Tag Archives: America

Some other things about New York…

9 Nov

Where are all the shy people?

Everywhere you go in Manhattan, people engage with you directly. There are no embarrassed mutterings or halfway greetings. It’s all a very direct, “Can I help you?”,”Yes sir, this way,” and my fave, a heartily clipped, “You’re welcome!”

If you pause on the street or  even look vaguely unsure of yourself for more than a moment, someone will approach and speak with you. This is not always welcome attention, granted, but it is always full of intent. You will be helped or you will be shaken. Voices will be quite loud regardless.

But where , I ask you, are all the shy people? The shuffling mumblers who smile and nod and move through their day with invisible economy. Many a time I’ve clocked the body language of a native I am about to engage, checked in with my own to make sure I don’t appear a maniac, only to have the confidence in their voice blow me back on my heels. The boundaries of  no-threat-body-language here is a squillion times more assertive than back home my relatively sleepy home town. Ultimately, with my mumbly Melbourne accent and looping gait,  I look like a victim waiting to happen. It’s hard for a bloke to swallow, but to appear otherwise  takes some serious macho schmacting. Better to look harmelss than insane.

It’s hard to see how this city’s social eco system can function when everybody is talking like they’re No.1. A world of alphas, silverbacks and pointy headed eastside out patients. But  it functions.  With a constant subtext of aggression yes, but it functions.

Hey, I’m WALKING HERE!

Starbucks

Pre-packaged joy.

There’s a Starbucks like, every fifty feet in this city. This is magnificent.

Yes, the entire chain is decked out in carefully positioned fetish regalia, a Willy Wonka for coffee drinkers, but it’s one of the few places you can sit without being turned and burned. That is, having your check slapped on the table and a none too subtle okay-fuck-off-now glance from the waiter the moment that last piece of apple pie has passed your lips.

Sure, it’s all *see caption*, but if you can scare up a couch by a window, it’s one of the best places for some lazy people watching. Venti Il grande venti venti per favore …etc…

To slag or not to slag.

Up in The Heights, men love to spit. Not just a discrete flint into an abandoned corner of dirt, but a full throated goober conjure and 3D snot missile at your feet. Back in winter, it all kind of dissolved into the snow, but here in Fall, it glistens on the sidewalk like a game of twister.

I think about those odd signs at Flinders St, as I remove my left hand from someone else’s lung load. “Do not Spit!” they proclaim…and the temptation is of course, to spit only on the sign. Prize winning maverick irony.

But here, it’s wall to wall.  If there ever were signs, they’d be long buried in piles of up-cough. I’m not judging…I’m not…I’m just saying it’s an exhibition of blanket masculine ignorance…

…is all.

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Pure black-out terror.

10 May

It’s 2008, and I’m in New Orleans with my lady. It’s Halloween. Now ‘God Bless America’ has all sorts of applications. I’d employ it for the size of the food servings (This as a country where small means massive and don’t even ask me what large means), but most of all, I holler GBA for their utter conviction to all things spook come Halloween.

Now I grew up Melbourne. We had Luna Park’s Ghost Train, where the most frightening thing was the racket the thing made on the tracks. There was also the Royal Melbourne Show, with its haunted-houses-in-trucks, where some bloke smoking a cigarette would jump round a corner in his KISS T-shirt and go “Arrrgheerghh” and you’d freak and think lame at the same time.

So, can you imagine my delight when I see a flyer in our hostel foyer for something called ‘The Mortuary’, a haunted house inside ….. a mortuary. It’s next to an actualrealgraveyard too. My giddy aunt! So, feeling like an eight year old, at 11pm (it only opens late, Tick!) I catch a cab out to the nether regions of New Orleans and behold the three-story, white pillared block of pure joy.

Is it a tour I wonder? A ride? Will there be trains?  I was such a sweet kid back in 08.

So, myself and five other folk are ushered into the foyer of this building. It’s dark and an actor dressed as Morticia is instructing us on Mortuary policy. ‘You don’t touch the spooks, they won’t touch you.’  Say what now!?

Then we are lead off into various rooms where actors perform various bits and a couple of folk jump out and go ‘grrrrrh’ and we all kind of look at each other, embarrassed and I’m thinking America, you disappoint me.

Then our host announces, ‘This is where the guided section of the tour ends. The rest continues by yourselves…..in the basement!” She sweeps her hand left and I see a set of wooden stairs heading down to a single, blinking light. Say what the f’ now? The six of us huddle. We’re all strangers. None of us want to walk down those stairs first. Here’s logic. I’m the biggest. I’m a man. I’ll go first.

Now, I know it’s all a put on, but my body somehow hasn’t got that message. I laugh like a twit to show my bravery, but my legs are stiff and my elbows have stopped working. The corner leads to a small room with an autopsy bench and body bags swinging all around. Okay, I’m scared now. You win. A balded-up actor comes out and starts doing a bit and I relax. It’s just more of the same pantomime, just a better set. Lame-oh.

Then the curtain behind him ruffles a little. I know this. Someone’s gonna leap out as he speaks. I see your game. Just as I’m congratulating my keen scare-spotting-eye, something low and fast lunges from under the table right at me. I kinda go “Ugharrh” and shrink back like a poked anemone as the rest of the group screams. Without thinking, I am walking away, watching back on this paled up, blood soaked f’ker who just took three years off my life.

Then I turn. There is a doorway ahead. It opens. I see a clown face. A big, grinning, blood soaked clown face, coming right at me.

….

Then I see eyes. Frightened eyes, peering back at me. They’re caked in white. It doesn’t make sense. I’m holding something. I look down at my hands and I see they are around a person’s shoulders, pinning them to the wall. I look up. It’s the clown. He stares at me, I stare at him. I release my grip. He visibly relaxes. We stare at each other a bit more. “Which way?”  I ask, imploring an exit. “That way,” he points, relief in his voice. He has of course, pointed to a long dark corridor. It’s lined with suits of armour.

I’ve never blacked out through fear before. Once, a mate leapt out of my closet and I kicked him in the balls without thinking, but I’ve never had a moment of zero memory through terror. Oh God, Luna Park and haunted trucks never seemed so alluring as I moved on through this basement maze of  supreme and utter dread. Yes, one of the suits of armour came alive. There was also the green midget who lunged at my leg with his creepy little fingers….and that last corridor, littered with crawl spaces and a chainsaw thundering.

I went first through them all. Idiot vanity. Sometimes I got pegged. Sometimes the spooks hunted at the rear. There’d be screams and I’d skip my pace up just a little. By chainsaw hall, I was actually muttering, “please don’t” over and over as I did that kind of stare at the floor and fastwalk thing you do when you really don’t want to attract attention. Thankfully, leatherface was a mid-pack predator and I only heard him leap and people freak as I opened the last door and hit the blessed, blessed, New Orleans night.

I’ve never been more frightened in my life. Joke fright. Panto fright. Don’t matter. Monkey brain and body doesn’t distinguish. I jumped a cab back to my hostel, blurted like a baby to my girlfriend then slept for twelve hours straight.

The next day….I wanted to do it all again. I was Priam. I was the venturer of the underworld. I was point-man on demon patrol. And I was the guy who blacked out through fear cos’ another guy in makeup opened a door.

Apparently these things are common place in late October. Halls and sheds suddenly become ‘haunted’ for a fortnight. I saw an ad in a Dekalb paper promising  a maze carved from corn fields and “live”, yes, “live” chainsaws. What a country!

So, God Bless America I say. You may have your reasons, or not, for proclaiming that. But I for one raise a trembling hand to racing heart to a country that isn’t afraid of  up and scaring you to living black-out, just like nature intended.