It’s getting late in the bar in Alphabet City on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The place is called the Dorian Gray. Apparently the owners are distantly related to Oscar Wilde. Either that or it’s because it hasn’t aged a bit over the years and the back room is in an awful state. I’m in New York for just a few days doing a couple of gigs at the Irish Arts Centre. After the second gig, I felt hoarse and now after a few hours conversation I open my mouth to say something (no doubt hilarious) and nothing comes out. For the very first time in my life, I’ve lost my voice.
I get anxious. New York is not a city to have no voice in. It might be called ‘New York, New York’ but it’s not a city that believes in repeating itself and gets annoyed quickly if your voice isn’t clear enough. There is very little patience with miscommunication. The following day consists of a lot of throat-pointing as a pre-apology. A prolonged sequence in the drugstore on a confusing quest to buy honey leaves me wallowing in self-pity. “This city is so cold-hearted”. I say to myself. Or I would if I could.
What has me in this state is a fierce amount of talk. Two nights of gigging and animated conversation with an extremely positive group of people – the Irish in New York – and just like the American government, my larynx has shut down.
Compared to the American Houses of Representatives, the Irish legislature looks like something from Scandinavia but Americans – or at least Irish Americans anyway – observe with exasperated stoicism and just get on with business. The conversation was all about opportunity. The impression given was that the US and New York was a place where anyone could make it. It’s almost strange listening to people with Irish accents not mentioning the HSE or binge drinking or NAMA or “What am I paying my TV licence for?”
I hadn’t been in ‘Merica in eight years and New York since 1999. We had drifted apart. (I’d say the US was gutted by this development). My opinion of the US had been battered by the constant feed of information about Haliburton, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, crazies with guns, religion, the Tea Party, seed patenting. No amount of The Wire, Raylan Givens from Justified and Amy Poehler from Parks and Recreation was going to reinstate the place completely in my affections.
And then I landed in the country. Almost immediately, it was as if I was starring in my own TV show called ‘New York’. If you land in Newark, the programme even has its own opening title sequence as you follow in reverse poor oul Tony’s journey at the start of the Sopranos. In Manhattan, every glance is like the little sting in Law and Order shortly after they decide to “pay another visit to Mr Mendoza”
In short, I have fallen with America all over again. Not Cargill and the giant feed lots or Fox News or fracking or Christian (funda)mentalists. But just with the general can-do or can-at-least-give-it-a-try attitude, with cars that are too big and those trucks with the snouts on them. I can’t wait to go back although when that’ll be, I can’t say. Literally.
First published in the Irish Examiner on October 7th 2013