StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

Furball: A Blog Memoir of My First Days in New York

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on August 7, 2008

By Kyle Thomas Smith

Today, August 7, 2008 marks my fifth anniversary in New York!

Not long ago, my friend Ross, one of the first people I met here, said: “Kyle, Remember when you came to New York in 2003? With champagne dreams and Pabst Blue Ribbon pockets – and then you met up with FURBALL! Oh, man. Please blog about that!”

Actually, I did live in New York briefly in 2000. It was after I left Chicago to be an expat writer in Paris. Turned out I was just reading too much Hemingway.

After a month in Paris, I realized how terrible my French was and how seriously the French take their language. So, for the next four months, I kept heading east through Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, and Poland. I stopped at point of interest after point of interest and cafe after cafe with my notebook, writing and wondering what the hell I was doing with my life. It never became clear.

So, I took the train all the way back west to Barcelona and, after enough sangria, decided I’d get my life back on track in Manhattan. I’d only been there twice, both times to stay at Hotel Riverview and see Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Jane Street Theater. (Why did that show ever close? It was a masterpiece.) I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Still and all, New York seemed the logical next step up from Chicago, where I’d lived my whole life.

Desperate for new beginnings, I subleased my friend’s sister’s studio apartment on Horatio Street with my last $1,700. I had never known rents so high. Actually, after paying for the sublet, I had a little more left over to buy Ramen Noodles, which became my cuisine for the month as I patched together all the editing and temp jobs I could.

Then my friend’s sister came back from her time away. She was kind and generous enough to let me stay with her for a cut of my meager wages until I could find a permanent job and a place of my own. After two more months of interviews and near misses, I still turned up nothing and wound up on the Amtrak back to Chicago, a city I’d tried so hard to leave. As the youngest of seven kids, I’d always felt such a need to strike out on my own and prove myself. But, after failing in New York that first time in 2000, it looked (and felt) like I’d just flat-out struck out.

Fortunately, for two months, one of my brothers was going to be away from his place at the Edgewater Beach Apartments on Sheridan Road. I stayed at his place while I found work and got back on my feet.

Once I landed a paying job and saved a couple paychecks, I moved down to Wicker Park. That’s when I went hardcore into writing five to six hours a day, mostly just filling up spiral notebooks a la Natalie Goldberg, trying to find my true writer’s voice. I also continued working with Trap Door Theatre, a European absurdist theater in Bucktown. I’d already been writing for them for over two years, even while telecommuting from Europe and New York, and they fitted me with an indispensably supportive community while I lived down my New York losses.

Although I was rebuilding my life in Chicago and becoming more and more prolific with my writing, I felt a persistent tug to move back to New York. I knew I’d need a lot of money to make that happen, though, so I saved a buck wherever I could.

Even after a year, I still didn’t have enough.

Fortune favored my bold plans, though. Some friends of my parents, Ray and Mary Simon, owned a condo in a building overlooking Lake Michigan in the Edgewater neighborhood. Their tenant had moved out, so they offered to lease the condo to me for $400 a month! I already had a good job writing for a civil rights organization and, at only $400 a month, I could save a much bigger bundle than I could while living in Wicker Park. So, I moved into a luxury lakeside highrise. I stayed in Chicago for two more years, spending sparsely and saving copiously.

Again, I loved my job at the civil rights organization, but, after a number of romantic disappointments and fading friendships, I knew the Universe was telling me to move on. In late June 2003, I gave seven weeks notice at work. In July 2003, I flew to New York to secure an apartment before the move that I’d scheduled for August 7, 2003.

The Tuesday before my trip, I saw an ad on that read: “One-Year Lease Available. Apartment in the historic Bushwick area. $950 mn for 950 sq ft.” My mouth dropped. Back then, Chicago still had lower rents than the ones advertised, but $950 for 950 square feet? Even in Chicago, you couldn’t get something that big for that price.

I didn’t know if the landlord would lease to me, though, since I didn’t have a job lined up out east. Plus, I’d heard all sorts of Midwest horror stories about apartment-hunting in New York. One claimed that, just to see an apartment, you had to camp out on the sidewalk the night before and stand in lines that snaked around the block. Not only that but, if you liked what you saw, the storytellers averred, you’d better have at least $7,000 in ready cash or the landlord won’t even look at you. And you’d better have that money masking-taped to your chest! Your odds of getting mugged in even the nicest New York neighborhoods are about 90%.

So I called the number on the ad. Some Greek guy answered. I asked about the apartment. He said, “When you a-be in town?” I answered, “Friday.” He said, “Okay. You come. You come. I show.” I said, “Yes, but I have to be honest with you. I don’t have a job yet. Would you still be willing to rent to me?” He asked, “Can you leave one month’s security?” My first unspoken reaction was, “Just a month?” I’d heard from various atrocity addicts that you need to pay up to a year’s security on a New York apartment. But I wasn’t going to pass up a bargain, so I said, “Sure. One month, no problem.” The man said, “Okay. Okay. You come. I show.”

So, I found a drastically marked-down price on for two nights at the Radisson on Lexington. The room cost less than the flophouse rates at Hotel Riverview, where, last I saw, rival tranny hookers were tossing switchblades from one hand to the other as they crouched down like front-linesman to face off in the hallways over allegations of stolen tricks.

Not only did I find a nice hotel on that New York go-round, but I had arranged a job interview for that Friday morning too. Actually, earlier that same week, I’d already had the phone interview for that job. The guy said to me, “I’m very taken with you, Kyle. I got the portfolio you Fed-Exed me. Your writing samples are superb. And now that I’ve spoken with you, I see no reason why you wouldn’t make a great addition to our team. Why don’t you come see me on Friday at 10 am and we can wrap things up.” A job! Already! Could things possbily fall into place more perfectly? And I’ll be signing a lease on an apartment right after the interview too!

It was 95 degrees, the morning I showed up to the interview in a blue wool Brooks Brothers suit. My interviewer was wearing Levis and a Ramones t-shirt. He didn’t hold my fancy attire against me, but he did inform me that the president of the organization and his wife had met the other candidate for the position on Thursday. That candidate had favorably impressed them. They wanted to hire him on the spot, but my interviewer had managed to keep them from making any offers until they could meet me.

“Great,” I exclaimed, “Will we be going to the president’s office this morning?”

The guy shook his head, “No. He couldn’t make the interview today. He was called out of town. He won’t be back for a week.”

I tried to hide my cringe, “Well, how soon does he want someone in this position?”

The interviewer sighed, “He wants me to make the other guy an offer by Monday. I’m going to try to hold him off again. I’ll try. I think I would work better with you than with this other guy, but it’s the president’s call.” I had a gut-feeling that my situation was hopeless; I knew it all sounded too good to be true. I dogged my way through the rest of the interview, shook the guy’s hand, and haven’t heard from him since.

So, in my wool suit with $7,000 taped to my chest, I descended the stairs into the boiling 2 Train station, following the map I’d scrupulously drawn for myself, downtown to the L train to Bushwick.

I got off at Morgan Street. I approached a musclebound black man in a nylon skullcap, “Excuse me, sir. Could you please direct me to Central Avenue?”

He sized me up, down and sideways before leaning in close and telling me, “Man, you in the wrawng neighborhood.”

I said, “Well, I normally don’t wear a suit, you see.”

He said, “Look. Central is about ten blocks that way, up Flushing. Just…watch your ass on the side streets.” Then he gave me another once-over and said, “Actually, watch your ass on the main streets too, okay?”

I nodded, “Thank you, Sir!”

I made my way over to Central Avenue. There it was – the building. I saw people exchanging money and cellophane bags out of a car with tinted windows. I saw trash bags stacked almost to the top floor. Saw a grizzled old man, passed out on the building’s front step, using an empty bottle in a paper bag for a pillow. I recalled the job interview I’d had about an hour or so earlier. Then I looked back at the building.

“Guess I’m not on Sheridan Road anymore,” I said to myself, “If I’m gonna be unemployed, I don’t want to be living right next to this kind of unemployment.” I didn’t keep my appointment with the landlord that day.

I turned and walked back to the J train instead. The nice man in the nylon skullcap was still there. He gave me a wave as if to say, “Glad to see you got back alive.” I waved back and thanked him again for his help. By the time I got to the subway, I was dehydrated under the weight of my wool suit. I could feel some of the masking tape on my chest peeling away under the last of my sweat and, for the first time that day, I could smell all the $7000 worth of bills too. Radisson, ho!

7th Ave, Park Slope, Brooklyn

7th Ave, Park Slope, Brooklyn

Fortunately, I made appointments to see other sublets that were available in Brooklyn, just in case my quest for a permanent lease didn’t work out (it didn’t). After washing up for another twenty-four hours or so in my Radisson bathtub, I put the money back on my chest with a new stretch of masking tape and made my way over to Park Slope on the F train.

I’d never been there before, but, by all accounts, it was a nice, sunny neighborhood. You can never tell these things from a subway tunnel, though, and I was still wary from my apartment hunting on Central Avenue.

When I walked up the F train staircase at 7th Avenue, I saw jovial faces of all colors on the street. Baby carriages abounded, along with upwardly mobile-looking people who looked to be around my age.

I should also throw in that I was carrying a gray velvet bag of Viking Runes. It’s no secret that I was once horribly addicted to oracles. My oracle of choice that month was Runes, so I checked my bag of Viking Runes to see if Park Slope would be a good place for me. I pulled out the Breakthrough Rune.



I went to 322 7th Avenue, #1 to see a lady named Theresa. She was offering a one-month sublet on a one-bedroom apartment for $950. “Well, it’s less space than the Central Avenue apartment, but, then again,” I reassured myself, “It looks like you get what you pay for on Central Avenue.” Moreover, $950 was one of the lowest priced sublets available in Park Slope on that month.

Now, there was a reason the price was so low. This Theresa woman had a cat named Furball. Whoever subleased from her would have to cat-sit Furball. Reduced rent would be their compensation.

Theresa was a comely bachelorette in her late thirties. For ten years, she’d lived in this 7th Avenue apartment, which had a narrow hallway leading to a cozy little living room. I saw a Columbia University diploma hanging on the wall above her desk. Off to the side was a utilitarian-yet-charming galley kitchen. The bedroom was on the other side of an arched doorway, where there was a downy queen-sized bed with a daisy-yellow, floral down comforter.

I couldn’t help but notice that she kept the bathroom door shut, though. In fact, she seemed to keep steering my attention away from it and to the other aspects and amenities of the building, such as the air conditioner. She even made a point of pointing out 7th Avenue, a charming main drag with lots of action.

Theresa told me that she had recently been downsized at her publishing-house job. She said she was going take a few weeks off to work on an organic farm in Nova Scotia before pounding the pavement.

As she related this to me, Furball walked into the room. Theresa blew kisses to Furball and then picked her up and started rubbing her nose into Furball’s face and belly. Furball was a mop of long gray hair with lion’s paws. If you brushed away the fields of fur covering Furball’s face, you’d see a radiant pair of golden eyes. I petted her head. She kept rubbing against my arm and my hand. “She likes you,” Theresa said.

I wanted to jump at the sublet, but I reasoned that this was New York, so I’d better be careful. I told Theresa that I was going to look at a few other sublets first. Theresa said, “Okay. But I have someone coming in about an hour. If she wants the apartment, I’ll have to lock in her offer.” I felt a gnawing in my bones, but I didn’t know if it was intuition or just jitters over my imminent move. I thanked Theresa and walked out of the building.

I wanted to go somewhere to think. Actually, I wanted to go somewhere and pull Runes to see if I should take Theresa’s apartment. (By the way, I no longer use Runes or any other oracular devices. Back then, though, I could barely stand to so much as order a coffee without consulting them first. Sick, sick, sick.)

I stopped into one place at 7th Avenue and 10th Street, just down the block from Theresa’s apartment. It was crammed to the gills with twenty and thirty-somethings. A dull roar overhead. People hanging out, studying. There was a pierced-up bull dyke and a hot guy with rippling muscles and tattoos behind the counter, which was three deep on the other side with hip young things, ordering coffee and espresso drinks. They had a wide selection of beer on tap too.

I sat on one of the couches. A spring from the cushion under me broke free and poked my ass. But instead of jumping up in disdain, I smiled at that spring’s cheeky charm. I looked at the name on the door. Tea Lounge, it said. Should I have taken Theresa’s apartment on the spot?, I asked myself. I had an instinct the answer was yes, but felt I had to check with the Runes first. I asked the Runes, “Should I take Theresa’s sublet?” Yet again, I pulled out the Breakthrough Rune.

Even though I was obviously in my element, I still didn’t want to rush into anything. So, I munched on a maple scone and thought it over. As I sat there musing, I said to myself, “This is one bad-ass, motherfuckin’ maple scone!”

Then I moseyed on a block over to a bar on 10th Street called Boom Boom Room. The bartendress looked like a hungover Kim Gordon with black hair, but she had a sweet voice and demeanor and only charged me a happy-hour price on my Guinness, even though the Boom Boom Room didn’t do happy hour on Saturdays.

On the neon grafitti walls behind the bar, the Boom Boom Room flashed music videos. What should be playing but Thin White Duke-period Bowie videos! “Look Back in Anger,” “Golden Years,” “Wild Is the Wind.” If this wasn’t a sign that I should move to Park Slope, I don’t know what was.

I looked at my watch. Oh my ears and whiskers! About an hour earlier, Theresa had said that the other potential subletter would be over to see the apartment in an hour. I gulped down the rest of my Guinness, waved goodbye to the nice renegade bartendress and high-tailed it back to 322 7th Ave.

I rang the buzzer. Theresa was surprised to see me back so soon.

“Hi, Theresa,” I said, “I decided that a bird in the hand is…Whatever, can I have the sublease contract?”

She said, “Oh, good! I liked you better than all the other subletters! Only, could I have some character references first?”

I dug into my bag, “Well, yes. You can have the references on page 2 of my resume.” I handed her my resume. “They’ll be happy to speak to you,” I continued, “Also, here are some photo-copies of letters of recommendation. They’re mostly for employment purposes, but I imagine the testimonials would work just as well for the situation we’re in now. In addition, I can give you the names and numbers of friends.”

Like any good HR professional, Theresa couldn’t help but take a gander at what was on my resume: international theater company, AIDS counseling services, civil rights organizations, part-time writing instructor in social service organizations. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Nah, I don’t need any references. You’re fine.”

We had trouble finding a lawyer to witness the signing of the sublease agreement. I didn’t want to be taken for a patsy. When none of the lawyers in her Rolodex were home, Theresa swore on her honor that she wasn’t the kind who’d void my contract and steal my money. After having her swear on Furball’s life that she was an honest woman, I ripped the masking tape off my chest, plunked $2,000 down on her coffee table and signed.

I then flew back to Chicago to finish up my last week of work and start packing. While I was handing the final draft of a proposal to my boss, the phone rang at my desk. It was Theresa. My boss walked on back to her office and I took the personal call.

“Hey, Theresa!,” I said, “How’s it going?”

“Fine. Fine,” she said, “I’m just getting packed for my trip to Nova Scotia. How’s packing for your move going?”

“Oh, it’s a labor of love,” I answered, “Just as I’m sure Furball will be.”

Theresa paused. “Yeah, that’s kind of what I’m calling about. Do you remember my bathtub?”

“No,” I answered, “The bathroom door was shut.”

“Right, right,” Theresa said, “Yeah. Um…well, see…there was a reason for that.”

“Oh?,” I replied, “Is something wrong with the bathroom?”

“No,” Theresa said, “Not at all. It works just fine. It’s just…see, there’s a litter box beneath the sink.”

“Well, don’t worry, Theresa. Of course I’ll clean the litter box.”

“Oh, I’m sure you will, Kyle. There was never any doubt. It’s just…well, Furball doesn’t use the litter box.”

“Oh?,” I asked, leaning into the phone.

Theresa continued, “No, she…I mean, in a way, she does use the litter box. Only…”

“Yes?,” I prodded.

“She uses the tub as a litter box,” Theresa huffed. “There. I said it. She uses the tub…as a litter box. It’s not my fault, Kyle! I’ve done everything I could. I’ve filled the tub with water, thinking that’ll keep her away. Then all I find is a tub full of floaters. I’ve bought fun-and-fancy litter boxes with all sorts of catnip toys glued to the rim. I’ve hung little yarn balls from the sink pipes, y’know, so she could at least have something fun to swat at while she’s doing her dirt. I’ve even moved the litter box out into the hall, with a trail of Bonkers treats leading up to it.”

“And what happened after you did that?” I asked.

Theresa sighed. “She ate all the Bonkers. Then she got to work squatting in the tub.”

A moment of silence ensued.

Theresa then mournfully added, “She’s just…she’s just…IMPOSSIBLE!”

Lest Theresa burst into tears, I quickly responded, “Oh, don’t worry! Don’t worry, Theresa! I’ll…I’ll make sure Furball stays in line.”

At last, the day of August 7, 2003 came.

It wasn’t easy saying goodbye to friends and coworkers. My friend Ruth had helped me pack and move boxes into storage. She and I then had a tear-stained goodbye at the W Hotel bar on the Gold Coast. Dubi and I had a last pitcher of sangria in the beer garden at Moody’s Pub. Laureen and I had coffee up the street from my Edgewater apartment. It would be my last coffee at Viva Java before the owner, my friend Ted, would die without warning and his shop would fold.

“We wish you all the luck in the world out there in New York,” a few managers at work said, “But now that you’re going, we’re screwed.” Less than two years later, the organization closed its doors for good. (I’m not claiming that I’m the glue that held them together. I’m just reporting what the managers told me right before I left. And they were screwed! But it was mainly on account of their new Executive Director, who ran the place into the ground after not bothering to show up to work for months on end.)

On the afternoon of August 7, 2003, Mom and Dad drove me to Midway Airport. Dad drove and Mom sat in the backseat. Dad insisted on listening to his favorite radio personality, Rush Limbaugh, on Talk Radio, even as I bashed my head against my passenger-side window, screaming for him to stop this madness and torture. Then I perked up, thinking, “This is yet another sign from the Universe that it’s time to leave Chicago!”

Finally, we arrived at Midway. I’ve never been good at displaying gooey emotions with my parents, so Mom kept her sentimentality in check for my sake. She had that look in her eye, though, of a mother sending her child off to the school bus for the first time. Only this kid’s bus was about to pull up to an east coast Babylon, and he didn’t know what was about to hit him. Because Dad had insisted that I get to the airport three hours early for my flight to LaGuardia, “just in case of long securities lines,” the guys at the Quick Check depot put me on a flight that was flying to La Guardia two hours earlier than mine. I considered this an auspices for the wonderful life that was awaiting me in New York.

After I landed, I had too many bags with me to take the shuttle from LaGuardia to the subway, so I took a cab instead, even though I wanted to save money.

Driving into Brooklyn, I had the definite sense that my life was about to change forever, that nothing would ever be the same again. I also had a mother’s intuition that something bad had happened to my Dell laptop when it passed through inspection at Midway. My heart started pounding. All my documents were on that computer. All my resumes and cover letters too! I’d hoped like hell that my laptop was okay.

As I dragged my suitcases up the stairwell, I heard the clanking of a chain-link collar and lots hoarse, heavy breathing rushing up behind me. Before I could look back, I felt four paws knock me flat on the stairs. I looked up to see a Great Dane, the size of Marmaduke, bounding up to the third floor. Its owner walked past me with a leash rolled up in her hand. She looked down at my flattened body, said, “Sorry,” and then went right on walking up the stairs.

I dragged my suitcases to Theresa’s door and into her narrow hallway. I didn’t feel like dragging them to the bedroom just yet, so I left them marooned in the corridor. At that moment, my primary concern was my laptop. I took it to the kitchen, plugged it in and pressed the Power button. I pressed it again and again. It refused to turn on.

Looking out the kitchen window onto 7th Avenue, I remembered both the cozy life I’d left behind and the chaos toward which I had willingly and consciously steered myself. I sat down at the kitchen table. I hung my head over the corpse of my Dell laptop, folded my head into my arms and cried.

Somewhere around my fifteenth tear, I heard a noise. “Meow,” a creature behind me seemed to be saying.

I took a deep breath. “Oh, Furball,” I said, “It’s you!”

Furball hissed.

I walked toward her, “No, no, Furball. You and me, we’re pals.”


“It’s okay Furball,” I said, extending my hand out toward her, “You’re okay. Believe me.” She walked right up to my hand, rubbed against it a few times, and then swatted it.


I put both my hands up and stepped backwards into the hallway to retrieve my bookbag. I withdrew my gray velvet Viking Rune bag. Furball hissed. I asked the Runes, “What do I have to look forward to in New York?”

It gave me the Rune for chaos and doom. I put one hand on my heart, one hand on my stomach. The computer crash, the hissing cat, and the Viking Runes had all spelled disaster and damnation in New York. It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon. There was nothing I could do but take a nap.

I lay down. There was all sorts of long, twisted gray fur stuck to the daisy, floral comforter. Even though I’d had cats for most of my life up to then, I all of a sudden started sneezing. While normally that would have disrupted my napping, I found myself falling asleep even as I sneezed. The stress of the move, the plane ride, the Great Dane, the hauling of the suitcases up the stairs, the computer crashing, the cat hissing – all that weariness had the same narcotic effect on me that the poppy fields had on The Lion, The Tin Man, The Scare Crow, and Dorothy.

Suddenly, Theresa’s soft bed seemed just right.

When I woke up hours later, I felt rested, restored, strong enough to take on all of New York City. As I wiped the sleep out of my eyes, though, I felt a presence hovering above my pillow.


I rolled over and sat up on the bed. There was a whole world to brave. First things first, though. I had to take a shower.

I made my way over to the bathroom. And there they were…

Furball’s infernal tub deposits.

I took one step back. I took a deep breath. Like many signs before, maybe this too was a sign, a message from the Universe: “If you’re going to move to New York, you’re going to have deal with a lot of shit.”

Not to worry, though. Just as I’d suspected, Theresa had masterful cleaning products stashed away under the kitchen sink. Formula 409…


And a sponge.

If I were to make no other friends in this town, at least I’d have the three of them. They became my prized companions throughout my first month at 322 7th Ave, #1 while I lived with Furball.

I picked up a scooper and transfered Furball’s care packages to the toilet. I then scrubbed with all my might until I was sure it was safe to step into the bathtub.

I felt like a million bucks soaping up and feeling all the suds rinse off my body. I built the Prell up into a thick lather that fell thickly on to my shoulders and on down to my chest, my belly, my privates, my legs, my feet. I dried off and decided to take a walk around Park Slope.

Paul Auster

Paul Auster, Author

I walked all around the neighborhood that night. I was hoping I’d run into Paul Auster, one of my heroes, whom I once wrote to requesting a writing mentorship. (He never responded.) Alas, he wasn’t out on a constitutional that night.

What did that matter, though. Park Slope itself was sublime at night. And now I was living here.

So intoxicating was Park Slope in its nocturnal grandeur that it didn’t even bother me that Furball hissed at me when I came home that night.

The Week Wears On…

As the week wore on, things appeared more promising than they had the first day.

Theresa called me from Nova Scotia to see how things were going. She apologized for Furball’s behavior. She told me, “Hiss back at her. Believe me, it keeps the relationship in balance.” She also offered to let me use her desktop computer all I wanted while she was away. I was able to repurpose old documents that I’d stored in the Sent file of my Yahoo email account, so my computer crash in no way deterred my job search.

On Theresa’s desktop, I applied for screen after screen full of job ads on the Internet. I figured this was New York, so, the competition factor being what it is, I shouldn’t imagine anybody getting back to me for an interview any time soon. But, within one week, three prospective employers called. I guess my resume stability in Chicago stood me well. (I ain’t had no stability like it since.)

It sure as hell wasn't no New York winter that day...

It sure as hell wasn’t no New York winter that day…but this was the Starbucks.

My first interview was for a writer position at a major Philanthropic Foundation in Midtown. I got to the area a few hours early, so that I might be able to get some writing done at Starbuck’s. Once again, I was wearing my blue wool Brooks Brothers suit and, once again, it was 95 degrees outside.

As I sat writing, some guy who looked remarkably like a 1970’s Dick Van Patten cruised me from the other side of Starbuck’s. Again, I had planned to sit there for hours with my notebook, so, after about 45 minutes, I walked over to the counter to get a refill on my ice water.

“Hi,” said Dick Van Patten’s doppelganger, “What are you writing?”

I answered, “Oh, just jotting down my usual discursive thoughts.”

“Well, you seemed to be going pretty hard at it.”

“Yeah, well,” I said, “I do nothing by halves.” I’ve never been into Dick Van Patten, so I tried squiggling out of the exchange as quickly as possible, but to no avail.

“You’re all dressed-up,” he noted, “Are you always this dressed-up?”

“No,” I told him, “I have an interview.”

“Really?,” he gave me a look of full-bodied inquiry, “What kind of interview? A job interview?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“What kind of job?”

“It’s a Writer position.”

“Oh,” he nodded his approval, “You’re a writer.”


“Maybe you can write for me some time.” He handed me his card. “What’s your name?”


“Kyle,” he affirmed, “Wonderful to meet you. I’m John. Wow, you look great. I’m sure you’ll knock ’em dead at the interview. I live out in California. But, still, email me. Maybe my company can send some writing projects your way.”

“Thank you,” I smiled and, with an ever-so-slight curtsy, walked back to my table to continue writing.

John came to my table on his way out, just to wish me luck before going to his meeting. “Write or call me,” he said.

Well, I never ended up writing or calling John. Nor did I trust that his California company’s assignments would come without strings attached.

Still, his flattery so emboldened me that I smoked the interview! So much so that the interviewer said I seemed overqualified for the job. I guess that’s why I didn’t get it.

Oh, well, at least I “knocked ’em dead,” as John put it. At least, in that first month, New York employers recognized me as a force to be reckoned with.

That first interview ended at about two o’clock in the afternoon. I had to be back up in Midtown by 5:30 to have dinner with some friends of a friend, who’d tried roping me into a three-way the week before (I might have done it too if they weren’t all grab-ass and drool when they importuned) but when you don’t know anybody, it’s tough to pick and choose. Now, normally on a day like this, I would have passed the time by taking a walk, window-shopping, or writing somewhere, but, again, I was wearing that sweltering wool suit. I elected to take the F Train back to Brooklyn instead.

I was so hot, spent and exhausted that I didn’t pay Furball the slightest attention when she hissed at me on my way in. I stripped off my suit, my shirt, my socks, my underwear and headed over to the bathroom.

I saw that Furball had once again renewed her donations to the bathtub.

I gathered the Formula 409…

The Comet…

The Sponge…

That's what I looked like when I first got to New York City!  Man, what this city will do to you after five years!

That was me when I first got to New York City! Man, this place will wear you down after five years!

I scrubbed the bathtub and bathroom floors to a clean sheen.

Then I took the most exhilarating shower. Once again, the soap oozed off my upper body and down, down, down to my lower body and down the drain. I worked that Prell into a lather on my head that would make stables full of horses neigh with alacrity. Then, as I put my head under the showerhead and let the shampoo woosh down my shoulders…

The lights went out.

I thought, “Shit, Theresa didn’t pay the electric bill and now she’s up in Nova Scotia leaving me to hold the bag! Ah, well. I don’t have time to get into all that right now. I’ll call her when I get back from dinner.”

Then, through the door, I heard the guy from upstairs talking to the guy from across the hall. “Did your electricity go out?,” one guy asked. “Yeah,” the other said. I sighed with relief. “Oh, it’s just a building thing. It’ll be fixed by the time I get back from dinner.” I dried off, walked past a hissing Furball, and put on my clothes.

I walked out on to 7th Avenue. All of 7th Avenue was on 7th Avenue. Crowds formed. There was no electricity anywhere up and down the block. “Oh, it’s a 7th Avenue thing,” I told myself, “I’m sure it’ll be fixed by the time I get back from dinner.”

I walked over to the F Train. People came boiling out of the subway. “No trains running,” they announced.

It was then that I realized I wouldn’t be making it to dinner that night.

I started talking to people on the street. They told me, “All of the northeast United States has blacked out.” I gasped, “Oh my God! Al Qaeda! They seized our electricity. We’re as good as fried!”

Where else to take refuge during an insurrection but at Tea Lounge. Luckily, before I could start screaming blue murder to the Tea Loungers, someone sounded a battery-operated boom box on the street. That’s when I heard a radio announcer say: “I repeat, this blackout was not the result of terrorist activity.”

Phew! What a relief! Tea Lounge started giving out free cold drinks, now that the refrigerators were down. In fact, all the restaurants all up and down 7th Avenue started serving free drinks and cut-rate food. I started meeting neighbors from all around the block. It’s a good thing I came home to shower after the interview. I would have been stuck in Midtown for God knows how long. Many people had to walk 20, 30 miles home. Sadly, some people were severely injured.

But, as far as I could tell, all of us on 7th Avenue were having a blast!

All except for Furball.

There was no fan, no air conditioner, and the water in her bowl met with the scantest approval.

And, yes, when I came back from the festivities, she stood on the bed and hissed at me.

Contract Work…

After only two weeks of hauling my ass from interview to interview and negotiating a balls-out job search, I managed to land a few months of contract work. Furball didn’t join in my solo celebration. It didn’t matter, though. I just planned to sit back on Theresa’s couch, open a genteel mystery novel and unwind from all the effort it took to even make it this far in New York.

I tried – I did – to get into Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None… Her work just doesn’t compel me. While I was reading, all I could think about was my checking account and how glad I would be to get my security deposit back from Theresa.

Then I reminded myself, “Why shouldn’t I get my security deposit back? I’m a responsible person. I don’t throw wild parties. It’s not like anything around the apartment is going to get broken on my watch.”

That’s when Furball entered the living room.

At the front of Theresa’s living room stood a one-hundred pound flowerpot. The pot was set on a plantstand that had reed-thin legs.

Furball meowed for my attention. I looked at her. She lifted her long, furry tail and slammed it against one of the plant-stand’s legs. Time not only froze, but yelled, “Timber,” as Furball and I watched Theresa’s one-hundred pound flowerpot crash into a glass picture frame and then break into a hundred pieces on the hardwood floor.

Furball bolted under the bed. I sprang up off the couch and stood in horror over all the dirt and wreckage on the hardwood floor.

“It’s not enough that you shit in the tub!,” I screamed at the bed under which Furball hid, “It’s not enough that you hiss whenever I walk in the room! Now, you’ve bilked me out of my security deposit, you little bitch!”

After I cleaned up the mess, I went out and took a walk to calm down. When I came back, Furball was grooming herself on the living room floor.


Five days later, I was sitting at Theresa’s computer.

Theresa was back in town, but she was staying at a friend’s house until my sublease ran out. She’d asked me if it was alright for her to come by and use her own desktop computer while I was still on the sublease. I said it was no problem. So, over the course of the last couple weeks of my stay, she would come by her apartment and we would prattle a blue streak together.

With regards to the potted plant, she once again apologized for Furball’s behavior and assured me that it would not impact the return of my security deposit. That was nice to hear. Anyway, ever since that incident, Furball and I had come to a detante of sorts. She didn’t hiss at me anymore and I didn’t freeze her out.

One morning, I checked my email and saw that my friend Rob had written me. He wanted to know how my first month in New York was going. I told him I’d gotten a contract job, a new computer, which I still hadn’t set up, and my own apartment in Fort Greene, which I hadn’t set up yet either. I told him I’d also started dating someone and it was going well. I was happy in New York.

In his email, Rob had also asked about Furball. I wrote to him, “Right now, even as I type this email, Furball has her chin on my wrist and is looking up at me with cow eyes. So, you see, there are no boundaries here.”

Shortly after I sent this message to Rob, Theresa rang the buzzer and I let her up. When Furball saw Theresa, she hissed and ran under the bed. Theresa ran after her cat, trying to force her to be more loving and respectful. But I don’t think all the Coalition Forces combined have enough ammo to force Furball to be loving and respectful.

“You know,” Theresa said, “I remember when I adopted Furball. It was from some woman, an acquaintance of a friend. She had this cat…named Furball – I didn’t end up renaming her.

“Anyway, I went to go see who this Furball was. She hid under the bed the whole time. I reached under the bed to pet her. She bit me!

“I told the lady, ‘I don’t know if I want to adopt her. I mean, this cat isn’t very friendly.’ She guilt-tripped me, though. Told me it was either me or the pound. Plus, she’d declawed her. How could Furball defend herself if the pound were to throw in a room with other cats? I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I didn’t adopt her. So, now…here she is!”

A knock came on the door. It was one of the neighbors across the hall.

“Hi,” Theresa said. She gave the tall, blond guy a big hug. “You’re back!”

“Oh, I’m back,” he assented, “Oh, yeah, yeah. I’m back!”

“Come here, there’s someone I want you to meet,” she brought him in, “Johnjon, this is Kyle. He’s subletting from me. He just moved to New York and he’s already got a new job, a new apartment, a new computer and a new boyfriend.”

We shook hands. Little did I know that Johnjon was soon going to become one of my best friends and that I’d soon be moving in with him. But that’s another story, all having to do with how none of those things Theresa mentioned – the job, the apartment, the boyfriend, the computer – lasted as long as I’d hoped they would.

To get back to the story, though: right before Johnjon walked down the narrow hallway to come meet me, Furball walked out from under the bed and laid down at my feet. Theresa said, “Kyle must be taking great care of Furball because Furball doesn’t miss me at all.”


I dropped by Theresa’s house for a visit several weeks later. By that time, I was living in Fort Greene, one neighborhood over in Brooklyn. Theresa was laying on the couch with Furball, who was snuggling up to her neck.

I went to go pet Furball. She hissed at me.

Five years later, I’m still in New York. A little over four years ago, I adopted a Tuxedo kitten whom I named Marquez (namesake: Gabriel Garcia Marquez – which was setting the bar a little high).

Two years ago, I met my partner Julius. Nine months ago, Marquez and I moved into his house. Five months ago, Julius went to the ASPCA and adopted Giuseppe, a tabby, as a playmate for Marquez.

Both Marquez and Giuseppe make faithful use of their litter boxes. Theresa and I remain friends to this day, but Julius and I don’t want Giuseppe and Marquez hanging around Furball. She’s a bad influence.

We like our bathtubs just the way they are, thank you.

Saturday Night’s Dinner Party: Guests and Conversations

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 21, 2008
Julius and Kyle @ Millennium Park, Chicago - June 2008

Julius and Kyle @ Millennium Park, Chicago - June 2008

I just noticed I haven’t posted a pic of Julius yet. So, there’s Julius (left, in t-shirt) and there’s me (right, in red long-sleeved shirt). We went to Chicago last month for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. We stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel on Delaware from Friday, June 6 to Sunday, June 8.

On Saturday, June 7, we met my friend Dubi Kaufmann for fajitas at a place called Zapitista at 1307 S. Wabash near his apartment in the South Loop. Then, he took us for our first-ever visit to Millennium Park, which was built about a year after I left Chicago. The world-famous Bean sculpture was pretty magnificent, if expensive. The gardens were ravishing – and I’m no gardener like Julius. He wanted Dubi to take our picture by the lilacs. It’s a good shot – and a lot of the buildings in the background weren’t there when I was still a Chicagoan.

Third Street, Brooklyn

Third Street, Brooklyn

But, fast forward to July 19, 2008 on Third Street in Brooklyn. Julius was recently in Madrid, where he met some Spanish TV personality, who is friends with his friend Jose Maria. Anyway, this Spanish celebrity had been appointed the Spanish Ambassador to the United Nations or something, and he was going to be in New York with his partner to accept the title. As a favor to Jose Maria, Julius planned a lavish dinner party for Saturday at our house in this guy’s honor – but, when Julius called the new Spanish ambassador on Thursday to give him our address, he casually mentioned to Julius that they couldn’t make the party! Guess they found something better to do or something.

Luckily, the remaining company more than made up for their absence. Julius’ friend Rolando Niella, a writer and new media specialist from Paraguay, was there. He brought two friends, Caesar and Teresa, both news journalists from Paraguay, and their 16-year-old son, Camillo, who drank Coke while all of us mature adults slurred our words over the five or six courses of wine that were served. This teenager is writing an historical novel about one of the chief personages in 19th Century Paraguayan politics! He told me the hardest thing about writing his novel is sticking to historical fact when he’d rather let his version of the story run its course. Did I mention this kid is 16? Hearing him lament his limitations as a writer, I thought, “I need a drink!”

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Across from him sat Alejandro Varderi, another writer I’d never met before, who is writing a historical novel about his homeland, Venezuela. Varderi is a Professor of Modern Languages at CUNY and the author of several books of literary, art and film criticism, including one on Almodovar called, Un Canibal en Madrid. His new book is a novel about a century of life in a Venezuelan family. Lest this sound too much like One Hundred Years of Solitude, bear in mind that Julius and lots of other Caribbeans and South Americans I’ve known read One Hundred Years of Solitude and said, “That’s my family!” Seems to me everyone in those parts has that same kind of story. Marquez just got to the international presses with it first.

Blurry pic of Marquez

Blurry pic of Marquez

(I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez so much, I even named my Tuxedo cat after him. Above is a blurry picture of Marquez, who was better behaved than he’s ever been during a dinner party, although he did start putting his paws on the table legs once he saw the caterers come in with plates of cod. (And, in this picture, which Mike Levine took while I was out of town, Marquez was standing on a table where he knew he shouldn’t have been standing. Still, I’d never give him up for the world.))

Naturally, my best friend Mike Levine was also there, along with a stunning woman named Nishanti, who has this bad-ass Dharma wheel tattooed on her right arm. Damn, I wish I’d thought of that.

Anna Maria Carasso, a friend and colleague of Julius’ at Citigroup, pulled no punches in handing out laughs at the table – though a lot of them were in Spanish and I can only hope she wasn’t busting on the Old Spice I decided to wear at the last minute.

Morgan Library

Morgan Library

My friend Nadine Slowik came with her husband Brian. She just got a new job as Director of Membership at the Morgan Library & Museum! They had this kick-ass Dylan show a couple years ago. She’ll be in a good place.

Manhattan Skyline

Manhattan Skyline

When dinner was over, we went out on to the deck to bask in the glow of the Manhattan skyline, drink cognac and smoke cigars in front of Camillo, the minor, who continued sipping Coke. It was there that grown men slow-danced together right before his very own impressionable eyes. Then, gay and straight alike, busted into some hardcore salsa and flamenco moves.

We played:

Buena Vista Social Club

Buena Vista Social Club

Music from the Buena Vista Social Club, which sent Camillo’s folks into raptures that I would have killed to have seen my folks in at his age.

I then crooned track after track from the glorious Nina Simone. I underscored for everyone how the lyrics to the last part of “Mississippi Goddamn” still apply today, especially in the midst the Iraq War. A moment of silence followed as I turned my air mic over to Nina, who howled out the words better than I ever could. (I won’t reiterate them here. They might scare away my blog audience. Look ’em up on your own!)

New York in the Seventies

New York in the Seventies

Earlier that day, Julius and I were listening to NPR and the radio announcer talked about New York in the Late Seventies. The city had just come out of bankruptcy. There were muggers on every corner and half block. Open sex in subway cars. People pushing drugs on card tables they set up in front of their homes. Bath houses were in full-swing (as was AIDS soon after). Since then, crime has dropped 400%. Almost all of the porn shops in Times Square – which was just about all Times Square had at the time – have been swept away. New York has lost its Seventies Edge. But, then again, it is safer and it’s still mind-boggling.

Nadine and Brian are both from Detroit, which, in its epic poverty and disinvestment, is a throwback to Manhattan’s disco days. Nadine talked about how, in the mid-to-late Seventies, she and her sister used to go to these gay discos in metro Detroit. There was this one chick there who used to be out on the floor wearing leg-warmers and doing all these ballet moves, the exact opposite of what everyone else was doing. Nadine used to look at her, shrug her shoulders and go back to doing the Hustle. Years later, Nadine read a Detroit Free Press article where this young woman was remembered. She was none other than Madonna Ciccone, only a few years before she’d show up on the streets of New York with no contacts, just $35 and the dream of being a famous dancer.

Madonna at Dunkin' Donuts (Upper Lefthand Corner)

Madonna at Dunkin' Donuts (Upper Lefthand Corner)

This led to a discussion about a recent L Magazine article on how Madonna worked at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Times Square, shortly before she joined the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. Brian said, “She worked there for a day.” I wasn’t sure if that was true. He said that, by her own admission, she had a string of jobs that she’d get fired from after just one day of work, mostly for talking back to customers. Apropos of the Dunkin’ Donuts regime, Brian said, “I don’t think she could conform to the costume they made her wear.”

This led to a discussion of how easy it is to lose a job in New York, even when you’re not mouthing off to customers or bosses. Even when you’re not doing one damn thing wrong. We’ve both known (and been) wonderfully competent New Yorkers, who have an iron work ethic, show up early, work late and always do their best. But so many New York employers fire people almost for sport. It’s true. It’s not at all unusual to meet highly successful people in this city who have been fired from way more jobs than they care to admit. I don’t know of any other city where this happens so routinely.

It’s hard to keep your chin up through it all. You might even start viewing yourself as Henry Chinaski from Charles Bukowski’s Factotum, a writer who can never manage to hold down a job and succumbs to the bottle on skid row. But that’s yet another reason why it’s so important not to view oneself through the world’s eyes.

And Brian’s right. Madonna couldn’t conform to that Dunkin’ Donuts costume. And she was willing to starve and strive harder than anyone to banish all such uniforms from her closets for life. (She probably has other kinds of uniforms in those closets, but I’m sure she has a good time in them.)

Tao Te Ching

Tao Te Ching

See, but Madonna’s life history contradicts a lot of the ideas in Tao Te Ching, a book of wisdom that I adore but that I question as an American, raised in a nation of Darwinian success stories. For example, the Tao Te Ching states:

Therefore, the sage puts his own person last, and yet is found in the foremost place; he treats his person as if it were foreign to him, and yet that person is preserved.


All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power.

That sounds great. But, after Julius and I heard that NPR broadcast about New York in the Seventies, we were in a cab and I was meditating on the power-mongers in New York when, all of a sudden, “Lucky Star” came on the cab radio. (I’ve never been a fan of Madonna’s music, but I’ve always admired her moxie.) I turned to Julius and said, “It seems to me that Madonna could never have gotten anywhere if she hadn’t been such a career egomaniac.”

He agreed, “The only way most people achieve at that level is to be extremely self-focused.” But ancient Asian traditions keep saying that such power has a tendency to evaporate just when one needs it most. Yet Madonna has sustained hers.

Still, according to Lao Tsu, those who practice a less egotistical way of life remain “preserved.” But have you seen Madonna lately? She’s 50 and she looks a lot more preserved than most 30-year-olds I know. Asian philosophy also extols the practice of wei wu wei, which means “do all without doing,” or, doing everything in a calm, natural, inspired manner in order to arrive at success. But wasn’t Madonna’s style to kick down all the doors until she hit the right ones?

I’m not one of those chic cynics who advocates selfishness. I’m just trying to see how ancient Asian edicts jibe with who I see sitting on top these days.

Sociopath Next Door

The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout

Then Brian and I discussed certain types of bosses that many people encounter again and again in New York. (Note: there are good bosses in New York too. Brian has one now. We weren’t talking about the nice ones that night, though.) I am the foremost advocate for life sentences for abusive bosses. How do these people manage to retain positions that nicer and more effective people lose? Why don’t they ever have their comeuppance? Is there any such thing as karma? Even as a Buddhist, I sometimes have my doubts. I have seen murderous professionals sit pretty all the way to retirement, laughing over the trail of career-corpses they’ve left in their wake. And now the American public is glorifying Anne Slowey from Elle magazine for her ruthlessness on the reality show Stylista.

In her terrifying study of everyday psychopathology, The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout gives several examples of bosses who deliberately set their employees up for failure just to secure their own perch and have some fun on a boring day. She says that one out of every 25 people in America is born without a conscience.

I’m still trying to square Stout’s convincing argument with my Buddhist practice. Does everyone have Buddha nature, as the Buddha pronounced? Do even sociopaths have Buddha nature? Wouldn’t that be the same as saying they have a conscience and inherent goodness?

Yet, even in the face of all this adversity, in New York or elsewhere, we must remember a little story about Winston Churchill. He was the keynote speaker at a commencement ceremony at a prestigious boys school in England. Everyone was expecting him to give one of his legendary speeches. Instead, he marched up to the podium and said, “Never give up. Never, never, never give up!” Then he sat back down. Thus concluded his speech.

And thus concluded the evening – at about 3:30 in the morning. Throw 12 or more people together on Third Street, you’ll always find something to write about. But this blog is a mere sketch. I’m sure I’ll be processing the bounty of that evening for years to come.