You have probably heard of ‘glamping’. If you haven’t, Wikipedia defines it as, “a growing global phenomenon that combines camping with the luxury and amenities of a home.”
In New York I glamped, except in my case the above description was inverted. I combined staying in a home, a beautiful, recently refurbished, three bedroom, three bathroom apartment in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, with the luxury and amenities of camping. That is, no furniture, no lights, no electricity and no hot water.
I arrived at my ‘glampsite’ on a Sunday evening. “Ah the great indoors,” I said to myself, standing with my hands on my hips and taking in the beauty of my surrounds: four bare white walls, an empty wardrobe and a window. I breathed in the fresh paint air and got head spins.
I unrolled my air mattress on the hardwood floor but when I went to inflate it, the pump powered up briefly before dying. Is there anything more pathetic than the apologetic whir of an electrical appliance running out of battery?
Yes. The sight of me, already buzzed from paint fumes, attempting to manually inflate an air mattress and fainting. I ended up just stretching my sleeping bag across the deflated air mattress as best I could. That’s glamping, I thought to myself, as I did.
It was late evening, the sun hung low over the peaks of some townhouses, a chicken shop and a laundromat. In the fading light I prepared my glampfire, three candles that I had purchased from a Dominican grocer down the road using the little Spanish I had gleaned from Buena Vista Social Club:
Me: “Hay candela? Candela? Candela me quemo aé”
Him, rolling his eyes, handing me three candles: “You know none of those words mean what you think they mean, right?”
Me, stare blankly.
Him: “Get out of my store.”
As the sun vanished, I settled down to my glampfood, a meal from the nearby Whitecastle. I ate beneath the luminescent glow of a streetlight, shining in through the room’s uncovered window. I looked up at the New York night sky, contemplating all the stars I couldn’t see thanks to light pollution.
I lay in my sleeping bag and, as my glampfire burned low, drifted off listening to the ambient nighttime sounds of Brooklyn: somebody shouting the word “HEY!” over and over, the beeping and squeaking of buses stopping to disgorge passengers, the clatter of a store’s security screens being rolled down for the night, throbbing rap music and honking, ceaseless honking.
I woke at dawn, sunlight streaming into the room. I lay listening to the morning song of birds being drowned out by the hydraulic hiss of garbage truck brakes, a jackhammer and cars motoring off to work.
I shuffled down the hallway to the unlit bathroom. Standing naked at one end of the shower-bathtub, I steadied myself and reached out one foot to turn the shower on. A frigid jet of water burst forth, I recoiled to the opposite end of the tub. I lathered myself in soap and darted under the icy water before retreating again. I did the same for my hair. I tried to convince myself that glampshowers were invigorating but kept shrieking each time I got under the water.
As I dressed myself in a corner of my glampsite least visible to people on the street, I heard the thud of heavy footsteps downstairs. I froze, the landlord? I have been told to avoid landlords in New York, as they are often described as aggressive predators. They also seemed to be the ubiquitous bad guy in films about New York, along with ghosts and hapless crooks.
The footsteps got closer. Thud. Thud. Thud. I heard the distinct metallic shake of keys. I peered through my peephole, a big man was ascending the steps. He had a beard, shaggy hair and was wearing a Chicago Bears jersey. I could hear him whistling the tune Que Sera Sera
I stood there, nude except for my pants around my ankles. I hopped up and down nervously, trying to work out what to do. I looked at the candles, my Macbook, deflated airmattress, empty Whitecastle slider boxes, sleeping bag. I couldn’t pack it up in time, no way. Hiding was my only option, I ducked into the wardrobe and stood silently, listening.
The footsteps stopped outside the door. The whistling petered out, I could hear the man’s labored breathing, panting almost. My own breathing quickened. I envisioned him entering the apartment, inspecting the empty glampsite, letting out a roar, throwing open the wardrobe door where I cowered naked and mauling me to death.
I took solace in the fact that dying in a wardrobe with my pants around my ankles was more dignified than the way most people had predicted I would go out. I waited.
Then the thudding resumed and the whistling restarted que sera sera, whatever will be will be. The disembodied sounds floated onwards past the door becoming fainter as they drifted up the stairs. Gradually the sounds of the threat disappeared, I rested my head against the door and exhaled, I was safe.
I regained my composure listening to the Brooklyn ambience. Somebody shouting the word “HEY!”, the beeping and squeaking of a bus stopping to pick up morning passengers, the clattering of store’s security screens being rolled up for the day, throbbing rap music, and honking, ceaseless honking.