5 minutes later
What the hell am I doing?
I’m sitting here watching the wing of this 747-400 Megatop moving wildly up and down as I bounce about in my seat. I like turbulence. Usually. But this time, as I watch the wing, it’s so bad that it seems to me the wings must surely be flapping steadily, as though they were attached to an actual bird. That in reality, there are no mega-engines on this stomach-heavy piece of tin. Just oversized, metal, flapping wings. It’s very unnerving to watch a massive engine moving around like that. Is this plane made of Mechano? Oh, and of course there’s the whole wing shimmy factor. Don’t get me started on that.
Noodle, pay it no mind. Just because I’m sitting at a window behind the wing, doesn’t mean I have to look out the window at the wing. And now that I think about it, it’s not the lurching around, the spilling of wine, or the combobulation of my stomach contents that’s causing me grief anyway. It’s the thoughts. Damn you brain! How dare you think!
We’re 50 minutes out of New York and suddenly it hits me. Some of you will be thinking, “Well, it’s about time, Janeen. Really, we thought you’d crack long before this.” But honestly, it’s taken this long to sink in. I’m doing something incredibly stupid. Oh, hang on farm girl. You’re 50 minutes out of New York—you’ve already done it.
Here I am, friendless, jobless and not quite penniless, about to land in very strange topography. These foreigners are bound to have a completely different mindset. I’m used to maybe 50 percent of my pals getting my jokes…now I have no pals (in the immediate vicinity I mean). I have excised the pals like troublesome boils. THE PALS ARE GONE! The joke-getting odds are about to drop to one percent.
The one percent, by the way, will be me. I’ll get the jokes. But now, instead of being fun for all the family, all my witty one-liners and wry commentary will be relegated to pathetic insider jokes that only I will understand. Maybe. Or worse, I’ll be thinking some kind of crazy thought and be looking around at all the stern faces, bursting to tell someone, realizing there’s no one, then telling myself to ‘Write that down’, not writing it down, then losing it forever!
And thus the cycle will continue. And the brilliant thought will float around in the atmosphere looking for someone who actually has a pen and paper with them to write it down, and someone else will get credit for what, by rights, should be my brilliant piece of japery. Where will it end!
But I digress.
Insanity is on the rise; I can feel it as I sit here clutching the arm of this chair. I’ll be living on my own again. This can only mean one thing. The ‘talking to myself’ probability graph is about to take a steep upward slant. It hit a trough after Crazy Val moved in, since I had an actual, real live, breathing, answering-back person in my realm of my existence. But now, alone once more, the hypothetical imagineerings and conversations will start up again.
But hey, I’m guessing that if any place is the place to unashamedly talk out loud to yourself, it’s New York!
I look out the window again.
What the hell am I doing?
Oh no, what have I done?
50 minutes later
The captain says something about landing, though I’m not really listening. For a moment I thought he said a word that sounded like snow, but that can’t be right. It’s spring in New York. I’ve seen pictures. There’s no snow in the pictures. You hear it all the time in movies.
“I love spring in New York”, or “It would be a shame to miss spring in New York”.
So, he can’t have said snow. I look out the window. Very foggy. That’s fog, right?
When we land—roughly—and slow down a bit, I see little flurries of…fog with substance…wafting around my window. Ok, it kinda looks like snow. Color me confused, ’cause I don’t understand. Snow? What the hell? People are craning their necks to look out the window. The guy in front of me from Singapore University turns to me and says, “Is that rain?”
“I don’t think so,” I say.
I shrug to no-one in particular. I look at it some more. For a quick pre-match analysis, I determine there’s not much snow. It can’t be very serious. There’s no snow on the ground, so perhaps it’s one of those freak sleet-type arrangements—like those that sometimes appear in Canberra, Australia. You know, joke snow. Enough to get people to come to the window for a sticky beak, but never enough snow to settle on anything.
I shrug again. This too shall pass. I start packing up all my junk so I am prepared to get off the plane, perfectly primed to adopt the ‘pope tarmac stance’ and kiss US soil for the first time!
1. When you get off at the airport, don’t smile at anyone.
2. Don’t look anyone in the eye.
These are just two standout pieces of advice I received before coming to New York. I’ve worked out that when I walk down the street I tend not to look anyone in the eye anyway, simply because of my inferiority complex. So, the second point is well under control.
I thought I might have some trouble with the first one, simply because I quite like to smile, wrinkles be damned! But today, my first day in the US, it’s easy to banish smiles from my facial repertoire. It’s so bloody cold all I can do is grimace. I hear someone say that it’s one degree Celsius. Ah, so there’s another thing I’ve thrown away. A balmy 32 degrees nearly every day in Singapore, and now I’m down to one in less than 24 hours. I’m not smiling. I don’t want my teeth to get cold. They’re very delicate.
Truth be told, there aren’t many people to smile at anyway. It seems most flights have been cancelled because of the SNOW STORM that has descended on the New York area in the last hour. I’m unfamiliar with that term, but I’ll take it at face value. A storm of snow. That sounds a bit vicious. But I soldier on.
I wait in line, get a stamp in my passport and am ushered into a back room with all the other new immigrants. After a while I get taken into a private room, am fingerprinted by a guy, and shoved out the door with a hearty goodbye.
“Don’t you want to look at my x-ray?” I ask.
“No,” the man says. “I don’t need to.”
“Oh, ok,” I say. I leave sort of mildly irritated. I’ve carried the bloody thing all this way for nothing. Muttering a little, I head out to the baggage claim area to pick up my 65kgs of baggage. I find my bike box just sitting out by the door of the ‘oversize baggage’ area, grab the suitcases, squeeze everything on to one trolley, and head for customs.
The man at customs asks me if I intend to work and what I do. I say with a kind of false bravado, ‘I’m a copywriter!’ I used that tone. The one that suggests with a pompous air ‘what a fool you are! Can’t you tell just by looking at me?’. I said copywriter because people tend to think of it as being a bit more legitimate than just saying ‘writer’. He looks over the passport at the new stamp in there that says I’m authorized to work, then looks up at me.
“Well,” he says, as he hands me my passport, “Good luck!”
And that’s it. I’m in.
Hey! Where’s my, “Welcome to the United States, go forth and conquer young pioneer”?! Looks like I have to say that to myself.
Big Yellow Taxi
It’s snowing. I can’t believe it. The taxi driver doesn’t seem too happy as he tries to shove my luggage in his giant, American sized car. But hey, according to the slip in my hand I’m paying him $3 to have my bags lovingly stowed in this yellow chariot by him. It’s a $58 cab fare, by the way. Pre-determined. Plus tolls. Plus tip. Do not think in Aussie dollars. Do not think in Aussie dollars. Damn! I thought in Aussie dollars. Jeepers! That’s a lot.
My taxi driver manages to brush aside his takeaway wrappers and junk from the front seat so I can actually fit in. Then he takes off. He mentions several times during the trip that he really doesn’t want to be driving in this weather. I can see why, but really I don’t know what to say. He tells me my flight was lucky to get in. I take that as a good sign. That I arrived, I mean. Not that the weather was throwing one last hurdle at me to stop me making this stupid decision. Too late now. I’m here!
On the New Jersey turnpike he says, “Aw, it’s a pity the storm is on. From here you can usually get a good view of the city.”
All I can see is grey and lots of it. Lots of snow. And grey. There’s not much traffic though, but we have to drive slowly as the roads are a bit treacherous.
A bit later, and we can’t find the entry to where I’m staying. I get out to run around the building and find the door. I’m running in the snow. I can’t believe it! I’m running in the snow on a New York sidewalk, wild and free! Man, it’s cold. Man, there’s a lot of rubbish around here. Hey, man, there’s the door!
When the cabbie helps me get all my gear inside and I tip him adequately, I make my way to the admissions office. I meet a lady and she shows me into her office to hand over my keys and other bibs and bobs.
I’m a little overcome. A little excitable.
“Snow is wet,” I say.
She laughs. “Haven’t you seen it before?” It’s my first taste of a very broad New York drawl. I try not to let my eyes open too widely.
“Well, yes,” I say. “I’ve seen it. Lying on the ground, you know. Never falling out of the sky before.”
No, never falling on my eyelashes or flying into my mouth as I run along the sidewalk trying to find the door to this place. I cringe inwardly. I sound like such a hick. People are gonna so take advantage of me.
She smiles at me and says, “New York is welcoming you.”
Hell of a welcome that. Thanks New York. A snow storm hello. Actually, I suppose it is much better than being mugged, ranted at, or god forbid, spat on. I consider myself welcomed. I fall asleep with a smile on my face. I figure that it’s ok to smile in the privacy of my own room, since there’s no-one else in there to take advantage of my Pollyanna nature. Nope, no-one else in here. I’ve made sure and I’ve locked the door. Yep. No-one here. I’ve checked twice.
Welcome to New York, Noodle. Welcome to the United States of America.
ADDENDUM: Pollyanna’s New York Moment
I have two things to do on my first day in New York—get a social security number and buy a phone. Retail therapy comes much higher on the food chain than the words ’social security’—though in importance, this is not the case—so I plot my journey on the map to include the phone purchase as the first stop. Originally, I had plotted a course to the closest Social Security office, but the lady in the residence office freaked me out by kind of pulling a funny face and saying, “Hmmm, that’s in Harlem”.
I opted for the 52nd street location—further away, but at least in the right direction.
I look at the map. I could catch a bus, but decide to walk instead. It’s freezing. Even though I’ve got my beanie on and my Paddington duffel coat with the hood pulled up, I’m still dying. These jeans were always hot in Singapore. Now they seem rather flimsy.
So, get this.
I’m walking along Lexington Avenue, rugged up and raring to go, when I see a bit of a crowd-type gathering going on. Deciding to sample New York rubbernecking and see how it compares, I cross the street for a better view. It’s obviously some sort of filming thing. People are rugged up, and well, the cameras and furry boom mics give it away somewhat. I notice that they seem to have shovelled all the snow out of the sidewalk flower bed and have flowering daffodils in there to give the illusion of spring in New York. The daffs look miserable.
From across the street, I hit the zoom feature on my rubberneck and crane to try and see who is behind or under this giant umbrella getting makeup caked on. I see white legs poking out of a fabulous sundress, very high heels, and then I finally catch a glimpse. Blonde hair, Hollywood complexion…oh, it’s that Sarah Jessica Parker lass.
I, Noodle of the Stumblebums, have crashed into a location shoot for Sex and the City.
I can’t see any of the other girls from the show. SJP looks freezing. It’s 33 degrees Fahrenheit. I have no idea what that is, but I’m guessing it’s cold. She’s laughing through it though. What a pro! I rubberneck long enough to see a take.
And this is it: Carrie (SJP) comes tearing around the corner and walks into a dog walker with about eight dogs of varying sizes. There’s a lovely horse-like Dalmatian. She gets tangled in the leashes for a bit, then tears of in the other direction, and CUT.
Whoop-dee-doo! I drag myself away from the lure of celebrity and move on. I smile to myself (opps!), wondering if this has been my first New York moment. After a few consultations with those in the know, it has been decided that yes, it was.
Toodle-Noo. Here endeth the missive
©Janeen McCrae 2003