|Up: The Neighborhood||[Related] «^» «T»|
Tuesday, June 10, 2003
By Paul Ford
A friend insisted I come out despite my absolute non-desire to go out on a Sunday night, and a pile of work remaining at home. I showed up in sartorial shame, jeans and a button shirt, hair sticking up, full of self-hatred. He introduced me to the woman with whom he'd been talking and slipped away to chat up someone else.
This was a confident, attractive person, small and thin with dark brown hair and an expensive blouse and anime eyes, about 27. I asked her how she met my friend. “We used to go out,” she said. “But you know.”
“Absolutely,” I said.
She smiled and nodded, and said, “I know, right? But what do you do?”
“Not much you can do.”
“No, I meant, what do you do for a living?”
I thought for a moment. “I'm a typographer at Condé Nast,” I said.
“What's that like?”
“I'm in the colon department.”
“Is it a lot of work?”
“I have to verify all the colons in five Condé Nast publications. Mostly I deal with all the colons at Vogue. But I'm getting certified on the em-dash. I do Italian colons, too.”
“You work at Vogue? That's cool.” Her gaze sharpened. “I'm in fashion.”
“I co-manage a vintage shop, on East 6th St. In Williamsburg, but we also have some originals.”
“That sounds great,” I said. I needed urgently to not talk about that, to never have that conversation. A crowd of people clustered around the entrance, sucking down cigarettes, so, grasping, I said: “it's so strange to have bars with clean air.”
“I hated it at first. But it makes it so much easier to cheat, right?” Giggling.
“I don't smell like smoke anymore. So I leave work, go out, meet someone, have a stick of gum, and go back to my place.”
“And at your place?”
“I live with my boyfriend. It was supposed to be open. Ha, right?” She touched my shoulder. “But he works all the time and gets home at 2 in the morning and gets no play and gets pissed off. But I'm like, we made the deal, right? I used to come home and, you know, after a while, I smell like smoke every night, and he gets all...”
“Exactly. But it's so good for my relationship now. We totally get along.”
“Because you can fool around but not smell like smoke.”
“Totally. He never thinks about it.”
“That's very positive.”
She took a sip of her drink. “Hey—are you on Friendster?”
“No. What's that?”
She explained, and I answered that I didn't really use the Internet except for keeping up with the colon community.
“You should get on it,” she said. “I'll give you my URL too, so you can check out the shop if you want.”
“I'd like that,” I said. She handed me a pink card with scalloped edges. “We have a mailing list, maybe if you give me your Vogue email,” she said.
“Oh, I have the hotmail thing, but I don't really check it,” I said. I looked down at the card. “But I'll tell people about your shop.”
“That would be fantastic! We'd love to meet some people, you know.” Having accomplished an objective, and seeing nothing else worth telling me, she looked around wildly, trying to find a clock, but there was none in the bar. “I should probably, uh...” she said.
“Definitely,” I said, and we exchanged brief farewells and nodded so we would not have to touch one another.
Seeing me seated alone, my friend came over. “Hey,” he said. “It's good to see you. She's cool, right? We used to go out.” He put a hand on my back and leaned in conspiratorially. “Do you mind if I cut out of here early?” He motioned his head back to the woman he'd been chatting up, by the door. She was looking at us impatiently. “Conner just got back from Tibet, I haven't seen her in almost a year.”
“Sure,” I said, mentally removing him from my list of friends. He took me over to meet Conner, a slightly thinner version of the first woman I'd met, just as I am a thicker, duller-looking, less engaged version of my (now former) friend. She'd been to both Tibet and Yale, I learned within 18 seconds.
Everyone in the bar looked a little bit like someone else. Maybe we were all imitations of masculine and feminine forms, variations on a theme, or perhaps there was not theme, just a network of comparisons. I thought about this, walking out past the pile of humans, and then suddenly I wanted to punch something, or someone, but instead, as I waited for the train I flicked the pink business card onto the tracks, where it was swallowed by a green-brown puddle.