Saturday, 2 May 2009

Day Two in New York: "My Dad didn’t pay two hundred thousand dollars for me to be a bartender" (Student, Central Park)

Awoken by a cacophony of birdsong, right here in lower Manhattan, who’da thunk it? I don’t hear so much as a pigeon back home. The promised heatwave has begun. Today is Friday and it's already scorching. Saturday and Sunday are going to get hotter. Overheard conversations are frequently about soaring temperatures to come, the hottest April for fifty years, the city is braced. It’s exciting. I think about '77 and the Summer of Sam. I hope there are blackouts and dancing in the streets and looting.

Breakfast at the Gramercy Diner, staffed by polite Mexicans with impenetrable accents. Broccoli and gruyere omelette with home fries and sufficient coffee to stimulate a mastodon back to life. Our neighbourhood borders the East Village, Gramercy and Flatiron district. We are going to ‘do’ Midtown today, including braving the shops, so we walk uptown and soon the Chrysler Building cranes a beautiful silver neck into the skyline (“You can’t leave New York! You’re the Chrysler Building, the Chrysler Building would be all wrong in a vineyard”). It was the tallest building in the city for one whole year back in 1930 and is many a New Yorker’s favourite. In glorious sunshine you see exactly why (“You'll stay up till this dump shines like the top of the Chrysler Building!")



The Flatiron wends its impossible way into the sky at 23rd Street, the sheer unlikeness of its famously narrow corner making it seem even higher than it actually is. The park opposite is beautiful, fountained, scattered with blossom and people taking respite from the heat. But not us, we plough onwards to the Empire State Building, once again the tallest building in New York, reclaiming its title with a touch of sadness of course. It is the building where Allen Ginsberg worked on trite advertising campaigns (including the Ipana toothpaste campaign, the one they sing in Grease at the sleepover) before his poetry brought him to the life of the Beats downtown, that William Burroughs likened to a giant syringe, whose shadow at sunset stretches all the way to Queens. I write postcards for my grandparents at the foot of it where you can no longer even see the top.

Macy’s is the biggest store in the world, one entire block, of which we cover about 3 per cent. I buy some nice aftershave called Nautica and procure a Macy’s bag which I flaunt like a tourist all day. Times Square is a fat seductive slice of capitalist flash, even in the midday sun, and is rammed. We stop at a mercifully air-conditioned Irish bar on 7th Avenue and are served by a lovely Irish girl who came to New York for a shopping trip six months ago and is still there. I’m so jealous I can hardly breathe.

On Fifth Avenue we have the most hilarious shopping experience of our lives at Abercrombie & Fitch. The doorway houses a gaggle of wide-eyed girls standing in line to have their photograph taken with an impossibly chiselled shirtless model who’s all of nineteen. Inside the store it’s pitch black with the loudest music I've heard outside of a club. All the assistants, boys and girls, are dressed identically. They stand at the top of each staircase dancing. They don’t know where anything is or how much anything costs, they couldn’t care less, they just dance the whole time. We’re delirious. Everyone is beautiful. There is still a feeling in New York that the prettiest boys and girls from across America make their way here to tend bar and sell jeans while they’re waiting for their dreams to happen. They’re all working at A&F.



Central Park is the only place to be in this weather so we head there and find a nice spot by the carousel which plays, amongst other things, ‘Georgy Girl’, one of my favourite songs of all time, which I take, like many things over the week, to be a sign. We eat more sickly but addictive deep fried cashews plus Oreo ice lollies which are divine. I earwig people, watch ripped joggers, horses and carts, a young couple having wedding pictures taken. It’s soon time to head home and change for the theatre. We swing by Barney’s en route, pick up a hat that costs $125, leave.

The Shubert Theatre is a lovely old-time playhouse near Times Square. The play is Noel Coward’s endearingly naff Blithe Spirit in which Angela Lansbury is a spritely old canary in the role of eccentric psychic Madame Acarti. Rupert Everett fluffs half a dozen lines, hams the comedy and plays to the cheap seats while the cheap seats strain to spot his fabled facelift. His second wife Ruth (Jayne Atkinson) carries it for me. A pair of rich English sisters in the seats beside me kvetch at the audience laughing in the ‘wrong places’ but from what I can gather half the audience can only make out less than half the clipped cut-glass English and speedily-delivered dialogue anyway. Good fun though.

To the Ava Lounge at the Dream Hotel. Unbelievably I recognise someone from a cruise we went on last year while we’re crossing Broadway though I’m too stunned to say anything to him. He very obviously recognised me too. His twin brother tried to seduce me and then my sister on consecutive nights on the ship so not really sure what my conversation starter would have been, but how small the world.

In the bar I have an apple Martini and Joff a (very) spicy Mojito. We’re here for the view which is a ball-shrinking vista of Times Square, now in full fluorescent flow. ‘Oh my God I’m in New York,’ I keep thinking. I get the first compliment of the week on my accent. “You’re all kinds of fabulous!” says a girl I give a cigarette to. Instantly drunk we decide to take our glad rags down to Greenwich Village. Our journey takes us by Grand Central Station and Radio City Music Hall. I love Old New York and these are my sights.


The historic Stonewall bar has apparently been refurbished to properly honour its part in the gay lib movement and to bring it up to date for a younger generation. As far as I can tell this amounts to a buff guy dancing on stage with his massive whanger barely covered by a crocheted cock pouch while men and women alike stuff dollar bills down there. Gay pride! Over the road at The Monster we have a nice chat to the doorman, who lives on 14th Street the lucky blighter. Another massively eye-watering whang episode in the basement plus typical handbaggy tunes. Slight yawn. Disappointing totty too. I am hit on by a goggle-eyed Cuban from New Jersey and it’s time for home. The pair of us fall asleep in the cab, the driver mishears ‘East 17th’ for ‘East 70th’ and we wake up at 42nd Street. Oops. I’m drunk enough to dispute the fare. I’m getting into my stride.

1 comment:

Paul Harfleet said...

How brilliantly evocative this is of probably my favourite place!!.....Sounds like you had a ball!!....and so super it was hot!!..New York is a joy when it's warm and terrifyingly cold when it's cold!!....when will more posts follow??.....Love Paul x