I couldn’t do anything that afternoon except wait for his call. When we spoke again he insisted that we meet in the Rotunda at the “Pierre Hotel.” He was all set on having a proper cocktail with “the publisher’s granddaughter.” Insecurity set in. What if I wasn’t enough? Or, worse yet, what if I was just enough of what had driven him from Alabama? I saw our cocktail hour transformed into an op-ed piece, “Uneducated Masses Flock to City—Erudite Democrats Sought to Eradicate Redneck Émigrés.” Enough. I threw on my blue pantsuit (the color conservative, the cut liberal—I gave nonpartisanship a go), hopped in a taxi and told the driver, the “Pierre…”
Last night, for the first time, I went back into my European journals—the pages I kept while in Paris, Rome, Ischia, Mallorca and Monaco. I was surprised… and pleased. For all the urgency and delight I felt in those far away lands as a freshly-minted adult reflects what I experience every day in New York City. When I wrote these sentences, I touched my past and unwittingly caressed my future.
The first time…For some, like you it is a job to professionally talk of youth and its experiences. The importance of everything at this stage of life! But, you forget this, all of it, in ignorance of your own past or the hardening of your senses. To you, the revelation of young life is a succession of events; nothing more than easy, insignificant moments that lead to adulthood. But, nothing is insignificant from ages sixteen to twenty-two! If only I could prevent the vanishing violent youth, the age when all is new, when everything occurs for the first time.
The first time you fall in love, the first time you lie, the first time you make love, the first time you lose an illusion, the first time you witness beauty and its foe. Time and adulthood finish by imposing the old precept: turn the other way and continue on. But, nothing can diminish the first time like no one can straighten the folds from a girls’ once immaculate sheets.
Today, I’m waiting to mail Mamma a present from the Greene Street P.O. Yesterday, it was press clippings to my editor. Last year, sweating, worrying about Manhattan literary agents—a tall stack of manila envelopes resting on my forearms—I held my breath before surrendering my work to the black abyss, one labeled “Out of Town,” the other “Local.” Two years ago, in a fit of sentimentality, I kissed my black & white headshots, slipped them into their packets and dreamed of the day that newsrooms and temp agencies would be far behind me.
Year by year, the dreams and the realities change but I’m always here, standing in line at the P.O…
I come hopeful, scared, ecstatic. Either I’m sending off my likeness and my thoughts in a metered envelope or I’m receiving over-sized packages of pecans and fleece-lined slippers and bundles of “Southern Living” and “Gourmet.” Tucked in between the folds, I used to find a little check from Granddaddy and Grandmother. I was to use that money expressly for cabbies and never, ever take mass transportation. The subway and everything else difficult up here could be rectified with that a touch of money and sweet words from back home.
Interesting things—remembrances or dreams—are spurred on by the yellow bricks and bright room at Greene…
“But oh, I like it here [at the P.O]. It’s ideal, as I’ve been saying. You see, I’ve got everything cater-cornered, the way I like it. Hear the radio? All the war news. Radio, sewing machine, book ends, ironing board and that great big piano lamp—peace, that’s what I like [about the P.O]…”
Eudora Welty’s “Sister” made the post office her home, far away from the worries of Stella-Rondo, Pappa-Daddy and Mamma. She was happier sleeping among the stamps and cubbyholes and in-coming parcels. Maybe I’d like to live at Greene. Everyday would be different and every night there’d be hope. Everything could be mine.
“It’s a pool of sharks. Get ready for the bite,” Pappy told me over a finger of whiskey one sweltering August evening several years ago. The next morning my mother and I were to drive a U-Haul across the Mason-Dixon, over a river and into the teaming center of life, corruption, pleasure and sorrow. But I just knew that I could handle it. New York City was to be my city (as I’ve said time and again).
“No, no, no!” I told him. I could spot the cads, the fakes, the poor girls from far away lands without good sense or two honest dollars to their name. Intuition and just enough intelligence would save me from every two-bit hooker and con-artist in the Big Apple…
The wider my eyes grew and the more ardent my rhetoric became, the deeper the lines grew in Pappy’s furrowed brow. Granddaddy was a wise man.
I care deeply, I love deeply. And, at times, this has meant that I’ve put my trust in the wrong people. Even the most immoral characters I have imbued with hope and faith. No longer. I leave this week and go into the next a bit hardened… and, of course, saddened. Who were they to take away my naivete?
Time to wisen up or leave this town.
I’ve been saved by the “Angelika.”
That should be Christ’s job, I suppose. Where I’m from, anyway, church and Jesus Christ (Jesus H. Christ, depending on your mood…) and Sunday socials are a way of life. What would Mamma and all the rest do if I likened (although didn’t equate) a left leaning art-house movie theatre to the confines of our Episcopal church? Think about it… cool air amidst the summer heat (either from the stone walls of the sanctuary or the overactive air-conditioner at the Cineplex), refreshments (waifer & wine or buttered popcorn and a Dr. Pepper), life’s sins and joys distilled into one grand narrative (either the preacher’s sermon or Fellini’s yarn).
I don’t like dwelling on my sins. I’d much prefer to go to the theatre and watch the sins of others up on the big, wide screen. Maybe the Angelika is dank and the ushers are preternaturally grumpy and the subway moans uncomfortably close to the foam wall next to me. I’ll take it. I’ll also take the frayed brown carpet and the occasional mouse. Living up here in the city of chaos and sin, I enjoy watching a “Valentin” or “City of God.” Give me one of Francois Ozon’s scandalous flicks—“Swimming Pool,” “5 X 2”—any day of the week. My mind relaxes, I drop my guard, I escape.
When the weather or a friend or a co-worker turns on me, I turn to the “Angelika.” Two hours within its smelly confines and I’m born again. Oh Lord, have I turned into a Yankee heathen?
The city was changing me. At some point, I began to believe in extreme wealth or extreme poverty…