Tuesday, 29 June 2010
Summer in New York City is something of a climatical groundhog day.
You wake up in an air conditioned bedroom that feels like a giant freezer. You go outside into a sauna. Walk any distance and you are perspiring like a human hog roast. Eyeball sweat blinds you before you have reached the end of your block. You escape back inside again and you're back in the freezer. Outside Sauna...inside freezer. Sauna. Freezer. Sauna. Freezer.
Right now I cannot walk out of my house without raising my hand to my head and saying "Owww!", while puffing like a Grandma in pain. Sometimes I even start singing Billy Idol's Hot in the City to myself like a social retard or I yell "Scorchio!" like Caroline Aherne's weathergirl on the Fast Show.
Today it was 90 degrees with no sun. Cloudy with a chance of heat rash. Disgusting. As disgusting as the sweat that is running down my back and into my arse. Butt crack sweat, what could be erotic than that? Good thing I'm married already.
From that image, I segway neatly into our bedrooms, where we have relief in the form our air conditioning units. The rest of the apartment has to make do with a freestanding fan that just circulates the hot air. The bathroom and kitchen have become go-only-when-necessary zones. It's so hot in those rooms, I am considering renting them out for Ashtanga Yoga classes. I have all but given up cooking- summer in the city is no time to turn on an oven, just the exertion of chopping means perspiration is the main seasoning in my homemade coleslaw.
Leaving the house is no better. It's for the foolhardy and employed only. As well as facing the roasting rubbish scented Eau de New York streets, you also have to pack a survival kit: Copious amounts of water, dollar bills to buy more water and a scarf in your bag to cover your arms when you go back into buildings with over zealous air cons. Take my office for example-better known to most as 'The New York Library'-it's the worst culprit. Never mind the petitions to stop closures, try making it a little less igloo and you'd save enough taxpayers money to solve the budget deficit.
The stifling heat is all to do with the humidity apparently. Am I alone in not knowing what that really means? Everyone is always banging on about it, but I don't really think anyone truly understands it. All I am certain of is that humidity is a city problem and my Mother would describe it as 'close', which is as nonsensical as the rest of what she says.
The American is a bit obsessed with humidity, mainly because it's another factor in his growing weather related arsenal against New York and in favour of his California homeland.
"Whiney whine whine New York weather whine whine whineyyyyyy." he says
"Uh huh." I say
"Blah blah blah terrible humidity."
"Na na noo na, not like this in California."
"La de da da lovely L.A. blah blah bad New York, la de da da DRY HEAT."
I didn't think it was possible to become more weather obsessed than when I lived in Cardiff, but since the start of Welsh Alien I have blogged about all the seasons and have now come full circle with Summer, or 'Satan's armpit' as I heard it referred to recently.
There are a few days of perfection in September and April. Precious Manhattan times when it's in the early 70's and the wind blows gently and no one needs clinical strength deodorant and everyone's in a good mood. I don't really remember them, I must have been inside blogging about the weather and missed them.
So what is the ultimate way to keep cool in the city? Aside from frolicking in a virus infected public pool like this foolish child?
I just stick my head in the freezer. Right in there. Ahhhhh. I have the perfect spot, between the ice lollies and the frozen prawns.
It is the only corner of Manhattan where true solace from the heat lies.
Monday, 21 June 2010
The last piece of advice I had before going to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, was "Don't upset the locals."
"Viiiiie you take my peecture vivout permission?" snarls an old Russian lady, after cursing me in her native tongue. The only Russian I know is 'Glasnost', 'Perestroika' and 'Double Vod-ka' and by her tone I guess she doesn't want to discuss any of those.
I also am pretty sure she won't appreciate a diatribe on how photojournalism relies on catching your subject unaware, so I lie and say I was taking a picture of the building behind her. She stares are me so intently I feel a piece of my soul breaking off and crumbling into dust.
From there on, it is not just my imagination that every other old lady on the beach is giving me stinking looks-The Teenager notices too. There is a price on my head with the elderly women of Brighton beach and I'm scared as they all have big umbrellas.
I continue to document our day at Little Odessa with my camera though. Hey, I've been chased out of town before, it's no big deal, especially when you've done the dreaded death knocks as a reporter. Sometimes then, there was Alsatians involved and I was on The Gurnos estate in Merthyr, so I am pretty robust.
After what seems like about three minutes tanning on the beach, The Teenager announces she is bored. I thought at 16, we had moved on from this hyper attention deficit problem, yet we enter into a bartering phrase about what time we can leave.
"Can we go at 3 p.m. Mum?"
"Can we leave at 3.30?
"I would go sooner that later if I was you."
"And why is that?"
"Cos there is another old Russian lady coming towards us and she's giving you like, proper evil stares."
So we pack up swiftly and make our way down to Coney Island by walking down the shoreline.
On the way a man is practising Yoga and he's doing the crab. On the beach. I am fighting to find the pun.
A mile down the coast and we arrive at Coney. The Russians are replaced by a motely crew of ghetto unfabulous, freaks, schoolkids, tourists and Manhattanites enjoying the 'irony'.
The Teenager and I wander up the boardwalk in the searing sunshine, burgers and doughnuts smoke in the air. We stop and stare at attractions like 'Shoot the freak' with it's real human target. I buy a cowboy hat and get the feeling I should be drunk or on hallucinagenics to fully appreciate the place. Everyone else apparently is-all sipping on what looks like giant plastic bongs full of Margarita. Maybe If I got wrecked I would wear a g-string in public?
We sit down by a seafood stall and watch the colour and craziness go by. I snap away with the camera and The Teenager threatens to get the train home on her own if I don't stop.
"Mother. For god's sake! Why won't you put the camera down?"
I pause thoughtfully and look wistfully at the sky and say: "I guess...it's because...you know, I want to document life wherever I go."
She says "Ugghhh. Because you are a *rolls eyes* bloody journalist?
And I say "Nah. Just because I'm a nosey cow."
And we both laugh until snowcone comes out of our noses.
And because nice moments are rare when your children are Teenagers, I take another picture, but this time in my head.
It's the best one of the day.
Tuesday, 15 June 2010
I like to call this 'being a journalist'. The American would say I use my profession as an excuse for most of my personality pitfalls.
But one question flummoxed me recently: "When it comes to England v USA in the World Cup who will you be supporting?"
That one, I had no answer for.
The Welsh among you will be frothing dragon scented spittle that I could even think of supporting England. "As long as we beat the English we don't care." Ok, so that's stolen from the game with the funny shaped ball, but it applies to football too.
The English will be thinking it's a no-brainer. We're all Brits after all yeah? Innit? Whatevs? Ribena? Marmite? Crumpet? And Wales never qualify for any major footie tournaments, so obviously cheering on the neighbours is the next best option.
The Americans reading are probably just confused. You're thinking "What's the problem, you are English aren't you?" and then you'll ask "Where's Wales?" and I will do my frantic arm flapping demonstration of the UK map where I draw in the air with my fingers and point out the four countries that make up The United Kingdom. You will then remain confused, yet entertained when I speak some Cymraeg and you laugh heartily and say it sounds like Lord of the Rings language.
When the world cup rolled around every 4 years in the UK, I would always end up cheering for England. I was brainwashed by The Sun and their clever low rent headlines and reminiscences of '66 and all those Page 'free stunnas' wearing hotpants with The St George's cross on their arse.
Here there was little to no build up. Although now it's got going, there seem to be flags and tournament schedules outside most bars. I think it's seen as another excuse to drink here. Not that New Yorkers need much of a reason to imbibe. The rising of the sun is enough to perpetuate the institutionalised alcholism of this city.
So, last Saturday I go to a bar in Hell's Kitchen to meet with English and American friends. I am asked who I'm supporting and I explain my dilemma of being British but living here and being married to an American, albeit one who has no interest in soccerball.
I make a crack about possibly cheering for The USA, being as I now have American DNA in me. Unfortunately I forget The Teenager is right behind me and old enough to get such inappropriate jokes. She is horrified and I throw another wad of virtual notes in the virtual therapy pot. That pot, however imaginary, overfloweth.
I declare myself neutral in summary. That makes everyone calls me Switzerland. I'm not crazy keen on that, I was nearly arrested there once over an argument about using Euros. Despite their neutrality they are very insistent about their Swiss Francs.
Then I head to the bar, and before I can even be misunderstood with my drinks order it happens... England score. I pause. The small but vocal fans go crazy in the bar... I feel nothing.
Flatline. Passionless emptiness.
We watch the rest of the game and I enjoy not feeling attached to either team, it's zero stress. I clap when there's a clearance or decent shot at goal. The Teenager shouts at me when I do it for USA. but I ignore her-she is infected by an English boyfriend and has grown up under the influence of a united Europe. Jingoism escapes her.
Then the USA equalise and I laugh. Really hard. America has got it's cock out again, only this time it's like it's pissing on the overinflated egos of the England team.
Soccerball is one of the few sports The USA play where they are the underdog. We all agree it's nice to laugh at Yanks doing something badly. However, this time, they are 1-all with England in a World Cup. Unexpected doesn't begin to cover it. Is there an evolution happening where by the USA get less of a joke every 4 years? Maybe Becks has been secretly coaching them in a hidden tunnel underneath The Home Depot Centre?
When the whistle blows not much past 90 minutes the bar goes gaga, chanting "U.S.A." I laugh some more. England played better, but it feels like the right result, even if it's just for England fans to step into a Welsh supporters shoes for one game.
The next day the strangest thing happens: a phonecall with my Mother makes everything clear. Really, that never happens.
I tell her of my supporting dilemma and she reminds me of what my late, beloved football crazy Dad Big D would have said:
"I support Wales and whoever England are playing."
In this topsy turvy world where the Yanks beat the English in the World Cup and The NY Post can run this genius headline, it seems like a perfect philosophy for a Welsh Alien in New York.
Tuesday, 8 June 2010
Last Monday I spent the day with my new Welsh friend, who is actually just Taffy on a technicality. She's really a Liverpudlian, but if she were a boy she could play football for Wales and that's good enough for me.
We decide on a trip as it's what Brits would call May Day bank holiday. In the U.S. it's called Memorial Day, which is when soldiers who have died are remembered. I deduce they'd appreciate women getting bikinis on in their honour, so the beach it is.
We head to Penn station where we buy two tickets to Long Beach. Welsh friend says there is some kind of package you can buy that admits you onto the beach as well.
"Admits me? What do they do? Charge to get on the sand?"
As it turns out, that's exactly what they do. As much as this annoys me, I don't stress. How much can it be? It'll be like the car park at Porthcawl-just a nominal fee that funds the picking up of crisp packets and seagull poo.
Turns out it costs 12 bucks to get onto Long Beach and it isn't the paradise you might imagine considering. It's certainly no Fire Island, although it's not quite Barry Island either. However, there's sand and water and enough Jersey Shore Guido-a-likes to keep me entertained.
Long Beach is true to it's name, it's just really long. A straight strip of beach next to a seemingly endless line of grey Monolithic apartment buildings that look like they were built by depressed Russians in the 60's and are now being touted as 'Luxury Rentals'.
I am just glad The American didn't come along, being as he's from California and therefore ranks East Coast beaches somewhere between sewers and the bins at the back of our local Chinese takeaway.
After a few hours of tanning in the breezy sunshine, Welsh friend's Australian mate comes to meet us. She is covered from head to toe in clothes to avoid the sun and donning a floppy straw hat and sunglasses. Pah! Aussies and their sun overreaction. It's not Melbourne here ya' know. I continue spraying my factor 10 with a flourish and slowly cook my pale skin. At one point Oz girl warns me my side boob is burning, my response to which is to tuck it back into my bikini top and turn over.
At 4.30 p.m. we head back to the station and when we're on the train Welsh friend says:
"Woaaaah girl, you got some sun!"
I check out my face in a hand mirror and it looks a bit pink, but nothing too bad. There are some worryingly white large circular areas on my upper arm though. Maybe I should have actually rubbed the suncream in rather than just spraying it?
When we get back to Manhattan it is dull and overcast and my skin suddenly seems a lot pinker in contrast. I say goodbye to Welsh friend and pop into the local supermarket. I am trying to find Feta when I catch the man on the cheese counter staring at me.
"Hey!" He shouts across the shop, "Someone went to the beach today!"
"Yes. I did."
I try to slink away into the bread aisle.
"Listen, I'm the same as you," he says, while slicing into a giant wheel of Gouda, "Always gotta go through the Lobster stage before I go brown."
I hurry to the checkout where a Mexican girl looks at my face and then sniggers at me.
When I get home the reaction is no better:
"FUCK-IN-HELL" says The American
"Hey I'm back!"
"Or...badger is back?" he says and starts laughing.
I look in the mirror and there are two white rings where my sunglasses have been. My arms are also pink and covered in pale patches. My legs are the same too. I strip off in front of the mirror and see I look like a giant marbled strawberry cheesecake. Angry pink splodges of sunburn pepper my whole body.
"FUCK-IN-HELL" says The American again, but he's not laughing this time and goes into full on panic mode and there is mention of 'hospital' and 'sunstroke' and '1st degree burns'. He orders me into a cold shower and does an emergency run to Duane Reade. He actually runs, which he never does, so I get that he thinks this is quite serious.
After I get out of the shower he insists on slathering half a bottle of Aloe Vera gel over me that also has Menthol and Litacaine in it. I go into a crazy shivering state. Who the hell puts menthol in aftersun? That's just sadistic.
"I have never seen sunburn this bad." he says.
"Oh I have. I'm Welsh."
"Well I have never seem you burn this bad."
"That's cos you have never been on a beach holiday with me."
"You need to use sunscreen."
"I used sunscreen! Factor 10!"
"Factor 10? Factor 10? That might be enough in you Wales, that is not enough here. This is American sun Emma."
So even the sun here is different apparently.
I'll add that to the list.