If there’s one word you could never use about New York, it’s ‘predictable.’ The fact is that you just never quite know exactly what’s going to happen when you walk out of the door in the morning. Actually, that’s not strictly true. You know that you will be delayed on the subway for ten minutes longer than is strictly necessary. You can guarantee that at some point during the day you will get shouted at or pushed out of the way by a random stranger. And you can be 100% sure that it will be cold enough to cause all your bodily functions to begin preparation for cryogenic freezing. But apart from that, it’s pretty damn unpredictable.
Yesterday, I started the hunt for a new diary. Or schedule, or calendar, or journal, or whatever word it is that Americans insist that I call it these days. You might say that I started the process a little late this year, but let’s face it, nothing ever really happens in January. Particularly as I’m on my annual, self-imposed, month-long alcohol abstinence (or Liver Aid, as Bob Geldof and Bono would probably dub it).
Anyway, the point is that I needed a diary, and I knew just the place to get it. Half a block away from my place of work is a tiny office supplies store that has clutter piled from floor to ceiling. This is not a place to browse. You go in, ask for what you want, and hope that they’ve got it. Nothing has a price tag – the owner just decides what to charge you according to whether he likes you, or how he’s feeling that day.
Indeed, what makes this place quintessentially New York is the owner. Transplanted from Tel Aviv more than thirty years ago, the guy is marginally interested in selling stationery, but obsessed with storytelling. What started with me rushing out quickly to pick up a diary ended up with me sitting down for thirty minutes being told a story that encompassed everything from the Holocaust to Marlon Brando to Langley Park in one seamlessly woven analysis. And all because I’d happened to praise him on his choice of The Guardian as a newspaper.
I studied history at university, and like to think I have a pretty strong background in European world affairs. Yet much of the conversation involved him asking me (rhetorical) questions on various shadowy figures in the American, British or German intelligence network, and I ended up showing as much knowledge as an ill-educated squirrel. A dead ill-educated squirrel.
I left the shop half an hour later, bewildered but enlightened. It could have been much much longer had another unsuspecting customer not walked in looking for an envelope. He looked in a hurry, but I suspect he’s still there now.
Oh, and I walked out without a diary. He didn’t have one in stock, so ordered it for next day delivery. I’ve got to go back to pick it up today. If there’s no blog entry for the next week or so, you’ll know where I am.