Saturday, 15 October 2011

New York, how do I love thee

This week a recruiter asked me what someone from Australia (with its miraculous 5% unemployment rate) is doing looking for a job in New York. Fair question. The number of people unemployed in the US, at 14 million, is equivalent to two-thirds of the population of Australia. 

‘It’s the centre of the centre,’ I answered, paraphrasing Zadie Smith’s Autograph Man. He agreed and proceeded to give me sage advice on the current market, from one Brooklynite to another.

New York, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
Ash, me and Aussie buddies Sam, Laura and Matt on the Brooklyn Bridge

I love that I had the recruiter at Brooklyn. His parents immigrated here about 100 years ago. For even longer than that, it’s been act one, scene one of the drama of many American dreams since the industrial revolution. My own cousin settled here back in the 1980s, back when Jay-Z still lived in the borough as a rapper keeping it real (not in Tribeca next to DeNiro). Now writers, artists and designers are colonising this borough faster than you can say American Idol. The changing social fabric is causing some ruptures in the community. A civic meeting is being held this weekend, to allow longtime residents to air their concerns about the new demographic of my temporary neighbourhood.

Mostly the locals just go with the flow. There is, after all, a tradition of being uprooted and displaced and settling elsewhere in this area. They watch the artistes and hipsters walk by in their vintage gear, and liberal young families pushing their mixed race kids along in expensive strollers. My husband Ashley gets a regular wassup from the guy in the hardware shop on Rogers Avenue, who seems to work full-time outside on the driveway, a self-appointed welcome wagon for passersby. Kevin from the funky T-shirt shop About Time on Franklin Avenue (get your Brooklyn souvenir shirts here, hip tourists), his wife who runs the lolly shop across the road and their friend Mike the ex-professor are helping me look for a job.

The place grows on you. On our second day here we ventured out of our brownstone through a less friendly block along Bedford Avenue, which was dotted with pimped up four wheel drives where thug looking types were watching us shiftily while talking tough to each other. The police doing the rounds on the block, stopping to question the thugs, confirmed our fears and made me feel less guilty about inadvertently racial stereotyping. After that experience paranoia temporarily set in – did that old man loitering on the street corner have a drill so he can break into a car, I wondered as I quickly walked past him, dismissing his friendly hello with a nod. I hoofed it out of there without glancing back. See no evil, hear no evil. Today we strolled past him again. What a difference a few days make. I am now willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But I cannot drop my guard. Making headlines for weeks now is a series of sexual assaults in the area. The police nabbed a key suspect just this week. On the New York news channel, voxpops show female residents getting on with life – they are stoic Brooklynites after all – albeit they don’t walk the long blocks home in the dark without a can of pepper spray or a good male friend.

But I digress. This is about how much I love New York.

I love that my friend Samantha has lived here for the past three months, just because it was on her bucket list. As it turns out, the city is not for her, I’m afraid – she’s a beach girl, she likes fresh open spaces, New York is grimy, you have no personal space – but she toughed it out and now gives visiting friends walking tours around Manhattan like a local. I’ve met talented Aussie artist Miriam whose work has been exhibited in DUMBO, currently the most fashionable neighbourhood in Brooklyn. She loves New York too and our little patch in Brooklyn, Crown Heights. I love that artists are drawn to this city and the art world is not as cliquey as in Sydney. For a town that is best known for its tendency for capitalist excesses – Occupy Wall Street has not really shown us anything new, other than that under 30s are not all apathetic  – there is an awful lot of non-financial activity lurking in the more interesting enclaves of New York, where people still starve for their art. Until, that is, they turn 30, value earning a regular income and decide to pursue their art as a weekend hobby.

New York, I shall love thee better after I arrive in Sydney, because alas I cannot remain unemployed here for too long. When even a fellow Brooklynite cannot help me out, because his financial services clients are expected to shed 10,000 staff next year, in all likelihood I will have to love New York from afar.
PS Longer blog today is courtesy of my new laptop with a proper keyboard. The IPad has its limits.

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