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?''
"In Elizabeth?"
"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."
''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?''
"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?"
''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?"
''Like roller, black out blinds!''

Big pause.

''Nah, we don't do them anymore..."
"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?''
''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."
''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?"
''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."
"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.
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.


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