Growing up, I was terrified of being kidnapped. I’d dream a stranger snagged me, and when I’d part my lips to release a ripple of a scream, nothing would come out. The Upper East Side of Manhattan at night paralyzes me in the very same way. Harlem or even some disreputable streets south of the Meatpacking District, near the warehouses and $20.00 trannyjobs is understandable. But it’s the Upper East Side, home to the Ralph Lauren Mansion, Serendipity’s Frozen Hot Chocolates, and Bloomingdale’s Big Brown Bag that houses my anxiety. It has little to do with east side rapists trailing unaccompanied quick-paced women to their fifth-floor walk-ups. It’s worse. It’s home to my ex-boyfriend.
Despite it having far superior restaurants to the upper west, the upper east was the only appropriate place to go last night. Sure his friends, his job, and our memories reside there. Until last night, there wasn’t much room for all that and me. I’m on a goddamn island; there’s no room for rationing anymore. It’s not as though I’d get all despondent and introspective over there. I didn’t conjure up storefronts and restaurant awnings tinted rose or anything. It’s just running into him or one of his extensions is unnecessary drama. It’s that suspenseful music, warning the audience something is about to happen. It’s nerve-racking; that’s what it is. Because the truly scary bits usually happen in silence, as quick as a heavy guillotine.
Last night I had to visit the east. Had to, the way you just had to inexplicably leave without saying goodbye. Something lured me there. I’d just come from the 6:30 showing of Garden State, so I was in the thick of girl. I was sticky with dripping hope and oozy magic. I told you I was full of girl, but it gets worse: see if I were in a movie, the cameras would zoom in from above and The Eels’s song “Packing Blankets” would blast as I wobbled in impractical heels to the corner of 67th and Columbus to hail a cab. Everyone would know something great was about to happen.
This wasn’t a night for practical; it meant unnecessary cab fare and a decision to head east for no reason at all. I wanted something to happen. Le Bateau Ivre has a killer wine list, superb Belgium fries, and is always crowded but never a scene. I cozied up to the bar and asked, “Do you have a wine list I can see?”
“You’re look-ing at tit.” A foreign waiter slung back with a smile. “White, red, rosé? You name it Mademoiselle.”
“How about a Gewurtzaminer?”
“Ah, yes, very good choice.”
“I am having a Gewurtzaminer, too” the man occupying the stool beside me said. “I’m German, are you?”
“I’m Italian and German actually. Lemme guess, you’re Irish. The Germans do a nice Gewurtzaminer. I lived there you know.” We have a winner. “Two of my alma matters are there. I studied spiritual studies.” Oh dear god. This is not what I had in mind. I nod and smile, then stick my nose into my glass to indicate I take wine seriously and would prefer to be left alone. “Nice bouquet?” The bar is too small to up and choose a new seat.
“Yes, it’s a lovely bouquet.”
“I’ve just returned from a two month journey. I tasted many a wine. I was in Israel and Egypt, and then I rounded things off in Italy. I’m from Boston, but I’m in New York for this week, then I go back home to Aspen. You know, that’s where I live, in Aspen.”
“How nice for you.”
“Yeah, I have a Twinkie back in Colorado who called me the other day saying, ‘you know my birthday is coming up. I’m expecting something.’ Can you believe her?”
“I don’t know her.” Shut up.
“Well she’s an absolute stunner. I mean, really sick.” This man is too old to refer to a woman as sick. Usually, when men use “sick” they mean amazing body. See if she had a pretty face, she’d be “beautiful.” Sick means shapely with a tight punctuated ass. “She’s a Twinkie. That’s what we call ‘em.”
“Yes, I heard you the first time. You do know Twinkies always smell better than they taste. They’re like coffee beans.”
“That’s good. Hold up. Let me get a pen and write that down.”
“Really, Twinkies are easy, simple, and self-contained. But they’re inventions, always leaving you unsatisfied.” Oh god. I married a Twinkie. Our housekeeper always did refer to him as Creampuff.
“Did I mention I’ve just returned from Israel?”
“Did I mention that you begin almost all your sentences with I?”
“I collect ancient scriptures. I’m Catholic, but I’m just back from Israel.” Was he joking? I know he heard what I said. “I brought back a dozen yamakas and a torah pointer.”
“You know it’s not called a torah pointer; it has a name.” I shook my head. The first turn was "AS;" the second was "IF."
“I know. I know.”
“Well do you know it?” I suddenly wanted to club this man with a mutton chop.
“No, do you?”
“I went to Hebrew school my whole life, but I was too busy dealing with puberty to pay attention to the names of things. I just know it has one.”
“Well I’m not your type. I’m not a Twinkie.” And on that bitchy high-note, I swiveled toward the bartender and asked for my check. So this is what I’ve been missing. Ahem, you can so keep it.