I first moved to New York City in 1999, having decided that I was going to live in a place where I was no more of a weirdo than anyone else. It was hard. I spent nearly two months in the Flushing YMCA while the (now mercifully defunct) New York City Board of Education tried to send me to various warzones around the city on a temporary basis.
I finally wound up in Harlem, teaching at a school where students majored in metal detectors and living in a neighborhood which was not yet "gentrified" [a fancy term which translates to "safe for middle class white people from Omaha".] I got on fine in Harlem, perhaps due to a combination of relentless politeness where I called everyone Sir or Miss, like a good European and the mere novelty of a white guy in a suit and headgear who actually lived there. My eventual landlord named me his "shwartze grandson" and all was well on the home front. Before finding that studio however, I had to endure about 4 months in an SRO or single room occupancy. An SRO, which is New York's answer to the cardboard box, is a room the size of a casket. Perched unsteadily on the second floor of a brownstone, mine was connected to a bathroom shared by myself, a dull witted german lad and a guy who called himself a doctor but something must have gone wrong in his medical career to have lived there at the age of fiftysomething. I caught a glimpse of what that something may have been when he attempted, several times, to hop in the shower with me, dissuaded only by my razor blade.
The school was the sort where there were no textbooks or parents. The principal had vague notions that I should teach reading, though how this was to be without books was a mystery. Not having a classroom didn't help either.
Contrast all that with my return. After a few days of being hosted by the participants of Couch Surfing, I landed on the third floor of a beautiful town house in Queens for only twenty dollars more than the Harlem spot. And yes, interviews are coming.