2011, Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.
It has been 15 years since I had last set foot in New York City. I was a pragmatist and promised myself that I would wait until I was over 21 to visit next what was then, utopia. The last time I visited the Big Apple, two twin columns of capitalist strength pierced the commercial sky and the world seemed just a little bit safer. Hot dog stands and mechanical yellow boxes lined every street in the cultural milkshake that is NYC and Michael Jordan still dominated the NBA.
I am sitting in business class next to a quirky Harvard graduate with a unique swagger about him. Dressed in Harvard crimson red, he had his full array of technology spread across his assigned area. I glance at the research documents and instagram photos lining the desktop of his Dell with an impeccably messy inbox acting as an deficient centrepiece. Emails blotting the white of Outlook with an array of. flags that could compete against the UN.
‘Hi, I’m Steve, and you are?’ He smiles as he introduces himself with a subtle Queens accent, tamed over time by his tenure in Cambridge, MA.
‘Joshua Jacob Mason, a pleasure.’ I reply, extending my hand in pleasantries.
As we exchange more small talk, his disdain for Europe and everything it entailed begins to unravel. “What’s up with your small roads and shire-like opening hours man?’ it’s like a bad episode of Stargate or something; oh and you’re lack of culture, it’s like everything is borrowed. Fish and Chips and warm beer is soo 100 years ago. You think you hobbits would be grateful for us saving your limey-asses during the war., SMH.”
Being British, I think it be bad form and impractical to argue with an American, 35,000 feet up in the air, on the way to his mothership. So I brave my stiff british upper lip and half nod in concern and approval at his loose arguments and the bastardization of my english language.
As we begin our descent Robert Glasper’s, Dillalude fades in through the airplane speakers. I have a feeling that this is going to be a good trip. I always hated landing, despite taking more planes than some people take buses, but Glasper’s smooth piano notes calms my nerves and I still feel the gin in my system. It takes me back to happier days when I was still at King’s, playing jazz and blues with Marcus Mumford before he started Mumford and Sons. A few moments later the tired stewardess walks past and forces a smile as she asks her flock to open the window blinds. As I look out of my window, I am saddened by the absence of the WTC on the otherwise, mesmerising sepia skyline.
The tires screech as we hit the tarmac and a barbie-like voice welcomes us to the USA’s LaGuardia Airport. America, land of the brave and the home of the seemingly free. I had been summoned to our main headquarters in Manhattan by our CEO to present the concept basketball shoe I had been working on: Helios I. It all came down to this. 6 years of painstaking sacrifice. Endless missed birthdays, apology calls, and emails to friends lost and loved ones neglected. I’d be presenting to the new CEO in a few days and I had time to kill. The pitch was ingrained in my system and I had practised it a thousand times in different variations. I was ready.
“Hey man, where are you staying here?” Steve asks curiously.
“Um..Upper Manhattan, 145th Street’ I reply.
“Ma dude, 145th Street isn’t really Manhattan, you’re in Harlem, old chap” he emphatically replied, “You going to be alright?”
I begin to feel like a really small ant in a boot testing factory as I wonder where I was bound to. Hopefully, I’ll see some Globetrotters I think to myself, “I’ll be fine” I reply.
A cold whiff of air meets us as we leave the airplane. As I pass through split ways in immigration, Steve and I exchange business cards and arrange to meet up later for drinks. Should be good, I think to myself. I had little contact with my american counterparts and I wanted to let my hair down a little bit. Steve is met by his surprisingly gorgeous girlfriend. Welcome to the colonies.
Suddenly her face appears in my mind. It’s been a year since she left me, and hetrosexuality altogether for a stint in Geneva with her Swiss lover and despite a hefty schedule and a robust defence mechanism, I was still reeling. We had oftener planned to go to NYC after we got married and set up shop there. Live life like a calmer version of friends.
An old Filipino man approaches me, ‘Mr Mason, is that you?
Startled, I simply nod, ‘How did you know it was me?’ I curiously ask, observing his pristine appearance, his wrinkles jewels and medallions of years of hard work.
‘Hi, your assistant, Regina, gave a very vivid description of you. Forgive my inspection, but I also see you have J.J Mason tagged on your suitcase. I’m Manuel, your ride’ He replied politely.
“1+1, Oh, thanks…” I embarrassingly reply.
As we walk to the carpark, I notice the familiar sites that signify modern civilization: Starbucks, Mcdonalds and a Burger King strategically placed like a constellation of corporate stars. Globalisation’s double edged sword. Freedom to work and pursue your dreams anywhere in the world in exchange for the destruction of the individual communities that make humankind so unique. I guess it has worked for me, stints in Tokyo and Dubai have taught me much about love, lust and life. It was always disheartening seeing the corrosion of communities as capitalist West would swoop in to to harvest talent and resources. The worst part was being a footsoldier in it’s expansion which left me soulless.
As we set off from LaGuardia, I see a closer view of Manhattan. The lights had come out to play and the City had come alive. Rich green trees against tough stone, glass and metal. The noise and views were incredible, vibrant characters of all shapes, races and sizes, intermingling to the soundtrack of Chopin’s Nocturne No. 1. playing through the car’s Bose speakers.
“First time in NYC, Sir?” Manuel asks, breaking the show.
“Second time; the last time I was here I had far less grey hair and a smaller waistline, 15 years ago. It’s good to be back.”
“Perfect, perfect, I’m sure you will enjoy it. Hopefully you will have some time to visit some of the sites. The new WTC is coming along nicely and I guarantee the food kick ass.”
“I can’t wait. The plane food tasted like my old fridge”
I look back up and notice the surroundings had changed. Welcome to Harlem. The sleek glass and stone replaced by rough brick and humble businesses. I notice pretty flowers growing between the cracks and weeds of the harsh, raspy ghetto streets as I step out of the car. I was immediately drawn. This was culture. Every time.
The entrance to the New York Renaissance Guesthouse welcomes me up the worn stone stairs. Easy maintenance plants and floral metal-work serving both as protection and decoration adorn it’s porchway. As I buzz in, a heavy-set latina woman opens the door and gives me a startling hug. “You must be Joshua, welcome to the Big City honey. I’m Juanita, anything you need, just ask ok? ”
“Eh, hi, gee-thanks, good to be here” I reply, half recovering from her surprise ambush, feeling my cheeks go blood red.
She leads me to my room. The floorboards, rippling under her weight. Finally, sanctum. The room, almost gregorian in stature is the complete antithesis from it’s surroundings. Liberace embroidered gold set against velour covers with a flat screen tv made by a manufacturer I haven’t heard of. Thank god there’s wifi.
As I log on to check my emails, I see a craigslist e-mail.
‘26-F New York. Lady Looking for an English Prince tonight’
This could be interesting. I best shine my shoes.
New York City
For as long as I remember I loved business. At first, I didn’t quite always understand the mechanism and intricacies that made the machines work, but I knew that it was for me. It was the vehicle to make life great, and my ambition was the key. Little did I know at the time, that I was terrible at navigation but incredibly lucky at negotiations. One of my earliest memories was sitting on a dusty frayed couch, flicking through a dog eared. Argos catalogue. Scanning through the frayed pages, I would populate the virtual premium wish-list app in my brain whilst my parents played Mahjong with family associates. I knew someday the transformers and matchbox toys would come alive and I would have everything I desired.
20 years later, I got every material good I could ever desire. IWC Watches, sports cars and bespoke suits. I was the youngest CEO in my industry when I joined at the age of 33. I came in with my tweed and brogues to a land of air bubbles and lunarfoam technology. 6 months earlier I was celebrating the success of a highly successful Savile Row company i’d rescued from administration. Now, I was the head of a multinational sportswear company after my predecessor, H.W. Wyndham III decided to quit to open up a chain of strip clubs in Levittown. The board, craving some stability, headhunted me to induce some English sensibility and sense into the unsettled company. Truth be told, I am bored as hell. Bored of clapping, americans pronouncing things wrong. Most of all, I was tired of being a utensil to tickle their Harry Potter fetish.
“Mr Methley, your 12 o’clock is here” Announces my robotic secretary, snapping me out of my daydream.
“Can you tell him i’m busy Rina. I don’t feel too good…in fact. Clear my schedule for the rest of the day” I say as I slump into my armchair. The worse thing you can do is settle in normality. The moment you do, you cease to exist.
“But, Mr Methley, it’s about the proposal on Tuesday” she replies.
“Tell me on Tuesday, I’m going off the grid for a couple of hours.”
Fresh air at last, well sort’ve. I hit 5th Avenue and join the ant march. Blahnik ladened Hipsters, sharp suits and caffeinated students adorn the street, walking to the sound of sirens, horns and steam as the sun bakes my surroundings. In the 6-months i’ve been in NYC I haven’t met anyone substantial. In the world where I lived in, my peers and contemporaries see me as a novice limey set to dilute the freshness of the company. A pretender.
I head into Barney’s where a ludicrously beautiful woman welcomes me. Her floral fragrance still lingering in the air as I enter the men’s formalwear department. Pristine shirts and suits in different clothes, a spectrum of ties and cufflinks glistening in light and half light bringing me back 22 years earlier.
The first suit I remember wearing was when I was 11 years old. My mother and I visited Peter Jones on the Kings Road, It was my father’s birthday and we had decided to surprise him at work. I idolised my father and. wanted to be just like him, a huge part of me still does. I practically looked like him, slightly improved albeit quintessentially his son. Deep down I knew I was like my mother. She bought me an identical pin-striped suit, double breasted, of course, and slightly oversized, just like my old man’s. I still remember the feeling as I approached his office, carefully balancing the cake with my puny arms as my mother smiled in approval at my efforts and resemblance to the man she loved. He wasn’t there when we arrived, or when we got home. I would never see my father again. That day my innocence died and my world collapsed. I’ve spent the 22 years since, living in the shadow of hurt and hate.
As I grew older, I tried to hunt him down. I never knew what I would say when I saw him but I wanted to try. All my attempts fell short, a couple of close calls only to be hit by disappointment by lookalikes. As time grew longer, so did my suit collection, evolving in style and width. Since my father left us, my mother’s vivaciousness evaporated replaced by a relentless gambling habit which squandered away most of our wealth. Despite being strong in exterior, the shame and hurt crippled her; and us.
An overly polished sales assistant approaches me, not a strand out of place on his eyebrows, “Can I help you today, Sir?”
“Thank you, no. Just browsing.” I diplomatically smile as I politely brush him away. Shuffling away I notice a woman staring at me. Her blue eyes enhanced by the ivy green silk draped across her shoulders. She oozed class, the type of woman who probably spoke 5 languages and studied fine art in Florence. Her smile invites me say hello, completely infiltrating my nonchalance and I approach.
“Hi, I’m Edward Charles Methley.” Enunciating each syllable to shield by nervousness.
“Pleased to meet you, Edward Charles Methley. I’m Amelia Gray” She replied, mimicking my pronounced enunciation.
Blushing, I ask her if she wants to go for a coffee. “I heard the view at the Greengrass is pretty good this time of the year” The Greengrass is the terrace restaurant at Barneys, a chic restaurant where they expect you tip an arm and a leg for exaggerated service.
She does not say anything, but merely walks towards the restaurant, the sequins of her dress digging into the curve of her hips as she strutted her way towards the entrance. I knew right then, I was hit by a thunderbolt.
As we sit down the waiter immediately introduces himself and pours us a glass of Voss each. “So tell me, Mr Methley….What brings you to the big city?”
Not wanting to expose my real job I downplay my position “ I moved here 6 months ago, for work- a real grind. Still not used to the sheer immense diversity of New York. I’ve lived in various places in my time, none with such diversity. I heard the city is the holder and protector of some nearly extinct languages, simply amazing.”
“Hahaha…yes” she chuckles, “Like an unrefined library of Alexandria in here.”
“Yes indeed. Done much exploring?
“Not as much as i’d like to. It’s like a gargantuan labyrinth. One minute i’m in Cuba, the next, i’m in Hong Kong.” I confess.
She takes out her balenciaga wallet, “Well if you need a tour guide, here’s my card…” Handing it over, her immaculate french manicure protruding over her card.
CEO, Novaliches Food Corp
1221 Avenue of the Americas
New York City, New York
. (718) 4257–2987. | Amelia@nova.com
My eyebrows raise slightly, the commonality producing a small smile on my face. I exchange my card causing her to pause for a moment.
“You’re a pretty big deal, Mr Methley” she says.
“As are you, Miss Gray” I reply, with a short smile.
3-hours later, after 158 unread e-mails and 20-missed calls, we finally snap back into reality. Fluorescent city lights had awoken and the sky had turned a darker shade of blue. The deep brown of Amelia’s fragrant hair reminding me of brownies- and the fact that we hadn’t actually eaten anything substantial.
“Let’s go for a walk?” She says.
I’m beginning to like this urban jungle.
“Hey Limey it’s Steve. Me and some frat buddies are going out on the town. Wanna come with? There’s gonna be some girls around and I know you need to be welcomed to the City. ” He churns out in one breath. “Aspen Social Club, 157W. 47th st. 10:30pm.” Then before I could give an answer and half hello the line went dead.
Digesting what he just said, I sit down and nudge my computer awake opening up Miss New York’s E-mail.
-Hi English Prince-
You sound pretty awesome. Want to see the real New York City tonight?
Here’s my number. Call me. (718) 4257–2987
Tempted, I reach for my phone. I decide to send her an iMessage.
Hey A, i’m going to be in Aspen Social Club around 11:30 tonight. Meet me there?
I’ll be there- A x
Since She left, I’ve been sleeping around like a masculine version of Belle du Jour, minus the service charge. It was intriguing to find out what made women tick. How sex disabled all inhibitions and exposed humanity’s rawest carnal form. It was beautiful and I loved the escapism I felt from the endless skittle schedule at work. Being a gemini, a degree of verisimilitude could be seen in my duplicity. It worked for me and it was beautiful to see the subtle nuances in women from different cultures defined them all. Being with them, made me feel real and not just a wannabe Tinker Hatfield.
I put on a sharp evening outfit. Different shades of grey and black with a touch of silver to match the Manhattan choice of attire. Over the years of travel, different sports conferences and meetings I have developed the perfect packing system and choice of attire and accessories for every occasion and every city.
Stepping out of the boutique hotel, Juanita catches a glance and blows me a kiss. Oh boy.
After a couple of minutes trying to catch a cab, an old yellow taxi pulls over. “157W. 47th st” I say confidently. “Hop in” he replies.
Feeling like a tourist, I notice the TV screen in the otherwise rustic taxi, a little red dot pinpointing our location. Looking up, I see the street numbers decrease and the neighbourhood affluence increase. as we hit 47th st. The scenery changes and I’m back to globalist NYC.
As I enter the bar, I am surprisingly welcomed by a fellow Londoner.
“Hi, Welcome to the Aspen Social Club, do you have a booking?” She says in her west london accent.
“Good to see a fellow Londoner in New York, I’m meeting some friends- might be a table under Steven, or Steve. Sorry, I don’t know his surname. I just met him on the plane and…” I explain before being interrupted.
“Hey, hurry up buddy she’s a waitress not a geisha”
I turn around and see Steve grinning, now smartly dressed, flanked by a couple of blue blooded Ivy Leaguers.
“Wow, look at you. You guys look like a spinoff of The Matrix”
“Very funny Limey, you’re just sore because you have Mr Bean and we have Jack Bauer.” He smirks, turning to his cronies as they begin to laugh in approval. “Come’on. Let’s grab some drinks.” leading the way to the main bar.
As we entered the bar the DJ started playing a Nujabes Home Sweet Home, complementing the soft woods and cool atmosphere. The lounge is littered with hipsters, posing like a marriage of Vogue and Esquire magazines come alive.
“Not quite the pubs you’re used to, eh mate?” Steve smiles, turning at me.
“We’re comfortable in our skin, no need to pretend to be classy.
After a couple of shots, I begin to loosen up. “This, they don’t have back home” I say looking down at a bottle of Bacardi 151. “It’s like drinking a bottle of battery acid”
“Correction, American battery acid” Henry, one of Steve’s associates quips.
“Correction, my brother, Cuban battery acid” Steve says, snapping his fraternal brother in line.
I look down at my watch: 11:38pm. I let out a sigh-, too good to be true.
“Hey, Steve, when the girls coming?” Henry asks- sounding like an eager school kid on a class trip.
“Listen, chill they’ll be here” irritatingly responded. “If you drink it, they will come”
At that moment a parade of girls enter the room like a Victoria’s Secret after party. Different ethnicities, none clear cut. Got to love cultural smoothies. One of them Ashley was some sort of mexican-filipina-scottish, the other, Sylvia was russian-japanese. Altogetherme I wasn’t complaining..
I turn to Steve, “Thanks.” who replies with a wink.
Ashley after about a minute and a half of explaining her future ambitions bores me and her annoying mid-western accent displaces her beauty.
I feel a tap on my shoulder and turn around, “Excuse me, I’m looking for a Prince” Looking up, I see stupendously gorgeous brunette looking at me. I really am starting to like this city. “You must be London” she says, biting the flesh from her lips.
“Indeed I am, wanna get out of here?” I reply, feeling the whiskey flow through my conduits.
“Ladies, Steve. It’s been a pleasure, I bid you adieu and goodnight. I’ve got some important matters to take care of” I announce, woozily walking towards the exit.
“In London I would know exactly where to go, but I’m very much an Englishman in New York.” I confess stroking my hand on A’s side.
“Like I said, I’ll show you the real New York” A whispers in my ear causing goosebumps down my thighs.
“I heard they call this city that never sleeps, I think I need to delve into that claim” I reply feeling the blood rush around my body.“Come on in, A, your chariot awaits.” ushering her into the parked taxi.
“Please, call me Amelia” stroking my neck as she entered the vehicle.
J.J. MASON / E.C. METHLEY
Flatiron Building, 8th Floor
Joshua walks into the narrow entrance of the flatiron building. The gold rimmed door is pristine compared to his current state. He walks in visibly flustered with a tie knot half passing for a windsor. His suit is pressed but it looks clammy, his dehydrated skin and parched lips giving the appearance of a James Bond after a long mission.
“Hi i’m Joshua Mason, from the London office to see Mr. Methley please” he says panting, noticing the paper smudged. by ink from the sweat on his hands.
“Right this way, he is waiting for you.” The receptionist replies, her eyebrows raised at my apparent discontent. “8th Floor.”
As the elevator doors close Joshua clenches his fist, breathing heavily he remembers his training. Muttering under his breath he recites his mantra, Order out of Chaos, Order out of Chaos. The lift dings, opening the door to a completely different scene. Symmetrical objects, fused with examples of the synergy between nature and science illustrate the walls. At the end of the corridor a robotic secretary smiles and asks me to wait.
“Good morning Mr Mason and welcome to New York. Mr Methley will be ready for you in a second.
“Thanks” Joshua replies.
“Send him in” Methley says, trying to constrain his laughter.
Inside the lavishly decorated office, Edward zips up his trousers, wiping the sex off his face. A beautiful woman pulls up her thigh high stockings in a way to rival most gentlemen’s clubs.
“So this is why my predecessor changed business” Edward mutters under his breath. “I’ll call you later baby”
As Joshua hears the door open he notices a familiar scent and the sound of expensive heels.
He dares not look up to confirm his suspicions, gritting his teeth in anxiety.
“Have a good day, Miss Gray” says the programmed secretary not noticing Amelia’s. hands brushing over the the englishman’s cheek.
Bright red, he musters up his strength in his legs to get up picking up his papers and prototypes when the image of his father appears in his misty mind saying something he should’ve. learnt a long time ago.
The most dangerous thing in the world is a woman.