I knew that he was Alabama good… but was he New York perfect? He left me in the morning and I was tired and reluctant and trying very hard to be a mother. Why? It’s easier to imitate a role than to invent one.
“Southern women are never guilty of saying anything lewd or crass. As long as we stretch out our words to three syllables or more, it all sounds just lovely…
“You could say shit but why would you when ’shee-y-it’ sounds so much better? Jesus, or ‘Jyee-suy-sus.’ And then we have damn or ‘daa-yam-muh.’
“Y’all think I’m on to something?”
(A little cocktail talk I picked up during my North Carolina vacation… Flying back to the City tomorrow evening…)
Bare minimum—a little bit of sun and a chilled glass of white by the pool. Jay Gatsby and the scions of industry can wait until another weekend.
So what is different? What has really changed in the two years since I checked my email at a cheap Times Square café, temped for a real estate company high above 42nd Street, made pilgrimages to “Virgil’s Barbecue” for one satisfying taste of home?
Not much. And that’s why I can still taste the fear of the ordinary, feel the numb desk legs from too much time doing spreadsheets, answering phones, filing inane memos, remember the humiliation of taking sandwich and coffee orders from the pasty, pot-bellied executives that got loaded on summer Fridays. My modified job description after their 4 martini excursions to “check out a new property?” A patient, naïve, smiling, $20-an-hour psychiatrist forced to nod and sympathize with their plights as over-paid, over-fed (on the company credit card, of course) suits with dissatisfied wives and needy, materialistic girlfriends. Was it really my job to advise George and Frank about the “It Purse” of the season for their new lover?
Wake up, Dixie Dorothy! You’re not in Oz anymore!
That’s fine. That was my education. That was my world tour. It was as if I were backpacking around the globe with the rest of my college friends, learning about myself, my limits, my place in the world, a notebook tucked away in my back pocket. From south of Houston to 42nd Street, I feel like I’ve crossed the river, breached the gates and come to a place that often feels like hell but sometimes—on the really good days—transcends it all… a little bit like heaven and Oz.
Times Square. Monday. Mid-afternoon. Dizzy and clear, that’s how I am—off kilter from the lucidity of my memories. Has that ever happened to you? The past invades your present with such precision and credibility that you’re scared of it. “That was then and this is now,” like the title of that book we all read back in middle school…
The 42nd Street internet café—“$1.99 an Hour!”— was my home base once upon a time, “Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum” flanking one side, “Applebee’s” the other. Without a working computer or internet access in my apartment, and the “Kinko’s” and downtown café’s costing about as much as my hourly temp wages, I needed the cheap rates of that foul, halogen-lit space to write home, construct resumes and compose long, foolish letters to Spanish and Italian men that never really loved me. Look right, look left: a man logging on to his usual porno site, a blonde, back-packed Swedish couple checking airline rates to get back home.
And there I sat.
(a recap for those of you just tuning in…)
“A fitting? Are we talking about your bridesmaid’s dress again?” Confusion and warm wine—tasting of jam, minus the childhood satisfaction—were my companions after a day of literary solitude in the apartment. PAGING: Algonquin round table. PAGING: New York intelligentsia. Where are you?
“Not a dress, a guy—my new guy. We’re discussing my new guy,” she said, looking exasperated.
“So what’s a ‘fitting’?”
“You know…” she said, peering into the great jammy depths of her cheap Australian import.
The wide eyes and pursed lips meant that she was either searching her liquid crystal ball for a modicum of restraint or about to start in on her favorite subject—sex.
“The guy in the white shirt at the table wants you to have this,” the waitress interrupted, slamming down a Corona and lime on the table in front of me, effectively ‘singling out’ about 17 men in my direct vicinity. It didn’t matter—the cool carbonation was a godsend. I needed to get to the bottom of this “fitting” phenomenon without drowning my confusion in buckets of warm Shiraz.
“So is this a Long Island thing or something that is sweeping the nation?” I queried, leaning back in the high metal chair, hoping my sarcasm would inspire a concise reply.
“Where have you been? No, this doesn’t have to do with the Island—this is about dating in the city and making sure that everything is… no one wants their ‘number’ to go up so… there are things that gotta be…”
“Come on girl, you can do it, you can do it…” My God, what was I doing? Eliciting poop from a puppy?
“You’re going to make me explain it?” she said downing the last of the wine. “First date, dinner. Second date dinner, half a dozen cocktails and a ‘fitting.’ Third date, back to his apartment. You don’t let the latter happen if the former isn’t juuuuust right.”
Visions of Goldilocks and a different kind of porridge—“pourage”—crept into my mind. Is this what had happened during the year that I had been off the Manhattan meat market cum dating scene?
“He can’t be too big because that’s just no fun. Too small and it’s pointless—hello, I gotta ‘Rabbit’ in my bedside table! Somewhere in between is what we’re all looking for. And why wait too long to find out? I for one don’t want to fall in love with a gherkin—”
Slam. Another Corona and another waitress with an apologetic look on her face. “He told me to keep ‘em coming ‘til—”
“Until I’ve had approximately six beers, nothing is too hot or too cold,” I said, veins popping, face reddening, “and I want some ‘pourage’— that side of a gherkin, this side of seedless cucumber?”
“What? The guy says he knows you from the gym.”
Right. Too many mixed metaphors for one night. Time for bed. Alone.