By Maria Modrovich
Boats are out these days. You fly in.
You are mildly appalled by the drive from the airport. Really, these are the yellow cabs? Someone must’ve been eating a baguette in the back seat before you got in. Also, you can’t help thinking the driver is a member of a terrorist group. When he chats, it’s to distract you, when he’s on the phone, it’s to get instructions. You try to come across as amiable.
You wanted a cheap and nice hotel, this shithole looks nothing like the pictures on the website. You can’t understand a word the receptionist says. What a moron.
You let everyone know the coffee is terrible. Watery, without substance. Where can a person get a decent cappuccino around here?
You flaunt your clothes; you’ve got balls to be different. And to wear a little hat.
You’re armed with a Not-For-Tourists city guide and you know exactly what you want to see. You’re surprised how many people know about the best-kept secrets of the city. After you boxed your way through the crowded isles of Century 21, you decide to have a drink somewhere offbeat, like the Meatpacking District.
When you order beer, you stubbornly pronounce the name in Hochdeutsch, Praguer-Czech or wannabe Belgium. You also, also stubbornly, order from the busboy. He doesn’t understand a word you’re saying. You immediately add the boy’s ethnic group to the group of morons who are on Earth to make life living hell for you. Now you understand why this country is in crisis.
Your local connection suggests you meet on Avenue C. You ask if that’s in the city center. By city center you mean the area around your cheap and not-so-nice hotel in Times Square. You ponder whether your local connection is a bit on the moronic side, too, since incapable of answering your question.
The place you like most is Pain Quotidian, the one near you. You have breakfast there and afternoon coffee; its universality gives you an almost homey feeling. Couldn’t you meet there?
You walk to the East Village and arrive 50 minutes late. You’re stunned it took you so long. On the map, it looked like it was really close. And you really are a fast walker.
You don’t tip. One, the service is either moronic or annoyingly servile; two, where you come from, rounding off is considered generous. Why should you care about the local wages? Why change your habits? They’re supposed to be appreciative you came over here to spend money. Don’t they even start you on the hotel standard.
While sipping your Weizenbier, you like to discuss politics. So much shit in the Middle East. Why exactly did America intervene in Kosovo? And how does one win the Noble price for Peace with climate change? You bask in the shame of your American friends. They’re lucky to have you – to teach them to be critically aware.
Has anything been left in Egypt? You wonder out loud. Yes, you’ve been to the MET. For an art connoisseur like you it is a must. Although, compared to D’Orsay, Louvre, Tate, …, you know, what more is there to see, really.
On the way back to the hotel, you avoid the subway. You’ve seen pictures of it – they were in an art show – all graffiti and weird people; no trust has been built between you and the underground transportation. Someone might try to blow it up.
You walk about ten blocks in the opposite direction before you realize it. You are afraid of people mumbling to themselves.
You agree to take the F this time. You hold your bag close to your body with both hands. You can still remember how your camera got stolen in the middle of the day on Rambla. You wouldn’t want to be on this train, with these characters, after dark; that’s for sure. The guy sitting across the isle from you has innumerous mirror pieces attached to his ragged clothing; they’re flashing you when his meaty body jerks in the seat as the car moves. He’s smiling, you are afraid it’s at you. You run up the stairs into the daylight when the train stops.
It takes exactly one hundred and seventy eight pictures of Katz Deli and various fire staircases until you get to the place where you’re meeting your friends. It’s shocking to find out that everyone, just like you, is wearing plaid and boots. And a little hat.
After 15 minutes of close observation you start to feel inadequate. Their shirts are much more … audacious! (Audacious is a word you learned from an essay on short stories that the professor of your Fiction I class had you read). In a painful moment of insight, you grasp that you’re sporting the plaid of seasons past. This throws you into a brief but deep depression, forcing you to inquire about the best, like, out-of-the-mainstream boutiques.
Thank god you’ve got your talent. You came here to make it, nothing less than that. Who would’ve guessed these people actually had things to add to your little lecture on Chekhov’s Moya Zhizn. You thought they were all just waiting tables.
For a moment, you ponder whether to give it a second shot with Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge, but you decide to stick to chain-smoking your Marlboro Lights, informing everyone how criminally overpriced the smokes are and how fucking restricting the No-Smoking policy is. Good old truly liberal continent that you come from.
You laugh maliciously at a pair of French tourists who try to figure out where the Saturday Q train has taken them. When they ask if you could recommend a nice place for lunch, you advice them to go to PQ, pronouncing ‘pain’ as the English word for ‘sore.’
On the way from the train to the Polish restaurant, you pay no attention to the filigree staircases (although you kind of want to). You feel good; your shirt and skinny jeans are as hip as they get at Urban Outfitters.
First of all, you get coffee. A large coffee, please. In a mug.
You curse every foreign asshole that doesn’t tip you. Didn’t they read the guides? Why do they even bother coming here? Everybody knows waiters live off their tips.
Hello, no, you can’t smoke here. It doesn’t matter that it’s outside. There’s a marquee over your head (asshole!).
Finally, your shift is over.
You know you have almost made it; a few more weeks and the agent you flirted with at the Independent Lit Press Bar Ball will surely call to tell you how much they loved your manuscript. It’s a love story about someone who comes to America to make it and–
You don’t realize you’ve been mumbling the last sentences out loud.
On the train.
Full of crazy people, just like you.
Maria Modrovich is a Slovak writer who came to make it in New York 🙂 She was published by a number of magazines in Slovakia, US and UK. She has a collection of short stories coming out this year. To learn more about her, visit her site.
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