Biting the Apple: I Heart New York
LCD Soundsystem once sang, “New York I love you but you’re bringing me down”. After eight nights in a row of being out past 3am on the streets of this city that tends to shut around 4am - never sleeps my arse – I need a holiday from my holiday.
Every time I come to this city, it presents a different experience. In 1982, I came here with my parents as a seven year old. My only lingering memories of this city were going to Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, arguing with a New Yorker that the Little River Band was named after a town on the way to Geelong and having my picture taken with my Dad in front of the Statue of Liberty in matching bottle green trackie daks and jumper. I’d still wear that ensemble if it fit me.
This time around, NYC was to be stage two of a three part expedition that centred around sport and searching for a potential Mrs Prefontaine. When you’re unemployed and living off a trust fund you can indulge in this from time to time.
In 2012, base camp for the New York leg of this journey of Relentless Effort was a studio apartment on the Lower East Side. At the turn of the century, the sons and daughters of Abraham made up over 60% of the residents in this neighbourhood. Nowadays it’s largely home to immigrants from Latino, North African and Asian backgrounds all struggling to make it in this city, like their Jewish brothers and sisters did one hundred years earlier.
Over the week and a half I spent there, I tried to stay away from the tourist hot spots and spend more time in local neighbourhoods. I didn’t want to fight the crowds and the crack is cheaper.
New York takes great pride in recognising that this city of nearly nine million people across the five boroughs of Manhattan, Staten Island, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn would not be what it is today if not for its immigrants. Even the Native Americans migrated to the island of Manhattan to fish and hunt. In 2012 the only hunting that goes on is in the bars and clubs after dark and those hunting for bargains on Fifth Avenue. I apologise if that last sentence read like a line from Sex and the City.
This pride is manifested in places such as the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street in the Lower East Side – a living treasure to those who made it through Ellis Island. As my guide remarked, it was the migrants that made this city better, as they were the ones who demanded more from the city and its public officials.
I wandered down to Ground Zero to take a squiz at the memorial, but the queue was longer than those queuing at a Soviet bread shop, so I gave it a miss. However, the subtle list of names of those brave members of the Fire Department of New York – whose names appear on each local fire truck – is perhaps a more poignant tribute to that dark day.
I headed up to Central Park and the Dakota Building, and the memorial to former Beatle, John Lennon. At Strawberry Fields, an ageing hippy gave an incoherent rant about Lennon and something about peace. I was a Beatle groupie in high school, but have since moved on; this guy clearly hadn’t.
Given that my time spent in Boston was largely centred around the Red Sox, I thought I best balance the Relentless Effort ledger with more time in New York’s pubs and bars getting to know the locals.
On my last visit, I neglected to cross the East River to Brooklyn. This was a mistake. This time, over three days and nights, I frequented the hipster capital of the world. It was as if someone let off a hipster bomb and fall out resulted in thousands of dudes in tight jeans and ironic t-shirts. In preparation, I grew a beard to ensure I got entry at the check point at the Bedford Avenue subway station.
The main neighbourhood in Brooklyn for hipster culture is Williamsburg. To be honest, it’s not much different to Fitzroy. It’s lined with bars, vintage clothing stores and pet shops for every rat-sized dog that all New Yorkers seems to own in this city.
On my first night, I caught up with some girls who I met in Boston that were down in New York. They took me to my first hip hop concert. It was in a Brooklyn park. There I was with the self declared, coolest people on the planet and stood out like a white guy in a Wallabies top… largely because I was the white guy in a Wallabies top.
The following night I crossed the East River again and headed to the neighbourhood of Fort Greene – very Cosby Show. There, I hung out in some really cool bars and met a girl by the name of Ryn, which she informed me was short for Kathryn. To which I said my name was Ine, which is short for Prefontaine. She looked like a young Jamie Lee-Curtis and was a lawyer who worked in Manhattan. Later that night, she tried to give me a hysterectomy with her tongue. Even now, that still doesn’t make sense!
On the Saturday night, I headed up to the Bronx and into enemy territory to watch my Red Sox take on the might of the New York Yankees in their monolith to greed and corporate selling out – Yankee Stadium.
After seeking advice from several Bostonians if I should wear any Red Sox colours to the stadium, I took the punt with my Red Sox cap.
Sitting on the train, I kept the cap in my bag until I got a sense of what was appropriate. As a Celtic fan who has experienced the white heat of a Glasgow derby before Rangers went tits up, I’m instantly cautious about unknown taboos with sporting rivalries. This being the greatest rivalry in American sports, I wasn’t sure.
However, when three members of Red Sox Nation boarded the train at Union in team colours, I felt it safe to bring out the hat – receiving the nod of approval from a fellow Sox travellers in the process.
Arriving at Yankee Stadium, you can’t help but be impressed by the size and scale of this brand new ball park. This is an organisation with serious cash to spend. It reeks of money, is modern and comfortable. At $300 a seat, it would want to be.
As soon I as I took my seat behind the Red Sox dugout, the heavens opened and we all headed under cover. After an hour rain delay, the game began. As each Red Sox player stepped up to bat, he was welcomed with a chorus of boos and jeers from the home fans. Those boos were silenced when the Sox uncharacteristically went out to a 3-0 lead.
By the middle of the sixth inning, the Sox had a commanding 6-1 lead. Then came the Yankee response. A two run homer by Nix in the fifth put the Yankees within two runs. By the end of the end of the eighth inning, the scorers were tied 6-6. Encouraged by the stadium ‘entertainment’, the Yankee fans smelt blood.
Look, I don’t want this article to turn into an exercise in Yankee bashing… but I will.
The Yankees do many things very well. They clearly are the most successfull baseball franchise in history. The new Yankee Stadium is a testimony to the success that has bedevilled this organisation for the last century. But as I have alleged in previous articles on this team, they clearly are the most corporatised and soulless franchise in American sports.
I mean “Yankees Universe”, really? What a pathetic attempt to respond to the grass roots Red Sox Nation. You get the impression three suits in the Bronx back office were desperate to formulate a response and came up with something as lame as Yankees Universe. “Hey guys, we’re bigger than their Nation, we’re like a Universe. Those Boston upstarts will never beat that”.
Yeah, whatever blowhards!
Don’t even get me started on all that contrived crap on the big screen to get the fans motivated to support their team during the game, as if 27 World Series wasn’t enough. And it’s not just between each inning, it’s between each at bat, creating the most faux atmosphere I’ve ever encountered.
Like I said… blowhards!
In the ninth inning, Red Sox short stop Pedro Ciriaco hit a deep fly ball to centre field in which Curtis Granderson uncharacteristically spilled and the Red Sox hit the lead. The Sox closed the game out in the bottom ninth winning 8-6.
The following night I had picked up on a timid, uneasy feeling Yankee fans held towards visiting Boston sports, like they were all drunk, foul mouthed thugs from New England. It is similar to how the English feel about travelling Scots. I smelt this fear and revelled in it, spending most of game three abusing the galaxy of Yankees fans around me throughout the game.
I had good cause to as the Sox repeated the feat from the night before in a carbon copy performance to take the series 2-1. I had visited the Bronx across two nights and stole two wins against the enemy – a priceless sporting experience.
When the Sox weren’t hitting Yankees pitchers out of the park, I was hitting the thousands of bars across the city. It was hard work. Out of a city of 8 million, do you think I could find a single woman? I’m not just suggesting a woman drought here though, I get the distinct impression of a man drought too. Every New York bar is filled with couples, like they are about to board Noah’s Ark.
At one stage I wanted to climb the Empire State Building, push Tom Hanks and Cary Grant aside and scream, “Is anybody in this fricken city, single?”
Back on ground level, I learned to make the necessary adjustments. Like the Terminator in search of Sarah Connor, I got really good at instantly scanning a room in the first ten seconds for single people to talk to before I sat down.
But even then, when you plonk yourself next to a single woman, don’t assume she’ll fall for your phoney Aussie charms.
Girl A laughed at my jokes and appeared to be interested, but kept checking her phone for messages = boyfriend.
Girl B wanted to know if I travelled to work by kangaroo but kept on eye on the front door = boyfriend.
Smoking hot Girls C and D with wedding rings on their fingers that kept talking about their husbands = I thought, I’m in with a chance here.
On the Friday night I met girl E and Guy A. He was a learjet pilot and she was the flight attendant. At first I was convinced they were together, but as the drinks flowed, she began to put serious moves on me.
Even still, something wasn’t right. My suspicions were confirmed when at the end of the night they asked me back to their hotel for a threesome. To which I ran in the opposite direction from this freak show. The thought of rubbing balls with the bald guy from Californication does not fall within the purview of Relentless Effort.
It was a wake up call.
This desperate search for New York’s single females got to a point where it had the potential to ruin my holiday. Instead of enjoying my time in the greatest city on the planet, I found myself predetermining what bars I would walk into by the amount of potential single woman in there.
What was I doing? This wasn’t me! I’m not the calculated, female deer hunter with the killer lines who makes eyes at single woman across the bar. No, I’m the hopeless single guy that doesn’t know his arse from his elbow, who somehow makes progress by mistake rather than genius or intention.
All this relentless effort, all this putting myself out there, was killing me. I’m not the greatest at meeting new people, but on this trip, travelling alone, I’ve thrown my inhibitions to the wind and launched myself outside my comfort zone and quite frankly, I’m exhausted. I need some time alone.
I’m fatigued from forcing myself to talk to people. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some crazy adventures during my time in Boston and New York. But like a nervous opening batsman who hates those first three or four overs, scratching about, trying to come to terms with the pace of the wicket, I’m relentlessly making new conversations with strangers, night after night.
Every time I get the same response, “Oh you’re from Australia, never been, always wanted to go… yada… yada… yada.” By the end, in my head, I was like, “Yeah whatever, are we gonna shag or what?”
Who was I becoming? That’s not how I operate. I needed to get back to my roots. Back to being blissfully oblivious. Where my inner monologue reads, “She wants to shag? Really? Are you sure?”
So thank you New York, it’s been real, but I need a break. So I’m going back, going back to spend some time with my own folk. I’m crossing the Atlantic, back to Glasgow and a place we call Paradise.