Friday, 25 September 2009
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.'
''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.
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.''
"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?"
''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?''
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?''
"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
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?"
"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
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.''
''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.''
''Where are you going?''
''I have to lie down. My feet are killing me."
Friday, 4 September 2009
Tuesday 1st September 2009. My new life in New York begins with me arguing in a Queens branch of Subway over a tuna mayonnaise footlong.
I ask the woman for tuna mayonnaise, but she looks at me blankly, so I ask for it again and point to the tuna, but her expression remains. So I say it again...
'Tuna. Tuna Mayo."
She exchanges confused glances with her colleague. I am hungry and jet lagged and want my $5 footlong.
''Tuna? Tuna? TUNA?'' I say pleadingly
''AHhhhhhh." says a man with a strong Indian accent 'You mean TU-na?'
"CHOO-na." I say
"TU-na." he says
"CHOO-na." I shout
"TUUUUUU-na." he enunciates as if it is I who is the newcomer to the English language ''We call it Tuuuuuuu-na here.''
''It's a fish.'' says the girl
"Are you Australian?'' he asks cheerily
''No! I am British! And I know it's a bloody fish. And we call in Choo-na.''
"Just give the woman her goddamn footlong!'' interrupts a native New Yorker in the queue.
''Thank you.'' I sigh.
"You should get some To-may-toes on that.'' she suggests
I don't even start.
By Thursday morning we are in Manhattan enrolling the Teenager for school in a kind of NY city educational sausage factory. I forget the passports, so we can't even progress past stage one. The American gives me evils while I protest that no one actually told me I had to bring passports. He then has to go all the way back to our pied a terre in Queens and is gone for over and hour.
When we finally get to progress to stage two they tell us we need a sworn affidavit to confirm that we are living together. And it has to be signed by a notary.
I am not even entirely sure what a notary is, but The American seems to know so we all follow him as he goes careering off down the street in search of one. This being New York there is a notary just one block away. So we pay a bespeckled Jewish man $2 to put a stamp on the affidavit and then it's all apparently official in the eyes of the New York city that The American and I are co-habiting.
When we return to we have to get back in line to wait for a 125 year old woman to single finger type into a laptop. It's ok though, because she loves my accent and her equally octogenarian colleague is asking where I am from and pretending she knows where Wales is.
Amber is finally in the system after 4 hours and I learn that bureaucracy is not the sole preserve of the British.
On the weekend we go to the cinema. Except I have to call it the 'movies' now. As we pay $36 for tickets for the three of us, I lament the loss of my cineworld card and it's unlimited films for 13 quid a month. There is no American equivalent. What with this and marmite and Coronation Street I have a sudden pang for the homeland. It lasts about 30 seconds until I see a tranny in a micro mini queuing for popcorn, then I love New York again.
We see District 9, a film about aliens in South Africa. They nickname them Prawns. More fish. There is a theme emerging here.
No one understands the Aliens or knows where they are from. I know how they feel.
I am, after all... a Welsh Alien in New York.