Coming back and maybe coming home
Since I’ve returned to New York, I haven’t had time to post. This surprised me, but let me tell you why: New York is hard. I had thought that I’d return from my protracted stay in Dublin all relaxed and refreshed — which I did. But I had forgotten that New York likes to flay you alive before she lets you live here. My plan was to stay with a friend for a week until I found a place to live. Since difficult flatmates precipitated my earlier frequent house-moves, I would live alone and would take a lease for a year. Little did I know how much more complicated it would be.
After a month of looking during which I crashed on an air mattress in my friend’s living room (thank you, L!), I did find an apartment. The landlord did this crazy thing — which is quite typical, I believe — where he tells two people they can have the flat, then lets each of them know that someone else is on their way with paperwork and deposit. He gives the apartment to the person who gets there first. The adrenalin rush of that experience almost sounds like fun, except that when you’re living out of a suitcase, looking and looking for a home, it isn’t. Anyhow, I missed that apartment but luckily the landlord had another, which he was in the process of renovating. I took that.
He asked for extra time to finish the work, but it kept taking longer and longer. The morning I turned up with movers and all my stuff he said: “Can I have ten more minutes?” I said no and so a workman nailed slats of wood to the floor while I unpacked. That weekend, I became extremely, worryingly sick, and instead of spending the two days nesting, was huddled in bed in the foetal position which was the only one that wasn’t painful. A trip to a local doc revealed my ailment to be benign, requiring only antibiotics to make it go away. Then I set about getting internet, furniture, and kitchen items, since I had none.
Three weeks later I’m living in my little studio in Bushwick, which is in fact lovely. It’s light and bright and a tree is at the window. Furniture is coming later today. The landlord, who is Greek, is quite nice in a funny, shifty way. It has taken a while to get an internet connection because, as I learnt soon after moving, the legality of my residence is somewhat dubious. I won’t go into this more here but it also means that I have no doorbell and the mailman ignores my letter-box. I recently befriended my mailman, so that may help.
All in all, it’s looking like things will be okay and after almost two months in NYC, I’m starting to feel more or less at home. I will have enough energy to begin seeing friends soon. The refreshed, relaxed feelings that I brought back with me from Ireland have vanished but I know that I will emerge from my stressed, grouchy chrysalis as a real, shiny New Yorker.
I’ve discovered a brilliant new writer called Larry McMurtry. He’s so prolific that I didn’t really believe he could be any good until I started to read “Somebody’s Darling” which is glamorous and fun, about a female director in Hollywood and the various men in her life. One of these guys narrates the first section and I was comforted by some lines describing a trip he makes to New York. As a Californian he feels like an awkward outsider.
[New Yorkers] looked strong, smart and indestructible. Their faces were sharp. They all seemed to be talking to others of their kind … New Yorkers seemed total masters of their environment. They knew when to step off the curb and when not to step off the curb. They knew where to buy the best salami and how to avoid muggers and other evils of the wilderness. The wind didn’t bother them. New York was their dessert, their plains, their Canyon de Chelly. The were as tough as the Indians in good Indian movies — as tough as Burt Lancaster in Apache.
And again —
Being in New York was as tiring as walking around with weights on the legs. It was obvious, even after one day, that living there required training. Making it through a month in New York would be the equivalent, for a person of my age and disposition, of competing in the decathlon, in the Olympics of city life. In earlier years the event could have been interesting, but I knew for me it had come a little late.
Okay, this guy is sixty-three, and I’m comparatively young. The gas has stopped leaking in my flat, the hot water and heating are on (though not quite in time for last Saturday’s snowstorm); some of the thousands of dollars that I’m owed have started to float in, albeit to a neighbour’s letterbox. I’m sitting in a chi-chi (fru-fru?) cafe in Greenpoint, cinnamon scents of baking hanging tantalisingly in the air. To my right, a bearded youth is sniffing periodically at his MacBook Pro, to my left a man and woman are talking about films and money, and across the table a blond and brunette have made their way through a selection of conversation topics including a suicidal friend, parental sexuality, books and old age. Life is good. And it will get better.