Sunday, 25 October 2009
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
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?''
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?'
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
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.
"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.''
''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.