Posted in The New York Story

Giggle Box


I have inappropriate laughter issues. I first discovered this at the funeral of a classmate in high school. When I have any sort of strong emotional reaction, I laugh. Joy, anger, overwhelming sadness, or terror–I start laughing. Sometimes it is a giggle, sometimes it is a full on guffaw. Any way, I laugh at the worst times.

I laughed at the viewing of my Granny’s body, prior to her funeral. What set me off? The funeral home had stuffed her bra. I laughed at my Boom-pa’s funeral. What set me off? The paper apron the Masons put on him, that made him look like a fry cook. I laughed during my wedding vows. Why? B had marked a large X on his ring fingernail so that I would know which hand got the ring. I laughed during Thor’s labor and delivery. Actually, I laughed so hard at my own joke, he was born. True story.

Thus and so, it should come as no surprise that when a crazy-eyed man tried to back me down a New York alley, waving the jagged glass of a broken beer bottle in my face, growling, “Gimme your money or I’ll cut you! Gimme your money!” I started laughing.

It started small. I giggled. I tittered. Then he jerked the bottle and threatened more. I chuckled, not moving. I’m no fool. I’m not going down any alley with a stranger! Bottle, switchblade, gun, whatever. Uh-uh. Whatever you’re going to do, you’re going to have to do it in plain sight, Bubba. He got louder and so did I.

Y’all, I was terrified. Isa and Mo were gone. I was alone, and at one of the smallest physical states of my adulthood, my hips and metabolism having been late bloomers, in a strange city, without my glasses. Did I forget to mention that? This was before I had contacts, and no way in hell was I wearing glasses to the Limelight. Perhaps if I could have seen him clearly, I would have reacted differently? As it were, I went into a full and paralyzing belly laugh, tears streaming down my cheeks, sure I was about to end up with one less eye and a mouth full of glass.

My would be mugger finally backed of and yelled, “You crazy, Bitch!” and ran away in the other direction.

As soon as he was gone, the reflexive laughing stopped and the full body shivers started. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to cry. I wanted to find Isa and Mo, and knock their heads together. I decided the last was what would make me feel better, so I went to seek them.

I made my way into the collective of bodies standing around in front of the club and started looking around. Nice looking guy approached and eyed me, smiling. “Hi,” he nodded. I nodded back, checking his hands for weapons. “Look at you,” he said, peering into my face. “Man, look at your pupils! You’re on some good stuff. What are you on?”

Remember a few posts back where I said I was a stridently moral thirteen year old? Well, I was a stridently moral twenty-one year old as well. Sure, I crushed on junkies. Junkies were always the cutest! But I would never have done the stuff myself. I’ve never even smoked a joint. I have smoked Virginia Slim menthols, but couldn’t find a way to look cool and keep my hair from stinking, so I gave that up after a week. And I did drink once before my 21st birthday, but I embarrassed myself so badly that I’ve never had that much to drink again. So when this guy asked me what I was on, I didn’t understand.

He repeated himself and asked where he could score, once more inquiring as to the name of my drug. I scoffed, “It’s called fear.”

“Fear,” he repeated dreamily, then laughed like Beavis. “Fear. Cool…I’m gonna go get some.”

I rolled my little virgin eyes around in my head again, then went to find Isa and Mo. They were standing on line to get in the club. I thought unkind things about them, but joined them just the same, letting them apologize and try to make up while we waited.

A doorman started walking the line, picking winners. “You,” he would point, “and you. And you. Not you.” If you’ve ever seen a sitcom bit with a club line, you’ve seen this. He you-you-you’ed his way down to us, pointed at me, “You,” looked at them, “Not you,” and started again. I called him back.

“I’m with them,” I said, jerking my thumb. Yes, I wanted to go in, but I was also alone save for those two wackjobs. I realize as I type that I have left out describing Mo. Let me rabbit trail.

Mo was on the cutting edge of Grunge fashion. Another short girl, like Isa and me, she was plump and well-well-well kind of endowed. She was all torn jeans, raggedy flannel shirts, combat boots and piercings before they were cool. And a badly maintained pixie haircut. For her scene, she was very well dressed. For this scene…

The doorman shook his head. I could go in, they couldn’t. “But she works here,” I pointed at Isa, who let out a hiss and elbowed me hard. It turned out that Isa had once passed out flyers for the Limelight, but was never actually employed by them, as she later explained. He laughed, “You can go in, or not. But not them.”

And, dear readers, I did not go in.

I wish I could tell you it was out of loyalty. It wasn’t. I really wanted to throw pies in their faces by then, but they were all that stood between me and being alone in the city. So, when they asked if they could come sleep in my hotel room, I said yes. With the caveat that they had to sleep on the floor. Of course.

Posted in The New York Story

Hospitality


I have to finish telling this New York story before January 13. Let’s see if I can do it.

I left off telling you about how Isabella and I were headed to her parents’ home in Virginia, having traveled by train from NYC to Washington, D.C. Now, I am a very, very fortunate woman. I have always known how much I was loved and wanted. Even at her angriest with me, I have always known my mother loves me. No question. No argument. I am loved. And even at her angriest with me, my mother has always been willing to drop whatever she was doing to come to my rescue. If I were coming in to town at 2 in the morning, she would be there to pick me up with a smile on her face. My grandparents were the same way. No matter what time, or under what circumstances, my grandfather met us at the gate to open it for us, and my grandmother was always there holding the door open. See? Fortunate. Wanted and welcome.

My family also made a point of not deriding one another in public. We might say things, or give correction to one another among family, but never, ever in front of strangers or in public. I got all my spankings in the bathroom stalls, you know? We are all fairly sarcastic, but not to one another. Since that was my world, I had no point of reference for anything else.

I do have an Eddie Haskell streak, so as we neared the train station, I was going over my etiquette for introductions and thinking through the best ways to express my gratitude through tilt of head and vocal inflection. I was practicing silently. “How do you do, Mrs. Isabella? So nice to meet you, and thank you so much for picking us up, and letting me stay in your home. *head tilt, smile, warm hand clasp over handshake*”

Imagine my surprise when, as I stepped forward from behind Isabella to say hello, her (attractive, well dressed) mother looked me over and snarled, “Well, that one doesn’t look like the ones you usually drag home.” I assumed that meant I looked better? I hoped? I was shocked, but scrambled into the back seat when it was clear the woman wasn’t going to speak to me, and because she and Isabella had already gotten into the front. All the way from D.C. to Alexandria, Isabella’s mother berated and browbeat her. Suddenly, I had a lot more sympathy for the manic seeming girl sitting in front of me. I frowned. Mrs. Isabella hadn’t even said hello to her daughter. Or hugged her. Or anything remotely maternal.

Of course I have no idea what caused their relationship to be so frosty, but like I said, even when my mother was so angry she was refusing to speak to me–she once went 2 weeks without speaking outside of saying things like, “I love you very much, but I can’t look at you right now, so please go to your room,” after finding out I had forged her name on a note used to skip school–she still hugged me, and she still showed up to drive me home from school, and was kind to my friends. I think she talked more to Byron that year than she spoke to me.

I digress. I spent two nights in Mrs. Isabella’s home, and she never spoke to me until the day Isa and I left. I walked over to her and thanked her for her hospitality, and told her how much I appreciated how graciously she had opened her home to me. I did this with as much sincerity as possible because I am a big believer in heaping burning coals on heads, and because it’s what Eddie Haskell would have done.

Meanwhile, during the daylight hours, Isa and I were staying far away from her family’s home. We went to meet her friend and soon-to-be roommate, Mo. Mo worked in a record store, and she and Isa horrified me (see earlier blog entry) by stealing. Isa picked up all the cassette tapes she wanted, and carried them to the register. Mo rang them in as those little plastic things you used to put into the holes of 35 records to convert them to play on a 12″ turntable. Isa ended up with a stack of tapes for around $1.25. I bought, and paid full price for, my CD single. No sir. I don’t steal. LOL.

Among the tapes purchased, was a copy of the Shakespeare’s Sisters single Stay. Isa mentioned that we could listen to it on the drive. If I had known then, what I know now, I would have called for the store manager and had them both arrested, then called my mother to come get me. Why? Because, while that is a great song, it is not a great song on repeat from Washington, D.C. to the New Jersey Turnpike.

There was much scurrying as Isa and Mo worked to pack Mo’s two door, Honda hatchback for our return to the big city. I kept idly wondering where I was going to sit, and then it became clear that it wasn’t so much where I was going to sit as it was upon what, and around what I would wrap my body, so as to fit into the backseat with the luggage, lamps, wooden chairs, and boxes.

I have carsickness issues, so I begged for a ride to the pharmacy, where I stocked up on dramamine, then I drugged myself before being wedged into the backseat, my upper body inside the rungs of a chair, my lower body straddling the seat hump with two lamps between my knees. When the music and Isa and Mo’s passionate sing-along had become to much to bear, I pretended to be asleep, then listened to them talk about what a square nerd I was.

We got lost on the Turnpike and pulled in to a truck stop for directions. In the bathroom, Mo went through the ritual of taking off all fifteen–you think I’m exaggerating, don’t you–of her sterling silver skull/demon/onyx/poison rings to wash her hands in the sink, while I abandoned them to go wrap myself serpentine style around Mo’s belongings. An hour down the road, Mo wailed. “My rings! My rings! Where are my rings!”

After assuring ourselves that the rings were not on her person or in the car, we turned around. I wanted to kill these people, and did not endear myself any by suggesting that Mo could probably find another twenty cheap skull rings at the next Spencers store. By the time we returned to the truck stop, the rings were gone. That did surprise me. I didn’t think they were worth taking, frankly.

Finally, with Mo in tears, we were back on the road. We drove the rest of the way into the city without event, and I had my first experience with trying to park a car in Manhattan. Parking isn’t the problem. Finding a place to park, and parking there during prescribed set of hours is what is tricky. We parked at FIT, got a cab to my hotel, freshened up, had to return to the car for a forgotten somethingorother, then walked to the Limelight.

You know, the Limelight. Isabella had told me she worked there. Right then, the Limelight was one of the It places, and I was gagging to get my happy self inside and dance on their floors. Maybe with Dianne Brill, or Madonna, or some other of my then-icons.

We arrived, and Isa and Mo ditched me on the sidewalk, running to talk to someone they knew. I stood there, one in the morning, in front of one of the hottest clubs, in the hottest city on the planet, thinking my vacation was finally about to get good. And that’s when the guy with the broken beer bottle tried to back me down an alley.

Posted in The New York Story

Train to Nowhere


I used to think of myself as a very flexible, spontaneous person.  My friends disagreed with me, Karen saying that I was predictably unpredictable, but beyond that, very staid.  See, I thought that planning something out a couple of weeks in advance, rather than the couple of months I prefer, made me incredibly spur of the moment.  It wasn’t until the last few years that I have admitted the truth:  I am a planner and I don’t like it when things are not according to my plan.

I can pick up and go on the spur of the moment.  I’ve called B at work before and said, “Let’s go somewhere.”  Six hours later we were in the car on our way out of state for the weekend.  But I already had a hotel in mind (and booked before we left), and maps printed prior to making that phone call.

When I planned my trip to New York, I planned for New York.  I planned for a hotel in case Isabella turned out to be a freak and I didn’t want to stay in her dorm with her.  I planned an open ticket so I could get away fast if I needed to.  I planned what I wanted to see, what I would wear, and had an idea of how to get around the city.  I did not plan to end up in Virginia.

When Isabella suggested I travel with her to pick up her roommate, I was a little cranky about it.  I like to think I hid it well, but the fact that she offered to pick up my travel expenses as apology for the confusion tells me I was probably much grouchier than I want you to believe.  I want you to think well of me.

We made our way to Grand Central Station, and I was appropriately agog and touristy, fascinated and hayseed about being in America’s most famous train station.  It served me well when Renae and I were trying to figure out the train station in London.  All of the trains back to D.C. were booked until late at night.  By late at night I mean we were leaving after 10pm. 

That meant we had time to go have another $14 cheeseburger before embarking on our journey.  I could not believe how expensive food was!  See, had there been an internet, I could have better planned my budget.  As it was, my cash supply was dwindling fast, and I was not going to call home and ask my parents to put money in my bank account.  That was admitting defeat.  I mentioned that to Isabella, and she said she could probably get me a short-term promotions job with her boss, and that would get me quick cash.  Sounded good to me.  Just passing out flyers or selling tickets.  I could do that. 

“My boss will love you,” she enthused.  “You’re a fresh face, so you’ll be just what he wants.  You could probably make $200 in a day.”

I started to get excited.  “Just for passing out flyers and selling tickets?”

“Yeah!  I’ll introduce you when we get back.”

Once we were on the train, Isabella settled in with her Walkman and a copy of the bootleg Duran Duran album I had smuggled to her via my friend Stephanie.  This was a studio copy of what would become The Wedding Album, at that time under the working title of Four on the Floor.  It’s still one of my favorite albums, and I can’t hear songs from it without being transported to the Manhattan fire escape where I spent so much time painting my nails.  I painted my nails a LOT.  I think I was a little OCD about it.

With Isabella tucked into her leather jacket, head in the musical clouds, I was left to my own devices.  Without a book (and with my motion sickness issues, I wouldn’t have risked trying to read), or a friend to talk to, I started making friends with people sitting around me.  By the end of that ride, I’d gotten to know five different riders, and one had even chased away and unwanted suitor.

Turned out that the guy sitting behind us (beside whom I ended up spending the majority of the ride) was from my mother’s hometown, had moved to Dallas and matriculated at my all-girl school’s brother school, and had graduated just a few years ahead of me, so we shared some mutual acquaintances.  He was also safely gay, so we could enjoy a conversation without either one of us worrying that the other was trying to make a love connection, and gave me great tips on what sights to see, and what to avoid. 

As long as the train ride was, once I was in the backseat of Isabella’s mother’s car, I was wishing it hadn’t ended.

Posted in The New York Story

Rent


In 1992, I was living in a 720 square foot apartment in a prime neighborhood, paying $400 a month in rent, all utilities included.  Well, not electric, which I found out the hard way, but everything else was paid.  My experience in apartment hunting consisted of visiting several complexes with my mother, hoping on the back of a golf cart, and being squired around fabulously furnished apartments by overly tanned, too-thin women in coral colored lipstick, with huge, honking fake nails done in French manicures, and long, over-sprayed hair, wearing miniskirts and scuffed pumps.  Obviously, I was paying as much attention to the salesgirls as the apartments. 

At the one complex I really loved, the deal breaker was when the elderly wisp of a sales woman (the only sales staff I had seen over the age of 23), was telling us about how secure the complex and apartments were.  To demonstrate, she shouldered the door.  The frame cracked and splintered, and before I could say another word my mother had said, “No thank you,” had me by the arm and was walking me away.

Ultimately, I found my ceiling to floor mirrored 1/1/wwd unit, signed the papers and started moving in the next morning.  No fuss.  So imagine my surprise at, first of all, the size and state of New York City real estate, and then the costs related to renting, and the trauma that can be apartment hunting in that city.

Not all of my visit with Isabella was eventful.  I did spend a lot of time napping, or painting my nails and toenails Revlon’s Raven Red, listening to music, and trying out new-to-me restaurants, but the apartment hunt was an adventure.  Using my hotel room at the Paramount as a home base (and happily sharing the cost of staying there because the girl was no mooch) Isabella and I embarked on a quest.

I learned about doorman apartments, walk-ups, cold water flats, basement rooms, and went into neighborhoods that make perfect backdrops for current day nightmares.  I came out of the shower one day–the shower!  How have I forgotten to tell you about the bathwater?

Detour from the apartment.

My first night in the Paramount, Isabella had left me alone.  I was gross and sweaty from the day’s adventure, so I started running a bath, happily expecting to soak away my grime in some sweet smelling somethingorother.  I brushed my teeth at the modern, artistically lit sink, feeling a wash of calm. 

I decided I had overreacted about Isabella’s self-description.  I made all kinds of fond excuses for her.  Since retrieving my luggage, we had eaten dinner at the hotel and she had gone (presumably to wherever she had been staying prior to my arrival), leaving me to adjust to the time zone and freshen up.  I was happy with where I had landed, and my vacation was looking up.

I glanced over at the tub and did a double take.  Horror!  The tub wasn’t clean!

I shut off the water quickly, and fished out the plug to let the tub drain, then washed my hands up to my elbow.  I mean that bathwater was brown.  It looked like a creek water, if you’ve ever gotten a container full of that for your tadpoles.  Who knew what had been in that tub.

When it was empty, I took a towel to wipe it down.  The towel came back clean.  I was perplexed.  Maybe the rinse had been all it needed?  Shrugging, I started to fill the tub again.  I walked into the bedroom and watched a little tv, then went back into the bathroom.  Horror!  The tub was dirty!

I did this three times before it occurred to me that there might be a bigger problem.  I filled the sink.  Same thing.  Brown water.  The pipes were dirty!

I called the front desk and explained my situation as sweetly as I could.  After all, it was a nice hotel and I didn’t want to embarrass them about the issue.  I just wanted them to move me into a room with clean pipes.

There was giggling.  I was confused.  I was also a little narrow.  It was important for me to have a bath, I didn’t understand why it was funny.

“I’m so sorry,” the girl stifled her laughter.  “This must be your first visit to The City.  It isn’t the pipes.  It is the water.”

I brayed like Kenneth Parcell having a donkey fit.  “The water?!  The water is brown?”

I’m sure what she heard was, “Heehaw!  Tha waawtah?  Tha waawtah is broawn?!  Heehaw!”

“Yes.  I can assure you that the pipes are clean, the tub is clean, and that the water is supposed to be that color.”

“But waawtah isunht broawn?”

“In New York it is.”

I was dismayed.  She assured me that I could still get clean in dirty water.  I have no idea what that poor girl thought of the moron on the phone with her, but I’m sure she added it to a long list of ridiculous hotel conversations she’d had.  Unhappy, but fairly certain this was going nowhere, I thanked her for her trouble and hung up.

I drew a fourth bath and stood frowning at the tub as the water filled it.  I did take a glass and fill it from the tap and shook my head.  Brown.  Maybe that’s why New Yorkers were such angry people?  They had to drink brown water.

I finally decided that the water couldn’t be any dirtier than I was, and I got into it.  Later, when I crawled into bed, I fully expected to find Lane-sized stains on the sheets the next day.  I didn’t.  I also didn’t take another bath and opted for showers instead.  If I couldn’t see the water concentrated in one place, I could pretend it wasn’t like bathing in the Chatahoochie River.

Isabella got a good laugh out of that.  She also got a laugh out of my amazement that some of the bathrooms in the apartments she was viewing were basically closets with a toilet and a shower head, and a drain in the middle of the floor.  Not like a shower off to the side, either.  The shower head would be facing the toilet an arms-length away on the opposite wall, with a drain in the floor between the two.  I was beginning to appreciate Texas.  We might have talked funny and not been very glamorous, but we had different spaces for showering and peeing, and our water ran clear.

But I was saying that I came out of the shower one day and Isabella said, “I’ve found it!  I found what I want.  Let’s go see it.”

“It” was really gorgeous by any standard.  It was tiny, just 400 square feet, and it was located above the Pink Pussycat, a porno boutique, but it had nearly floor to ceiling windows overlooking the street, and beautiful french doors separating the hardwood living room from the wee bedroom.  The height of the ceilings made the space seem cavernous, and the gaping maw of a fireplace that took up most of the living room wall added to the illusion.  The bathroom was as small as the head in a cruiseship cabin, and the kitchen was only about two feet bigger, but the location was fantastic (down the block from the Record Runner and across from a great Greek restaurant), and the price was right.  Only $1000 a month!

I’m pretty sure Isabella got tired of my Jessica Simpson styled, “Oh mah gaaaaawd!” gaping at the difference in size and price of our domiciles.  I’m still laughing about it, twenty years later.  In fact, twenty years later, with Amy living in Manhattan, I still shake my head at the differences.

Apartment found, now it was time for her to spring the next surprise.  “Okay, so now I’ve got to go get my roommate.”

“What?”

“I need to go home and get my roommate.  You’ll love her.  Her name’s [we’ll call her Jo] and she works for [record store].  She can get you all the free records you want.”

“Where is she?” I wondered.  How far were we going?

“She’s in D.C.”

“D.C.?”

“Yeah, we’ll take the train down and stay with my parents, then we’ll drive back up with Jo.  Unless you want to stay here alone?”

My money was being eaten away by the longer than expected hotel stay, but I couldn’t fathom spending a night in the new apartment alone.  There was a homeless guy who lived on the grate in front of it.  He kind of scared me.  And also, the door had thirty locks on it.  That had to mean something bad.

I agreed to take the train down to D.C., beginning what would be a surreal 48 hours that included drugs (mine were all over the counter), driving, New Jersey, the Limelight, an attempted mugging, and so much Shakespeare’s Sister that I would have punched someone in the mouth for suggesting that we ever listen to them.

Posted in The New York Story

Baggage


I do love diners, and I wish I could remember the name of the first NYC diner I enjoyed.  I would tell you where to find it so you could go and get the same mushroom swiss-cheeseburger I had.  It was fantastic!

Buffeted by a meal and my phone call home out of the way, my attitude was much improved and I was ready for action.  I followed Isabella back to FIT, where we went to the bookstore to return her recently purchased book.  No joy.  To her dismay, the school had just instituted a policy requiring check writers to wait until their check had cleared before getting cash back on a return.  She could have store credit, but that wasn’t going to do her much good.

She was obviously upset, but good-natured about it.  In fact, Isabella was pretty good-natured about everything.  She was worried about getting into the classes she needed, though, and that was where I came in.  “All you have to do is get in line.  I’ll go get my other class, then I’ll come switch you out of line,” she promised, forking over a school I.D. card with a picture that could not have looked less like me if it were a different race.  “If you get to the front of the line, register me.  Use my I.D.”

“But–”

“They’ll never ask.”

“Okay…  But what about you?  What are you going to use for I.D.?”

She flashed a grin and another card.  “I told them I lost it and got a dup.  I’ve got two drivers licenses, too.  Sometimes you need an extra.”

Let’s face it, I had nothing better to do, and she had gone far out of her way and eaten into her schedule in order to pick me up.  I agreed.  I ended up standing in two different lines for Isabella, actually registering her for one class, sweating out the weary woman who might have asked for the student I.D. before getting kicked out of the building by an angry looking professor who could have been Tim Gunn’s older, bearded brother.

I had been loitering in a hallway, waiting on Isabella to finish a placement counseling session, unsure of what to do next when this man appeared.  In what would become a running meme throughout the trip, he fixed me with a glower so fierce I looked around behind me to see who could possibly be causing enough trouble to merit it.  No one was behind me.  No one was beside me.  It registered:  He was looking at and walking toward me.  Me!

“What are you doing in here?” He asked.

“I–uh–registration,” I tried.

“For what classes?”

I drew a blank, then lied, “I just got finished and I’m waiting for my friend.”

“If you aren’t in line to register, get out.  Get! Out!”

Apparently that was the rule.  I scurried like a rat off a sinking ship–by the way, have you ever wondered about that saying?  I mean, where are the rats going to go?  It’s not like they have little rodent life boats.

Anyway, I got myself back out onto the sidewalk pronto, hoping Isabella would know where to look for me.  I hung around outside the main doors, watching people come and go, and then I remembered I had given my luggage to a stranger.  The magical burger had made me forget.

It was another half hour before Isabella reappeared, apologizing.  The sun was going down by that time, and I wanted to get to my hotel.  This meant getting my luggage back, and that turned out to be an ordeal.  Isabella’s friend was gone out to dinner, and his roommates weren’t home.  We waited, then decided to go check into the hotel and come back. 

This was a wise move on our part, since it would be close to midnight before Isabella’s friend returned our phone calls, her voice messages increasingly pleading as my panic rose that he had just stolen all of my things.  I did finally get my things, and as we were walking away from the school, Isabella cried, “I forgot my apartment appointments!”

I didn’t understand the issue.  When I had gone apartment hunting, I had just gone to the apartment complexes, looked around, and decided on one.  Isabella shook her head.  No, she explained, in The City you hired realtors to help you find a place.  They set appointments for you, and if you missed an appointment, it could mean missing out on a place to live entirely.  Now it was too late to even call and apologize.  She’d have to try again the next day.

I was exhausted, and suggested we just go back to the hotel and go to bed.  Thankfully, she agreed.