The International Writers Magazine
|MEET THE NEIGHBORS
NORTH on living in Brooklyn Heights in the 80's
On a perfect day youd
call your friends about it, meet for coffee and laugh. But thats
the hard part living in a new city, making friends. New York is a strange
place. Youd think youd make friends right away. Its
big, its got lots of people in it and some of the greatest coffee
places in the world, but sometimes to make friends, first you have to
have some. Or a job.
Join a writers group someone suggested. But writers are weird people
and make lousy friends. No, I wanted media people, advertising people,
lightweight, bitchy, amusing friends. People who have a pretty cynical
approach, but a huge appreciation of irony. Try putting that criteria
in the want ads. Try meeting them when you are on the outside looking
So when Nora came knocking on our door with an idea for meeting people
I was so astonished I immediately agreed. Nora, a large bespectacled woman
from Baltimore had just moved into Brooklyn too and she was lonely. But
Nora was more organised than myself.
"The way to do it', she suggested, 'it that everyone in our block
will pay $15 bucks and well have a party with nametags and everything
and well meet in the the only place with a garden out back and well
all be friends".
This I liked. Here we all were living in Remsen Street brownstones completely
oblivious of each other, hardly daring to nod at each other for fear of
sexual harassment legal suits or just plain fear and we should all definitely
be friends.It was set for a Thursday night. The name tags would be at
the door and there would be wine and cheese. I expected a big crowd, I
mean, there were four apartments per building and hundreds of people living
on this really elegant Brooklyn street. You would expect they would all
want to make at least one friend, or at least be curious.
My flatmate John and I turned up around half an hour late and there were
around five people. We put on our name tags and were introduced to some
socially dysfunctional people with great jobs, like librarian, insurance
salesman (on the make) unemployed bartender (rare) actor (character actor)
and Jena. I knew Jena right away. She was the attractive woman living
right across the way from our apartment with two kids. We had even waved.
This was a good start.
I just want to know one thing, Jena asked me. Why do
you always stand on your kitchen table, actually, why do you always make
people who visit you stand on your kitchen table?
It is questions like that that make you realise that people are watching
you more closely than you think. Well I looked at Jena and I couldnt
tell a lie.
Well if you stand on the kitchen table crane your neck and look
45 degrees over the street, then you can see Norman Mailer working at
It seemed like a perfectly normal answer to me, but Jena just stood there
open mouthed. You can see him working?
Yes, he seems to be doing a lot lately anyway. Everytime I think
about taking a rest, I notice hes still working and I force myself
not to quit until he does.
Youre a writer?
my husbands a writer. Writes for the New York Times.
She moved onto
someone else then. She instinctively knew that she was wasting her
time. Everyone knows writers dont have any money.
That evening wasnt
a total success. Only twenty people turned up out of a total possibility
of 250. Either they thought $15 bucks was too much to pay for a new
friend, or they didnt need a friend. My flatmate found himself
cornered by the vicar. The trendy bearded jolly vicar who didnt
believe in dog collars, or God. He did live in a great converted horse
and carriage building however with exposed brick and grey slate kitchens.
He invited about five of us back, probably hoping for converts. We drank
homemade wine with him and his wife who made shawls for a living. She
showed us about 20 shawls under someone actually fell asleep.
great thing about New York, you could never guess what anyone does
for a living.
The next day I
met Jena in the supermarket. One of her kids had been traumatised
by the biggest cockroach in the world crawling out of the chilled
cabinet where they kept the cakes. It was truly gross, but not unusual.
This was the year of the great garbage strike and as I helped carry
her shopping Jena made soothing noises to her kids. We stopped beside
one of the garbage heaps at the end of the road where rats were moving
in and around the mounds of fetid food and rubbish.
one of the kids shouted. I saw one there, its huge
Weirdly they didn't
seem to mind the giant sleek slimy rats, but the roach was
not a subject that could be mentioned without inviting mass hysteria.
Jena invited me
in for tea. My first invite anywhere since getting to New York. The
apartment was amazing with long maple wood floors, lots of plants
and a great view over the Hudson River (and my apartment), if you squinted from the bathroom
The kids showed
me their Muppet collection, Jena produced peppermint tea and I promised
to give her a copy of my novel when it came out. I had a new friend.
The best $15 bucks I ever spent. The husband I learned was an unfaithful
wretch, but since he was the New York Times book reviewer, I didnt
comment or take sides. You never know.
A month later, during
which we had waved a lot at each other, I finally let Jena in, to stand
on the kitchen table so she could see Norman Mailer working at his typewriter.
She was impressed. She called her friends at Vanity Fair to tell them
and they told their friends and someone (but not me) wrote an article
about it. (Which is why I think Normal Mailer moved upstate). Later I
gave her the proofs of my novel (my first, 209 Thriller Road. St Martin's
Press) and she took it home to give to her husband (or throw it at him
I think she said). I took her kids to see the Muppet Movie and they
loved it. It was great, I had a new friend and a kind of family to play
with. New York suddenly felt friendly and full of possibilities. I was
beginning to think of staying, writing another book there.
My novel came
out two weeks later, few bought it, there were no reviews and I
think they sort of remaindered it about three weeks later (its
a short book life in New York booksellers). Ironically that last weekend
there was a good review of it in The New York Times by Jenas
husband. But the book had already gone from the shops. Theres
a lesson there somewhere, but I never learned what it was.
Jena wrote me
a month later from Ithaca. Shed married someone else, they lived
up country and I mustnt write because her new husband wouldnt
like it. I discovered that I was very upset by this.
The same day I
got a call from London. A possible new book deal. I had to go back.
I found that I didnt really mind. Maybe you have to grow up
in New York to have real friends there. I have been back many times. I even
have family living there now and I have met all my nieces friends,
but they all look very tense and lonely to me. Rich, tense and lonely.
Sometimes I remember
Jena, her beautiful kids whisked off to Ithaca. I wonder what happened
to all of them. Then I remember the instructions not to write. I can
© SAM NORTH
The Curse of the Nibelung - A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
by Sam North
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