The New York Story

Pen Pals Should Come With a Warning

Some nights when I am in the bathtub, my mind starts to wander back to things I would just as soon forget.  I am SUCH a weirdo.  I have done some truly ridiculous, embarrassing, dangerous things.  I’m not going to tell you about some of them (yet) because I am still too embarrassed to put them in print.  However, the fact that I have considered it means that eventually, it will all end up on my blog.

But here is a story until then.

Once upon a time, there was a 16-year-old named Lane.

It was 1987, and there were no internets.  Al Gore was still working on that.  There were no web forums nor chat rooms, no fan pages nor official websites.  If a girl wanted to meet other fans of David Bowie, or Duran Duran, or Sigue Sigue Sputnik, or Strawberry Switchblade, she had only a few sets of recourse.  She could keep an eye out for familiar doodles on other people’s Trapper Keepers, hang out at the Sound Warehouse, try to get to the concerts, or, she could put an ad in Smash Hits (the imported version) and ask for a penpal.

I did all of these.  The latter I did without telling my parents, so imagine their surprise when mail started showing up addressed to “Khanada” (God, okay, that’s embarrassing right there.) from all over the world and prison.

My mother and I had a conversation that went, “Lane, that letter is from a prison.”  “No it isn’t!”  “Yes, look at the address.  I don’t want you responding to this.”  “Uh!  Mooooooooom!”  Of course I responded, and I asked, “Are you in prison?”  Of course he was.  My friend Jason wrote back and told my inmate-soulmate that I had been killed in a freak boating accident.

One of the girls who responded to my plea for fans of the Thin White Duke was named…  I have to give her a pseudonym.  We’ll call her Isabella.  Isabella was cool.  She wrote well.  She was entertaining, and we shared very similar backgrounds as military brats, and we ended up writing to each other for a couple of years.  We also started phoning one another once a month, or so.

She would fill me in on her fabulous, fascinating life at fashion school in NYC, detailing her promotions job for The Limelight, and talking about which Veejay she was refusing that week.  In turn, I would fill her in on my world.  My part of the conversation rarely took more than five minutes.  I was in hayseed awe of her world, and when she would beg me to visit her, I always demurred.  I was afraid she would take one look at me and say, “Never mind.”

But one day I got a wild hare.  I drove myself right down to the travel agency below my neighborhood and asked, “How much does it cost to go to New York City?”  Tiffany, who would book that and every trip I took up to  my honeymoon 12 years later–I’m a loyal customer if you treat me well–got me a price and got me into a good hotel.  I went home and called Isabella.  She was thrilled.  But, she said, if I was insisting on a hotel, I had to stay at the Paramount.  The Hilton was just so-so.

I called Tiffany, who got me an amazing rate, and then I called the hotel posing as my own assistant to confirm the reservation.  I told them I was tying to keep a low profile while I was there, and asked for a few provisions.  It entertained me anyway.

I spent the next six weeks putting together my wardrobe.  There was the black catsuit and cropped ivory Nehru jacket.  There was the skin tight tank dress (that a man tried to trade me for a signed Steven Sprouse t-shirt.  I should have made the trade, but I’ll tell you about that later.)  There was the black and white striped, bateau neck shirt, worn with tights and a black mini.  And a few other pieces along with the basics.  I knew I wasn’t going to be anywhere near what Isabella’s wardrobe would bring, but it was the best I could do.

My parents were furious.  My over-protective parents, without whom I had never traveled.  I was twenty-one and had never been anywhere alone.  It was time, I told them, and I was going.  They could have their fits, but it was paid for, and I was going.  And I was going to be gone a while.  If I liked it, I was staying.

I flew into Newark airport on August 23, 1992.  I will never forget seeing the Statue of Liberty as we banked over the city.  I was equal parts elated and terrified.  What if Isabella didn’t come to pick me up?  What if she hated me?  What if she took one look at my corny Texas clothes and blew me off entirely?

You see, Isabella had described herself to me in detail.  She was tall, 5’10”, frequently mistaken for Isabella Rosselini.  She had men falling all over her, and was constantly fighting off suitors.  She went to a fashion school, where she was a top student.  She worked for what was one of the hottest clubs in New York, and also had ins at Sony and Capitol.

I was 5’3″ (almost), and though I was still working in commercials, and doing runway for petite shows at Market, it was the Dallas market and I thought it was nothing special.  I was round faced and freckled, and worked a temp job while I was going to school for my degree in English.  I went out to clubs, but I wasn’t the hot girl who got asked to work at them.  I’m not the muse.  I’m the girl you tell about the muse.  And my ins at record companies consisted of going in to record stores and buying things from their labels.  (That’s not entirely true.  A Capitol exec tried to recruit me, and I said no.  I didn’t want to live in LA.)

Isabella was this looming, grand thing in my mind, and I was afraid to meet her.

I got off the plane and walked out into the waiting area.  This was pre-9-11, so I fully expected that Isabella would be waiting for me.  I scanned the thick crowd, searching above the heads of the short people.  Looking, looking, looking, worrying.  Had she seen me and split?  She had a picture of me, but I only had her self-description.

And then I heard a voice.  “Laaaaaane?!   Laaaaaaaaaaaane?!”

The voice was coming from my height.  Maybe lower.  I was confused.  Finally, I located the person calling my name.  I did a double take, literally looking behind me for anyone else who might be named Lane because that. was. not. Isabella.

To be continued.

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