I HAVE a new vice. A new habit, a fix I need every night. And it is this. Just before I go to bed, I step outside, turn and stroll down the street to the corner where it meets 7th Avenue. I look to my left and gaze reverently at the object of my devotion: big, tall and standing proudly like a porn- star's erection, behold, the Empire State! I just can't stop doing it, and sometimes one look won't suffice, and from halfway down the street I retrace my steps and gawp skywards, my mouth open, like a peasant who's just seen a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Sometimes it's dark, sometimes it's white, and on the President's Day? No, it doesn't have a distinctive kink - it's lit up red, white and blue, looking for the all the world like one enormous ice lolly. It never looks quite real, always like something from Metropolis.
I suppose I'm reminding myself that I'm here, I made it through Immigration, and so now I can shop for chocolate chip cookies at Dean & Deluca, ride the subway, hop in a cab and order eggs over easy just like any native New Yorker. Yet for all the excitement, Manhattan feels so like home, it's hard to believe I have been here just four weeks. It is home, only with the added value of the Empire State, decent drinks and a laundromat that does my laundry for half the price of a self-service wash in Marble Arch (and with none of that fierce competition with half a dozen harassed Fillipini as to who gets to use the drier first). It's the day-to-day delights - the cheap but fabulous Chinese laundries (like in Aladdin!), the excellent food deliveries (from Thai, Mexican, Chinese, Cuban, even Cuban-Chinese restaurants - of which they are not one but two just on my block), the 24-hour delis, that all make New York such a comfortable city.
That and the people, who are so much more polite than Londoners that I sometimes feel that in comparison I must seem like some savage at a cocktail party, snarling at fellow guests and shovelling canapes into my mouth: I walk into a restaurant and, still in London-time, I am snapping "Two please!" at precisely the moment the waiter is saying "Hi, how are you?" Oh the shame of it. Of course, I miss London and my friends, England and my family, but when asked if am I homesick, I have to say no, for the moment at least, no. Manhattan is home, and I can handle it, like I could handle a love affair with Tom Cruise (sorry, Nicole) or winning the lottery. Here I am, like a teenager in love: embarrassingly, foolishly, blushingly keen. So smitten, in fact, that there's no point in even trying to be cool about it. I walk around smiling uncontrollably like a mooncalf, gushing,and even, on occasion, feeling that funny little romantic flutter in the pit of my stomach.
Back in London, in the long, anguished wait for the OK from Immigration, I began to feel rather like someone in the last century, saving up for the fare, perhaps, or waiting to be allowed off Ellis Island, the tall towers of Manhattan almost within reach. This, even I have to admit, was absurd. OK, flying coach isn't so lovely as club (why does coach always smell slightly of fart - can you explain that?) but it certainly beats getting a boat. And as for Ellis Island? I had a job lined up, and a short- let, one-bedroom apartment in Chelsea.
The pursuit of happiness took me to Central Park last weekend, via the subway and with a Walkman and a BeeGees tape (like I said, I've given up on cool). The unique thing about Central Park is that it's the buildings around it that make the Park so wonderful - it's about the skyline, not the Park itself. Bugger the trees, I thought to myself. Who needs a tree when you've got the Chrysler Building? Or the Guggenheim? And so I spun around, like the bumpkin I am, and gawped at the skyline. The sun was shining, New Yorkers strolled, jogged and roller-bladed around me, and Barry Gibb was singing "You should be dancing... yeah." I nearly did, right there. And if I'd had a handbag, it would have gone right up in the air, just like Rhoda Morgenstern's did when she hurled it skywards in the opening credits of Rhoda, that Manhattan-based sitcom of my formative years.
As it was, I am English enough to want to keep such emotions under wraps, and so I walked along looking at my feet for the most part, in case people looked at me and thought I was high on something. Oh, but I am. Frankly, I think I am Rhoda's handbag.Reuse content