I’m an alien. I’m a legal alien—I’m a Zezaurian in New York. Six years ago, with life stagnating in London, I met a mad girl who made weird noises but was kind and clever and pretty so I fell in love with her. My romantic experiences up to that point were much like most other aspects of my life; disordered, confusing, and sad.
This was different. It was still somewhat disordered and confusing, but it certainly wasn’t sad. We explored Europe together and life was fun and strange and adventurous. All was splendid but for one quandary- she lived in America. We persevered with our long-distance relationship for about a year, but it became increasingly difficult and impracticable. We decided that we must either go our separate ways, or that one of us must commit to moving to the other’s homeland. We decided on the latter option.
It was immediately obvious that it would be me making the move; in the UK, I had only my grandpa, my pal Drib Drab and a small handful of friends, and a job that was rapidly driving me to despair. She had a huge, close-knit family and her dream career. I clumsily proposed marriage and proceeded to apply for residence in the United States. I do not want to relive the hellish, Kafkaesque, bureaucratic song-and-dance routine that US immigration puts one through in these situations, but it was far from pleasant.
After eighteen months of minor nervous breakdowns and slow-motion panic attacks, I was granted a visa. I quit my job of eight years, which was more upsetting than I had anticipated. I sold all of my worldly possessions except for my books, and bid farewell to my friends and grandpa, which broke my heart a bit.
So that’s how I ended up in Brooklyn, New York. Or Noo Yawk, as they say around here. Anyway, the other night while I was bored and the wife was away, I ended up cringing my way through this old blog of ours and decided to write about some of my thoughts on the fair city of Gotham.
There are several nicer areas within the five boroughs in which this is not such a problem, but the vast majority of places that I’ve perambulated my way through have been oppressively filthy. In my neighbourhood, with the exception of a few community gardens scattered here and there, the concept of civic pride simply does not exist. In fact, it appears as though there is an almost civic contempt, as if people despise their environment to the point of actively abusing it. People litter with impunity, search through the rubbish and leave it scattered about the streets, and refuse to clean up after their dogs. Piles of trash bags take up half the sidewalk of many streets and graffiti is everywhere. And not the pretty kind. I must admit though, some of the crudely depicted messages have been of interest. A favourite of mine was the legend ‘DON’T BE SAD IDIOT’ scrawled onto a steel door in red lettering, which I now view as advice to live by. There are also messages dotted around Brooklyn written by one troubled soul, which read: ‘Mami, Papi RIP’. I hope that that individual finds some solace one day.
Although a lot of these problems are an inevitable consequence of an overcrowded metropolis that has grown so rapidly in a relatively short space of time, and in which there are very few alleyways to store refuse, much could be done to improve the environment with a little effort and consideration.
I can scarcely remember what it feels like to hear myself think. The noise here is ceaseless and maddening- drivers honking, Mack trucks grumbling, sirens wailing, construction thundering, people arguing, marching bands blaring, parades parading, helicopters circling, planes taking off and landing, subway cars rumbling underfoot, the schizophrenic cacophony of hundreds of chattering voices, musicians rehearsing, dogs barking, smoke alarms chirruping and my absolute number one favourite, car stereo systems. Holy mackerel are those things LOUD. Cars drive by and the booming bass causes the foundations of my building to rattle. How can those guys sit inside those boxes of misery without suffering from a traumatic brain injury or PTSD?
I wonder whether it was here that the great Jim ‘O Rourke wrote the lyrics ‘… a motor’s endless drone, and how the deaf are so damn lucky’. Of course, I don’t share that sentiment and am glad that all my senses are intact.
This ties in with the filth bit, but there is one distinction. Practically everywhere in the city there is the nasty stench of weed wafting through the air. Although it is still a crime in New York to smoke it, the law is not readily enforced, and many New Yorkers regularly enjoy a puff. Perhaps more tolerant people than myself aren’t so bothered by the smell, but having been blessed with an extraordinary olfactory gift and petty mind, I find the odour almost intolerable. Cannabis is the second most horrid plant that occurs in nature, beaten only in unpleasantness by coriander.
This is not really specific to New York, just an America-wide assault on basic human liberty. If you turned up at a hospital with a fencepost sticking out of your face and a bear trap attached to your leg, the first thing you’d be asked is how you are going to pay for it. I broke my arm and the hospital swindled and squeezed me ‘til the pips squeaked. One clinic tried to charge me $900 for a flippin’ tetanus shot. I went to a doctor to see about acquiring a couple of sedatives to ease my fear of flying and they charged the insurance company hundreds of dollars, plus the ‘co-pay’ expense, plus the pharmacy cost. I would have been better off going to a drug dealer. And by the look of things, the situation is only going to get worse. With this in mind, whatever you do, don’t get sick.
There are a lot of strange, disturbed, mentally unwell, and just plain eccentric people here, as most people are aware. This doesn’t really bother me and is most likely just another symptom of the US healthcare structure failing those in need. I just bring it up to recount an embarrassing experience that occurred to me.
As a keen chess player looking to make friends in a strange new place, I visited an establishment in Greenwich Village that hosts casual games of chess with strangers for a modest fee. I met an older gentleman in a straw hat and we played a few games. He was a worthy adversary over the board and pretty good company, so we moved on to a local watering hole for a few beers. The conversation turned to my occupation, and I explained to my new friend that I was finding it difficult to secure a decent job and that it was a great cause of anxiety for me. He offered to help me out and told me that he needed some assistance. I eagerly asked him to elaborate, maybe expecting that he wanted me to paint his apartment or something. No, nothing so sinister as that! The dirty old sod wanted to pay me for ‘personal services’ that he made very clear were of a sexual nature. As you can imagine I excused myself as quickly as possible and got out of there. I was rather upset about the whole saga, but my wife found it infinitely amusing.
I could continue bellyaching about my other grievances with my new home and discuss the decrepit subway system, the archaic civil service, or the city’s generally abrasive nature. But I won’t. Instead, I shall mention what I like about the place. Relative to the major cities in Europe and elsewhere, New York is an infant, but it’s history and culture is astonishing and unique, and it is truly mind boggling to consider how much has occurred here in just a few hundred years. There are plenty of beautiful green spaces and seemingly endless interesting neighbourhoods to explore, and there is always, always something to see and do. I don’t love it, but I don’t
like hate it either.