Monday, 26 April 2010

Forever Friends

So I  have a confession to make: on this side of the pond I am a bit of a Billy-no-mates.

I say 'bit' because I have some friends, but not many and the ones I do have are all British, which sort of feels like cheating, as if I brought them with me in my suitcase. I haven't made one American friend since I got here-unless you count the man that runs the fruit stall on 7th Avenue and gives me free bananas and a wink.

I would like to point out that I have tons of friends back home though. I want that noted in case you don't know me and you are judging me. Fine to be a Billy, but not on a international scale. 

As it is, I get to live in this amazing city with my demanding and difficult  wonderful husband and my daughter who's a pain in the arse  great companion, but I don't get to share it with many friends.


There has been some Yank potential, but they have all come to nothing. My American says all Americans are flaky, but I think he's either just being nice or simply judging his countrymen by his own low standards.

Most notable so far is my hairdresser, who I would like to be my number one GBF. He makes my endlessly disappointing hair look like a Loreal ad, so I loved him at first blow dry. He said he would show me around Harlem, but then he didn't ask for my mobile number to make the arrangements. He is quite shy, so I didn't want to be pushy (apparently I can be pushy? persistent I prefer) but then I found out he does Tyra Bank's hair and I became a bit frantic. I knew I would have to pay- in the form of many $100 a time haircuts- in order to foster this friendship. But that will take time, as both my hair and my wallet can only afford to see him every couple of months. Not ideal, as I am an impatient cow.

When I first arrived in New York I was so keen you could smell the desperation oozing out of my pores. I tried to pick up friends in cafes, shops, parks. I look back and I cringe. "I'm so 'ronery!" said my face "Love me! Love me! I am usually so popular!" It was like being single again, except I was way less fussy. Anyone who's knew me before I met The American will understand that means my expectations were really in the toilet.

Then I realised that you can't force something that should be organic. All my mates in the UK I have met through school, uni or work, these were friendships that grew over the months and years.  I never needed any more mates at home, because I'd been lucky enough to have plenty of them. Friendship came easy to me, fallen into my lap all my life. I love people and people have loved me right back.

But in my infinite wisdom I moved to another country and decided writing should be my full time occupation. A job where you work alone. This is the worse possible scenario for a social buzzy bee me. I am not good with solitude. 100 seconds of it is too much for me. Some days I go to Duane Reade just to be bitched out by someone and inhale the milk of human unkindness.

I blame my expectations on endless TV shows about how much fun it is to have friends in New York. And how they'll be there for you when the rain starts to come.

I especially blame (again) the show that we never dare speak it's name since it sold out and made an appalling saccharin big screen version. It was always like ''Blah, blah men uggh but girfriends are sugar sprinkles on the cupcake of loveliness la la la." Well guess what bitches? Your show was a croc. I said Ta Ta to heels (mostly) cos you can't wear them all the time in New York like you made out and I have hardly any mates, so what I am suppose to do? Drink Manhattan dry on my own? Or with my Teenager?  Let's be honest, she doesn't want to go out with her Mother and I would rather party with someone I don't have bat pervy men off all night.

So what can I do?

I could go to a million meet up groups. I could but I likely won't. I could get a proper job, except the US immigration service are using a snail they shipped in from India to process my work visa. Meeting people at the gym is not an option, I go to the YMCA, where many patrons are over 70 and wear jeans on the treadmill.

I could blame the problem on the big city, I could blame in on my age, I could blame it on boogie.

So what am I to do in this city where there is much closeness? You share tables with strangers, you squeeze next to them on trains, you cram in long lines with them. You are so close, but so far. There are a million me's as I was back home: people with enough friends, busy lives, no room for anyone else in the hearts or on their blackberries. So what am I to do?

What I am to do, I have decided- is to realise I cannot replicate 34 years of friendships in 8 months.  I am to relax and be patient. I am to know that New York friends will come. I am also to be glad my mates back home still give me their time and love through emails, phone calls and SKYPE. Hell, for now I am to be my own best friend, at least I know I'm not flaky.

Or I could just follow the advice of New Yorkers when I've asked "How do you make friends in this town?" They all say the same thing.


Friday, 23 April 2010

Diamond geezer

So I may have to reconsider my frustratingly one sided relationship with supermodel Naomi Campbell

Last night she turned up at my apartment again muttering something about a diamond.

I figured she was in trouble once more, as that's the only time she ever wants to see me. I put the kettle on and got my secret supply of Hob Nob biscuits out, knowing that Noami always wants to stress eat in times of media persecution. I tried to breach the issue of our friendship, but she didn't listen and just wanted to talk about her problems. She's very 'Me, me, me' if I'm honest.

Apparently this time, the newspapers are accusing her of accepting a blood diamond off the former president of Libya Charles Taylor. Worse than that, it's being said she is refusing to testify at the Hague, where prosecutors have claimed he used uncut diamonds to fuel a campaign of terror in Sierra Leone.

As the story goes in the media, Noami was staying at her pal Nelson Mandela's house in 1997 and there was a knock on her bedroom door in the middle of the night and a mahoosive diamond gift was given to her. She is supposed to have gone down to breakfast in the morning and told all the other guests about it. This is all according to someone who was there called 'Mia Farrow'. As Naomi says "Who is this Mia Farrow anyway?"

Naomi says she does have a large uncut diamond, but Adam Clayton from U2 gave it her when they were dating. I asked her if she was sure, as that band are known for being a bit tight and also are quite into the whole human rights thing. Naomi just made a face and said that Adam went into H. Samuel's in Dublin and asked for the biggest diamond they had.

She says the whole thing is worse now, because she is being accused of losing her temper again-this time with a TV reporter. She says she definitely didn't do that,  as she has been doing really well with her anger management program. She says she is innocent and no one can prove otherwise. I asked her if the interview was recorded on camera, at which point she furrowed her brow and there was a really long pause.

Then she yelled "FUUUUUCK!", threw the rest of my Hob Nobs against the kitchen wall and stormed out.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Minding my P's and Q's

Of all the traits that will help you navigate your way through the urban jungle of New York-manners are pretty low on the list.

But being British means always saying you're sorry-usually in the form of two words "Excuse me?"

"Excuse me, can you help me?" "Excuse me can I just squeeze past?" "Excuse me, do you mind? "Excuse me do you know the way to Union Square/5th Avenue/ San Jose?""Excuse my breathing, excuse me living, excuse my excuses?" The only time New Yorkers say Excuse me is when you're in their way. Which I seem to be quite a lot. No matter where I stand. There's is not a genuine Excuse me though, it's a snippy forced one, spat out with vitriol and without a question mark. There is no time for punctuation. What they really mean is ''Get the hell out of my way you waste of skin."

Excuse me is the worst way you can start a conversation with an American. It confuses them, they think you're apologising for something, but they don't know what you're supposed to have done.

My own American goes so far as to say manners are annoying, frivolous and not necessary for a New Yorker. He theorises where population is dense, courtesies are squeezed out. I am reminded once more I am a Welsh Alien and how manners run gleefully back home-through the hills and towns- where we have plenty of space, enough for there to be more sheep than people.

Bring the Welsh to New York and they get caught out all the time.

"Excuse me?" says my Mother to a Mexican market stall holder in Boston train station, "Do you happen to know where the Bolt Bus for New York goes from?"

Excuse me is even worse when the person doesn't speak American as their first language. They just stare, blank faced. It's an expression I've seen many times before so I barge in.

"Oh! Just over there. Gate 9!" he smiles back.

"You just have to shout and say less words." I tell Mum.
"Oww. Really? It just seems so...rude."
"I know, but it's the only way."
"But it's know?...British."
"Yes, but you will spend too much time repeating yourself otherwise."

Mother looks bemused by this, but I suspect that it's because she has spent a lifetime repeating herself out of choice in the form of nagging.

I explain to her that Please and Thank Yous are something of an antiquated custom here. Akin to laying your coat across a puddle Sir Walter Raleigh style. Lay out your manners in the same way and it is you, not your coat that gets stepped on. You and your P's and Q's are a novelty.

I tell her how the common courtesy of holding a door open is greeted with...nothing...not even eye contact of gratitude. How I have taken to yelling "YOU'RE WELCOME!" at the top of voice to anyone who doesn't thank me. Which is everyone.

I say I have concluded that you have to pick and choose what British affectations to keep and which ones to lose.

She looks happy when I declare Please and Thank Yous will stay. I tell her am taking a nod from Beyonce when she says ''My Momma taught me better 'dan 'dat."

She looks bemused again. She doesn't get it, she is fluent in manners but she doesn't speak much American.

She doesn't speak New York.


Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Season most likely to succeed

A friend said to me recently that Spring is New York's late Valentine to you after the harsh winter.

I couldn't have put it better myself. In fact I haven't-that's why I've stolen her quote.

My many trips here since 2007 were only hinting at the true climate. To live here all year around is to be plunged fully into the schizophrenic weather that is as changeable and dramatic as the city itself. In the winter there is not just snow, but blizzards, the city closes down and 10 foot piles crowd the pavements. The summer not merely sun, but 90 degrees of oppressive heat and humidity that require one of those Clinical strength deoderants. When it rains it doesn't pitter patter. It's like God emptied his entire water tank on the island of Manhattan. When they say 'inclement weather' they mean 'monsoon'.

It's the seasons in between that offer less drama, resulting in New York at it's most perfect. Autumn with it's golden oranges and crunchy leaves underfoot, each still hot day an unexpected gift. And now- new warmth and breezy days when cherry blossoms fall on your shoulder as you walk, whispering...

"Hello, I'm Spring. Look how pretty I am! Do you love me?"

Spring is the prom queen of seasons. Young and bouncy with all the good stuff still to come. She's a bit of a tease and allows you a glimpse of her panties. Within the last week I read my book among the daffodils in Abingdon Square on a Saturday morning. I climb over the fenced off lawn at Union Square in order to lie on the grass and feel the vibrations of the subway trains underneath. I sit in a French cafe and play fashion critic, watching how other women tackle the sudden change of weather.

I secure a coveted spot on one of the sunlougers at The Highline,  listening to my ipod while watching planes criss cross the baby blue sky with one eye open.

On reflection I seem like I lounge around a lot. It's not really my fault, the U.S. immigration service can take the blame. Should the green card arrive anytime this summer I will stuff it down the back of the sofa and tell everyone I'm still waiting.


Yesterday when having a cigarette on the fire escape at the back of our apartment The American spots this teeny red bird in the trees. 

He is really small isn't he? Probably took you a good 30 seconds or so to even spot him (he's at the top of the picture if you're still looking) and it's true that one swallow does not make a spring, nor does a few fine days. As quickly as those moments happened, they are gone. Today as I write the city is cold, grey and lifeless again. That is the thing about the Prom Queen-she teases but she never puts out fully.  

Which just makes you want her more.


Friday, 9 April 2010

Happy Birthday (not so sweet) Sixteen

On April 2nd 1994 I was 19 years old, holding a brand new baby aloft in my arms. She smelled like Johnsons talc and had caramel coloured skin with a soft, dark, downy covering. She didn't cry, she just cooed. Like a little pidgeon. "Coo Coo".

The early hours of April 2nd 2010- I am at a downtown New York club in a pit of sweat, fist pumping 2 feet away from Calvin Harris. And I have lost my baby.

Panic begins to rise from my stomach but then she reappears in the crowd, smiling, beautiful, clad in tight black lycra dress, skin glistening from sweat and holding a $15 vodka tonic in the air. She mouths something to me. I don't understand. She waves her hand and shakes her head and smiles-our universal language for " doesn't matter." She closes her eyes, stretches her arms into the air and says ''Woo Woo."

Thank god. She is safe. And I am too old to be in a sweat pit, but more importantly I am too old to be in a sweat pit alone. She dances up to me, pushing her way through the crowd, eyes alive, sparkling, wide with wonderment at Calvin.

"I can't receive it's a ghost!" she bellows in my ear

The next morning I wake up at 7a.m. with my tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth and my bladder fit to burst. No false dawn today, the hangover just kicks straight in. I wait a few hours and then Mum and I burst into The Teenager's room playing Neil Sedaka's 'Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen' on the stereo. We sing loudly and Mum does this crazy kooky dance. The Teen pulls the duvet back, opens one eye and grimaces:

"What the fuck?"

The next few days whizz by like a fast forwarded film... We have the customary Smith birthday family argument which kicks in before midday. Then I am on 7th Avenue with a giant sweet sixteen balloon and a bag filled with garish pink banners and balloons. Next, I send The American off in seach of ready to roll icing, which you can't buy anywhere. I make 16 pink roses to put on top of the Victoria Sponge I baked.

That night we go to Employees Only in the Village and drink cocktails and have Oysters. The American puts away a few double Jacks, which somehow make him funnier than me.  J.D. becomes known as 'Thunder Stealing Elixir'.

When we leave I suggest The Teenager gets her fortune told by the woman that sits in the window of the restaurant. We give her 20 bucks and she gives the birthday girl some food for thought; be patient, don't be so hard on yourself, breathe, embrace womanhood.

We spill out onto the street and the American has found an abandoned locked vintage chest which he brings home in the cab and insists on powerdrilling open. At 1 a.m. Our neighbours probably hate us, but in New York no one complains about noise. I go to bed and leave Mum and The Teenager laughing at him climbing in and attempting to shut it, like some Whiskey sodden Houdini.

Just a few hours later and my alarm clock jerks me awake like a lumphammer on my sore brain. It's 5.30 a.m and time to put my Mother in a car to Newark Airport.  She seems fine despite the wine she put away and she's still sanctimoniously claiming she ''doesn't do hangovers'. Neither does The Teenager and I wonder if she and a pensioner are fine-how many decades I am going to suffer the black dog after a drinking session?

That night I am half dead and nigh on suicidal thorough lack of sleep and booze consumption, but I have to make it out to the Easter burlesque show we have tickets for. 'The Burning Bush versus The Second Coming' gives us five pairs of tits, two willies and several hours of open mouthed astonishment and horror from The Teenager.

I want to warn her not to leave her mouth open for too long in a place like this.

On the cab home I ask if if her if she enjoyed the last few days. She pauses, wrinkles her lips a little.

"I know..."
"I just... miss my Boy. And my mates you know?"
"I know honey. I know. Hanging out with your Mum isn't the way you would have chosen to spend your sixteenth birthday."
"I had a great time though. Thank you."
"You're welcome sweetheart."

Is it my imagination or is she that much older now? I look at her and it seems that way. A lamb, unsteady on her feet, finding her legs but getting ready to run. Time to let go of my baby and get to know her all over again as an adult.

I look out of the cab window as we whizz down 6th Avenue. We stop in traffic outside St Joseph's church. The white romanesque pillars are lit up and people gather on the steps for the start of midnight mass. I can see inside, candlelight beats invitingly. I want to go in, not for God, but for something.

Easter tomorrow. Spring.

New beginnings and rebirth.



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