Wednesday 31 March 2010

PiP Poets In New York pt 2

When you go aboard to a place you’ve never been you tend to walk around it with the naivety of new couples that have not yet met the sinister bones of their partners. On a particular Sunday night Josh and me had our honeymoon bubble popped when we were knifed by the realization that we are more vulnerable as outsiders.

Josh had read about a club in ‘NYC Time Out’ and suggested we check it out; it was a few blocks away from where we stayed so we walked there. When we got to the club they tried to charge us more than the club was advertised for, we showed we were wise and they folded, letting us in for the correct price. We strolled in, walking through the dance floor to stand next to the bar; this was to be the only space we’d occupy for the night.

A tall black guy with muscles as tight as his pouting lips danced in front of us like dust in a whirlwind, he was gay, no straight man points his toes, flicks his wrist and vibrates his hips like Beyonce’ on a power plate. His moves were slick, combining Salsa and Body Popping Street dance with progressive Drum and Bass/house music. The kind of sound you’d hear in Herbal in Shoreditch, just instead of fitness fanatic, toned bellied dancers you find teenage dirt bags in their late twenties zoning out on drug-fuelled cocktails. Josh turned to me and said he preferred watching druggies dance to this kind of music, I laughed.

As the place gathered we then noticed everyone there was some kind of street dancer, lots of annoying dance moves that involve elbows and not drumbeats were flying around the room, busy as epileptic fits. We wanted to dance, but we couldn’t share the floor, not just because we wanted to two-step but because these guys were floor hogs, if we stepped two meters forward we’d been in ‘elbow to face’ impact zone, then we would have had to sport sunglasses like the clowns in the Hip-Hop, R&B night clubs.

So we shifted, I was hungry and Josh was tired, the plan – get money out the ATM, find good pizza, go home.

Josh finds an ATM outside a deli, the card, clamped in his hand moved in slow motion towards the slot when we heard a man shout “STOP!” everything in the world froze, even our hearts. “BEFORE YOU DO THAT! I AM NOT GOING TO ROB YOU!” a black guy, about 5’9 and wearing a bomber jacket that made him look like a turtle in a hard-shell stood before us, holding out a piece of paper “I HAVE JUST COME OUT THE STATE PENETENTARY, THE BUS DROPPED ME OFF AND I NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE” our eyes were wide, any tiredness we may have felt vanished as we anticipated any sudden movement “ALL I NEED IS $2.75 TO GET OUTTA HERE! ARE YOU GOING TO HELP ME!?” … silence, the heavy hands of time fought against us, Josh moved the marbles of his eyes without blinking, they swung back and forth like a restless lunatic. We were straight jacketed in 10 seconds of awkward silence, procrastinating… “errrrrrrrrrrr…. Errrrrrrrrr…. Errrrrrrr…. Nooooo …” now I half expected the worse “muthafucka!” he mumbled to himself and quickly walked off, fading into night.

Josh and me looked at each other, relieved. Josh then realized his arm was still extended with his credit card still frozen in his hand. It never made it to the slot of the machine. Josh said “ok. Won’t be getting out any money, you can buy my pizza” and put the card in his pocket, it took me about thirty seconds to laugh at his cheeky comment.

We then saw a pizza place across the street, we jay walked across it and I noticed five hooded up black guys walk in just before us. We took one look at the flat and plastic appearance of the pizza and walked back out, but as we did one of the guys says “what’s good black!?” to Josh, he ignores them “HEY!” he shouts and then we hear another voice this time aimed at me “HEY WHITE BOY, WHITE BOY, COME HERE MAN!” we power walked out the shop and up the road before Joshua says “ohh’ kaay .. This is getting a bit strange.. lets go home!” we found a Pizza joint by a busier road that we were familiar with, we sat hidden at the back, nibbling our pizza in nervous silence like mice under thin floorboards.

On another night Josh and me separated, I went to Brooklyn with Maria, the lovely lady who we stayed with for the first few days. She told us about a poetry night uptown and we went. During that journey we ignited conversation, the type of talks you can only have with a handful of people. It was mainly about love and loss until we got into politics. I should know to sway from any political conversation from any American citizen; it nearly got my head served when I was in Ohio three years ago when I referred to George Bush as “the worlds biggest terrorist”. Maria and me were sitting on the train when 9/11 came up in our conversation. I shared my views about it being a dirty inside job…Maria was appalled, I defended myself until she explained she was there on that day. “No one person could do that, I saw it, you weren’t there, trust me no one would do that to their own country” “Hitler did” I said hastily “but I guess that’s another story”, she got upset with me again, I thought fast, quickly springing our friendship to the rescue … “well I love OBAMA!” a smile then swam to the surface of her face and we shared our favorite Obama facts.

To Be Continued ...

Monday 1 March 2010

PiP Poets In New York pt 1

Having seen so many films set in New York, when I actually got there the entire city looked silver.

I'm on the subway clattering uptown. The buildings, traffic, streets etc all share such a strict symmetry, if the city were a set of teeth they could only belong in the mouths of clean cut American dreamers. I'm from London; my teeth have cracks, gaps and black fillings. Seeing such order makes me suspicious. I met a New Yorker later that day that filled me in, explaining how most crime was happening in alleyways so they closed them up so the city can advertise a prettier smile.

Second night and me and Josh are in Essex to perform an 8 minute set in a basement of a bar called 'Happy Ending' which I later realised was probably an innuendo. I met a lady who works as a journalist who tells me she's been out most nights of her life since she was 15, “YOU DEVIL!” I scream, “Well, I need to suck the blood out the city if I'm to write about it” she then disappeared into the red lights oozing out the ceiling to find the warm necks of her subjects. I took out my camera and got busy sucking my own blood.

Joshua and me performed by the DJ booth and the crowd gathered in their comfortable corners. I got to say though; following Joshua's epic 'My Love' piece is like a punishment for not being a better writer or performer. The crowd was attentive and mildly responsive. I believe my work will improve when I stop trying to make people like it.

After the show I discovered the upstairs room was a “pleasure party”, a gathering of people who pride themselves on their sexual awareness, meaning they are aware they like sex and they want more of it! There was a long, thick banana on the table and lots of fat women with cupcake flab and breasts that looked like over inflated lungs, which amused me. After an hour the crowd had filtered, those that still stood around were the uglies left out the orgy. I'd seen enough and followed Josh and his new friends to a venue across the road called 'Weird' (deliberate typo) it was a smoky dystopian lounge full of 20 some-things that looked like runaways. Scruffy clothes, tattoo's, piercings and faces that looked like they were washed with collage diplomas. I'd tired myself out taking photos and faking my enthusiasm for the American punk and rockabilly music – I'm snobby like that, if something doesn't feel authentic I will not move. The DJs stopped and a band came on stage. Imagine a dark and minimal Little Dragon that uses lots of heavy bass lines and echo re-verbs in their vocals, now imagine it doesn't sound very good. Josh and me headed back to Queens at 2am, exhausted, grateful and envious that the New York Subway runs 24/7. We slept like babies with hot milk.

The next morning I wake up and Josh turns on the TV, a commercial for diet pills lights up the screen. “IT’S GREAT TO BE THIN!” shouts a smiling fake tanned white teeth white woman, “she did not just say that!” says Josh, unimpressed, “MY LIFE IS GREAT!” she says, running along a beech in a bikini barley covering her nipples, Josh changes the channel and I think about America’s suicide rate.

We went into town that morning to look for a cafĂ© with wireless Internet; we go into three Star Buck coffee shops before we accept they don’t have it. It was on the street walking towards what I thought was the Empire State building that we both realize New York is just like London, just built a lot higher and wider, Josh called it “London’s bigger brother”, I agreed.

The New Yorkers themselves were also on a similar but larger scale compared to Londoners. I walked into many NY pizza joints that could have been run by the same grease as a typical Kebab shop in Brixton or East Ham.

The R&B and Hip-Hop club we went into had guys like they do in the London mainstream clubs, wearing sunglasses, standing in the corner either playing with their phones or just staring at the wall, slightly nodding their heads to give themselves just enough reason to be there. The girls were mainly dolled up, quite a few of the really pretty girls were underdressed and overdressed at the same time, dancing with some of the meanest muscle bound mugs I’d seen in my life. It could have been London’s Bar Rumba in a bigger venue.

The poets too, some of them were like the American equivalents to some of the London poets I know, not just in their style of writing and delivery but their humor, stage presence and mannerisms. This got me thinking about how the environment influences its artists, it was fascinating to discover these doppelgangers and how it’s likely they exist because of London being such a similar setting.

Some parts of Brooklyn looked like Hackney, Manhattan was like Westbourne Park, Queens was a bit like Brixton, Times Square looked like West End, there is probably a London equivalent for every part of NY.

The streets are definitely cleaner and Josh spent days trying to figure out why his breath disappeared when he glared down the busy roads between the skyscrapers. He was so happy when he figured it out, “I GOT IT!” he said resuming a three-day-old conversation, “the streets don’t end” and he was right, you can see right down the throat of almost every high street, unlike London which has more turns and dead ends than teenage relationships.

Another thing I found interesting was the fact that almost every carriage I got into on the Subway had a homeless guy asleep in the corner, if I had taken a picture of every case I saw I could have made a pretty cool collage of homelessness.