One of our skills exchange members, a playwright, travels to New York to ply his trade
“Why do people live in New York? … There is no human reason to be here, except for the sheer ecstasy of being crowded together”
I am not entirely certain why I decided to decamp to New York just as winter began to take hold – perhaps it was to share in this sheer ecstasy as Baudrillard opined or maybe it was an attempt to experience the city only to return to Cork months later to join the league of the permanently bothered, grinding people down with tales of grandiloquent negativity and false indifference.
I was fully aware that I needed to alter my way of thinking in order to succeed in any fashion in this biggest of all the big smokes. However, as luck would have it, I found myself in a Manhattan studio two days after my arrival, waiting to be called for an audition for a whiskey ad. Details at the time were rather sketchy but all I knew is that my friend, the actor and writer Ed Malone who had been living in New York for a number of years, had been asked to audition for this as they needed Irish people and asked me to accompany him to the shoot. When we got there, it was obvious that we were the only really Irish people here – the others all belonged to that unusual hybrid species known as ‘Irish-Americans’, with seemingly tenuous links to the country. This certainly boosted our confidence and we sauntered into the audition when our names were called, full of brio and bonhomie, much to the amusement of Janine, the casting agent.
“C’mere Janine like, the rest of those fellas aren’t real Irish at all. They haven’t a clue about jar, about getting locked, yokes, Taytos…I’d say they wouldn’t even know Terry Phelan and his endless, fruitless runs down the left wing. What’s that about like?”
Looking at us with a mixture of amusement, bemusement and a considerable amount of pity. Janine nonetheless encouraged us to rant on as we saw fit, our outlandish claims becoming more and more ludicrous, peaking with my declaration of love for deep-sea-diving in obscure mid-Cork villages and Ed’s attempt to proselytize our now entranced casting agent into the Church of Prefab Sprout, as he bombarded her with questions relating to her knowledge of the 80s lovelorn pop stars.
Amidst the ranting and raving, Janine had been taking notes and photos and soon began to elaborate on the whole shoot. Bushmills whiskey were attempting to break into the American market and wanted to use groups of men (apparently women don’t drink whiskey) in their upcoming ad campaign to promote the brand. Having dubious morals at the best of times, this appealed greatly to myself and Ed, as we imagined ourselves on billboards across the USA, bringing our own unique brand of bullshit to the New World. We regaled Janine with our tales of the hard-bitten Cork city drinking circuit and while Ed no longer drinks alcohol, I vowed to fill this gap by drinking for two.
Whatever we did that day, we did something right. Within a week, we had gotten the job and were ensconced in another Manhattan studio, this time populated by breathtakingly beautiful women at reception, painfully hip assistants and interns and now, the two lads, fresh off the boat, chancing their arms and mad for divilment. We were introduced to the photographer Platon, an English luvvie of Greek extraction, who provided belly laughs with his own yelps and shouts during the shoot.
“Tasty! Tasty! I like it! I LOVE it! Now…you, Colin..”
“…eh no, it’s Colm actually…”
“yes, yes, whatever…I want you to SMILE more. Think of Britney Spears’ tits…yes that’s it. THAT’S IT!’”
Platon’s background was astounding. He had recently done shoots with the Clintons, Obama and informed us that he was off to do a shoot with boxing legend Muhammed Ali the following day. We were in hallowed company but, to us, it made perfect sense. We were on the way to the top and Platon was the man to get us there. Again, we wheeled out the pop culture and obscure football references but, unlike Janine, he had less patience for our patter and had little interest in discussing mid-period Primal Scream or even early Blur. Instead, Platon waxed lyrical about the joys of living in New York, how it was so much more open compared to London and how people here appeared to be devoid of any suspicion of success which was a particular bugbear of his. His dutiful assistants set up each and every shot and pandered to his every whim, ostensibly taking more interest in the proceedings that their master but never actually joining in. Indeed, one of them seemed permanently on the verge of saying something truly profound but never quite managed to speak.
The only obstacle we encountered involved me and my face. Having never been able to grow a successful beard, I had instead mastered the art of cultivating miscellaneous facial hair but this did not appeal to Platon. So I was handed a razor and shaving foam and told not to return once I was entirely clean shaven. This delayed events slightly as I was desperately fearful of doing a bad job and returning to the shoot only to be greeted by a hail of ridicule and insults at my cut face. But thankfully, this was not realized – or if it was, no one said anything.
Minor panic over, I returned to the studio where our photographer and his serfs finished things off with Platon assuring us that we were “great fun” before we had to answer some ridiculous questions set to us by the advertisement’s producer.
“So guys, when did you last fall out over a girl?”
“Eh just a few minutes ago there over that savage blonde one at the front desk. She’s unreal!”
And so on and so forth. Pocketing a tidy sum for our morning’s work, we celebrated with a reasonable souvlaki chicken and a disappointing cup of coffee in diner off 14th street before I had to rush home in order to update Facebook and inform the world of my major success.
The fact that I had only been in America for a number of days at this point ensured that I was due a fall and fall I did, repeatedly and relentlessly, bouncing off the boulders on the way down to existential crisis after crisis. In fact, I was not able to rise again until I had seen how low I could actually go. The encroaching claustrophobia of the city did not aid matters; while my infinitely more charming and capable traveling companion put me to shame with her mastering of the subway maze within weeks, I was still floundering around on the G line – or was it the L? – not sure whether I should be going uptown or downtown, east or west, or whether I was awake or asleep as the pounding apartment heat resulted in delirium and insomnia.
However, I have persevered thus far and while it may become necessary in the very near future to dispense with needless overheads such as eating and drinking in order to stay financially afloat in this city, it may very well be worth it. In fact, there might even be a play in it…
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