The New York Way

The New York Way

 “We’re gonna die on this bus.” I scribble it down as fact in my leather-bound portfolio as my close friend Chris and I take our seats on the Greyhound Bus. I write it down right after a man with dirty hair and a torn leather jacket yells at me to stop staring at him. He tells me to stop laughing at him too, but the thing is, I’m staring straight ahead. I think he’s a crack head, but so it goes on the Greyhound. This is the start of my trip, and I’m kind of worried.          

            We’re on our way to New York City.

            Arriving at the bus station not far from Times Square, he and I get our first taste of NYC, the subway. We get to the station aloof and clearly not from New York. I’m from the fairly large city of Phoenix and I’ve been to NYC, but always with a guide. We are at the station alone. I ask the woman at the window who is clearly overworked and underpaid about how to get to our “hotel” for the week, Columbia University. We’re told to take the 1 uptown and get off at 116th street. With that, we’re on our way. The subway, as we find out, is God’s way of making different people mingle. I’m sure He finds it funny. Only in the confines of the plastic-littered steel-barreling underground can you find a man in a five-hundred dollar Zegna suit and a man who is obviously on drugs who thinks he is Mike Tyson sitting next to each other.

            “My fucking name alone is worth a million dollars,” Mike says as he slams his fist into his hand, pretending to hit someone.  He’s a tall black man, muscular but from what exercise I don’t know. His hair is ratty like a homeless man’s and his long trench coat laced with holes complete his look of destitute.

Maybe it’s Holyfield he’s picturing in his fists; who knows? Hell, this actually could be Mike Tyson for all I know. His swift cuts back and forth across the aisle would sure give the idea some weight, but I doubt it. Whoever it is, he is making me and my friend from Pensacola really uncomfortable. We shift, turning our backs to the man who is making a scene; a scene that no one else seems to notice. I guess everyone is used to it in New York.       

            We hear “Next stop, 116th, Columbia University,” and our minds are eased. He is still making ludicrous statements (that’s a Mike Tyson reference) and moving about the car. Now, people are uncomfortable along with us.

            “You staring at me? I will knock you out bitch.” The man in the Zegna suit looks around with fear, but the druggie doesn’t do anything and we’re all relieved. We reach our stop.

            I couldn’t imagine doing this everyday.

            We arrive at Columbia to an angry doorman. I don’t know what it is about this city, but apparently, to get by, you have to have a great frustration with life and consequently, people. The girl we’re staying with lets us in and we’re happy to be somewhere where there aren’t drugs flowing the veins of the people we are around.

            Once we get settled in her friend’s suite, we call our friends who are interning in NYC at The New Yorker and Cosmopolitan. We decide to meet them for dinner and go to their apartment for some drinks later.

            Dinner in New York City is, as I found out, an experience in and of itself. We head to Radio Perfecto, a small restaurant near Columbia University. It is cramped, the people are all dressed in black and it reeks of New York arrogance and pretentiousness. From walking down the street, we always felt the native New Yorkers looking down on us, like they knew we didn’t belong. They seemed to feel like they were better than us. Cocky attitudes undoubtedly fueled by the idea that being from New York automatically makes a person cooler were commonplace.

 We grab a table, which turns out to be a twenty minute ordeal and are seated next to a loud bunch of friends celebrating some prick’s twenty-first birthday. I actually don’t know if the guy is a prick or not, I’m just assuming from his sterling silver chains and one button too low open collared shirt.  He signals his waitress by pursing his lip and nodding his head just once. He waves her over when that doesn’t work.

            Our waiter is rude, which tends to be the norm in the city where everyone is far too concerned with themselves. I order a burger a fries, something that for some reason (and it sure ain’t the taste), costs $13. Chris is equally shocked by the prices while my friends who have been in New York for some time don’t even think twice. After my ice tea failed to be refilled, I decided to take a stand.

            “Having a rough night?” I asked our waiter, hoping he would take that as a hint to refill my glass.  Instead, he went on about how he was having such a hard shift.

            “It’s been rough as soon as I clocked in.”

            I barely left a tip.

            Our friends staying in New York stay on 125th, in Harlem, but in a “good part.”  Well, the “good part” is pretty shady in my book. Men in the typical street-wear: baggy jeans and oversized sweatshirts with gaudy jewelry along with poorly groomed faces and hair, walk up and down the block with no job in sight (kidding) and sirens wailing all over the place from god knows what crime. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not sheltered by any means, but I am still afraid that my Coach wallet will turn up missing at any second. Plus, we are walking. After a fifteen minute “short” walk to their apartment, we finally get to the apartment and enter, once the three locks were taken care of. We have a couple of drinks and shoot the shit, and we discuss what we’ve been up to all semester, us telling them about life at School while they update us on finding themselves in New York. We get bored quickly, so we decide to go out and mix it up on the bar and club scenes.

            We decide to take a cab.

            We hit up numerous bars. I’m worried at first because I’m only twenty and do not have a fake ID, but it doesn’t seem to matter at all. We walk through without being carded at every place we go to. The bars are mundane, nothing how I thought they’d be. Many are small and smoky, and not as loud as one would expect. Single men are sitting on stools in front of the bars. I guess it’s better to be closer to the booze; actually, it’s just kind of depressing.

Conversations are going on but no one seems interested in what anyone else has to say.

In one spot we find a group of twenty-somethings playing beer pong. At this point I’m thinking to myself, “Fuck this, I could be back in Greencastle doing this for free.”

            We leave.

            My friends suggest we go to a gay bar called Therapy and I agree, being the horny gay male that I am. The cab ride there is less than stellar. He speeds up through yellow lights, doesn’t seem to notice pedestrians and certainly doesn’t care about hitting other cars. We come close to hitting something at least ten times during the trip and I literally fear for my life the entire time. My friend tells me to just close my eyes until we get there, but I can’t. Buildings fly by me as I think to myself, “we shouldn’t be going this fast in the city.”

But we arrive in one piece.

            Again, I’m not carded, but once I walk in I immediately realize that the club should have some sort of NC-21 warning.  Scantily clad in little more than tight white underwear, men dance on the tables in the middle of the room. To techno beats, they writhe their muscular bodies, making tables the dance floor.

They want us to watch.

 It even makes me a little uncomfortable so I cannot imagine what Chris is going through. He seems fine. Other than our initial shock, the club turns out to be a bust; nothing more than what happens at the straight bars, except with higher fashion and lower voices.

            Back to Columbia we go. And that’s how our trip goes. Night after night, looking for adventure and never finding any. We thought NYC was supposed to be the city that never sleeps, but it does, and it usually starts lulling into its slumber right when we want to go out. Well except for night clubs, but we didn’t want any part of that scene anymore.

            We search for things to do.

            We find an amateur comedy night in Brooklyn at a comedy club called the Shrunken Head or something like that. Actually, it’s a bar with a space for comedy acts in the back, so if that constitutes as a comedy club then so be it.

            “Oh you’re going to Brooklyn? Well…be safe…” A friend advises.  We worry.

            Brooklyn isn’t too bad, just an entirely different scene from what we have been used to. More of a middle-class group, we pass little eateries and bars that aren’t part of the upscale Manhattan that our friends have introduced us to.

            We find the bar and take a seat. The first acts are pretty mundane, nothing really too funny about their routines. A girl goes up there and talks about her problems with her boyfriend, her drug addiction and her affinity for younger men. While it has the potential to be funny, its stuff we’ve all heard before. Plus her delivery is off and she seems a little anxious, probably from the drugs. Or maybe because of the younger men in the room.

Except for the occasional shot at themselves, the comedians fall short of the amateurs we usually see on Comedy Central. Perhaps that’s why they are performing in obscure New York comedy clubs and not on the popular cable channel.

            But there are some that could have made it.

            A guy, no older than twenty-five years old takes the stage, wearing typical “frat boy” gear. With a grey sweater, blue jeans and sneakers, he walks up the stair (yep, stair) with confidence and strides onto the stage.

            While I cannot remember the entire bit, it goes a little something like this:

            “So I’m seeing this broad and I think she is pregnant. Why you ask? Because her titties is swollen and she got a fuckin’ attitude,” he says, to the shock of the audience. Well not the entire audience, just Chris and me. Apparently college students are the only ones who can find this humor funny.

            He goes on and on and repeats that line over and over through various interactions with his girlfriend or whoever she may be; and it’s hilarious. Vulgar, indeed, but nevertheless, it is the funniest act so far and he knows it. He ends and takes a bow.

            The guy that I remember the best has the most unexpected punch line. While ripping on his own life, about how pathetic he is, he brings up a character who is a big shot in the neighborhood. After going on and on about this guy, the audience is hanging on the comedian’s every word, like someone would at a Chris Rock show or little girls at an Ashlee Simpson concert. Finally he says,

“Yeah, he was one of those guys who could get any girl in the neighborhood, any time he wanted to. What do they call those guys?” he asks.

We’re thinking “a player, a pimp, a ladies man.”

Oh no, the comedian finally says, “Oh yeah, a rapist.”

I hunch over with laughter and rest my chin on the table. Chris and I laugh so hard it hurts and I see tears in the eyes of everyone around.

Finally, we get something right as the comedy club is totally worth it.

As we wind down our final day or two in NYC, we take time to enjoy the city, not as tourists but as New Yorkers would. No Times Square, Statue of Liberty or Broadway. Just the city. We find restaurants we didn’t notice before because we were too busy looking for the big things.

We walk for blocks and blocks; they seem to go on forever.

We wander into Chelsea (the gay Capital of NYC apparently) one night and found ourselves in a park facing New Jersey another time. 

We sit next to a little girl and her father in a sandwich shop along Broadway, near Columbia. He is explaining to her why it’s not okay to skip school for being sick and then ask to have friends over for a play date. “It’s not fair,” he tells her.

She is very perceptive, acknowledging everything he says with a nod of understanding; she is wise beyond her seemingly six years, and it makes me smile. I smile because with so much going on in New York, with all the lights and glamour, the fast pace and that certain New York state of mind, I find a little girl and her father, the simplest and most true of relationships in the heart of the most famous city in the world.

I guess the point is that New York shouldn’t be about finding something at all; it should be about something finding you.

We leave the following morning, late as usual. Our subway is delayed and we miss our greyhound bus (go figure). We’re on our way back to Greencastle and I can’t help but think that I missed something while I was in New York, like there was something that didn’t find me while I was walking the streets covered with neon from the lights above. Maybe it’ll find me if I ever go again.

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