Remember When New York Was Fun

Although it felt as if I had been talking about leaving my husband for a year, it was sudden when it actually happened. I felt as if I was drowning or suffocating, so when the words finally came out that he would not compromise and I could no longer bear it, when the fact that we had reached a complete impasse was finally acknowledged, I packed my bags and was complete moved out of the apartment within a week or two.

The next semester of graduate school wouldn’t commence until January. In the meantime, I had found a small apartment above a garage in the suburbs of New York, in a commuter town with easy access to the city. I spent most of my days painting. My shrink had given me Ritalin. He seemed to be convinced that I had ADD no matter how many times I told him I had no problem concentrating. In fact, quite the opposite. Even as a young child I could sit still and do the same thing for hours, especially if that thing was reading. My mother was always scolding me for reading, telling me that I’d grow up to be socially maladapted, and telling my sister to take me out and make me play, goddammit. Still, my shrink was trying to figure out why someone would be intelligent, physically healthy, and even attractive and be such a failure as I was. He never said so in so many words, but I suspect this sounded to him like other patients he’d had. He recommended a book about adults with ADD, which I dutifully read, becoming convinced with each page that I did not have ADD. Still, I took the medicine. I would be going back to graduate school and I was desperate to finally make something of myself. I had even ended my marriage in large part because my ex-husband was not supportive of my professional goals.

With a few months to spare, I was spending most of my days painting. I would take the Ritalin in the morning and plant myself in front of the easel and not move until the sun had sunk low enough that I could no longer see well enough to paint. The apartment was one room and held virtually nothing other than a bed and my easel.

Meanwhile, Nerdette had graduated from her doctoral program just in time for the job market for physicists to collapse. For the past couple of years she had been working in a dress shop in suburban Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C. She had applied for a position in her field in New York City. “Do you think I could live in New York on thirty thousand a year?” she asked.

“What do you mean by ‘live?'” I answered.

I’d only been back for a week and we met in the city. It was the first time in a long time that I’d been back in New York. It was pleasant night in late summer and we headed to the Village. When I was in high school and we used to take the bus into the city, at Bleeker and MacDougal, there were four Caffes, one on each corner. Over the years, one after another closed. Further up the street, on MacDougal, there was Caffe Reggio. We headed over there to relax for a few hours between Nerdette’s interview and when it would be late enough to go out to a bar or nightclub. It had been a number of years since I’d gone out at night in New York and I was at a loss as to where to go.

Nerdette sat with her back to the sidewalk and I sat facing the other direction enjoying watching the passersby. A tall, light-skinned black man walked by. He first caught my eye because he was remarkably tall. I continued to look because he was so damned familiar. No sign of recognition crossed his face although he had glanced in my direction, and I thought maybe I was mistaken. Suddenly, when he was nearly passed, he came to a dead halt and swung is head around. The corners of his mouth rose into a giant, Cheshire cat grin. He strolled over with that confident gait he had always had pulled up a chair.

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world….”

“Treetop! My, how you’ve grown up!” He was just a cute little club kid with purple nail polish and smeared black eyeliner when we first met years ago in a coffee shop in that hour after the bars close.

“Of all the women I knew back then, you were the one I wanted to see again. I always got the feeling that you really liked me, not just the way I looked.” We exchanged phone numbers and promised to get together.

I asked him where we should go that night. He had worked as a bouncer and a go-go dancer. If there was anyone who knew what bars and clubs to hit, it would be Treetop. He looked up at the twilight sky and sighed. “Damn, this city has gotten so expensive. It’s driven out a lot of the more interesting places. Money chokes everything. Young people, to live here they work twenty-four hours a day. It’s not the same.” There was a long pause. “Remember when New York used to be fun?”

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