New York, New York: so good they named it twice. Or perhaps they were merely mentally drained and stuttering, exhausted by its overwhelming excess, as I was.
Being baggage-weight-conscious I arrived in JFK the image of a struggling Hollywood starlet: Tired, fabulous and wrapped in fur. Having almost missed the AirTrain into the city due to selfie-ing and insta-boomeranging, it started dawning on me that a huge fur coat and a big black roll-neck was not the best pairing for a day of frantic cross-continent commuting, being drenched in perspiration before we made our way to the subway. Big fabulous fur was also attracted a much unwanted attention, with a toothless subway dweller feeling it necessary to yell-ask me “YO MAN! THAT SOME FOX FUR!?”. Having finally survived the treacherous subway journey, we finally made our way to our Williamsburg Loft. With the coat finally hanging in my wardrobe for the week, I was ready to plan my week in Manhattan.
I had settled on three must-dos. The first was the obligatory clichéd sight-seeing. The second was fulfilling by Carrie Bradshaw fantasy and dating in New York. My third and last was to get good and drunk, and party hard, like a true New Yorker.
The sight-seeing was the easiest of the three to be ticking off. Of course, we did the over-crowded Time’s Square, the ever-cheerful Ground Zero and the underwhelming Statue of Liberty. With all of that out-of-the-way, we were able to see the far more important sights of the Friends apartment and fountain and Carrie Bradshaw’s Sex and the City apartment. In fact, I was seeing the whole city through a television camera lens. It wasn’t just the familiar street-corners and signage, but the people who inhabited the city were so enthused by their own actions, it was frightening how bad television archetypes were actually sitting next to me on the subway. The sassy black nurse, the snobbish yummy-mummy, the ass-hole businessman, all in line behind me at Starbucks. To them, everything was either amazing or truly awful, ranging from “Oh my god, this is literally the best latte I’ve had in like millennia” to “Excuse me? This is literally the worst coffee I’ve ever had like ever, I’d like to speak to your supervisor”. That, and the fact Americans seemed to function on a different decibel scale (yelling in each other’s faces), made me feel as though I’d stepped onto the set of a bad sitcom. And it was infectious. My Britishness was increased tenfold in reaction, and everything was “Excuse me darling”, “Where’s the lavatory?” and “I think we’re quite alright, thank you dear”. I found myself going full Marry Poppins.
Having done all the sight-seeing in the first few days, Marry Poppins was now ready to dust off her carpet-bag, and get herself a man. I was about to enter the mine-field that was the New York dating scene.
The first thing that struck me on Tinder-ing in a new city, was how low my standards has sunk after a year in London. Not only was I matching with the Adonis’ of New York, but they were messaging first, and eager to talk; Something that I had not experienced in London since my first month there. New York men seemed to be just that, men. Living in a city where gay has been a norm for the past four decades, there was a sense of them shedding the yolk of gay-ness and merely existing as human males. Or perhaps it was an underlying femmephobia, but to put it plainly and tritely, the men in New York were MEN. Big, hairy, muscular, dog-loving, in-law-meeting, child-raising men. Sincere, without a shred of irony or sarcasm.
In my week in New York, I embarked on only one date. The details of which I perhaps shouldn’t share on a public platform. To those of you I know personally, I will have told you of it being 24 hours long, and resulting in me vomiting over his kitchen in Harlem. But, as I said, I do not wish to share these intimate details.
We had foolishly decided to leave my third must-do until our last night. Being only 19, my night out was to be carried out in the name of my brother. Where there’s a Wil, there’s a way. I left Williamsburg that night as Wiliam, ready to take on the lower east side. Wiliam started his night in a militant-style queer bar surrounded by men in their underwear, and then witnessed a Drag Witch performing a Hex on Donald Trump, cursing him for his condemning of trans kids. Then, following the advice of famed Drag Queen Milk, we made our way to Eleven Eleven, who instructed us not to bother with upstairs and go straight to raving underground.
We arrived, a fancy downtown bar. Nice enough, but we headed downstairs. It appeared we had been given sour milk. Down stairs there was nothing but the toilets, a vending machine and a coat-check. Having paid enter fee we decided not to cry over spilt advice, we danced and socialized upstairs. Nearing 2am, whispers started spreading of people making their way downstairs. We smugly made our way downstairs with the best friends we’d made a few minutes before, ready to utter the sweetest of words: I told you so. The vending machine had opened to reveal a dark low-ceilinged room, filled with topless men and strobe lights.
The rest of that night is a big black smudge with dashes of green laser lights, crawling back into bed at dawn.
A last day of panic-packing, holding back the booze from the night before, and grieving our week of splendour. Caught between melancholia and euphoria (as one often is mid-hangover) we boarded our plane home. Although, mentally drained and stuttering, exhausted by Manhattan’s overwhelming excess, I could not wait to return to New York, New York.