Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Finding my New York" by Emma Smith

Emma Smith is a featured blogger on Big Apple Brits

New York City is an assault on the senses.

It is loud, smelly, breathtakingly beautiful, it feels rough and smooth and sometimes leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Today I hate New York and New York hates me right back.

I am standing on a corner in Chelsea crying into the phone to my Mum. The reason for this is the perfect Manhattan apartment that I gained blisters trying to find looks like it has fallen through. I can't take looking at anymore overpriced shoeboxes or hanging around on blocks where even the drug dealers fear to tread. So I am crying to my Mum like a big baby.

In the UK simply having a deposit, the first month's rent and not looking like a psycho is usually enough to secure you a flat. It was certainly the only requirements I had for my tenants. Not so here: Imagine the worst job interview you ever had. Now imagine you had to pay for the privilege of going through the stress.

The real estate agent has come back and said that the landlords require yet another month's security. With a 15% fee you might think they could deliver better news. The amount the landlord require us to put down before we move is roughly the same as my annual starting salary when I graduated.

And who are we to argue? What with The American's imperfect credit rating and my non existent U.S. one. So this is where the call to my mother comes in; to beg for cash, which felt acceptable in my twenties, but is simply humiliating half way through my thirties.

New York doesn't care that I am crying, I am just another freak on the street. The noise level seems to go up tenfold as cars whizz by and beep their horns aggressively and a big, gleaming truck screeches it's breaks so loudly I can't even hear my own sobs.

I just want my bed. Then I realise I don't even own a bed here and this makes me cry even more. I call The American and I can't hear what he is saying so I shout down the phone against the noise. I tell him I just want my own place in New York, that I just want to find my place.

When I pull myself together I walk down the street towards the subway when a camp man swinging a Whole Foods bag bumps into me and nearly knocks me over.

'Stoopid.' he mutters.
Wait. He bumped into me? It is the wrong day, the wrong time.
I pause. ''F*CK YOOOO!'' I shout.
He swings around and eyes me threateningly ''What. Did you just say to me?''
Oh crap. I picked a fight with the gobbiest gay in Chelsea.
''I said..." and I gulp and get ready to run: ''F*CK YOOOO!'' and with that I leg it into the subway, praying he doesn't have a metro card to follow me.
"You're a c*nt lady." he screams after me
''And you Mr are an even bigger c*nt!'' I holler back.

I have never called anyone a c*nt in public before. It is my first public c*nt and my first New York F*CK YOOO! and it feels great.


"Hey huneee. I got us this."
The American places a small red radio down on the table. I am furrowed eyebrows.
"It's a wind up radio." he explains.
"Like they use in Africa?"
"Oh right. Ummm. Why?"
"Because huneee. We can listen to announcements should Manhattan ever get attacked."
"Are you being serious?"
"Manhattan is an island huneee. There is no way to get off in a disaster."
"Matthew. This is not a disaster movie."
"Huneee we had a real life disaster movie here? 9/11?"
There is not much retort to a sentence that ends with 9/11 so I shut up.
''Huneee I just want to protect you and my stepdaughter. I just want to protect my new family''

The American has found his place in New York.


I go for a drink with the first in a long line of Cardiffians who've promised to come out to New York. I meet Nick and his friend Jim and spend a great few hours talking to them about home and their impressions of New York while I sip small but deadly $6 cosmos.

The bar woman offers to buy us all a round of drinks and Nick and Jim think it's some kind of joke. Like any good Welshmen would, they want to know what the catch is and I say as far as I know there isn't one. I am a little too pissed to remember the exact etiquette with 'buy backs' but I figure like everything in this city, it just involves a lot of tipping. So when we leave we put so much cash on the bar, it could have simply bought us another round. Which leads me back to the beginning of this paragraph and there being no catch. The lack of logic in the whole process can really do you in when you've been drinking. Probably why 'buy backs' work so well.

When I get back to the ever glamorous Queens I trip out of the subway and spot a pair of $20 cowboy boots in a Thrift store. I Insist they get them out of the window and drunkenly try and pull them on, while still standing on one foot. I sway a little to the left and then a little to the right. They won't budge, so I yank some more and nearly topple over before conceding that they don't fit. The woman behind the counter rolls her eyes; in New York even the volunteer at a thrift store in Astoria has attitude.

I leave the store smiling and trip down the street blinking against the lights. I feel for my engagement ring, a nervous habit I have developed since The American put it on my finger. I remember I have a knuckle, so It can't just fall off.

The smell of the kebab stall wafts down Steinway and music is blasting from the Brazillian bar. I can still taste the rocket fuel cosmos. It's ok. New York can assualt my senses today.

I will find my place here.

I will find my New York.

Big Apple Brits
- British Expats Community New York City

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