Over the course of a couple of years, a routine had developed. I’d take the subway from Brooklyn to Luscious’ place in Chelsea at least once a week. I’d get there around between eight and nine and bring a six-pack. Luscious would have certainly sneered at today’s commingling of yuppie consumerism with downtown cool, artisanal this, single source that. Some of the artifacts that now make up hipster material culture were only just beginning to appear at that point and Luscious had only disdain for them. “We’re not going to consume our way to a better world,” she once said to me. So, I’d bring a six-pack of decidedly mass market beer. Michelob, strangely, was her preferred brand, but I don’t think it really mattered that much. Food snobbery back then was in its infancy and most Americans ate the same stuff most of the time.
She’d greet me at the door with an enthusiastic greeting, as if my expected arrival and ritual proffering of a six-pack was a pleasant novelty. She’d relieve me of my package and take my coat if it was cold. While she put the beer in the fridge I’d try, yet again, to make friends with her freaky King Charles Spaniel with a hyperactive thyroid.
Her apartment was a studio on the first floor. It was long and narrow. Although a post-war building, the ceiling was high and the light from the lamp next to the brown suede sofa never seemed to penetrate the darkness. If felt oddly cavernous and cramped at the same time.
I’d sit on the sofa, or just pace nearby, and Luscious would emerge from the kitchen with two beers. She would always finish her beer before mine. Holding her bottle up to the light and making a playful frown at its emptiness. She’d grab mine from my hand and look at the quarter or third still remaining. “Little people drink so slowly,” she’d sigh. She’d chug-a-lug the remainder of my bottle. “Don’t worry. I’ll go get us some more.” It was like an ongoing bit in a sitcom. It was also the only way I was able to keep up with her drinking. It was hard to say how many drinks I had had in a night because I almost never finished them.
She was, as I’ve mentioned before, a rock and roll obsessive, and this would be the time when she’d play me something new there was anything interesting. She was my own private pop music reporter and it was principally through her that I kept up on new music. If there was nothing new, she’d put on something old. Sometimes I’d get an impromptu lesson, such as the time she played multiple versions of “Gloria”, which she insisted was the world’s most sexist song for reasons that I never understood. She delighted in Patti Smith’s intro to her version, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” I never really understood that either, but I guess it helps to have been raised as a Christian. Both of Luscious parents had come to the U.S. from Ukraine in the wake of the Second World War. She was born in the East Village, spoke Ukrainian and was raised in the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
As ten o’clock approached, we get ready to leave. In the summer, we might take the subway a couple of stops to Christopher Street and make our way eastward on foot, hitting a series of night spots along the way. In the winter time, we’d walk out in the coldest weather without coats because we were heading to small, hot, sweaty clubs, really bars that had bands, and those places didn’t have coat rooms and some members of the audience had sticky fingers. So, we’d charge east towards Seventh Avenue at top speed and hail a cab as quickly as possible. Luscious, the tall one, would stick out a hand. The cab would pull over and she’d get in first.
One night, she slid across the seat, behind the driver. During the crime wave of the seventies, cabs had started installing plexiglass partitions between the driver and passengers. It was typically on this partition, behind the drivers head, that the taxi license with the name of the driver is displayed.
She looked at the name on license, greeted him in Ukrainian and he replied in kind. After a couple of more exchanges, she said, “My friend doesn’t speak Ukrainian. Can we speak English?”
“Yes, of course.”
Luscious would typically chat with the taxi drivers. It was one of her ways of finding out what was going on the city. Despite Luscious’ radical politics, or perhaps because if it, she usually steered clear of controversial subjects, satisfying herself with being on the receiving end of the conversation. Perhaps it was different this time because the diver was from the same country as her parents. In any case, I no longer recall the conversation that led up to it. I think I was only half listening anyway, but I recall he said that United States was a wonderful country.
Suddenly Luscious was animated. Leaning forward, raising her voice, waving her hands dramatically in the air, “Are you kidding,” she said, “the United States the worst country in the world.”
“Worst country? You must be joking,” he said.
She rattled of a litany of left-leaning complaints from capitalism to Cointelpro.
“You don’t know! I lived in the Soviet Union.”
Luscious expressed a preference for communism over capitalism.
The cab driver was now getting visibly mad. “You don’t know how bad bad can be. You are naive. I know what I’m talking about. You are a foolish girl.”
We were getting near our destination and Luscious flopped back against the seat. We paid our fare in silence.
When the door was shut and the cab was pulling away, she said to me, “He sounds just like my father.”