I am standing on Church Street, in TriBeCa, trying to hail a cab heading uptown. People (and by that I mean New Yorkers) have cab-hailing styles. One, casual, with a relaxed open palm and fingers. Another, taught, high arm, hand waving. Then, the Lunger, who seems prepared to die under the wheels of a taxi. Me, I raise my arm and try to believe I’m tall enough to be seen.
Tonight, I am dressed up, unsteady in high heels, feeling conspicuous in makeup, too warm to wear my fancy party overcoat so I’ve tried to drape it artfully over my arm, and now I’m sweating into it, or pressing wrinkles into it, as I strangle my tiny handbag. The flow of buses and cars, black SUVS and so many yellow cabs. I want to check the time but I haven’t a free hand, nor do I have the confidence to look away. There is a configuration of rooftop lights I’m supposed to follow to know which cabs to wave at. My ignorance after three years proves to me once again that I don’t intend to stay.
More cars, more buses, more cabs. Every taxi is the same, on the outside, every cab the object of your purest desire. Come to me, yellow cab. Pull up to the curb by me, yellow cab, roll down your window and ask me, “Where to?” Please. I need you.
I give the driver the address of our first stop, where we are to pick up my husband, and then our second stop, at tonight’s event. I slide behind the driver, my outfit twisting around my hips. I sit off balance, my ankles crossed, periodically bumping around trying to straighten my clothes.
“Your husband. Is he a tall man?” asks the driver.
The majority of cab drivers in New York leave you alone. You get in, there’s some discussion of the destination, and you drive. Maybe one in ten has an axe to grind, a nascent worldview to expound upon, a philosophy he can’t resist sharing.
“No…,” I say, hesitating. “More like medium-sized.”
“See?” he says. “I’ll tell you. My daughter, she has a husband. An American husband. A tall man, her husband.”
It’s a work-related function, where we are going. One of those functions I was led to believe we would be attending regularly when he took that god-damned job and we moved to New York. An awards show? A premiere? Who fucking cares? Most of the time I’m not even invited.
“They come to my house and leave their car in my parking spot,” the cab-driver continues. I ask myself what the hell he is talking about. “I only get one spot, but they leave their car. I cannot move it because I have no key. She chose this man for herself, this tall man.”
It’s the end of the day. Rush hour. Of course in New York City rush hour is several hours, peaking just after five, I guess. We are on the backside of it, maybe six-ish. I don’t know.
“Your husband, is he smart?”
“Yes,” I say. “He is very smart.”
“My daughter’s husband? He is not smart. He is tall.”
|TriBeCa in autumn, 2012|
I want to tell you funny stories about New York. I want them to be calm, reflective, backward-looking, and hilarious. I did things in New York and you want to hear about the celebrities I saw there. Like Ian McKellen exhorting me to try harder at Pilates, or Patrick Stewart going incognito in a U.S.S. Enterprise ball cap on the subway. And my memories of the fancy events sparkle with celebrity cameos: Jennifer Aniston, looking skinny and normal and pretty at a premiere, or that guy from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, skulking around like a party-crasher, scarfing hors d’oeuvres and drinks, alone in a t-shirt in a corner. I want to draw New York for you the way you like it drawn for you, with cool old buildings and a vintage jazz record soundtrack. Not real pigeons shitting in your hair but cinematic pigeons, rising in a flock. Expensive TriBeCa lofts where, of course, the AC works. Glamorous skyline shots, the wail of sirens edited out. Cabs roaring past, but never buses running the red. No baked-on dog diarrhea on the sidewalk. No smell of urine in the subway.
The bland niceties exchanged by executives and their wives at work-related functions don’t make for many good stories. The HR guy is usually there. He always manages to remember my name. He knows I have kids and horses. Sometimes his wife is with him, looking like the saddest woman in America. Maybe she looks at me and sees that I, too, am the saddest woman in America. The HR guy asks after my kids and horses. I lie, and say everyone is fine. Always. No one wants to hear they aren’t.
It’s a struggle. I am still digesting, and there are many things I’m not supposed to say. I got smacked down by a Twitter troll last December, after I tweeted that I think New York is run by a bunch of mobsters. No names, no details. My troll made a new account to reply to this tweet, to tell me to get the hell out of New York and not let the door hit me in the ass. I blocked her, and she moved on to tweet at my husband, and at random people tweeting about my husband. I try to keep my Twitter world friendly and nice; I don’t spend my time there arguing with disagreeable strangers, and I block hostile people early and often. After a day’s worth of head-scratching, I realized who she was; I unblocked her, and asked her if her kids know she’s a Twitter troll. After this, she deleted her account.
The first time we get a glossy invite to a fancy event, I plan for weeks; I shop for a posh frock, with special occasion shoes and suitable foundation garments and two pairs of expensive hosiery in case I tear the first pair putting them on. I go on to buy my first and second tiny fancy party handbags, and one is so small I can’t fit a glasses case into it.
By the last one of these damned events I wear a cheap, red tulle dress I buy online. When a colleague of my husband’s turns to me and compliments my dress, I can’t decide if it’s out of politeness or sour dismay. Sometimes, she has to sit near me at these things. I think she thinks she has nothing to say to me. She is wearing a very expensive dress. Like the kind of thing you get at Barney’s, and it’s like $1100. Black. Asymmetrical. And those strappy, $1095 Jimmy Choos. I know what they are, I just couldn’t stand in them, much less walk in them. And besides, why would I when I can wear Fluevogs? I am happy enough with how I look, in my funky shoes and my polyester party dress. I may never wear the dress again, but it was well under $100 so I really don’t care. You could spend that on lunch in New York with friends if you had friends. I say my thanks for the compliment, but I think she probably hates me.
I mean, what is that: “I like your dress…”? Somehow it communicates something else: “I see you’re wearing a dress.” Or, “I am noticing your dress, and your dress isn’t expensive like my dress.” Or, “I think your dress is weird. I think your dress might have been cheap.” Or, “What the hell are you wearing?” Or, even, “Who the fuck are you? Why do you even come to these things? No one here likes you or has anything to say to you. You should just stay home.”
Where do we get our ideas about others? That people care what I spend on clothes? That men are funny and women aren't? That people judge your intelligence based on your height?
But anyway, going back to whatever night I was talking about, after I’ve done my 3 ½ minutes with the HR guy and his sad, sad wife who sees into my soul, the night where I’m still chipper about a fancy party or whatever.
I want to tell you about this one guy, someone my husband introduces me to, and how blunt and hilarious I think I am, telling him like it is. My husband is polite and professional, always, like he was raised to be polite and professional. I am somehow in this moment incapable of either. Maybe I am always incapable of these things. A question is exchanged between the men without being answered, and I toss out my answer, overly strong and quite inappropriate, like a I’ve taken big slug from a flask of grain alcohol smuggled into church and belched. This guy, he doesn’t care if I have horses or children. I say something else, trying to be funny.
There’s a flash of recognition on his face. At the time I take it for approval. “I’m on Twitter,” I offer. Today, now, I scream back at myself, “Twitter is free, you stupid twat! Any asshole is on Twitter. Go drink more and talk less!” Then, I tell him who I am on Twitter. I have done this so rarely. Today, now, it makes me hate myself.
Within days I am followed by the woman who becomes my Twitter troll. She is friends with this guy. They are professional contacts who flirt with each other on Twitter.
But getting back to the moment before I open my damned mouth, before my husband replies with his polite and professional words, before I volunteer who I am on Twitter: my husband introduces me to this guy. They walk up to me together. There is my smart, medium-sized husband with someone. It is unmistakable. He is tall.