The New York Story

Lasting First Impressions

Have you ever had an experience where you felt like you were outside of yourself, looking in, watching yourself make bad decisions and act on them?   I had one of those on August 24, 1992.

I had been expecting an Amazon goddess to meet me at the Newark airport, and had been worried about what she was going to think of pink, blonde me, and found myself stunned into silence at the sight of the girl who was calling my name.  She was short.  My height.  And she was much thicker around.  Instead of the runway fashion queen I had expected, I was looking at a girl with  chunks of purple and brown hair sticking out from under a black baseball cap, wearing a heavy, leather motorcycle jacket over an insanely short, black, pleated skirt.  She had on purple and black striped Hamburgler tights, and combat boots. Her eye makeup looked day old, smeared in some places, crusty in others, and a fine sheen of sweat stood out over her upper lip.

She did not look like Isabella Rosselini.  She did  not look anything like what my pen pal had described to me.  However, she was smiling, and waving, and calling my name.

I recollected that Isabella had told me a friend of hers was coming with her to pick me up at the airport.  I decided this was the friend.  I waved back, and made my way over.  We greeted and hugged, and then I found myself following her through the airport, wondering how I was either going to ask her if she was Isabella, and if she was, how I was going to bring up the discrepancy in detail.

She chattered as we walked, and I inspected her.  She sounded like Isabella.  She seemed to know me like Isabella should.  Maybe she’d just gained weight?  It wasn’t a big deal if she had.  I didn’t care what she looked like beyond knowing what to look for, but how could I explain the difference in height?  Had I misread her description?  Misunderstood?  Or was this just not Isabella?

I followed her in a daze, still not quite believing what was patently obvious:  That this was Isabella, and she had just been extremely creative in her self-description.  What else had been exaggerated?  Or flat out fabricated?

It occurred to me that I could turn around right then and go home.  I had an open flight ticket.  One phone call and I could get back on a plane and my mother would be there waiting to pick me up.  But that was admitting defeat, and just as I had ignored my mother’s insistence that my Hawaiian admirer was admiring me from the State Pen, I was ignoring my parents’ insistence that this trip was unwise and that I couldn’t trust Isabella to be who she said she was.  The last thing I was going to do was tell my mother that she’d been right.  Besides, I thought, I had a hotel booked.  Worse came to worst, I would just hide in the hotel.

We picked up my luggage and headed toward the taxi stands, and Maybe-Isabella started giggling, pointing to a driver holding a sign.  “Mrs. Khanada”  I stared.  She had hired car to pick us up from the airport, using my Smash Hits pen pal name.  Isabella had a car.  Why was she hiring a car?  This couldn’t be Isabella then, could it?  But she knew me.

I was confused, but laughed along with the joke and followed her into the car as the driver put my bags in the trunk.  As we drove, the right phrasing came to me.  I said, “So you came alone?”

“Yeah,” she sighed.  “Jerri couldn’t make it.  So I–”

And I didn’t hear the rest.  All I could think was, “Were you tripping on acid when you wrote me your description?!”

I came around to her repeating, “So is that okay?”

“Huh?” I asked, shaking myself.  “Sorry!  Skyline–  Tourist–  I didn’t hear you.”

She laughed good-naturedly, then shrugged, “No big.  I said that we can go straight to your hotel, but I really need to stop by the school first.  Okay?  We can put your luggage in the dorm.  Okay?”

“Okay,” I nodded.  At least she was really a student.

She sighed, “Yeah.  I’ve got to register.  Oh, and do you mind if I stay in your room with you tonight?  Because…I don’t think I told you.  I kind of have to find a place to live.”

Everything my mother had said about the stupidity of my trip came rushing back.  I blinked and said the only thing I could think of to say.  “Uh…sure.”

To be continued.

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