I’ve never liked the phrase “carpe diem”. It’s regularly deployed to make me do things I don’t want to do. Like leave the house. But as I spend a Saturday evening on the sofa of the Brooklyn apartment where I’ve been staying for the past few weeks, shovelling handfuls of Lucky Charms straight from the box into my mouth and listening to my upstairs neighbours have the loudest sex I’ve ever heard humans have, it occurs to me that maybe I should be carpe-ing the diem.
I’ve been to New York a few times since my big sister moved here a couple of years ago. I’ve done the Met, I’ve done diners, I’ve done yelling: “Hey, I’m walking here!” at batshit insane drivers who seem to think red lights are a polite suggestion. What haven’t I done? The women. Not a single one. To put it in less crude terms, I haven’t got round to exploring the gay scene. I’m always over here with family and I don’t have any New Yorker friends. And what kind of inept weirdo would go to a gay bar in a foreign city alone?
Well, me, as it turns out. As I sit on my comfy sofa in a moth-eaten Nottingham Forest T-shirt and the sartorial abomination that my mum refers to as a “leisure pant”, I make a pledge to myself: “I, Eleanor M Margolis, am going to get up off my lazy, 23-year-old, lady-loving arse and have a gay old time, so help me God.”
Over dinner with my family later that evening, I announce that I’m going to be taking myself out in the city that night. I’m met with looks of deep concern from my parents and my sister.
“But you’re only twelve,” says my dad, growing tense around the jowls.
“And you fall over a lot,” adds my sister, “And you can barely dress yourself.”
(I can, actually. Just)
“How are you planning on getting home?” asks my dad, hinting at my mole-like obliviousness.
To give my family some credit, I’m concerned too. Not for my safety, or anything sensible like that. I’m scared of embarrassment. Gut-wrenching, overwhelming, head-grinding humiliation.
A tip from the gay New Yorker who cut my hair the other week, and some half-arsed Googling, tells me that Manhattan’s number one lesbian bar is Cubbyhole in the West Village. Assured by my coiffeur that this place is less sleazy than London’s Candy Bar, I decide to give it a try.
When I slink into Cubbyhole, in that furtive, British “pretend I’m not here” way, the sound system is pumping out Daft Punk into the most densely populated lesbian space I’ve ever beheld. We’re talking, like, 17 lesbians per square metre. By the time I’ve front-crawled my way to the bar, I’m so exasperated that I’ve stopped muttering “sorry” every couple of seconds. I order a whisky. It’s a generous glassful. As I stand sipping my oversized drink and not knowing quite what to do with my limbs (which suddenly feel gigantic), I realise just how far I am out of my comfort zone. I’m surrounded by couples, making it difficult to start a conversation without going, “Hi, I’m British and I’m here to ruin your date.”
And then I hear it – the most beautiful sound a lonely Brit can ever hear in an American bar – an English accent. Brummie, to be precise. Half an hour later, having buddied up to my countrywomen (there are two of them) I’m wrecked on super-sized American glasses of booze. A few New York girls have joined our party and, much to my surprise, I’m having that strange, elusive thing called fun.
These local lesbians aren’t giving me the silent treatment I’m so used to in London. Standard procedure in an East End lesbian bar, when you see a girl you fancy: glare at her. If she glares back, maybe you’re in there. Or maybe she just fucking hates you, who knows? So, you can probably understand why I nearly spit my whisky everywhere when a New York girl approaches me and, after about fifteen seconds of small talk says, “You’re very pretty. Have you ever had sex with an American girl?”
No, I haven’t, I tell her. And I don’t that night. Turns out I can’t quite stomach being offered sex without a generous side of crippling doubt. Part of me likes not knowing whether a woman is inviting me back to hers for humping or for three hours of eating hummus and crying. Who knew? But I do stumble home to Brooklyn at 4am and vomit into the bath. So there you have it – “carpe diem” me-style. So, hi queer girls of New York, I run away and puke in bathtubs when you offer me sex. It’s been a pleasure to meet you.