Living in New York I: screams, a woman in pink, and hidden companions in my bedroom

I’ve lived in the glorious city of New York now for nearly thirty years, arriving as a student in the Autumn of 1981 to begin a Master’s at the Juilliard School. I started off at the YMCA for a week until I could find my own place, a room in a small hotel on the Upper West Side. The rent seemed reasonable at the time, although the room itself was as small as it’s possible to imagine. I could virtually touch all the walls as I lay in the bed. What I didn’t realize when I moved in though was that it was a welfare hotel where mentally unstable people were being housed – some strange screams in the middle of the night and a woman floating along the corridors dressed all in pink chiffon I put down to the Big Apple’s eccentric, colourful character..

There were softer noises too during those dark hours – air-conditioning perhaps, or the friendly creaking of the old walls? In the dead of one night I switched on the light and looked down at the floor. I almost missed it, so fast was the retreat of an army of cockroaches, scuttling with a rasping sound under the closet-kitchen cabinet. Slippers were no longer an accessory to lazy buttered crumpets around a Sunday afternoon fire in my imagination; they were protection, defense, armour against the enemy. I started looking for a new place to live the very next morning.

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