New York, New York
Updated: Jul 5, 2018
It calls to me like a scorned lover. Every time I see it's silhouette, my heart stretches with a deep longing, and pangs with a sense of weakness. The city is a companion to the lonely, a lover to the loveless. It is oxygen and blood, grit and glue. It sticks to the marrow and seeps into the dark places where you hide from yourself. It knows your deepest desires, ones that you've hidden even from yourself. The city twists and tantalizes, constantly evolving to rise up and meet you right when you think you can't survive another second without it's touch. New York is an addiction. Don't say I didn't warn you.
The first time I stepped foot in Manhattan, I was 14 years old. I flew there with my 8th grade theater class and it was your very stereotypical tourist trip. We saw all of the sites, like any other place you would visit. It wasn't what I saw that made me fall in love. Rather, it was how I was seen. I wasn't just the tall girl who was pretty. People walked past me and whipped their heads around. Groups stopped and whispered, thinking that I was someone famous. It was a strange phenomenon unlike any that I had ever experienced, and I wanted more.
Obviously, I moved to New York City on America's Next Top Model. If you didn't watch the show and you still chose to follow my blogs, gold star for you! The ANTM version of moving to NYC was not what I would call authentic. Me, plus 12 other women moved into a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment in Tribeca (lower Manhattan). It was an absolute disaster, and if you watched the show, you already know that. We were not allowed to possess books, movies, magazines, newspapers, or music while filming the show. We also weren't told when we would leave the apartment, and we weren't allowed to leave for any reason. So, you have thirteen girls living in a two bedroom apartment with literally nothing to do other than fight. I "lived" in New York but I really did not at all. I was physically there, but I could not have given you directions to Times Square from 23rd and York. We were driven everywhere. I had absolutely no experience at all with the real city. I didn't love it. I didn't hate it. It was just a stepping stone.
After winning America's Next Top Model, I moved to New York City, against the wishes of my agency. Well, it's not that the agency told me not to come, but they made it clear that I didn't need to move to New York City in order to model. My model apartment was situated in mid-town east. I had two billboards in Times Square and I slept in an Ikea bunk bed in a shared room with 3 other models. I was the only plus sized model, which didn't leave a lot of room for bonding. We were not allowed to have friends, especially boys in our apartments. This made it really difficult for me to meet new people. All of the kids my age were living downtown near NYU or way uptown. I was just stuck in the middle, bored and alone. I couldn't even invite my hometown boyfriend up to stay with me.
I, like most women my age, had consumed too many episodes of Sex in the City which led me to believe that if I wanted to be a Carrie in New York City, I had to live on the UpperEast Side. The upper east side was mecca to all single gals in the city and I was determined to have an address that matched my status of America's Next Top Model. I put $12,000 (first month, last month, & security since I was so young) down and rented my own apartment on 61st between 1st and York, the most expensive zip code in the country.
I went shopping on fifth avenue and spent almost $20,000 in one day. I finally bought myself a Louis Vuitton, something I had jonesed after since I learned how to covet material goods. I didn't just want a Louis Vuitton, I wanted The Louis Vuitton. I bought this insanely expensive Louis and I kid you not, within the first week, one of the bolts on the bag fell off. I wasn't even doing anything! It just committed fashion suicide. I took it to the store and was told that they could either send it in to be fixed which would take six months, or... wait, no. That was the only option that they gave me. Can you believe that?! In six months, the bag would be "so last season". This experience led me to my current fashion concerns, which are based more on sustainability and not so much on shaming poor people, or even trying to encourage people who can't afford such ridiculously priced goods to open a credit card and go into debt, just to try to fit in. Fuck that shit.
I lived on the 40th floor with sweeping views of the city. My next door neighbor was Tracy Morgan. A "Real Housewife" lived across the street. It was fucking fabulous, but I was so alone. No one my age could afford a place like that. It was old people and families for as far as the eye could see. I was in way over my head and it didn't take long for me to realize that Carrie was full of shit. The Upper East Side sucked and I was determined to find a new home in a more appropriate neighborhood. I was only 20 years old. Most of my friends were still getting wasted at frat parties, not galavanting around in Manolos with lip injections and handbags that took up more space than mid-sized sedan. Of course, my lease wasn't up for a full year, so I spent the rest of my money trying to pay my rent while my agency scraped together any plus size work that they could find. Elite, my mother agency which I was contractually obligated to stay with after winning top model, didn't have a plus division, so it was pretty difficult for me to book with them, and that $100,000 prize doesn't go very far in New York City.
I had a high-school "friend" who had recently moved to the city too and I was traveling downtown to meet her and a group of girls for coffee. I decided to take the subway. The train was packed. There was nowhere to sit. Just a couple people down from me was a woman screaming at this poor, mousy girl with glasses. She kept yelling not to say anything, but the girl wasn't saying anything. It ended with the yelling woman ripping the glasses off of mousy girl and hitting her repeatedly while everyone around them just stood there like nothing was happening. This was the New York that I had seen in movies. It was scary. Maybe not scary in the way that I had imagined after watching Ghost, but it had an electric energy that reverberated through all of us. It was warm and buzzing, addictive and powerful. At some point, you begin to realize that the city is controlling you, and not the other way around. I was too terrified to take the train back. To this day, I almost never take the subway. I know that it isn't dangerous, but you lose your sense of control down there. Between the flashing lights, rocking carriages, the schizophrenics, and smell of decaying rodents, you lose a bit of your sanity.
I did begin meeting and spending time with people who were my age. I had a couple girlfriends who were from Tennessee who would sip sweet tea vodka with me and dance on tables to Beyonce. Honestly, if you have an apartment in New York, you will never be alone. People are always going to want to crash at your place for free, and I'm fine with that. There are some really shitty apartments in New York. My amazing friend, Greer slept in my closet for a hot minute. The closet was bigger than most available apartments, and oddly, less sketchy. Plus, it wasn't too far from a Popeyes and those things are like unicorns in the city! If you are visiting NYC, you are not allowed to eat at any chain restaurants. Not even Olive Garden in Times Square! You are embarrassing yourself if you do. The best restaurants are the little holes in the wall, like Yum Yum Thai Bangkok 2. You don't need to know where Yum Yum Thai Bangkok 1 is. You just eat that $7 three course meal and you like it! It also didn't hurt that liquor stores in New York deliver, and if you live in a building like I did, no one is going to check your I.D. Party at my place!
I did an auction for "Broadway Cares: Equity Fights Aids" and I was "won" by Brett. He was from Ohio, had performed on a soap opera, and lived in the city with his partner. We went to an Italian restaurant (part of the package) and we were in love. Not, love-love obviously because he's a gay man, but gay best friend love. Brett got me spending more time in Hell's Kitchen, AKA the Gay-borhood and I was taken by it. This was my neighborhood. These were my people. I had tried to spend time downtown with the NYU kids, but I never fit in. I was too successful to be cool in the grungy, poor, college-hipster scene. Hell's Kitchen had a Dolly Parton themed bathroom, Lady Gaga blasting in every shop, cheap Thai food, and $15 unlimited brunch cocktails. I could go out and dance every night with the sexiest men in town, and I didn't have to worry about them trying to sleep with me!
Brett invited me to a fabulous sushi fusion restaurant on 52nd called Bamboo 52. He told me that the manager was a bitch, but the sushi was incredible and you could order a cocktail the size of your head that came out on fire. I wasn't even 21 yet so this sounded fabulous. The bitchy manager it turned out was named Jack, and he quickly became one of my best friends. Brett and Jack hated each other. They are polar opposites, of course, but I love them both so much. I now had people in my life who really cared about me and in a city like New York, it's easy to lose yourself without friends like that. They were my date to every red carpet event. We played drag queen bingo, danced until the sun came up, went to broadway dance classes together, took weekend trips outside of Manhattan... Without them, I would never have survived in the city.
In most cities, friends are not that important. That sounds weird but it's true. You may have several fair-weather friends, but not in New York. New York friends are the kind that wake you up at three o'clock in the morning during an ice storm and you trek across the city in your pajamas and Uggs for them. It is an almost unshakeable bond. It wasn't long after we fell in love that Brett found out he was HIV positive. His partner had been seeing other people behind his back and apparently contracted it. Instead of telling Brett, he said nothing. Brett found out from a letter that the state sent him, notifying him that someone in his apartment had HIV. That was a bad time for us. I didn't know anyone with HIV. I had heard the propaganda, that you could get it from just kissing, sitting on the wrong toilet seat, etc. Would I get it from being around him? We were together 24/7. We slept in the same bed many nights. Brett had to leave his partner and with that, his apartment. He moved in with me because he needed a place to stay. I was ignorantly trepidatious, but what was my alternative? I wouldn't tell my best friend to take a hike just because I was afraid to get sick like he was. There were dark days ahead for both of us, but good ones too. I had to leave town for a job, and while I was gone, Brett had to go to the emergency room. He was violently ill. I flew back as soon as I knew. He had dogs that had to be fed and walked. I visited him, but spent most of my time cleaning blood and shit off the floors and walls of the apartment. It was scary. My best friend was dying and there I was, alone, surrounded by blood-soaked towels. I couldn't be scared anymore. It wasn't about me.
His white blood cell count had plummeted. I now have many friends who are HIV positive and I understand the virus much better, but everything was new for us back then. We were just terrified kids, trying to survive. The doctors had to change some of his medications and I stayed in the apartment for several days while he was in the hospital. I would visit him daily, but there wasn't anything to say. There wasn't anything that I could do... Except bring him Ben & Jerry's ice cream pints. That boy can eat some ice cream! It's amazing what it takes sometimes to get us to the place we need to be. Brett, like Jack, was, and still is, family. There is nothing that they could do or say that would ever change my love for them. There are so many lost souls in New York, and the most incredible part of the city is that you get to pick your family. The boy who's dad could never love him because his son was gay, the girl who will never be thin, pretty, or successful enough for her controlling mother, the person who is just trying to be seen, by anyone, anywhere... these are our people. This is our family. One by one, we connect with them, click them into the puzzle slots of our souls, and there we keep them, safe from their past, safe from the future. You won't find that anywhere else in the world.
New York City is all about sex. Don't go there if you're trying to get married. I was naive and young when I moved. Even after watching Sex in the City, I thought, how bad can it be? Bad. It's like a big arts school. It's mostly full of gays. 95% of attractive men in Manhattan are gay. The other 5% are tourists. If you are a straight man in Manhattan, you don't have to be smart, funny, interesting, or attractive to land the most beautiful, successful, intelligent women. So, you dance with your gays at night, and try to find someone you can have a conversation with and not want to punch them in the face during the day. For me, that was Ken. Ken was a guy from Texas. He was methodist, a student at NYU, and would be attending med-school in the fall. We had a lot in common. Well, we had being a methodist in common and that was more than anyone else. It was spring in the city and love was in the air. Literally. These beautiful trees bloom up and down the sidewalks and for some reason, the aroma smells like seamen. Not that I've smelled a lot of seamen, but it's this nauseating baking soda, salt smell. So, we held hands and strolled down fifth avenue, trying on designer clothes we would never buy. We had lazy mornings with magnolia bakery and late nights, singing until we saw the sun rise. He would smoke cigarettes outside, under the hazy yellow lamplights, and I would pretend like it didn't bother me. "You have to crush a camel" he would purr. I stared into his warm brown eyes and fell deep, down into them. I was Alice and he was my wonderland. His warm southern drawl wrapped around me and I just knew that he was the one. Except...that he wasn't.
Ken showed me the city in a way that I had never seen it. He did fit in downtown with the NYU kids and that's where we played, in the shadows of dingy lamps and flickering Christmas lights, left up many months after the holiday. Our serenade hummed with the buzzing of neon, the lull of sirens in the distance, and the sound of pool balls clacking as our beat. He traveled by subway, never took a taxi. He only ordered pizza by the slice and whiskey by the double. He was everything that I wasn't and I loved him for it. I had never had an adult relationship before. We were completely entrenched in one another and absolutely insane. We fought like people in the movies, sometimes slamming doors and spitting venom, sometimes in a whisper with tears welling in my eyes. We were playing house, but it was with real money, real emotions, real pain. We were so high on one another, and then the bottom fell out.
Ken had to move back to Texas for med-school. We would try long distance. He owned an apartment in the city, a shabby studio on the upper west side. His mother and father had purchased the apartment in the 70's and it was completely unchanged. Even the television set was original. There were doilies and dust everywhere; An interesting bachelor pad to say the least. He offered the studio to me to live in while he was away. No one else would be living there, so it wouldn't hurt for me to save a few thousand bucks a month by staying there while he was gone. There wasn't much room for my stuff because of the decor left behind by his mother. I shipped most of my things to my Los Angeles house and lived out of the bottom dresser drawer, the one space I was allowed to take. The one space in his home, and his heart, that I was allowed to occupy. Apparently, that was too much.
I celebrated my birthday in Florida that year, surrounded by my family. Ken flew in and surprised me. On the day of my party, his mother called to tell him that she flew to New York, packed up my things, and changed the locks. I was shocked. I didn't understand at the time there was only room for one of us in his life. His father had passed away when he was a teenager and she needed him in a way that I couldn't understand. I had never been with someone in a situation like this. I was devastated. I kept trying again and again. She would have his financial advisor freeze his bank account when I visited so I would have to pay for everything. Sometimes, she would just have them frozen to punish him. I would have to order him pizzas over the phone from another state just so he had food to eat. She did everything in her power to break us up and in the end, she won. I couldn't trust him because he couldn't control her. We broke up countless times, only to reconnect behind her back like cheating lovers, meeting in seedy hotels between our homes. We would go to Vegas and stay in bed the entire trip, him chain smoking under the covers and me, pleading with him to change. We met all over the country, and when I would end things, he would change his tune, threatening death without me. One of the last big ones, I broke up with him over the phone, and he refused me. He said that he would change, stop letting his mother control his life, etc., but I wasn't having it. He got in his car, brought nothing with him, and drove from Texas to Los Angeles to win me back. He convinced me to take the week off, bring my dog, and we would have a fun road trip back to Texas. Then, he would drive or pay to fly the dog and I back. However, when we got to Texas, his mother called and threatened to take his car for his actions. He suggested that I take a greyhound bus back to Los Angeles. I felt like I had been kicked in the chest. I couldn't breathe. He had tricked me into coming and then cut me off. I had to call my father for help. Traveling with a 75 pound dog is not an easy task. I was so embarrassed. We fought, screamed, stomped and kicked. Looking back, I am genuinely surprised that the police never came to his house. The longer we were together, the worse it became. A drunken shove into the wall would be overlooked until I found myself hiding from him in his house, waiting until he passed out from Miller Lite until it was safe to reappear. There were cracks in Ken that I tried to scrape mortar into, that I tried to fill with home-cooked meals and exotic vacations and love, but it just came pouring out, slipping through my fingers every time. That's the thing about New York, though. It's full of people like Ken. He had a darkness deep inside of him that only I knew, and I loved him in spite of it, or maybe because of it. New York has black latex parties full of strangers having sex, bars that bend the patrons over and spank them, clubs you can't enter while wearing clothing. Whatever your darkest secret or desire is, the city has it, and they don't judge you for it, they actually welcome you like a spider into it's thick, sticky strings. You can have anything, be anyone. I hope that Ken can find someone to fill his voids. Love like that, it doesn't die. It doesn't even go away, but the glow dims enough for you to see yourself again and once that happened with Ken, I couldn't stand the person I had become.
It took time, and a lot of vodka, followed by bad dancing with my gays to get me back on track with my life. I spent so much time, time that now felt like a complete waste, on someone who wouldn't even be in my future. I needed to find out who I was without him. I signed with a new agency, got a new apartment, and worked on me. What did I want? Sometimes, that meant binge watching Sex in the City for 3 days straight in my pajamas, ordering Chinese take out for every meal. Sometimes it was renting bikes and riding down to the trade center with friends. Once, it was doing shots of cookie dough vodka off of a very sexy male model, and allowing him to return the favor. Life is all about trial and error and believe me when I tell you that I have lived. I have made more mistakes than I would like to admit and I have to tell you that especially now that I have left my cozy nook of the planet and moved to a small southern town, there is no chance that I have slowed down that track record.
From the highest heights, to the deepest depths, New York is an animal, very much alive, whose chest we cling to while it swells with breath, up and down. Every morning is met with bated breath. Cigarettes, coffee, burning chestnuts, and cherry blossoms powder the air like the iconic snow globe I used to tilt and peer into. Anything that you want, anything you can imagine, it's all there, waiting for you. It is the greatest city in the world, once you give it a chance. Take a bite. You won't regret it.
-Eat at Yum Yum Thai Bangkok 2
- Get a donut ice cream sandwich from Holy Creme
-Walk into a random pizza joint and order a greasy slice. They will not be nice to you. This is part of the charm.
-Go to a gay bar and DANCE like no one is watching
-Walk down the westside highway at sunset
-Go see Little Italy and Chinatown but don't spend more than 2 hours. They are next to each other and it's mostly fake purse sales.
-Order in delivery. I am serious. You want freshly baked cookies at 3:00am? They have that. Even in your hotel, you can order in from various restaurants. Do it! Your life will never be the same.
-Eat at a food cart/truck. AKA, street meat. Mr. Softee, kebab, roasted nuts, just get something from a cart and put it on your mouth.
-Go to the MET. The ticket cost is recommended, so if you're short on funds, you can just give them a penny. Trust me. But also, if you have the money, just pay because it's an incredible museum.
-Eat at a chain restaurant. This includes but is not limited to Olive Garden, Sbarros, McDonalds, Chuys, etc. Oh, and this includes bullshit chef restaurants like Guy Fieri's. Don't you dare!
-Spend all of your time in Time's Square. This is THE WORST place in the city. Get away! I know that we all think NYC is dangerous but it really isn't anymore. Not more so than your average Walmart. You can feel free to move about!
-Use an umbrella anywhere in Manhattan. You are an ass hole and everyone hates you if you do.
- Stare straight up and the skyscrapers and slowly walk. As a matter of fact, don't slowly walk anywhere in the city. Everyone is so motivated and moving to get things done. If you get in their way, they will not be nice to you.
-Shop at the tourist traps in Times Square. Don't you dare come to New York City and buy things from Forever 21, Abercrombie, or the Disney Store! You can get all that crap online and it's killing the planet. Support small businesses instead. Look downtown.
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