Hotel by Tom: New York City

I realize right off the bat that the task is impossible. I come to the table as someone who grew up hating the Yankees, the Rangers, every New York City sports organization, really. I lived in Portland, Oregon for three years, which pretty much disqualifies me from everything. I lived in Montreal for four — when Arcade Fire was getting big and people were like, “Whoa, Montreal is super cool now, but unfortunately I don’t speak French so I’m actually not going to ruin it this time.” Same deal as Portland, that Montreal. Minus the ruining.

So to give New York a review is kind of daunting. Intimidating. They say you can’t be a true New Yorker until you’ve lived here ten years. I was four years three days ago. I got a lot of time before I can claim that title.

But this isn’t a review of a city; it’s a review of a hotel. And if New York will allow it, since I’m not entitled to call myself a New Yorker, I’ll review it as such. I put my head to rest here for the better part of four years. I think I know the basics.

Amenities

Fantastic. I stopped in Staten Island once for gas and it was there. I don’t really think about the Bronx much, but I’m sure they have bodegas and I think there’s a zoo. My sister lives in Astoria, Queens, which must mean gyros and there’s also airports. Manhattan is, of course, the borough we all hate. Our jobs are there, but, pssh, who cares about that because I live in:

Brooklyn!

Brooklyn is filled with wonderful people. There’s a big park and rent is really expensive. But lots of people don’t have cars so it’s a trade-off. You can get a nice meal out for ten bucks. There’s laundromats where they fold your clothes and that’s like ten bucks, too. Everything is kinda ten bucks here, except a bacon, egg, and cheese, which is $3.50 max.

Weather

The weather is pretty much like everywhere. You’ll grow to love three or four months out of the year and spend the rest of your time complaining about it to your friends, whose choices will pretty much mirror yours, and if they don’t you need new friends but that’s another story.

Money

New York is not as expensive as most people make it out to be. While the cost of living is high by national standards, in terms of home ownership and rental units, simple measures like these don’t take into account the comparatively higher salaries many people earn in New York. As mentioned earlier, you likely won’t have to pay for an oil change for several years if you live here — never mind $4.00/gallon gas. You compromise.

The appropriate unit of currency is the U.S. Dollar (USD).

Health and Well Being

Healthcare is generally quite good in the United States. New York City, in particular, has several world-renowned hospitals. The availability of quality healthcare services to the general public has been greatly increased in the past several years due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. As a visitor, you may want to consult with your healthcare provider to determine if you may need any additional coverage.

Well being is a more complicated topic. New York City may be the loneliest in the Western Hemisphere. The people here are very happy to help in most situations, because they’re so lonely, but they might pretend it’s a burden at first, to prove that New York is hard. But really we’re all quite nice. I’ve only been punched in the face once in four years. And I’m an asshole.

Lodging and Hotels

Try your best to stay somewhere that exudes charm. Like, Midtown is gonna be very “Ooh, this is so New York,” but everyone who has to work there every day hates it, and their arguments and opinions are rather unassailable. I’m not saying that Olive Garden doesn’t have charm, or that Chipotle doesn’t have fantastic guacamole, but you can get that at home.

So, as I said, just stay in my neighborhood. I live in Brooklyn! We can eat locally and you can probably AirBnB my buddy’s spot for a couple of nights!

 

Public Transit and Taxis

This is probably the best part of New York and also the worst. But really the best. Take a screengrab of the MTA map on your phone and you won’t have to be one of those people hovering over other passengers while you try to figure out where your transfer is. Another tip: spend $20 on a Metrocard and learn how to swipe it properly before you go to Grand Central at rush hour.

With respect to taxis, never let a cabbie ask you where you’re going before you get into the cab. With respect to black cars, negotiate as soon as you sit down. They aren’t legally allowed to pick you up if you wave them down, so don’t be afraid to get an honest price. (You won’t get one because you’re new here, but maybe after three years or so… Maybe. It could happen.)

Sights to See

I’ve never been to the Statue of Liberty or 9/11. This is probably the part where you’d be better off looking at a legitimate Hotel by Tom site.

In conclusion:

New York City has been my favorite city to hate. Moving here was a stupid decision fueled by hormones and romanticized notions of what love actually is. It turned out okay because I met interesting people. There are a lot of those here. And they’re all being interesting with one another doing that timeless duty of not dying.

I’m starting to gain a semblance of self-awareness. For that, and everything mentioned above, I give New York a four out of five. Or, to put it in bold:

Rating: 4/5

It’s been real. And, thanks.

Fuck that. Here’s my last post.

I don’t know what we are supposed to do when people die, but I am taking this moment to enjoy memories of the brief time I spent with Julia. She was an outgoing and wonderful woman. The world could use more Julia Bean in it — I just wish the world weren’t so stupid as to take her from us.

amen

No.

None of this is real.

This is what you might tell yourself in the hospital at Dartmouth. You might plead. Please, at least do that.

I’ve never had a headache before, so when my nurse says, “Go to the hospital if it’s a 10 out of 10,” I call the ambulance. They give me water and I leave at 12:39 and smoke outside and let first dude go on by before getting a ride from second dude. Second dude is fine. I go to Philadelphia in the morning.

Bill answers the phone. “Tom,” he says.

“Let me ask you something,” this to the woman next to me. Too aggressive, intrusive, abrasive. Whatever. I’m smoking.

“Do you believe in God?”

She says yah. Yadda yadda, leaves. I don’t honestly care. Fundamentally, I’m selfish and in trying to solve other people’s problems, I’m simply trying to exempt myself from them.

I’m an asshole like that.

I would like to say this. So long. I am not going anywhere, but I’m going to write that novel now. If you’d like to know where I end up, email me at tomohare3 {at} gmail.whatever. I might tell you, but probably not.

This has been fun, otherwise.

a bad imitation of a ghost

I don’t quite know when I noticed the wailing from across the street, but I only pinpointed the apartment building it was coming from today. Diagonal from me, red brick, four stories. Above a pizza place and across the street from the deli that doesn’t sell beer and has given me food poisoning twice from their bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches. NB, do not get them if you’re ever so inclined. The deli is next to a coffee shop/ice cream parlor/donut shop, which is dumb and twee because who wants ice cream in the winter, dude?

Not the wailing man.

The wailing man sounds like a bad imitation of a ghost.

From my fire escape you witness the gentrification of Crown Heights. To the left, an ugly pastel building with balconies used as storage units, a mixture of couples and small (“Baby, we really need to think about getting a bigger place.”) babies, and couples with dogs. To the right, an old yellowed out WWI-era  (I’m making that up — not good with architecture) lump of pragmatism. The foundation of the latter is painted with this red that sweats at sunset.

The kids in front of the latter building are loud. They are impossibly loud. Most of them are under balls-dropping age, and I can deal with it. But one of them is either 1) an older-brother with an inferiority complex, or 2) I dunno, his balls dropped and it’s that much annoying when he yells.

And they yell a lot. A lot. Because they are kids and they are OUT. SIDE. and there is basketball, and there is baseball, and soccer, and so many things to do on the SIDEWALK and get excited about. “AUHHHHHFHHGHHHHH, YOU MOTHERFUCKER.” That’s the post-pubescent one.

I hate him the most. And of course, I used to be just like him.

The heat here in the winter is good. Reliable. So is the hot water. Those count as pluses. So does: no roaches. Granted, you’re facing north, which isn’t ideal, but the sun does set directly in your eyes in the late spring and early summer, so you basically don’t need an alarm clock. If you’re a light sleeper, windows open or not, you definitely won’t need an alarm clock, because there’s a methadone clinic a few doors down and, sadly, the people who frequent it are both very punctual and very loud about that fact starting around, oh… I dunno. 6:45 or so?

There are four apartments on every floor. Four times four equals sixteen. So you live with sixteen people. You all have studios. It’s been reported that yours is among the better ones from the people who’ve seen some of the other ones, and I believe it. (Or, rather, you believe it. Because you did the walk-through, too, and you had a checkbook, duh.) You will be incredibly annoyed by the two people who lock their bikes up in the hallway on the second floor railing because the hallways aren’t particularly wide, you travel a lot, and at four-damn-thirty-in-the-goddamn-morning, please Jesus, just let me roll my roller-bag.

We are basically a college dorm. There are the ladies on the first floor, the one Irish dude on the second, the dude below me who’s kind somewhere on the autism spectrum, the black lady who just chills, and I dunno the fourth. She sometimes leaves when I do and puts out her trash.

The third floor is me, my neighbor to the right, and I dunno, some other people. And the fourth is a wasteland, except that one time I dropped a dude my keys because he said he lived here and I believed him (because that would be one hell of a lie), and it turns out he does and just locked himself out, and needed to take his dog for a walk.

I think his name is David.

The hallways are aqua blue with a pumpkin trim. Not the best combo, but I don’t pick the colors, I just paint them. As mentioned at length, and once more, for emphasis, they are also narrow. The interior apartment walls are a very faint, inoffensive blue. Each of them has a dishwasher, which I fail to understand. If you live in a studio apartment and you need a dishwasher, you have serious time-management problems.

That I took the apartment with the fire escape, the wailing man, the methadone clinic, the horrible regular children, etc. — that I took this apartment I’m fine with. The ones facing south might grow better oregano, but when this dorm burns, I don’t have to jump three stories onto concrete.

There is a lease on my counter top. The counter top is granite. My lease says, “Well? Once more for old time’s sake?” My head says, “Duh,” and my heart says, “Wait a minute.” I haven’t signed it yet. I’m still thinking.

Ongoing Montreal Part 1

You see, you might wonder, as you pass the elderly man who used to live in your neighborhood as you’re strolling down St. Laurent on a cloudy day in June —
June-uary, they called it in Portland when it happened, and it did — if he might not also remember you. Ten years ago. Nine at best. When you were still not a stranger here.

In more than four years here, I learned how to master two phrases. (I’ve probably said this before, which makes this fitting, in a literary way.)

  • Je ne parle pas francais.
  • Quell heur est-il?

Maybe, also:

  • Un pichet de Boreale rousse, si tu plait.

It’s the fact that I’m so good at saying, “Je ne parle pas francais” that gets me into trouble. That just rolls off the tongue like U’s off of W’s. A woman, her small daughter, and her smaller son approached me today at the airport in Montreal. They wanted to use my phone. I don’t really know what had happened to theirs, and I was going to be like, “Sure, yeah, mine’s got gas in it,” but then I remembered I was in Canada. And that this was a terribly expensive proposition. And that if I’d seemed so approachable so must a lot of other people with phone plans that don’t charge $2/minute to make a call while roaming.

So I said, “Desole, je ne parle pas francais.”

And she looked at me as though I had just put up three fingers wrong at the end of Inglourious Basterds, as though I’d sunk my own battleship with that tell. And she replied in kind — maybe? — and I was like, “Seriously, lady, I just went to McGill. That’s the only phrase they really teach you there.”

She asked a French woman who also said no, and I was like, really why would you say “no” you were just looking at it whatever excuse you’re babbling can’t possibly be true this is kind of gross i’m going to walk over there now.

Maybe it was the politest interaction of all time. Je ne parle pas francais.

And the hours were always, of course, ticking. First in the morning, which had really been the night, because I binge-watched that “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” show instead of sleeping. I also slowly, slowly packed. Like a pair of underwear one show and a dress shirt the next, concluded by twenty minutes of thinking I hadn’t done enough and rushing around and getting anxious, me calling a cab two and a half hours early just because I was going to CANADA and that’s INTERNATIONAL — which of course led to the inevitable let down of me not noticing 1) I was TSA pre-checked, and 2) proceeding to wait inside the airport for 45 minutes more than necessary.

I could have at least taken a nap, is my point.

I did, though, so I’m just whining because I can. I dozed for about an hour, leaning against the window, my window-aisle combo-coach seat all to myself, or whatever the fuck. I guess other people had to live there, too. I couldn’t, for the life of me, get comfortable. The “NY-based flight attendants (sic — there was only one!)” flirted kinda like old-style (?) gratuitously with the Delta Diamond guy in front of me, and I wanted to be like, “Hey. Hey! I’m Delta Silver and you should see some of the schmoes I’ve seen make diamond, pal!”

I actually didn’t want to say any of that at all. I just made it up. But I did think that playing that role for a guy who probably just flies around the country selling people widgets all the time was kinda fun.

Anyway. We landed in a plane and we didn’t die.

There are no planes here. Is one thing. Also? Where are the black people? Also, why are your Customs People so slow? They took a really long time with the black dude in front of me. I looked like a person who hadn’t 1) slept in 24 hours, 2) put a comb through his hair in 48, and 3) had a green vegetable in 72. I spent twenty seconds, tops, with them.

But there are no planes, and the loudness, such that it is, is terribly, remarkably, cunningly restrained.

*

I’ve lived in three places that I’ve loved. In chronological order: Montreal, Portland, New York. I’ve been extremely fortunate to get to know wonderful people in all three. New York has been the most incredibly difficult and rewarding experience of my life. I gave up all I dreamed about my whole life, realized that I was really good at certain things, really really really terrible at others, and so far I’ve made it. Maybe it’s just Jay-Z, but there isn’t anything I’ve seen that’s like New York.

Portland is the most photogenic monochrome music video I’ve ever seen. I love the people I met there. But aside from one or two, Mad Maxes in their own right, still able to pick up that lizard and shove it in their mouths instead of setting it free in the old growth to eat the plant culture that feeds the lower mammal culture which in turn feeds the larger, predatory animal culture, which maybe I dunno balances a food chain or whatever, who cares, go raise some chickens.

Portland is a beautiful twisted fantasy. Dreamt up by Ken Kesey and Steve Novick on acid while barbecuing with the guy in Grant’s pass with the giant sign on the 199 that says, and I fucking quote: “Get U.S out of the U.N”

Drops mic, American flag background, hundreds and hundreds of beauty all around.

I know why the fly fisherman votes against his own economic interests.

And then there is here. This first love. It’s funny, I always thought a woman named Liz was my first love. It’s funny because I don’t know that you ever have one. The thing that most defines this place for me is change.

Which is super cliche, I get it. Let me try and explain.

St. Laurent is like, I dunno, the Newbury St. of Montreal? The 5th Ave? Or would that be St. Denis?

 What it is, and what is undeniably true, is that it is the divider. Of east and west. I mean that literally, by the way. Not, “The west is better,” so much as “The East is a bit different.” I worked in contracting here for precisely one summer. I had just graduated. I was a stupid 22 year-old, much as I am a stupid 31-year old, and even I could see the difference! The nice old lady in NDG who didn’t want her feet to face the doorway, who showed me a clip of my graduation — my exact moment of graduation (McGill apparently put the whole ceremony on the site those days) — and, God, Jesus, that first time climbing over the top of a ladder. People just being like, “You’ll be fine! Don’t be a pussy about it!” Shit I would later repeat, even though I knew it was sexist, stupid, and detrimental. Shit that I would later repeat because, who cares? I’m not going to be a college. I’m going to try and get these people paid.

I believe, to this day, that Jack was the best boss I’ve ever had. Matteo comes close. No one in corporate comes within a mile. The thing about Jack, about Matteo, was that they knew that you weren’t going to get stuck in it like they did. They knew — and they showed it with the trust they put in us as 19, 21 year-old kids — that we’d be more than okay. That we’d maybe even flourish once or twice. I’ve probably told this story before, too, but, again, I don’t care:

Matteo, 6:30 in the morning: “Hey ToMAAS!.

Me: Holy fuck, god no, I promise I’ll get a cell phone.

Matteo: ToMAAS, I need yr help toDAY. To MAS.

Me: Matteo, holy shit, I just woke up you’ve got to be kidding me i can barely function let alone walk over to sling gatorade and hot dogs to high school kids i’ll die for crying out loud.

Matteo: I’ll pick you up!

I worked for two weeks in a kitchen in the more Centre part of Centreville. Some dude taught me how to make mashed potatoes and some dude was like, as I made twenty overcooked burgers for staff lunch, “The most important thing is that you didn’t freak out.”

The boss didn’t fire me, but I eventually had to come clean and say that I had no idea what Canadian labor (labour [sic]) law actually said, and so I think I maybe quit? I don’t even remember. All I know is dude would probably give me a decent recommendation today.

*

I walked by two of the holiest places in my history. The house where I became a man and the house where I there was no way to do it.

My last summer in Montreal, and God have Mercy may That not be So… My last summer, we watched the World Cup. And sometimes after a game, I’d just say, you know, kinda, “Fuck it.” The Portugese would inevitably win and the parade through my neighborhood would last for days, and I did NOT need to watch the game for that. I remember watching some goddamn game with a woman I liked, and she was rooting for the other team, and that kind of killed it.

You know?

What is my point? Here.

Here is Montreal.

There is a punching bag and two couches, one bigger than the other. Both Ikea. So is the dresser. And the desk upon which I’m writing. There’s a fan looking rather menacingly at me. An empty bottle of water. A set of contractor lights on a stand. Some fucking towels on top of the Ikea bureau. A single stool.  A full size mirror for sad-syruppy sucker-punching bag.

For a lot of us, even most of us — who’ve moved on, left, abandoned whatever it was we were pursuing there — Montreal remains this place — and it’s very much a “here” not a “there” — where even some of the people you believed in are probably still “here,” so to speak. They didn’t just say, “Meh, it was a dream and it didn’t happen and see you later.”

Shit, I saw Mark at a coffee shop today. His French is getting better.

Bump

I had just finished breakfast at the diner. Everyone else, it seemed, was finishing their Friday nights. Me, I like to go to bed early at the end of the week. Life is exhausting when you’re chronically depressed.

I nodded and he said what’s up. Then, five or ten seconds later as we strode past one another:

“Excuse me, do you have an extra cigarette?”

I ignored him, pretended I didn’t hear. A second time:

“Do you have a cigarette you can spare?”

It’s one of those things I can spare so I turned around. My new colleague Kait, who is in town for the BEA, expressed some disbelief when, upon being greeted by a beatboxer on the street yesterday evening, I gave him two bucks. “That’s really generous,” she said. “I have money now,” I replied.

And that’s the thing. I have money. I don’t need it anymore.

The man who’d asked for a cigarette was a paranoid schizophrenic. “Can I ask you something?” he said.

“Sure.”

“Who do I look like?”

I thought for a second. “Some dude, I guess.”

“No, but really, I don’t look like Obama to you?”

He turned to show me a profile view of his face. He was wearing a sweatshirt and pajama pants. He pulled out his ID.

“This is going to say that I’m someone else, but I’m not really Jewish,” he said.

“Okay,” I said.

“I just got out of the Interfaith and they gave me a bunch of paperwork to go through, and I’m about to head to the shelter.” He was smoking a shitty cigar and clinging to his wallet. “I’ve got foodstamps and all that. You know, back when I was in DC — that’s the District of Columbia — Michelle was doing all the paperwork, and I can tell you about how I got into office, but right now I’m just struggling to get through this paperwork.”

He showed me his ID again.

“It says Zimmerman, but that’s not the right name,” he said.

I gave him a fist bump and said, “Try to get the help that you need.” Then I turned around and left him on the street.

The Good Times Are Killing Me

Ben said:

“You’re a narcissist. All you write about is yourself.” We argued about this for about an hour before we saw Mad Max. I don’t know how Mad Max is because I fell asleep. Apparently I tried to rest my feet on the gentleman in front of me.

Like any good narcissist worth his salt.

Last night, in the college dorm that is my apartment building, I slept with one of my neighbors. I don’t even know how it happened. All I know is that I landed at JFK, got a bunch of text messages, went to the bar, and ended up with someone in my bed. Shit happens.

This morning she was crying. She and her boyfriend just broke up. Like, right before she got to the bar. I don’t frankly feel bad about it, even though maybe I should. He sounds like kind of an asshole, if her story is true. So, whatever.

“There’s one direction in life, and it’s forward.” I don’t know if I was talking to her or myself. But what else do you say to a person who’s crying in your bed and covering her head with a pillow? “Happy birthday”?

When I convinced her to stand up we went to get breakfast. A lot of people would call it brunch. In fact, it was much more like lunch, considering I ate a chicken schwarma. But since it was my first meal of the day, it’s kinda breakfast, y’all.

She changed clothes in her apartment downstairs, and I hung out with her cat and admired her tits. We drank coffee and she asked me to marry her over and over again, and I felt bad because of course we all deserve that, or something, but I still told her no, that she was mourning, that a fling with me might be a part of that process, that that was okay, but that she should probably think things through a bit.

I left her at a table at a bar after brunch. We were outside and she had decided to ask someone else there to marry her. I couldn’t blame her, except that she picked a shitty bar to find a husband.