Be aggressive, they said. Be tough. New York’s not like LA. You have to have balls in this city.
So, I have managed a little over two weeks without much incident, give or take a suspected terrorist or two and a lost iPhone (spectacularly recovered from the local Jewish nursing home: never again will I speak out against the circumcision of infants, even though it is something I have come to admire in men over the years . . . But that’s a whole other story).
I was catching my usual B line subway to get to 72nd Street, where I have befriended a few locals, most notably, Diana, who was my guest at The Lion King on Broadway. Spectacular as the production was, we both suspected there was something not quite right about the acoustics, as we both (and we weren’t the only ones) said that we couldn’t follow the story.
This being Disney, I suspected that it was along the lines of: young infant becomes an orphan at an early age, sheds large, geyser-like tears over body of dying parent, and emerges victorious to take over the community. Bambi. Tarzan. Lion . . . Ah, yes. The Lion King. I was way ahead of them on that one.
But back to the B line. Having spent two weeks trying to work out the subway, I yet again found myself on an unfamiliar route, where numbers suddenly took on names. Being familiar with the name Lafayette from the time I spent living in Paris, I thought it might be a safe enough stop to alight, even though I had not the slightest clue where I was.
I had just renewed my weekly card, which you are required to swipe only when going through the turnstile to your train. But when I exited at Lafayette, I was approached by a young man in a baseball cap (Agh, we’re all going to die!) asking me for a swipe.
It is, apparently, not a drug (I subsequently learned) but what people who don’t want to pay ask you to do – swipe them through.
But no, I thought. I am going to be aggressive. Tough. This is New York. I am going to have balls. Big, big balls.
So, I say to the capped thug, who, I think at this stage, might possibly be posing as a copper (god knows why). “No way! I know I don’t have to swipe on the way out!”
And I sweep, even swipe, up the subway steps, thinking: I have SO got this city nailed! Balls by the bucketload.
And I start walking on the sidewalk (Get me. Sidewalk. Not even pavement anymore).
Only to find said capped youngster beside me, way too close for comfort, possibly, probably with a knife (I have watched way too much TV), and he’s shouting at me. I have no idea what he is saying, because I know I am about to die. I look for my balls, but they have shrunk to the size of a pair of contact lenses.
“I am so sorry . . .” I hear myself spluttering.
He shouts something again. And now, he has another capped mate with him, who is at least a foot taller, but luckily, he is too preoccupied with his iPhone to take much notice.
“I just didn’t understand what you meant by swiping,” I say, in my best Downton Abbey voice, and smiling. Smiling, smiling, smiling.
He is placated. His mate shakes his head, grinning, and they disappear. Murder averted.
But I am so shaken, I go into the first shop I find, explain to the security guard how I have just narrowly averted becoming another victim of The Gangs of New York, and he offers me a seat. And water. A lovely little tin of Perrier. With a glass. I spot a lovely dress on a rack but think that I am too much in my role as victim to ask Leonard (for it is he) to hand me a frock to help me get over my trauma.
“What color were they?” asks Leonard, who is black.
“Black,” I safely say. Or possibly not? I have no idea. Maybe they were whiteish?
“But why would they follow me out of the subway?” I wail, tearfully. Leonard shakes his head and tells me I have an hour before the store closes and to take my time to recover. I see at least three T-shirts I want to come back for.
Leonard could not have been nicer, and he and his assistant kindly point me in the way of the Meatpacking District bar where I am heading.
Forty minutes and several Japanese tourists later, I am hysterical outside yet another subway intent on taking me to Rikers Island, but thankfully a yellow cab arrives (as they so frequently do here) and he takes me miles and miles around apple-blossomed lined streets to my destination.
“Aren’t we just going round in circles?” I tentatively, ball-lessly ask.
“Stars,” he says. “I do it for the tourists.”
When I finally get to the bar and order my wine, it is off, having been opened a little too long.
“I’ll open another,” the barman huffs, “but they were all opened today.”
No, mate. They weren’t. They really weren’t. I know my wine. Don’t take me on. You really, really don’t want to do that tonight.
I’m a woman who once had balls. And they’ve just grown back.