(An old story, long before digital cameras and Smart Phones were a thing for me. Bless.)
New York City in the summer is hotter than Dammit and nobody has central air. I took a bus from LaGuardia to the NQR, and I’m convinced that the driver would have eagerly ejected all of us to our deaths if his break pedal had allowed him to pump it any harder.
If time waits for no man, then that driver sets his clock ahead.
My friend A greeted me with open arms and a bottle of Prosecco that we shared in the adorable herb gardens of his backyard.
He is originally from my end of the Appalachians and had spent the past year adjusting to the Big Apple.
His roommates were two ladies, Irish and Polish, respectively. One was dating a Puerto Rican whose name I did not catch. The other was dating Roberto, the owner of a cozy bar named Rapture Lounge just a few blocks away. Our friend M conveniently lived right upstairs.
Roberto had a great laugh and told hilarious stories. He took us out to some unbelievable VIP rooftop parties that an act of the gods could not have gotten us into otherwise.
My favourite thing about Rapture Lounge was the demon wearing thigh-high vinyl boots that was painted on the blood-red bathroom wall.I also loved how it was always open. When I was exhausted but still wanted company, and when my feet were so blistered I could not take another step, I could slink into the space between these walls and find what I needed.
Both of these photos are courtesy of Roberto’s website.
That summer, I spent endless hours wandering the city. My mind buzzed each time I recognized places from movies and when historical references came to life.
A and I were constantly on the lookout for our shared celebrity crush at the time, Chris Noth. We kept hoping for some lucky encounter on the subway, or that a serendipitous adventure for a night cap would lead us to brush his shoulder or catch his eye. Despite persistent and renewed optimism each day, it never happened. But it could have. There.
One afternoon I was waiting for Andy to get off shift from the bar he managed in Chelsea. A man bumped into me on the sidewalk and it was John Cameron Mitchell, if my life depended on it.
I frequented a Bosnian café called Pasha near our apartment to get my fill of cevapi and kajmak.
At night, we ventured into the underbelly of Hell’s Kitchen with its nameless and obscure foreign bars with no signs, no prices, no labels. One place was the size of my living room and had a crumbling jukebox full of play cards that squeaked for ten seconds or more before turning all the way.
It was so dark inside I could hardly see the bartender and when I took a guess and yelled “que lengua?” She rolled her head slowly and danced with her back against the wall before mouthing “no importante.” These are the places I am most drawn to when traveling.
There was one wild bar further down with vivid Moroccan décor that hosted multilingual karaoke dance parties. We had a wonderful time watching the belly dancers, and what appeared to be some fire spinning. People were climbing the walls. The house cocktail may or may not have led me to see some things.
Another international bar with no sign played everything from Russian pop, Brazilian samba, Eurotrash techno, and Madonna. We quickly learned the regular crowd’s favourite songs by watching people jump up on the giant horseshoe-shaped bar, spin the hanging lamps, and throw handfuls of square white napkins in the air while stomping, cheering, and singing along.
Times Square was just as bright, obnoxious, and fantastic as I expected. Taco Truck always hit the spot, and Oasis Halal/Kosher cafés were our heathen heavens on late, late nights.
Another relocated friend K is a multi-talented opera singer, actress, and burlesque performer who indulged me with art and live music events in the city. We caught Animal Collective at a MOMA party, and on other nights we saw everything from a big band jazz and swing ensemble, to a piano karaoke bar, to an opera.
The whole gang got together one night to celebrate our friend Sxip’s birthday and cd release party in Tribeca. I was excited to see Amanda Palmer again. We were all dancing and I got a little dizzy, and kinda lost my balance, falling right onto a very gracious Neil Gaiman’s lap.
We went to see a punk band whose drummer I later went on a date with. He had long dirty blonde hair and went by the nickname Animal. You know, like the drummer in the Muppets.
I met a burly fellow wearing blue jean overalls with no shirt, and he had a beard down to his navel. He told me about his journey there from the hills of North Carolina and says he stays because he can be anyone he wants to be in Brooklyn.
He fished several handfuls of coins out of his bib to pay for another PBR before explaining that he moved up there five years ago, but still tells people he is here on business. I was just there for the metal karaoke night.
Matchless Bar. Photo shared from the brooklynvegan.com website.
One morning, I dozed off for a few moments on the subway. A delightful barbershop quartet in bright blue and silver stepped on and gathered around me. I woke to them at my side singing some old gospel song that went “Who woke you up this morning lady? God woke you up this morning” with perfect harmonies. They were booed into silence by a couple of drunks sharing our ride.
We talked for a while until they reached their stop at Coney Island, and it was only then I realized I was late meeting Val for coffee, which turned into breakfast with Siobhan, which turned into lunch with nearly a dozen other people at Café Juliette, which turned into going to see the Figaro Operetta, and running into more friends on the subway.
In the evenings we met out in the herb gardens for a home-cooked meal or over a sticky table at the closest Mexican restaurant for margaritas.
New York is like a snowball effect in that way; you go out by yourself and keep running into more people, congregating at more places, and gathering more momentum as you go.
And when you find yourself alone again, it’s disorienting.
I did not make it to the Statue of Liberty or take the Staten Island ferry across the river. I skipped a lot of the tourist classics to be honest, but I think everything happened exactly the way it was supposed to.
Not long after I left New York City, I received a text from A that said “You wouldn’t believe who I just saw on the subway…”
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