There’s something about hauling an abandoned wooden chair through the back streets of Woodside, Queens, in the middle of the night that makes me feel like I should be wearing a balaclava and my best hoody.
People carting random items of furniture around the place is not an uncommon occurrence on the streets of New York; homeowners regularly leave their undesirables outside their houses incase it might be some poor man’s gold.
At some point during this dodgy operation, I had to wonder how, at the age of 28 with five years of college and several courses in alternative health studies under my belt, I’d ended up helping my roommate carry a piece of furniture through the night and up three flights of stairs to our apartment where it was destined for a place of glory in our sparsely furnished apartment at the side of our wonky table.
When I was little, I always thought that I’d have life sorted at this age, but as my eldest sister informed me the last day - “When have I ever done normal?” - and she has a point. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The memories are too priceless to sacrifice. Moving to another country was just as tough as I thought it would be but if it had been easy then perhaps the good parts would not shine as bright as they do.
‘Broke’ being our middle name, my three travelling companions and I got our first taste of New York in Bushwick Avenue, Brooklyn. We had booked the cheapest accommodation we could find on a website called Wimdue.com where you can find a cheap place to stay anywhere in the world, the catch being that you are staying in the spare room of a stranger’s house.
Half expecting our hosts to perform a reenactment from the “Here’s Johnny!” scene in “The Shining”, we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves welcomed with open arms by a sweet young couple with a cute little baby in tow.
Bushwick was a unique taste of New York in itself however, and I remember being struck first of all by how “American” everything seemed, and yes, I know how stupid that sounds but it’s true.
Everyone seemed to drive a car the size of a tank, you could fit a small person into the fast food soda containers, a conscious effort had to be made to say “fries” instead of “chips” and “chips” instead of “crisps” and, although there was a deli every three steps, where were all the supermarkets?
After four days of constant apartment hunting from our temporary base in Bushwick, one horrible night in a hostel in the back arse of nowhere and nearly bursting an eardrum from the 200 decibel level of Spanish music every time we entered the nearest deli in Bushwick, Woodside seemed like a paradise and we wanted to live there.
Only one problem, no landlord wanted four people in a two-bedroomed apartment. In desperation, we convinced our broker that we had all won “The Lovely Girls Competition” of 2012 and please, oh please would she help us - she did, and we became the proud renters of an unfurnished apartment with two bedrooms and a kitchen/living area you could walk across in three steps. As tiny as it is, it holds one gem and that’s the view of the Manhattan skyline.
On nights when we were too broke to go out and losing faith that we’d ever find the jobs we wanted, we would look out our windows and breathe in some hope from the sea of lights that stretched into the distance, lorded over by easily recognisable landmarks like the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings.
We get a badge of honor for managing Christmas dinner in a kitchen that small.
Christmas in New York will forever remind me of sitting on discount store bought seats that reminded me why they were a bargain price in the first place as the legs started to do the splits beneath me before I’d even touched the mountain of food in front of me. The rest of dinner consisted of me merrily swinging my legs from my perch on a bedside foot locker that had been promoted to the honorary title of “seat”. Said foot locker was the first victim of a previous midnight haul by two of my housemates who found it pining for an owner outside a neighbor’s yard. Several streets and three flights of stairs later, it was initiated into our miniature palace.
We were also pretty nervous about the landlord discovering that he had four lodgers instead of two, so every time he made an appearance, the two of us who had not signed the lease would make it look like there was only one blow-up mattress per room and, once, even hid in our closet for fear he was going to do a spot check - it’s no Narnia but it’s quite spacious in there!
When you’re broke and looking for work, blow-up beds are the way to go but they bring their own hazards and come with their own rules: