This is my entry in the QNY series describing our becoming New Yorkers. They are inspired by the New York Magazine series.
My approach to New York City took the form of regular inoculations that built an addiction rather than an immunity to the city. At five, my parents brought me to the Empire State Building. At thirteen, my best friend and I took a bus to the World's Fair. After ten minutes at the fair, we took a bus and a subway into Manhattan without any plans or directions. We wandered about until dark when with the help of strangers we managed to get back to the fair in time to catch our homeward bus to Connecticut. We never told our parents what we had done. At the age of nineteen, a newly ordained priest friend brought me to New York to see Lauren Bacall in Applause. When she sang Welcome to the Theater she looked straight at me. Two years later, that same priest booked us a room at the Plaza Hotel for the three days before I set sail on the SS Raffaello for my Roman years. At the age of twenty-eight, I was being kept by a wealthy older man in his East 69th Street coop, spending Monday mornings watching television with his maid while he was at the office.
I don't know when I realized that Tiffany's didn't actually serve breakfast, but it was probably concurrent with my realization that to live in New York City without money of one's own is an adventure best left to the very young and very pretty. At the age of thirty, I felt as if I had missed that bus and had given up any thought of becoming a New Yorker. Years later, with cash in our pockets from earlier real estate investments, the Baad Lamb and I went shopping for a Manhattan home.
We found a small studio on the twelfth floor of a building on Central Park South, a few doors down from the Plaza Hotel. It was three hundred square feet and had one window, but a magnificent one with a panoramic view of Central Park. We assembled the daunting package needed for application to the coop board that ruled the building. A google search brought me into contact with two residents in the building who warned me about the elderly lady who was president of that board. She would not look kindly on two men sharing a studio, and she didn't. Despite our stellar references and financials, we were not even granted an interview. And, according to the laws governing New York coops, we were given no explanation for the shunning with absolutely no recourse. We soon found another larger and sun-drenched apartment in the Lincoln Center neighborhood of the Upper West Side. This one had five windows, including a full-sized one in the bathroom. We were becoming savvy shoppers. It also had a Central Park view (if you leaned out the window and looked down the block...)
Having been burned once, our confidence was weak as we replaced the cover sheets on the twelve copies of our application and submitted the package to this building's coop board. We received a swift response scheduling an interview. My initial reaction was laced with some "Any club that would want us as members" suspicions, but we presented ourselves in suits and ties with nervous doubts.
The interview seemed cordial, but my gaydar was registering a clear zero. They were all straight. The president of the board spent much time on the business of his pet peeve: placing cardboard boxes out with the trash. They must be broken down into flat pieces no larger than sixteen inches in length or width. The pieces must be bound together with twine. When I responded that given the small size of the apartment we were buying, even our bed would arrive in a box no wider than twelve inches, the Baad Lamb shot me his "This is no time for sarcasm" look. Then, one of the board members, a producer at ABC News, announced that he had heard enough and called for a vote. When we stood up thinking that we should leave the room during the vote, they told us that would not be necessary and they immediately voted unanimously to accept us.
One month later, waking up in our apartment, I ignored the coffee machine and walked outside to get my morning fix at Starbucks. In flipflops and dark glasses, I passed the long line of excited tourists hoping to become that day's studio audience for the Regis and Kelly show. One of them raised his camera to take my picture. I don't know who he thought I was, but several others in line, seeing this, asked me to pause for their cameras. I gave them a benevolent wave before I crossed the street. At that moment, I became a New Yorker.