Insomniac City: My Personal Favorite and His Boyfriend

Bill Hayes’ Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me is a tale, an autobiography, a portrait of New York and its citizen, a search for home – in a person or in a city; it may be one of them or all of them.
It’s difficult to review such a rare book.
It’s a potpourri of thoughts translated immediately as if it will lose its importance if not dealt urgently. It’s a scintilla of emotions which you can observe when the writer loses his love, Steve, to a sudden heart attack – though Steve was diagnosed of HIV but he died of a heart attack and it both shocked and surprised Billy – he didn’t know what to do and how to live without this guy who ‘slept like a baby.’
Or maybe this book is just another example of how weird and unpredictable life happens to be, losing his love Steve, Billy, at the age of 48 falls in love with the late Dr. Sacks, then at the age of 76.
The book will not only blow your mind so effortlessly that you’ll never know as the flow is neither that of a story nor that of a memoir.
It’s a meditation on love, life and home. And, you will be hooked to read this book till the very end as each word will have an hypnotising effect on you.
Book Review – Insomniac City

Bill Hayes’ New York

 “I moved to New York eight years ago and felt at once at home.” This is how this rare book begins. And, finding his ‘lost self’ in this ‘new city’, Bill Hayes confesses that he recognized his own insomniac self while living in New York which according to him is suffering from agrypnia excitata.
Each and every page of this book is a discovery in itself.
Sometimes in our lives, things had to happen the way they did.
And, to Billy these things happened in this way as revealed in the chapter O AND I, “He wrote me a letter. That’s how we met.” Mentioning his meeting with Dr. Sacks, whom he could not make out was gay or straight but revered him greatly.
My hand romancing with the book
While re-reading this book a number of times, I find this journal entry very appropriate – his meeting and falling in love with a man in his early 80s, a man who hasn’t had a sexual encounter in past three decades, a man who didn’t see of his own times, a man who was one of his own kind, the talented and pioneer in his field, Dr. Sacks.

11-21-09:
Note to self, on the back of a Verizon envelope:
“Sometimes it will be difficult and you’ll question why you ever moved here.
But New York will always answer you.”
 Yes, remember that: New York will always answer you.

Finding Home 

While Billy has chronicled his experiences in New York, the book to me happened to be a search for a home, be it finding it in a person or a place. And, it seems that both of these happened for the writer.
And, what happens when you lose your home – when the very idea is destroyed or you lose your loved one. What happens to those who are left when their loved one’s leave?
Billy Hayes in this case. Or our cabbie from Sri Lanka. Ali whose hometown in Pakistan or the Indian joking with him – back home they all [Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh] will fight, we know him saying during a candid conversation.
These all encounters happen to be important inquiries, and the idea of home haunts all of them especially Billy Hayes as it is evident from this passage when he’s questioned.

Back home, I find that one question I am asked more often than any other these days (the one question other than, How are you doing?) is, Are you going to stay? Are you going to stay in New York?
“By ‘stay,’ do you mean forever?” I mean to ask but don’t. Stay till I die? Till I am too old to take care of myself, like my father? “For now,” is my answer, but I don’t know, not really.

For now. Such immensity in this answer which is so sad and touching.
I almost probed into my own life – the difficult summer of 2008 when I lost my father in a car accident. And, then, I happen to arrive the end of the book. Trust me, there couldn’t have been a better ending than this.

I remember how Wendy once told me she loved New York so much she couldn’t bear the thought of it going on without her. It seemed like both the saddest and the most romantic thing one could possibly say – sad because New York can never return the sentiment, and sad because it’s the kind of thing said more often about a romantic love – husband, wife, girlfriend, partner, lover. You can’t imagine them going on without you. But they do. We do. Every day, we may wake up and say, What’s the point? Why go on? And, there is really only one answer: To be alive.

To be alive, that’s the answer we all are looking for, I suppose.

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