(An older story, long before digital cameras 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 bus driver would have eagerly ejected all of us 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.
Luckily, my friend Andy greeted me with open arms and a bottle of Prosecco that we shared in his adorable herb garden in the backyard.
His housemates were two girls, Irish and Polish, respectively. One was dating a Puerto Rican, the other was dating Roberto, the Mexican owner of a cozy bar a few blocks away. He had a great laugh, told hilarious stories, and took us out to some fantastic high profile VIP rooftop parties that an act of god could not have gotten us into otherwise.
I spent endless hours wandering the city and my mind flooded each time I recognized places from movies and historical references came to life. I frequented a Bosnian cafe a few blocks away to get my fill of cevapi and kajmak.
We were constantly on the lookout for our shared celebrity crush, Chris Noth, and hoping for some happenstance encounter on the subway, or a serendipitous adventure for a night cap would lead us to brush his shoulder. Despite persistent and renewed optimism each day, it never happened.
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 thirty seconds or more before turning all the way. It was so dark inside I could hardly see the bartender and when I 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 decor that hosted multilingual karaoke dance parties. We had a wonderful time watching the belly dancers, and what appeared to be some fire spinning and people climbing the walls. The house cocktail may or may not have led me to see some things. There was another signless international bar down the street from our place that played everything from Russian pop, Brazilian samba, Eurotrash techno, and Madonna. We quickly learned the regular crowd favourites 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 bright, obnoxious, and fantastic just like I expected. Taco Truck always hit the spot and Oasis Halal/Kosher cafes were a godsend on late nights.
I stayed part time time with another expat friend, K, 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 everything else from a big band jazz and swing ensemble to an “erotic” piano karaoke bar. We went to see an experimental punk band whose drummer I later went on a date with. I met a burly fellow wearing blue jean overalls with no shirt and a beard down to his navel. He told me about his journey 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 and explained that he moved up there five years ago but still tells people he is there on business.
Several friends and I attended Sxip Shirey’s cd release party in Tribeca and I was excited to see Amanda Palmer again, to meet Neil Gaiman, and members of Carolina Chocolate Drops. The next morning, after dozing off on the subway, I woke up to a delightful barbershop quartet in bright blue and silver. They had boarded during my nap and, noticing my condition, were at my side singing “Who woke you up this morning lady, God woke you up this morning” with perfect harmonies. We talked for a while until they reached their stop at Coney Island, and it was only then I realized I was late meeting Valerie for coffee, which turned into breakfast with Siobhan, which turned into lunch with nearly a dozen other people at Cafe Juliette, which turned into going to see the Figaro Operetta, and running into more friends on the subway. New York is like a snowball effect in that way, you go out by yourself and come across more people in more
places than you imagined.
I did not make it to the Statue of Liberty or take the Staten Island ferry across the river and gaze at the skyline during my stay. I can not remember if I ate any pizza. I think everything happened exactly the way it was supposed to though, that is how it is in New York. Not long after I left, I received a text from Andy that said “You wouldn’t believe who I just saw on the subway.”