Aug 22, 2011

Stinging Fly New York

I had a little window of time while I ate mashed banana on toast in my backyard this weekend so I posted a bit of a New York story over on Stinging Fly. I thought I might share it here, too (because it's Monday and I have little else to share). Be sure to visit Stinging Fly to read the other stories posted there, including Stephen Kennedy's only-in-New-York story about helping his Irish friend move a full-size helicopter out of his apartment in Queens.
“Always carry a can of hairspray in your handbag in case you get mugged,” my grandmother pressed as she tugged an unwanted cardigan sleeve up my arm. We were half way over the Atlantic. Half way to New York. Half way from Ireland. I wanted to look out the window and feel the weight——and weightlessness——of my twenty-year-old self dangling half way between the New World and my old world. I wanted to imagine St. Brendan paving the way before me on the ocean below me—moody and threatening like an upside-down Irish sky. I wanted to feel the clock skip back for a five-hour do-over. My grandmother wanted me to imagine styling my mugger’s hair.

“Never trust a cabbie,” my uncle offered as he weaved easily in and out of comers and goers at the airport, in and out of Irish and American accents. “If you must take a cab,” he added, while responding in sign language to two cars honking at us, “be sure to look like you know where you’re going, or you’ll be taking the feckin’ scenic route to the bank.” I wanted to take the scenic route. I wanted the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, the Empire State Building, and the Brooklyn Bridge to welcome me to New York, but they were no-shows on our way to New Jersey. I tried to imagine where I would fit in all the traffic, highways, and noise. I felt like my grandmother who ducked her head every time we went under an overpass.

“American girls make less of an effort on a Saturday night and more of an effort on a Monday morning,” my boss’s assistant Maureen counseled as she pressed a tube of lipstick into my palm on my third day in the office. Maureen had been in New York for seven years so she pronounced Billy Joel correctly and drank weak tea. When my grandmother called the office to giggle at me stumbling over my good-morning-Howard-Zingermann-and-Associates greeting, she said Maureen’s American accent was the sign of a weak character. Maureen had her own ideas about character: “The boss and clients love that you are just off the boat,” she’d say, wagging her manicured pointer, “but they won’t love that you have the vocabulary of an Irish sailor. You’re not in Ireland anymore; watch your mouth.”

“There are more fuckin’ roaches in this fuckin’ city than people,” my housemates Claire and Angela screeched as they took turns pounding the monstrosity of a bug that had sauntered across our kitchen floor while we were waiting for the kettle to boil. I looked away and stifled a scream, the way my grandmother had looked away and stifled tears when she'd left for the airport the week before. She had been full of nervous chatter that morning at my aunt’s breakfast table, painting a dramatic picture of me spilling silent heavy tears "for old boyfriends and good old days in the bog" as the plane had taxied away from the gate in Shannon all those weeks before. I told her she’d confused the bottom-heavy raindrops rolling across the window with tears, and said maybe she’d read too many of the sappy Loving magazines that circulated——along with The Farmer’s Journal and The Catholic Missions——between herself, Tess McMahon, and Mamie Moroney. She corrected her story to include rain, gave me a tense tight hug, and with a slap told me I was “a right yank now.”

I didn’t know until she left that I had emigrated.

Now, go add your story:


mise said...

Jacinta, you sure can write.

josie said...

great post Jacinta! i love your story. to echo, mise... you sure can write!

have a great day :)

Jacinta said...

Y'know, my reflex is to argue with you and point out all my weaknesses, but instead Mise and Josie, I will say thank you; you sure can make a gal feel good about herself! Thx!


Great stuff, Jacinta. You could've written about a thousand NY things, I love that you chose that, your first encounters with the life there. Well done. N x

Jacinta said...

Hey thanks Nuala. The problem was that I could indeed have written about a thousand NY things, and did start off on a thousand different angles, but felt I couldn't address any until I'd covered those initial encounters. It was actually a little emotional to remember how green I was! There are a million stories ... I remember not knowing how to open the back door on the bus and being afraid that the driver would forget to release the lock and I'd have to yell "back door please!" so I would miss my stop if no-one else was getting off and then walk back. I didn't know how to raise my voice. People always make fun of loud Americans but that was the one thing I envied more than anything ... that confidence, swagger, and ability to demand the bus to stop!

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