People ask me what I do. I say ‘I’m a writer’. By which I mean I have an incredibly clean oven, the loo seat that used to slew off sideways when I sat down is now fixed, and the water butt that was banging around the garden in the recent storms is back in place, if somewhat leaky. Oh yes, when you are a writer the sourdough rises.
So, New York. Just writing those words revives the feelings I first had when I decided to finally go. To face my nemesis, my almost lifelong ambition. I wanted the art. I wanted the culture, and I wanted to make myself enter a world completely different from mine and know I could not only survive, but enjoy it. Yet that one fact hung over me still. The son of one of my teachers when I studied the Enneagram in California, was shot, for no reason, on the subway in New York. I figured I could deal with rude natives (as it was rumoured here in anally politeBritain). But what if I got lost? Wandered into the ‘wrong’ neighbourhood? I was a mere three hour train ride from the city, ticket paid for, accommodation booked. It wasn’t a fantasy any more, it was tomorrow’s challenge and whilst the noises were encouraging, there were some eyebrows being raised at the huge gathering of Jane’s relatives in Lexington when someone mentioned my plan.
“Wow, on your own eh?”
“Well good for you.”
“Oh you’ll be just fine” seemed to be the consensus But then , “where did you say you were staying?”
Having inspected the walk-in wardrobe the size of my sitting room footprint and some. I could tell these people were not likely to pitch up in a hostel. Certainly not since Uncle Phil (Tropeano, now 91) did a little experiment one day. He was an agricultural engineer, trying to make a machine that would make fog (to cool vegetables) and whoopty-do came up with the first snow machine.
Phil and his brother impressed me greatly. I want to grow old the way they have, and at 91 and 90 I have a few years to practice. Here’s Eddie texting his girlfriend in the old people’s home where he lives, a picture of his cocktail. How cool is that for a nonagenarian? He has a plan, that worries the family slightly, to buy an RV so he can drive out to the coast in the mornings and have breakfast watching the ocean. I can understand that, he used to be a Techie guy in Falmouth, Cape Cod. I bet he misses the breeze.
Phil laughed generously at my recounting the joke the elderly Mr Holbrook used to make when asked how he was “well my dear, put it this way, at my age I don’t even buy green bananas”. I tried to explain AirBnB to them.
“You stay in someone’s house. People who have a spare room, let it out for a reasonable price – all done online”. They looked impressed, especially when I said I was paying around £62 a night (faintingly cheap for New York). However, when I said I would potentially be sharing the bathroom with 8 other people, a fact I’d only discovered the night before I left home, when all was signed, sealed and paid for, their expressions changed. A bit like mine did when my host said “oh you won’t be the only guest, we actually have four double bedrooms for rent.” Panicked, I’d emailed back immediately to ask the number of bathrooms, and discovered the do-not-disturbing truth. Was this a cosy arrangement, with a pair of friendly New Yorkers (gay men I hoped from the cleanliness of the apartment in the pictures), or was it a major business? Still I’ve slept on everything from a mud floor in a desert bar in Morocco, to a tent with an elephant scratching it’s belly on the side. Surely I could do an Air BnB in New York?
I was awake with the crack next morning and showering wondering if it would be my last for a day or two. Nick emerged in plenty of time to drive me into Boston for the 7 am train to New York.
The Horsley family has a habit. We never leave the house once. It’s those moments when you’re half way down the path and you suddenly remember you left your phone behind. Then your umbrella, shopping bags, or the directions to where you are going. The worst of us can do it many times. Ask Jane. She’ll tell you. Why is it that wallets get lost mainly when there is a pressing reason for them not to, like catching a plane, or taking the red-eye train to New York? We turned every corner of the house upside down. Tipped out those areas where things gather and conspire, lifted sofa cushions, looked in bins, in coat pockets, under and over the car seats and trunk – we even checked the cutlery drawer. “You’re efficient Nick, don’t you think it’ll be in your man-bag?”
“Nope, tried that”.
Sick with nerves that I’d miss my train, this went on for about half an hour…every so often me repeating my refrain. This was my nightmare situation. I hate arriving in a last minute dash. Get stuck in traffic with a flight to catch? I’d rather sleep on an airport bench. I tend to arrive insanely early. I set three alarms (watch, iPad and clock) at increasing distances from my bed, and still I spend half the night awake and worrying I’ll oversleep. (My ultimate alarm clock bought in a Bangkok supermarket the night I escaped from Mr Prong, has finally died a death. A trumpeting cat figure that played reveille loudly, repeatedly declaiming WAKE UP, WAKE UP, until I hit the button, the eyes on the cat clicked open and it said “Goo Morning.” My my mainstay for 20 years, I miss that clock. )
Nick found the keys. They were in his man bag. Half an hour later he delivered a nervous wreck to the station just as boarding began. Ten minutes later we pulled out, with me reclining in the most comfortable train seat I’d ever experienced, settled on the left side, so that I could watch the coast all the way down to New York. New York! I was on my way.