The Lobbyist: The Carlyle Hotel

The Lobbyist is a division of JBLY that specifically handles reviews of hotel lobbies and hotel bars.  If you’ve got a good suggestion (or, preferably, a bad one) for a place I should visit, please send me an email at jennyblovesyoudaily@gmail.com.

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“I’m running late. Wait for me in the lobby,” Eva texts. “And DO NOT sit at the bar alone because people will think you are a prostitute.”

Far be it from me to intrude on the thoughts of others, but I heed Eva’s advice and wait for her in the elevator foyer of the Carlyle Hotel, where I am treated to the distant tinkling of piano keys and bear witness to the emergence of various fancy old ladies in heels of a sensible height from a set of white-paneled doors. Tragedy strikes when a very well-to-do young child by the name of “Bunny” slips on the black marble floors. Her parents fawn over her in a polite, quiet way, so as to not disturb the nearby flower arrangements.

Oh, sweet luxury. Welcome me with open arms, you beautiful bastard.

When:

The older I get, the more I find myself craving white tablecloths and black lacquered doors, which means I either have to start spending more time on the Upper East Side or move to London. And because I’m not one for pints, bangers and/or mash, pasty-faced boyfriends with questionable grills, days that feel like wrapping yourself in wet blankets, and the two shits I don’t give about Prince William and that Kate chick, I’ll have to stick Stateside. The Carlyle it is.

Wear:

The Carlyle isn’t one of those “See and Be Seen” types of places, at least in the traditional, downtown sense. Most of the people here were over the age of fifty, so it was more like a “Make Sure You Bring Your Bifocals So You Can See and Be Seen” type of place. Let’s just say that Eva and I were certainly the only ones without gray hair and healthy 401ks. That being said, we still dressed to the nines, ensuring that we were absolutely going to be mistaken for prostitutes… but expensive ones!

Speaking of which… I heard a fun little story about the Carlyle the other night. Two young women, close to Eva and I in age, were in the bar when they were approached by an older man who, after a few drinks, invited them up to his room. The one friend protested outright; the other was a little less hesitant. The prude struck a bargain with the older man: If my friend isn’t back down here in 10 minutes, I’m calling security. The slut, the prude, and the older man shook hands. The deal was made. [For those of you considering a similar future venture, keep in mind that while 10 minutes doesn’t seem terribly generous for untoward fornicating, it would take a lesser amount to just straight up murder someone or quickly whisk them away to a life in an Ohio basement.]

What follows is not terribly surprising, given that, in my personal experience, hotel rooms have not been for friendly (clothed) conversations on beds since I played travel softball in 1994. Once inside the confines of his  $800-per-night Superior King Room, the older man swiftly pulled out an arsenal of whips, nipple clamps, and wooden paddles. “Beat me,” he commanded. The girl, an idiot and a tease in the most generous sense of the word, protested: “I think you got the wrong idea.” Just then, security literally barreled through the door, coming face-to-face with the old man, undressed and holding his S & M wares, and the young woman.

The lesson of this story? Wear what you want to the bar, keep your weird stuff in your room upstairs, and never strike one-night-stand bargains that entail potential encounters with security.

Seen:

My future ex-husband. When I said that Eva and I were the only ones in the room without gray hair, I forgot to include the dirty-blonde, plush-bearded Frenchman sitting next to us, drinking a whisky whilst wearing a blazer. My hopes were swiftly dashed, however, when he was joined by a blonde woman who, by Eva’s description, was wearing a “knockoff Missoni and a bun with a claw clip.”

Heard:

“Hi, I’m sorry to bother you.” A woman has saddled up beside me wearing one of those expressions that looks like a combination of embarrassed, indebted, and truly apologetic. “This guy over there, who isn’t, like, really a friend or anything, just asked me if you maybe wanted him to get you a drink or something. You do whatever you like; I’ve just been sent here to tell you.”

True, her salesmanship is a little lackluster, but she wasn’t working with the easiest of products. I look towards the bar at a man with shiny hair and a suit with pronounced pinstripes, visible from my place at the back of the room.

“Thanks so much,” I say, “but please tell him I have a boyfriend.”

Assured that I have slammed the nail down in that coffin, I venture to the bathroom an hour later, only to return to what I can best describe as what it must feel like to see a missile coming towards you only seconds before impact. In all my time in bars, I have never before seen someone so determined, fast on his feet, or shamefully obvious.

“Hello,” he booms. “I have heard you have boyfriend?”

“Yeahhh…”

“My family owns [BLANK] Chicken. You know it?”

“I’ve ordered shawarma there.”

Nothing screams potential romance like a nostalgic vision of florescent lights, plastic yellow booths, cracked tile, and “Number 31, your order is ready!”

“You seem very nice. Won’t you let me buy you a drink?”

Here is the point where I tell him “You had me at ‘Chicken.’” We sit at the bar and I call my fake boyfriend, and have a fake conversation where I tell him that I am breaking up with him. “I’ve met a chicken heir!” I yell into a phone with no one on the other end. “And I will have hummus aplenty for all my livelong days.” My fake boyfriend understands, given that he knows my fondness for chickpeas. Chicken Man and I sit at the bar, sharing stories about pita bread and decide to get married around midnight.

Or not.

“Sorry, I still have a boyfriend,” I say, and then I walk back towards my booth and make sure to cram myself extra tight next to Eva. “Don’t let me out of your sight,” I command.

Eat, Drink, Be Merry or Whatever: 

As I was feeling quite peckish when I arrived, I devoured the bar nuts accompanying a flute of champagne I didn’t bother drinking. It would be hard for me to accurately rate either in good conscious. Eva’s boyfriend, however, was more familiar with the menu, and he assured me that their burger is one of the best uptown.

Eva’s boyfriend also shared this fascinating (though completely inedible tidbit) with us: The wall murals were made by the children’s book author and illustrator (and rumored pedophile) behind the beloved series, Madeline. He reportedly stayed at the hotel for free in exchange for this work, having fled his native France after allegedly molesting a young girl. Since nothing makes me want to get drunk quite like evading criminal charges, it seems a pretty fitting choice for bar décor. You know, if it’s even true.

The Lobbyist Rating: 5/5 Kate Mosses

The Carlyle Hotel is one of those Upper East Side establishments brimming with the clean lines and shiny polish I simply can’t find close to home. (Brooklyn, as many of you well know, is known more for its repurposed wooden floors, tin ceilings, unwashed gentry, and hamburgers that come from cows with names.) As I enter a more dignified era, I can only hope that my nights are increasingly spent this way – fending off men with food empires, not drinking $20 beverages, and avoiding all offers of being taken upstairs “just for ten minutes.” Can’t wait to come back.

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Of Fish and Fishermen. Dangerous Liaisons on Base Mag.

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Base Magazine just put out a beautiful fifth issue, built around the theme of temptation. Read my piece about my horrible taste in men on page 43. You can view the magazine online for free here.

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Make Me a Match. Light Me on Fire.

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My phone whistles at me, my Steve Jobs cat call. A text message: “Holy shit. I’m sorry. I owe you an apology.” There’s no name, just an anonymous series of numbers.

“Who is this? New phone!”

[Not true!]

For the record, this is an excuse that is viable and understandable – equal in scope of forgiveness as the tried and true “I’m getting back together with my ex” story. In both instances, the other party is obligated to be forgiving because, hey, you can’t fight with history or someone’s $800 phone sinking to the bottom of a pool and wiping out all of their contacts. No truth, no harm, no foul.

“I didn’t make the cut in the new phone?”

Errr… messing with my batting record, dude.

“Lost all my new contacts. Sorry!”

Phew.

Last week, while sitting on a red-wine chenille sofa in my mother’s living room, I went through and deleted all of the phone numbers of the men with whom I’d spent some portion of 2012 being self destructive with – with the exception of Richard, who was, by leaps and bounds, the more self-destructive one of the two us. So I suppose it was more of an embarrassment ratio, not merely black and white grounds for termination.

Jake: Delete.

Tom: Delete.

Corey: Delete.

I imagined myself in a boardroom, calling in the slackers. “We’re making fourth quarter cuts, you see,” the corporate boss version of myself began. “And while I’m very sorry you’ve got family issues and career issues and loneliness issues that I would, as a human being – especially as a woman – feel compelled to tend to, we just don’t have the resources to continue this relationship going forward. I hope you understand.” And then I sent them on their ways, watching as they each hoisted their cardboard boxes filled with text messages and a few scantily clad pictures of myself and walked out the door. Only — because this is an imagined conversation in an imaginary world where I am somehow the boss of these assholes and not just some chick they were into for five minutes — none of these men, in real life at least, know that I have so wisely gotten rid of them. Fired them, as it were.

Delete.

Delete.

Delete.

Whoever is sending this message right now is likely one of three people. I take a shot in the dark:

“Is this Corey?”

Corey was deleted less because I felt compelled to embarrassingly message him at 3 in the morning (not even his two-million dollar loft in Tribeca could inspire this sort of sad desperation, which is perhaps evidence that I am not the horrible, soulless golddigger that I could be), but because of ego. Corey ducked out after two dates and didn’t even bother trying to sleep with me first.

When he doesn’t respond, I realize that I am wrong: Corey had too much Southern charm for the phrase “holy shit.”

“Or is this Tom? We can keep playing this game!”

Tom was deleted well before LA, his number given to Serena for safekeeping, or, rather, safeshaming. If I ever wanted to resort to contacting Tom again, I would have to go through Serena. I did the same with Jake’s number.

“It’s Tom.”

“Ahhhhh, hey.”

“What did Corey do?”

“Same old.”

“I felt like I owed you an apology.”

As I’m typing “All good dude”, my phone rings. I pick up.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

And then he tells me a whole lot of things I’m fairly sick of hearing, words like “beautiful” and “smart” and “amazing.” These are like pearls that have been gathered together in my honor without bothering to string. They move quickly and roll away, falling through cracks in the floor. Stupid, empty, meaningless little pearls.

He tells me how right when he met me he had started to hang out with his ex-girlfriend again. I told him I could have guessed as much. “I know guys at this point,” I say. I don’t need a conversation two months after the fact about why a guy stopped calling me. He, however, feels the need to wrap up 2012 with a clean conscious, using me as his dumping grounds on New Year’s Eve.

Tom gives me a whole host of reasons on how he slid back into a relationship with his ex: she watched his dog, he was working a lot, blah blah blah. Then he says something that you’d hear in a movie, something like “But then I met you.” Only this conversation doesn’t end with the boy leaving the old, worn out ex-girlfriend and jumping into the terrifying unknown. No, writers make movies that end with potential love trumping all because those movies sell. No one wants reality. Reality feels like this: sitting on my couch eight hours before I ring in 2013 while some guy I trained myself to stop thinking about seven weeks ago reads off a list of all my selling points, which, ultimately, don’t matter.

“It was hard,” he says, “because I thought, Do I start this relationship back up again? Or do I see what’s out there? Because there are other people out there. Like, you know, you.” Then comes the beautiful-and-smart complement. Next comes the sexy-hot thing. And in true New York City style, he tells me he loves my apartment, how it’s decorated, which is about as flattering as complementing someone’s fake breasts or other non-integral plumage. At this point it just feels like I’m having someone read my own Match.com profile back at me: Tall, blonde, Aries, agnostic, non-smoker, anti-social drinker, lives in railroad apartment by herself with two non-working fireplaces and hardwood floors, eats kale, reads Hemingway.

The question “Do I start this relationship up again?” is a sleeper of a “yes” – the evidence of his decision being most obvious when he tells me he “knows a really nice guy.”

“What?” I ask, not quite sure I heard him correctly.

“I have… I have a friend who’s great that you might like. I mean, is that weird? I didn’t really plan on saying that. It’s just, he’s a buddy of mine from growing up, and I just thought, you know, you’re great…”

This is the part where my ears start ringing and my throat clenches up, my body tries to curl into itself, incinerate, disappear. I feel like an apartment stumbled across by someone who wasn’t planning on moving, but who thought it was too great to let go. If they couldn’t have it, a friend would. I am just a piece of property, getting shuffled from hand to hand until someone gets tired of house hunting and signs the lease because of timing and convenience.

“No… no, I definitely don’t need that,” I say.

He fumbles for some words while I stare at the ceiling.

“No, no, really, that’s okay,” I repeat, and then I laugh to push away any real emotion. Depressingly, this is the third time I’ve had this exact same conversation.

The first was riding an elevator with a boy I had a very sophomoric (read: bizarre, dysfunctional, and clueless) relationship with during a time when I had no idea how any of this boy/girl business worked. “You know,” he started, “in a couple months, when this isn’t weird anymore, I have a friend that I think would be really good for you.” This conversation ranks up there in my Top 3 Most Depressing Post Coital Conversations Ever.

The second time was just a few months ago, with a person I fell in love with in 2007 and still, to this day, have unresolved feelings for. “How’s dating going?” he asked, having called me up out of the blue just to chat. “Bleak,” I laugh dryly. And then he keeps asking me questions, gives me the “intelligent/ beautiful/ funny” line and tells me I won’t have a problem finding somebody. “Do you know Brett So-and-So?” he asks. “No,” I say. “He’s a really interesting guy. Maybe I could try to set you two up.”

Murder me. Please.

Now here I am again, the girl for everyone and no one, getting match-made by ex-notfriends, some version of Fiddler on the Roof from hell.

(Photo: Courtesy of Care2)

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Super Moon Super Freaks

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“Who makes your bag?”

“This bag?”

He points to the canvas tote covered in black scrawls, little drawings of fashionable things. 

“Yeah.”

“Oh, I don’t know.  I got it at some Mulberry after party,” I say.

He moves to sit next to me.  I do not recoil or shut him down right away because he has an affectation and a slightness of stature that I most often associate with homosexuality.  As boys go, they’re as safe as it gets.

“So would you say you’re a fashion insider?”

“Um, I guess?”

The truth is, even though I’ve been modeling for over a decade, I’ve always felt very much on the outside, a hazard of feeling as though I never “made it.”  No one gives a shit about the working models.  I’m not walking runways and shooting campaigns, a fact that has lodged a fairly substantial chip in my shoulder. 

And who the hell says things like “fashion insider” anyway?

“Who makes your jacket?” he says.  “This is lovely.”

“It’s Stella.”

“It’s got a very Jil Sander thing going on,” he says.  “The way they’ve tucked the shoulder in like that.”  He touches the top of my gray coat.  “Though they wouldn’t have done the double lapel…”

This is the part of the conversation where I can fairly assume that this man, who introduces himself soon after as Darren, is most definitely gay.

Darren used to be a fashion stylist – hence his familiarity with less mainstream labels and quality tailoring – but had since moved into directing fashion films.  “So-and-so said I was single-handedly changing the way people interacted with fashion,” he tells me.  “What I’m doing is very new, very different.  No one is doing videos right now.”

Correction: Everyone is doing videos right now.  I feel like I’m in an office and not on the subway, getting pitched by some twat to provide funding to their “new and exciting” company. 

Darren talks with a precocious intensity that leaves no room for interaction.  He drops names in a way that feels forced and unnatural, but the names he drops are obscure enough that I have to assume he’s legitimate in some sort of way.  His Darren-ness barrels towards you and all you can do is nod your head and try to laugh and sometimes get a word in edgewise.  He is friendly in that lunatic type of way, one that you can mistakenly interpret as well intentioned.  If you’re not careful, next thing you know you’re BFFs with the male equivalent of Jennifer Jason Leigh in Single White Female.

“Do you smoke weed?”

The comment comes out of nowhere, nestled between Point A and Point B in a fashion conversation about some “famous” makeup artist named Lisa Mason who he’s working with and the meetings he had today about getting funding for the video he’s putting together.  The supermodels are on board, the cinematographer, the creatives.  They just need the cash.

“I mean, not really.”

“If you have time, I’m going to smoke some weed on my roof if you want to come.”

I tell him I’m in a rush to get on the IKEA ferry to Red Hook for a dinner party.  “It leaves at 6:20,” I say, pointing at the digital subway clock above us reading 6:15.  “I’m going to have to run to the pier.”

“Oh, you’re going to miss it for sure.”

When the train arrives at Wall Street, Darren says “follow me” and we run in between slow-moving pedestrians until we are out on the street.  He keeps running.  “Come on,” he says. 

Darren is able to keep a decent pace, whereas I am struggling eight steps behind, choking on the unfamiliar exertion of running in real life, not on a treadmill.  “I should have kept my gym shoes on,” I joke, my Proenza Schouler cutout booties providing little practical advantage on these city streets.  Darren bounds like a 5’6’’ gazelle in black slacks and a black blazer, his black on black Converse making no noise against the pavement.

While we’re running, he tells me to take down his number and call him.  “This is the truest way I’ve ever started a friendship,” he says, following the red flagged weirdness with the eight digits of his phone number.

As we wind our way quickly through the Financial District, I can’t help but think I’ve never gone this direction to the pier before.  I don’t remember it being so complicated or far away.  Darren keeps making quick turns in front of me, disorienting me further.  “Do you know your way around here?” he asks cryptically, as though making sure I don’t know what he’s doing.  “Not really,” I laugh.  Because what I think he’s doing is getting us lost.

At some point, when Darren turns back towards me before he rounds a corner in a way I’ve seen in movies about serial killers, that fleeting moment right before fun and frivolity takes a brutal, bloody turn for the worst, I think, This guy is going to kill me.  I imagine rounding the corner just behind him, where he has suddenly turned towards me and stands with a knife.  I run right into it, this knife, and bleed to death somewhere on Pearl Street.  Darren runs away and I am found by a tourist wearing a fanny pack and holding two shopping bags from J. Crew.

After what feels to me to be ten long minutes and thirteen blocks, I see the East River and the hint of banana-yellow siding of the IKEA ferry pulling away from the dock.  “Noooo!” I moan, slowing my pace in defeat.  I’m going to be stuck here for another forty minutes waiting for the next one.  This also means I will be stuck here with Darren.

As nice as Darren is, he is extremely odd, open in a way that makes me incredibly uncomfortable.  People this eager to engage with strangers right off the bat are people who want something from you, undeservedly.  People like Darren are the ones you are meant to be leery of.

We walk to the edge of the pier and sit down next to what Darren tells me is a work of Chinese art.  It’s a sunken pit at the edge of the pier, a circle of metal in which the sloshing water of the East River churns inside, momentarily trapped.

I don’t remember what we’re talking about anymore.  I just want the ferry to come quickly.

“As a straight man in fashion…”

What?

Straight?

I’m sorry, come again?

Darren continues speaking, having already purposefully dropped the I Fuck Girls hint in an act of The Boy Doth Protest Too Much.  This man clearly likes boys.  What straight man has to clarify his straightness to a girl?  The fact that he even mentions it likely means that his intentions are to fuck me, despite the foot and a half disparity in our respective heights.

“Sometimes I wish I were bi-sexual,” he says soon after.  “The men in this industry are so beautiful.  There’s this hair stylist so-and-so.  He’s forty years old and beautiful.  When you look at him, it’s like poetry.”

This man genuinely thinks he’s straight.

I’m beginning to realize Darren took me down an extra two or three streets to ensure that I would be here with him right now on the pier, having this conversation.

He asks me about my writing, what I am doing with it, what I am interested in writing about.  I say something about my books and essays and music journalism for fun and I swear to God, I think he says, “Do you write sexually?” and then says something else right after, so that I feel as though I’ve imagined it. 

The conversation has been peppered with such oddities for the last ten minutes.  I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable.  Meanwhile, Darren has taken out his canister of weed and begun playing with it for no reason in particular. 

Despite evidence of his creepiness, Darren is fairly interesting.  He lived in Ethiopia between the ages of two to three, spent time in London, eventually ending up in Ohio or somewhere bleak.  I think his parents must be Egyptian or Middle Eastern in some capacity.  He has buttery olive skin, a prominent nose, thick hair shaved close to his scalp.

His real passion is opera.  He’s classically trained.  “But I can’t start singing until I’m 35,” he tells me.  Apparently, whatever happens in the interior of person isn’t substantiated until them.  “What defines you on the inside,” he describes it as.  Fashion is what he’s doing in the meantime.

“I’m getting a little bit cold,” he says, getting up from his place on a bench.  “You sure you don’t want to come back and smoke?”

I tell him I’ve got a dinner party.

Darren starts talking about Le Baron and how he knows the manager or something stupid.  He tells me I have to get there early to get in.  “Even if you’re tall and beautiful, that doesn’t mean anything.”  Then he tells me about how one time he saw this famous model, Annouck, standing outside.  “They wouldn’t let her in,” he says.  “And I was like, Don’t you know who this is?”

“Is she the one with the little mole?” I ask, not knowing what else to contribute to this stupid conversation.

“She’s got a real pouty mouth,” he says.  Three steps later, he follows with, “She’s always taking her clothes off.”

There have been far too many sexual references over the course of the last thirty minutes to make me comfortable in the slightest.  I don’t know what his game is or what he wants.  I do know that after he leaves this pier, I will not be seeing him again.  Had he not “helped” me get to the ferry, I would likely be in Red Hook right now, having conversations with real friends who I already know whether or not they need to be wrapped up and placed in a padded cell. 

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Sadist in the City – FIELD TRIP!

Check out my piece on The Flip today.  Click through on image below.

“It smells…like…like flowers in here.”

The four of us walk through a marble lobby, complete with doorman, $1,000 centerpiece, and an aroma I only ever associate with impossibly expensive hotel spas. Care for a cold towel, Miss Bahn? It’s literally the nicest smelling lobby I’ve ever walked into in New York – an incredible feat considering, just five minutes ago, we were awash in a chilly-breezed cocktail of old trash, dog shit, and that septic scent that sits just below the surface of any street in Manhattan. We have officially crossed the threshold into the land of NYC Rich People, evident in the complete and utter absence of lingering smell Korean take-out in the elevator, which, conveniently, opens right into the apartment where the party is being held. Oh, what six million dollars in New York will buy… 

[Continued on Flipcollective.com]

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Weekend ER

Lauralie Goldman is making phone calls on the other side of the sea foam and cream tapestry curtain separating my hospital bed from her chair.  I listen to her croak Hanukkah wishes while I stare at the words “Lenox Hill Emergency Department” stitched in between various boxes filled with flora and fauna.

“I was divining a little but did you get in touch with the gentleman?  I need someone to take care of me today.  It’s too cold to be outside, you see.  And I make my money being outside.”

Lauralie Goldman is likely eighty years old and incapable of taking care of herself.  It doesn’t sound as though the gentleman she is inquiring about is able to help her.

“Could you tell him I have no family,” she says, “no one else to help me.  Can’t you tell him I’m a legitimate person?”

A legitimate person.

I’m lying on my stomach waiting for someone else to come in and look at my bug bite from hell.  With the exception of Lauralie, it is quiet.  The room hums with a comforting white noise.  No one’s shoes squeak or clatter on the linoleum floor.  Machines beep occasionally.  There is no frantic New York City to be seen through a window.  It’s nice here.  Calm.  I feel the soft fabric of my over-washed hospital gown.  I sink into the deep comfort of my hospital bed.  I breathe in air neither too cold nor too warm.  And for no reason whatsoever, I begin to cry, because the self-imposed expectation of taking care of yourself all the time is exhausting.  Nothing will fill you self-pity quite like being alone when you’re sick.

I didn’t want to come here today or yesterday.  I didn’t want to come alone.

My doctor/nurse/whatever he is comes into my curtained-off corner of the emergency room.  “You ready for the most painful thing you’ve ever experienced?” he asks.

“What?”  I ask, humored and horrified as I turn around to look at him.

“This is going to hurt reaaaaaallll bad.”

“Oh, come on man.  You can’t do that to me.”

I’m laughing because I’m nervous.  He’s taking advantage because I’m a good sport.

“Aren’t you going to numb it?”

“Yeah,” he says.  “But I’m going to stick a needle right in there.”

I’m laughing again.

He tells me he’s going to spray the bite with something really cold.  “Really cold,” he emphasizes.

I make some joke about it being sixteen degrees outside, that his threats are empty ones, but the artificial cold coming from his can becomes so frigid I think my skin is just going to shatter and fall away.

More laughing.

They think it’s funny that I’m laughing.  They think I’m cute.

I go dead quiet when I feel the needles go in, one after another after another, though it’s likely only one needle, not many.  In my head, I imagine it is many because my head is focused on pain and not logic.  “You okay?” he asks, but I don’t realize he’s talking to me at first.  My brain thinks he is talking to the RN standing next to him.

“Oh, yeah,” I say.  “I’m fine.”

My face is down in this comfortable bed while he cuts into the back of my leg.  I close my eyes or I keep them open.  I can’t remember.  He stops.

“Are we done?”

“Yep.”

I tell him I want Vicodin.

They walk away and I put on my clothes.  Lauralie Goldberg is gone.  There is blood on the bed sheets.  I get queasy.  My leg hurts.  I sit perched on a chair because I can’t sit down.  The nurses are tending to an older woman sitting by herself outside of the waiting room.  They’re asking her questions.  She’s got that breathless voice of an old person whose lungs do not work like they used to.  Breathless and soft.  A grandmother’s voice.

She keeps talking about blueberries.

She was eating lunch and then her vision went blurry.  “The blueberries,” she says.  She thinks it was the blueberries.

I hear the nurses say something about a stroke.

They change the soft bed I was just on, stripping the blood speckled white sheets with a new pair like I never happened.  The old woman is walked over.  They close the curtains but I can still see her through the corner.  They have her lying on her back so they can take off her shoes.  She is wearing black socks, worn near the heel.  The old woman wraps her arms around her knees and the nurse complements her on her bendiness.  “It was an accident,” the old woman says.  “In the ocean.”

Beyond the curtain, a serious looking doctor with a bald head has moved a machine towards them with a name on the side of it that infers life saving capabilities, which infers this woman is not doing well.  Everyone looks focused.  No one is laughing.

They wrap her in a soft sheet and push her bed away from the wall.  I notice its big plastic wheels for the first time.  Of course you can move it, I think.  This is an emergency, where emergencies happen, not just a place where young girls come to treat bug bites on weekends.  Nurses and doctors push her into the hallway, leaving a big empty space in the corner, a framed painting of flowers looking down at nothing, someone’s lost sock found against a baseboard.

“That’s hard,” the nurse says to me.  “When they start to go like that…”

“How old is she?” I ask.

“Ninety-five,” she says.  “That’s a good number.”

I stare at the empty space the two of us just shared.  Two completely different worlds.  Parallel places in space and time, her time more limited than my own.

“Yeah,” I say.  “Yeah, it is.”

 

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Playing Games

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The bowling alley is already filled with rows of Brooklyn kids heaving balls pocked like mauled wads of gum, ripe with teeth marks and sharp ridges.  Christmas lights hang along the old brick wall, the kind my parents used to hang off of the gutters of my childhood house.  Blue and red and orange and green and something white, like faded lemon or rotten cream.  Glass bulbs.  The original kind.  We kept them balled up for eleven months of the year, stuck in some crumpled cardboard box, banging against one another until half of them broke.

A kaleidoscope of festive colors spills over vintage beer signs.  Old Milwaukee Light.  Knickerbocker.  Mackeson’s Stout.  This place looks like the basement of my dad’s cop friend before he remodeled and took off the forest-themed wallpaper, tore out the shag carpet.

My friends aren’t here.  Serena texts me to say that everyone’s gone over to some beer and brat place down the street to kill time.  I meet her in the middle of a dark sidewalk.  “Jenster!” she says, running towards me with skinny legs.  She calls me Jenster.  The nickname didn’t work until finally it did, like jamming a square peg into a round hole until the friction whittled both ends into submission.

Our table of friends sits in front of drinks, an unfinished game of Scrabble in the center.  I’m terrible at Scrabble.  There are always too many options and not enough letters, too many almosts.  I scan little squares and try to think of good words, not point-efficient ones.  I always lose, my brain stuck somewhere between knowing how the game is played and trying to play it the way I want.

Tom’s been doing drugs all week.  First Vegas, then Burning Man.  “I don’t know how I did it,” he says, a wide smile crossing his lips, his eyes laughing at his extreme bodily disregard.  He doesn’t think about the long-term consequences of his actions.  He doesn’t think that his extreme exhaustion was likely a result of his body being on the precipice of giving up, of dying.

But I’m always thinking of this.

Tom and his boyfriend and Tom’s best girlfriend tell stories of late nights and early mornings partying, of people crawling out the front door of an apartment building on their hands and knees into cabs because someone bought ketamine that night and not cocaine, everyone snorting downers when they were looking for uppers.

Tom’s boyfriend buries his head in his hands, less thrilled with the story than Tom is with some of his own.  Still, everyone laughs about it now.  Our most depraved stories are always the most entertaining, unique and unoriginal at the same time.

I have never been capable of this adolescent freefall.  I was always too busy thinking about being an adult because of the things that happened to me as a child.  I wish I could be free in my debauchery, but I’m too consumed by a past history of a brother who had cancer and a family dealing prematurely with its collective mortality.

The living can dance next to death when they have never thought about it in a real way, when they have not been forced to value their lives in real terms.  They will always be here.  They will live until old age, no matter what they snort or how many drinks they consume, how many strange beds they wake up in at 3 in the afternoon.

Later, at another meeting of a different kind, I will be sitting across from two girls who ask me if I want kids and I say, “Sure, I mean maybe, who knows.”  Because I hate the assumption of “when.” 

When I get married.

When I have kids.

When I become the editor of that magazine.

Because “when” assumes that we know.  “When” assumes we are in charge.  But my brother didn’t ask to have cancer.  My parents didn’t ask to have a sick kid.  I didn’t ask to be weighted to the ocean floor with the anchor of unrelenting responsibility to God knows what.  When my mother was pregnant, I’m sure she was thinking about the ambiguous joys of motherhood, not midnight trips to the E.R, chemotherapy, spinal taps.  My mother wasn’t sitting at her baby shower thinking “when my son gets cancer.”

And so I will sit there, telling these girls the reasons I would like to have kids, but stating that I do not know if I will have them.  Because I don’t.  And even though they sit there across from me with their confused eyes and their sweet maternal intentions, they don’t know either.  I’m the one looking cold and clinical.  I’m the one playing it safe.

I am always the one playing it safe.

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Field Trip

Check out my piece on the Flip today.  Click through on the image below.

The room smells like chicken chow mein.  “Do you mind sitting over there while we finish lunch?” he asks, a little fairy with glasses sitting in front of a plate of greasy Chinese food, a plastic fork in his hand.

Countless girls sit in cream plastic folding chairs, none of them a day over 21.  I need to ramp up my eye cream regimen, or perhaps start falling asleep in bathtubs filled with Botox.  Someone passes around a chart filled with names and agencies and ages.  Eighteen, nineteen, eighteen, twenty-one, eighteen, twenty, nineteen.  Some poor sucker has actually cited herself as twenty-six.  A model dinosaur…

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After the Rain

Crazy from an afternoon spent hunkered down in my apartment, I take a ride around the neighborhood, wet and newly cleaned.  I make my way down to an empty concrete park with basketball courts, a baseball diamond, and some caged area likely for handball, though I don’t know if that’s a game that children play any longer.

Puddles stand still in lake shapes, reflecting back Brooklyn trees and the Manhattan skyline and the sky turns purple and pink within its grayness just for a moment, a singular effort on behalf of the sun to say goodbye as it leaves, though it is really us turning away, I suppose.

A man comes to play his dog while I ride around in circles, like when I first learned how to bike as a child, half my height and naturally blonde.  Around and around and around I went on an asphalt loop – a moat of black surrounding sea grass and a few trash bins – unattached to the training wheels I had become used to, aware of my wobbliness, enthralled by the possibilities of success and failure.

I ride away and down the street and I find a pier and I ride down that, too.  Couples sit on green metal benches, talking, leaning, kissing, enamored with their own affection.  Old men who have long given up on charming women stand side-by-side, talking pointedly in a foreign language.  Some young boy in a uniform of black picks at a guitar, the breeze sweeps my hair lovingly in front of my face, and all of a sudden I am in my very own Woody Allen movie – a romanticized version of reality that doesn’t exist, though tonight it does.

The wood on the pier is damp.  I sit down in my shorts, my bike leaning on the fence in front of me, Manhattan beyond that.  Sometimes it feels as though I’m staring at nothing – some beautiful Hollywood backdrop with painted-in lights and a fog machine, too wonderful to comprehend, too vast in scope.  A city built, brick by brick, light by light, not at all at once but over time.  The overwhelming achievements of man all crammed into one tiny island.

The boy finishes, puts his guitar in his case, and then walks away – with no fanfare, no clapping – and the pier becomes so silent all you can hear is the water lapping at the crumbling shore and the sound of hushed conversations built for two.  Manhattan stands there, big and seemingly silent, belying the frantic buzzing inside of it, a beehive with a concrete shell.

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Fourth

Bodies huddle near the edge of the water.  Sitting, standing, holding hands.  Friends drink out of plastic cups.  Lovers hold chins while they put lips on lips.  Cars are double and triple parked, lined up behind one another with the patriotic expectation of not caring about being trapped while we patiently wait.

I stand with my bike between my legs, in between a bent chain link fence and a car with its engine running.  Behind me, Huron Street pops and snaps with a rapid succession of illegal fireworks.  Low-lying flares light up a half-moon dome of space between the concrete and the canopy.  Puerto Ricans play their music from cars and boom boxes, sitting in chairs unfolded in front of bodegas.

A girl screams in Polish.  A French bulldog walks past wearing an American flag around its neck.  A boy sits on the roof of his car smoking a cigarette while mauve clouds disappear against a dark sky, rapidly becoming of lesser consequence, dominated by the darkness and the red, white, and blue lights below.  An older man comes up to shake my hand and tell me that he’s seen the fireworks seventy times, or maybe he says seventeen times.  He says they used to launch them off of the East River but the city changes it every year.  He doesn’t know why.

BOOM!  BOOM!  BOOM!  BOOM!  BOOM!

It starts: a series of wilting marigolds and golden palm trees, sunbursts like a lion’s mane.  Handfuls of red and green glitter tossed into the air while the explosions rattle the air like thunder.

The fingernail moon is covered in smoke, soft like a searchlight, while fireworks crest over the top of midtown Manhattan.  A girl walks past, followed by two friends.  They’ve already given up.  “This view isn’t even that good,” she says.  But it is good; she’s just unwilling to see it.

When I was a kid, back when my parents were still married, we used to watch fireworks from the back of my dad’s Ford F150, parked next to an endless row of other cars on the dirt median divided by defunct train tracks.  We packed beers and Capri Suns into a cooler.  We brought blankets and nylon chairs and waited for fireworks to launch out of the football stadium of the community college.

It was the same community college where my brother would end up getting his front teeth knocked out with a baseball bat, where I would attempt to learn how to back dive off of a two-meter board, where I developed an unhealthy addiction to peppermint Certs.  Years later – after they stopped doing the firework program because of budget cuts, after they razed the hillside and built a horrid series of taupe condominiums – I would end up back there again, taking classes in rooms filled with apathetic kids who were never good at school.

The smoke becomes so dense that the sky begins to look like a premature dawn, the light from the city catching in smoke and intimating sunrise.  Clouds travel towards us like ghosts, away from New Jersey and towards the East River.  Red reflects into the smoke and it looks as though the city has caught fire.

A beautiful apocalypse.

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