An English Boy in New York (7 page)

BOOK: An English Boy in New York
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OH MY GOD I forgot to skype Ms Gunter! This is what happens when you rely on phones to remind you to do stuff. (Note to Megan Hooper.)

I raced down to reception to ask if they had a PC I could use, and they directed me two blocks down to an internet café. By the time I got there, I realised I didn't have any money, ran to a cashpoint and back again, it was 6.43pm NY time, or 10.43pm in West Meon. Luckily I had Ms Gunter's Skype ID on an old email.

The screen blinked into life and she glared at me.

‘I'm sorry!' I said. ‘I've had the worst journey.'

‘It's nearly 11pm, Ben. I'm getting ready for bed.'

I peered closely at the screen and realised she was wearing a nightie.

‘I was held in a little cubicle at JFK for four hours,' I pointed out.

‘Spare me the excuses, Ben,' she said. ‘I get excuses all day, every day.'

‘Wow, you're really snippy,' I said.

‘I'm sorry to hear you've had a tough time,' she said tiredly. ‘But, Ben, you can't leave it this late tomorrow, OK?'

I was too tired to argue with her, despite the fact that it was her incompetence that has made this day such an unmitigated disaster.

‘Fine, so I have officially checked in,' I said wearily. ‘Can I go and have my dinner now?'

‘Please do,' she said, yawning. ‘Say hi to your parents, won't you.'

She hung up. Not before I caught the final volume of the
Fifty Shades
trilogy face down on her bedside table.

She's a dark horse, that Ms Gunter.

My parents and I finally ate at a diner opposite the hotel called Dino's. We were a bit freaked out by an old tramp who rattled a cup at us after we came out of the hotel. Mum gave him a quarter but he didn't seem happy with that. So Mum and I ran across the road to escape. Dad had a bit of trouble crossing the road, though. Talk about a rabbit in the headlights.

‘Hurry up, Rain Man,' Mum called. In the end I had to go and drag him across while a yellow taxi honked at us.

‘They have a friendly sound, American car horns,' Dad said, waving at the driver, who gave him the finger in response.

After we'd been seated in a booth, I ordered a Philly cheesesteak sandwich. Mum had mac and cheese and Dad had wonton soup, which was an unusual choice for his first meal in a Manhattan diner, but that's my dad for you.

Our order was taken by an exhausted-looking waitress, wearing a name tag which told us her name was Denise. She was quite pretty in a tired kind of way, and I made sure I placed the order, just in case Gex had been right about American girls liking English accents. She didn't seem to notice though, just scribbled everything down and stumped off, bashing into a pot plant as she went.

‘I wonder where Gex is?' I said.

‘He's probably texting you,' Mum said.' Only you don't have your phone.'

‘Don't remind me,' I said. ‘I think I'll buy a new one tomorrow.'

The Philly steak was fantastic, but I was put off my food slightly by Mum and Dad, who had suddenly gone completely mushy with one another. They were staring into each other's eyes, playing footsie under the table and giggling like school children. When the double entendres started it was the final straw.

‘Fancy a munch of my burger?' Mum asked him.

‘Maybe later,' Dad said, smirking. ‘Would you like to try my wonton?'

‘Not here, please,' I hissed. ‘

‘We're just sharing food,' Mum said innocently.

‘Yeah,' Dad agreed. ‘Lighten up'

‘Look, it's great that you're all  …  into each other at your age,' I said. ‘But just tone it down, OK? It's not like you're on honeymoon or something.'

Mum gave me a tender look.

‘Sorry, Ben. You must be wishing Megan was here. Can't be much fun making do with a couple of gooey old fogeys?'

‘Not at all,' I said, through gritted teeth. ‘I've never had so much fun.'

Monday 13

There was a knock on my door at 8am. I pulled on the robe I'd found in the bathroom and shuffled to the door. Peering through the spyhole I was almost blinded by the sight of white teeth filling the view. Squinting, I opened the door.

‘Hi, Ben,' Brandi said. ‘Did I wake you?'

‘No,' I lied. I had in fact managed to get off to sleep sometime after 3am. Gex had still not returned and I woke a few times during the small hours, worried. I hoped he was with his cousin but without my phone there was no way of telling. Why on earth had I put it in hold luggage? It had of course occurred to me, soon after my bag disappeared into the bowels of Heathrow airport, that the check-in man and I had been talking at cross purposes. He'd thought I meant a stiletto
. Not a Stiletto phone. The older generation doesn't keep up with phone trends, clearly.

‘Would you like me to wait
for you?' she asked. ‘While you get ready?'

I stared blankly at her.

‘Your media commitments? We have two newspapers and three magazines to see this morning. So, up and at 'em!' she said cheerily. There was a note of panic in her voice. She was clearly wondering what kind of media-illiterate knitting weirdo she'd been lumped with here.

‘No,' I said. ‘I'm nearly ready, come in. Excuse the mess.'

I led her into the room and kicked a pair of Y-fronts under the bed.

‘Sit here,' I said, indicating an armchair. ‘There are no tea-making facilities, I'm afraid.'

She gave me a funny look. ‘You want tea?'

‘Well, I usually have a cup in the mornings,' I said.

‘So phone room service,' she said, looking puzzled.

‘Oh, I don't want to cause a fuss,' I said. ‘No time anyway. Interviews to do and all that. I'm going to have a quick shower. I'll be right with you.'

I was back out in ten minutes, still in my gown. It was only when I'd dried off that I remembered I didn't have any clothes, other than the clothes I'd worn the day before. I couldn't put those on again. I'd done a fair bit of sweating in that interview room. And I might have dropped a bit of the cheesesteak down my front.

I'd have to bite the bullet and borrow some of Gex's gear.

‘I'll be back in a minute,' I told Brandi, dragging the suitcase back into the bathroom again. ‘Make yourself at home.'

Brandi gave me a quizzical look, then picked up the remote and got stuck into
Judge Judy

Inside the bathroom I opened the suitcase.

It was worse than I'd feared. I was greeted by the strong smell of Lynx Africa body spray. On the top of the pile of clothes was a new Adidas tracksuit. White with black piping. Under that was a selection of Burberry caps, then a pair of low-slung jeans. A couple of hoodies, some long rapper-style T-shirts, another tracksuit, this time in gold with red piping, then some bling, pants and socks and at the very bottom, a belt with studs. Sighing heavily, I grabbed the jeans, the belt and one of the hoodies. After another moment's hesitation I took a pair of boxer shorts.

I didn't want to wear white socks with my brown shoes and that stumped me for a while, until I remembered the orthopaedic stockings. Of course! Thank God I'd used a charcoal wool for those.

Now. Could I be sure the boxers were clean? Gex wouldn't have packed dirty underwear, would he? But did I dare sniff them to find out? Eventually I put them on back-to-front, just in case. The idea of my boy band touching an area of fabric that had first touched Gex's boy band made me gag.

Next, the jeans. By tightening the belt I could make the jeans ride higher on my hips but that left my ankles and too much of the orthopaedic stockings exposed. So I let the jeans drop a little and covered my hips with the longest hoodie. If I didn't lean forward I wouldn't be revealing my underpants. Sorry.

I made my second entrance of the morning and if Brandi thought my look was anything but suavely sophisticated, she didn't show it.

There was a knock at the door.

‘That'll be room service,' she said, moving to the door and opening it. A waiter pushed a trolley in. Thankfully Brandi slipped a note into his hand, relieving me of that terrifying duty. So you did tip room-service waiters. Good to know. I didn't see how much she'd given him though. All the notes are the same colour here, frustratingly.

‘I got you a cup of tea,' she said. On the trolley was a tray with a pot of tea and three metal cloches. ‘And a little breakfast.'

‘Wow,' I said.

‘I wasn't sure what you liked so I got you pancakes, bacon and eggs and porridge. These are traditional
foods in this country.'

‘Thanks,' I said. ‘Have you had your breakfast?'

‘I'm on the 358:2 diet,' she said. ‘You don't eat anything for three hundred and fifty-eight minutes, which is nearly six hours, then you have to eat as much as you can in two minutes, then you don't eat for three hundred and fifty-eight minutes again, then you eat for another two minutes solid, and so on.'

‘Wow, sounds complicated,' I said, shovelling pancake and blueberries into my mouth.

‘It's all about controlling your metabolic rhythms,' she said. ‘I read this book.'

‘I bet you can eat quite a lot in two minutes,' I said, thinking about it. ‘I mean
can eat a lot in two minutes, not just
. I mean, definitely not you. I bet you eat like a bird.'

‘Well,' said Brandi, looking quite pleased. ‘I try and keep in shape.'

‘You're succeeding!' I said, much too loudly, then pretended to choke on a bit of pancake to cover my embarrassment.

It had suddenly got slightly awkward.

‘Oh, by the way,' she said when I'd finished my choking fit. ‘There was a call while you were in the shower.'

‘Oh yes?'

‘I think he was from New Zealand or something. He had a strange accent. His name was Gets, or Kecks or something.'

‘Gex,' I said. ‘He's not from New Zealand, he's from Southampton.'

‘I knew it was somewhere exotic,' she said. ‘Anyway, he said to say he's fine and staying with his cousin and why aren't you answering your texts?'

‘I lost my phone,' I said through a mouthful of pancake.

‘I know that, I told him. He laughed.'

‘That sounds like him.' I was relieved to find he was still alive at least.

I left a message for Mum and Dad and we went downstairs and out onto the street. I was excited about my first full day in New York. I felt like I was
doing business
, though perhaps not so much like Gordon Gecko. More like Ugly Betty. Still, things worked out all right for her, in the end. I was thrilled and nervous. I took in a great lungful of air and was immediately overwhelmed by a foul stench. I coughed and gagged.

‘Got any change?' a man asked, rattling a plant pot at me which he seemed to be using to collect change. It was the same tramp who'd shadowed us as we'd waited to cross the road last night. He was a bit freaky looking, with staring eyes and a faded tattoo of Astro Boy on his temple. I dug in my pocket. A quarter hadn't been enough to get rid of him last night. But I didn't want to give him too much in case he became my new best friend.

‘Come on, Ben,' Brandi called. She'd found a cab and was inside, the door open for me. ‘We've got a lot to do.'

I gave the homeless man a dollar.

‘You're not supposed to give them money,' Brandi said. ‘It only encourages them.'

‘I'm hoping it'll encourage him to leave me alone.'

‘So did you look at the list of media commitments?' she asked. I was too busy taking in my surroundings to pay much attention. Our driver was called Tarasalak Clontarf. He glowered at me from the ID photo stuck to the window behind his head. We hadn't got very far. The traffic had suddenly snarled.

‘Yes. Sort of. No,' I admitted. ‘I'll look now.' I opened the folder and looked at the first page. Then the second page. Then the third, and the fourth.' Do I have to do all of these?' I asked.

‘I'm afraid so,' Brandi replied. ‘Is there a problem?'

‘There are just so many,' I said as the cab finally turned onto 5
Avenue and crawled a few metres uptown. ‘You signed the form authorising us to arrange publicity,' Brandi reminded me anxiously.

‘Did I?'

‘Yes,' she said firmly. Through the window behind her I could see my Personal Tramp shuffling down 5
Avenue. I now saw he carried a Macy's bag as well as the plant pot. I ducked down before he saw me.

‘Am I really such a big deal to warrant all these interviews?' I asked. ‘Who's going to be interested in my story?'

of people,' Brandi replied, turning to look at me. ‘People love a feel-good story like yours. Especially when it's a boy doing something  … '

‘Unstereotypical?' I suggested. ‘Girly.'

‘That's right,' Brandi replied seriously. ‘Something that breaks conventions. You're a pioneer.'

‘Well, I don't know about that,' I said, going red.

‘Pioneers built this country,' Brandi said, suddenly passionate. ‘People who took a chance. People who escaped their English oppressors  …  sorry  … '

‘That's OK.'

‘ …  and came here to build a new life, to follow their dreams.'

‘Steady on,' I muttered, embarrassed. ‘I knit. That's all. Nothing world-changing.'

‘Ben,' she said. ‘You can realise your dreams here. It's that kind of place.'

Uplifting stuff for 9.15 on a Monday morning, you might think. And only undermined slightly by the presence of my tramp, who'd suddenly appeared at the window behind Brandi, rattling his plant pot.

‘Anyway,' Brandi went on. ‘Most of the interviews won't get used.'

‘Oh,' I said, slightly deflated.

‘This is the circuit,' she said. ‘You have to go through it in the hope that you get one or two hits. That's the way things work.'

I was really nervous as we turned up at the first round of interviews, in a big, slightly shabby office block on 56
Street. The building was mostly occupied by magazine companies. I saw three different junior editors, working for three different craft and knitting publications, each with a slightly different focus.

There was:

Let's Knit and Crochet

Crochet and Knitting World

and Crochet, USA!

I picked up a copy of
Crochet and Knitting World
to check the cover stories.

Marine-O Woollens – Practical garments to keep our military heroes warm this winter

Primary Colours – Donkey or elephant? How to knit your party's emblem before the elections this fall

Needlepoint Break! – 5 different patterns for that perfect surfboard cover

Cast Off – We meet the dressmakers of Les Mis and find out how they create those gorgeous rags

Angora Management – Robert De Niro drops by to talk about how knitting helped him to control his temper on set

What's that? Robert de Niro knits? Amazing! How would Dad take this news? I wondered. Could go either way. Either he'll be pleased to hear his son's knitting love affair is shared by one of his favourite actors. On the other hand it might trigger some kind of mid-life crisis to have his illusions so cruelly shattered. He's still not forgiven Gavin Henson for competing in
Strictly Come Dancing

There was a Cellophane packet stuck to the front of the magazine with some cheap acrylic needles and some thin yarn. I saw the needles were a US 10.5 size. A good size for knitting Hoopies or scarves. Maybe these would do for me until my bag turned up. I asked the receptionist if I could take a copy and she shrugged and nodded.

I was interviewed by three young interns separately, each of whom had a huge smile pinned to her face which couldn't quite disguise the boredom underneath.
This is not what I went to journalism school to do
, their body language said. I sympathised. I didn't really want to be there any more than they did. Most of the questions were about me being a boy and how unusual it was to find a boy who knitted and were my parents very accepting? And so on.

No surprises there.

After that we got in another cab, me clutching the magazine, and went across to 58
Street, two blocks over. It would have been quicker to walk, and I could have done with stretching my legs, but when I suggested that Brandi gave me a look as though I'd suggested we travel by magic carpet. On the way, Brandi talked non-stop. ‘Some people call New York the city that
sleeps,' she said. ‘By that they mean that it's like a twenty-four-hour city, do you know what I mean?'

‘I think so.'

‘There's always something going on. I love it here.'

‘Are you not from here originally?'

‘No, I'm from Washington State. Not Washington DC. A lot of people get those confused.'

‘Really?' I asked. I wondered if she thought I was dim, or just didn't want to take any chances. Rather than feeling patronised, I quite liked the way she didn't make the assumption that I knew everything about the US. Or indeed anything about the US.

The next interview was with a newspaper. The
. Again, it was a young, intense-looking intern named Miranda who asked me questions. She seemed fascinated by the fact that I actually knew how to knit and asked me to give her a demonstration.

‘I'm sorry,' I said. ‘The airline lost my bag, so I don't have my knitting with me at the moment.'

She seemed disappointed. ‘Well, maybe you could give me your number and we could meet up tomorrow night and you can show me your stuff.'

BOOK: An English Boy in New York
11.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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