Thursday, May 6, 2010

An Irish State of Mind

The Alicia Keys song 'Empire State of Mind' is one of my favourite songs at the moment, I love her voice and can relate to a lot of her emotions about the 'concrete jungle where dreams are made, where there's nothing you can't do'. Since arriving here in August, being in an Empire State of Mind has been my modus operandi and I have thrived on it. This week, however, I have come to wonder whether, sometimes, you need to step outside of the Manhattan state of mind and broaden your horizons. This place seems to do some funny things to some people who have been here for too long.

Take one person whom I have met twice since we moved. The first time we met, she was introduced to me as being a 'socialite'. Really? A real live one? Okay, this will be interesting. As she gave me a three second scan with her eyes, she obviously clocked two things. First, I was of no use to her. Although I was 'social', I was also 'lite', far from a heavyweight in Manhattan social circles, so could not help her in her quest for cocktail party world domination. Second, I was younger than her. She pulled her face into a tight smile and said, "So, I guess there are lots of young mothers in Ireland?". With the arch of her eyebrow it was clear that she was picturing me and my fellow celtic mothers as teenage delinquents, who didn't understand birth control, had no ambition and stood around street corners in cheap denim, smoking Benson Hedges. My instinct was to pull her hair and make irreverent insinuations about her place of birth (What? That's what good Irish girls do!), but instead I said graciously, "Well, given that most of my friends are in Ireland as well as scattered all over the globe, some with kids, some without, I really have no idea what you are talking about". I put her down as someone who needs to step out of their Empire State of Mind and travel a bit more, maybe to Ireland?

This week however, our paths crossed again at another event. As she swept into the room, quickly deciding who would be her first schmoooze, she clocked me, blanked me and moved onto to her first rung up the social ladder. I found the scene amusing and carried on having a great night. About an hour later, I was standing chatting. Suddenly, the socialite appeared with a look on her face that looked like I was the answer to all her prayers, "Oh I just couldn't leave without saying hello to you". Ok, I thought, I know what's happening here, she wants an introduction to the person I was talking to. And lo and behold, she had barely completed her performed air kiss either side of my cheek before she had stuck out her hand. Introductions were done, she got what she wanted and then disappeared into the night. I was left feeling a bit used. This preoccupation with age and social status was not the positive Empire State of Mind that I share, nor have come to love.

The following day, I was brought back to earth with a bump, when my son and I stopped at an Irish themed cafe when we were out for a cycle along the Hudson. Our waiter, Kevin, sauntered over ten minutes after we had sat down (with no menu in hand) and grinned "How's it goin'?". Me, "Yeah, great thanks, umm can we see a menu". Kevin, "Jeysus, ye don't want to be orderin' any food from in there. Those chefs are mental". Me, "Er, OK, could we get some smoothies please?". Kevin, " Well, between you and me, they're five dollars and they're mingin'". I couldn't help but burst out laughing! Compared to the socialite who practically breathed insincerity, his honesty was refreshing. Kevin wasn't thinking about his tip, his Irish State of Mind was just saying it how it was. I wanted to take Kevin's greasy ginger hair in my hands and plant a big kiss on his ruddy cheeks. I didn't, obviously, otherwise he would have thought I was feckin' mental.

My Irish State of Mind also came in useful when we learned of the attempted bomb attack in Times Square. Having grown up in the 80's in Northern Ireland, you develop a thick skin to inherent danger. Living with the slim, but real, possibility that you could be a victim of a senseless terrorist attack makes the Irish/Empire State of Mind interchangeable, New Yorkers have got used to the same feeling since 9/11 that people in Ireland have been living with for decades. I brushed off the feeling of fear and got on with my weekend. In the early hours of Sunday morning, however, when a bomb echoing thunder storm shook our apartment building, I found myself leaping out of bed, putting my shoes on, ready to wake the kids and make an escape down the fire exit. My Irish State of Mind had automatically assumed the worst, put us in the middle of a terrorist attack and had me making a rescue plan. It took about 35 minutes for me to realise that it was just thunder.

And so, as I lay in bed trying to get back to sleep in the aftermath of my first experience of an Empire thunder storm, I realised two things. First, the Irish State of Mind - from Kevin's honesty to the first hand fear of terrorism, will never leave me. Second, the socialite's version of an Empire State of Mind is, thankfully, not shared by the good friends we have made here and, what's more, my love affair with New York still continues. In the words of Alicia Keys "even if it ain't all it seems, I gotta pocket full of dreams".

yours, in her own Empire State of Mind,

Torie B

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