My Deep Inner Life in Montreal

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A view from wandering around Montreal.
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Efforts to Make Friends in Montreal, and My Deep Inner Life

I am feeling a bit lonely and am excited to make some local friends my first week in Montreal as I walk through an open door labelled 309. To the left of this door is 309A. I am looking for 309B. The lights are off. It’s an odd place; I can’t tell if it’s a business or a residence. For sure it has served both purposes and it’s in a commercial/residential area.

I’m standing in what is like an open concept, basic, urban kitchen. To the right of the door is about an 8-foot span of wall with makeshift open shelves, a basic counter and sink, a stove and a fridge. The usual details for preparing a meal but not really cooking so much. The shelves are fully stocked, colourful boxes and packages and dishes and cooking implements. Otherwise the room is grey. Grey industrial carpet, grey walls.

There are several tables with chairs pulled around. I feel like this would have been a small living room. It’s an odd space. Do people work at these tables? Are there bedrooms made into offices and this is the common area? I notice a cycling helmet and a jacket have been tossed onto the table closest to the entrance. I can’t say why, but it seems like they were just tossed there moments ago. Perhaps I perceive settling of the jacket but not consciously. Where is everyone?

“Hello? . . . Allo?” I call into the darkness. I hear a stirring but no one answers. “Allo?”

A middle-aged man pokes around the corner, friendly and curious. He is not expecting me. “Roberto?” I ask. “Qui?” “Um, I emailed with Roberto and he said the group would be meeting here?” We stand for a moment, staring at each other. He’s clearly thinking. Who is this Roberto and why would he be having a group meet in my space?

“Oh, you want that one!” he says after a moment and amicably, turning me around and pointing to a third door outside. It is labelled 309B, but was not noticeable when facing the direction of these doors, it corners the left side of 309A.

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Door 309B leads directly down a staircase. Seems to be the same grey industrial carpeting as in the previous unit. I can hear laughter and friendly voices. It seems more obvious now that this is a commercial space that had perhaps previously been residential. I go through a living room cum storage room following the voices around the corner.

Four large brown rectangular tables are pushed together making one big work surface. The room is brightly over-lit by fluorescent tube lighting so I choose and dawn the appropriate eyewear before even entering. (I am highly photosensitive.) Around the tables sit naked illegal immigrants measuring and packaging what looks like some kind of exotic sea salt.

“I’m here to volunteer?” I say with some uncertainty to the first person who looks towards me. A stocky, well-built shorter man wearing a green t-shirt and blue jeans jumps up to introduce himself. He is happy to try a bit of English and I am happy to finally try the only French I know, which is only a tiny bit. Oh, and I was kidding about the naked illegal immigrants measuring and packaging what looks like some kind of exotic sea salt. I mean, how would I have even known if they were legal or not.

“I’ll take him over here,” someone calls over, “I’ll show him what to do.” The first guy looks unsure, he was happy to welcome me too. But this other fellow wins-out with English fluency, calling again until the first guy relents and gestures me to go ahead. I have no idea how this works so I just accept being called over. He seems to be the guy in charge.

Well, he wasn’t in charge, he was just bossy. And interested in me. And he doesn’t want to share. Me. He shows me what to do. We chat in English and very quickly I lose all hope of ever conversing with anyone else in the room. I have found much the same in coffee shops here in East Montreal, people shy away from English. They may speak a little but generally prefer not to. And when I try my little bit of French they also reply that they don’t speak English. In this case they may have made an attempt to communicate with me, had I been the lone Anglo guy in a room of Francophones and happy to struggle communicating in my barely existent French some of them might have playfully interacted with me. The desire to communicate can easily outweigh language shortcomings, I have experienced this all over the world. But not in this case, not with the Brazilian fluently conversing. I very quickly became invisible to the rest of the group. The “welcome” switch flicked to “avoid”, perhaps even, “invisible”.

“Where are we going for a drink?” he asks after we emerge into the urban Montreal street. “I’m still going to Chapters, I don’t want to go for a drink,” I reply. I had told him of my plan to look for some specific books this evening after volunteering. He clearly wanted to spend the evening together but I didn’t. “I don’t really drink either,” he says, ignoring my lack of interest,”you know the village better than I do.” That’s just stupid. I’ve been to two bars and anyway, he doesn’t know how well or not I know the village. “Are you going to Beaudry Station?” I ask at the corner of Rue Ste Catherine, gesturing that this is where we part. “No, I’ll walk with you to Berri.”

He walks with me well past Metro Berri and some distance later we come upon a fashion show around the Plaza Des Arts. We wander in and there I leave him, which I have to do pointedly. I am feeling very crowded by this fellow who, in his head, seems to have already settled down and had babies with me. “There’s a station here?” “Yes, right there.” “Okay, I’m leaving you now, it was nice to meet you,” I lied. We farewell and I continue to the bookstore where I can find travel guides in English. I need to start reading about Southeast Asia.

I felt like my chance to meet some locals was hijacked by this friendly Brazilian. “It’s the first time in months that I came to help-out here,” he had exclaimed, suggesting the destiny of our meeting.

If we were meant to meet, then I guess I wasn’t meant to make some new friends that night after all. A group of friends where I was the token English guy would have been fun. That’s what I was hoping for – accept me in your group even though our communication is limited. I might not want to go to a German film with French subtitles, but there are lots of other activities I would be happy to join. I’m used to being in groups where I don’t understand what most people are saying, being the white guy in China and the only non-Japanese in my schools in Japan, I’d be happy to catch a word or gesture here and there. “Ah yes, a tree, I understand fully. . . ” (Really? They’ve been talking about a tree this whole time?) “Yes, tree, ha,ha, you speak Japanese very well!”
(He thinks we’re talking about a tree?)

Happily I have a “very deep inner life” that allows me to enjoy such situations. Sometimes I even do that with English speakers. Some might call it “zoning out” and see it as a defect of having ADHD, but I prefer my view. My internal world is quite developed and I am someone who rarely gets bored. There are strengths to be found in any attribute. I think my former partner may not have fully appreciated that I substituted, “Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention, what did you say?” with, “Sorry, I have a very deep inner life, what did you say?”

The men in my family also seem to share a delay in attention change. If you start suddenly talking to us, don’t expect us to have heard the beginning of what you said. Because it takes a moment to shift our focus from our very deep inner life over to you. We need some advance notice that you are about to speak, how else are we to know that we need to listen? You will most always have to repeat the first few lines unless we were already presently engaged in conversation. Except there’s no guarantee in my case, “Sorry, I forgot you were talking to me for a moment.” Don’t take it personally. Unless you want to, I know that some people love to take things like that personally, keeps life more excitingly dramatic or something. I won’t even talk about our inability to multi task. Another time.

I was very much happy to be alone again. Thankful, in fact. Perhaps that was the purpose in our meeting; I had been feeling a bit lonely. And now I’m just grateful. More space for my deep inner life again.

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Some views from cycling around Montreal’s port.

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Click on the videos below to play them.


Cycling across the Jacques Cartier Bridge:


I had one song stuck in my head all day, so you might notice me humming it in these videos. The next one, for sure. (Maybe called, “This Land is Mine”, I might share the video sometime but some might find it offensive even though it isn’t.)

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Washington DC House Party – Part Two

This posting starts in the middle of a story, so if you missed it, check out Part One before continuing here. Part One starts with me finding myself a guest at a housewarming party in DC where I meet a variety of characters. Thanks for reading! D

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DC House Party – Part Two

I sit down where there’s room and cause some ill feelings from one of the jocks. The girl he has been chatting to now turns to me. She engages me in conversation and I see him rolling his eyes as I reply, “No, I’m just visiting from Canada.” What does he expect me to say? Don’t talk to me, that guy who suddenly hates me was clearly hoping to sleep with you? Of course he thinks we’re on the same team and assumes I’m playing the same game.

To Be CONTINUED

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In the kitchen I am asked where my favourite place in America is so far. “I love Manhattan, but I wish it weren’t so expensive.” No one here agrees, so much so that I find it amusing. It nearly feels like I’ve violated some cultural expectation. Others express their dislike of the noise, the crowds, the traffic. “What do you like about it?” someone finally asks after everyone has shared why they don’t. “New Yorkers are great!” Well, that opinion drew looks of horror all around. “I have never heard anyone say that New Yorkers are Great,” one of them says, scoffingly. I try to explain the warmness of Manhattanites, how they interact with each other so openly and how in crowds it seems more like fish in a stream than the typical herds of beasts other places. How they have less-defined boundaries of interaction. How they accept the people around them. How they are so adept to live and let live. Part of why I feel completely at home there is that I feel like everyone just accepts each other as they are. They’re used to sharing spaces and they play really well together.

This is falling on deaf ears. All they can think is that their idea of life in the big city as being cold and harsh must be right and clearly I must be mentally imbalanced for thinking anything different.

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The artist newly arrived from the Atlanta suburbs oddly suggests that I am best not to visit Atlanta in August, “That’s when all the gays come out.” “Oh, I think we have more gays in Washington,” another guy corrects. “No, Atlanta is a lot bigger than here, I bet they do,” interjects a third. “All I gotta say is that I went out during pride and I will never go out in August again.” the artist continues.

I hold my breath. I hope this doesn’t get ugly because if it does I will need to defend my people. I am disappointed to hear this coming from the gentle artist. I can see Sam across the room and I know that he is not Mr.Out. We met and became friends at an LGBTQ meetup, but in straight company he tends to stay silent. I had asked him about this on the train coming here so as to not cause him any awkward situations. He’s twenty-six and still in that phase when he cares far more about what strangers think than I do at forty. I try to use my common sense, I don’t want to ever put myself in harms way unnecessarily. Additionally, I am finding that often I will enjoy myself and be accepted in friendly terms more when being incognito. Sometimes I regret even sharing that I’m Canadian, as the level of trust sometimes decreases. Oh, I assumed you were one of “us”. The time when “us” refers to “us humans” or even “us life” is coming, sociologists have seen our circles of empathy expand greatly over the years. From immediatel family – to our local community – to those who share our religion – to those of our state – to those of our nationality – our worlds have expanded relationally.

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So I do want to remain incognito with regards to being gay tonight. If someone asked me I would not lie, that would be sending the message to my subconscious that I should feel shame. But, I will not allow a homophobic remark any stronger than Daniel needing to avoid Atlanta for all of August due to pride weekend without unveiling myself.

“Why was it so bad, we’re you raped?” I stop myself from asking, confident that he wasn’t. Gang rapes happen by groups of guys who consider themselves straight. Those pathetic repressed men would not be caught dead near a gay pride event. (To be clear, I’m not saying that repressed men are pathetic, I’m saying that guys who rape – any gender – are pathetic. Beyond pathetic.) I’m just a bit annoyed, I kind of want to know why he was so offended by the event. With so many people still scared to come-out and live their lives as themselves, the event is still essential. The fact that I often need to be invisible to be accepted and to enjoy friendly interactions shows that we really need the visibility of Pride. I’m lucky that I’m a blender, I can come in and out of that closet as desired and as the situation dictates. I can choose when to risk rejection and when not. Not everyone can blend-in the way I can.

I want the artist to know that the guy he talked with for by far the longest at this party is gay. As a former artist, I was very much intrigued by his process, his schooling, his journey. He pushed himself closer on the sofa showing me pictures on his phone after his girlfriend left us to chat. An early twenties creative-type who studied in an art program, I just assumed he would be an open-minded safe person for me, that he wouldn’t care about other people’s sexuality. But when I think about it he did attend an all-male black school. Black guys tend to be extra-closeted, I hear they have a much harder time, so he may not have had the exposure I would have assumed would come from a creative environment. There would have been lots of gay, creative people but if they were not open then that would not have created exposure. I decide to pull the conversation away from that topic before anything more is said. Because Sam is not out to his friend.

“So, you’re Brenda’s brother!” I exclaim to the person on my left and the pleasantries continue. Good. Nothing overtly homophobic was said and I didn’t need to make Sam gay by association. It is HIS CHOICE and he is not ready. I truly believe that one needs to be ready to come-out, otherwise it will not likely be a positive experience.

Isn’t that remarkable. I tend to think that the progress is nearly complete and then rediscover that there is still much work to be done. In 2014 even in cities where same-sex couples can marry, many people are still frightened to come-out and some people are still homophobic, even young creative people.

The party over, we make our way back to our hotel. It was a fun evening overall. The next day we catch a noon train back to Richmond where the adventure continues, although with a change. I had to cancel several social activities to come away on this weekend. In the end, the fellow I came with decided not to stay in touch and most of the people I met with didn’t want to reschedule. It felt like I made the wrong bet. Except with one couple, somehow going away for this weekend seemed to unplug me from the social life I was starting there.

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Another view inside Washington’s train station (other in part one).

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Iconic-type pic from Google Images.

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Random photo of me at my Dad’s home, where I am currently visiting in New Brunswick. Painting behind me is one I painted when I was an artist some years ago. I may show some of my works on here in the future.

Thanks for reading PersonalTravelStories.com! I hope you’ll come along for the ride by clicking on “follow”. You can unfollow with one click at any time. Cheers! Darren

As Special As Any New Yorker (“People Who Make the City” Series)

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Bernice (“People Who Make the City” Series)
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Just as Special as Any New Yorker

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From my sublet in Greenwich I take the subway from W 4th Street Station all the way to 200th, one stop from the end of the blue line. I never noticed before that the street numbers go so high. I don’t mind long subway rides during quieter times of day, New Yorkers are friendly, open people and such pause of transit usually leads to interesting interactions or at the very least fun people-watching. I come out at Dyckman/200th Street and I am in a different world. I went underground in the middle of a metropolis. Now I emerge into the centre of a well-shaken Christmas snow globe. As usual, I pull out my phone for navigation. It shows me a jagged path in an unlikely direction. The suggested route looks more like a turbulent stock-market chart than a path, but I start walking, watching my little dot follow along the blue line on my screen to verify my correctness.

It says I should go directly into what seems to be a children’s park and I do so, continuing on a path out the rear. Sharp right on a dirt or a paved path I cannot tell; it has been snowing all morning; the ground is covered and the air is still thick with snow. Where it meets another path I ignore it and take an almost about-turn sharp left. The jagged-path is having me climb a hill that had been obscured from view. The route makes sense now.

I slip my way back-and-forth through what seems like a very unlikely direction towards anything whatsoever apart from maybe getting lost in a hill-side forest. Higher-up I pause at a vantage point and from my phone map I can tell that I am near the edge of the Hudson River and I should be looking across to New Jersey but all I can see is grey. I think I see the lights of traffic, there may be a roadway lining the river just below. The snow muffles vision and sound, it quiets the air in a magical way. A very heavy structure comes to view as I approach driveways and parked cars. It’s out of place. Is it an old prison? I approach the great structure and go exactly the wrong way. Had I turned left, the entrance was just around the corner. Turning right, I entirely circumnavigate the collection of attached buildings before gaining entry only a few metres from where I started.

Phew. I made it. So, where am I? Part of the benefit of keying an address into one’s GPS and blindly following it is the fun surprise of where you have actually taken yourself.

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I quickly ascertain that I have come to a place called The Cloisters. I now understand this to be a collection of European medieval architectural features brought to Northern Manhattan by Rockefeller and reassembled into one great structure. Original doorways, entries, windows and specific structures are labelled with their original dates and places or origin, reassembled into a new situation here during the 20th century. Medieval artworks flank the walls and adorn antique tables and stands.

I did not attend the Cloisters to see bits of Medieval Europe within the convenience of a Manhattan subway ride. I had never even heard of this venue, an offshoot of the Metropolitan Museum. I have come here to attend a Baroque Christmas concert by the Waverley Consort, that is the address I have navigated to. It had prices for tickets online and more expensive at the door. Online all it said was, “tickets are unavailable” so I assumed I was too late for that discount purchase. Nope. More accurate may have been, “Tickets Are Sold Out,” because that is what I am told when I approach the ticket desk. “You might get lucky and someone might return one though,” a friendly woman informs with cringed face at my reaction of making such a trek to not see a concert. I would have gone to Tosca, and that would have been a lot more convenient, I think to myself. Well, here I am. “Is there a cafe here?” Not in the winter, there is one nearby. I satisfy myself with a water fountain and pay entry into the museum, fingers crossed that in 75 minutes I will be nestled inside a cozy medieval chapel enjoying what is perhaps my favourite kind of music.

The main feature within the Cloisters seems to be a collection of tapestries, “Hunt of the Unicorn”. The poor little unicorn. There he is all riled-up surrounded by chaos with his horn prostrating a hunting dog. In the end, he is captured and they have surrounded him by a tiny little fence. Sad.

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Back in the foyer a grumpy man has arrived without his partner and I excitedly give him $45 for his spare ticket before remembering that he would have paid $25 online. He greedily accepts and makes a dash. His guilty dash is what reminded me of the two prices, because it was odd-enough to make me think about it. This suited man literally took the money and ran. I smile at him when I join the queue for entry and he looks away. Never mind, the concert was fantastic.

Departing for the subway I join a nice couple, both musicians, and a gentleman from Mexico. We decide to navigate the slippery trails together. Most of the patrons will get into their parked cars or wait for a shuttle bus to deliver them to the subway rather than risk breaking fragile hips or twisting tired ankles. I prefer to walk rather than wait on most occasions. The Mexican fellow studied English in Toronto so we chat amicably about that until he changes trains at 168th.

Knowing smiles whenever I mention being here from Toronto, our mayor now being a one-man freak show that has even come-up on my US cell phone as the number two news story by Fox on my mobile feed. I like to think that people only elected him to break our straight-laced stereotype. That he is accomplishing very thoroughly. With any luck he won’t completely destroy the city. Anyway, Americans seem to quite enjoy him. “The joy we get laughing at Mayor Ford almost makes-up for Beiber,” suggested one late-night talk show host. Poor Beiber. You grow-up poor, become uber-famous as a kid, make unfathomable amounts of money, and try not to have any issues. A completely predictable outcome, hopefully he is in a phase he will come-out-of okay. Ford is just a selfish moron who loves attention. And people like to give it to him so his parade may be quite long.

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I am joined by Bernice, a largish black woman in her fifties who appears to have been doing some shopping today. “I was visiting my son and my grandchild today,” she happily offers, “I let them have my Manhattan apartment and moved to New Jersey.” We chat about Christmas and American Thanksgiving. She’s having an easy Christmas this year, it’s her sister’s turn. Three of them take turns hosting.

“When we get together, time passes and suddenly it’s time to go home,” she shares, reminiscing about the bond she has with her siblings. “I got there for Thanksgiving on Friday night, we were having such a great time and were so involved in conversations that we actually forgot to go to bed. We had to take naps on Saturday.” I tell her of my upcoming visit with my sister, who will come here for Christmas and New Years with her Dachshund, Andy. Andy is my pride and joy, which is a bit pathetic when I think about it. Apart from my pride being a dog, and my joy being a dog, he’s not even my dog. Of course I pull-out my iPad and show Bernice (who claims she does not like dogs, but I will not accept this) a slideshow of Andy photos which I am sure she thoroughly enjoyed before she jumped off at the Port Authority Terminal. I hope that really was her stop.

New York is a special place. A forty-year-old man showing a slideshow of his sister’s Dachshund to a large black woman who doesn’t like dogs on the subway – probably makes me special too.

Yes, I could probably call this home.

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It was a strange feeling entering the subway in Greenwich/West Village and exiting into a winter wonderland. I didn’t know where I was going, I just keyed in the address of the performance space and followed GPS.

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And if you see this view, turn left and the entrance is right around the corner.

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I would not have believed such a photo would be taken in Manhattan, unless it was in Central Park.

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I believe this collection of tapestries to be the most famous of the Cloisters holdings.

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The sad finale of the series, Hunt of the Unicorn.

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This is what I was making my way towards. The rest of it was all unexpected.

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I have to show you a few pictures of Andy, then you’ll know that really I’m very normal.

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I showed this one of my Facebook. My sis had gone to Ireland and I was taking care of Andy. After our walk I had been doing emails and the tv was on and finally I wondered, where’s Andy? I went around the corner and there he was. In silent pain. “How could you forget my treat?” He had just been sitting there, desperately hoping I would remember without making as much as a peep. So of course I ran for the camera to capture the moment and then gave him two treats.

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Sometimes he poops. He doesn’t mind me showing you this photo because he’s a dog.

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From Christmas Day in NYC. You can see more pics from that posting.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoy my blog, please share it with your friends! Thanks!

Manhattanites – Story – The People make the City

Manhattanites from November, 2012 – Jane, Nick, Marta, Chris, Laurie, Qi

Jane

“SHE SAID – HER BAG – IS UP – SIDE DOWN, ” a large, 6’4″ rough-looking black man with an afro shouted to the workers of the Port Authority Deli as I was wondering out. Apparently a tiny old woman had been trying to communicate this several times without success. They understood him though.

“You should be an English – English translator” I joked with him as we were both walking out. “Happen’s to me a lot!” he claimed enthusiastically. “Could be a career in it,” we chuckle as he continues away. I light a cigarette.

(Cigarettes are highly addictive and they are terrible for your health. I have since successfully quit but it was really hard so just never start.)

“Do you need some help love?” I ask after the elderly woman has emerged onto the sidewalk under a construction girdle seemingly ever-present on 9th Ave between 41st and 42nd streets. (“Love?”, I think to myself, “when have I ever called anyone Love?”)

Jane, who stands all of about 4’10” replies, “Could you help me across the street? I’m fine if I can cross the street.” “Sure!” I take her shopping cart, the kind with two wheels I know so well from Japan, it must have weighed 50 lbs or more. “Can I take your arm?” I ask as we start-off, tiny slow step by tiny slow step in the direction of 41st.

“What happened to your leg?” I ask, clearly she has a disability but is trying to get around. “I’m waiting for my second hip replacement,” she responds, “it was replaced 5 years ago but it doesn’t work anymore. I have 3 more months before I can get my new one, but I think if I checked into the hospital maybe they’d give it to me earlier.”

“Do you have family here?” “Oh yes, but my sister and her husband, they’re busy this weekend. But I just couldn’t wait, my leg is infected and my pants had to be washed. I couldn’t wait to do my laundry.” “Can your insurance send someone to you, to do your laundry and stuff?” “Oh, I’ve never heard of that,” she says.

“Does your HMO cover your hip replacement?” I ask. “Whats an HMO?” “Oh, I thought that’s what health insurance was called in the US, I’m from Canada.” “No, I just have Medicare.” She pauses, “My parents came from Canada, from Nouvelle Ecosse.” (Nova Scotia) “Really? I’m from New Brunswick.” (Which neighbours Nova Scotia on Canada’s East coast. Both Maritime provinces, they share similar qualities.) “Are you on holidays for the weekend?” she asks.

“No, I’ve been really lucky. I’m here for a whole month, I’ve decided to start my writing career here in New York City.” “Oh my, that’s wonderful! What kind of writing, a novel?” “No, non-fiction.” She stops and looks up face-to-face for the first time. “That is the best kind of writing,” she suggests, speaking slowly for emphasis, “what’s your name?” “Darren” “I’m Jane. I’ll look for your book, Darren.” she informs me as I help her into the station never to see her again.

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Nick

“How much for a cut?” “$14” “Alright”
“Same as you have but shorter?” “Sure”

Those long negotiations over with I settle-in to a chair at the barbershop below my flat. (I consider everything on the short block between 41st and 42nd to be below my flat.)

From Russia, nick came to NYC at the age of 21 and has been a barber ever since. Now 39, he seems somewhat older than me, even if I did still keep my white hair, he is far more weathered. I turned 39 last month.

“Where are you from?” he asks in his harsh, macho way he has of speaking. “Toronto. How’d you know I’m not from here?” (I took his question as where I came here from rather than where I grew-up.) “From your accent”, he answers, in his very strong Russian brogue. “People here, they come from all over.” Most likely his question is a conversation starter with most of his walk-ins, perhaps a lucky guess. Everywhere else I’ve been assumed to be a Manhattanite.

“Toronto is good. Colder than here now.” Yes, his no-nonsense observations are both true.

My hair soon chopped somewhat shorter than I had hoped for, I pay with tip and hit the streets again, fresher than a few minutes earlier.

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Marta

“In the beginning, there was darkness. Then God made a good strong pot of coffee and got to work.” I like this sign, just in the entrance of Empire Coffee and Tea Emporium.

Located directly below my flat (2 floors down and facing the street, whereas I’m facing the courtyard) this coffee shop boasts no interior fashion whatsoever. Horrible, uncomfortable seating (2 flat wood benches, 4 folding chairs, and 2 low stools) below a basement drop-ceiling and on a generic tile floor all lit with painful fluorescent tubes. Clearly, this was some other business for which ambiance was no concern (perhaps an exterminator?) and they did not change a thing when they opened it as a coffee emporium.

The coffee is fantastic. There is a steady stream of customers, from the disenfranchised to policemen to retired couples to young and trendy locals. Throughout my month, I will only need to visit the Starbucks around the corner on 9th Ave, twice. (When Empire is not open.)

I sit on the bench facing the window and write with my notebook balanced on the arm. Across from me a bag lady has an animated conversation with herself. She seems to be sorting through 5 bags of rubbish. Dirty papers and plastics, nothing nasty. “How are you, Marta?” someone calls in passing. She doesn’t notice. I take a discrete photo and short video.

I don’t purchase my coffee beans at the moment only because I want to come back sooner than later. (If I buy beans, I have less reason to come for a cup of coffee.) I sip my coffee, write, and wander back upstairs when my bottom hurts too much from sitting on a solid, flat piece of wood for too long.

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Chris

“Sorry Sir, this is my first day”, a young, plump, early-20’s kid with huge lips informs me every step of the way as I try to buy a bicycle on 34th street. “That’s okay,” I let him know, ” as long as you make customers feel like you care, they won’t mind that you don’t know anything.” And I do mean, nothing. “So how do I buy this bicycle – I guess we have to get it down.” “I don’t think so,” he replies as I am already pulling the cruiser bicycle out from the display rack.

“The tires are flat. Can I pump them up?” “I don’t know,” he indicates while I am already filling the rear tires with a pump I pulled from the shelf. “This tire needs a new inner tube,” I inform, the air is coming out faster than I can pump it in. “Can it be fixed before I buy it?” Chris has no idea. What’s an inner tube?

Chris calls a fellow staff member. They ascertain that these are the only assembled, ready-to-sell bikes, there are none in the back. We find another men’s bicycle, quite different, but it’s the only other man’s cycle that they have, somehow the assembler has not noticed that mens cycles have sold more than woman’s cycles and just keeps the display area full. Now competent in removal, this time he helps me lift the cycle down to the floor and I again start pumping-up the tires.

“It’s more expensive, but it seems fine. I guess I’ll take this one.” I collect all the necessary accessories and the two of us head to the cash, he with the cycle, me with an arm load of lights, mirror, helmet, bell, basket, and locks.

“That’ll be $297,” the cashier indicates as I swipe my card and happily so. I called all the bicycle rental shops, the best I could find was a rental bicycle for $200 per week or $40 per day. It can be cheaper to rent a car. Crazy. I tell this to the cashier and she shares this astonishment yelling to another nearby cashier as I excitedly walk my bicycle out to the street. “Did you hear that? That white guy said that . . . .”

Feeling liberated from my feet which tie me to the ground, I mount the bicycle and start down the cycle lane, which have become plentiful in Manhattan. At the first light I think, “there are no breaks!” as I try to squeeze the handlebars. I realise quickly that a reverse pedal brings me to a tentative halt.

Excited, I turn on to 8th Avenue, another cycle lane. CLIKKKATTY – SSLLLIIIPP – KKKKHHHKKK – my legs are pedalling but I am not moving. The chain has not slipped. The gear on the rear tire has come apart. There is no forward motion.

“It’s not my fault, ” Chris says as I push the cycle back through the front doors looking as dramatically deflated as possible. The assembly guy is here in morning, I know this already from my hour of trying to ascertain whether it was possible to purchase a bicycle here. “Will you be here tomorrow when I come back for another one?” I ask. “No, it’s my day off.” “You’re a pooh-head,” I tease as he walks with me towards the returns desk.

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Laurie

“It’s so nice to meet you! Our waitress won’t let us add any more people to our table.” It is my first time meeting Laurie, 10 days after I started staying in her Midtown Manhattan apartment. She and her partner have come away from their group to visit with me at the bar.

A film producer, Laurie is meeting with the cast and crew of their film, “Girls Who Smoke” which is later this evening to be part of the opening night program of the Big Apple Film Festival being hosted at Tribeca Cinemas.

Outside for a smoke myself, I meet a straight guy lamenting his girl troubles with a girl co-worker. They include me in the conversation as if we’ve known each other.

Two blocks from where we met for drinks we enter the crazy, crowded, chaotic, tiny cinema entrance. I claim my entrance ticket and he, “takes my word for it,” since for some reason he has no list of the pre-purchased. I buy a coke that’s “mostly ice”, my request, and somehow this provides me entrance to behind the bar. (I had stepped out of the crowd to order my drink and now it seems okay that I linger.) I find myself safe from the pressing crowds, leaning against the back counter inside the service area with a gorgeous blue-eyed dancer. (Not a student, this is a 2nd job along with dancing.)

Time to go in, I join my invitees again to slowly join the cattle shuffling into the little auditorium for our programme. “Girls Who Smoke” is the 4th short on the programme.

A slice-of-life film, two woman making a brief deep connection before going back to their separate lives. I love it. It’s my favourite kind of story telling.

The film ended, I sneak out, running off to my next adventure starting in 20 minutes at 11PM. I love this city.

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Qi

“For you, $20,” I am enthusiastically told by a good-looking Chinese man while he Vanna Whites his menu which indicates $80. “I feel SOOO special, why for me do you drop your price so very low? Sure.” I take my seat on a small folding stool on the sidewalk in front of Madame Tussaud’s. They charge about $1 a minute, the basic portrait will take 20 minutes at most, but most of them have these inflated price signs to be able to entice tourists by the bargain. I have also seen the advertised bargain approach, for a cartoonish scribble, only $5.

His name is Qi, from Shanghai. I spent some time there years ago when presenting recruitment seminars along the Eastern coast of China for an ESL college in Toronto. Shanghai is a gorgeous city, very impressive. Many of the unique, highly-designed sky scrapers were designed by New York City architects. It is China’s flagship city.

Qi’s son studies at a University in North Carolina. I could not catch what program he is in nor the name of the school, English was very limited. At home, Qi says that he owns a design business, for T-shirts. He visits his son in the US every year. The total yearly cost of having him study here is $80 thousand.

All this seems very, very odd. We are sitting on the street and he is drawing my picture. Why is he here? To earn extra money. He did drawing as a student, it was his hobby.

Finished my portrait, I give him $40 and he seems pleased. Such an odd story, but why would it not be true.

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