Words by Raimy Rosenduft
Leslie broke it off after a few months, two weeks short of when I planned to say, “I love you.” She was in Union Square and I could hear the snot bubbles coming out of her nose through the pay phone. I think the conversation went something like:
“I’ve had a breakthrough today in therapy… and I’m straight. I’m breaking up with you.”
Those are the only two words you cannot argue with. You can debate someone falling for someone else, you can yell and scream over an affair, you can feel hurt by betrayal, but what you cannot do is garnish surprise from a girl who went to Sarah Lawrence for four years to realize she’s straight six months after graduation. It just happens.
It was the summer of 2003, Leslie convinced me to get out of my parents basement on Long Island and find a job in the city. I answered an ad in The Village Voice, ditched my gig as a day bartender in Oyster Bay and started working two days later. Pisces was on the corner of 6th street and Ave A. One of the first establishments of the gentry, it was a staple for happy hour oysters and champagne in the summertime. My friend John was living in a new building at 90 Ludlow Street, where the architects must have taken construction cues from the book of shitty dorm room design. The only character this place had was the ones living inside it; I replaced a trust fund heroin addict for the summer.
A few weeks after the break up I was on stage two of the Kubler-Ross model of grief, when one of my regulars asked me if I’d ever been on a blind date. Fuck no; I’d never been on a blind date. I’d barely dated at all! I was one of those kids who came out at 19 and had never even kissed another girl until I was 21. In a bar… with my real ID, a drummer girl prodigy who knew better than to take on a project like me. Leslie was my first “girlfriend”.
“Well then,” she said, “I have someone I want you to meet.”
Michelle called me on a Monday – she was British, check! She was a private chef, check! Lived across from Lincoln Center but spent lots of time in East Hampton, check check!! Clearly she was older than I was, she had a good job and dropped enough names in my direction to validate the level of her success. It sounded ideal.
We made a plan for the following week; we’d meet at her place and go for dinner on the Upper West Side. Ugh, ok I’d go even though I get nosebleeds above 23rd street. I probably wouldn’t have to pay for dinner, and I could pretend for a few hours that I belonged.
The morning of the date I caved on a pair of Prada loafers in the window of Otto Tootsie Plohound. I had been ogling them for weeks, they were snug, as in they didn’t really fit but I bought them anyway. Walking through Union Square I stopped into Diesel and wound up with an overpriced pair of denims and cute top. I juuuust fit into everything, and were it not my first blind date I probably would have just gone to Macy’s but this was a marker, I was moving on from Leslie and prepared to get my feet wet. Again.
Leslie was working as a ticket clerk at Classic Stage for the summer, I stood in the window for a second waiting for her to look up from a worn copy of Franny and Zooey, but she was rapt. Finally I just knocked; I was already in my date clothes. A departure from my thin ripped black t-shirt, faded jeans and chucks, she smiles…
“You look so cute, do you have a date?”
I was relishing this, “Yes. I do”
“That’s great. I’m happy for you Raimy.”
Not what I wanted to hear, I wanted her to throw down the book and have a Salinger type fit where no one else in the world would ever understand but me. But that’s not what happened, she was genuinely happy for me, and that made me hate her more. I left defeated, and bought new make-up.
Fully quaffed two hours later, I stop at the flower shop across the street from my blind dates apartment to pick up a bouquet of sunflowers at an uptown price. I’d only spoken to Michelle that one time, the doorman signed me in, I took the elevator up… up… up. Bling! The halls were Granny quiet, the only thing I heard was Sue Simmons voice and it lead me to Michelle’s apartment I rang the bell.
She was fat. Not like me fat, like a little over weight fat, like 2x fat with a drapery blouse and shoulder pads, like she hadn’t been shopping since 1994 fat. Big smile, big hair, big tits, SMALL apartment. A studio apartment. The knot in my stomach was taking root, and setting up an ecosystem throughout the rest of my nervous system. Fuck… OK… but really though… fuck. I handed her the flowers, “Hi. I’m Raimy.”
Michelle stood there for a moment before inviting me inside, giving me the once over and then, “Wow. You’re so… young.” I had no words; I was channeling Tarzan, me young. You fat. She invited me into the studio. There wasn’t much to it, a small room, bathroom and galley kitchen, she had two deep mattresses stacked on top of one another, and on one wall some family pictures. She explained to me this was her family tree from the dust bowl. Wait. Her accent was gone now; the British charm suddenly turned to… dust bowl? Her family was from Oklahoma she explained as she put my flowers into a vase by the window, culinary school in England. She was Madonna British.
The pictures went in succession from gaunt depression-era faces to bloated Outback Steakhouse, Laura Ashley, Precious Moments carpeted sub-division, wine in a box, Curve gym membership mid-west depression.
I needed a drink.
The wait at Rosa Mexicana was 45 minutes; apparently there was a reservation for us. She wasted no time in making a scene, “Do you know who I am?” and I am not kidding, we changed tables three times until she found one she liked. I told the server that no matter what happens if you see my pomegranate margarita nearing the bottom please just go ahead and bring me another.
I was drunk by the time we had our appetizers and I’m pretty sure she spent $500 on dinner but complained about the lack of seasoning in our tamale’s and offered an alternate preparation for every course following. But my favorite quote throughout dinner had to have been, “You’re so young how can you possibly know anything about that?”
After, we’re nearing the corner outside the restaurant, I’m trying to map out an exit strategy, “I’d like to see how your half lives.” The verbal diuretic… my half? My half below the tree line? And in a switch… Fuck yeah, ok… let’s do this. I hail a cab and give him the address of Pisces. I sent Betsy a text from the cab heading south towards the restaurant: “Bkcy. I os fcuked up. Wre our way to the bar, she fat I’m durnk…” or something like that. Betsy and I were both hired the same day at Pisces, she ran the floor.
Betsy was clearing her last two top on the patio when we rolled up; I spilled out of the cab and into the bar. I probably said something like, “Someone please shoot me in the face.” Michelle followed me inside, and barked, the way only an asinine ageist classist could, and “Does Raimy own this place? The whites of my eyes told the story, Betsy just replied, “No, but Raimy’s awesome!” I made a b-line behind the bar and grabbed a bottle of champagne, popped the cork, bypassed the flutes, drank directly from the bottle and excused myself to the kitchen. Betsy followed. Surrounded by our Spanish-speaking kitchen staff, speaking gibberish and passing a bottle of $90 champagne back and forth. Now, a clear thinking individual might just say they’re tired and gracefully bow out of the situation, but not me. I have a penchant for making things worse for myself.
Some of the girls were going around the corner for a drink; here was my opportunity to get out. Sure, I’ll go! Yes, of course, post shift drinks at our favorite spot. I couldn’t say no. The perfect exit strategy! But Sam; the innocent newbie had already invited my “new girlfriend” along for the ride. Michelle offered to pay for the drinks.
We hit the bar, she threw down a platinum Amex card and even though we mostly drank for free in exchange for feeding the bartenders under the table, I told them to charge us. Now I wanted to take down all of upstate Manhattan… and then, it started…
Her hand was on my knee, moving up…up… hold up. There was a clicking in my brain, like my cerebral assistant flipping through a Rolodex of possible endings to this situation and good wasn’t one of them.
We closed down the bar and when the bartender handed back the Amex I could swear it was smoking, but then again, I’d been drinking for eight hours. Dawn was near, I could hear it in the birds, like a vampire when the darkness of the morning looms after a long night feeding off the living, I longed to bury my body in the mattress the heroin addict left behind for me, wake up in the afternoon, get a coffee, and go to work. I put my arm out.
Michelle stood there for a moment before, “Where do you think you’re going?”
“Home, thanks for dinner.”
And then something happened, something I wasn’t expecting.
“Oh Raimy… nothing’s for free.”
I was dead in my tracks.
“Do you think you’re going home tonight?” It was this righteous indignation, her idea that she could throw out a credit card and get something out of this colossal blind date fail. I could feel it happening, the right part of my lip curling upward – upward curling into a snarl, my early morning drunken ego was taking over, my oppressed evil twin that I lock away during business hours… but business was over and here she was doing the telling, and here she was – she was out. “No. Michelle, I’m going to take you home and fuck your brains out. How about that?”
We skipped the pleasantries, my drunken snarling ego vs. the classless ageist it wasn’t a battle; she was a classic pillow queen, who clearly liked topping from the bottom. If she lived in a run down mansion she’d probably have a cobwebbed wedding cake and I’d rename her Mrs. Havisham. It was clear that Michelle hadn’t had been laid since she’d purchased the drapery blouse with the shoulder pads, probably the same year Kurt shot himself and I was in High School and didn’t know that at some point in the next ten years I’d be going down on a woman ten years my senior in a small studio across from Lincoln Center after drinking myself into a karma coma, seeing my ex-girlfriends face every time I closed my eyes.
It didn’t take long, she was loud, I was still clothed and then I couldn’t breathe. Her legs crossed around my head, in the pre-coital moment that Michelle had invested nearly a grand in, she closed her thighs around my head… tight. She came, hard and flipped me over. I could now breathe but rolled to the side of the bed the pea-weary princess slept on and fell between the two deep mattresses and the radiator. Then the snoring started, she fast asleep and I was stuck between the wall and the mattresses in my overpriced blind date outfit. She fell asleep!
I inched my way to the floor, under the box spring, with the dust balls and bits of change, grabbed hold of the wires and pulled myself out from under. I could feel the coils poking holes in my t-shirt and jeans. And then I was wet?
It was the vase with the sunflowers; it fell off the windowsill, shattered to a thousand pieces, along with my dignity. Now wet and rusting, I collected my things, took one last look at her snoring, the wall of family photos, the flowers on the floor and my night in the cold hard light of day. I left quietly.
Leslie’s phone went straight to voicemail that morning; I was calling from the taxi descending from the mountain. I paused, the beep, then… “It’s me, you’re sleeping. I’m calling to say I love you.”