essay about experiences in New York City

Monday, July 26, 2004

If it wasn't for my bladder, I don't think that I would get out of bed sometimes. No, if it weren't for my bladder, I would lie there just hoping to fall back asleep, back to my dreams. Sometimes the quality of my dreams sure beats the heck out of the quality of my life. I guess you could say that my bladder is my higher power, because it succeeds where no one else can in getting me up out of the bed, and because I have to trudge down the narrow stairs, mindfully, because you can sure break your neck on the narrow landing, then get myself into the bathroom before I pee in my pants, so you better believe I am moving, and then finally the relief of being able to let go. All that work seems to pass for some kind of energy, and then I can make the coffee and start my day.

And my life has gotten a whole lot better, believe it or not. When I was a kid I would sleep for twelve hours at a clip, and no bladder calls to rouse me. Nothing but pure, blissful, sleep, until my mother came in to sprinkle water on me to to pull me down the length of the bed, or to holler at me to get me out of the house and into the yard with the rest of the kids.

Aww--this is shit! There's no way I am going to be able to write anything good. I just need to let go of the idea that I can do something creative. I need to calm that anxiety down that my life is worthless because I am barely making it financially, have no money saved for retirement, have a husband who has given up on his working life, and we live in a decrepit, historic stone house that we can't afford to fix up. That's why I am trying to write something--to publish a book that is sure to be a best-seller, to find a different way of life so that I can feel proud of my achievements, find the work that sustains my spirit, and have a dollar in the bank to boot.

I was going to call my book Memoirs of a Dirty Woman. I thought that it was catchy-enough title, that it would promise salacious and erotic doings, and anyway would be the perfect title for the book, because since I can barely get myself out of bed to get to work, I can hardly rouse myself to clean the house.

And it isn't just about cleaning the house, either. It is about living with clutter, mine and my husband's. He seems worse than me. I try to clean out the attic, and the shed, to create some semblance of order, and he just fills up the space over the next few months with junk that should be thrown out. He's like a tide of junk, and the tide abates for a while, and we both stand around and admire the empty space, but the tide comes in again, regularly, and fills up the space. He just can't abhor a vacuum. Even the kitchen table, which he knows I like to have clean and free of opened mail, dead flowers, cookbooks, just gets cleaned off and looking pretty, giving me the sense that there is order in the universe, and before the next day is out, the flotsam and jetsam of his life crawls in and destroys my serenity.

Now, he is a pretty good guy, and he has always been sweet to me, but you see clues to people when you meet them. You just think that what is evidence of a poorly structured life is just the stuff they are temporarily going through. For instance, when I met Georges, he was being evicted from a loft on the Lower East Side. Yes, his name is Georges, and it is pronounced Zhorzhe. He is French, from Paris, even. Anyway, when I met him, he lived in a huge loft that was still raw space. He had his printing tables that filled up some of the space, but he just had a cot to sleep on, and his only electricity was a bare light bulb hooked up to his neighbor's loft. He had a toilet in a closet with a broken door, a paint-spattered sink, a hot plate on the floor, and a cat who peed and pooped in a litter box that obviously never got cleaned out. Not once. I had known him for a few weeks before I got to see this place, and enamoured as I was of him, I saw the mess he lived in, but it didn't matter to me at the time. All I knew was, he was sweet, shy, sexy, and spoke English with a charming accent. He was also an artist, which had been a secret dream of my own--to be creative, to do something, paint, or draw, and I took art classes and went to life-drawing sessions in Soho for years myself.

So there were some clues, but I didn't pay them any mind.

Monday, January 26, 2004

When I was nineteen and first living in New York City, my mother called me to tell me of the murder of our family doctor's daughter, in her dorm room at college somewhere in the Midwest. The real purpose of my mother's phone call was to convince me that life away from family and small town life was very dangerous. This did not make sense to me, as the girl was killed away from home and family, and I did not see how this related to me living on my own in New York City. I knew that my mother was worried about me, but I had no intention of moving back home.

When she called, I was living in my second apartment since arriving in the city. My roommate was a woman from Bolivia, who worked at the United Nations. I had met her at Bloomingdale's, where we both worked. We had become acquainted while working in the same boutique at the store, and I told her of my unhappy experiences with my current roommates, with too many drugs in the apartment, and the leaseholder roommate bringing home guys all the time for one-night stands. Plus, this roommate was a clean/neat freak, and was all over me for what I saw were minor infractions of the standard she had set for all of us (I had not yet learned to negotiate).

In assessing my personality at the time, I would say that I was a naive, fearful, morbidly shy young woman, who was eager for life experience, but had no core strength, and no sense of myself. I wafted with the breezes that came along, with little common sense and no framework for making good judgments.

I moved in with Ethel, and the second, invisible roommate, who was an actress. The actress was touring, and rarely showed up at the apartment, leaving only her belongings in a small area, and a kind of "office" where she kept her legal papers in a grey file cabinet. We lived on the third floor of a building on East 52nd street, between Second and First. The building was a mix of residential and commercial, with a furniture store on the ground floor, a beauty salon on the second, our apartment on the third, and another apartment on the top floor.

We had one bedroom, in the back, and we slept on twin Murphy beds that we mostly kept pulled down, as we did not really need to use the space in the bedroom. There was a door in the bedroom leading to the outside, kind of a balcony/fire escape. We had a large bureau with a big mirror, that we shared, two closets, and we kept the TV in the bedroom, by Ethel's bed. Going out of the bedroom there was a small hallway, with a bathroom leading off of it. And to walk from the hallway to the living room, one passed the kitchen, which was a renovated closet, just one wall of appliances, with a beaded curtain hanging down.

The living room was lovely, with leather sofas; soft, white shag rug, low tables, and a large picture window looking down on the street.

Ethel was a great cook, had lots of international friends, a male lover who was a lot older and lived in Washington, DC, and she loved to play records of music from her native Bolivia. I was pretty happy there on 52nd Street. I could walk to my job at Bloomingdale's easily, and was dating a man I met at a party (who was in his early thirties, an older man).

One night, as I was sleeping in bed, I heard some people talking and moving around. Ethel had gone out the night before, and I had gone to bed before she came in. In my sleepy haze, I assumed that she had come home and had brought some people back with her. I didn't really understand why the people kept walking in and out of the bedroom, because I was so sleepy, and not thinking clearly. But I thought maybe I should wake up and introduce myself to them.

Then I heard a male voice say, "Where is the fucking jewelry," in a low voice, apparently to other people. The shock of the brutal reality came over me, and I knew that we were being robbed. And I realized that what had woken me was not the people moving back and forth in the darkened room, but that there was a smell of sulphur. The men, three of them, were using matches to see what they were doing. Lighting matches and blowing them out, and dropping them on the floor, they were then taking the drawers out of the large bureau and carrying the drawers into the living room, dumping the contents out on the floor and taking whatever they wanted.

I could hardly breathe. For a person who had little common sense, I managed to keep my eyes closed and my mouth shut. One of the men approached, and I tried to breathe deeply, in and out, in and out, slowly and measured, as if I were sleeping. I must have already made a noise of some kind for him to approach, and now I deliberately moaned, as if I were in a deep dreamy sleep. My heart was racing, and my breathing felt terribly accelerated. My eyelids did not want to cooperate, and they seemed to be fluttering. I prayed, and prayed, and through my shut eyelids, was a flame held over my face. Time stopped for me. I lay there in his power for an eternity.

Then, he was gone, they were all gone. I heard the squeal of tires from outside the picture window. I stayed motionless for a long time. When I was sure that there were no robbers in the apartment, I opened my eyes. The day was dawning and some light was coming into the bedroom. I looked over at my roommate, and she was asleep in her bed. I sat up and reached over and shook her, saying "Ethel, wake up. We've been robbed!" She told me to go back to sleep, that I was dreaming. "No, wake up--look, they took the TV!" She turned over to look at the table next to her bed, and the TV set was gone. She shot up, and over the next chaotic, fearful minutes, I told her what I had experienced. We got out of bed and walked into the living room. The bureau drawers where thrown on the floor, and everything in the house had been ransacked. The refrigerator door was wide open. My purse was on the floor, and i looked inside to find my pay envelope, which I had gotten the day before, and had cashed, was empty. They had even taken my subway/bus tokens.

Ethel called the police, and we got dressed. I looked out in the hallway, and saw the beauty salon guys down the stairs, outside their door. I called down to them, and they told me that they had been robbed. Later, when I went down to see them, they showed me their ransacked place of business. I went up the stairs to the apartment above, and knocked on their door, but there was no answer, and their door was locked and intact. Then I realized that Ethel and I were the only two people in the building when the robbers came to visit. They had managed to break into our locked door, as well as the locked doors of the salon, the building door, and, it turns out, the furniture store on the ground floor.

Later the police came, two burly guys who swaggered around our apartment, made themselves comfortable on our living room chairs, and, if I recall correctly, asked for something to drink. Alcoholic beverage. They left us no comfort, only saying that a detective would be around at some point.

It was getting time to go to work, so I got dressed, and walked to Bloomingdale's. I remember I was wearing a woolen suit that looked like denim, with a straight skirt, and a collarless jacket. My job had recently changed at Bloomingdale's, and I had been promoted to the junior executive training program. I was now working out of the fashion office, and one of my roles was to scour the department store looking for merchandise I could put in the windows, after consulting with the fashion coordinator, who would tell me what to look for.

When I arrived at work, and went up to the office, tucked away behind the third floor salesfoor, I saw the fashion coordinator and told her what had just happened in my life. She talked to her boss, and they both agreed that I should go home, because I was obviously traumatized by the experience. So I left the store. I was in shock, I think, and was not up to going home just yet. I walked around for a while and headed over to Central Park. Not knowing what to do, I just sat down on a park bench. I was in a daze.

Two men approached and sat down on the bench. They began talking to me, and I told them what had happened. Then without any of my grey matter working at all, I went off with them. To this day, I don't really know what had transpired. They were kind to me, and I went off with them. I was in a post-traumatic state, and had no sense of danger with them. They took me to an apartment on West 57th Street, in a luxury doorman building. They might have been arabs, or lebanese, I had no idea. They were dark and swarthy, and I don't remember accents. Maybe israeli. They seemed foreign.

I was taken to a dark bedroom. I lay down on the bed, and fell asleep. I was alone. I had no sense of danger, but clearly I was out of my mind. I was in a strange apartment, with men I had just met, and I didn't care about anything. Was this because I had, a few hours earlier, cheated death? Or was I in a total state of shock, unable to take care of myself. Surely, when the match was held over my face I knew enough to pretend that I was sleeping. I did pray then, and said over and over, Dear God, please help me. Dear God, please help me.

But lying on the bed in the darkened room, I didn't pray.

A different man came in. Had I met him upon entering the apartment? My memory fails me now. He came and lay down next to me on the bed. He may have even taken me into his arms and we lay there together. He seemed very gentle, and I did not question him. I do not know how long I was there. He may have talked to me, I don't remember.

We did not have sex.

Later he left the room and I was alone again. Then he, or maybe it was one of the others, came in and sat down next to me and told me that they were going to let me go.

They were going to let me go. Was I a hostage? His words entered my consciousness and chilled me. Why was I there, and who were they. What had they planned to do? I got up, and walked to the door, and they (he) opened the door and I went out into the street and walked home.

A few days later the detective came to our apartment, and insinuated that we must have known who the robbers were. I began to have nightmares about people coming in. In my dreams they came through the back door from the fire escape, not the front door. I stopped talking to my roommate, who had expressed impatience with my moodiness, and finally, after a couple of months, she asked me to find another place to live.

I moved into a hotel for women on the upper East Side, and totally lost contact with Ethel.

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