The first thing you learn when you move to New York City is that no one gives a shit that you’ve just moved to New York City. In April 2006, I had been in NYC for about 5 months, but I still wasn’t settled there. I had just started out as an attorney, and I had left Farah in Austin. It was a period of intense learning, and unexpected loneliness.
I had made my escape from Austin in December 2005 and arrived in New York with little more than a phone, a suit, and a borrowed laptop. I didn’t have a job before I arrived, but with a bit of perseverance I was offered my first attorney position by a small law firm in midtown Manhattan known as F&P.
My first day with F&P was my first real day as an attorney. I was told to meet Danielle, one of the firm’s senior associates, at the Bronx Courthouse. The civil courthouse in the Bronx is only two blocks from Yankee Stadium and it’s the same subway stop. It was my first time in the Bronx, and only my second time ever in a courthouse.
I was eager to learn and excited to finally start this new profession. I shared my enthusiasm with Danielle when I met her outside the courthouse that cold January morning. She didn’t give a shit. In fact she might even have politely said the words “I don’t give a shit”. I would come to learn that F&P had a very high turnover of employees, and as a result they didn’t really invest a huge amount of time or energy into training new associates.
That was unfortunate because I knew nothing about litigation or New York law. It’s hard for me to exaggerate how little I knew about the practice of law at that exact moment. My legal education had consisted of an undergraduate law degree in Scottish law from Edinburgh University, with one year at the University of Texas School of Law. At university, I had decided to take what I considered the more interesting classes rather than the practical ones. Subjects like Jurisprudence (the philosophy of law), Theories of Punishment in Society, and Sports Law. Also I had finished with those classes in 1997, almost 9 years earlier. In 2006, I might have been able to have a discussion with another lawyer about the intersection between law and morality, but I didn’t have a clue how to make an objection.
Yes I had studied for and taken the New York Bar exam one year earlier, but the bar exam is basically a convoluted memory test, and there is almost nothing in the exam that could be used in day-to-day practice. I genuinely didn’t know the difference between a summons and a complaint. I didn’t know what ‘TRO’ stood for, I didn’t know what ‘summary judgment’ meant and I couldn’t even spell ‘interrogatories’. I probably knew less about the practice of law than people who watch ‘Judge Judy’ or ‘Ally McBeal’.
So it was an insanely steep learning curve. The law firm of F&P specialized in insurance defense work. Their major client was a well-known national insurance company, and they used F&P to defend against the thousands upon thousands of allegedly fraudulent insurance claims brought under New York’s ‘no-fault’ policy, on the basis that certain procedures were not ‘medically necessary’.
So that’s how I got my start. I watched Danielle argue her motion for summary judgment and then she made an excuse about having to file something, and left me to get the subway back to the office myself. I had a brief training session with another attorney in the afternoon, and then the very next day I was sent off to the Bronx by myself to appear on a motion to compel.
And after that I was in court every morning, arguing motions, negotiating discovery disputes, and later taking depositions or conducting trials. Each morning I would be sent to cover appearances at a different courthouse in the city or Long Island, and often I would be appearing on more than a dozen motions at the same time. One week I even completed the ‘grand slam’ of courthouses, making an appearance in the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island in five consecutive days. I learned a lot in a short period of time, but after a few months, it began to get very repetitive. Every case was essentially the same. I’d created some new arguments and tactics to win cases, but I was ready for the next rung up the ladder.
That’s another thing about living in New York. You always feel that there is a better job, or a better apartment just around the corner. It’s like a relentless scramble up an endless ladder.
That’s not to say New York isn’t exciting though. My first office was on 41st Street, half a block from the New York Public Library, where the Ghostbusters first met a ghost, and my first apartment was a few blocks from the exterior of the café where Jerry Seinfeld would meet his buddys for coffee. I often felt like I was in a movie just walking along the streets of New York, and with the amount of filming that goes on it’s actually quite likely that I was.
I remember those first few months that I would still be quite excited to see that a film crew had closed off a street. After a while though, I would just get annoyed at the disruption. I guess that’s when you know you are a New Yorker. After a few years living there, I would get genuinely pissed off that, yet again, ‘Law and Order’ was being filmed outside the New York Supreme Court, and like most of the other lawyers, I’d refuse to wait for them to finish a scene to go inside.
When I walked anywhere in the city, or rode the subway, I would always have my iPod and big headphones on. I felt naked without them. At that time I was listening to a lot of New York bands too. Bands like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, TV on the Radio, LCD Soundsystem, and The Walkmen. Somehow being in NYC seemed to add another dimension to their music.
Anyway, my first apartment in New York was in the Upper West Side, on 96th Street between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West. It was just half a block from Central Park and the 96th Street subway stop. It would have been cheaper to go to Brooklyn or Queens, but I took the position that I didn’t see the point of moving to New York City and then living outside Manhattan.
Before I got there, I had done some research and concluded that the Upper West Side would be the most appropriate place for a 30-year-old attorney to live in New York City. I moved to NYC to build a career, and not to party. I wanted to be in a quieter area, but still close enough to the action. So the UWS seemed to fit the bill. I didn’t have much money but I found a room in an apartment on Craigslist that I subleased for $1,000 a month. I shared it with two complete strangers – a finance bloke from New Zealand, and a girl who was in Manhattan to work on the movie ‘The Nanny Diaries’.
It was a tiny room that was only really big enough for a double bed and a small chair, and the temporary wall that separated it from the rest of the living room didn’t quite reach the ceiling. It was a nice old building though, with an elevator and a marble foyer and an old uniformed doorman. I wanted to feel like I was having the New York experience and for a while it felt like I was doing it. But again, I was constantly on the lookout for something better.
I think that as well as a better job, and a better apartment, a lot of New Yorkers also feel that there is a better boyfriend or girlfriend around the corner. Farah later referred to this mindset as ‘The New York Shuffle’. But I certainly didn’t feel that way about my girlfriend. I had met Farah, and I knew she was the one for me.
I’d been introduced to Farah while I was studying for the bar exam a year earlier, and we had been almost inseparable for the whole of 2005 in Austin. I had fallen in love hard. So it was a very difficult decision for me to then leave Austin, and leave Farah behind to go to New York by myself.
I know that I’m not immune to making decisions based on my heart rather than my head, but I had already given up a career once before in the name of ‘love’, and I wouldn’t allow myself to do that again. So I went to New York, and Farah stayed in Austin.
Farah owned a business in Austin, a very successful one, that she had built up with her mother to be one of the most popular hair salons in the city. Farah had hundreds of clients that loved her, a beautiful house, two dogs, and she had lived in Austin since she was a teenager. Selfishly, I had hoped that she would just drop everything and come with me to New York, but instead I found myself in a long-distance relationship.
We decided that we would try and see each other at least once every two weeks. By coincidence, the week that I arrived, JetBlue started flying direct from Austin to New York, and the departure times meant that I could catch a flight from JFK to Austin at 8.30pm on a Friday night and be back in New York by Sunday night. Then two weeks later Farah would get on a plane to New York on Saturday afternoon, and she could be back home in Austin late on Monday night.
Seeing Farah every two weeks made the distance bearable. What kept our relationship strong though was my insistence that we speak to each other every morning and every night. Maybe that could be considered romantic, but I see now that it could also be considered a bit controlling. It was probably a bit of both, but whatever the reason, I think that the consistency of our calls kept us together, and in turn built a huge amount of trust in our relationship.
It took some effort though. Farah works on her feet with clients all day and would often go straight out for dinner after work. Anyone that has ever tried to call Farah will know that she never answers her phone during the day. It wasn’t easy for me to find the time either. Most days I would be assigned to go to court in Queens or Brooklyn, because that was where the majority of the cases were filed. I was usually on the subway for an hour, and then I would have a five-minute window to try and call Farah while rushing to the courthouse to make the 9am announcements.
It was also freezing in NYC those first few months of 2006, so I’d be fumbling to make a call with numb fingers, and constantly switching hands because of the cold, with the phone pressed tightly to my ear under a wooly hat. But it was worth it to hear her voice and share our thoughts for a few moments. We spoke every single day, twice a day. And we always saw each other every two weeks. We did that for almost a year and a half. In retrospect I think it made our relationship stronger.
But it also meant that for all but four days a month, I was in New York by myself. When I moved to NYC I only really knew two people – Brian Floyd and Farah’s sister Brooke. And they lived in Park Slope and Williamsburg, which is a long way from the Upper West Side.
I’d never had a problem making new friends before. When I had moved to Melbourne and Austin it all happened very naturally and I met of a lot of like-minded people very quickly. That didn’t happen so much in New York. Again, people are generally not very interested in new arrivals. The exception to that was Allan Rooney.
Apparently I first met Allan in 1996. I’d just returned to Edinburgh University from my year in Austin and I was asked to do a talk to the younger law students who were interested in doing the same exchange trip. Allan was one of those students. I don’t remember this but he told me that I talked mostly about Austin’s music scene, meeting girls, and playing football. The nerdier students at the meeting were put-off from applying, but Allan loved the sound of it. He went on to spend an exchange year in Austin in 1997-1998, and had many of the same fun experiences as I did.
A mutual friend in Austin put us back in touch before I moved to New York. In typical Allan Rooney fashion, he invited me to come along to a Burns Night he was hosting in January 2006, and then when I accepted, he told me that I would be performing one of the major speeches of the evening – The Immortal Memory of Robert Burns. So before I had even really met him, he had me grafting on his behalf.
Allan and I slowly became close friends. He had already been in New York for about 5 years, he had found a rent-controlled apartment, and he knew a lot of people. Over time he introduced me to his mates and eventually I was welcomed into their group. Allan and I started organizations together, vacationed together, and later our wives would become good friends too. In 2009 he even moved out of his sweet apartment into our neighborhood of Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn. He’s still a very successful lawyer in New York.
Allan is a year and a half younger than me though. In fact, he was born in the same month and year as my brother, March 1977, and although I’ve never told him this, we have a similar brotherly relationship. I could trust him with anything, we argue a lot, and we are ultra-competitive. Just like how I was with Andy. He is probably the closest thing I have to an annoying little brother now.
In April 2006, we were just getting to know each other. One night he invited me along to a meeting with the MSPs Kenny MacAskill and Henry McLeish who were in New York for Tartan Week. They were writing a book about the Scottish diaspora and they wanted to meet some younger Scots. We had a good chat at a midtown hotel, and after the meeting Allan asked me if I wanted to go to a Tartan Day fashion show called ‘Dressed to Kilt’ up on 111th Street. But it was a Monday night and as usual I had court in the morning, so I told him that I should probably just go home.
It was pouring with rain that night but we somehow found a cab in midtown and I asked Allan to drop me off at 96th Street. After we had gone about 10 blocks north, I noticed that my wallet wasn’t in my pocket. I started looking around the taxi and then Allan said, “Oh yeah, I thought I saw something drop when you were getting in the cab”.
After cursing at Allan for a few more blocks, I had the cabbie turn around and go back to where we had jumped in. We got back to the spot where he picked us up but there was nothing there. The rain was still pelting down though, and so I followed the stream of water that was flowing downhill towards the corner of the block. Unbelievably, bubbling around in the gutter at the bottom of the street was my wallet, with all my cards and cash still inside.
I felt like I’d just won the World Cup as I held my wallet high above my head and did a silly dance. I had to go out and celebrate. I didn’t have a ticket for the Dressed to Kilt event, but I went home, put my kilt on and then just walked in confidently, pretending like I was somebody important. It was the first time I remember having a very New York evening, drinking fancy cocktails, being photographed, and chatting with celebs late into the night.
I remember thinking that night that with a bit more luck I might actually enjoy living in New York City. But there was still something missing – Farah. I couldn’t handle the long-distance thing unless I knew that there would be a time when we were together again. Also I thought that she needed to know that I was fully committed to her. It was time for me to pop the question.