Waiting in Ost Café, trying to spend the last hours of my trip well. I have twelve hours to kill in town. My bag is reasonably heavy. “Reasonably heavy” turns “crushingly so” quicker than you’d think. I learned this sneaking with my bag into the Met yesterday. Only a winter coat and a flask in the bag, but, my lower back was aching by the end – an attendant asked me to wear it front ways, which seems to have done the damage. Technically if you’re from NYC you can get into the Met with a donation, but, that’s not the case for tourists. I thought about putting on an american accent and saying “I left my goddang ID at home”, but seeing the length of the queue – I decided sneaking in via the gift shop was the best bet. Gift shops are the Achilles heel of museums. They want everyone to shop – those coming from inside or out. And they don’t want to discourage you popping into the show, and back into the gallery – thereby, lax security. It worked. Just look like you know what you’re doing, or look beyond reparation clueless – go past the signs telling you to stop, and you’re sorted.
I was in, wincing with back pain, painstakingly looking for a Caravaggio, overhearing an accented man asking for “the very famous painters” to an attendee. “They’re everywhere” the hefty moustached New Yorker grunted back, much the tourist’s dismay. The Met is vast. I can’t find Caravaggio. But I find Picasso – and a couple beside one saying “you’d have to tell me this is important, or I’d just walk past”. They’ve got a point. My rule of thumb is – walk until a piece strikes you. Never read the name first. Have the greats prove themselves by aesthetic alone. Picasso caught me a few times, but, I don’t think he’s best represented in the Met. Some sketchy pieces – before he seemed to get the hang of things. Monet seemed to be phoning it in on occasion, too, – or as they called it then, tin-can-on-a-line-ing’-it in – not as catchy.
Let’s stop there. This café is actual insanity. Everyone comes in with a story. A lady blasting Mariah Carey on speakers comes in, seemingly normal, young, friendly, turns it off “unless the five people in here consent.” Now a full in music debate with the musician behind the café counter. “You don’t remember me!” They have a full conversation. She’s “the socialist”, he says, finally remembering. She recieved the “one dollar coffee last time” – whatever that means. “I got dumped yesterday, out of nowhere” – he adds, out of nowhere. She says to play Mariah to cheer up. He plays Weezer to keep it the down and mellow.
There’s an abundance of over-sharers here. And that’s coming from someone who earns his living singing about his life. There’s some kind of lingering infantilisation here that goes well into the thirties – from what I’ve seen. So many are rapping “to themselves”, blasting music, games or sex tips (yes, I heard that) from phones, dancing while waiting for the ferry – so desperate for attention, it goes beyond curious and directly into off-putting.
I never felt so European in my life.
“You got bass player energy” café man says to the Mariah blasting socialist.
“I’ll take that as a high compliment” she says.
She stood next to David Byrne at a concert. He sidesteps the story and asks does she “listen to Paramore”, seemingly not really a Talking Heads fan. She never heard of Paramore.
“I think we listen to different music”, she says.
I’m starting to think it’s not gonna work out between them.
Now he’s put on Paramore. So much for top five “quiet places to read in NYC” – thanks internet. Think I’ll go find that fucking pub the blog recommended nearby.
Wait, not so fast, I gotta tell the conversation he had before this, after the one where he made fun of my pronouncement of “three” and the venue I played a gig. He’s also a musician, his band – “ just like Weezer” he says.
A 17 year old walked in. Says he’s “flying to Dublin” to study.
“Dublin, Ohio?” the attendee laughs.
One of the five guests gets up to leave. Before he does he chimes in.
“Dublin where’s that? I don’t even know!” he says.
“Ireland” the now increasingly wilting teen says.
This man clearly has no idea what that is, either, so smiles, and leaves – not to risk his blissful ignorance.
“Why leave for Europe? Why leave America?” says the attendee.
“To travel. And it’s a good school”, says the teen.
I want to ask whether he’s going to Trinity or UCD – but, I don’t want to be engaged any further, so I keep stumm, hidden in the corner.
“Can I ask what made you want to do that?”
“I’m a little sick of here.”
“Do you like cars and being alone?”
I’m not entirely sure what he’s inferring about cars, here. Is Ireland renowned for lonely drivers? Wait, I get it now (editing a few weeks later) – it’s because he assumes, rightly so, public transport in Dublin is catastrophic. Fair enough.)
“Kind of, yes.” Says the teen.
“That sounds like hell to me, cars and being alone!” says café man to, evidently all of us.
“Sounds like a country song!” says a middle aged man on a lap top, then proceeds to laugh with the coffee server, and repeat the joke ad-nauseam.
I think the 17 year old and me are on the same page – itching to leave.
The socialist has now been gifted a plant, red hearts shapes in it and matching pot.
I’m eying the door. If no one else comes in and sits down, I’m out of here – can’t bear to be the lone bearer of the next conversation.
No one comes.
Three of us left. Socialist. Café man. Me.
I made it to the airport. I didn’t trust that bar. Walked all the way there, saw it looked a tad pretentious –and realised it was a tip from the same blog that sent me to Ost. No, thank you – once bitten, and all that.
One thing to make incredibly clear is how incredibly broke I am. I haven’t been this broke in years. This is me, first arriving in Berlin – working as a tour guide for a scam segway business, being fed by hospitable Croats – levels of broke.
I gave up my regular Berlin gigs to do this trip. And, as such, gave up on income. New York sapped me dry. Everything’s priced on a ludicrous indecipherable scale. I spent no more than three minutes on a computer to print out a piece of paper – a qr code donations page for a gig I played here – and it cost 10 dollars.
You buy a pint, give a tip – that’s another 10 dollars. You but a slice of pizza and a coke – 10 dollars. Everything’s 10 dollars. Everyone’s tipped.
I’ve gotten wise to it. Was incredibly careful to save some of my pay from the Rockwood gig’s pay to get me home, and past any residual expenses.
When I arrive at the air train, I see the price of the ticket to the airport – just a few stops was 8 dollars. But the machines don’t expect tip – so I’ll be alright. I pulled out my last 20. Put it in the machine.
Swallowed. No error message.
I told some bored security guard, who pointed me to a manager.
“All I can do is let you in.” she said.
“But, I put in a twenty.”
“You’ll have to send a complaint form.”
In all honesty, I had it coming.
Getting disheartened with money dripping away from me, a week or so ago, I ordered a slice of pizza and a coke – having failed to secure free booze at an art exhibition. The guy forgot to charge me. I queued up after eating to pay. The queue was large. I waited. Then, I thought – fuck it. I left. I even ran down a block – not entirely sure why, but, I did – with adrenalin and everything. How fucking sad. I bought a bottle of wine with the loot, and called it a night.
So – we’re even, New York. I stole from you. And you me. Let’s call it quits. I don’t count sneaking into the Met stealing. Making your mostly stolen riches – I don’t see any ancient Egyptians being cool with their sarcophagus on display – from all around the world only free to New Yorkers is xenophobic. Do what London does. Show off your colonial loot, free of charge to one and all. That’s the Christian way.
I’m glad to be on my way home. New York is a dream, full of life, vibrance and mania – but it’s also terrifyingly interactive. You can’t go a few blocks without having to avoid engagement. There’s so many lunatics, so many whacked-out individuals preaching the lord, or shouting, singing, rapping, or trying to get you to give them something.
When I first got off the plane, it took so long to get through security it was 3am by the time I was on the J train. It was me, some sleeping homeless, a gangster threatening to kill another guy, who stands his ground, then quickly exits the opening doors as the aggression boils over. The gangster turns shouting to someone who just woke up, “do you got a blood with you? I’m gonna kill that motherfucker!”
I can’t tell what “a blood” is slang for – but it definitely didn’t sound good. Being ignored, he gets even angrier starts storming around the carriage, finally going through the doors to the next compartment. It’s fucking weird the trains have connecting doors, passages out in the air between carriages. How is that good for anything or anyone? People just do the rounds, I pretend to be a sleep as a tall sketchy character comes through – as I open an eye slightly, noticing his footfall has stopped in front of me – I make eye contact, he’s eyeing me up and down. Not great.
Then, to break the ice – a giant racist enters. It’s white morbidly obese lady – screaming about the “smell of you people”, and then sits right opposite me. That, and nothing I say that follows is even remotely exaggerated. She’s big. She shouting. We, the sleepers, the man playing a shooting up full volume of his phone, all pretend not to notice as she continues screaming bigoted abuse, then pausing to make fat jokes at her own expense.
“I’m so fat, I can’t even stay clean, can’t even wipe my ass – I’d need a fucking shovel at this stage”
I pretend to sleep, but, then feel closing my eyes didn’t work so well last time.
I open them up.
“Hey! You got blue eyes like me. You’re like me! Not like them!”
Oh, sweet Jesus. Racist engagement. That’s worse than a thousand over zealous coffee servers enthusiastic engagement!
I say nothing. I have a plan. I’ll get up and out at the next stop, run along the platform and into the next compartment.
“Can you believe I’m married?!” she says, to me.
“Lucky man” I say, leaving.
“Fucking asshole” she says back as the doors close behind me.
When I finally make it to the ferry, I’m shot with worry and exhaustion. I’m scared stiff. I just want to sleep. I’ve close to 24 hours without sleep, now. A security guard shouts as he passes me – “EVERYTHING GOOD WITH YOU!” then laughs as I jump, startled.
Engagement! It’s relentless!
This was the only time, in the 30 plus ferry journeys I did- later than this, and all – the security guards where anything other than professional.
When it rains, it pours.
When I arrived on Statten it was snowing.
My internet was down, and phone credit – although just topped up – not working. Evidently, Lidl Mobile doesn’t have a roaming deal with the States.
All I had to get where I was going, a “15 minute walk” said the air bnb listing, was a hand scrawled map I penned before the plane.
This got me only so close. The walk was actually 40 minutes. Now it’s past four and it’s so frigid cold, I realise if I don’t find this place – I can’t ring anyone, or check maps on my phone. There’s no cafes, nothing at all open – my only option will be to turn on my heel back to the ferry station to stay warm.
And, a stone’s throw away from the house – I’m completely lost.
I find the road, but the numbers make no sense whatsoever. 22 is beside 64. I go up and down, and round for an hour. It’s close to tears, having checked every house on the street, I realise, I’m beat, and my only chance to survive now I’m soaked to the bone, shivering like hell and literally freezing is to go back to the ferry. 40 minutes back. I’m so distraught, on my way back down the hill – yes the house is of course, up a big hill – it dawns on me – I might have a screen shot of the google maps of the house. I took it in Berlin. Completely forgot. It see my house is indeed news – beside house 66 – sure enough, there’s my house 54! (again, no sense)
I climb the steps up to this ancient Addams Family looking place hidden way up a mound, tucked in behind trees. Grabbing the key from a plant pot, opening the door, climbing to the attic – having struggled with the key, with the shaking cold, and scaring my Russian soon to be housemate enough to check someone wasn’t attempting to burgle, I tell em sorry, he goes back to bed.
I make it too the room, so cold, I have to sleep in all my clothes, wrap a towel around me, sheets and bedding.
But, I made it. And in the morning, drinking coffee, the relief of the sun gives way to laughter. And I go in to Manhattan, and I drink a pint with strangers at McSorley’s and I engage, and we exchange details.
Cause, if you can’t beat em.
I take this philosophy with me. Start asking for help, when I need it. Couple of weeks later, a bus driver, realising I’ve just missed my bus on the coldest day of the year, tells me “get back on the bus, we can catch it!” and drives after the bus, abruptly stops, tells me to run as “this is as far as I can get you!” – and I make it.
I reach out to someone I know here. Kev insists I get a free beer and burger (absolutely incredible) – where he works at the Red Hook Tavern. He and his girlfriend Martha, laugh at my journey as a “real New York story”, taking me to Sunny’s where incredible americana musicians play, and artists invite us to a puppet show off broadway and out to clubs, and all softens under a milieu of a metropolis that is so alive, it’s tantamount to supernatural – the magic and majestic nature of the ever-unravelling, and becoming, mess that is humanity on the cusp of greatness, always nearing, always perpetually out of grasp. New York is the definition of us. A strange race, willing the way to fall to its favour, building bridges and stone structures, any way of striving up or across to make it so – all the while, shitting themselves and puking up novelty in every stomach upset turned revelation. Shouting from the alleys and the rooftops, desperate for anyone to listen. Sick as a dog. Happy as a clam.
Yes, I ate bad tacos.
Yes, I ate the greatest pizza and bagels known to man.
It’s all there. You don’t even have to look. You just bump into it.
Like the moustached man said – it’s “everywhere, all around you”
Gig went good, too.
Patrons can listen to it here.