Authors: New York Magazine
met a Wall Street guy when I was living in Munich who invited me to move to New York. He was a very difficult person, but he was the only person I knew in the city. We lived on Thirty-ninth Street between Eighth and Ninth, which was depressing. Every day there were these terrible tourists, and every evening it would be even worse, with tranny hustlers and hook
ers. I remember one sad-looking transsexual who had just been punched in the eye. It was all too much.
I had arrived at JFK with a backpack and a little suitcase and $150. I immediately started escorting for $300 an hour and working at the Gaiety Theater. Porn was not my dream; I wanted to be the next Tom Cruise. But I was realistic and practical, and saw my competition in Hollywood, and decided that the opportunity for me was in porn. But it was also depressing, mostly because I was working with straight, rude, gay-for-pay performers. It was a lot of pressure: five shows a day, two performances a show (one clothed, one naked). At first, people didn't want me as their escort because I was not buff enough, or because I had long hair and a thick Russian accent. I said
After three months, I rented the living room of a DJ from the Gaiety and saved $17,000 to pay six months up front on my own one-bedroom on Barrow Street. The neighborhood felt like a nice suburb of London, and that is when I started to fall in love with New Yorkâeven though I just had a mattress on the floor and a rotary phone to call my family. I wore poor-person clothes like Abercrombie & Fitch,
which was very sad, very beige. (You can imagine this. I was from Germany; I did not know one thing about style. Eventually, when I started to get some money, I bought Valentino, because I did not know any better.) I got bad haircuts and shopped in bad supermarkets. I learned to cook from marked-down cookbooks I bought at Barnes & Noble, but I preferred Burger King. I remember looking in the mirror once in 1997 and not seeing even one ab.
I was poor, but through escorting I was paid to go out and see rich New York. I was taken to the Metropolitan Opera and
The Lion King
and wonderful Eugene O'Neill plays, to tacky-but-expensive restaurants like Daniel, and to Upper East Side apartments with marble bathrooms the size of my apartment. I went to Beige, the Tuesday-night party at Bowery Bar, and I realized that you could be stylish.
My biggest obstacle was when clients would pay with bounced checks or fake addresses. I would call and demand to be paid, and they would treat me like I was nothing. It was tough. But I kept the bounced checks. Ten years later, I Googled the name on one of them and discovered he is this important man who sits on many important boards. I called him and de
manded he pay me three times what he owed me, in cash, or I would make him more famous than I was. He paid me. One should not take advantage of a foreigner. We are tougher than people born here, and we achieve more because we are fighting for it.
etting a job at Kim's Video was harder than joining a band. It was ridiculous: you had to know someone. But I had just moved from L.A., trying to get away from my friends, who were slow and didn't want to do anything but get fucked up. I finally met this guy named Aurelio from the band Calla, and one day he called and said, “Hey, there's a position for you, do you
want it?” I was like, “I've dropped off
of rÃ©sumÃ©s, now I can just
It was only a month after living here that I met Julian Casablancas. His father had a modeling agency called Elite, and I walked in one day after recognizing his name on the door. We quickly moved into an apartment on Eighteenth Street. The apartment was shaped like a dumbbell and had a washer and dryer instead of an oven. We each had a bathroom, which was the reason why we got it (he's a mess, I'm neat). When I met Julian, I told him I played guitar. He said, “That's funny, we're looking for a guitar player.” When I tried out, I had a fever and didn't play well and thought for sure I didn't get the job. What I didn't know is that he had already decided I would be in the Strokes.
We were really ambitious. It's all Julian and I spoke about every night. We set a goal: we'd be playing shows a year from now. When you first start, it takes you all night just to play through one song and play it right. And we only had rehearsal space in the Music Building in the Garment District on Monday and Wednesday at weird hours, although we'd sneak in at other times, too.
Most nights Julian and I would be at home, and Nikolai, another band member, would come down
from uptown, where he worked at a video store. We'd get stoned and watch whatever movie he brought. One time, our fridge was packed so full of Budweiser we took a photo of it. Late at night we'd go to the deli down the street where this guy named Peruvian Love Child would make our salami sandwiches.
We tried everything possible to be friends with bands and play bigger shows with them. We weren't picky. But they were all such dicksâtoo competitive to get together and make anything. The Mooney Suzuki were megastars to us. We saw them one night at the Cooler in the Meatpacking District. They fucking blew us away. We were just standing there watching how cool they looked onstage. It was beyond amazing.
At first, we didn't go out anywhere coolâjust Rudy's, which was near the studio and had free hot dogs and $5 pitchers. But slowly we'd go to bars like Don Hill's and Bar 13 to promote, handing out flyers with stuff from weird 1970s soft-porn movies like
. They started to recognize usâ“Oh, there's the guys from the Strokes hanging out”âand as a group the five of us were a pretty striking image. We were really cocky. Not in a bad way, we just believed in ourselves and so we were always balls to the wall.
moved to New York with three friends from summer camp. Two of us were going to NYU, and the other two were in that self-loathing, debaucherous postcollege year of self-destruction. We crammed into what probably should have been a two-bedroom apartment on Bleecker and Macdougal and sectioned
things off into a four-bedroom by putting up a lot of curtains.
That was an absolute disaster. We were all really broke, and those dudes were out of control. There was no one in the house that did any cleaning, so by halfway through the year there were rats and mice everywhere. I grew up in the Bay Area, so I'm fairly “at one” with nature, but this was different. California nature is lovely. New York nature is disgusting. At first, I was really grossed out by it, but by summertime, I remember lying on my couch watching TV with a water gun, and every time a mouse would run out from behind the TV, I would just spray it. There was no “Let's try and catch them” it was just like, “Take a hike, buddy.”
The mice kind of became a part of the house. We weren't feeding them or anything, but we definitely got less skittish around them. It's interesting how much you can adapt to when you don't have the means to fix it. We did get the sticky traps once. But when one got stuck, we were all too scared to get it and throw it out or kill it. Literally, we were four college-age dudes curled up on the couch listening to it scream for three days. We took turns going back and peeking at it and
yelling, “Oh God, it's there! It's dying! It's dying! What do we do?” But you can't get it off; if you pull it, you rip the limbs off. The humane thing to do would have been to smash it with a hammer, but no one had the stomach to do that, so it was pretty awful.
was teaching English in Japan, right out of college. I had no idea what I wanted to do after that, so I just came to New York because that's where most of my friends were. I stayed with my sister, who was getting her whatever-the-fuck degree at Columbia and lived on Seventy-eighth and First Avenue.
New York was a kick in the ass I was not prepared
for. Of all my friends I knew who moved to New York, only a few still live here; it's a hard mentality, it can consume you, and it can be depressing. A lot of the people I hung around with were stuck in an office, and they hated it, myself included. I worked in a variety of desk jobs as a glorified lackey. It was just drunkenness every night; I'd go anywhere there was an open bar. I remember sitting down and calculating how much money I was spending on alcoholâit was ridiculous.
Eventually I was like, Fuck it, I'm just going to start cooking. I had thought of cooking before, but it was never a reality. Or I didn't think it was a reality. In my parents' eyes, cooking wasn't really a career option; my dad had worked as a dishwasher in New York and had hated it. But food was the only thing I really wanted to do. So I enrolled in cooking school. Everyone thought I was a lunatic.
It was a crazy time to be in school, because there were a lot of people who had cashed out of the dot-com boom and were already millionaires. I got my first restaurant job doing hot apps at Mercer Kitchen after school, and I'd take restaurant reservations at Craft on my days off to make cash. I thought that the staff Tom Colicchio had assembled was one of the best in
New York history, so answering phones was not beneath me. I did that for a month and a half, until they let me work in the kitchen for free. I wound up cutting vegetables and cleaning mushrooms.
Around that time, Wylie Dufresne had opened 71 Clinton, and it was like an atomic bomb had been detonated on New York City. That was the restaurant that revolutionized food in New York, and people still don't even realize it. And it transformed the Lower East Side! I remember being totally surprised and caught off guard that he had opened a restaurant there, and in love with the whole idea: a classically trained chef who had worked with Jean-Georges Vongerichten in Europe was opening up a restaurant on Clinton Street. It was so contrarian!
Then I went to Japan and learned about noodles, and it was just one of those things: I thought, I'm going to open a noodle bar! It could have been in the Virginia Beach area or New York; I had more culinary connections in New York, but I had family connections in Virginia. It just so happened that I saw a location that I liked better in New York, and I opened Momofuku Noodle Bar. I'm glad I chose New York. I mean, opening a restaurant is impossible, and open
ing it in New York is the dumbest thing you can do: it's crowded, it's expensive, and all that. But there's just something about New York that I've fallen in love with: it's diverse, you can get any food you want, it's condensed, and there's a certain camaraderie. Every city I go to, I compare to New York.
y first impression was that it was impossible to sleep in New York. I had moved here a few months after 9/11, as the city was waking up from its trauma. We were preparing to shoot
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
. I stayed for two months at the Gramercy Hotel, but I didn't like that area very much. You don't have the feeling that the pressure goes down at night.
I moved seven times in the next five years, looking for places where it gets absolutely quiet at night.
The film was paying for me, so they sent me to ridiculously expensive places on the Golden Coast: those blocks between Fifth and Sixth avenues and Ninth and Tenth streets. The super of one of them was a sick, crazy person. If I had a guest coming, she wanted to charge me for using more water. She sacked us because my son was a little too noisy for her taste, and I had sweet thoughts of cold revenge for her. I wanted to pour a pot of red paint on the mat at the entranceâsomething really sticky that takes days to dryâso people would walk through it and spread the red paint everywhere. I didn't do it because I knew I would be caught immediately, but it made me feel good when I tried to fall asleep at night.
I started to appreciate how in New York, as opposed to Paris, you can have an idea in the morning and make it happen in the afternoon. And how if you're waiting in a line, you can start a conversation with people you don't know. In France, you look a little deranged if you do that. As I started to make friends, I used to go to this bar called Lit in the East Village, which I liked because it felt like old punk rockâdusty
and not trendy at all. But soon my son came to live with me. He was very independent. We'd go bicycling, and he would take me to places where he had done graffiti tags. I'm not allowed to disclose where.
Eventually I bought a house in Brooklyn. The trucks are pretty loud, but I've gotten used to them. And I like the idea that it is still a bit industrial. I don't like so much all the new condominiums that they are constructing. I sort of laugh inside when I realize that they are all screwed and they can't find people to live in their buildings.
One problem with the neighborhood is that all the hipsters are very selective of their coffee. They all clutter in this tiny, trendy coffee shop, and then the other shops go out of business. So I think on one hand, the hipster should be a little bit more tolerant of his coffee, because he's missing out on great places, and great mixture of culture. On the other hand, maybe some of the diners should buy an espresso machine.