Tag Archives: New York

New York in three words

If you’re of a particularly nervous disposition, New York is one of those cities that can chew you up and spit you out. It’s a city that takes no prisoners, and you just have to dive in and hope for the best (or grab some armbandswater wings and get yourself into the shallow end). I’ve had to learn to develop a thick skin, not take things too seriously, and always be ready for every eventuality. And that’s just in my dealings with The Special One.

To be fair, when I first moved to London, I hated it with a level of passion that I had only previously managed to demonstrate when eating egg and beetroot salad. The fact that I lived with a curly haired freak who played the saxophone at all hours of the day, and that I was duly forced to retreat to my bedroom the size of a malnourished cloakroom to escape, didn’t help. Nor did working for a company that let me cut my teeth in journalism but at the same time managed to provide me with a healthy understanding of the standard of human rights for employees in, say, North Korea.

It took a year, and a change of employer, before I finally managed to feel like I belonged in the big smoke. And I’ve certainly settled into New York much more quickly than that. But having an insider guide me through the nuances and vagaries of New York life has certainly helped immeasurably.

Of course, not everybody is so fortunate. Particularly when English isn’t your first language. Not that English is necessarily the first language of New Yorkers either. I have it on good authority that the 2000 census found that the primary language of the city was Anger, with Impatiencism being the most-followed religion.

On the subway into work yesterday, a young Russian woman sat next to me, eagerly reading language flash cards in a bid to improve her vocabulary. Each card had one English word on the front, while the back featured the pronunciation and an explanation of the meaning of the word. In the short time I was sitting next to the woman, I saw her examine three individual words – three words that took her one (or three) steps closer to feeling like she truly belongs here.

So what were the words that flash card manufacturers decided were vital to include in their tools for people learning English for use in New York? ‘Cab’, ‘tip’ and ‘pizza’ perhaps? Or maybe ‘bagel’, ‘coffee’ and ‘liberty’?

Nope.

‘Vicious’, ‘unyielding’ and ‘wily’.

She may not be able to order breakfast, but if she ever fancies buying a used car in the city then she’s got everything she needs to know.

On top of the world

It’s an oft-shared observation that Americans aren’t ones to hide their light under a collective bushel. Indeed, while there are plenty of people willing to hold their light high for all to see, it’s arguable that there’s long been some kind of national bushel shortage in America (almost certainly prompted by the Truman government’s decision to raise bushel taxes to punitive levels in 1952). Put simply, if an American is good at something, they won’t be afraid to tell you (as well as the 73 people standing within a 400 metre radius).

America loves winning, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. It just takes a little getting used to when you come from a country that revels in the exploits of renowned losers such as Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, and regularly turns on its most successful sons and daughters as soon as they achieve long-sought-after success. Let the world know about your victories in America and you’re a hero; tell a Brit that you won a competition in Whizzer & Chips, and you’re arrogant or full of yourself. American immigration officials should seriously consider issuing all UK citizens with their own trumpet to blow, for use immediately upon entry to the United States.

Of course, if you’re going to say that you’re the greatest at anything, then you’ve really got to live up to the tag. And to be fair, many Americans are more than capable of doing exactly that – Muhammad Ali being a particularly fine example. The flipside is that if you start boasting that you’re going to whip somebody’s arseass and fail to do so, you have to be prepared to endure a certain amount of schadenfreude. Yes Mary Decker Slaney, I’m thinking of you and your unfortunate meeting with Zola Budd’s foot in Los Angeles in 1984…

Fortunately, as I’m not the greatest at anything in particular, I’ve got precious little to live up to myself. Although I did once win a wheelbarrow race on school sports day. My ‘barrowing partner was Phil Collins. Genesis must have had a break in their touring schedule that day.

But it seems that I can now achieve greatness by association, as – according to a few references that I’ve seen over the last few days – I apparently live in The Greatest City On Earth.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love New York City. I’ve been coming here for fourteen years, and after London and Chester, it’s probably the city I’ve spent most time in during my life. But clearly I missed The Greatest City On Earth competition when all the nations of the world gathered round for a democratic vote and declared my adopted home the premier location on the planet. The good folks of Basildon must have been gutted to have narrowly missed out.

A Google search on “the greatest city on Earth” throws up Paris, Buenos Aires, Detroit, Chicago, and indeed New York, as possible locations for the greatest city on Earth, so clearly the title’s still under dispute. Whether or not New York really is the greatest isn’t particularly important. But you can’t help but admire the sheer cohones of city residents for seizing the tagline as their own, rather than waiting for anyone to bestow it upon them.

I’m going to start calling this site The Greatest Blog About US-UK Cultural Differences Written By A 6ft 2in Bloke From Chester. It may actually only be in the top five in this admittedly narrow category, but if I say it enough, it might even stick.

On song

You get a better class of crazy in this city, you know. Walking along a side street a few blocks from Times Square last night, I saw (and indeed heard) a dawdling dishevelled old man, singing at the absolute top of his voice. I’m guessing, but he looked like he was about 70 years old and almost certainly homeless, given his ragtag collection of battered plastic bags.

Nothing particularly odd in any of that – sometimes it feels like you’re part of a vast travelling choir in New York, such is the number of people who think that it’s perfectly acceptable to share their tone-deaf warblings with the rest of the world.

But how many 70 year old down-and-out guys in London would have Rihanna’s “Umbrella” as their song of choice, particularly given that it was about 75 degrees and blue skies at the time?

Actually, he didn’t have a bad voice when it came down to it. If Prince ever needs a slightly older frayed-around-the edges replacement, can I suggest he starts the search in the homeless shelters of Hell’s Kitchen?

Scandalous

The story of the former governor of New York truly is the gift that keeps on giving. I imagine that things are pretty frosty over breakfast in the household of former attorney general Eliot Spitzer, after he slept with $1,000 per hour high-class hooker Alexandra Dupré. Once talked about as a future President of the United States, Spitzer is now resigned instead to spending his days getting more and more frustrated enquiring about the health of his octogenarian property tycoon father.

The tale of Spitzer & The Call Girl is the story that simply won’t die here in New York. The chat shows are still making fun of the former governor, and Dupré is allegedly a millionaire herself now thanks to all the publicity for her music career. Although even Dupré would admit it’s not her G sharps that people are largely interested in.

If this had taken place in Britain, this whole sorry tale would have been chip paper by now. The UK has possibly the most effective scandal-busting tabloid press in the world, having uncovered the David Mellor horror story (Tory MP gets ‘actress’ to suck his toes while wearing the football kit of his beloved Chelsea FC), the John Major affair (former Prime Minister gets low-down-and-dirty with frankly unlovable Edwina Currie) and the Cecil Parkinson debacle (Tory MP – it’s always Tories – has a lovechild with his secretary). Sure, the country obsessed with each story for a few days, but then everybody moves on to the next example of sexual profligacy at its most public.

What makes the whole Spitzer affair so amusing (although admittedly not for his wife or children) is the reaction of David Paterson, the man who replaced him as governor of New York. Having been installed as governor in a ceremony in Albany on Monday last week, Paterson – who is registered blind after complications following an ear infection as a child – immediately admitted that he and his wife had previously had a few rocky moments in their marriage, and had both had extra-marital affairs.

One week on, and Paterson has now admitted that he used both cocaine and marijuana when he was younger. Apparently he only used coke “a couple of times” when he was “22 or 23”, and hasn’t touched pot since the 1970s.

Having seen what happened to his predecessor, Paterson’s clearly determined not to be caught by the short-and-curlies by the rampaging tabloid press. After two successive Monday revelations, it looks like he probably goes through his closet every single weekend, and then admits to whatever skeleton he’s discovered as soon as he gets to work in the morning.

I can’t wait for next Monday already. Who would bet against Paterson admitting that he’s not even blind, and he actually just used it as an excuse to get out of doing his homework when he was a kid?

Cushioning the blow

It’s days like this when you realise just how sodding big the United States is. This time yesterday, I was in Los Angeles soaking up the sun ahead of my long trip east back to The Special One and co. The temperature was in the 80s, and t-shirts and shorts were the only attire necessary.

Twenty four hours later, I’ve traveled two and a half thousand miles or so without leaving the country, and it’s suddenly colder than a PTA meeting that’s just received a surprise visit from Gary GlitterPee Wee Herman. It’s blowing a blizzard outside, and my nasal hair has been frozen rigid by a quick trip outside to postmail some letters.

Clear skies on the trip back from LA meant that I was able to take in the full extent of the American landscape from my window seat, from the glory of the Rockies and the Grand Canyon, through to the madness of Las Vegas and Manhattan. And if there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s that the cities of America – or even the built up areas – represent a tiny fraction of what is an astonishingly beautiful country. Admittedly, parts of the environment roughly resemble what I imagine the surface of the moon to be like, and are probably only ever going to be inhabitable by mountain goats with a penchant for eating gravel. But it’s still a damn impressive sight.

Thankfully my Delta flight proved to be uneventful. Not because I’m scared of flying – after all, I commuted back and forth between New York and London for an eternity (or eighteen months, if you prefer), and you can’t do that if you’ve got a head for heights like BA Baracus.

No, the problem I’ve got is actually with their safety procedures.

I generally don’t listen to the security briefing – I’ve heard it so many times, and despite everybody surviving the recent Heathrow crash, I’m largely of the opinion that if a plane goes down, it’s pretty much game over. But for some reason, I listened this time round. Amidst the “take off your high heels before leaving the plane via the emergency slide” and the “follow the lights at floor level until you reach your closest exit”, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the statement that “in the event of landing in water, most of our seat cushions can be used as flotation devices.”

Now, I think most of you will agree that if your plane has crash landed on water, things aren’t looking good. Especially if you’re – say – in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. But if you’ve landed in a lake, river or a reservoir, that flotation device might just come in handy. So why in hell aren’t all of their seat cushions capable of being used as flotation devices?!

I can just imagine the scene now:

Plane crash survivor 1: We’re so lucky to have survived this horrific crash, aren’t we?
Plane crash survivor 2: We sure are. But will we ever get out of this water alive?
PCS1: Don’t worry, you can use the seat cushion that you so handily remembered to bring with you as a flotation device.
PCS2: We’re saved! We’re saved! OK, here goes…erm, why am I sinking…?

Maybe the airline had budgetary issues when they were having their planes made by Boeing, and had to make cutbacks? But I can tell you one thing – if my plane ever goes down, and I find myself in the water with a seat cushion that doesn’t float, I am going to raise hell on the phone with their customer services team…

We’re flying Delta to Tennessee this weekend, and I’m fully expecting the flight staff to come over the intercom and tell passengers that most of their pilots can fly planes.

That said, if it keeps snowing for a few days, we won’t be flying anywhere. We’ll have to save our game of seat cushion Russian roulette for another week.

A new kind of justice

It’s remarkable how being ‘out of water’ makes you much more sensitive to people’s attitudes and behaviours, regardless of where you are in the world. When I’m in the UK, for example, I’m intensely aware of the sullen questioning of waiters or waitresses who are not so wholly dependent on tips to ensure that they can eat at the end of the week. I’m currently in the south of France, and even though there’s a ban on smoking in public places as there is in Britain or New York, it’s noticeable how much more committed people still are to their ‘death sticks’.

Thankfully, the world is an endlessly diverse place, and we should be eternally grateful for that.

But sometimes – just sometimes – I wish that there were universally held social mores that people adhered to regardless or country of origin, class, race, sexuality or religion.

Travelling back to New York from London this week, The Special One and I had a glass of wine in Terminal 4 (OK, I had a glass of wine, and she had a glass of English lemonade, which she appears to be endlessly enamoured with) before making our weary way to the gate to be prodded and poked into our seats like the rest of the onboard cattle. Even though the flight was relatively empty, most of the seats around the gate were full of sombre passengers preparing themselves for the eight hours of sitting in three-and-a-half inches of legroom eating rapidly chilled-then-furnace blasted food.

Having already flown down to London from Manchester, and laden down with heavy bags, neither of us were particularly in the mood for sitting on the floor or – worse still – standing. Fortunately there were two spare seats next to a pleasant-enough looking couple, with nothing more than an Arran jumpersweater and a bag or two occupying the seats. A man was sat adjacent to the vacant seats, studiously working on his laptop.

Seeing the chance to take the weight off my legs, I approached the man and asked to sit down, and he cordially removed the sweater from one of the chairs. When I apologetically made it clear that there were two of us and that we needed both seats, things started to go downhill rapidly.

The man, who appeared to be German but seemed to talk with a New York accent, simply refused to move his things, firmly stating “I’m not putting my stuff on the floor”, smirking casually as he said it. He even repeated it after my ears refused to believe what they had heard.

At that point, the British and New York sides to my personality were immediately put into intense conflict. The British part of me instantly apologised for the inconvenience of the man being asked to lift up his inanimate and non-precious possessions to place them on the carpeted floor. But within milliseconds, my inner indignated New Yorker reasserted control and insisted that he clear the chair so that The Special One and I could sit down.

Again he refused. This time with more vigour.

By this point I was irate (though utterly calm), and the presence of 150 or so other travellers wasn’t going to prevent me from making myself heard. Clearly nothing I could say was going to make him give up the spare seat, but that didn’t mean that I was going to let him get away with such behaviour without a mild-but-obvious rebuke.

In the ensuing diatribe, it is possible that I made it clear – to him, and to the watching audience – that he was an obnoxious man with little or no moral fibreer. And asked him how he managed to be so self-involved that a couple of bags were more important than a couple of living breathing human beings.

Again he smirked, held his ground, and we walked off to two more seats that had been vacated a few yards away. As I turned to give him my deadliest death stare (a stare that has been known to cause the onset of rigor mortis in perfectly healthy adults), he laughed to his humiliated partner.

This was too much for even my inner eccentric English gentleman, and I heard myself call him out for his manners again, telling him to stop laughing as his attitude was simply pathetic. Still no response though, and the man buried himself in both his laptop and his over-arching sense of self-congratulation as The Special One and I sat down and vented privately.

What goes around comes around though. Our bags were pretty much the last ones to arrive off the luggage carousel as the JFK terminal shut down for the night. And the last sight we saw, as we wandered off to get a taxi back to Brooklyn, was Mr Obnoxious and his wife consulting with British Airways staff on what to do about their suitcases which tragically appeared to have gone missing in transit.

And that, my friends, is karma.

Cross crossing

This Brit Out Of Water almost became Brit Out Of Water (Deceased) at lunchtime, on an abortive trip to find a new washbag. It would hardly have been the most rock’n’roll way to go out, let’s face it. Some people die in a blazing gun battle, others perish saving the life of others – my family would have been forced to admit that I lost my life in the reckless pursuit of a new holder for my shampoo and shaving gel. Jimmy Dean, I ain’t.

Fortunately, I live to fight another day. That’s despite the efforts of one 4×4 driver as I crossed 8th Avenue. With the white pedestrian sign firmly lit, I marched purposefully across the road, confident in my right to do so. I could see a golden 4×4 approaching, but knew that it would slow down to give way to the striding man ahead of him. But no, instead the arseholedriver put his foot to the metal and raced infront of me, forcing me to jump back rapidly to avoid becoming one of the three pedestrians who are killed on the streets of New York City every week.

It all happened so quickly, I almost didn’t have the chance to angrily mouth “you f**kwit” at him. Almost.

However, to be honest, it wasn’t so much the near-miss that annoyed me.

Whenever I do something wrong, I have the good grace to be a bit sheepish about it. When I didn’t replace the seal in the dishwasher, and the kitchen flooded as a result, I was red-faced and regretful. When I mistakenly pushed in the queueline for a bagel last week, I bowed and scraped with the best of them. Remorse is an admirable quality, one demonstrated by rueful troublemakers the world over.

Not by this particular New York troublemaker, though.

You’d imagine the driver would offer a silent ‘sorry’ as he looked me square in the eye. Maybe a hand in the air to express regret? Perhaps even winding down the window to apologise in person?

But no. Instead all he managed was a steady gaze directly at me, an obnoxious wink, and a smile before speeding off into the distance.

It’s hard to imagine that somebody could be so self-involved to think that causing a pedestrian to jump out of the way is not only something he doesn’t need to have any regret about, but actually something to laugh about and maybe chat to his fratboy mates about over a beer a few hours later. But you learn something every day in New York, it would seem.

Perhaps I’ve misjudged the whole thing, and the wink was actually his attempt to indicate that he wanted more than just a passing lunatic-victim relationship. Who said chivalry was dead?