New York City has its own rhythm. It’s faster, louder, and more intense than anywhere I’ve ever been. It takes a while, but you adapt. You do what you have to do to survive. And then sometimes, it can actually be an incredible place to live.
By the summer of 2008, I’d been living in NYC for more than two and a half years. Farah was living there with me and we were newly married. I can’t say that we loved New York, but we’d got the hang of it. In every practical sense, we were New Yorkers.
We’d learned the subway system. We knew our way around downtown. We had a lot of friends. We had a really nice apartment. We had our favorite restaurants and our go-to delivery menus for every style of food. We both had good jobs. We knew people that would get us hook ups. We knew how to get tickets for almost any gig. We had season tickets for the Yankees. We had friends with access to houses in the Hamptons. We had a car. We had Japanese dog walkers. We had our laundry people. We had our dry cleaners. We had our car services. We had our gyms. We were on first name terms with the people in our local shops. Farah had a karaoke posse, and I had a football team. We had structure. We had found our own rhythm within the chaos of New York.
When I first moved to NYC, my good friend Floyd told me that New York was a city of extremes. “In this city”, he confidently proclaimed, “You will have your highest highs and your lowest lows”. He was right. But in this chapter, I’m only going to reflect on the highs.
In 2008, Farah and I were living on the top floor of an old brownstone building in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. It was a relatively spacious one-bedroom apartment by New York standards, and it even had a working fireplace and a walk in closet. What made it even more special was that we had ladder access to our own private, probably illegal, rooftop deck with panoramic views over New Jersey, Manhattan, Staten Island and Brooklyn.
That rooftop was our own secret oasis. Our own tiny island of peace and tranquility. I’d found a new job with a downtown litigation firm called ALB PC. I wasn’t in court as often but I was working on bigger, more complex cases with experienced, professional attorneys. The hours were long, but the people I worked with made it enjoyable. And after work, Farah and I spent many long, hot summer evenings up on that rooftop, sipping on drinks, and reflecting on the crazy things that we’d seen that day.
I was busy with a lot of professional and social groups too. I helped to start the Edinburgh University Alumni Club of New York, I was President of the Scottish Bar Association of New York, and I was elected to the board of the New York Tartan Day Parade Committee. So I went to a lot of Scottish themed events. One night was especially memorable.
I remember I went to a fancy St. Andrews Day black tie dinner in midtown, alongside a lot of old rich people, some not rich at all young people, like me, and a few Scottish celebrities.
It was the day before Farah and I were about to go on our honeymoon, and also the day before Scotland played Italy in a massive Euro 2008 qualifier. But no one at this so-called Scottish event seemed to be aware of the big footy match. I found that a bit strange. Most of it was pretty shit actually, and I spent the majority of the night at the bar. I met another young, not rich at all Scottish bloke there called Doug, who also thought the whole thing was rather strange.
Towards the end of the evening, Doug and I were still propping up the bar, and we found ourselves standing with a group of Scottish actors and well-to-do members of this Scottish-American society. The actor Brian Cox was at the center of the gathering, as he regaled the group with well-rehearsed stories from his life and career. I think that there were some actors from Glaswegian TV show Taggart there too.
By this stage, Doug and I had taken full advantage of the free bar, and I was enjoying myself a bit too much. Then Brian Cox started another story about how he and his wife had just come back from Thailand, where they had fallen in love again, and renewed their wedding vows in a Buddhist ceremony.
As soon as he said “Buddhist ceremony”, all I could think about was a joke I knew about Buddhism. It was as if a fire alarm was going off inside my head. But I also had enough common sense to know that it would be completely inappropriate for me to tell that joke in this company. So for the entire time that Brian Cox was telling his delightfully romantic story about Thailand, I was saying to myself “Don’t tell the Buddha joke. Don’t tell the Buddha joke. Don’t tell the Buddha joke. Just let it go. Don’t tell the Buddha joke. If you don’t say the joke, no one will even know that you didn’t do it. And that’s fine. Don’t do it Pete. Brian Cox will hate the joke. Don’t do it. Pete. Pete. Pete. Brian Cox will hate you. Don’t. Tell. The Buddha Joke”.
This is a problem I’ve always had. At high school, there were so many times where I knew I shouldn’t say something in front of the teacher, because it would get me in trouble. But sometimes I couldn’t help myself because I knew I might get a laugh. And I’ve apparently never learned my lesson.
So Cox goes on with his story, and I’m just standing there next to Doug, trying to act like I’m listening. All the while, I’m biting my lip. Eventually, Cox finishes with a flourish, and everyone guffaws and says things like ‘Marvelous’, and ‘Well done’. Then there is a pause. Maybe just two or three seconds. And before I know it, my mouth has started talking. And I’m telling the joke.
It goes something like this, delivered slowly and seriously:
“That’s very interesting. I actually spent some time in Thailand myself recently, (pause for someone to acknowledge), yes and I was studying a lot about Buddhism and spirituality. It’s absolutely fascinating. In fact I was inspired to set up my own religion. It’s quite like Buddhism but it’s slightly different. A little bit lighter”
Then you pause. You let that sink in as people maybe start to realize you might not be entirely serious. And then here comes the punch line:
“It’s called ‘I can’t believe it’s not Buddha’.”
Oh yes. Come on. It’s a good joke. I think it’s a great joke. But it’s not for everyone. I get that it’s not always appropriate. Brian Cox, for one, was not amused.
So I tell this joke in front of all of these New York toffs, the Taggart actors, and directly to Brian Cox. I did it completely straight faced and with absolute conviction, looking Cox right in the eye. He was nodding along the whole way, completely into my story. Until the punch line obviously. He didn’t laugh. Not even a smirk on that grizzled old face. He just gritted his teeth, nodded once, turned around, and walked off in the opposite direction.
Then everyone else made an excuse and walked away too, leaving Doug and I standing there alone again. I’m pretty sure I was the only one who laughed. And I was properly pissing myself too. I think Doug was in shock. He tells that story better than I do. And actually our friend Allan Rooney, who wasn’t even there, has told that story so many times that he has made it his own.
I don’t know what I was thinking. Perhaps there is something about living in New York that gives you extreme confidence. I think its part of the mentality you need to live there. I’ve said before about how you need to convince yourself that you are living in the greatest city in the world in order to get past all the shit you have to deal with.
But I was feeling good. Sometimes I felt like I’d ‘made it’. I’d even bought a big TV – something that had always been a dream since I was a kid. It took me until I was 32. I went into the big B&H electronics store in downtown NYC. I picked out a big TV. I had it delivered. I had it installed. I sat back on the couch. I turned it on. And I waited for the feeling of glorious satisfaction. But it didn’t come. I don’t know why achieving my dreams is always so anti-climactic.
Farah and I saw so many great bands and comedians on a weekly basis. This is where I was going to go on and on about our glamorous New York lifestyle, about the gigs and the shows we saw, but I was concerned it might sound like arrogance.
But then this is my story, and I don’t really care how it sounds. Also there are enough shitty chapters in this story, that I think it could benefit from some happy moments.
We saw a lot of amazing stuff. For example, there was an underground comedy show in the basement of a bar in Park Slope that we used to go to every Sunday night. It was hosted by Eugene Mirman and Michael Showalter and a lot of SNL and Daily Show comedians would go there to try out new material. We saw John Oliver, AD Miles, John Mulaney, Nick Kroll, David Cross, Kristen Schaal, Zach Galifianakis and dozens more. We even had friends who were comedians that hosted their own night – the hilarious Stone and Stone.
And then there was the music. I know Austin is supposed to be live music capital of the world, but when it comes to touring bands, they all play New York. Off the top of my head I can think of loads of amazing gigs we saw there by Sigur Ros, Elbow, Tim & Eric, Bob Dylan, Feist, Dungen, Grizzly Bear, Entrance Band, The Dears, The Yummy Fur, The Verve, Belle & Sebastian on the 4th of July, and many more.
Another thing about New York is how easy it was to get to the UK. In July 2008, Farah and I were able to fly over to England for a night out with the Pump in London, an evening of Sussex cricket, and my cousin Rhona’s wedding in Brighton. All in a long weekend.
It was my Mum’s 60th birthday in May of 2008 too and I decided to fly over and surprise her. I arrived in Edinburgh early on the Friday morning, and met up with my Aunt and Uncle who were the only ones in on the plan.
My Mum was having an early evening party on the Friday night at Poloc Cricket Club. I called her from outside the venue, to pretend as if I was calling her from New York. Then I just walked in unannounced. I thought she was going to have a heart attack. I hadn’t told my Dad either that I was coming. There were a lot of happy tears. Living in New York that was doable.
One week in the summer of 2008 stands out. Someone got us tickets to see The Killers at a VIP show, then the next night we saw Supergrass, one of our favorite bands, and then a client of Farah’s hooked us up with VIP tickets for Lollapalooza in Chicago.
I’d never had VIP passes before, but I loved it. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.
VIP is a completely different festival experience. Free drinks. Nice drinks. Free water. Free food. Shade. Nice bathrooms. Viewing platforms. It’s a different world. The problem is that it ruins every other festival you’ll ever go to.
Radiohead played and I was in heaven. Broken Social Scene too. We were down the front for Swedish metal band Witchcraft and at the side of the stage watching the crowd get riled up by Rage Against the Machine. It was another great weekend in the middle of an awesome summer.
Maybe I should balance these highs out briefly? Well, we were both working ridiculously hard throughout. I took off maybe five or six days from work in 2008, and I never once went into work with a hangover. I worked every night until 8pm and most Saturdays too. Farah worked similar hours and every few weeks she would fly down to Austin and work on her days off.
If we were going out after work, it meant that I either had to bring a change of clothes with me or wear my suit all night. Or I had to change at work and carry the suit in a bag, with my case files, because I needed it the next day. I felt like I was permanently schlepping around a change of clothes. And because we had dogs, one of us would have to go home to Brooklyn from the City after work, to walk and feed Woody and Ruby before we went out. It was non-stop. It was exhausting. But I can’t deny that it was fun at times.
Floyd was right. It is a city of extremes. I was there for 5 years but I did a decade’s worth of stuff. And it flew by in an instant.
One last thing. I found this chapter about happy times harder to write than the chapters about sad times. But I shouldn’t. I’m proud that I ‘made it’ in New York. And if you don’t like it, then fuggedaboutit.