In previous posts I’ve mentioned that I once lived in NYC for a year.
I decided, two and a half years into my degree, smack bang in the middle of the recession, somewhere in July of 2009, that I would intermit my course and travel to the world of flitting lights and glistening superficialities, the concrete jungle – NYC.
At this stage I was working part time for Hugo Boss as a casual sales assistant. I was making, perhaps, $600 a fortnight. I was also living with my parents; so theoretically, saving shouldn’t have been a problem. I had minimal expenses and about a year to pile up a small fortune to take with me to NY’s unforgiving, beautiful cesspool of screaming dreams and gargling hopes.
But silly ol’ me didn’t save so much.
I was blowing most of my cash on booze and strippers. Just kidding – only on strippers. Partying like a pseudo-rockstar four nights a week with my new uni friends.
Anyway, despite only having a few thousand dollars to my name, sticking true to my chimerical reverie, which projected me in a different world, an American world, I bought my ticket and packed my bags in pursuit of the unknown.
I won’t get into the reasons that fuelled the move. All I’ll say is that I wanted to get to know myself, without my parents’ assistance, without the weight of my past sitting on my shoulders.
I moved to NYC in order to explore all that my mind was, and simply, to see whether I could swim in the world’s deep end without a safety net.
Because at that stage I’d never lived on my own. I’d just turned twenty-one, and essentially had next to nada life experience. I didn’t know how bills worked, what to look for when renting an apartment, how to manage the little money that I did have, or anything having to do with self-sufficiency. But I wanted to acquire this life skillset as soon as possible.
What better way than to move to the world’s most uncompromising city, on your own, without a whole great deal of cash?
It’s probably needless to say, but despite finding a few jobs within the first few weeks of arriving in NY, I found myself bearing empty pockets within only a few months.
To be a bit more precise, here’s a vague timeline detailing my story:
Arrived in NYC: July 18th.
Found apartment: August 1st (ish) – Location – St Marks Place. Cost – $1,000 p/m (first mistake)
Found job: Retail job paying $9 p/h – part time – barely making enough to cover rent.
Moved apartments: After $2,000, I moved to the Upper East Side at 96th St – sharing room with some random guy off Craig’s list (he was cool, fortunately. We’re still friends) – paying less than $500 p/m – early October. Good move.
Quit job: I decided to focus on my “personal/tennis training business”… In my head, “Oh, well, I’m not going to get anywhere if I’m working at Tommy 4 days a week. This isn’t reckless, it’s motivating.”
Stupid, stupid, stupid. Idiot.
It’s winter. No one wants to train outside or play tennis outside when it’s winter. This is NY, not LA – asshole.
Roommate (who’s on the lease) moves to Florida: Lease is expiring December 31st.
Broke: Money is drying up. Fast. No job. No apartment.
Okay, so I got very, very – I can’t emphasise enough the very-ness – lucky.
A guy I was working with – well, he worked in head office, but was often on the sales floor fixing stuff up; a guy who I owe my life to – told me that I could stay in his apartment… which was located, funnily enough, at St Marks Place.
He didn’t use the apartment, cause he’d usually stay with his boyfriend, uptown. And he didn’t charge me a thing. Not even utilities. I still don’t fully appreciate the extent of his generosity, or my luck. But anyway.
Double fortunately: At this stage, now with somewhere to sleep, I found another job.
It wasn’t much, it also paid $10 p/h, but it was something. And, well, everything I made was essentially profit, savings in the making.
The time: Mid January. The situation: uh-oh, luck’s running out. My friend’s lease is expiring mid-February, and I don’t have anywhere near enough money for bond and a month’s rent up front in order to secure a new place. He’s not renewing the lease, cause it’s just eating his money for no good reason.
Time to pack.
But what to do?
Hang on a second…
Luck strikes again.
A guy at my new work tells me that I can stay on his couch. He lives in Bushwick with 5 roommates. I’ve met them, they’ve met me – they decided that I was cool, and so they were cool with me staying on their couch for a month or two.
Not the most ideal situation, but fuck me, it’s a free place to stay (if I did pay them – I can’t remember – it wasn’t much), sharing a couch with three delightful Papillions (dogs), in a pretty kick arse apartment in Brooklyn.
With one small problem – I quit my job again.
Deciding, stupidly, that I had enough money to eat and give my friendly friends a bit of cash if they asked for it, which I didn’t – not really – I thought, again, stupidly: “Oh, winter’s clearing up. I’ve got one fairly regular client (a guy – who I’m still friends with, who I was tennis coaching). I can do this.”
But luck is again on my side.
Score a three-day gig at some industrial design convention.
Make a few hundred bucks.
A month later.
Anyway, now comes the time when I start to seriously consider stripping to make some extra cashola.
Apparently a lot of ‘starving artists’ turn to stripping to weather the storm of the Big Apple’s beguiling charm.
I remembered talking to one of my mates at Tommy, who told me that, to support himself while he went to castings (he was an actor/model), he stripped a couple nights a week at some gay club.
He told me that gay clubs love straight guys, cause they give off the whole, “you can’t have dis,” cause, you know, straight guys usually aren’t so touchy feely with other guys, which naturally makes the club’s party goers “want dis” even more.
“Fuck it,” I thought, sitting on my bed/couch, patting my new, cute, little fury friends. “To strip, or not to strip? The answer is – to strip!”
Anyway, here, I started asking around to see whether anyone knew of a club that was hiring male strippers. No success.
Granted, had anyone known of a place that was hiring, I’d probably not have had much luck.
I was by no means in bad shape, but given that I couldn’t afford a gym membership, and also considering that I’m not naturally built like Jean Claude Van Damme, I was holding fairly high hopes in thinking that someone would actually hire me as a stripper.
The limelight’s stage for naked hip thrusting wasn’t designed for relatively short, hairy, skinny guys.
Alas, this is where the story ends with only an: “almost.”
(Sorry for the anti-climax).
The point is, had I been given the opportunity, I, Rob Pop, a straight shooting student of the law, almost certainly would have turned to stripping to support myself.
(And now to channel the Dalai Lama).
People, strippers, cop a lot of flack from society. A stripper’s career isn’t looked upon so kindly through the lens of civilised, social norms. We’re a judgmental species. We think ill of people who arouse our natural sexual curiosity by flaunting their junk and charging a hefty price for it.
But what I learnt during this stage in my life was that everyone’s story is different. No matter how well we think we might know someone, no matter how deep an insight we might think we have of another’s life, no matter how indelibly ‘wrong’ we might consider someone else’s decisions – everyone’s life is personal, unique, and cannot ever be fully comprehended from the outside.
Here, broke, unemployed, and without so many options at my grasp, I learnt that we shouldn’t be so quick to judge others. Even though I’ve always generally thought this way, I’ve never experienced this intellectualisation with such clear insight.
Everyone walks in different shoes. Instead of being so quick to point the finger at others, why don’t we all just do our best to focus on our own paths, and do like Jesus teaches: live, and let live.
Our human world would be much better off for it.
Humans-are-weird. Almost became a stripper.