Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Falling back in Love with New York City

I've just got back from New York for the 7th time. Once again, I'm left astounded by the magic of the greatest city in the world.

So Saturday morning I set off on the long journey. I get the bus to Gatwick and then the coach to Heathrow airport. I'm worried I've cut the time a bit tight because usually travelling is a nightmare and I'm expecting to run into at least 17 obstacles before I even get to the plane. Today though, I'm blessed with the other side of luck and I experience the easiest flight of my life. I get there and the Virgin staff member organises my upgrade in a matter of minutes. Everything is looking Big and Apple like...

Landing in JFK is usually just as stressful. There's usually a queue about 15 miles long and custom officers who haven't had sex since Clinton also "didn't have sex" But no, not today, there were a mere 10-15 people in front of me and I walked straight through. I get straight on the long island railroad and head for Manhattan. Penn Station appears in barely 20 minutes and i check into my hotel. Not before arguing with the lady about the deposit per night though. I don't understand what she's saying because my ears haven't popped yet and although I've nothing to worry about, I get the impression they get a lot of English people arguing with them because she has that "roll her eyes god not again what is it with you people" kind of expression. I apologise loads and therefore also come across stereotypically English.

I get to my room and immediately feel better, I can take a bath and blast out whatever is showing on HBO at the time. I end up relaxing while listening to Garden State, Natalie Portman is cute and neurotic, but she was the other 56 times I'd seen it so... I head uptown to my favourite bar HURLYS which is on 48th & 8th. I get there and recognise the bar staff, I order the Turkey & Bacon clubhouse sandwich and a Makers Mark...I'm home. I've spoke to my friend Spanish Rob and TJ but they haven't got back to me yet and come 8pm I start to get kind of sleepy. I head back to the hotel and decide to take "a nap" This is an impressive nap as I wake up at 12:00am. Still no message from Rob so I go back to bed. I wake up and 3am and Rob has text me about 1:30 saying they've just finished dinner, where am I? This place is like Spain, people go out about 12:00am here and party until 4-5am. It's the city that never sleeps but I am tired so I temporarily disagree with this perspective. I am now however wide awake so I start to watch Scream 2.

I forget Portia De Rossi is in this film which sparks enough interest for me to continue watching it, again. I had forgotten what may very well be the most annoying thing about America. This being the sheer number of adverts they show. When watching a film over there they show 9 minutes of film then 4-5 minutes of adverts. Result? It takes 3 hours to watch a 90 minute flick. Seriously considering writing to Obama to tell him I have figured out why they have so much gun crime in America.

I have to stay awake so fuck it, let's watch The Goonies again. I'm not sure If I've paid for breakfast but decide to find the breakfast room again. I use the computers for a while to email everybody I haven't spoken to for the last 15 minutes and therefore miss terribly.

I need to kill some time today as I don't have much on so decide to go see the new Woody Allen film "Midnight in Paris" It's actually a really great film. I love Allen's films but they're not for everybody, this one however is for everybody. Owen Wilson is a Screenwriter who is captivated by the romance of Paris. He accidentally travels back in time and finds himself socialising with his literary heroes. The Fitzgeralds and Hemingway to name a couple. It's nicely done and perfectly illustrates the way we romanticise as a way of escaping the ugly present. It's a great film and I'm happy to hear from Rob who has invited me for dinner and drinks tonight at a place called the Sun Burnt Cow. Sounds delightful...

I go back to the hotel to get ready for the evening ahead. I take a cab over there and immediately feel more at home in New York. Taking a cab in New York is just one of the many thousands of cliche's which immediately make you feel like the star of your own movie. It's also a great way to see the city. As we drive through Union Square I am feeling better already. I've also been stuck inside my own head now for over 24 hours. I decide that New York City is the greatest city in the world when you are in the company of others but can be one of the loneliest and most isolating places in the world when you are on your own. This is no revelation, in the tradition of Travis Bickle, this contrast is merely a consequence of the sheer volume of people and things going on at any moment.

I get a bit annoyed at Ordering a Makers and coke for $10 because as Rob arrives with his entourage he informs me this place does a deal where you can eat and drink as much as you want for $20! Insanity and probably a reason America has some rather large citizens. I meet his lovely girlfriend Courtney and some other guys including some people I met in the Hamptons last year. Lots of cocktails and food flowing while the English & Australian (Rob's girl) gang up on the Americans. Or at least put up a fight.

Rob heads off to sort something with his Girl and me and one of his friends Matthew take off to The Life Cafe, my other favourite place in the whole of New York (East 10th & Avenue B)I'm delighted to see a lot of the same faces still there. Arran, otherwise known as The Gay John Cusack is still there. Funny guy. I feel at home in this place, it has familiarity for me and that is sometimes needed in another country.

Monday morning I have to check out so i go to use the computers again. I can't get back into the room once I check out so I ask this American lady to let me back in once I've handed in my key card. I get chatting to her and she's a drama teacher in town from Indiana. She agrees with me about my take on New York and the evils of being stuck inside one's own head. I get the most use out of the computer room before setting off to my next hotel. It takes me a while to find and I stop off at a great little book store in the West Village but I eventually find my hotel. The Larchmont on West 14th between 5th & 6th. Upon arrival it becomes clear to me immediately that I should have come straight here and not bothered with the Overpriced Pennsylvania that didn't even have free Wifi. This place is smaller but perfectly clean, tidy, tv, WiFi, great location, free breakfast in the morning and helpful and polite staff. I love it and tell them I probably want to stay an extra night on Wednesday as well.

I have my big list of Open Mic comedy gigs to consult. I organise two gigs for the evening. The first was Eastville Comedy Club. The audience consisted of all acts and It was in the order of signing up. Since I was 17th of 20 and these acts all had other gigs to get to, I ended up performing to about 4 people. Fun but pointless. But it's ok because I have a second gig lined up. The Z-room. I have trouble finding it but luckily Spanish Rob turns up at the last minute and drives me to my destination. This gig is much busier and looks promising. I have to sit through about 2 hours of mostly good acts but some shit too, I finally get on and there's still a decent crowd. The set goes really well and I settle into my own material after a minute or two working out the rhythm of some one liners I'd been working on. Rob actually laughed and said I was the best one of about 3 of the night. There were about 25 acts. I see a guy from my previous gig there, Jason. Jason is from Australia and managed to do I think 6 gigs on this particular night. This is impressive in any country and made my record of 2 on that night look mighty feeble. Fucking Australians. Always competing. Rob drops me off and I get a relatively early and mildly tipsy night.

Tuesday I kill some time in the day again and go to see The Tree of Life with Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. If you know me you will know I quite enjoy artsy fartsy films and basically anything involving Sean Penn. But this film was a bit of a stretch to enjoy. Eventually it started going somewhere but really did take far too long to get into. The film is about death, loss and the connection of everything. Even so, that doesn't necessarily justify the film detouring into a big bang/evolution science documentary. That being said, the film ends up watchable but I've got to head back as I'm doing another 2 gigs tonight. The first gig is at the Treehouse in Greenwich village. I did this gig last year and didn't really like the layout. I did however love the staff and they had a bar tender who looked like a cross between David Grohl and Robert Downey Jnr, cool dude. I walk into The Treehouse and smile as I see Grohl/Jnr is still there at the bar. He recognises me straight away which I find rather impressive as we weren't there too long last time. He asks about the people I was there with last year, Rob & my girlfriend. I am astounded but saying that, as a former barman/waiter for so long, we do remember faces.

I am also pleased to see they have moved the gig out to a room in the back, this is sensible as we no longer have to compete with the noise from the bar. I get on third (perfect) and the gig goes great, much much better than last year. I recognise two of the other acts from last year also. My second gig is uptown at the Republik Lounge. I have to get a cab after taking the subway as I'm running late. When I get there I'm told what time the sign up is, his angers me as i just paid 20million dollars for a cab and confirmed it by email first. I'm about 18th on the running order so I decide to go sit at the bar. I talk with Jolene behind the bar who looks a little like Nicole Richie, her friend is a Psychology student who is fascinated to learn how I did my dissertation on masculinity in the gangster genre. She asks me all about it. THIS IS EMBARRASSING, I HATE TO TALK ABOUT MYSELF....

A few drinks and a couple of hours later I am starting to feel a little hammered. I go back to check on my spot, oops, I've just missed it. My etiquette as a comedian is usually very good as we are all usually expected to stay after and be a healthy part of the audience but In this country, nobody seems to care, especially me. I talk to the host who kindly puts me on next. I do my set, it goes well, I don't remember all of it but it's all on auto pilot and there's about 5 people in this particular audience so who cares right? I go back to the bar and decide to shoot onto another gig that's around the corner. I'm starting to realise why there are so many gigs, it's because people can't be bothered to move. Apparently only 2 people wanted to come to this one and they are both acts so I say thanks but no thanks and jump in a cab towards Plan B (which is now called The Blind Barber) ID? Fuck, what self respecting 30 year old brings out their passport? Ok, i actually usually do IN this country but tonight i actually forgot. Eventually the guy lets me in though and I go bother two randoms in the room out the back where the most historic conversations took place whilst smoking weed. Unfortunately things have changed rather dramatically and shit just ain't the same these days. I don't remember leaving and woke up in a cab outside my hotel. That's pretty good timing. Thanks brain.

Wednesday I had to switch rooms which meant I had to go out into the incredible heat for at least 3 hours while they sorted my new room. Union square is a nice place to sit and read but too hot for me on this particular day. I decided to take a pit stop at the Hearltand brewery for some food. My smaller room was actually bigger than my big room, but that was cool with me. I headed over to the Duplex on Chrisopher Sreet. This gay bar was about 7 doors down from where I used to live in 2005. I got there very late and put my name on the list but it wasn't looking good to get on. After a few acts in though the standard and crowd was so good I decided to ask the host nicely in my most English of accents. He said he'd make sure to get me on but not to tell anyone. Does the Internet count as anyone?? Some amazing acts, I got on second to last just before 9 and the crowd loved me. I got approached by a few people and the host said come back anytime and gave me some contact details. I then had to shoot uptown again as I was meeting Robin (former regular member of Anthony Peake's forum) and Danielle (Agent and Niece of Susan Kovalinsky) at a mid town gig - Charlie O's Bar and Grill. There was about 5 people in the audience again, two of them were Robin and her husband who I enjoyed meeting. Another act I'd met earlier on that week really struggled but the energy in the room was not particularly friendly. It was actually a room used as a vacuum for NASA to study the sleepiest of particles. Danielle got there just in time to catch my act. Lucky her! Afterwards we got the subway (after 30 minutes of Danielle tirelessly attempting to get a cab, seriously she even questioned the physical intimidation of an oncoming bus) downtown which was a harrowing experience for Danielle who basically has a phobia of people. Particularly ugly, stupid and fat people. America has been known to harbour and produce these types of people. We popped to the The TreeHouse again, unfortunately Grohl jnr wasn't working today. This, other than the red wine I drank earlier, was the only night I didn't drink alcohol. I'm far too old and can't handle this much anymore. Plus I knew I had Thursday, Friday and Saturday still to come.

Early night for me I went back to the hotel but saw Joe Devito on the television who I could have sworn I'd performed with earlier that night. Same material, same guy. I was convinced anyway.

So Thursday was going to be a great one. Martin, the former bankruptee and compulsive gambler was going to Atlantic City. To make it even more special I was going with a girl I saw for a bit while I was living in NYC in 2005 and her Fiance Brian. Veronica was 8 months pregnant. I know, I smelt a sit-com too. I got to Port Authority and booked a ticket for 11am. While waiting for my bus I saw that Weiner had finally resigned after consulting with his wife. As much of an idiot as this guy actually sounds, I think it's ridiculous that he can't do his job because he basically gets horny and seeks validation. Essentially, biology is the reason a man can no longer do his job. The future is looking bleak for us men if we're not careful.

The bus got in at 13:30 but I had a couple of hours to kill so took a walk around. Veronica and Brian picked me up about 15:45 and we headed to our casino/hotel. They had got me a comped room and fuck was it nice. We went down for the buffet about 18:00 and made sure we got our moneys worth. We had to queue for nearly an hour though and Veronica ended up playing the pregnancy card. Thought it would produce more than just a chair, she should have piled it on thicker. Food was totally worth the wait though. Some amazing variety, an abundance of awesomeness. Basically, a shit load of awesome food. After dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner and desert we headed to the poker tables... Uh oh...

If you have no interest in poker this next section may some how put you into a state of boredom, higher than the state you had already achieved by listening to the mundane tales of my existence. So feel free to skip to the part where I was only down a little bit of money..

I sat down at the first table and lost $100 pretty quickly. I cashed back in for another $100 and quickly won back $200 after playing Pocket Queens all in to take down a stubborn Ace King. I continued for a few hours going up and down until I lost to a Made Full house having a slightly lower full house... I know... very unlikely to happen odds wise, I'm just lucky that way I guess. I decided that as much as I'd like to continue losing money it would probably be wise to just go to bed. So for once I took my own advice. I went to bed, messaged my girlfriend and watched Ryan Renoylds being interviewed by Conan. I do like the double R. I love him in that episode of Two Guys and a Girl where there is a leak in the house and he says "I'm the toilet King" - If anybody has this, let me know cause I want it!

I woke up feeling slightly cheated and disgusted with myself so I decided to sit down at the tables with another $200 before checking out. I was pressed for time and through tight play managed to get up to $252 and then went to meet Veronica and her fiance to check out. They dropped me back to the bus station at Ceasers and we said goodbye. Good luck to you guys for the birth in about a months time and hope to come out for the wedding in April.

But now, back to my stupidity. I walked around for a bit and couldn't find where my bus would be leaving from. I must have selective navigation because what I DID see was signs heading back to the Casino. I thought about it, then I stopped thinking about it and just did it. I sat down with $100 and got up quite quickly, this was a nice table and there were a few idiots (yes bigger than me) there which I was outplaying nicely. Then a Chinese lady came and sat to my right and starting playing very aggressively. She put me all in on a bluff which I called but luckily for her she hit her two pair on the river. This annoyed me. I cashed in again for my remaining $150. I made a few small wins and then got dealt ACE 10 of clubs. The flop came down with two club cards and I almost had the nuts flush. Chinese lady right on target started betting into me and I called $30 as did the player to my left. I had one of those please god moments which paid off because the final card which i believe was the 7 of clubs gave me the unbeatable hand I needed. I checked the hand as did the player to my left. Right on schedule, Chinese lady bet $25 which I happily re-raised all in which was about another $40. I got 2 calls and enjoyed getting my money back from her. I hit a few more flushes and laid down a full house to another higher full house, this was pure genius on the turn as I was actually losing but the river would have given a split pot and the pot got very, very big. I got this money back from the guy a little later on after hitting a king high flush. I laid my final hand of pocket 8's down which was probably wise as the kid opposite me had Aces. Could have been interesting. After getting to $400 I decided to cash out. I felt smart and very proud of myself... I SURVIVED ATLANTIC CITY.

I went to make my bus from a different casino but had to run a mile in the smouldering heat in 10 minutes. I made the bus, barely and enjoyed the slightly longer journey back to Port Authority. Just over an hour to kill before I met up with Rob for ANOTHER night out. Fuck it, HURLYS it is then. Rob picks me up and we grab a few of his friends and head to a place in the village for wings. We head to the first club but encounter a lovely racist bouncer who has an issue with some of he ladies out with us. This angers me. I decide to give him my scariest look, I don't think it's working. I tell myself that he got the message and go with rob and co to the next club. A few Long Islands later and I wake up at Rob's house in Hackensack New Jersey. I'm a bit hungover...again. I decide not to get a lift in with Rob and to trade the ride for a few more hours rest and just take the bus a little later on. I've stayed in this house so much now that I know it very well. I stop to wish his mother happy birthday and head off to catch the 165. I'm falling asleep as I approach Port Authority again. I've decided to pay for one last night in the Larchmont Hotel tonight so I have somewhere in the city to stay and can leave on Sunday with little hassle. I get the same room as last time but am disappointed that Ellen was not on at 4pm (I do very much so enjoy her dancing). I decided to watch The Dark Knight just because it was on. Heath Ledger still cracks me up with his delivery of the line "Six"

At about 8pm I get impatient, Rob says he will be around about 11pm so I decide to take a walk down to Life Cafe for some food and my last evening. Gay Cusack is behind the bar. Fabulous.

The thing I love most about New York is the best nights I've ever had have often been on my own. This can occur for 1 of 2 reasons, but mainly both.

1) America takes more effort as to who they employ to work behind the bar. They actually learn how to make drinks, tend to be Attractive (I'm mainly talking women here but Grohl/Jnr was certainly a good looking chap!) and are friendly and sociable with customers. England tends to just hire those with little prospects and little interest in talking to anyone. Now I'm certainly aware this isn't true for everybody so don't cry if it doesn't apply to you. I worked in the industry myself for about 8 years and know there are some great bars in England. I'm just saying, New York bars do it better, the layout of the bars, actual bars you sit at and talk to the barman encourage this kind of dynamic and it's just one of the many reasons I love this city

2) People also talk to other people out there. The barman/customer dynamic is infectious and they are often a catalyst in getting people to talk to each other. Most people from New York aren't from New York (at least originally as well) and everybody has a story to tell. It's a ride and you can sit anywhere to enjoy it from a different perspective.

Within minutes of ordering my food with Gay Cusack an Irish girl named Sarah sat down. She'd just quit her job. As I had also quit mine recently it was faily easy to get talking. We enjoyed a good chat for 30 minutes or so and then she headed off to Brooklyn. I've struggled with the sadness in life sometimes at how you can chat with people and never see them again but it's merely part of the ride that we are all on and it's something you just get used to, especially living here. I also got chatting to a guy named Seth from Utah and two girls he was with. Seth started the best conversation with me about Neitzsche and the pattern that guys who grow up with no father tend to be massively creative and Charismatic. I may have been bias to this theory having lost my father at the age of Six..... possibly. This is why I'm a natural networker and love New York so much, there are just so many smart people out there that can enrich your life with stories and knowledge and fresh perspective on things. You can never eat to much from this menu.

Rob came and met me and I said goodbye to everybody there and we headed to a party in the East Villiage. As the song goes "nobody throws an Eastside party like we do" the music being played here was very much my taste! Naughty by Nature, Arrested Development and lots more old school hip-hop. Tribe Called Quest. I really do enjoy being the English Whiteboy that'll dance my ass off and scare people with a 97% lyrics accuracy. This % has gone down in recent years due to brain cells coming under fire from alcohol. Lots of look a likes at this party, I got the Morrisey thing....weird that, rarely happens.... luckily I was able to retaliate to the DJ who looked like Dwayne from Different World and Jason Segal who apparently owned the apartment I was drinking in...oops.

I left my bag with Rob at Tiffinys the next day While I went and bought some gifts, mostly from the shop at NBC. Went to HURLYS for a final sandwich and got chatting to a girl behind the bar from Ireland who also seemed to share an addiction to the game wordfeud (online scrabble). This made me chuckle as I've been slightly preocupied with this game now for several months. A lady came in and asked for directions to Robin Williams' show. After the lady left Barlady said she should probably know seeing as he comes in there all the time, should have known, HURLYS is awesome.

Left and popped into Tiffany's to grab my back and say goodbye to Rob. The journey to JFK was made more interesting on the subway by a young kid dancing like MJ for money, made a good video and kid had skills.

One of the most exhausing trips of my life but also very enjoyable. See you soon New York. I love you!

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