Monday, February 9, 2015

It's a Dog's Life - Literally

What a strange week. A blizzard, a massage that almost involved the police, and saving a dog’s life.
The blizzard that hit North America and promised three feet of snow in Manhattan turned out to be little more than a flurry. I was out walking the streets in it and it was really rather beautiful. That didn’t stop New Yorkers adhering, to the letter, to the Mayor’s State of Emergency declaration. Supermarket shelves were emptied, the transport system shut down, and bars and restaurants closed early.
My social networking communication went into meltdown with worried family and friends from the UK checking to see if my head was still above snow level. No amount of reassurance on my part – that New York is a very big place, that Connecticut is not in the next street, and that I’ve seen worse weather in Wales (on an almost weekly basis, come to that) - gave them confidence that I would survive the blizzard of all blizzards.
I happened to be out in it as I had just had lunch courtesy of my good friend and brilliant lyricist Sir Tim Rice, who was in town on business. We went to a local Italian and, despite his efforts for his taxi to get me home, I decided to hoof it in order for him to get to his next meeting on time.
There is something incredibly invigorating and exhilarating about walking in falling snow. Put it down to childhood memories of Christmas, or the memory of unexpected days off school, or just the sheer wonder when one’s world turns white, it’s just a weather condition I have always loved.
The massage was supposed to be just as enjoyable, but very nearly wasn’t. I have been suffering from lower back pain for over a year now, not helped, I am sure, by lugging enormous bags around various countries of the world. This week, though, the pain was so bad I decided to go for some deep tissue massage at a venue advertising itself as a spa specialising in certain kinds of Chinese body work, rather than one of the places with dirty net curtains and a luminous red sign saying MASSAGE in the window.
My masseur looked like a Sumo wrestler, but I had very deep knots and, if anyone was going to unravel them, it was going to be this guy. So, I lay down in the little cubicle, relaxed and prepared my body for attack.
From my area, I could hear another voice from beyond the curtain – a man’s voice wanting a massage. In the cubicle next to mine, I heard him ask first if they had a shower, then if they had a hot towel. Then he asked for a hot towel again, shortly before the words “Don’t touch me!” came from the screaming masseuse.
I’m not sure what happened next, but my masseur apologised and left, there was some discussion with the touchy feely man, and what was clearly an altercation with the threat of the police being called. “Sorry about that,” said Sumo, returning, followed by the masseuse, who then insisted on showing me exactly what had happened, grabbing my hand from where I was lying on the couch, and pressing it to her leg and rubbing it up and down. Yeah, yeah, I get the picture. Now get back to my knots.
Now, to my new role as the New York Dog Whisperer. One of the reasons my knots had been worse was because I had agreed to be a dog walker for 10 days when my good friend and neighbour was away, and one of her regular dog walkers was no longer available. I took the lunchtime shift, but on walk number three noticed that Keela was limping. She had great difficulty walking and kept falling over, until she finally gave up and sat on the sidewalk, her back right leg doubled up under her body. I had to carry her home – and, at 16 kilos, that was never going to bode well for my knots.
I have grown up with dogs and told the holiday carers they should call the vet. “She wasn’t limping this morning,” was their response, making me feel like the dog abuser of the scenario.
I know a dog in pain when I see one and, after contacting the owner (who, quite rightly, worships this adorable dog), the carers were instructed to take Keela to the vet the next day if the situation hadn’t improved overnight. It didn’t, and she was whisked into doggie emergency.
It transpired the poor little thing had a herniated disc, which required urgent surgery by a neurologist. They didn’t think she would survive it (I learned that she was paralysed when she was taken in) but, thankfully, she did. I have been to see her in the hospital twice and she greets me as the mighty saviour I undoubtedly am.
It’s heartbreaking to see animals in pain, and I feel quite wrecked, having gone from abuser to saint in the space of just a few hours.
I’m hoping for a less eventful week today, although there is the promise of more snow. In Manhattan, it ain’t gonna happen, trust me. 

It’s not only dogs I understand.

I’m the New York Weather Whisperer, too.       


Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Trial of Mr Biggs - Witness for the Defence (Me) Speaks Up

I’ve never been what you’d call a big committee person. 

Don’t get me wrong. I like committees; I just don’t like anyone other than me being on them. It’s why I wouldn’t like to be on a jury. I know I’d enjoy the law side of it, but unless I was the foreman (do people say forewoman? You see? I’m arguing already), I’d have to plead sickness, else go for a quick “They must be guilty if they’re in court in the first place” approach that would get us all out of there damned sharpish.
But last night, I found myself part of a very big committee indeed – well, a “community board”, to be precise, CB4, which represents the Hell’s Kitchen area in which I live. I’d been asked to attend by one of my favourite local bars, Mr Biggs, as the owners want to open another place close by. They asked those of us who are fans to support them and, if possible, speak.
I never need any encouragement to speak, especially when it’s in public. In fact, so much do I enjoy speaking, I am sure I will be punished in my next life by being sent back as a deaf mute.
The meeting took place in a conference room at Mount Sinai hospital and I immediately signed up for opening my gob on the subject of opening a bar. The only subject on which I could ever be even more vociferous would be that of never closing a bar.
There was a lot to get through before the rent-a-gobs got to take their place at the microphone. I learned a lot about free astronomy courses at the Intrepid museum (oh, please stop me from rushing out to buy a telescope before I’ve even tried a class), and even more about stairwells in new apartment blocks. They now have to be wide enough for eight people and, I discovered, the World Trade Centre had stairwells that were wide enough for just two.
Several people who appeared to have signed up to Stairwellgate declared that they had put their names on the wrong form (why would anyone want to talk about steps when there are bars to be opened?). Then, a woman who had signed up properly for something else decided that she had rather a lot of say on the subject of stairs – so much, to be honest, that had there been a nearby flight, I would happily have pushed her down them. 
Another woman was very unhappy that a building was going to be pulled down; another that a building was going to be put up. Geez . . . it was going to be Last Orders at Mr Biggs at this rate. Move it, people!
We were called in groups of five to the microphone and, as always happens in these circumstances, I had to stretch my neck to giraffe like proportions to reach it. I said my bit – fulsome praise of the bar, the owners, the management, but nerves encouraged some really weird things to come out of my mouth. Come on, it was the first time I’ve ever spoken in the US, and while it might not be Congress, it’s a start (give me time).
At one point, I found myself saying “Of all the worlds I’ve lived in . . . “ before realising that I have, as far as I know, lived in just one. The correction provoked a laugh, and I talked about the importance of a woman (and one of a certain age) feeling safe in a bar environment. 
Loads of other people spoke up in favour of Mr Biggs. Heck, it was so encouraging, I thought they would be granted permission to build a hundred new bars, let alone convert just one. 
Then the women with cardigans got up. I know from the UK that where there’s a woollen cardigan, there’s going to be trouble. Suddenly, there was an army of cardigans. Would there be cabaret? What about the noise? How would local residents sleep? Could they enforce a 2am rather than 4am closing time (even the latter is waaaaaay too early for this European)? I tell you, I reckon we were a hair’s breadth away from talking about how wide the stairwells would be.
I left the meeting before the vote and went to Mr Biggs where, it turned out, I later learned that the application had been turned down. I hope it wasn’t because the committee didn’t think they wanted aliens from other worlds inhabiting their planet.
It was incredibly disappointing for the owners, who really are a great bunch of guys who, given the success of their other places, I, and their other supporters, know would do a terrific job.

I’ve no doubt they’ll take it to the next level, at which time they will have to put their case to the State. Just point me in the direction of that microphone. 

Failing that, just tell me who I have to sleep with.