My first insight into how deeply embedded "to-go" culture is within the US came two hours after stepping off the plane, when the Irish friend I was staying with received a pungent delivery of healthy-smelling marijuana, wonderful bouquet, and chocolate pralines filled with magic mushrooms. The delivery "lad" had arrived by subway, and was “from Williamsburg” (“I've lived all over, I'm not from anywhere. I used to live in upstate Vermont. I’m an artist, I’ve been living in Brooklyn for 11 years, so yeah, I guess I’m from Williamsburg”). He had sleeve tattoos from imaginary lower edge of farmer’s tan to where a watch tan mark would be; indeed, his tattoos were inverse farmer’s tan. All the way down his arms in paisley and psychedelic swirls, they were there to be displayed, not hidden. He was wearing the v-necked white t-shirt so popular that summer amongst the young, hip, and thin – the Matt Dillon a la Drug Store Cowboy lean and hungry look – he had brown eyes, a shaved head, black eyebrows, blue jeans, probably some skateboarder shoes. He could have been a model for the look my friend Scott called "Brooklyn Fighting Weight." He had a friendly but reticent attitude; not down to shyness, but an unspoken acknowledgement that he was cool: unlikely to be fazed by anything that we would do or could say. The attitude, I was to learn over the months, was that of many young people in New York City, who clothe their insecurities under deep layers of armour posing as acquired knowledge posing as wisdom. He was, in short, a typical New Yorker of a particular type in his mid-to-late 20s. (He did seemed slightly fazed by our line of questioning, our somewhat innocence in the proceedings, our typically-Irish not caring about how uncool we might, or might not, seem to be. He seemed unable to place this innocent directness.)
The friend, who shall be here-fore named as Séamus – even though he is not at all the Séamus type and, indeed, his original accent has become hybridised after many years in New York (but still bearing the core structures and byways of the east Waterford hinterland: "another bottle of Bulmers from the cooler, boy") – Séamus was on his way to a notorious festival in the Nevada Desert known as Burning Man. He was going to have the weed shipped in a trailer containing the consignments of several other people, along with 20 gallons of water, food, bog roll, goggles for dust storms, and everything else needed to survive in the harsh hedonism of that environment, where thongs, paisley contact lenses (“wait a second? Have I taken my contacts out?”) and sandstorms go hip by hip with the terminally hip and the terminally crazed. The pralines, he was hoping to take on the flight to Reno.
("They're wrapped like designer chocolates - in gold foil, like. Genius. Can you bring them on the plane?"
"Totally," the chef says. "They don't have shroom sniffer dogs yet. I mean, they look like high-end chocolates."
"Sweet," says Séamus. "So, if you could deliver 4 more by Saturday, that'd be great.")
Sitting in Bauhaus lounge chairs in an oasis-like basement in lower Manhattan, shielded from the traffic by thick walls, and protected from the swampy summer air by the same porous, cave-like walls, I had dropped right into it. I went out to the local Korean deli to buy a six pack of bottles of Pacifico and some Tecate – hadn’t had these beloved Mexican beers since the road trip to northern New Mexico with Tim the year before, it seemed like – and brought them back as a contribution to the fact that S. had been good enough to put me up.
When I got back, the delivery guy was still there. As Séamus opened ours with the butt of his lighter, the New Yorker declined a beer. As well as being an artist, he was a chef who mostly cooked for dinner parties. Upon consultation, he prepared the menu, bought the produce, arriving at the clients’ apartment, where he prepped and cooked, and cleaned up; leaving everything as before was all part of the service. "They have awesome pots and pans. Japanese knives. Some of them have never been used." His clients, mostly on the Upper West Side, got a frisson seeing him arrive on the subway with the shopping. “They like it that I take the subway. I think they like it that I have tattoos.”
Séamus asked: “is it not dodgy to deliver the weed like this?”
“Well, I always make sure that I carry just under the amount that’s a felony. Though, there is this delivery dude who goes round Manhattan on a mountain bike, with, like, a pound in his backpack.”
Séamus said: “Jesus, you’d get a fierce whiff off of that.”
After he left, Séamus said: “New York for you. It’s all delivery, man.”
After a beer, Séamus said: “He seems a good guy. You’ll be living in Brooklyn, won’t you? Hang on a sec' ‘til I give you his number.”