Jen is a year younger than my wife, which makes her two or three years younger than me. She is very pretty, extremely fit, an ex-gymnast and cheerleader, has a highly-paid job as an advertising executive, lives in downtown Manhattan, recently dated both a millionaire with a private jet, and a member of the Yankees baseball team, and is very, very confident. She wears make-up, probably votes Republican, and has virtually nothing in common with me or my philosophies, beliefs, hobbies, or taste in music, literature, art or film. Jen is also tremendously friendly, and possesses, amongst other things, an innate ability and willingness to make conversation with anyone, a memory for details from the briefest of chats several years ago, a deep, unquestioning love for my wife, and a hospitable streak as wide as her ass is most certainly not. I find her highly intimidating, and she’s putting me up for three days while I give invited-slash-hustled talks at NYU and Teachers College, Columbia University.

Entering the New York subway system from JFK with groundless certainly of my route to Jen’s apartment, I do not even check a city map. Knowing that Jen lives on Worth Street, I get off at a station that has an Avenue in the name, and begin the two-minute walk to Jen’s apartment building with my backpack, briefcase, and bodhrán. After ten minutes of walking briskly what feels like south (the street numbers are getting lower), I concede to consult a handy map at an intersection and realise with inevitable and familiar annoyance that, while I am on a north-south avenue, I am about thirty-five blocks north of Jen’s. Feeling all-of-a-sudden sweaty, heavy-laden and stupid, I remove my jacket, and pick up my pace, halting grudgingly at every damned intersection for a month while the lights change, and switching hands every few minutes when the home-mended handle of the drum case digs into my palms.

I arrive at Jen’s building much later than anticipated, but relieved that I got here at all. I clock the door guy, and panic about tipping, recalling the $100 bills in my pocket, and something horrific Jen said once about her massive obligatory Christmas donation to this large gent. He seems courteous enough, and believes my story about why I’m here. Jen hasn’t told him I’m coming, so he can’t find the key she told me she’d leave with him, and of she’s not answering either of her cell phones. My resolve waning, and anxiety rising, he gets the measure of me instantly. Pitying me, he concedes to let me wait in the lobby until Jen either arrives glamorously in a cab or powerfully sends word. We eventually hear from Jen, and he is suddenly able to locate the apartment key she clearly has left for me after all. I negotiate the elevator rather well, frankly, see myself in to Jen’s tiny, immaculate flat, and sit at her polished breakfast bar to begin work on the paper I’m giving the following afternoon at Columbia. Jen gets in a after a couple of hours of me putting pictures into a PowerPoint, and we head out to dinner at an Italian place nearby where we’re shown to a small table by a chirpy waitress who brings crisp, white wine. Jen is warm and enthusiastic; I am nervous and surely pathetic.

Jen and I hardly know one another, but we’re both kind of intrigued, I think – what, after all, does my wife (her best friend) see in me? I feel we sort of owe it to my wife to become more familiar (plus, I’d like to know Jen better – she seems lovely!), but with Jen’s career success being symptomatic of her expert gregariousness, and my dubious credentials being indicative of my considerable social retardation, we are not equals. We ask about one another’s families, and she suspects that I smoke weed. We discuss her sister’s pregnancy, and I compliment her on her clothes. She keeps the conversation flowing like a pro, and dupes me into drinking 3/4 of the bottle of wine. We head back to her place, one of us merry, and she dons her pyjamas. I put mine on too. I don’t, as a rule, wear PJs, but figure it could taint our developing relationship if I were to sit self-consciously under a blanket, butt naked, on her pristine couch for the rest of the evening. Plus, her curtains don’t close, which could also get awkward. A friend of Jen’s has loaned her Hitchcock’s Rear Window on DVD, so as neither of us has seen this we watch a lot of it before falling asleep and conceding we should hit the hay.

Next morning, I arise from the sofa and go for a run across Brooklyn Bridge and back. I decide that running into the sunrise over Manhattan across that iconic landmark is a fantastic way to set me up for a day’s work. Jen gets back from her epic and gruelling cross-training work-out while I’m drying off on the couch, animating the slides for my talk in lieu of adding content. She chats to me for a couple of minutes, showers, hurries to her bedroom wrapped in a towel, emerges five minutes later fully clothed, and sits with the bedroom door open to ice her feet (her arches have fallen) and apply makeup. On third morning we observe this same routine, she says it’s getting like Groundhog Day. Since Jen’s fridge contains just three bottles of mineral water, two bottles of prosecco and nothing else, I forage daily for breakfast at a local deli and buy far too many carbs. I love New York.



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