Read Zach’s new Short Story “647 Dollars and 97 Cents”
In February of this past year, I traveled to New York City and somehow spent $647.97 in just under 12 hours.
And I have absolutely nothing to show for it.
New York has always been one of my favorite magical cities. From the first time my mother took my siblings and I there as kids to look at the Macy’s holiday window displays – to the nights spent out eating at fabulous restaurants like Trattoria Del’Arte – to the time when I urinated in a Yankee Stadium phone booth after a tough loss to the Blue Jays, I have always loved New York. The city has enchanted me for all these years and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
Still, for all of New York’s charms, romance and restaurants, the place has continuously sabotaged my wallet time and time again. And no matter how hard I try to keep my expenditures under a budget, I forever find myself failing miserably.
Last February, I was flown out to New York to read a short story at a start-up literary festival called the “New Poets and Writers Rooftop Recital.” I anticipated a catered and boozy event that would be full of accomplished writers, sexy New York celebrities like Uma Thurman and dozens of opportunities presenting themselves at every rooftop sip of champagne. It was the literary Mecca of the world and I was there to take it by storm… Or, at least, try and get my stories printed in some kind of respectable magazine. After all, my last published work was in the underground marijuana culture magazine THC EXPOSE. (Sadly, it folded after the second issue).
I arrived on my Jet Blue flight eight hours before the story recital was to begin and I called my wife back home as I bull-rode the never-ending taxi line heading into Manhattan.
“Hey!” I squealed, alive with anticipation of the glimmering city light. “This is going to be a great time!”
“Do NOT spend a bunch of money,” My wife countered.
“I won’t,” I said. “Besides, it’s all paid for… They’re putting me up, there’s food and an open bar and everything. Besides, I can get through a week on like, 30 bucks. I wont spend more than like, 200 dollars.”
“Don’t go out and buy wine,” she explained. “That town overcharges for everything… if you need to get drunk, go buy a bottle at a grocery store and drink it in your hotel room.”
“Right,” I said. “No problem.”
The thought of spending an evening in New York City straddling the filthy sheets of a SoHo Radisson with a plastic cup full of Chilean Merlot while watching SportsCenter seemed dreadful and horrendous. After all, I was in New York City! The Big Apple! The City That Never Sleeps! This wasn’t the “City Where the Guy Away From His Family For One Night Sits Alone Drinking Wine in his Hotel Room…”
By the end of the evening, I was wishing I had followed my wife’s advice.
I dropped my first $100 getting into Manhattan. I had made a classic New York mistake of getting into a gypsy cab with a driver named “Doopsha” who took me to SoHo and charged me extra because he said the tolls had skyrocketed. Not knowing what to believe, I paid him and walked into my hotel, preparing to decompress for an hour or two before going out to find some food.
The hotel had no record of my reservation. Apparently the hosts of the festival had not booked me like they were supposed to, and I now was being told that I needed to pay $379 for the room – which was the standard “walk-in price.”
Excuse me? Walk-in price? What if I jogged in, would it be any cheaper?
Failing to find my humor amusing, the woman ran my credit card as I frantically texted the festival hosts and told them what was happening. I did not hear back. Still, I figured they would cover the expense and reimburse me.
After a long shower, I performed the typical disgusting routine every man does in a hotel room when they first arrive. It starts with naked push-ups in front of the window, followed by a full body shave that leaves hair all over the bathroom floor. It always finishes with a nude half-hour of television spent with my wong pressed up against a cold pillow.
After a quick nap, I decided to ride the subway over to the East Village and find the rooftop where the event was scheduled to take place and get comfortable beforehand. I opened my laptop and logged in online – only to quickly be hit with a $14.99 WiFi charge. Unaware that they had free computers in the lobby – and knowing that $14.99 would save me a late night trip to the Adult Bookstore called “Babeland” that I had passed on the way in – I shrugged it off.
By the way, when I looked up “Babeland’s” website, they were offering the following in store promotion…
Receive 25% off any lube when you purchase a vibrator at any of our stores. Valid until February 14, 2013. Happy Valentine’s Day!
The next thing I discovered, was that the afternoon before I had arrived, a psychotic, racist woman had pushed a Middle-Eastern man to his death on the subway tracks at the very station near my hotel. This was noted in the New York Post I bought in the hotel lobby. (Along with some toothpaste and a $9.00 bottle of Renu Multi-Purpose eye solution). Immediately cowering in fear for a similar copycat incident to befall upon me once I stepped onto the subway platform, I decided to stay above ground, and summon a taxi to the event.
Following the $15.00 ride over to the East Village, I decided to step into an Italian restaurant-bar to catch the score of the New York Knicks game with a bunch of real sports fans that were cursing at the TV. I decided I would buy one glass of wine, knowing that it would probably be my last before going to the event – where the open bar would keep me well lubricated for the rest of the night. I ordered the house Chianti.
After downing it in three sips and admiring Carmelo Anthony’s offensive output, I cursed myself for ordering the drink and made my way over the rooftop building. It was then that I first began to realize that I was dealing with a faction of complete amateurs. Outside the doorway, on a makeshift sign that looked as if it had been patterned by some NYU freshmen who were flunking graphic design, read the following:
New Poets and Writers Rooftop Rectal.
YES. They had misspelled “Recital” as “Rectal.”
I called attention to it at the door before giving my name to the bouncer – who was way too large and intimidating to be working the guest list at an event for writers and poets – and he completely ignored me. He slipped me my Artist Pass and a small schedule before telling me that GREG and BLAISE, the two hosts of the event, were waiting for me in the “green room upstairs.”
Nice, I thought. Finally, a green room. I was looking forward to some Manhattan catering, some ravenous red wine and to be rubbing elbows with the elite of the New York literary world. I climbed those steps aloft with dreams of exchanging email addresses with Jonathan Safran Foer as Woody Allen and I discussed the flaws in Soren Kierkegaard’s criticisms of idealist intellectuals.
Instead, as I walked into the green room, which was actually the bus-boy stand of the restaurant in the adjoining room, I was greeted with a frozen vegetable platter, bottles of $1.99 Charles Shaw red wine and a red-haired doofus in a sweater named Riley who handed me a tiny water and told me I “sort of looked like Jason Bateman.”
So much for Kierkegaard.
Meanwhile, Greg and Blaise were very young. Like, early 20’s.
When I told them I needed to be reimbursed for my hotel room, Blaise said, “We already paid the 129 dollars last month.”
I told them there was no reservation when I had arrived. They flipped out and informed me that they would not be able to cover my room charges beyond getting me a check for $129.00
There went another $250. I was already way over my $200 limit.
Greg apologized and tried to cheer me up by offering up information about the after party.
“After the event, there’s a huge after party on my dad’s boat,” he announced. “Trust me bro, it’s killer… we’re gonna throw down.”
I cracked the Charles Shaw. There was only one way I was getting through this.
I read my story to an enthusiastic crowd of roughly 25 people. I followed a young writer who received a lot more attention and got more laughs than anybody with his banal, arcane and totally lame story about how he thought he saw a mermaid in the East River.
When I asked him if he had ever seen the film Splash, he responded with a gruff, “No.”
“Netflix it,” I told him.
Following the readings, they actually brought out some edamame and hummus to snack on. Starving, I put away nearly three full dishes before folding up my story and preparing to attend the after party on the boat. First, however, Greg and Blaise needed to clean up the event.
“We’re gonna be about an hour or two, man,” they said.
I looked at my watch. It was 10:30. I almost forgot… New York City nights don’t even start until around midnight. Luckily, I was on west coast time. I wasn’t tired and the buzz from my reading had me thrilled to be assaulting the Manhattan bar scene for the next few hours… especially if we would end up partying on some guy’s father’s yacht.
I headed downstairs with some other writers – including a guy who claimed he was about to publish his third novel. We straddled against an old wooden bar in a place called 2A located on Avenue A. We spent a few minutes talking about the pathetic festival we had all just been a part of, and the novelist sipped a whiskey before saying, “I’m so sorry you flew out for this, man.”
I told him I didn’t care. He bought me a glass of wine and we drank to creativity.
It was then that I put my credit card down, which is undoubtedly my most consistent mistake. Once I pass a certain threshold of intoxication, I get extremely generous with the liquor. If you are standing near me at a bar when I am in my cups, I will undoubtedly end up buying you a drink. Or two. Or in this case… four. The novelist and I shared stories of east coast adventures and I showed him pictures of my kids. We talked writing and sports and for the first time in awhile, I felt like a man again.
As the drinks flowed, I barely noticed Greg and Blaise come in the door and announce that it was time to head to the after party on the boat. They had a few cute girls with them and the novelist’s eyes perked up. I swiveled on my chair and texted my wife the following lie:
Got a cab home, don’t worry… going to sleep. Event was fun – call you in the morning.
I’m pretty sure I did that so I wouldn’t face any unnecessary distractions the rest of the evening. After all, a calm wife is a happy wife – and she didn’t need to know that I was soon about to be popping champagne corks off the bow of a yacht into the Hudson River.
When it came to splitting a 15 dollar taxi ride with the novelist, I suddenly became aware that my credit card was still planted at that bar back on Avenue A. I forgot to close it out. Luckily, the novelist covered me – and we eventually arrived at a nice brownstone tucked away somewhere back near SoHo. Expecting to end up at the Chelsea Piers or in some Upper West Side marina somewhere, my evening was quickly derailed when I noticed Greg pressing the combination to an electronic lock on a garage door. When it finally lifted, I was somewhat thunderstruck.
What Greg neglected to mention, was that his father’s boat was above ground and parked in a garage.
“Get on, boys!” He yelled. There should be margarita mix inside!”
I climbed a ladder from the cement floor and did my best to try and stay festive with the party-goers, but this, for me, was the final straw. I was still hungry and not exactly willing to spend the next four hours listening to Jay-Z on the deck of a boat that was in a dark garage. Concerned about my credit card, I pulled what we like to call an “Irish Good-bye” and quietly slipped out the door with three bottles of water under my arm.
Following a three block walk to a major street, I was able to flag a cab and weave my way back to the bar on Avenue A, convincing the driver I would have money for him at the bar. He cursed at me in Pakistani, and I wrote down what he said, hoping to look it up on my laptop when I made it to the hotel.
“Behanchood… Tatti Kaa.”
When we arrived, I closed my tab at the bar. Nine drinks and a bag of barbecue Lay’s chips cost me $111.98. At this point, I was so tired I didn’t even care. I slayed two $4.25 slices of pizza from the all-night place next door while the meter ran and eventually, the taxi took me back to SoHo where the foul-mouthed driver charged me $49.00 for my cross-town detour. I tipped him three dollars and stumbled into the lobby where I was greeted by a new hotel clerk asking me if I was going to require a late check out.
“Hell yes,” I exclaimed.
I also pre-ordered my breakfast, knowing very well that I would not be in the mood to go out searching for egg whites and coffee the next morning. The charge for eggs, coffee, fruit and room service? $65.00.
That night, after I crawled into bed, I went through my receipts.
In exactly 11 hours and 32 minutes in New York, I managed to spend the following:
Car into Manhattan: $100.00
Hotel Room (after $129 refund) $250.00
Hotel WiFi: $14.99
New York Post/Toiletries in Lobby: $17.50
Cab to East Village: $15.00
Glass of wine at Italian Restaurant: $16.00
Drinks at 2A Bar on Avenue A: $111.98
Two slices of pizza: $8.50
Cab from Soho to East Village to SoHo: $49.00
In Room Breakfast: $65.00
The grand total? $647.97. Yeah. I could have stayed home and bought myself an iPad Mini.
Before shutting off the TV and sinking into the starched bed sheets, I remembered to look up exactly what the Pakistani taxi driver had said to me in his native tongue. I entered it into a Google search bar and watched as the following popped up:
Behanchood… Tatti Kaa.
Translation? Sisterfucker… Eat shut.
I wasn’t quite sure what “shut” was, but I had a pretty good idea.
Upon arriving home the next afternoon, I tried to explain to my wife that all of the circumstances were out of my control and that I was miserable the entire time. Unfortunately, this kind of pleading only goes so far and I still ended up looking like a spendthrift loser who squandered a lot of money on absolutely nothing. That night, I promised her it would never happen again.
The following morning, I got an email from Greg and Blaise thanking me for coming and reading at their festival. They said that since it was their first year, they would be making improvements and throwing a kick-ass event the next time. At the end of their email, they invited me back to New York to read any story I liked at the 2014 “New Poets and Writers Rooftop Recital,” promising me an incredible opportunity to meet and greet Manhattan’s literary community.
I responded with one simple phrase.
Hopefully, they won’t look it up.