These are the moments in time that stand out when I first think of New York City.

– hearing the street vendor who looked like he should have been breaking legs for Jimmy Hoffa, with the rich, Bronx-rounded voice of Pennywise the Clown, selling, of all things, bubble guns. He breaks certain words through the middle, like a boat bridge opening to let the river of people hustling along the sidewalk through underneath. As it just so happens, I commit his speech to memory instantly.

‘Make a kid happy! Make a chi-ild smile! These bubble guns are one thou-sand BPM – that’s bubbles per minute! They’re weapons of mass fun-struction!’

I’m certain that some night, when it’s late, and my guard is down, this man will ooze bonelessly up through my bathroom pipes, and as I floss my teeth, suddenly, a corner of his face will be pressed up against the crucifix grille of the basin sinkhole.

‘Whad-daya say, buddy? Five bucks for a child-hood full of joy!’

– the man in fatigues with a sawdust tracheotomy voice who stands too close to us as we sit and drink coffee and ate breakfast in the park, who takes our polite refusal to give him our money with an easy way and a hint of croaking philosophy back to us.

‘Well, you know what they say. Life’s a bitch. Then you marry one. Then you get divorced. Then you get robbed.’

That is what they say, it’s true.

I hear that saying all the time.

– standing on the balcony of my friend Jen’s place, looking out over Wall Street. The air is cool up here, and it’s the viewpoint of a superhero. Inside, people are talking about evolution, and libertarianism, and getting their website blocked in Qatar, and I like being here, and meeting these new people. These new people are New Yorkers, man. They know about the news and the country and they make good jokes and if I lived here, I would want to get coffee with them in the morning and walk down the street talking about Tina Fey and the Hudson River and the Yankees.

I wish I lived here.

I also wish I hadn’t worn the shirt that, without fail, makes me sweat like Fatty Arbuckle on a rock-climbing jaunt.

– Zara telling me how she thought she’d accidentally hit David Letterman as she turned around.

‘But I don’t think it was him,’ she says. ‘It looked like him, but he was really tall.’

‘Uh, Zara,’ I say. ‘Isn’t Letterman, like, 6’5″ or something?’

– The 3 of Cups.

My friend Tom, who I want to high school with, and has lived here for years, comes down to meet us for drinks. My friend Bec, who has just come over a few weeks back, comes along and brings a friend.

And TNB’s NY chapter sends its duly designated representatives. Greg and Steph Olear, Kristen Elde, Marni Grossman, Quenby Moone. In the basement, as punk plays, I live up to my rock roots and order a caesar salad.


Bad. Ass.

Entrekin is as dapper and charming and as bad a man as I expected.

Kristen is summery and slim and has a tattoo of Nancy Drew on her upper arm, who she rubs for luck.

Marni brings friends and launches into conversation easily, energising the group, moving through this tiny society with the grace of a school of fish.

Quenby has a perfect laugh, and we are teasing each other within ten seconds of meeting each other.

If I lived in New York, I would want to see these people every day.

– hustling to find a fake Rolex in Battery Park. We ask an old guy selling t-shirts if he knows anything.

‘Nah,’ he says. ‘You gotta find the guys walkin’ around with briefcases.’

We ask another vendor, who calls out to his friend. They speak quickly to each other, and the friend comes over.

‘You want Rolex?’ he asks.

‘Yeah, man. You got any?’ I ask in return.

‘No,’ he says. ‘But I know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy.’

This is, literally, true.

He walks us from the outskirts of the park to one guy, who walks us to another, who walks us to a third, a man with a large black carry bag.

‘You want to go outside the park?’ he asks me.

By now we are kneeling on the ground, surrounded by four or five guys who are using their bodies to shield us from cops.

‘Uh, no…’ I say. ‘That’s OK.’ I’m comfortable staying right here in this very public arena, I think.

He zips open his bag to reveal rows and rows of watches. I pick out the one with most gold.

‘Anything else?’ he asks. ‘Handbag for the lady? I got Tiffany, if you want.’

Zara kneels down and picks out a watch as well.

It’s a pleasure doing business.

And then we were done. Heading through New Jersey and Tony Soprano territory onto DC and the South.

We’ll be back.

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SIMON SMITHSON is an Australian writer and editor. He is currently based in Melbourne, Australia, but frequently finds himself in Los Angeles and San Francisco. His work has appeared on both sides of the globe in print and online in publications such as BLIP, Every Day Fiction, Beat, The Loop, My Sinking Boat, and more. He has a tumblr at www.simonsmithson.com and he runs a lifestyle experiment at www.selfhelpless.net.

15 responses to “TPAC 2010 – Days 18, 19: NYC”

  1. kittenpants says:

    As a copywriter, I would give ANYTHING to be able to get away with the tagline “weapons of mass fun-struction!” I love this city.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Kittenpants! You came!

      I started to get really intellectually elitist, and think of how I could think of better portmanteaus than ‘fun-struction’. Unambitious SOB. ‘Fun’ doesn’t even sound like ‘de’.

      Damn it.

      Now I can’t remember what I thought of.

  2. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Dude! You guys *really did* buy fake/hot Rolexes? That’s awesome!

    Having met Kristen and Will on my last trip to NYC, I’ll concur that I’d be down with hanging out with them every day. I didn’t get a chance to meet Marni, though. You can’t avoid me forever, Marni! Your unstalked days are numbered 🙂

  3. kristen says:

    I like that pic of you and Will!

    Also, Nancy’s not coming through as I’d like her to these days. Mebbe she needs a Hardy Boy to boost her luck-granting powers.

    Uche–Marni’ll make a lovely addition to our trio, you have my word.

  4. Simon Smithson says:

    I know! We totally bought hot Rolexes. Apparently the key of how to tell is if the second hand is ticking. Real Rolexes have a second hand that moves smoothly around the clock face… which means if it’s not ticking, then it was pried off some dead guy’s wrist.

  5. […] and Culture editor of The Nervous Breakdown, attended a small cocktail party at my apartment on day 18 or 19 of his tour of the U.S. (he’s Australian): standing on the balcony of my friend Jen’s place, looking out over […]

  6. Zara Potts says:

    You LOVED that crazy bubble seller.
    I now have his silly voice in my head like some terrifying echo chamber..

    Oh and that crazy guy in Bryant Park. I thought for a second he was going to rob us. I should have asked him to get me a squirrel. He looked like he’d have been able to grab one of those little suckers.

    Ooh! speaking of squirrels, I guess our next stop is Washington, right? Where I NEARLY grabbed that squirrel on the tree. SO DAMN CLOSE.

    • Gloria says:

      Funstruction is a great word! I love made up words like that.

      The other night, one of the boys, I think Indigo, accidentally said accelebration instead of acceleration. We three had a fantastic time making up a definition for accelebration. We decided it was a really quick birthday party where the guests drive by and throw presents at you while you simultaneously hurl cake into their windows.

      Apropos to nothing.

      Okay, I’ll read now.

      • Simon Smithson says:

        Ha! Accelebration.

        OK, that’s so perfect. My hat is off to that man.

        And Z: yes, I most certainly did. I want him to be my husband. Now we can get married in California! What a day.

        Yep. Next stop is Washington and Lynchburg!

  7. Richard Cox says:

    “I’m certain that some night, when it’s late, and my guard is down, this man will ooze bonelessly up through my bathroom pipes, and as I floss my teeth, suddenly, a corner of his face will be pressed up against the crucifix grille of the basin sinkhole.

    ‘Whad-daya say, buddy? Five bucks for a child-hood full of joy!'”

    Was this guy’s name Pennywise? Just wondering.

  8. sheree says:

    NY 1977 first thing my cousin says to me when i get off the plane. Never go down on your knees in this city. Never stand around looking up with your mouth hanging open. Then she smacks me on the back and says to me “Lets get fo’ken ham’mahed”. 72 hours of running blind. Two weeks later the city blacked-out from a heat wave. I sat on the beach in Santa Barbara Ca hoping my cousin wasn’t on her knees looking up with her mouth hanging open.

    Cheers to NY and your fancy new rolex.

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