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.''
''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.

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