In a New York Minute — Part 2

Leah Kertesz
19 min readNov 29, 2020

In a New York minute…. It can end as quickly as it begins.

Like all good stories, this one starts with a psychic. Actually, it’s better, because it starts with a psychic and Joan Rivers.

Endings are just a symbolic as beginnings but often, not quite as finite or romantic as the movies would lead us to believe. Some endings come to a screeching halt, others are a slow winding down of an analogue clock, and some endings occur as a universal pull that comes to yank us out of a situation for reasons we can never fully understand until we have the hindsight to look back. You may be at this very juncture right now and not even know it, or you may be feeling the beating pulse of change about to occur. If there’s any solace a story can give you to understand and handle the signs that you’re at the beginning of the end, then I hope it’s this story.

I had been living in New York for almost two years which means I had survived three arctic blizzards. New Yorkers count their years based on seasons. It was March 2015 and I was near the end of my third winter, which meant that I had seen the full spectrum of New York seasons. New York City seasons come with their own distinct character and moods, which are more often than not very unpredictable. You know it’s spring when the sidewalk poppies sprout up on 5th Avenue and you no longer need to wear a coat, or when violent wind gusts create a cross city tunnel, or when red and yellow leaves turn Central Park into a visual patchwork quilt, or when the subway feels like a steaming gym room locker in Summer. Each season brings something unexpected for which you better be ready.

With thanks to my Australian naivety, and some very dear friends to guide me along the way, I learnt how to deal with the changes of the seasons. My colleague Kim implored me to rush out and buy my first pair of snow boots mere minutes before the incoming of a massive snowstorm, when I thought that trudging the streets in thin leathery sneakers would suffice. Or my friend Jackie, who explained the need to stock up on canned goods, batteries and candles should the power fail in a snowstorm, or my friend Jesse who explained what an AMBER Alert was “why do I need to get a text telling me there’s an emergency?” All these things challenged my sense of expectation when it came to change and challenge. Australia is linear and predictable. Our seasons are mild. Our work days are planned and prepared. Our traffic is 9am — 6pm. Our weekend brunch time is quite literally that time between breakfast and lunch. Australians are relaxed because we don’t live in a society that sends out a mass text to put you on high alert and we’ve never had to stand to command at the tremors of change. Yet New Yorkers stand in the face of gusty winds and say “Bring it on”!

Yes, I was building resilience, but I felt lost among the changing winds of the seasons. Perhaps what had changed was the expectation of the dream. I was no longer dreaming of living in New York, I was living in New York. The sinking reality was the burden of expensive monthly rent, bills, the daily subway commute, an anxiety inducing job, traffic, noise, street garbage and nightly ambulance sirens. If I were to be honest, I felt lonely. Homesick. Empty. For all the hard work and late nights, I missed my family, and with every missed birthday, wedding, baby or bar-mitzvah, my heart tugged a little heavier.

I worked a few blocks from Union Square 14th Street and often on my lunch breaks I passed a crystal shop with amethyst geode and incense sticks hanging in the window. One lonely weekend I decided to go back down there and see if I could perhaps pick up a self-help book or candle that would shift my mood. Times of loneliness and homesickness called for desperate measures. And if I couldn’t find the perfect chakra clearing smudge stick, then there was Zara next door to soothe my soul with retail therapy.

I walked into the Namaste Crystal shop on a frosty Sunday in March, welcomed by the heady, humid smell of aromatic smoke diffusers, accompanied by mediation pan pipes. Clearly lost, the shop assistant asked if he could help me. “No, I’m just browsing thanks.” I really had no idea what I was looking for. I ran my fingers across some books and played with some crystals before coming back around to the front desk where I saw a sign that said “Psychic readings available today”. It piqued my interest and I asked the Assistant if there was any availability for a psychic reading today, and he suggested that there was time now for thirty minutes. With nothing else to do aside from wandering aimlessly around Union Square I thought “why not?”.

Images of Whoopie Goldberg as Odemae Brown in the 1990s movie ‘Ghost’ sprung to mind as I walked up the stairs to meet the Psychic. He welcomed me into his minimal reading room accompanied by a simple card table, two chairs, some crystals and a stack of Taro cards. He asked me what I was hoping to get out of the session and why I had come for a reading. I offered a very short response simply outlining that I didn’t really know why I was here, but that I was curious about my future in New York. He very quickly started rattling off details and insight about my personality, character, and work life, “You work in a very difficult environment, don’t you?” He scratched his bald head in deep thought. “There’s a lot of complexity around you. A lot of different things that you have to manage and coordinate. It’s like you’re an advisor. Someone seeks your advice. But you won’t be in this job for much longer, something will change, you’ll go elsewhere, maybe in about 6 months from now.” He couldn’t really pin point exactly what it was, and didn’t have the words to describe the role that encompassed being ‘Joe Bastianich’s Assistant’, I couldn’t even describe my job at the best of times. He even went so far as to describe my love of Samba dancing. How the hell he knew that, I don’t know! His psychic powers captivated me in a way that a good movie does when you least expect it.

In the last few minutes of the reading, as our time drew to a close, he reorganised the stack of cards and interrupted “Oh and by the way someone is coming to me for you….” He paused. “Joan Rivers. Joan says everything will be ok. She says to do the things that give you butterflies in your stomach. When you have that feeling of nervousness, it’s good. She says to follow your gut. Everything will be ok!” …. and cue Crack Pot!! I burst out laughing, thanked him for his time and handed over $50 I would never get back. I knew not to trust a psychic on 14th Street. What was I thinking? As I turned my back to walk down the stairs his bald head peeped out from behind the door. “It’s not so crazy you know. I know it sounds crazy, but I knew her. I used to read for Joan.” “Uh, yeah, thanks” and I walked out. New York really is a crazy town.

Months rolled on and I watched the seasons change outside the office window overlooking sky scrapers, fire escapes and water towers. The ice crystals melted with the warmer spring days, and flowers sprouted up in sidewalk planter boxes. I went from snow boots to ballet flats, but day-in and day-out I sat in that small, private top floor office with Kim sitting across the desk from me. The speed of our fingers tapping on keyboards as we burned through 300 emails a day carefully coordinating every inch of Joe’s life across the full spectrum of his business and media endeavours.

Of all the projects I was tasked, working on Joe’s music festival in Italy in the summer of 2015 was by far the most exciting. The challenge was to produce a music festival in Italy that would drive publicity to his winery in the North of Italy. From start to finish I organised the whole show in just a few months and flew to Italy with Joe. A small team and I coordinated musical artists, bands, VIP sponsors, logistics, ticket sales, food and beverage and staging production. To say it was one of the biggest projects of my life was an understatement.

Travelling to Italy with your celebrity boss sounds like a dream come true, but what it really looks like is 16 hour work days, responding to emergencies in a foreign language and bluffing your way through, needing to carry everything in your bag but the kitchen sink as plans most definitely will change, praying you’ll have a spare 5 minutes to go to the toilet but most likely just have to suffer the constipation, surviving on coffee, wine and snacks, and you’ll definitely need sneakers for a late night run to the tabaccaio. Whilst I was proud of my work on the music festival, the result of the 5,000-person strong attendance at the most idyllic semi-remote winery in Northern Italy. I was, for a brief moment, in a cloud of awe for this world in which Italians respected the refinery of ‘localism’, both for locally sourced produce, food, wine, and the beauty of life and love.

My dreams of an Italian summer spent sipping white wine in lush green vineyards were firmly burst upon my return to New York. Back in the stinky heat of a Manhattan Summer, I mourned my two-week sojourn to Italy, and had not prepared myself for the deep physical exhaustion and burn-out I would experience as post-Music Festival blues. Back in the office, I had discreetly asked Joe for a pay rise and job title change, expressing that I wanted to manage special projects and produce content. I did not want to run the daily gauntlet in the pursuit of directing his affairs which was clearly Kim’s forte. I stated my case after having already demonstrated my skill set. His response was a firm no. “This is the job Leah. Take it or leave it.” I was frustrated. It was to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Couldn’t he see I could do more for him? Hadn’t I proved myself? Despite the lack of growth, I decided to continue to enjoy what was left of the late Indian-summer. I was in New York after all, the city of my dreams, so if I wanted things to change, I’d have to find that change in other ways.

Late September is considered the start of “Fall” (Autumn to Aussies) which brings with it trench coats, pumpkin spiced lattes, Halloween, and the need to find someone to rug up with when the temperature drops. Fall signals the time to find the ‘Blizzard Boyfriend’ which is required to survive the dark depths of winter as people hunker down with a human blanket. It’s proven that online dating increases between 30% — 47% during the cooler months when people start to get serious about finding a seasonal partner.

Whilst I was actively dating, I decided to try out HINGE, the new ‘flavour of the month’ app. I had quickly matched with Mark, a tall, dark, handsome guy in his 30s working in corporate finance. We connected over the boredom of our respective jobs which led to non-stop banter throughout our work day. I relished the excitement of our daily messages and found him enticingly charming and charismatic. We met one night at a wine bar in midtown which started with the obligatory “2 drinks and I’m outta here” rule, but quickly progressed to three hours over dinner. He was polite and chivalrous, putting me in a taxi at the end of our date to ensure I got home safely. My initial thoughts were positive; finally, a good date in New York! He was nice, smart, well-dressed and charming. Almost too much. A little too sweet perhaps? An unformed, tiny question mark sat behind that initial moment of excitement. It was a murmur that just went “hmmm”. But I pushed it aside and from that first date onwards Mark and I were inseparable.

Every day started with “Good morning Princess” and ended with good evening kisses emojis. Mark and I went on more dates, experiencing great restaurants together, and even a grand gesture one day when he ran 20 blocks downtown just to see me on his lunchbreak. As the intimacy grew, so did his stories. He confided in me about his pre-New York life, moving from Los Angeles to pursue a career in finance in New York. Like most girls, I tried to act coolly when asking about his past relationships but he always skipped over the subject and only offered up the fact that he was once engaged. We talked about everything else, he as well travelled, a former professional tennis player, and showed off his proficiency in languages. I was dazzled by Mark. In my haste to tell my friends about the guy I was dating, it was met with “he sounds like a bit of a bullshit artist Leah” one of my guy friends proclaimed. “He’s telling you the kinds of things guys say to girls to get them into bed. I don’t trust him.” That initial murmur that whispered “hmmm” reappeared. But I brushed it aside. I was living, working and dating someone in New York City. I finally got to experience the coveted “trifecta”. When you have a job, an apartment, and a relationship simultaneously. If you’ve ever lived in New York you’ll understand that these three things seldom align at the same time, so it feels like a miracle when it does.

It was on only very rare occasions that Joe Bastianich would take Kim and me out for dinner, this usually happened when a) he was in a good mood, b) at a gig or an event where we were required to support him in some way, or c) where he could invite other friends along and call it a night out. Usually it only occurred at the juncture of all these three variables. But on this Friday night Mark and I had plans to meet up as he wanted to introduce me to his friends. As this was such a rare occurrence with Joe I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try a new restaurant so I suggested to Mark that we meet up after dinner. Joe, Kim and I ventured to one of the most coveted BBQ restaurants in Brooklyn and I was able to sample some of the most authentic American BBQ delicacies I had ever experienced. We were plied with mountains of brisket, tubs of mac n’ cheese and bottomless whiskey, but even in my food-coma haze I was eager to leave to meet Mark.

After taking a 45-minute cab from Brooklyn to Midtown, Manhattan stuck in Friday night peak traffic, I finally arrived at the crowded corporate after work watering-hole to meet Mark and his friends 4 hours later than planned. On arrival it was clear Mark had one too many drinks, all pink-cheeked and rowdy, but so happy to see me that he lifted me up with a big hug. Clearly wanting to show me off I found myself in the middle of what felt like a Rugby Scrum, where I was jokingly teased about my Aussie accent, a common occurrence by this point. Out of the corner of my eye, in the loud, sweaty, crowded bar, I could see Mark whispering to his mates. Whilst I couldn’t hear exactly what was being said, I could hear that it was something demeaning about me. His mates kept looking up at me, smirking, tongues smacking their lips like hungry dogs. I pulled Mark aside and asked what he had said, but in his drunken blither he brushed me off saying it was nothing. This was a completely different side to the charming, polite man I had seen on our dates. We went outside and before I knew it, things had gone from hugging to arguing, an exchange of heightened voices in a way I had never experienced before. I had never felt so disrespected by a man, but it was clear that alcohol had something to do with the demise of the night, so I told him to sleep it off and that I was going home whilst walking away to hail a cab uptown.

That Saturday morning was the first morning in two months that I woke up and didn’t receive a “Good Morning Princess” text. I felt exhausted, tired and sad. I played out the argument over and over in my head wondering where it had gone wrong, still feeling bruised by his bullish behaviour. I strategically decided not to be the first to text, but rather to wait to see if he would apologise. But the evening rolled around and still no text. The “HMMM…” appeared louder, so I went to bed early reassuring myself that everything would be better with a good night’s sleep.

Sunday morning 7.00am and I awoke with a phone call from my Mum in Adelaide. I always slept with my mobile beside my bed in case of any emergencies (but also because dealing with Joe Bastianich was a 24–7 job). My heart pounded out of my chest, “Hi Mum, are you ok?” I nervously asked. “Hi Sweet, everything’s ok, I don’t want to alarm you, but I just want to let you know that Dad’s in hospital.” My blood ran cold. “What’s happened? Is he ok?” She sounded shaky. She knew me too well and was trying not to panic me. “Look, it’s not a big deal, your Father had a little accident and is in the Intensive Care Unit. Your sister is on her way.” My sister lives in Sydney so this meant she was on a flight from Sydney to Adelaide. This was a big deal. “What do you mean it’s not a big deal Mum?”. My Father is the King in my family, and not just our nuclear family, but within my extended family and beyond, he is an important figurehead. He is our Head Life Saver managing the control tower. He had become someone so important, so invincible, that it was unfathomable that anything could happen to him. I had a million scenarios running through my head. Trying to remain calm, my Mother said “Listen Leah, there’s nothing you can do from New York. Ariana is coming, we will see what the Doctors say but he’s ok, he’s just got a dislocated shoulder, it was just an accident.” I told Mum to keep me informed of the developments as they unfolded. When I hung up from Mum, I sat lifeless on the edge of my bed in my studio apartment. The silence was deafening. I had never felt more helpless or isolated. In that moment, there was nothing I could do to help my family, our Head Life Saver was drowning and I was the lost buoy floating out at sea.

Later that night after trying to busy myself to remain calm, I went to fix myself some dinner in my tiny studio kitchen. The vision of my Father in a hospital bed surrounded by my Mum and Sister had all but consumed the extent of my mental capacity, so all I could wrangle to eat was some microwaved leftovers. Feeling anxious and sad about my Dad, I couldn’t help but think of Mark and that I hadn’t heard from him all weekend which seemed uncharacteristic. The PING of the microwave went off, and so did the PING in my head. “GOOGLE HIM” appeared so clearly at the forefront of my mind. I had always been a dating detective, researching my suitors to every inch of their lives, why hadn’t I thought of this before?

I went to my computer to Google Mark’s full name. With the click of the ENTER button, there it was all laid out on the internet to see. His past stripped bare. With every media link, google image and video, my jaw dropped to the floor, but for every web page I scrolled, the most shocking of all was the revelation of his connection to Joan Rivers. The guy I was dating had been engaged to marry Joan River’s daughter, and their break up had unfolded with a cheating scandal on a reality TV show with Joan Rivers. Turns out there was a real and valid reason the Psychic at Namaste Bookshop had mentioned Joan’s name only six months prior. I had unknowingly been dating Joan Rivers’ future son-in-law. Butterflies raged in my stomach. Not the good kind, but the kind that tells you to run. That whisper of “HMMM” got louder, it had now become a sign that said “GO”.

The week that unfolded after that night still feels like a Japanese bullet train. It was exactly one week after getting the news of my Father in hospital, to learning about Mark’s real identity, I had gone. I left New York and never heard from or saw Mark again. Within a week of being admitted to hospital my Father had experienced a physical deterioration in Intensive Care which deeply concerned the Doctors and they started to investigate his organ failure, along with potential brain damage. My usually fearless Mum was in distress and despair whilst she struggled to process how my Father’s health had worsened so fast. My sister swooped in like an Archangel Warrior to serve and protect my parents in those first few touch-and-go days to assist with the challenge, change and instability of my Father’s health.

As I was packing up my apartment in the Upper East Side, I received a phone call that would change the course of things. I have a strong bond with my Mother’s brother, my Uncle, whom I affectionately call “Zio”. When I saw the phone ring I was delightfully surprised to see a reassuring name pop up. “Ciao Zio”, I greeted. “Hello Darling, how are you?”. “Yeah, I’m Ok, I’m very worried about Dad”. “That’s why I’m calling Darling.” He always called me Darling. “Darling, the situation isn’t good. I’m calling to ask you a question, do you really need to be in New York? I understand you have a job and an apartment, but if you are not needed there, we need you here. Does your boss really need you? Do you need to be in New York?”

It was his dulcet, sophisticated and pragmatic tone to express the word ‘need’. Did I ‘need’ to be in New York? The way he posed the question made me think clearly about my purpose, and what was it really serving? Did I need to be in New York? No. Did I want to be in New York? Yes. New York had, until now, been a big run of fun and experiences. The question of where I was needed in the world became a laser-like focus. I now had to think of the needs of others over my own needs. I had to think about what was important and what I valued most. I had achieved my goals of moving to New York, getting an apartment, getting a job, learning lots and having great experiences. But none of that was important if I didn’t have my family. My family needed me. As the rose-coloured glasses quickly came off, so too did a light beam that shone down with absolute clarity of thought which echoed “GO HOME NOW”. It was no longer a whisper but a roar. Perhaps Joan Rivers had risen from her grave to show me the light, because she was damn sure I wasn’t going to end up with Mark.

I booked the earliest flight I could get back to Adelaide with no expense spared. I told Joe Bastianich that my Dad was in hospital and I had to go home to support my family. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t try to stop me, “Do what you gotta do” he said. As soon as I had the job, I was leaving the job. Clarity shows up in the most unexpected ways and when times are stressful or difficult people show their true colours. I was never going to progress in that job and Joe was never going to try to keep me. I couldn’t guarantee a timeframe I would return from Australia so I tendered my resignation and agreed to finish up the rest of the week by organising and cleaning up everything I could. I didn’t see Joe or Kim before I left, but I left a goodbye card with some photos of us in happier times and my keys on the desk as I turned off the lights of Joe’s top floor office. As quickly as I had arrived, I had left, like a ghost in the night.

This was the biggest challenge my family was facing, and every day evolved with increasing uncertainty for how long I might be gone for, or what I would encounter back home in Australia. I spent the last of my time in New York packing up my apartment, preparing to leave everything I had worked so hard to acquire behind. I didn’t even have time to say goodbye to my friends. When your gut instinct tells you to “GO”, you do just that. You GO. Don’t second guess for a minute. Don’t hold back. Trust that the Universe is pushing or pulling you elsewhere. It’s easy to deliberately drown out the voice that tells you to stay or go because it’s hard, or because, maybe selfishly, we don’t want to. Understanding what values underpin your choices is a big lesson, and some of us may never fully realise. The responsibility is to listen that “Hmmm” inside. And if you aren’t listening, maybe Joan Rivers will turn up through a psychic, or you’ll have a good Uncle who asks you “What do you really need?”

My answer was clear. I had to go home to my family. I had relied on my parents for too many seasons and now I needed to return that support to my parents. Coming home was far harder than I imagined, perhaps even harder than arriving in New York as a naïve Australian with a dream. Because when I arrived home, I was not in a dream of my own making, I was in the reality of my family’s darkest time and I had no New York City AMBER alert to prepare me for this storm. With hindsight comes clarity and even though I went back home to save my Father, it was my Father who saved me. From the things I thought I needed, from the relationship I thought I wanted, or the person I may have become if I stayed.

With hindsight comes clarity and even though I went back home to save my Father, it was my Father who saved me. From the things I thought I needed, from the relationship I thought I wanted, or the person I may have become if I stayed.

We all handle stress differently, but it’s fairly universal that stress is seen as a deterrent and many may want to deflect or numb it rather than deal with it. Whilst I’m certainly no psychic from the Namaste Crystal shop, I do encourage you to look inward and ask yourself, “What do you really need?” If this year has taught us anything, it’s that we need less than we think. Yes, change is constant and ever evolving, but it comes in ways we least expect. It often looks more challenging, lonely, hazy and unpredictable than Instagram would lead us to believe. Yet the harder the lesson is, the one we don’t like to face in the mirror of ourselves, that despite ego or experience, it can be over as quickly as it started. No one is immune to change or challenge. All we have to rely on is our own internal AMBER Alert which is the “Hmmm” inside. That’s the cue. That’s the ever-present knowing voice that tells us “yes” or “no”, or “stay” or “go”. Life is not always going to be Spring or Summer. There are going to be some dark winters, and even snowstorms. But for what has happened this year, and for what is yet to unfold, I hope we realise we are stronger than we think. Endings come when you least expect it, and sometimes it comes as a universal pull to save you, even when you didn’t realise you needed saving. But in the end Joan was right, “everything will be ok”.



Leah Kertesz

Loudmouth, entrepreneur, traveller, writer, reader. Flexing my writer’s brain one story at a time. #liveloud E: