Please Remove from Mailing List

Every time I move into a new place, I spend the first few months contacting the snail mail solicitors of the previous tenant.  You can learn a lot from a person by the junk mail they get.  For instance, I garnered from various catalogues I received that the person before me in my LA duplex was an elementary school teacher.  Her boyfriend (I’m assuming he was her boyfriend because they had different last names) graduated from USC.  Most of their mail had to do with school in some capacity.  I imagined they were both in their late twenties, maybe early thirties, either educated and/ or educating.

Of course, my intention was to save trees and other people’s time, most likely interns or volunteers slaving away in a basement somewhere in Ohio stuffing and licking envelopes.  I’m never going to be in the market for inspirational stickers geared towards second graders and I don’t imagine I will start paying a stranger’s student loan bills out of the goodness of my heart any time soon.  So each time I received something not addressed to me in the mail, I would contact the sender with a “Please remove…” followed by “I am trying to save trees” so that they did not take great offense to me wanting to be removed from their mailer.  I always thought if I were too rude, the sender would simply continue the onslaught of dead trees in my mailbox.

Having just moved to New York, I am doing the same thing all over again.  It’s amazing to me how much junk mail people allow themselves to receive day in, day out.  Salvatore Lunetto is no exception.

From the first pieces of mail I opened on behalf of Salvatore I learned a few things: one, this person must have been exceptionally old; two, he was also very charitable or was willing enough to be approached by these people incessantly.

What confuses me most about Salvatore was his religious background.  I am constantly receiving mail for Salvatore the Jew and Salvatore the Gentile.  One day I’ll get mail with a picture of the Virgin Mary and a shining cross, then the next I’ll get a letter from the local Jewish community center.  It is possible that Salvatore was simply a religious opportunist, always keeping a variety of doors open for him during his waning years.

My favorite letter, though, was from a New York State agency apparently required to inform the new tenant (me) of the lease agreement of the previous tenant (Salvatore).  It took me about ten minutes of turning the letter over and over again, back to front, reading and rereading, to begin to understand what they were trying tell me.

All I could see were two numbers: $438 and $2625.  I recognized the latter because that is what my roommate and I pay per month and if I were still confused at that point, next to it was a clause that said, “Maximum rent per month.”  But the former was such a foreign and strange number, that when I read, “Maximum rent per month” in front of $438, I still didn’t believe it.

It was like a Hooked on Phonics moment.  I sat reading veerrrrryyy slowwwllyyyy.

“Maaxx-i-muumm ruh-ruh-eent purrr moonnn-ttthhhh.”

No matter how many times I read, I would still make something up in my head that made more sense.  I thought, this must be this guy’s deposit, right?But even $438 is a paltry deposit in this city, let alone most other cosmopolitan areas.

I scoured the singular sheet for answers, coming across a date from 1971 stating that rent control for this unit expired nearly forty years ago for the tenant who entered said unit after this date.  Eureka.  Salvatore was really fucking old.  Ancient, even.  That bastard had managed to stick it out in Nolita before it was even Nolita.  Salvatore Lunetto was an original gangster (possibly even a real gangster given my proximity to numerous Italian restaurants.

It became clear within moments as to why my apartment had been renovated from top to bottom.  Literally, nothing had been left unremodeled.  The drywall was new, the kitchen was new, the bathroom.  Everything.  My first few nights I felt like I was in a hotel room.  Everything sparkled.  Nothing smelled.  There were no random hairs lying about that the cleaning crew missed like in all my other apartments.  There was no mass amount of dust to clean off the shelves.  My apartment was turnkey, but this is because Salvatore had been holed up here since the Summer of Sam.

I can’t help but wonder about Salvatore’s current whereabouts.  My initial thought was that they must have taken him out of here in a stretcher, dead or nearly dead.  That’s the only way people walk away from rent in Manhattan under $500 a month.  One of my friends suggested that maybe Salvatore’s family put him in a home or something to live out his remaining days, but I knocked that idea down.  If I were Salvatore’s kid, I wouldn’t let him leave out of principle. But Dad, your rent is $500 a month…there’s no way in hell you’re getting out of here alive.

So I imagine that he didn’t.

Every time I open a piece of junk mail and subsequently remove Mr. Lunetto from yet another charitable organization’s mailing list, I say a little prayer and hope that he’s enjoying heaven where he must obviously be given how many donations he has made to churches, children in Africa, and widows of police officers.  Anyway, I hear rent there is pretty cheap; he must be happy enough.

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Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?

Last Saturday I went to the Natural History Museum in New York.  I was serving as the welcome committee to a person who had never been to New York.  One must do “New York” things when a newbie arrives, lest you want to be known as the worst tour guide in the world.  I initially had thought that it would be a new experience for me as well, as I had mistakenly thought that I had never been there before.  But as I walked through the doors I was immediately reminded of pictures of me there standing under a skeleton whale of some sort and my friend Alex pretending to run away from a fish.

The last Natural History Museum I had been to was in London five months ago.  This spoiled me.  It’s like going on a date with Rob Pattinson and the switching off for…well, somebody less attractive and with a weaker jaw line.  The place looked like Hogwarts.  It was magical.  The New York NHM, while grand in scale, often had the feeling of walking through your elementary school auditorium looking at science projects.  It just doesn’t have the “wow” that comes with a building designed and executed over one hundred years ago.

As we walked through the halls I began to remember that I have little tolerance for places like this on the weekend.  The coughing children, mouths uncovered.  The humidity created by the breath and body heat of too many people in a small space.  The messy bathrooms.  The boogers.  When I was a kid, these places were so much fun.  What the hell happened to me?  At a certain point I became more preoccupied with my neuroses than learning about the outside world.

The other week I was talking to a new friend about a book and reading books in general.  Both of us lamented about how difficult it is to finish a book these days, or rather, find a book that you want to finish.  Aside from living in a culture that I propose induces and nurtures ADD, there is a specific point in one’s life when reading and learning becomes a pressurized task and not something one does for their own personal benefit.  I believe this tipping point happens between the end of elementary school and the beginning of junior high.

Every week or so during my childhood, my mom would take my brother and I to the library.  I loved it there.  I loved the yellowed pages and how the only sounds I would hear for that hour were those of accidentally dropped books.  A weighted thud and a quick flutter of pages.  I loved the thick, lined paper check out cards placed snuggly into their little envelopes inside each book.  I liked reading who last checked out my very same book and when.  I loved watching the librarian slide the plastic covered spine of a book over a worn brass rectangle that I imagined had something to do with security and magnetism.

There was something wonderful about books back then.  There was something wonderful about my mind.  My imagination worked in a way that I am unable to tap into now.  For what reason, I am unsure.  I still remember specific parts of books that I imagined so vividly that those images have remained in my head as an adult.  It’s like watching a scene in a movie that stays with you forever, except in this case it’s just a brief moment that passed through my own brain and stuck.  I developed a horrible fear of being buried alive after reading an R.L. Stein book about a girl from the 1800s getting buried alive in her own backyard.  She tore at the inside of her wood coffin until her fingernails bent back and blood smeared on the surface just inches away from her face.  I read this back in 1993 and haven’t read it since.  I still remember.

Elementary school was Nancy Drew and The Boxcar Children.  It was The Bridge to Terabithia and The Baby-Sitter’s Club.  Back then I could pick up a book and finish it from start to finish without hesitation or non-commitment.  I long for the focus of my youth, where you are distracted by nothing but the present moment at hand.  If I was reading a book, that’s what I was doing.  I wasn’t concerned about if I was making the best use of my time.  I didn’t have anxiety about my career or if I should be doing something about it right at that moment.  I didn’t get hungry and insist on eating a snack while in the middle of a page.  I just…read.

By the time junior high came around, something changed.  I had to take an admission test to get into my school.  I had to prove that I was smart enough to the outside world.  Before sixth grade, I only had to prove that I was capable of getting good grades to myself and my parents. I liked getting As, but it wasn’t something I thought about.  That all ends once people starts talking about your future.  You need to think about your future.  You can’t just go on enjoying yourself and learning all willy-nilly.  It was time to get serious.

I stopped reading books I enjoyed because I didn’t have time for them.  I forgot what kind of things I really liked because I became too preoccupied with what my peers liked.  I didn’t remember what I liked to wear because I had a uniform.  I became a serious student who seriously thought about her future.

In high school, it gets even worse.

Give me Grapes of Wrath.  Make me learn about vectors and cosecants.  Tell me how to write.

1.  Topic sentence / support thesis

2.  Lead-in to concrete detail

3.  Concrete detail

4.  Commentary

5.  Transition and lead-in to next concrete detail

6.  Concrete detail commentary

7.  Concluding or clincher sentence

Teach me how to be like everybody else.  Get me into a good college so I can make a good salary and eventually have a good life.  Teach me to live like everybody else.

As the years between my childhood and adulthood passed by, learning and education became more and more of an expected chore.  Learning was never for the sake of learning, but for the grade, for the future.  All I ever needed to do was pass.  Rarely was I interested in what I was actually being taught.  I was there because I had to be.  As a result, I barely remember anything I read between the years of 1999 and 2002.

In fact, one of the only things I remember with clarity is an opening line from a ridiculous book I had to read in a ridiculous required religion class I had to take: “Life is difficult.”  Each class my teacher would open with this line, this first line, and she would read it with gusto.  “LIFE.  IS.  DIFFICULT.”  Ironically, the book was called “The Road Less Traveled.”  All my high school education was preparing me for was a road worn down by the feet of obliging masses.

As I stood in the Natural History Museum on Saturday, I became sad and angry with myself for losing that part of me.  The part that wanted to learn.  The part that was unwilling to be distracted while working on a task.  I walked past African bowls and thought about things like how my mom would like something like this or that to decorate her living room.  I walked past an Indian necklace and thought how that would go well with a scooped neck dress.  I walked through the hall of taxidermied animals and thought about that Sheryl Crow “If it Makes You Happy” video.  Who the hell am I?

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Clocks.

It is raining outside.  The last five days have spoiled me and I am accepting the clouds and the cold begrudgingly.  I almost forget my brown umbrella but I go back inside the apartment where my roommate is still asleep and grab it.  I don’t want to ruin my leather coat.  Leather gets damaged in water, doesn’t it?  I walk down the street with my laptop in hand.  Before I left I thought that maybe I should backup my hard drive just in case but I don’t.  I am not wearing socks with my Converse and I hope that I do not step in a puddle.

Walking down Crosby Street I look up just in time to catch a little blonde boy with wavy hair playing in a giant, black lacquered window of an apartment easily eight times the size of my own.  In front of him is an expensive looking rocking horse – black with white markings and a fake cotton bit.  The windows are framed with red dupont silk curtains and there are indoor plants in art gallery worthy pots.  He keeps playing in the window of his multi-million dollar SoHo loft, not knowing how lucky he is, probably being watched by a Nanny I can’t see.

I walk into Saturdays for some clarity and a soy latte.  I like it here when it’s sunny and I like it here when it’s raining.  I like sitting in the windowsill and contemplating my future life that will come if I work hard enough for it.  I wonder when I will move back to LA.  I like it here so much it makes it hard to think about leaving.

I walk in and Joe is manning the coffee bar and he makes me my drink.  He is talking with this guy named Tyler about a crazy woman who lives in Woodstock who is the daughter of the man who started an airline no longer in business.  She is ridiculous and has twelve people assisting her at all moments.  She never had to grow up.  This is what happens to people with a ton of money: people cater you so much you are debilitated; you are removed from the world of the real people.  Sometimes I think that this would be a nice thing, but then I hear stories like this and I am assured it is not.

Customers come in and Joe does his job.  Tyler and I debate the merits of living in Los Angeles and living in New York.  Josh joins us and we start talking about a birthday part Tyler went to at Neverland Ranch for OJ Simpson’s daughter of all people.

I’m still sitting in the windowsill not getting any work done when a man comes in with his son who looks about two.  Joe talks to the dad about old money beach culture.  Tracksuits.  That type of thing.  I watch the kid and get nervous when he opens the brass doorknob and stares longingly outside.  “Hey buddy,” I say, as if letting him know that someone is watching him is going to make him want to run out in front of a car less.

The little boy has thick brown hair that covers his eyes.  Underneath that is a small nose and big, rose lips.  He reminds me of the boy in Almost Famous, minus the acne and insecurity of an adolescent boy.  He wears khaki pants and puffy blue insulated vest over a brown hooded sweatshirt.  His shoes are a combination of all of the colors he is wearing.  He’s like an indie Gap Baby ad.  I never know what duration of staring is appropriate when it comes to other people’s children.

“What kind of surfboard do you want?”

“The biggest one,” the little boy says to his dad.  I laugh to myself because he’s maybe two feet tall and some change.

Dad calls him “Boo Boo.”  My roommate calls her dog Boo Boo.  They talk about going surfing in the summer.  The little boy throws the door open and closed, open and closed.  He purposely steps into a puddle thick with the clouds from a spilled coffee.  He comes back inside and runs around on the old hardwood floors and talks to himself loudly.

“I’m Will and this is…tell them your name.”

“Shorty.  My name is Shorty.”

This kid is officially the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.  The dad negotiates an exit and says thanks to Joe and tells Shorty to come out with him.  As the boy leaves he yells out, “Thank you for gah blah blah gah.”  Most of the words he uses are ones I haven’t used in twenty-five years and I’m a little rusty.

The boys in the store keep staring out the window looking at the kid as his dad loads him into their black Volvo.

Isn’t it scary when you start thinking kids are cute, I muse.

In that moment I can hear all of our biological clocks ticking.

Tick.

Tick.

Tick.

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Foot and Mouth Disease

There is a man waiting outside of the building I am supposed to be going into.  He wears a very nice suit and a carries a very nice briefcase and I am subsequently introduced to him when he yells “Fuck!” and continues to shuffle through his nice briefcase to find nothing in particular.  It is also possible he is attempting to get some aggression out on a portable Rolodex or something.  I scoot closer to the wall and pray he isn’t a total lunatic, just a regular person having a rough day.  I press down on the button for the third floor and wait for someone to let me inside.

“You’re going to the third floor, too?” he asks.

“Uh, huh.”

There is no ring on the other end of the intercom and I am forced to stand there staring at my own reflection while this man I think could be a well dressed nutbag gets more and more irritated.

Finally someone buzzes us both in and we are in even closer proximity to one another.  He offers an explanation.

“I was supposed to meet someone down here twenty minutes ago.  Ergh.”

I make some comment about how that’s awfully rude or that’s not very courteous.  I don’t mention that I think it is strange he didn’t just go upstairs and fetch this person sooner.  It seems to me this man might have an anger problem and you don’t tell people with anger problems what to do unless you want a fist in your face.  My job does not afford me the luxury of allowing fists in my face on a regular or even a casual basis.  One day when I leave this industry I’ll be able to get into fights left and right in addition to painting my fingers and toenails any shade of the rainbow I desire, while avoiding “pretty pinks” or “clean beige.”  Fuck neutrals.

“Are you here for a go-see?” he asks.

“Yeah.  It’s always go go go go,” I respond back lamely.  I can’t come up with anything better than that.  I am an idiot.

He asks me what campaign it is for.  Here’s where the self-deprecation starts.  I correct him for thinking me to be a bigger model than I am and tell him that I’m just here for showroom modeling.  “At this point,” I say, “I’m just in it for the money.”  He understands and does not seem that disappointed in me so we move into the elevator, both comfortable with having misjudged each other – him for thinking me to be being a “campaign girl” and me for thinking him a ‘roid raging beast.  I quite like this man; he is just frustrated.

As the doors close I notice that he is holding two Esquire magazines.  Now that we’ve started polite conversation, it would be rude to stop.

“Is that Tina Fey?” I ask, almost incredulously.  From a side angle it almost looks like Kiera Knightley but I am unaware of any upcoming projects of hers that would require such promotion right now.  All I see is smoky brown makeup and chestnut hair; her whole body tucked neatly into a tight dress.

“Yes, it is!  She’s never looked better,” he says, admiring the cover like an old man who can’t see well.

I lean in closer to inspect what is the sexiest picture of Tina Fey I’ve ever seen.  She does look good.  Damn good.  But instead of leaving it at that, I analyze the picture further, inappropriately offering my opinion to this stranger.

“It’s so strange…how they retouched her hair…she just looks so…cut out…or something…hmm…”

He responds to this using the “Royal ‘We’” when he says something like, “Oh, well WE always cut the person out and put the typeface behind them” which means that he works for the magazine and I am an asshole.

Crap.

“Oh!  You work for Esquire?!  I didn’t mean anything bad, I just…well, I used to date a photographer and I’m hypercritical of Photoshop and lighting and I’m just as hard on myself as anyone else.”

I’m backtracking but I don’t think he cares that much.  After all, I’m just a showroom model in an elevator with opinions that don’t necessarily matter.  My pride would go unscathed if I were him, too.  Still, I continue on my reparative tirade.  By the time the door opens I am telling him that Tina Fey is my god and I can’t believe how good she looks.  This is not a lie, especially the part about her being my god.  Tina Fey is one awesome babe.

Esquire Man asks for the person he’s supposed to meet and the receptionist who I am pretty sure is an idiot tells him that the person is downstairs already.  This is impossible because there is only one elevator and he was manning the lobby for the last twenty minutes.  Still, he believes her and heads back into the elevator, more irritated than ever.

“It’s just one of those days,” I say.

“Yeah,” he says trying to laugh to himself, adding a “Good luck with this.”

“You, too.”

I sit down and he disappears and I hope this guy doesn’t remember my face because if I ever look for a job at Esquire I am going to be his favorite word of choice with an –ED at the end.

F*&K@D.

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A Bathroom fit for a Blog

Before we leave I remember that Whitney also told me the bathrooms at the Boom Boom Room are a sight to be seen.  She claims she spent thirty minutes in there the first time just laughing and laughing.  I asked her if she was on mushrooms, because that seems like the only time that laughing in a bathroom for thirty minutes would be appropriate and/or feasible.  She says that she was not.

I finish all but the last sip of my $37.75 glass of liquid money.  I hand the remainder to Eileen.  “Drink,” I say.  She complements the wine and tells me at least I didn’t pay for a shitty glass of wine.  Indeed, it is quite good.  I’ve had much worse for much less.  As a result of my dedication to said investment, I am drunk.

We walk out past the coat check and I head down a black hallway with mirrors reflecting only more black.  This is apparently the way to the restrooms but I am way confused.  This hotel was jacked even before I imbibed and I have only made things exponentially worse for myself.  Just when I think all is lost and I have inadvertently made my way down a road to nowhere, a male bathroom attendant pops into frame literally out of nowhere.

“Just a minute, miss.”

He disappears again and I’m still walking towards confusing mirrors that are angled out into triangular shapes so that they don’t reflect me just more black.  The effect is terrifyingly similar to a haunted house or a hall of mirrors in some Romanian funhouse.  A really expensive Romanian funhouse.

The attendant appears again, scaring the hell out of me.  This would be a really good location for a horror film staring Paris Hilton.

“Here you are.”

He opens the door to my own private loo.  Why, thank you.  I close the door behind me, trapping myself in what is the most awesome airplane-sized restroom in the universe.  There is my own sink, my own toilet (of course), and a floor to ceiling window looking out over New York.

I sit down on the black toilet seat that reminds me of the black toilet seats from my elementary school – only substantially nicer.  That and from what I can tell this bathroom does not have that grainy, powdery, pink soap that scratches your hands as it cleanses.

It is not until this moment that I understand what Whitney meant when she said it felt like she was peeing on New York.  For a second, I wonder if this is a two-way mirror or a one-way mirror or if this is part of some elaborate time-lapsed art project that involves video taping the building at night and documenting fabulous people in the act of using a restroom and adhering to the laws of biology and anatomy, because, at the end of the day, we’re all just people.  But as I continue to look out onto city with its lit up boxes of windows I don’t care anymore.  This is fucking beautiful.  I don’t care if anyone can see me.

I get up, flush the toilet, and wash my hands.  I take a look in the mirror to determine where I fall in the spectrum between buzzed and sloppy drunk.  Judging that I still look presentable and my eyes aren’t drooping, it’s just a buzz.  I walk out the door, say goodbye to the bathroom attendant, and try to find my way back to the coat check.  The whole experience has been very American Psycho.  Christian Bale wishes he could have taken a piss in this bathroom.

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The Boom Boom Room

I walk towards the new Standard Hotel in the Meatpacking District.  It juts up into the sky like some sort of alien fortress, its legs straddling a bistro noisy with the sounds of people decompressing and enjoying St. Patrick’s Day.  Everyone is taking full advantage of the ability to sit outside and leave windows open.  Spring in New York.

The entrance to the hotel strikes me as rather confusing and instead of approaching random doors in front of people I don’t know and outing myself as an idiot newbie, I walk the perimeter of the property looking for some indication of where the lobby is.  The whole hotel is surrounded by venues for eating and drinking but there is no obvious sign for an entrance.  Getting a vodka tonic in this place would be easier than checking into your hotel room.

I turn a corner and realize that I must have missed the entrance because now I’m walking towards the West Side Highway and that can’t be right.  Just as I am about to turn around and admit defeat, I spot a door that has been propped open with a notebook.  The open door leads into a random hallway which leads me past a private dinner, almost into the kitchen, then walks me past managers talking about bottles, and finally into the restaurant where I have to move a server out of the way to get to a door that says “Hotel” in small letters.  Jesus Christ, this is definitely not the right way in.

Past some towering walls of honeycomb porcelain that is probably plastic and I am in a dark elevator with a bellhop and a woman that isn’t engaging in any form of polite conversation.  We stand in silence and I try to imagine what I do when someone is helping me out and I don’t know them.  I usually try to carry on some awkward conversation about God knows what.  They get off and I hear him say, “Room 505.  This is you.”  The doors close and I watch an absurdly bright and absurdly strange video in the elevator wall to my right.  There is a girl with her boobies out.  Hot.

Floor 18 comes soon enough and I walk through a door being held open for me by a man who holds it open when he realizes I am a woman.  Chivalry is not dead.  I am almost in the Boom Boom Room, but first I have to consult the host.  He is wearing a suit and glasses and reminds me of this guy David I know back in Los Angeles but this guy is taller and possibly straight.  He instructs me to leave my coat at the coat check and then take a look inside to find my friends.

Everything is dark and angular and within two steps I am confused as to what direction the coat check is in.  I turn around to inquire for help and he just points again and says, “To the left.”  It’s maybe a foot out of my vantage point.  This hotel makes me feel drunk.  Every wall is put at an angle that makes me want to give up on living if living is this hard.

Once I hand my coat over, I walk past the host and through more doors into what could be the most beautiful room in New York City.  Before I left for tonight, Whitney told me that being inside the Boom Boom Room was like being inside of a trumpet and that it reminded her of vintage Las Vegas – the coke-fueled, Sharon-Stone-in-Casino variety.  It is on the top floor of the hotel and it has a nearly 300-degree view of the city.  Everything about the place glitters and it is a shame that everyone in this place isn’t wearing fur coats and bowties because that’s what this room deserves.

It is only just after 7 PM and the blue sky is turning inkier while still holding on to the dustiness of the day – nonchalantly moving into night.  To the south of the hotel is the river, which is currently a color I would have mashed together with acrylic paints when I was six.  Beyond that is New Jersey and even though it’s New Jersey I don’t mind looking at it.  In the dark all things are beautiful.

The ceilings are covered with mirrored bulbs that reflect more of the gold of the room in its silver surface.  Hanging from the ceiling are midcentury starburst chandeliers that make an admirable attempt to distract from the twinkling of the city outside.  The columns are a rich brown that immediately reminds me of the old play areas in McDonalds: the plastic tree trunks where exactly this shame shade.  People sit in cream leather banquettes and the cocktail waitresses are cream too with red lips and pale skin.  This room makes you feel ugly and insignificant – in a good way.

Eileen is standing by the bar with all of her lady friends and I saddle up to all of them, chat for a moment, and then turn to the bartender – also well dressed in a cream server’s jacket with buttons, the outfit finished with tufts of groomed strawberry blonde hair.

I ask for if they have a Syrah or a Malbec.  Unfortunately for me, they don’t.  The bartender, however, says that they have a wonderful Cabernet that might strike my fancy or a Merlot that may have what I am looking for.  I don’t know if I am actually looking for anything; my knowledge of wine is incredibly limited.  I’ve only ever bought a bottle close to $20 twice in my life.  My favorite red is actually a chilled red with bubbles for $5 from Trader Joe’s.  In other words, I am a low maintenance anti-wino.

I just tell him to pour me whatever is the least dry and he disappears.  When he returns he hands me a sample in a large glass and then presents the bottle for me to read.  I bend over and pretend to actually read the label and make it look like I belong here but I am only admiring the typeface.  Curly script, hmmm, pretty…

After doing a decent job faking that I know anything about wine at all, I drink my sample with Orbit Sweet Mint gum still in my mouth.  “That’s perfect,” I tell him as I hand back my glass.  Like I give a shit.

He asks if I want to leave the tab open but I’m not a “tab open” kind of gal.  One glass usually puts me within two steps of over the edge.  “Tab open” to me is a voluntary and open invitation to ruin the next twenty-four hours of my life.  I tell him I will just close out the bill now.  Before he leaves he says something that I think sounds like $7.75 and I think, holy crap, you can’t get a drink anywhere for that cheap.  Eileen whispers to me, “I think he just said $37.75.”  I dismiss her with a, “No fucking way.”  He comes back, hands me a leather folder with my bill, and I open it.  Fucking way.

Thirty-seven dollars and seventy-five cents.

“Gratuity is included,” he says as he leaves me with their rape fee.  Gee, thanks.  Glad you took that out of the equation for me.

I want to laugh out loud because I had no idea glasses this expensive existed.  Literally.  I couldn’t imagine going out on any particular evening and spending more on one glass of vino than I do on dinner.  Who do I look like?  Puff Daddy?

Ordinarily I just buy a glass and then sip on it to be polite and to not have to field questions like, “Oh, you don’t drink?” or “Oh, why don’t you drink?” or “Why are you such a weenie?”  It’s just easier to pay $12.  But $40….  Each one of my sips is worth just over a dollar, depending on how greedily I drink.  I start drinking my wine and start drinking in this room because that is what I am paying for – an expensive Cabernet and million dollar views of a city I only just started feeling like I live in.

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Where you least expect it.

Lessons from the Taxi Cab: Episode 1

It’s a yellow Ford Explorer with the required fare details glued to the sides.  I like these because they always feel newer and cleaner and I can keep my back propped up comfortably instead of sliding into the blackish green vinyl of the older cabs.  Into the sweat and mess of a million people, of sticky spilled coffees and unwashed hands.  New York is gray and on the cusp of a downpour that never comes.

We start taking surface streets when the freeway turns into a parking lot and my cab driver explains where we are going.  I hope that he will end the friendly exchange there but he continues on to tell me about the recent weather New York has been having.  Cyclones, he says.  He describes how 100,000 people are without power in New Jersey and how trees have been uprooted everywhere.  I keep looking out the window and laughing, saying “uh huh” and wondering when he’s going to leave me alone to nurse my flight exhaustion in peace.

I used to enjoy talking to strangers.  But people get older.  People shut down.

Cabbie tells me that Saturday was the worst day for the wind.  I tell him that this winter has been filled with wild weather and he agrees.  “We are killing nature,” he tells me.  We drive past a giant, leafless oak tree peeled away from broken concrete.  I think he is on to something.  I change me apathetic tune and begin to listen.

I keep my eyes on the passing brownstones.  I wonder how the people with broken windows sleep in the cold.

He starts talking about how he got sick two years ago from an illness I never ask the specifics of and an illness he never describes.  Now he only drives a taxi two times a week.  He explains that this isn’t actually his taxi, but he rents one daily from another cabbie for $130 per day; any profit above that is his to keep.  He explains how people don’t understand how much overhead goes into being a taxi driver and people are misinformed to think that cabbies make a ton of money.  I never thought that.  It never seemed like a glamorous gig in any sense of the word.

We are at a traffic light in Brooklyn.

The conversation somehow veers into talking about his arranged marriage and the difference between that and what he calls “your American love marriage.”  He says that he tells his wife in his next life he will have this love marriage.  The difference between traditional and arranged marriage is summed up by the cabbie using sayings like “You like this movie and I like this movie” and “I like this food and you like that food” which I assume is his way of conveying what it’s like to get to now someone and fall in love with every part of them, similarities and differences be damned.  I could just be reading into it, though.

Cabbie’s wife is supposedly concerned about her husband meeting girls while driving, which he says happens often (“They invite me out at night!  ‘Come into this club with us!” they tell me”), also something I never expected out of the Cabbie Life.  He laughs and says something I can’t understand followed by how he tells his wife, “You’re right here.  How could I forget about you?!”  He is charming, this man.

The neighborhoods of Brooklyn recede into commercial buildings with Quiznos, Starbucks, a movie theater.  Almost to Manhattan.

We start talking about kids.  He has two of them.  Boys.  A nine year old and a six year old.  After another indiscernible segue, he is talking about how his children got lost at the shopping mall and how he found them crying, crying, crying.  The cabbie says he shook them and told them they cannot cry when they are lost; when they cry they will get nervous and then they will forget their phone numbers and where they are supposed to be and their parents’ names.  When they ask their dad what to do the next time they get lost, he says, “You look people in the face.  White, black, anyone.  You look them in the face and you see who has a gentle face.  And then you grab that person by the hand and you say, ‘Help me.  I am lost.’  And if you don’t believe what they say, you ask someone else.”

We’re bounding across a bridge in dire need of patchwork asphalt.

I ask Cabbie if it’s weird to watch your children grow up into little people and if it’s scary how quickly time goes.  He tells me that his mother taught him something very important and that was to always say, “My children aren’t growing.”  The belief is that if you admit to how quickly your children are growing up, the time will go quickly and then eventually disappear.  If they are always children in your eyes – small children forever – then time will slow to a tolerable pace.  Time for life to be enjoyed.  Time not spent on pondering how quickly life is going.

I want to follow this man around for a week and write down everything he says and compile it into I smile to myself and wonder if everyone from Bangladesh is this insightful or interesting or if I would be unfairly stereotyping a whole people by finding them all decidedly lovely.  A kind disservice.

“Children are angels,” Cabbie says.

We are now in Manhattan.

He tells me how children look to us with big empty eyes and how we need to protect them and take care of them and teach them things.  Teach them good things.

Cabbie drops me off in front of my building.  I pay with a credit card.  I leave a good tip.  He takes my bag out of the trunk of his borrowed car and I say thank you and have a nice day and I mean it.  I think about what the rest of his day will be like, the rest of his life, how his kids will grow up, how he will get old.  And then I walk into my building and into my apartment and back to my own life and nearly forget everything that just happened.

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