During my senior year at NYU, two guys and I decided
to share our own place. We found a one-bedroom apartment across
the street from school. I could wake up and stroll into my 8:00
AM class within five minutes.
The apartment was really old with thickly painted
Van Gogh walls and a crooked hardwood floor, but it had these great
big windows that you could push open and stick your head out to
see Washington Square Park.
We had to decide who
would share the bedroom and who would get the living room. Pete
tended to stay up the latest; his motto being “Media is God.” He
argued that technology and information advances humans towards
superior Darwinism. So basically his computer, the stereo in
the living room blasting Morrissey, and the TV, lined with Pete's Star Wars figurines, always remained on.
Pete also didn't blink, which made me wonder if he was an alien
and ultimately led to my decision to share a room with Dan.
Dan had just returned
from a pensive year in the Himalayas, so he didn't talk much.
We blocked Pete's noise with our combined quiet. The silence
served to offset the awkward feeling of sleeping in the same
room. We were minimalists in terms of décor.
Fat melted candles covered makeshift tables and we hung faded Indian
tapestries to separate my mattress from Dan's corner of the bedroom.
The kitchen and living room windows faced south.
The kitchen had a large fridge, but Pete kept an additional mini
fridge below his computer desk. On his better days, he lived off
vodka and his mom's frozen cinnamon buns.
The coffee table was a slab of wood laid atop the
cage of my rabbit Janis. When Janis lived with me in the dorms,
she always seemed attracted to the heroin crowd or at least their
taste in music. And if they were out, Janis would hop down the
hall tracking the sound of wailing acoustic guitar and she'd stretch
out in front of the guitarist, bopping her head like a groupie.
We believed she was Janis Joplin reincarnated. Pete and Dan were
not musicians so Janis didn't hang with them much. She just hopped
around the apartment and ate carrots.
Our enclave offered little privacy but no one seemed
to mind, at first. Then one day, while I was singing in the shower,
Pete and Dan alternately knocked on the bathroom door to come in
and piss. The shower curtain was transparent so I asked them not
to come in and suggested they go watch TV until I was done. This
was my only time alone and I cherished it. I consciously didn't
interrupt their showers, but I also never wanted to see them naked.
They had both asked me out within the first week of moving in together
and even tried to put the other one down in hopes of impressing
me. I rejected them both, nicely I think, by telling them I was
into older men. I even started dating a guy who was ten years older.
I didn't wonder why this older guy wanted to date me. I should
have known something was weird when I first met him.
He was getting a vitamin infusion at the holistic
center where I saw my first therapist. I was impressed that he
could sit there so happy with a needle in his arm. He had such
a warm, inviting smile and that's what I told my therapist, who
confided in me that he was also her patient. Ethics out the door,
the therapist set us up and he called me for a date. After he picked
me up at my apartment and laughed at my tight living conditions,
I stayed at his place some nights and we spent a few weekends visiting
his parents in Connecticut. One weekend at his family's Stamford
estate, I walked in on him giving a woman, who turned out to be
his sister, a sensual foot massage. She was a few years older than
me and I saw him try to make a move on her. She pushed him away
when she saw me. Later that repulsive day he confirmed that he
was in love with her. Then I came to realize that he only truly
smiled when he was high on the vitamins. I studied psychology like
a world map and this older guy was the classic middle child; neglected
by his older athletic brother and ignored by his parents who were
devoted to his precious younger sister. He showered his sister
with twisted love hoping desperately to gain some parental affection
or at least some acknowledgement of his own merits. He was conflicted
because he hated his desires but gave in to them and his parents
continued to ignore him. Then he developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,
a lifestyle one step above a depressed teenager. So I told our
therapist, whom we both kept seeing, all my theories about his
need for approval turning into love for his sister to gain some
distorted attention in his family. But the therapist (whose real
name I am slightly tempted to offer) didn't give me a commission
for helping figure out his problems.
The summer before my senior year, my paternal grandfather
passed away and my grandmother moved out of their sprawling Park
Avenue apartment. She offered me the chance to live there until
it was sold. I told Pete and Dan that I had to move out and get
my own space, away from men in general.
I left behind the artistic soul of Greenwich Village
and moved into a deluxe apartment with a balcony across the street
from Bloomingdale's. When we were kids, my younger sister and I
used to sleep over and we were allowed to eat spaghetti on TV trays
while watching Channel J with the old Cable TV remote the size
of a TV. At our own house in Brooklyn, dinner was a more formal
affair so we looked forward to a slumber party in Manhattan. Since
I was a young girl, I have always been keen on bathrooms and their
symbol of solitude so I will never forget the hand-painted Japanese
garden scenes in the porcelain sinks of both marble bathrooms.
The kitchen was huge with two doorways but that whole year I lived
there, I just used it once to make vegetable soup for my depraved
(when not injected with vitamins) older boyfriend before I finally
left him and my so-called-therapist.
During that year, a corporate building was put up
right next-door, so my bedroom window now faced a structure full
of fluorescent-lit conference rooms. Due to the businessmen peering,
a heavy flow of realtor visits, and occasional dreams of my grandfather's
ghost, this was not the sanctuary I was seeking. To feel more at
home, I put up a few postcards of my favorite artists, lit some
candles and played Bob Marley songs while focusing on an early
graduation. When that came and went, so did the apartment.
Within weeks, I got a job, assisting in a clinical
study at an insane asylum by interviewing patients on self-awareness
and, with the help of my grandmother's profits from the sale of
her apartment, my own home.
I quickly got used to living alone in this charming
Pre-War with a coral red bathroom. I was so happy with the checkered
tile floors and the huge bathtub, that I didn't even mind the lack
The neighborhood did shock me a bit; with its countless
plastic surgeon offices, the distinct odor of Chanel on young girls
in heels with matching personalities, and couples wearing loafers
pushing fully stocked baby carriages. A downtown girl, replanted
in the Upper East Side, I stood out because I typically wore androgynous
menswear to prevent sexual advances from my criminally insane patients.
I didn't consider changing jobs until the day I got stuck in an
elevator with fifteen schizophrenic patients. We were on our way
down to the garden when the doors got stuck closed and the elevator
was stopping at every floor. Everyone was yelling. The huge woman
behind me, with violent tendencies, told someone they owed her
five bucks immediately. They all shouted their conspiracy theories
that the FBI or God or some evil underlord had caused the elevator
to fly. The fidgeting bodies were so unlike the introversion on
stalled subways. I imagined the sunny outdoors and tried to calm
everyone with a soothing visualization of the garden. But then
I remembered that their outdoors didn't include trees or grass.
A chain-link fence surrounded their cement garden. Then the nurse
blurted out what a bad omen it was to be stuck in the elevator,
undoing my calm vibe. When the doors finally opened, I simply stepped
out on the random floor we were on, said I would meet them there
and I took the stairs all the way down. After that day's schizophrenic
interviews were transcribed, I started looking for a new job in
a less insane environment. I temped for a few weeks in healthcare
administration before landing a permanent job assisting a brain
surgeon at Beth Israel hospital near Gracie Mansion. The hospital
was a short walk along the East River, past the park where fancy
little dogs scoff at squirrels. ***
One Sunday afternoon in August, I decided to explore
Central Park. I put on a black sports bra under a white T-shirt,
wore my running shorts and black sneakers, and pulled my long hair
into a ponytail. I headed for the reservoir, where I had run years
before with my high school track team. After a few laps, I headed
toward a sunny spot of grass to stretch. I wiped my face with my
T-shirt and bent down to tie a lace, when I heard a man telling
a story of this certain celebrity with his wife Rita, who acted
self-congratulatory on some TV award show. This was nothing new,
but I liked his voice and I kept listening while I did my stretches.
As I lowered my forehead to my knee, the man's voice penetrated
my sweaty body. I pulled my ponytail tight, smoothed out my T-shirt
and inched closer for a peek, at the man, behind the voice.
I saw two guys wearing shorts sitting on the grass. The one with
the voice had curly blonde hair and I love blondes, especially
when they have deep voices. The blonde was describing the celebrity's
phony wife's compassion for a revered handicapped person.
Normally I wouldn't talk to park people, as there are stalker
types abound, but the adrenaline from running in the warm air and
his pheromones compelled me to join their conversation- if only
for the sensation of the moment.
I walked into their shade and said, “Excuse
me, but I heard what you said and.”
“I hope I didn't offend you” Blondie
I told him I overheard his wit and they asked me politely to sit,
they being the blonde and his friend who seemed a bit stiff.
When the subject of occupation arose, as it invariably does in
this economy-paced city, the stiff briefly mentioned content in
medical journals, so he really was a Stiffie. The blonde claimed
to work in TV production. I told him that I like the concept of
TV but I only take Comedy Central and cartoons seriously.
When asked what I did for my living, I told them I worked for
a neurosurgeon by day, and was a Columbia writing student and poet
by night. After I described some brain surgery miracles I'd witnessed,
Blondie blurted that he couldn't believe that I was a poet.
“What kind of poems do you write? Who gets poems published?” he
“Surreal poetry. And I get published, but I really prefer to perform.” I
He nodded his head but asked me
a question. “Who goes to surreal
poetry readings? French men?”
“No turtleneck Frenchmen needed.
The last reading I attended featured five Chinese-Italian women
who didn't speak English but waved at flags, remorseful as the
He smiled. It felt good to be sitting in the sun talking to people
in my neighborhood.
We chatted about the usual presumptuous topics such as the world's
overpopulation and natural theories to avert it, religion and its
unknown ill effects, and then we agreed to what a nice, sunny day
Finally, Stiffie rose and blocked
the sun. “I have to go now and
walk a dog,”
Blondie explained quickly that
he had to go too. Stiffie said, “No
you don't.” Then Blondie said, “Yes, I am coming to meet your parents
Then Stiffie said, “My parents just got into town with their dog” or
some such mumbled excuse.
I felt a bit self-conscious, as
if my interrupting their park sojourn had driven them away. Blondie
looked at me and extended his hand. We shook before he stood
to go. He said, “By the way,
my name is Dave. What's your name?”
I held his hand and said, “I am Fiona.” He repeated my name ‘Fiona'
and turned away. I sat on the grass a few more minutes absorbing
the fact that I mingled in Central Park. Suddenly I really wanted
a shower. My thighs felt tight as I walked east. A foreign embassy
later, and Blondie was walking towards me, without a dog. He said, “Hey” and
smiled. I said “Hey” and we kept walking. I turned and looked back
and saw him looking back at me, then he disappeared into the park.
A week later, I was checking my mail and saw a letter
from Dave Goldberg, Blondie from the park. He didn't write like
a stalker when he explained his tracking method. His letter told
me how he searched through the student locator in the Columbia
University website and looked for all the girls named Fiona. After
he found a few Fionas in the Writing Dept, he saw only
two listed as part-time students. He cross-referenced both with
the phone book and checked the addresses. He saw that I lived near
Central Park and hoping I was the right girl, he offered his phone
I called and left a message.
“Hi Dave, it's Fiona, from the park. I guess you're
a Jew… but that's cool. Cuz so am I. Well, happy Jewish holidays
coming up. Call me back. Bye.”
He called me back and told me what happened after
they both left the park. His friend Rob, the Stiffie, berated him
for not getting my phone number and forced him to walk back. Blondie
began walking then sat on a stoop to rethink his motives. He pulled
out his cell phone and called Rob for support.
“Hi, it's me. I was
just thinking, maybe I am not interested.”
Rob said, “Dave, you
always say your love life sucks and now you just let this cute
girl walk away?”
“You think she's cute?
Was she too cute?”
“Go find her and talk
to her for a few minutes!”
Well, she did have
nice, clean nails.”
After Rob hung up on him, Dave started
practicing opening lines in case he saw me, including ‘A funny thing
happened on my way to a surreal poetry reading.”