The Big Bad Apple (Return to the Kingdom)
And so follows part 2 in my tale of New York.
After eating my fill of watermelon and pineapple and buying a crepe at one of the few French stalls on the Bastille Day celebration, I left the Franco-Chinese street market and, sweating profusely, headed back to the air-conditioned sanctuary of the Roosevelt Hotel. On the way I spotted a bakery/coffee shop. Now I LOVE bakeries, but my big gripe about them is always that most sell confectionery that is boring and generally unappetizing. However, this one had some cupcakes in the window that were beautifully decorated and had that ‘eat me’ look about them. The only problem was that one cupcake was almost the size of a normal tea time cake in Britain that would feed a family of four. I snacked on just one cupcake over the next three days. It was my secret stash that I hid carefully in my suitcase where the bedbugs would never find it. Not that bedbugs eat frosted cupcakes….at least I don’t think so….I may be wrong.
Admittedly it was surreal being in New York. The things that stood out for me were the yellow cabs, the street vendors selling hot dogs and the names of roads that I had heard so often throughout my life, mainly in movies – Park Avenue, 5th Avenue, Lexington, Broadway and so on.
I was encouraged, having woken on Monday morning without any trace of a bed bug bite. The air conditioner had done it’s duty during the night and I was reasonably refreshed and relaxed for my first day in the New York office. Since I had located it on Park Avenue the previous day, I knew where to go. I imagined that I was on a movie set as I walked to work with the New Yorkers. After picturesque Europe, I found the buildings in New York to be boring and uninspiring. The office was just like any other office building that I had been to and the colleagues in the office looked just like most other humans I had encountered in those office buildings. Not much more to be said about the office. It seems that an office is the same anywhere in the world, although I think they would be a little different in central Africa, high up in the Tibetan mountains or beneath the sea….
There are certain skills that New Yorkers learn in order to survive lunch time. The first is to find ‘the place’. Everyone seemed to have their favourite deli. cafe or restaurant. Lunching in New York for the novice is not recommended. Bringing a packed lunch to work is advisable, as I found out during my foray into the deli downstairs. I selected an enormous sandwich, simply because there was no other size, and a drink. Then I stood in the queue to pay. The queue moved faster than I had anticipated and, by the time I arrived at the till, the cashier was glaring at me as I fumbled with my dollars and cents. In her impatience she pushed me to one side and served the next customer until I could produce the right money. It sounds trivial reading this, but at the time, with the hubbub of the place, the fast-moving queue, the brash. even rude cashiers were enough to send me scurrying for the door balancing a drink on one arm against my body, the sandwich squashed under the other arm while I tried to put away the change and salvage some of my dignity at the same time.
Sadly the Hudson river jazz cruise had been cancelled due to evening thunderstorms, so I masked my sheer joy with feigned disappointment. I was happy to park myself on the bed in my hotel room watching a crappy movie and gnawing on my half-stale cupcake than be out with some beery strangers on the Hudson river buying overpriced food and listening to half-assed jazz. I’m sure it would have been better than that, but given the choice, I would rather stay in my room. Sad, I know, but it has all the comforts I need. I still had the ticket for the Broadway play, so I figured that would be doing my bit for getting out and about in New York. It was on the Friday night. The thunderstorms were still hanging about, but had cleared long enough for me to follow my Satnav directions to the theatre. Of course I had made sure to print out my ticket in advance so that I would be ahead of the unwashed masses who would be buying their tickets at the box office. The theatre itself was unremarkable to the point of being gaudy, but perhaps that’s the correct look for Broadway. Anyway, the appearance of the place didn’t matter as long as Matthew Broderick would actually be there as promised on the brochure.
My printed ticket was not helpful in directing me to my seat, so I was forced to ask a butch geriatric usher lady with horn-rimmed glasses and a severe grey hairstyle where I might find my seat. I had no illusion that I would be on the ground floor near the stage given the price I had paid for my ticket, but she squinted at my ticket, annoyed that someone had asked her a question, then waved a finger wildly in the direction of the front of the theatre. “Over there!” she shouted above the din, and then again louder, in case I hadn’t heard her: “Over there!’ I turned to ask her where exactly, but she was busy bullying someone else. I had a vague notion that she was wrong, so I made my way up the dingy stairs to the balcony where I encountered what might have been the sister of the first usher. Same bullying manner and the same butch appearance. She also dispatched me with a flea in my ear as if I had asked to borrow $100. “Row 8!” she shouted at me and then again, in case I hadn’t heard her: “ROW 8!” As I suspected there was no ‘Row 8’, but rather a row ‘H’, so I took it upon myself to sit there, too scared to go back and ask for confirmation. Silly me. I should have known that ‘H’ being the 8th letter of the alphabet, would give me a clue as to the whereabouts of my seat. Obvious to all but the uninitiated. Butch Betty maintained her menacing position at the stall railing to ‘assist’ any other unsuspecting theatre goers. From her vantage point, she shouted the odds at various people who, she imagined, had transgressed some theatre regulation. “NO TAKING PICTURES”, she roared at a woman in the next row up from me. The women froze, her mobile phone halfway out of her handbag. She started to laugh at the lunacy of the situation. “I was just going to send a text to a friend”, she shouted back in her defense, but Butch Betty wasn’t interested and was already scanning the audience with a watchful eye for more infringements. We all laughed along with the hapless victim. So silly. This, together with the deli incident and other encounters of a similar nature, left me with a lasting impression of New Yorkers as being brash, arrogant, self-opinionated and downright rude. Apparently there are many who share my view. I did enjoy the play and there was Matthew Broderick on stage as promised within spitting distance. I wouldn’t have spat on him of course, but the thought that he was that close was titillating. Another surreal moment.
The week proceeded uneventfully for the most part and my flight left from the awful Kennedy airport on Sunday around lunch time. This well-known airport turned out to be another major disappointment. Having seen many airports around the world, I was so shocked and disappointed at the state and layout of the place. ‘Could this really be one of the major New York airports?’, I wondered to myself as I trawled the pitiful selection of duty-free shops for likely souvenirs arranged around the selection of awful Hershey chocolates. I was relieved to climb onto the plane and to get airborne, leaving the Big Bad Apple to fade into the distance as the plane turned towards Ireland. My ordeal, however, was not yet over.
As luck would have it, I had a hyperactive young kid seated behind me. To describe him as ‘hyperactive’ would be an insult to hyperactive boys everywhere, because he was so much worse. The kicking of my seat started shortly after takeoff. I dismissed this, thinking that the kid was trying to get comfortable, but after an hour of constant battering, I realised that the insufferable little brat was trying to provoke a response. I’m mortified to report that I reached the end of my tether. I stood up, turned around and told him off in no uncertain terms. I have no idea where his parents were seated, but they either didn’t care or were too drunk to take any notice.
My rebuke only served to fuel the boy’s mental disorder and he started poking me in the ribs around the side of the seat. ‘Is this really happening?’ was the thought that went through my mind. I’ll wake up and this will all have been a nightmare. But it was real and soon, having obtained no response from digging me in the ribs, satan’s spawn started smacking me on the top of my head! I was at a loss to know what to do. Launching a child into the ether at 30,000 feet might have given me satisfaction, but the thought of a backlash from childrens’ rights activists glued me to my seat. I had struck up a conversation with a lovely lady next to me who was from ‘way down south’ in Alabama. She told me how she and twenty friends from her church were accompanying the Reverend on a pilgrimage to ireland. I told her about the boy behind me and before I could say another word, she had rounded on him and, in her fiery southern accent, let him have it straight between the eyes. The kid was so shocked that not only did the harassment stop, but I didn’t hear a peep from behind me for the rest of the journey. It obviously takes a woman’s touch.
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