Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Raging bull



Today I lost it at The American Post Office.

The full force of my special sparkly festive edition wrath came down on the scary spiky haired woman at the counter who threw my credit card back at me. Really threw. She threw it so hard it bounced back over the counter at 20 MPH before narrowly missing a suicidal dive off the edge. The reason for this? Because I had earlier refused to go to the back of the 20 minute line. The reason I refused? Because I did not accept that filling in the wrong size of custom form was reason enough to do this. So I stubbornly stayed at her counter and filled in the correct form, while enjoying the tropical setting of the post office central heating system. All the time she bitched and moaned about me as she served other customers.



''You are very rude!'' I say in my poshest British accent.
''Next!'' she yells over my shoulder.
''Excuse me? I am serious. I just needed your help and you have been impatient and rude.''
''NEXT in LIIIIIIINE!"
''Oh my god" I continue with the entire queue watching the free Christmas entertainment "You can't treat me like this! I am a customer and you work here. What is your name? I am going to complain!"
"Oh you want my name?"
"Yes I do!"
''My name is (pause to laugh with her colleague)...uh...Jamie. Yeah, my name is Jamie."

I narrow my eyes to show my distrust, although Jamie could be her name, being as it's kind of unisex and because she has lesbian hair.

My wrath seems somewhat wasted on this woman. My voice may be loud in Cardiff, but in New York it's normal level. The woman continues to yell 'NEXT!' shrugs her shoulders, flicks her lesbian hair and brushes off my wrath. She is wrathed out.

Customer service is for those who may actually live in some fear of loosing their jobs. American Post Office employees at Christmas are not those people.

This is not my first blow up since arriving. If you are already a fairly passionate person then New York has the ability to turn you aggressive. If you are already aggressive then it can turn you into a sociopath. If you are already sociopathic, you're fucked. On a good day I fall into the second category, therefore I spend a lot of my days fighting people in the service industry. There are too many blow ups to account- they include, but are not limited to:




1) Yelling ''I JUST WANT TO BUY TAMPAX!'' in Duane Reade when I was told I couldn't switch queues to get served faster.
2)Shouting ''Do you like your fucking job?!'' at a cashier who threw my groceries at me at the 'gourmet' market on 14th street. Gourmet just means they charge more. It does not mean they stop employing cholitas with attitude from the Bronx.
3) Nearly getting beaten up by a taxi driver because I refused to shut the taxi door in protest at his rudeness. I just wanted my bag out of the boot. He didn't know what a boot was. I had to run away from this one, as he looked like he might have a baseball bat in his boot/trunk.

Rudeness is rampant here. The streets are mean in more ways than one way. New Yorkers can be abrupt, cold and couldn't care less. They can also funny and talkative, helpful and exceptionally kind.

New Yorkers are a bit like the city they live in, contradictory at best, schizophrenic at worst.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Wellington Roots

While on my way to buy rainboots this week I pondered a memory: Many years ago when my fabulous new life in New York was just a twinkle in a social networking site's eye I imagined how life here would be. And naturally, the reality is quite different. But the biggest shock is that I would have been pretty certain that I would do it all in heels. And here I am off to buy wellies. And not in an Alexa Chung 'partying it up at the VIP tent of a festival' way. Just in an everyday wearing way. Scary.

It doesn't take a genius to work out what was responsible for the fantasy of skipping around New York in 6 inch stilletos. A certain TV show that we never dare speak it's name after they sold out and made that appallingly saccharin big screen version.

When I first started coming to New York in 2006 I figured that I couldn't do the smoking (gave up in 2005) or the dating (had met The American by then) or the Jimmy Choos (skint single mother) but I could do stuff in heels. Ya for heels! I love them, spent my whole life staggering around in them. 'Car to Bar' heels as my mother calls them. Only good for going from the car to the bar. I also found them good for the car to the supermarket, the car to the office and the car to a friend's house for dinner.

Problem is now I don't have a car to go to the bar, unless I get a taxi-which is reasonable for a night out but not so much for a food shop. Come to think of it, I don't have a supermarket either, just 'gourmet markets' and I no longer have an office. I have only just started to get some friends so you can see how the 'car to bar' shoes start to become redundant.

But I stubbornly stuck with those heels in 2006, wearing them to sightsee and shop and I simply ended up with feet that looked like they belonged to 90 year old Grandma.

New Yorkers wear flats and rainboots are an acceptable part of an outfit in the snow or wet. I resisted of course, but it was futile. Since I arrived in September my heels have not moved from their place in the shoe rack and my flat boots all need reheeling. And now I find myself buying rainboots. And callling them rainboots. Wellies Emma, they are fucking wellies.

''What is this 'Wellie' you're taking about?" asks The American.
''Wellies?"
''Yeah, what is a 'Wellie?' We don't know that name in America." When the American says Wellie it sounds like Willy so I giggle.
''Galoshes do you call them?"
"Rainboots?"
"Yeah I want Hunters."
''What is this Hunter? We don't know that name in America."
"Yes you do. They sell them in bloody Bloomingdales."

Which is where I am heading now. And while I am there I will stroke pairs of heels with a great nostalgia and I will say:

''I will never forget you. I will always love you."

Because flats might be what I need right now, but heels will always be my solemates.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Liberating a Christmas tree

Of all the ways you can entertain your 15 year on a Friday night in NYC, getting her drunk and then stealing a Christmas tree is not among the most responsible.

It started with Mexican Bulldogs at Benny's Burritos on Greenwich Avenue. A seemingly innocent drink that tastes sweet, but not too cloying and boozy, but not too strong, nothing like the usual firewater cocktails they serve up in this city. It's a frozen Margarita with a corona tipped upside down into it. Possibly on reflection, they don't seem that innocent and the name may be a clue to the trouble that lies ahead. Anything with bulldog in doesn't sound like a soft option. Come to think of it, there are no soft options in this alcoholic town. You can easily get drunk on two cocktails due to the lack of measures and the fast and loose pour of the bartender. They want you drunk so they'll make better tips. You want to be drunk. This is a mutually satisfying relationship.

The Mexican Bulldogs were discovered when The Welsh were in town. The fourth lot of Welsh since I arrived. This time my best mate's brother and his girlfriend, who patiently tried to explain the science behind the Mexican Bulldog. I just couldn't get how the Corona was going down as I sipped the Margarita through a straw. It was something to do with physics they said. I still don't understand now. In the middle of my second Mexican Bulldog, I also didn't care. I was still trying to fathom how I had not yet discovered these fast tracks to nirvana on my previous visits to the restaurant just two minutes from the apartment.


It was love at first sip. That night we went to the lighting of the Christmas tree at The Rockefeller Centre and despite being feet away from Aretha Franklin, Shakira Shakira and Rod Stewart, the only conversation was about The Bulldogs.

So the following Friday I take The Teenager to Bennys and we order up some Bulldogs. Well who else is going to appreciate a new booze experience better than a 15 year old?

I tell myself she is nearly 16 and if we were still living in Cardiff she'd be on first name terms with most of the bouncers by now. Such ability of sense and reason did not last for long. We must have only have two or maybe three Bulldogs and then the next thing I know we are trying to get into a bar. Am I trying to have a pub crawl with my teenage daughter? Who is not 3 but 6 years underage here? Yes, it appears so. There'll be no ID problems at this joint, we've gotton in before without ID.

''ID?"
''Oh no," I slur "This is my sister and she doesn't have any."
"She can't come in then."
Awkward pause
"But she's British?"
Silence
''We're British, we don't do ID."
"You can't come in either then."

Fuckity, fuck, fuck. The night is young and I want to drink more.

''Let's nick a Christmas tree." says The Teenager, eyeing up the stall over the road.

I don't remember what I said in reply, but it can't have been much in the way of parental protest because after a quick tactics meeting we are grabbing an unwrapped 10ft pine from the end of the stall and dragging it away.

We haul it over the road and The Teenager falls on top of it.

''Get up, for fuck's sake!'' I shoo her off the road and grabbing the tree I run as fast as I can, in order to get out of the line of site of the stall holders.



We go the long way home to avoid detection and drag the pine by it's top, so it's shedding needles along the pretty cobbled streets of the West Village. We march past bars where people double take out of the windows and we surprise those sitting on their stoops smoking. Some people talk to us, cheer us, shout. I shout back that we have 'liberated the tree'. My reasoning is something along the lines of 'The tree began to nature, they stole it from nature, we are liberating it back'. This is fairly weak considering I planning to hold it hostage in a small 2 bed apartment, rather that release it back into the Norwegian forest.

We turn the corner onto 7th Avenue past the homeless medical centre and a manned NYPD police car. Then we bump into a couple who collapse into laughter and ask us what we're doing to which I shout 'Liberating a Christmas tree!'' and they ask if they can take pics and then The Teenager and I are standing in the middle of 7th Avenue posing drunkenly with the stolen tree and then we are talking to the couple and they are inviting us to a party in Chinatown and The Teenager wants to know if it will require ID and I say more importantly we have to get the bloody tree home. And then we are talking about Flight of The Conchords and how they would make a Liberating a Christmas tree song and then we are all singing that song and then they offer to help us get the tree into our building and then the lady is taking my email, cos she says I must have the pics, even though I know they will be awful and drunken and I think what a cool pair of Americans. That's a first.



Then we are dragging the pine through the front door of the apartment and The American is sitting on the sofa eating take out which actually falls from his mouth when he sees the giant tree, which now looks even more massive in our Manhattan broom closet. The Teenager and I are singing the Liberating a Christmas tree song and then we explain that we actually stole it and then he really is shocked.

But then he gets quite excited at the danger of it all and he insists on going to the 24 hour Duane Reade to buy a stand and I say

''Get me a Diet Dr Pepper!"

And The American goes off muttering how all Welsh are "fucking mental".

And I know that whatever else happens in our lives and however much we fight and she thinks I am uncool-The Teenager will never forget the night that her and her mother got drunk and stole a Christmas tree in New York City.

Liberating a Christmas Tree: That's how Christmas should be.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Figging hell

Today while on a bus in Brooklyn I watched a woman eat a whole pack of Fig Newtons.

She devoured them in quick succession, not pausing between biscuits. Because I was wearing sunglasses, I was able to stare at her with a mixture of fascination and disgust whilst simultaneously observing her technique.

The Fig Newton box perched on her lap she took out one at a time. She bit each Fig Newton in half, turned it 90 degrees and then bit it in half again. She finished the two bits of Fig Newton in her mouth before popping the third bit in. She did the same thing, each time, with absolute precision.

Each time she reached for another, I was screaming inside:

''For the love of God woman, put the Fig Newtons down! What kind of insanity is this? They don't even taste good! Do you know what you could have for the same calories? Do you know? Do you?"

This woman was neither old nor fat yet she munched on those hybrid biscuit/cakes like her very lifeblood depended on it.

Then when I thought I couldn't take anymore craziness she slid one Fig Newton back into the box, placed the box into a red suitcase at her feet and got off at the next stop.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Two Blind Grandmas...



Just when you think you've got New York figured out she reveals another face to you.

Some days she is like a pre-menstrual woman denied chocolate. Others she behaves like the exciting but slightly unhinged friend who makes you feel that fun is always around the corner.
Today she reveals, for one day only, her kindness and vunerability and I am left in awe.

The weekend before Thanksgiving and The Teenager and I travel out to pick up The Boy from JFK on a packed E train. We sigh, irritated at the lack of seats and contemplate the 40 minute journey standing up. I scan the train carriage from behind the security of my sunglasses for anything interesting to occupy my line of sight. The Teenager is stood next to me pouting in that self aware way she does, easily managing to pull off a sort of casual Brazilian-model-going-to-a- casting look. Her effort for The Boy reunion is clear; her caramel features are highlighted in peachy tints and her tiny black skirt with flat brogues is catching the eyes of both the pervs and the fashion forward. She looks so pretty, I feel a rush of love and pride.

"What the hell you staring at?" she snaps.

I take off my glasses and reset my gaze to the middle distance. I am careful not to make eye contact with any weirdos or homeless beggars. I read an advert about becoming a nursing professional six times over. I daydream about what it would be like to afford to take taxis everywhere or have a driver ferry me around in a blacked out sedan.



Then the train stops and two old ladies get into the carriage. Something about them looks not quite right and then I see their blackened eyes and their guide dogs. Everyone jumps to help them, a scary looking man in baggy sportswear, a butch woman, a snooty looking fashionista. I watch as the group of good Samaritans give them their arms, give up their seats and check where the ladies are both going, so they can tell them get off at the right stop.

Blind and on a subway train. It's doesn't get more ballsy that that. Humbled doesn't even sum it up. I whinge and moan about public transport with my two good eyes and my perfectly functioning body. These woman are more than twice my age and can't see. These women would have more right than most to take taxis everywhere or have a driver ferry them around, that would be justifiable practicality, not selfish luxury. Yet they choose to ride the subway, to put their trust in others, in New Yorkers. To let the city offer them a helping hand.

I start to tear up and even The Teenager understands. And she doesn't take the piss.

When things are not going so good and New York and I are both pre-menstrual bitches together I am going to summon up the two blind grandmas to give me some perspective. They will remind me that bravery is an everyday thing and how even a city like New York can be human too.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Same shit, different Ikea...






It is a truth universally acknowledged that a trip to Ikea, no matter where in the world, will always yield the same five things:

1) Tealights.
2) Wine glasses with an unfathomable name like 'Klumpenkont'.
3) Frustration and self loathing.
4) At least 10 things you don't want, but are convinced will make your life better. These items are usually storage related.
5) A bill roughly 50% higher than you estimated when walking around and 200% higher than you originally planned to spend



Visiting New York Ikea is no different to anywhere else, the homogenisation police have seen to that. If anything, it is more of pain in the arse for me personally because I don't have a car. There are no Ikeas in Manhattan. Manhattanites speak of craziness like getting water taxis to the Brooklyn Ikea. I do not think flatpack furniture and boats are a happy marriage and anyone that thinks so has clearly been living on an island for too long.

So I plan to subway and bus it to Brooklyn Ikea with The Teenager in tow. She has been bribed with the promise of a bedside table, but my main purpose is to buy black out roller blinds for the apartment. The blinds will cost the same price for five as they will for just one at Bed, Bath and Beyond up the road from the apartment. I am conveniently ignoring the fact that what I am planning will involve hours of travel and the eventual purchase of far more than just the blinds, therefore rending the saving nil and effectively taking me into a negative balance.

If this is my first mistake, then my second is listening to a man on a shopping related issue.

''Huneee. Go to the New Jersey Ikea, it is waaay nearer than the Brooklyn one" The American advises.
''Hmm, not sure, that's not what google maps is saying."
''I am telling you Huneee. And it's super easy. Go to the bus terminal by Times Square and there's a free bus!''

Super easy. It sounds too easy. American easy rather than British easy

45 minutes later The Teenager and I are at the Port Authority bus terminal. We have spent ten minutes trying to locate where the free bus goes from and another ten realising we need to get a ticket for the free bus, even though it is free, so a ticket seems superfluous. We have been dissed by the rudest woman ever employed by New Jersey transit and gravely misunderstood by an African cleaner. We are standing at the window of a tour company that is the last booth left to try:

''Do you run the free bus to Ikea in Elizabeth?"
''Yes we do!''
"Brilliant! When is the next one?''
"Last one went at 3."

It is 3.o7 p.m. On the man's instruction we go back over to the New Jersey transit windows. I refuse to stand in line for the rudest woman ever employed, so end up in a longer line that takes 10 minutes to get to the front of.

''Hey, do you run a paid bus to Ikea?''
''Where?''
"Ikea."
"In Elizabeth?"
"Yes!'
"Yes."
"Great!"
"Last bus went 2 minutes ago...NEXT!"

It is 3.17 p.m.

The Teenager has decided a bedside table is not worth this much hassle and looks ready to attack me when I tell her we are not giving up and are going to the Brooklyn one instead.

I call The American. The American claims it will be simple.

15 minutes later we are on a Brooklyn bound C. The train stops at Jay Street and then we are to change trains to the F. Except that when we get to F the F-ing F is not working. The platform has been cordoned off with dramatic looking tape as if multiple murders have taken place there. But the only murder taking place is the one the teenager is committing on me in her head for dragging her into all this. Weekend engineering works are the culprit. There are signs taped everywhere directing passengers to a bus. A bus? I have never even been on a bus in New York, how do they go faster than 2MPH with all the traffic?



By now The Teenager can only bear to speak to me to ask to borrow my phone to call The Boy.
''We have missed our SKYPE date cos of this crap Mother."
''Sorry."
''Just give me yer phone yeah?''

We left the house 3 hours ago and are going nowhere fast. Halfway through the bus journey I casually mention the other bus we have to change to.

''Other bus? What the fuck Mother?''
"Language!"
"What other bloody bus?"
''The Ikea bus!''
"We're on the Ikea bus!'
"No, we're on the bus that takes us to the Ikea bus."
"For god's sake! I want a frigging car yeah? I want a car for my 16th."
"Don't be so ridiculous. We live in Manhattan, no one drives. "
"I want a car."
"You're not getting a car."
"The American says if we all move to LA we could all get cars. Convertibles."
"The American talks a lot of shit sometimes."

*

We are on the other bus and after ten minutes of bumping down unfinished roads to the sound of the gangsta' rap being played by the driver- the familiar blue and yellow Ikea branding is blinking in the distance of the Red Hook sky. We get off the bus to a gang fight over the road and The Teenager is worried that someone will get shot, so makes me run with her to avoid any potential gunfire.

When inside my brain is compromised and I start to believe that hanging art Ikea prints on your wall is acceptable behaviour and that cardboard storage boxes are the road map to peace in the Middle East. Everything happens pretty fast and in the midst of it all The Amercian calls and agrees to order me a car service back to Manhattan to make up for his earlier balls up suggesting New Jersey Ikea and subsequent fuck up of not checking weekend engineering works.



Before I know it I am heading for the checkout with a trolley full of things I won't be able to even remember I bought by this time next week. All around me are similar victims. Shell shocked New Yorkers, their trollies piled high with bright plastic chairs and Lack side tables. No one knows what just happened to them.

I have forgotten something and I can't remember what it is. Somewhere in this distance my child is whinging about getting to the hot dog and ice cream cafe before the car arrives. In America it is a hot dog, frozen yogurt and doughnut cafe. An Ikea manager somewhere is loosing his bonus for allowing this flouting of Ikea homogenisation rules.

The fucking blinds!

I go tearing back through Ikea the wrong way, which as we all know, is nigh on impossible, so I run faster so as not to get caught by the anti clockwise patrol. I arrive at a tiny selection of Venetian Blinds. Where are the Roller blinds? I scan frantically only to see voiles.
Voiles, voiles, everywhere. Panels of fabric swaying tauntingly from the ceiling. Where are the roller blinds?!

By sheer fluke, one of Ikea's three only employees walks by and I grab them, a look of panic in my eyes.

''Where are the roller blinds?"
''Huh?"
''The Roller Blinds"
''What blinds?''

Fucking hell, shall I just google the Swedish for blinds? Is my speaking the Queen's English in the manner it was meant confusing you? I make a mental note to hire full time translator so Americans can understand me.

''Black out?''
''Oh the blinds?"
"Yes!"
''Like roller, black out blinds!''

Big pause.

''Nah, we don't do them anymore..."
"What?"
"Yeah, there is some kind of problem with them and they, like, took them off the shelves. Sorry!"

And she walks away, like the last wasted 5 hours of my life are of no significance to her. I look at my watch, which has started to run backwards in the oxygen deprived rabbit hole of Ikea. 5 hours. 5 hours of my life that I will never get back.

Just the same shit. Different continent.


Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Desperately Bad Housewife...





I am the worse Manhattan housewife that ever there was.

I am the wrong woman at the wrong time in the wrong place. I am unwilling and ill tempered about the inevitable drudgery of housewifery. I bang plates when washing up for the 4th time in a day and tell giant bubbling bowls of pasta that I am a trained journalist. I say sod off to hospital corners and yell ''Do I look like a fucking maid?'' at The Teenager and The American.

I am used to the world of work and don't have the self discipline to manage my time. Without the demands of deadlines my pitiful attention span is carried away by the delicious frivolities of The Facebook and The Daily Mail showbiz page. Rather than focus on the hoover in hand, I drop everything after deciding what the apartment really needs right now is some velvet scatter cushions. Like, right now.

This 24 hour city of convenience is made for those with careers. Drinks happen after work, everything is delivered at all hours and the rich but time poor can hire someone to do everything from walk their dog to press their shirts. I am a lone species in this Metropolis being neither rich or poor, but rolling in time. I am the Bill Gates of time. I don't know where you find other people like me. I am a 34 year old reluctant housewife and mother of a teenager impatiently waiting for a green card. Even in the middle of a bustling metropolis that's a pretty narrow field. You would have to travel to Prospect Park in Brooklyn to find anyone that shared my recently acquired love of Swiffer sweepers.



Even the kid thing is off. If the child was ten year's younger I could hang out in the Yummy Mummy park on Greenwich Avenue and buy $50 baby grows at all those chi chi little boutiques I pass on my way to the Gym. As it is The Teenager hates having a stay at home Mommy.

Today she arrives home from school while I am sitting on the sofa chuckling my way through Popbitch. On the way to her bedroom/pit of filth she sneers at me and says:

''Mother. What do you do all day exactly?''
''What?''
''Just like... what do you do? Like, all day?"
''Umm, stuff! Loads of stuff."
''Right so what have you done today?''
"It's only 3.30."
''So?"
''Uh actually I went to the gym and then on the way back I saw a shop selling nanny cams, a baby having a haircut, and a midget shouting at her kids."
''You just make all that up yeah?"
"No!"
''Whatever. You basically just went to the gym then."

And with that she disappears into her room to pout into a web cam to The Boy back in Wales.

''It's not my fault I have to wait for a bloody Green Card!'' I shout at the door.

Her question leaves me reeling. What do I do all day? I have no job. No, wait, I do have a job, I am logistics manager for this family (self appointed, salary-zero). I decide it's time to set up the online vintage shop I have been talking about, get some freelance work and secure a book deal. Simple. Just one problem: rampant procrastination. I am a master at procrastination. Master-cation. No wait, that's chewing.

I storm back into her room without knocking.

''Hello! How many times Mother? Knock!"
"I just came in to say I am quite offended by your question."
''Why?''
"Because I do a lot of stuff, I do everything in this house!''
''You don't do the laundry. That Chinese man comes and picks it up and then drops it back off"
''I have to call them! And then put the laundry away!''
''Look Mother, I wasn't trying to be rude yeah? I was actually just wanting to know what you do all day."
Her tone is completely lacking in sarcasm which throws me to the back foot.
''Oh"
We pause and she looks and me and I at her and then she widens her eyes and shrugs impatiently as if to say 'anything else?' I am deflated. She looks at her laptop with annoyance as I dare to keep her from skyping with the true love.
''I will say though..." she offers, while typing frantically into her computer "It is a bit annoying that you're here when I get in from school. I just like to chill. You're like... in my face."

My child prefers to be a latchkey kid. I don't know what this says about my parenting. I was never a latchkey kid. I am not even sure if latchkey kid is an actual phrase, or just one of the many my Mother made up and then claimed where commonly used in the English language, like 'broad as it is long' and 'there'll be blood on the moon'.

With determination I grab my laptop to start all those projects but The Daily Mail website is blinking at me seductively. Jordon and Kim from How Clean is Your House are having a boob-off in the jungle! Focus. Focus! Just after I've checked my bank balance. No! Do it, don't talk about it. Top Shop website? No! No! Talk about it! No, do! DO DO DO, not talk talk talk. Oww my phone is ringing. Maybe talk for a little bit? Yeah, talk.

That's my problem. I am a desperately bad housewife. I'm all talk.

All mouth and no apron.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The True York Show...


Living in New York can feel like starring in your very own Truman show.

Tonight I stand on my stoop and breath in the hot, sticky Autumn night air in the West Village. Rain threatens to burst from the looming clouds any second. People dash past the tree lined brownstones kicking aside crunchy golden and orange leaves as they go. An eclectic crowd gathers at the gay community centre over the road. Anticipation in the air. It's the opening scene to something.

So if this were a rom com, I would be wearing a vintage Burberry mac and some Jimmy Choo for Hunter wellies. My lover would be hurrying come around the corner, his tie loosened casually, looking handsome and unflustered, ready to whisk me away to an intimate basement restaurant lit only by candles and the glow of lurrve.

But this is real life, so I am in a hoodie, The American is working late and I need to make a dash to my local supermarket for loo rolls.

Five minutes later I am standing in line clasping my four pack of Charmin while a shriveled old lady dressed in black in front of me is trying to buy a $1.25 pack of cakes. She is arguing with the Dominican check-out girl over a five cents rebate.

She marches over to the 6ft 2 burly store manager and starts prodding him in the chest with her finger and screaming at him in Spanish. The manager responds by laughing and then the lady come back to the checkout, grabs her cakes and storms out.

Then the checkout girl says this to the other checkout girl. Without pause.

"Hmm mmm girrrrrl. That lady is focking crazy, she like in-sane. She came up to me the other day and she was all like 'I want my rebate for my bottle' and I was like 'Sure lady' so I gave her the rebate for her bottle and then she accuse me of not giving her no rebate and she was all like up in my face and like 'God is watching' and I'm like , 'Yeah? God can watch, cos I gave you yo five cents rebate' and then, then she says to me 'Enjoy yo five cents' and I'm like 'Are you serious lady? Enjoy my fiiive cents' you gots to be kidding me? What the fuck do you think I'm gonna do with some fiiive cents? I don't want no fiiive cents off you.' What the hell can you buy with fiiive cents anyway? You can't even go in no bodega and buy no fish stick for no fiiive cents anymore"

Checkout girl 2: "Dat's true. Fish sticks are like ten cents now"

Checkout girl 1:"I know! So I was like.' Fiiive cents? Fiiive cents? What yoo espect me to doo lady? Go in some penny store and buy some penny shit? Cos no penny shit exist no more.''

During this exchange she has scanned and packed my toilet roll, taken the money for it and given me my change and receipt. I am laughing my head off and the she smiles with me and shrugs as if to say 'what can I do?

I go outside and the gentile humidity has given way to dramatic monsoon, rain is lashing down 8th avenue like it's the end of the world. I huddle under the awning with other shoppers and bemoan out loud how I can't make it back to the apartment.

The big burly manager is stood next to me and hears my plea and runs to his car and gets out his umbrella to offer me. I thank him profusely and walk home but the brolly can't compete with the lashing rain and by the time I get home I am soaked through. And not in a sexy way. In a make-up down my face, hair glued to my head kinda way. I scrabble for my keys while over the road some trannies are kissing in the downpour.

Even in movie set New York, life is usually less like a big budget Rom Com, or even an indie movie and more just like reality. Then there are nights like tonight when you find the extraordinary in the ordinary and you know life here will never be quite what you expect.

Friday, 23 October 2009

The Three Mouseketeers...



There is nothing like a rodent in your bedroom at 3 a.m. to spoil the honeymoon.

I wake up startled and grasp The American's arm to hear scratching, rustling and the clanging of the radiator valve. Whoever invented the phrase 'quiet as a mouse' must have been partially deaf. I know straight away. I just know. This is not the first time. This is the third. The first two happened in the kitchen, more of your expected setting for a mouse. The first one got away and the second one perished at the blade of The American's Smith and Wesson knife. Yes my husband owns a knife made by a gun manufacturer and makes no apologies. More disturbing are the details of the mouse death-which would put you off your dinner.

So in response to mouse one and two I had a few panic attacks, we sealed up all the holes behind the cooker, got an exterminator who sealed up a few more holes around the apartment and we breathed a sigh of relief. I ranted how it is possible to pay this much rent and still get rodents.We even bought a Mickey Mouse kitchen timer in the mistaken belief that one day soon we would be laughing about the whole thing.

But New York mice are not like normal mice. The brutal stabbing of one of their brood did not deter them. They are persistant furry little fuckers with attitude. And now there is one is my bedroom. My bedroom. Where I sleep. I run to the bathroom to vomit, which along with the panic attacks has become my default response to seeing a Mickey in my house.

The American gets the torch to investigate while I hide away perched on the loo. And so begins a long night where he is unable to catch the little Lynford and I am unable to sleep. It is last seen diving behind the cable box in the living room. I can't even set foot in our bedroom so climb in bed next to the Teenager and only manage about an hour of nightmare disturbed sleep. Every noise jerks my body into readiness and I silently curse the audacity of this creature. This tiny thing that terrifies me by it's invasion of my home. At least it wasn't a rat. If it was a rat I could never come in this apartment again. If it was a rat I would booking my flight back to Cardiff.

The next day The American gets up and discovers inadequately stuffed holes all over the bedroom-which in another story would be a fantastic double ententre. Then he goes to work and I am too terrified to move. He leaves me a bottle of sedatives but I push them to one side. This is mouse war and I need my wits about me. I email him later to ask if he cleared up the toffee apple he was eating late last night, I have a hunch he left the remainders on a plate on the bedroom floor. He denies it. I know he's lying.

I spend three hours researching exterminators until I find one with a rodent free guarantee. I beg, plead and cry on the phone until they agree to come later that day. The rest of the day is spent cleaning like a woman with OCD.

I call the American who is struggling to understand my feelings towards the Mickeys.

''It is not a fear,'' I tell him ''It is a phobia."
''Yeah I get that.'' he says ''Now."
"I don't know that you do get it."
"I do. I have just never known anyone this fearful. Of anything."
''It's not a fear, It's a phobia."
''Yes, you said."
"Did you leave that toffee apple on the floor?''
"No."

I scowl at the phone. Liar. This is all his fault with the late night snacking.

That night Junior and Geoff arrive, the king of New York exterminating and his able assistant. They proceed to pull out every piece of furniture and empty every cupboard and fill up even the tiniest of holes with wire wool and spray filler. Junior is cracking jokes as he goes and regaling us with tales of thumping rats to death.

These guys work the night shift, so usually they're at commercial premises, sneaking in to eateries after the customers have gone home in order to rid them of things that go nibble in the night. Their stories peak with an anecdote about an Asian restaurant in Manhattan. They witnessed a bucket of spare ribs soaking uncovered on the floor and mice leaping in and out stained the same rich red as the rib sauce. By the time they leave I have a list of no go sushi spots in Manhattan and the entire family has sworn off eating Chinese ever again.

In bed that night I am wide awake staring at the ceiling and clinging onto The American for dear life.

''Did you leave that toffee apple out last night?'
"No"

In the dark the lie is much louder.

A few days later he admits the truth. If I wasn't a newlywed madly in love I might muse how husbands and mice are not so different. They can't resist temptation, they're usually sneaky and you need to hire professional help when you want to get rid of them.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Mrs Smith takes Manhattan




There is no minimum qualification period for becoming a New Yorker.

As soon as you land at JFK you're in. In a city of great democracy all comers are welcome-the only conditions are a few dollars in your pocket and lots of attitude.

This week my mother arrives and has the latter down to a tee. It starts in the back of the cab when we arrive at the apartment.

''How much?''
"2o percent Mother."
"What for? I am paying him 50 dollars already!" The cab driver is rolling his eyes in the rear view mirror. Brits moaning about tips, nothing new I imagine.
"Mum, you gotta tip 20 percent, that's the standard."
''Ten dollars? You want me to give him ten dollars?" she protests incredulously "That's 20 percent!''
"Yes mother. I know, I just said that."
''Bloody ridiculous!" she huffs and hands me a wad of notes, ''There's $56 and that's all he's getting!"

The teenager and I laugh loudly and haul her suitcases out of the cab while she waits impatiently on the steps of the apartment. God we've missed her. Lots.

The next day Mum is tackling New York via the subway, armed with a laminated map and 66 years of finely honed navigation skills. Halfway through the day she has already declared me 'crap at the subways'. She also informs me my Blackberry GPS is 'bloody shit'.

We climb onto a packed commuter train later and a young boy, maybe ten or so, is sitting down reading Harry Potter with his bag sat beside him on the only spare seat. Mum picks it up and plonks it on his lap and sits herself down. He is agog but she ignores his looks of disbelief.

This might be New York, but they need to move over for Mrs Smith.



*
On October 19th at 1 p.m. The American I get married at the Ladies Pavilion in Central Park. The gloomy cold has turned to bright sunshine and warmth for the first time in over a week and the park is movie set pretty, dappled with Autumn golds. We say our 'I dos' with New York at our feet, led by a nautical captain we found on the Internet 48 hours previously. Tourists mill around snapping pictures on their SLRs.

Afterwards we take our own pics and while my back is turned Mum sprinkles some of Dad's ashes among the rose petal confetti.

We hail a yellow cab and go to Baltazhar for a $400 boozy lunch and get free champagne from the management. The freebies continue at the Gramercy Park hotel where we get a cake delivered to our room and an upgrade to a suite. Mum and The Teenager come for a cocktail at the rooftop bar where a round costs $120. As usual she is served without a blink but nearly gives her age away squealing with excitement when bumping into Terrance Howard from Iron Man in the lobby.

Mum and The Teenager leave and then it's just The American and I left to do what most newlyweds do- getting too trashed and passing out in what is probably the best hotel room you will ever stay in.

Goodnight Mr Rudolph. Goodnight Mrs Rudolph.



*

On Mum's last night three generations of Smith women go to Bitchy Bingo at a drag bar around the corner. Mum might be a drag virgin but when it comes to the bingo, she's got it locked. She wins the first game and secures herself top prize, which turns out to be two tickets to a gay play.

''Hello?" she shouts at the host while waving the tickets. Oh god. Oh god. Oh god. Ginger spins on her glittery platforms.
''Yes?'' she snaps back and shoves the mic at Mother
''What good are these to me?''
''Excuse me lady?''
''I said, what good are these to me?! I don't even live here!''
''Oh right." says Ginger. I clench everything, knowing the comeback is just seconds away:
''So tough shit England lady, go tell the fucking Queen about it!'' and with that she flounces off to laughter from the bar. This does not deter my mother. Amber and I exchange worried glances as we see her open her mouth to continue the exchange
''Uh excuse me! I am NOT English!''
Ginger turns around and I can tell that for a moment she is stumped. She buys herself a little more time...
''Ok, so where ya from lady?''
''I am Welsh.''
''What?
''Welsh!''
''Where?''
''Wales!''
''Yeah, no one gives a shit" and then she walks away again and tells my mother she likes the attitude, but to try turning it down a notch, which causes Mum to laugh uproariously.

It's a laugh I haven't heard for a while and thought I might not hear again. I think through a frozen cosmo haze how miraculous that laugh and my Mum's spirit are. And that I am a married lady now. And a New Yorker.

And that both of us are survivors of several of the craziest months ever known.

Cheers. To. That.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Coming out to play...


If Manhattan is an adult playground then we've
defiantly earned our turn on the swings.

After tears, tantrums and some elegant accounting we have been deemed just about good enough to pay huge sums of money to rent our dream apartment, nestled on a tree lined street tucked inside the West Village. It has 5 whole rooms and proper doors and a kitchen that you could
swing at least a kitten in. The walls are white and the floors wooden and shiny, a perfect blank canvas I think.

"It's a blank canvas!" says the American. I scowl and begin to worry that phrases like that mean he might want to take an
actual interest in the the interior decorating.

Unlike many of the luxury prison cells for rent, It has windows in every room. It sits opposite the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community centre, which is hands down the cleanest and most aesthetically pleasing community centre I have ever seen.

The American has been preparing a top drawer for this very day. Except it's seemingly full of nothing but electronics.

''So I got us a TV.'' he offers a few days before the big move.
''But we have two TVs already,"
''Yes but there are three of us, so we need three TVs.''
''No home needs three TVs.''
''
Huneee, we need one for the living room, one for our bedroom and one for the Teenager.'
''We don't."
''Well I got it anyway.''
''How big is it?''
''Huh?'' he says and tries to busy himself by fiddling with the air-con.
''The
tele. How big?''
''It's kinda big'' he says
distractedly.
''How big is
kinda big?''

There is a
worryingly long pause.

''52 inches.''

Oh. Dear. God. I swallow the orange sized lump in my throat.

''
Okaaaay. So show me how big that is Matthew?"
''It's 52 inches big.''
''Yeah, I get that, I am just saying, show me with your arms.''
''I can't.''
"Why?''
"Cos my arms won't stretch that far.''

The American is 6ft 2.

My sulk is only halted by his promise that if I leave the electronics to him, I can do the rest of the apartment how I like.

*
Before we flit to
Manhattan in a cloud of Marc Jacobs and cupcake bakeries I bid a fond farewell to Astoria- cheap rent, elevated trains, the Korean deli that smells of cat's piss, the 99c store and the Brazilian neighbours that put Christmas decorations up in September.

I want to go out in style so take a long overdue visit to the PS1 gallery,
MoMa's hipper, younger sister located in Long Island city.

As I cross the road an amazing smell is wafting in the air, like sugary doughnuts baking in the oven. I assume it is coming from the cafe. I wonder how quick I can rush through the art in order to sit in down and eat whatever the smell is.

I needn't have worried. Aside from giant Woolly Mammoth skin suspended on scaffolding in the courtyard there appears to be not much actual art to look at.





I pay $5 to get into a building that looks like a deserted asylum and spend the next 20 minutes wandering into empty rooms or stairwells that lead nowhere, debating whether they are part of the art. I walk under the famous swimming pool exhibit and marvel at a giant room full of 2822 records. Aside from that the only art I can find is from a man who emptied his entire Berlin apartment and stacked all the furniture on top of each other. According to the blurb, everything will return to his home once the exhibition is done. I wonder what he is doing for furniture in the meantime-I hope he didn't have to go to
Ikea.

I spend 20 minutes trying to locate the cafe, to no avail and then am back outside sniffing the sugary air again. A little way up the street a group of hipsters are doing to same. Is this part of the art? Smell-a-vision. It beats the usual drains and garbage smell.

On the way home a woman next to me on the subway starts breastfeeding while a homeless man snores loudly opposite her wrapped in a sleeping bag. A group of Mexican buskers in full national costume then get on and start singing. Who needs museums when New York city is like one big art installation?

*

I make an unscheduled visit to the
American's office. There are several ginormous cardboard boxes stacked up in the corner.

''Oh
Christ. Is that the tele?''
''
Umm, no.'' he tries to look busy on his computer.
''Where's the
tele then?"
''In storage."
''What are these things then?''
''Just a few things essentials for the apartment.''
''
Oww cool, like plates and cups and stuff?''
''No, not really..Hey, did you know we have Reese Peanut butter cups in the kitchen?''
''What is in the boxes Matthew?''
''
Umm. Speakers.''
The boxes are 5 foot high.
''5 foot high speakers?"
''They are really slender.''
''I don't care if they are anorexic, they are five foot high. And what else?''
''An amp."
"Anything else?''
"Maybe a
blue ray player?"
''Is that it?''
"I got an
ipod doc too....well, 2 ipod docks actually."
''Did you order us anything to sleep on by any chance?''
''
Umm, no, but hey huneee I got us these really cool all-in-one remote controls!''
"We don't have a sofa. We don't have anything to sit on to watch and listen to all this shit''
''Don't call my electronics shit please
hunnee''

I stomp off to contemplate a new look for the apartment-
chav lottery winner chic.

*

The night we move into the apartment and I am sat on a chair we stole from The
American's former housemate looking at the unwrapped beast that is the 52 inch TV.


Matt has hired two
PAs from the office to help us move. They keep bringing boxes and they all have electronics in them. By the time they have finished the living room looks like branch of Comet.

At 3 a.m. we finally flop onto our inflatable bed.

''We did it." I turn to The American with a huge Cheshire cat grin.
''I know
huneee. We got a place in the West Village. Me and you. In the West Village."
"In the village that is West?" I ask
''The village that we live in. The West Village.''
"The West Village where we live?''

This game goes on for at least 10 minutes until we fall asleep wrapped up in a duvet with no cover on and mismatched sheets. A few hours later I have a nightmare that a giant black beast is attacking me, until I wake up properly and realise it's just the TV I can see peeking at me through the crack in the bedroom door.

I get up and rifle through a suitcase until I find what I need. Several hours later The American gets up for work to see 3
Cath Kidston strawberry print tea towels draped over the giant TV.

In the adult playground, let the games begin...

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Finding my New York...


New York City is an assault on the senses.

It is loud, smelly, breathtakingly beautiful, it feels rough and smooth and sometimes leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Today I hate New York and New York hates me right back.

I am standing on a corner in Chelsea crying into the phone to my Mum. The reason for this is the perfect Manhattan apartment that I gained blisters trying to find looks like it has fallen through. I can't take looking at anymore overpriced shoeboxes or hanging around on blocks where even the drug dealers fear to tread. So I am crying like a big baby.

In the UK simply having a deposit, the first month's rent and not looking like a psycho is usually enough to secure you a flat. It was certainly the only requirements I had for my tenants. Not so here: Imagine the worst job interview you ever had. Now imagine you had to pay for the privilege of going through the stress.

The real estate agent has come back and said that the landlords require yet another month's security. With a 15% fee you might think they could deliver better news. The amount the landlord require us to put down before we move is roughly the same as my annual starting salary when I graduated.

And who are we to argue? What with The American's imperfect credit rating and my non existent U.S. one. So this is where the call to my mother comes in; to beg for cash, which felt acceptable in my twenties, but is simply humiliating half way through my thirties.

New York doesn't care that I am crying, I am just another freak on the street. The noise level seems to go up tenfold as cars whizz by and beep their horns aggressively and a big, gleaming truck screeches it's breaks so loudly I can't even hear my own sobs.

I just want my bed. Then I realise I don't even own a bed here and this makes me cry even more. I call The American and I can't hear what he is saying so I shout down the phone against the noise. I tell him I just want my own place in New York, that I just want to find my place.

*
When I pull myself together I walk down the street towards the subway when a camp man swinging a Whole Foods bag bumps into me and nearly knocks me over.

'Stoopid.' he mutters.
Wait. He bumped into me?
I pause. Then go for it: ''FUCK YOOOO!'' I shout.
He swings around and eyes me threateningly ''What. Did you just say to me?''
Oh crap. I picked a fight with the gobbiest gay in Chelsea.
''I said..." and I gulp and get ready to run: ''FUCK YOOO!'' and with that I leg it into the subway, praying he doesn't have a metro card to follow me.
"You're a cunt lady." he screams after me
''And you Mr Are an even bigger cunt!'' I holler back.

I have never called anyone a cunt in public before. It is my first public cunt and my first New York FUCK YOOO! and it feels great.

*

"Hey huneee. I got us this."
The American places a small red radio down on the table. I am furrowed eyebrows.
"It's a wind up radio." he explains.
"Like they use in Africa?"
"Yes!"
"Oh right. Ummm. Why?"
"Because huneee. We can listen to announcements should Manhattan ever get attacked."
"Are you being serious?"
"Manhattan is an island huneee. There is no way to get off in a disaster."
"Matthew. This is not a disaster movie."
"Huneee we had a real life disaster movie here? 9/11?"
There is not much retort to a sentence that ends with 9/11 so I shut up.
''Huneee I just want to protect you and my stepdaughter. I just want to protect my new family''

The American has found his place in New York.

*

I go for a drink with the first in a long line of Cardiffians who've promised to come out to New York. I meet Nick and his friend Jim and spend a great few hours talking to them about home and their impressions of New York while I sip small but deadly $6 cosmos.

The bar woman offers to buy us all a round of drinks and Nick and Jim think it's some kind of joke. Like any good Welshmen would, they want to know what the catch is and I say as far as I know there isn't one. I am a little too pissed to remember the exact etiquette with 'buy backs' but I figure like everything in this city, it just involves a lot of tipping. So when we leave we put so much cash on the bar, it could have simply bought us another round. Which leads me back to the beginning of this paragraph and there being no catch. The lack of logic in the whole process can really do you in when you've been drinking. Probably why 'buy backs' work so well.

When I get back to the ever glamorous Queens I trip out of the subway and spot a pair of $20 cowboy boots in a Thrift store. I Insist they get them out of the window and drunkenly try and pull them on, while still standing on one foot. I sway a little to the left and then a little to the right. They won't budge, so I yank some more and nearly topple over before conceding that they don't fit. The woman behind the counter rolls her eyes. In New York even the volunteer at a thrift store in Astoria has attitude.

I leave the store smiling and trip down the street blinking against the lights. I feel for my engagement ring, a nervous habit I have developed since The American put it on my finger. I remember I have a knuckle, so It can't just fall off.

The smell of the kebab stall wafts down Steinway and music is blasting from the Brazillian bar. I can still taste the rocket fuel cosmos. It's ok. New York can assault my senses today.

I will find my place here.

I will find my New York.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Feet First...





Week two of my new life in New York and it is entirely possible I may lose my legs.

I fear they could actually fall off from all the walking. Today I saw 10 apartments in 3 hours. That is a lot of walking and fast. People in New York walk like the pavements are made from hot coals. My legs can't cope. When I wake up in the morning they may have detached themselves from my body in protest. Why isn't everyone in New York thin from all the walking? Why aren't I thin yet?

To be fair, it's only been two weeks. At least I don't really face loosing my legs from an existing condition like the crazy, scary lady on the subway:

"I got diabetes you focking baaaastard! I may be a double amputee! Would yoo like that? Would yoo?"

She is swinging her cane around and accusing a seemingly innocent man of stepping on her foot. He sensibly escapes at the next stop.

Unfortunately she is right opposite me and in my direct eyeline, so I busy myself with reading the adverts above her head. I fear any eye contact may result in her whacking me with the walking stick. She weighs about 90 pounds but I am scared.

''That's right! Look away!"'

Oh fucking hell. Is she talking to me? I am too terrified to look at her and find out. I keep focused on a Spanish advert about impotence. All the other passengers are also looking in any direction other than hers while she throws half a bottle of some prescription pills down her neck.

''Don't you all count your chickens you motherfockers! God knows. He knows!! You can't hide focking shit from him! You will all be found out. He'll get you all in the end, if I don't first!"

Oh grrrreat. My fabulous new life in New York is going to end with me being beaten to death by a crazy lady with diabetes and a cane on the Queens bound N train.

Thankfully she gets off at the next stop. Phew. I would be really angry If I got murdered in the murder capital of America and it didn't even make the papers.

So I live another day to continue my hunt for an overpriced Manhattan storage cupboard that is known locally as an 'apartment'.

Highlights of the search so far have included:

1) An apartment for thousands of dollars opposite a housing project, with two crackheads slumped in the doorway and the remnants of not one, but three stolen bicycles outside

2) An apartment for thousands of dollars above a Chinese waxing salon with transparent screens in place of bedroom doors.

3) An apartment for thousands of dollars where someone appeared to have stolen the living room. Apparently the 2 square foot area I was standing in next to the cooker, was the living room.

4) An apartment for thousands of dollars with a park view. Unfortunately the view was compromised by a homeless guy playing air piano in the middle of the street.

The reality of what money doesn't buy you in Manhattan is marginally less shocking than the reality of the Real Estate agents. My hopes of a besuited, slick, tough negotiator ferrying me around in a sedan with blacked out windows have been more than a little crushed. I wonder where it all went wrong as I hobble behind the latest guy in baggy jeans, while developing blisters on my blisters. Not only is there no car- they take you on the subway and they don't pay for your ride. Or worse, they simply make you walk. Did I mention that? A lot of walking. At least at home you would get a cheap suit and a ride in a Fiesta.

*
I have a new favourite deli in my local Queens hood. The main thing I like about it is that it's clean. The one downstairs from the apartment always smells of cat's piss and The American and I regularly pontificate on what the Korean owners may be doing to cats to warrant such a stench.

The new favourite deli is Lebanese. The man there 'loves my accent.'

''I love your accent.''

"Thanks." I say, through gritted teeth. I imagine this is what it must be like to be famous. You just must hear the same thing over and over, yet you can't ever say fuck off, 'cos really people are just being nice.

"You're Irish right?"

I spend 5 minutes explaining where Wales is to a blank face. I then pretend not to know where the Lebanon is.

''Don't worry mother," says The Teenager "everyone in my school is talking about the hot new Australian girl."

When I get home I tell The American that I was very nearly murdered on the subway earlier and should such a thing ever occur, could he please make sure it makes the newspapers.

'WHAT. THA. FUCK are you ON about you crazy Welsh woman?''
''Me. Being murdered. Make sure it makes the papers.''
''Why?''
''Cos I am not letting my brutal slaying in the murder capital of America go unpublished."
''Emma.'' he says ''Everybody knows that Chicago is the murder capital of America.''
''Oh.''
''Where are you going?''
''I have to lie down. My feet are killing me."

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