought of inviting someone to join me never really crossed my mind. It doesn’t matter if anyone else is going. I’m going.
Doubts still whisper in the back of my mind: Is this really going to be worth the small fortune I’m spending to make this happen? I tell the whispers to be quiet. I can’t answer that question, not yet.
The definition of a pilgrim is a person who journeys to a sacred place for a spiritual reason. Some go to Jerusalem, some to India, some trek the Camino de Santiago. This weekend I’m going to the Richard Rogers theatre in New York City.
I’ll let you know if it was worth it.
I love mysteries. I was listening to Radiolab (a favorite podcast of mine) and they were discussing the three great mysteries, questions, that from the perspective of science, we simply do not have the answers. They are:
When I ponder the mysteries of life I don’t think about my biological origins. (That may be a good thing.) To me, life’s mysteries are experiences, not so much questions. And I’ve been pondering a few of them lately.
Laughter. Everyone laughs. Babies laugh and so do people born blind and deaf. It is a curious thing. Fundamentally, I believe people laugh at the recognition of something truthful: I’ve noticed that, too. I’ve thought that, too. I’ve felt that way, too. Laughter is the way we say, “Yes, life is like that.” Laughter brings people together. I think when Jesus said, “blessed are the peacemakers” he meant “blessed are those who laugh.” For it is hard to hate your enemy when you laugh with him. It is hard to hate yourself when you can laugh at yourself.
Song. Composed or improvised, born from an instrument or the bird outside, music has the ability to hold you in a moment. It can stir revolution or motivate compassion. It can take you back. It can inspire you forward. It is organized sound and silence that exists in time; yet its existence can transcend time. And perhaps what is most intriguing is how subjective it is. A song changes one person’s life while another falls asleep.
Love. It brings so much delight and so much pain. We slave over the words, yet so much of the language of love is wrapped in a moment, a touch, a glace. It makes us do the most irrational things but holds the title “the greatest of these”. The more we try to define it, the more ambiguous it becomes. As one of my favorite songs from The Mountain Goats goes, “Some things you do money and some you do for love, love, love.”
These represent a few concise contemplations. I, for one, am grateful for life’s mysteries. How boring it would be to be the master all-knowing when you can be the student ever learning meeting each day with curiosity.
A WRITER AND TRAVELER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES