The year I lived in New York, I didn’t have a work visa. My savings lasted for a few months, and then I started borrowing money from my parents. I say “borrowing” because if I ever win a multi-million dollar lawsuit, I’ll be happy to pay them back. I understand that the money’s not mine. But let’s be honest, they’re definitely never getting paid back.
At some point I realized that for the amount of money it cost to live in New York, I could live in a different world-class city every month. I think people who love New York are on pretty thin ice to begin with, but when you think about all the other places you could be instead, the problems with the city really take on a radioactive glow.
But I hung around, because I was dating this girl. When I met her I’d been in New York for a few months, and I was realizing that you could really get away with anything in that town. If there was ever a time for me to get a mohawk, this was it. Surrounded by other trust-fund shitheads, unable to get a legal job, the time to act ridiculous was nigh.
I got my roommate Mike to help me with the haircutting, and it must have been pretty anticlimactic, because I can’t remember what it looked like. That may be weird to say, but my memories of New York always seem hazy and unreal. I don’t have any pictures, but I’m assuming it looked like I had always feared: Like I was a nerd with a mohawk. I kept it for awhile, but after that first day I let it lay flat, and usually covered it with an old man hat. That look was actually pretty good, I probably coulda learned to pull that off.
So this girl I dated: I’ll call her A, just to keep her name out of it, in case she runs for president some day. Not that I’m gonna say anything bad, I actually admire that girl a lot. She’s got a spark, a really headstrong attitude that’s very rare. I haven’t met anybody like her since. Maybe Canada just doesn’t breed people like her.
I think the best way to describe what happened in our relationship is that our personalities both have a lot of sharp edges, and it eventually led to us being a bit afraid of each other. Hanging out became like walking a tightrope, a moment away from tumbling into an argument at all times.
But her spark hooked me right away, and I pursued her pretty hard. I met her because her friend knew me from my guest appearances on the Keith and The Girl podcast, but beyond that my tiny internet celebrity didn’t do me much good.
Let me give you two memories of the first days I met her. I was at Nice Guy Eddie’s with some girls I knew, and A came in with her friend. I was wearing a Punisher t-shirt that my friend Spooky gave me. I thought it was kinda anti-cool to be running around Manhattan wearing it, and anti-style is all well and good, until you’re trying to impress a girl. That’s when you realize that you’ve got a goddamn Punisher shirt on.
A’s knowledge of culture was massive: Pop, high, drug, music. She knew a bunch about everything, and was able to deduce by talking to me that I wasn’t the kind of guy who would be wearing a Punisher shirt through a legitimate love of his vigilante techniques. You know, the way guys will wear t-shirts with dragons on them because they really fucking love dragons and wish they could fly around on dragons.
She recognized the symbology of “comic book”, but immediately gave me the benefit of the doubt, and steered the conversation to Sam Kieth’s The Maxx, and MTV’s Liquid Television. I was surprised over and over by the stuff she knew. Most women will give you a blank look the instant anything remotely niche comes up. And don’t tell me that ain’t true, ‘cause it way is. Ladies.
It probably also helped that one of the people I was hanging out with was my beautiful friend Devon, and A mistook her for my girlfriend. So maybe A was pleased I was paying her so much attention, and leaving my apparent girlfriend in the wings. Or maybe I was just charming as shit.
I don’t remember how that night ended, but the next night I was walking with A and her friend through the streets of Manhattan, looking for an after hours bar she knew. To have needed an after hours bar in Manhattan, it must have been about 4:30am. This bar was one of those unmarked doors with no handle — A had spent a few years bartending around Manhattan, so she knew a ton of cool places like that.
Her friend had gotten way too drunk, and as we walked he was playfighting with her. He wouldn’t calm down, and eventually accidentally hit her for real. So to get him to chill out, she punched him right in the face. This guy was huge, easily twice her size. They were friends, but I still wouldn’t have done that. This girl could talk about The Maxx, and when push came to shove she’d mash your lips against your teeth. She was a little embarrassed about it, but man, to me, that was perfect.
We’d been dating for about 3 months when I hatched my plan to get a mohawk. This was right at the peak of New York summer, which is not a pleasant time. I debuted the look at some little bar near St. Mark’s, and that’s another reason my New York memories seem especially dreamy — I never knew where the fuck I was. It’s not a complicated layout, but I was always shocked when I realized one place was only two blocks away from another place I’d been. Traveling underground instantly fucks me up. I always come back to the surface with no sense of where I am.
A was at this bar talking to the bartender, sharing bartender stories. She had a way of putting out a sexualized energy that she was mostly unaware of. It wasn’t flirting, it leap-frogged right over flirting. As a fellow male, I got a bead on the bartender’s mindset right away: It was early in the evening, so this girl wasn’t likely to still be around later on. But if she was, going home with her would be no big problem. If I had told A that he was thinking that, she would have denied it, and denied that any messages of the sort were traveling through the air. But, females of the species, you gotta stop imagining that you know better than we do about what’s going on in the male sphere. It’s not complicated, and it’s not ambiguous, and we can see it lit up like the Vegas fucking strip.
So I roll up, and A’s initial review of my haircut was pretty tepid. My hair’s natural curl made it curve up in the back, and she said I looked like a peacock. At this point, the bartender’s vibe changed to vague disappointment. I obviously had this chick locked down, because she wasn’t exactly fawning over me, but she was clearly still gonna leave with me. Only the groundwork I’d previously laid was allowing me to so easily sweep her out of there.
I can’t remember what we did that night, but probably waited in line to squeeze into some japanese restaurant that was way too busy. She took me to some great restaurants, but the constant waiting, then rushing of New York life is a real fucking drag.
The next morning we went to brunch with A’s friend, who worked at a restaurant owned by slightly-famed restauranteur Keith McNally. I’d never heard of him before, but apparently New Yorkers know him. So that was a weird way to be introduced: “This is the guy with the same name as your boss.” I kept my hat on over the hawk, and we sat around drinking coffee and mimosas. When A went to the bathroom, I asked her friend what she thought of my haircut. She said she didn’t love it. So I decided to keep it for another week, but its days were clearly numbered.
That day was so fantastically hot that I traveled from Manhattan all the way home to Flushing and didn’t have to piss at all. Normally I have to piss all the time, and coffee and mimosas don’t help. It was supernatural, how hot is was. All the liquid in my body just evaporated. My roommate Mike and our friend Spooky were in Corona Park doing a clown job, so I cut through on the way home trying to find them. But I didn’t see them, probably because they melted.
Quick post-script: The next time I saw A, my head was newly shaved, and she was a little taken aback. She said I shouldn’t “bic my head”, because it made me look like a skinhead. Once we got to her neighborhood in Bushwick, I saw what she meant. In Canada, that wouldn’t have been any kind of a thing. But in America, I seemed like some weird racist.
Which also reminds me - post-post-script: When Mike had a mohawk later on, some guy in Queens tried to give him white-power literature, and invited him to a meeting. I’m not saying America is full of racists. Just that a never-ending string of racist things happen there, all the time. I think that’s fair to say.