“My name is Patrick and I am just out of prison.”
The man who has just entered the carriage of the B train heading Downtown to Brooklyn is standing six inches away from me. He sounds forceful. Not angry. Just forceful. Like he’s auditioning to play Brian Blessed.
“And I’ll tell you what happens when you leave prison,” he booms.
Now, I am very nervous. Not just because Patrick is speaking very loudly, but because he is wearing a rucksack. In my vocabulary, rucksack equals almost certain death, particularly if in a confined space on public transport and being worn by a man who clearly has no fear.
I wriggle nervously and look around to see how everyone else is reacting. As they would in London, passengers affect nonchalance and roll their eyes. I resist yelling to everyone to get down, as I once did in Paris, when a motorcyclist entered the bar pretending to brandish a gun (how everyone laughed at the ‘joke’ as I gathered my prostrate body off the floor), and stare at Patrick.
“What happens when you leave an American prison is you get $40 and one subway ticket, so if any of you have a ticket you’re not going to use, or even a dollar, I’d be very grateful.”
I consider unzipping my bag to give him a dollar, but do not want to risk Patrick making a grab for my iPhone, which I have only just retrieved after losing it an hour before I caught the subway of doom.
At 42nd Street station, I change carriages. This is the station where, after seeing Aladdin on Wednesday night, I nearly lost my arm, which would have been considerably more distressing than losing my iPhone (lesson to self: never try to get off the subway when the doors are closing). There will always be another iPhone, but there won’t always be another arm.
A lot seems to be happening on the subway. I came to lose my iPhone this time (it’s something of a regular occurrence) when buying another 7 day ticket from one of the men who sit in booths trying to be more miserable than any other worker on the planet. Ever. Late at night, when engineering work is taking place on the tracks, and trains have to be diverted, these men (and the occasional woman) appear to take delight in sending you on a wild goose chase to the Bronx, where you are told that in order to get to 103rd Street, you have to go all the way back to 59th and start over on a different track.
Last night, after seeing The Lion King and on the subway home, I was lucky enough to meet Pedro, who works on the subway. Even he didn’t know what was going on with the revised timetable, but listened carefully to every announcement in order to get me safely back to 103rd.
I could do with a Pedro in my life. But then I could do with a man to look after my iPhone, too. And one to put out the garbage. Anything else would be truly a bonus, and I would willingly sign up to being a sex slave if just these two small requests could be met.
Anyway, I have been out and about exploring today and haven’t really changed my opinion from the one I held about New York when I came here 23 years ago: I don’t like it much. I never thought any place could knock Miami off the top spot of being my least favourite city in America (actually, San Francisco came pretty close), but I think New York has managed it.
It really is like London – and not the nice parts. Just those bits you pass when you’re on your way to Paddington Station in a cab and give thanks that you don’t live there.
A friend who loves New York asked me a couple of days ago: “What’s not to like?”
Where do I begin?
The filthy streets, the noise, the appalling service, the tourists, the misery ingrained on everyone’s faces, the depressing subway, the towering buildings casting a shadow over everything they survey…
At least I have my iPhone back. Apple’s system tracked it to a Jewish nursing home on 106th street, where a very nice lady who had found it at the subway ticket booth phoned me back when I sent a signal to the phone.
Life, for the moment, has returned to calm. I am in Soho House in West Village and thinking about eating out tonight for the first time (oh, yes, that’s another thing – it’s way too expensive to eat out here).
Let’s add that to the list of requirements I want in a man: one who will pay for everything.
Something tells me that isn’t going to be Prison Patrick.