Someone in New York Loves You
Morning arrived in my corner of Brooklyn, as slivers of silver winter light crept through the shoebox-sized window of the studio. I woke up scrunched in the fetal position on my puny couch, too large to be a love seat but not quite sufficient to allow a normally-sized adult human to convalesce in a comfortable fashion. Living in a basement apartment with mostly miniaturized appliances and furniture sometimes felt like living in a dollhouse, if said dollhouse was dark, dungeon-esque, and infested with roaches.
Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I noticed the blanket draped over my body was actually my coat, which meant that Hulk-smashing a toilet with my ass the night before was unfortunately not a dream, but rather a farcical waking nightmare. I had slept on the couch under a jacket as a final desperate act to keep from freezing to death a la The Little Match Girl after using all of my bedding to improvise a method for soaking up a flood from a freak plumbing disaster.
I rose reluctantly and lumbered to the doorframe of the bathroom to assess the damage. Around five hours earlier I had returned home from a successfully executed girl’s night in Greenpoint at my favorite local watering hole. Though the memory of returning to my apartment was shrouded in a whiskey mist, I recall the pivotal moment during which I was about to pee with the bathroom door open, guffawing at a crack Alida made regarding being driven to lesbianism by Brooklyn’s less-than-eligible bachelors. I tossed my head back in gleeful abandon, careening toward the toilet, carelessly allowing my butt trajectory to be thrown off course. This caused my rear to crash against the lid rather than hit the seat, clattering violently into the tank, which proceeded to shatter. It only took me a moment to stop laughing, as to my horror, I watched a tidal wave of water erupt from behind me, shooting across the floor in an unbridled alluvion. I shrieked at a decibel that made the cat flatten his ears to his head, and Alida turned to see me aghast with my pants around my ankles, frozen as the domestic disaster unfolded before our us.
“What did you do?!” She screamed.
“Fuck! The toilet… exploded!”
“I see that, but how in the hell did you manage—”
Consumed by panic, I crouched by the tank as the water continued to surge forth, scanning my mental rolodex for any information that might be relevant to rescuing myself from drowning in a basement. I had a few survival skills—in a pinch I could probably adrenaline lift a bus off of a baby, no problem. However, I’d never anticipated the notion that I would someday need to employ emergency plumbing expertise. Alida was behind me, frantically propping up my soggy mattress and throwing bedding in front of the ominous expanding flood like she was sandbagging in a hurricane, and a few moments later I found the redemptory killswitch, a valve behind the bowl. I panted and sighed in disbelief as I pulled my soaked jeans back up, and observed the cat, marooned on a floating textbook for HTML tutorials in the kitchen, flicking his tail in a puddle with disinterest.
After I finished my brunch shift that day, I took the L into Manhattan and bought a ticket to see a movie called New York, I Love You. And it was true, I did, in spite of being literally, as Bukowski would put it, “without a pot to puke in.” After the film, I walked around aimlessly for hours, despite protests from my tender, bunion-addled feet. The LES streets were glistening like gunmetal after an uncharacteristically warm December day had melted the snow, lit by hanging Christmas garlands on every block. The sidewalks were littered with skeletons of busted umbrellas that rolled like tumbleweeds into garbage heaps, spokes poking obscenely through crumpled canopies like broken bones through skin. Strangely, for a few minutes, I saw no one at all, and then I noticed the dimly lit door of a speakeasy dive.
As a general rule, I try to limit my activity in bars to revelry and shenanigans—but at that moment, in the spirit of yielding to the surreality, I felt inspired to take some time to quietly organize my thoughts on a stack of cocktail napkins. (I also needed to find a place to pee.) I picked a stool at the far end of the bar in a position where I could see most everything, but almost no one could see me, partially obscured by the jukebox in a shadowy corner. Deeply engrossed in my scribbling, I had barely noticed a waifish blonde girl slide onto the barstool next to me. She inquired in a husky voice with an unplacable accent, “Have you ever written on an airplane puke bag?”
Shaken from my trance, I pushed my pen away and took in this specter of a girl, meeting her gaze while she disarmed me with a crooked smile. She was tiny, maybe even a little frail, and the folds of her grey sweater settled around her in a notably elegant manner. Her beauty was subtle but striking, with an almost elven quality to it, accented by the tips of her ears poking slightly through her golden hair.
“No, actually, I haven’t,” I tried to match her casual cadence. “But I’ve written on a lot of other weird things.”
“What are you writing?”
“Honestly? It’s nothing important.”
“Sure.” She said, curling her lip coyly, unconvinced.
It was clear she wasn’t going to give up. Sighing, I quickly muttered, “I’m writing about how I broke my toilet.”
“Come on. What are you really writing?”
She paused in thought, unsatisfied with my answer, and then replied, “You’re fucked up, aren’t you?” I bristled into self consciousness, unsure of whether to approach her as a beguiling insouciant, a crazy drunk, or both.
“It’s okay, you can tell me.” She seemed intrigued. “I’m fucked up, too, you know. How did you break your toilet?”
“I’m a klutz.” I shrugged. It was the truth.
“Ah,” She had reached a diagnosis. “You think you’re fat, don’t you?”
“No… that’s not quite it.”
“You can tell me. Is it a boy? It’s amazing, these things strangers can say to each other in bars. Don’t you think?” Her gold bangles jangled on her wrists as she gestured around the room. She had an effortless and seductive temperament that made her seem vaguely exotic, like a gypsy.
“Your heart must be broken,” she said knowingly, “I’ve seen that look in the eyes of others. Allow me to tell you a story,” She went on and I anticipated her confession, “Once, I mailed a puke bag break up letter.”
“Oh? To whom?”
“An African man whom I was in love with. It was written on a plane back home to Costa Rica, and I still hope that it never arrived. When I was twenty-two I’d gotten unexpectedly pregnant by him and we decided to marry, but I had a miscarriage when I was dancing at our wedding, and we just couldn’t survive the strain. Just after I left him, I came to New York. It’s funny—the most tragic things always end up shaping your life into what it was meant to be, and it’s for the better.”
“Wow.” I struggled for a response, “That hardly compares to my toilet story, I really don’t know if I can follow up with that now.”
“You’re not fat,” she said, leaning in and putting her dainty hand on my thigh. It was childlike and genuine, and suddenly I wanted to hug her.
“Listen,” she went on, chewing on the straw of her drink, “you can’t take yourself too seriously. Some people will say you’re not sensitive enough. You know what I say to that?”
“Sometimes your clit’s too big, and sometimes it’s too small. You just have to have faith that someone out there has the right touch.”
The bartender, a surly man in red with a mammoth goatee, had begun to eavesdrop and raised a pint glass to toast her whimsical catchphrase.
“Here, here!” She crowed as they clinked glasses. “Simpatico!” As she raised her arm, the sleeve of her sweater fell askew, exposing a small scripted tattoo below a rising sun on the top of her wrist.
“What’s it mean?” I asked.
“Funny you should ask about this, it’s a perfect example. I thought it would be so cool to get my tattoo in Arabic, despite the fact that I don’t speak the language and have no tie to the culture. As if it would be thoughtful to have a saying on my wrist that everybody knows, in writing not many could understand. I thought it said, ‘This too shall pass’ for a year until a Tunisian classmate of mine pointed to it and asked me what ‘That too shall pass’ was supposed to mean. Figures, no? Forever in my skin is a grammatical error, the thanks I get for trying to be cool.”
“You could always get it covered up to say, ‘This clit shall pass’.” I offered.
She laughed melodically, swiping my pen, and scribbled her name and address on a blank cocktail napkin it in swirling script and pressed it into my hand. “Promise you’ll send me a puke bag someday.”
“Next time I fly.” I said.
With that, she lowered herself off of the stool and left me to my stack of napkins in the shadows.