DIARY OF A MARKED WOMAN
(Written at the end of January 1997)
This episode started last August. I had not gone to a bar in a long time as a matter of policy. But sometimes when it was particularly hot, I stopped at Tap a Keg for a quick draft Guinness before crossing from B'way to Manhattan Ave. where I live at 103rd Street.
One Saturday in early or mid-August, I bought several bottles of wine at a store on B'way and 105th. I asked the merchant to put them in a carton and told him I would return later with a caddy.
After picking up the wine I realized that I needed bread so I had to cross B'way to go to Positively 104. When I passed Tap A Keg, a man came out and spoke to me. He was a light skinned black man around sixty with mostly white hair. He told me that he loved the way I looked with my straw hat and that he invited me to a party. He had just broken up with his girlfriend and was depressed about going to the party by himself, so would I please do him the favor to go to the party with him. It was just around the corner.
When he saw I hesitated he pulled out his wallet and showed me a piece of ID that said his name was Lorenzo Alexander, and that he was and employee of Life magazine. He assured me that he was bona fide and he thought I was so classy that he just had to take a chance and ask me. I was scrutinizing him to find some bullshit but I was interested in going to the rooftop barbecue party. He asked whether I was from the Netherlands. I said I was from France, Paris.
Finally I said I would go but I had to go home first to drop off my wine cargo. He looked disappointed but I promised that I would go and I asked him where the party was. He turned around and talked to a Hispanic woman who was at the other end of the storefront and asked her what the exact address was. I gave him the back of an ATM slip and he wrote the address.
Back home, I wondered whether this invitation was a setup. Was someone going to steal my backpack? Was I going to walk into a trap? I was tired after walking for a few hours in the August heat. I needed a shower, a shampoo but finally I decided that all I needed was to rest for a while and keep my hat on. After all, this was not a dressy event and I would probably be overdressed with my smart short sleeved cotton navy pantsuit. I took a cab at Columbus and 105th and it was straight all the way across B'way so I got there cool as a cuke. I was reassured to see other people getting in at the address and ring the same apt as Alex gave me. In the street, two guys in a car made some comments about how classy I looked. I found Alex on the terrace looking anxious and I was proud that I had kept my word. You see, when I say I'll come, I'll come.
It was a small appartment and a small terrace and there were about 25 people. I sat down on a chair on the terrace and Alex moved next to me. He was quite obsequious and obnoxious. He started immediately to act as if he was madly in love with me. He put his hand around my waist and I felt it was inappropriate for people who had met just hours ago but, being his guest, I didn't want to call him on it.
He was not very funny. Whenever there was a silence, he would put his index finger to his mouth and say "Shhhhh... the baby's sleeping." It was funny the first time but no longer the second. He was attentive to my needs as if I wasn't able to get anything for myself. He was talking about his golf like he was a pioneer black man in a white sport, then asked if anybody could name a black man who played golf. I said "Yes, O.J. Simpson." He immediately started to rant about this murderer, that it was a scandal that he had been acquitted because it was obvious that it wa he who had murdered his white wife (and Goldman). This lasted for a few minutes and since nobody was saying anything, he asked who broached the subject. I told him that he had asked who could name a black man who played golf.
I understood that the party was in honor of a couple who was leaving New York to Colorado Springs and I spoke a little with the couple. They said they were leaving an illegal sublet a little higher on B'way for which they paid a really low rent considering the surface, that the holder of the lease came about once a month and was really no trouble and that the only drawback was the lack of heating in the winter.
The Hispanic woman (Rosy) who had been with Alex when he called me on B'way was occupied with the three different grills, painting the ribs with barbecue sauce, roasting ears of corn in their husks, which kept her busy the whole time.
Alex was sitting next to me and a grill was almost touching his legs. He said "I have a lot of meat between my legs." This was the only funny thing he said and it made me wonder whether he had a small dick and was trying to compensate for his complex in the eyes of his friends with a beautiful woman.
At some time I went inside and sat down on the bed. Alex followed me and inquired with this exasperating sollicitude if I wouldn't rather sit somewhere else. I told him sternly that I was fine. The room was too noisy for my taste so I returned to the terrace and sat back on my chair. Alex followed me. I was thinking about my niece Eleonore getting married that day, August the 24th, and I was sad to think that I wasn't there, that I couldn't be there, that nothing was as it should be. My family could exclude me, could torture me, imprison me, isolate me from the rest of the world, prevent me from working, from having friends, from having a husband, they could try to murder me but the wedding took place as if nothing was out of place and everybody was happy. Alex said that I looked sad and asked me if I was allright.
I had never eaten anything barbecued and I really enjoyed the food. Alex said that he was throwing an end-of-summer party on the terrace of his building on August 31st and invited me and a few others present.
At about 10.30 I wanted to leave and Alex got up and left with me after we said thank you and good bye to the hostess. I was wondering what the hostess thought about me since we had hardly talked but I thought that if I showed my sincere appreciation it would be just fine.
Back in the street we had a snippet of philosophical exchange about how hard life is and nobody ever said it was easy before reaching B'way. I was about to go home but Alex insisted that I have a last drink with him. Up to that point I thought him rather obnoxious but he insisted and I accepted, thinking it was easier to accept than to argue with him since he had had one too many.
He introduced me to one of the pool players who he said was a good friend, an Asian man with a body and face thin as a blade. "This is Brigitte. She's French." If this is one of his dear friends, I wondered, what do his buddies look like? I had a frozen margarita and although I had been drinking beer cautiously at the party, I knew this should be my last drink. Alex was a bit unsteady and slow of reflex and I knew I had to be patient with him.
I asked him what was his occupation. He said that he had worked in the merchant marine for many years and gone all over the world. He said he had gone into the Mediterranean to Turkey and he tried to name the capital of Turkey. The only name that came to my mind was Constantinople but I knew the name had been replace after the war. It was on the tip of my tongue and in frustration I asked the barmaid and she said "Ankara" as easily as if it was the name of a cocktail. I was impressed and gave her a one dollar tip. I was so relieved. Alex went to France, to the Mediterranean ports of Marseille and Toulon. He loved France. After that Alex had worked in the photo lab at Life magazine until the end of his career.
He ranted again about his girlfriend and said that this was it, he was not going to take anymore of her and he was going to break up in the next few days. Since his friend was playing pool, I asked if he played pool too. He said yes, but his girlfriend did not, she played fucking darts, as if playing darts was a despicable amusement.
Alex said he loved me and asked me to marry him. I was embarrassed and sunk my head. Here I was, dying to be loved and to marry, and this drunk asshole was asking me to marry him.
I left and he left with me. I kissed him on the cheek and he moved to the edge of the sidewalk and looked at me forlornly as I crossed B'way. He was still loking at me when I was on the other side and just to escape him I took 104th street instead of walking one block south on B'way to 103rd.
The day after I was very angry at him for touching me with such familiarity as if we were intimate. And I hadn't said anything because I didn't want anybody to know that we had met just a few hours before. Someone asked where we had met and I said "In front of a bar." In fact, I pretended to be an old friend of his. If I had objected to his behavior, I would have had to leave, but I didn't want to leave, I was lonely all the time for the last seven years, how could I leave the party? But I forgave him and his irritating attitude. After all, he was a bit drunk and depressed about his girlfriend. I couldn't judge him too harshly.
One week later around 12.30 I was having breakfast at Hot Bagels when I saw Alex pass and enter the Tavern just across the street.
After breakfast, I went to the Tavern to say hello. He was sitting at the bar. He offered me a drink but I declined and he looked disappointed. We talked a bit, and about one hour later I accepted a drink from him. I spent two to three hours there, during which he spoke about his work at the Life photo lab, all the great photographers he had met, about his son who is following in his foot steps, then he asked if I would let him photograph me. I said yes although I did not intend to let him.
A little black man came in and went to Alex to say hello and sat at the bar between me and Alex. It was striking how easy it was to chat with him compared to Alex with whom any conversation seemed to drop like a stone in mud. No ripples. The conversation turned to drugs and I told the guy that I had taken cocaine for several years. Alex interrupted to say that that was what his girlfriend was doing. But I had become tired of the whole scene. When I went to a club with my boyfriend he left me alone to spend most of the time in the men's room, and when he offered me cocaine in a club he asked "Do you want to go to the bathroom?" which made me feel like I was a toddler and irritated me no end. I said that I was tired of bathrooms, that too much time was spent hiding in ugly, stinking, garbage strewn places like the john, the back-alleys or the louche after-hours, that as a consumer of illegal drugs I felt isolated from the rest of society and I didn't like to hide in general, I didn't like to have something to hide, something to be ashamed of and anyway I never saw myself snorting cocaine at fifty or sixty so I had to stop at some point. And when he asked when I stopped I was proud to say that it was in 1989. "And did you smoke marijuana?" Of course I did. I kept smoking pot after giving up coke, I kept smoking it even after it started to give me anxiety attacks, even after I hated it, even after I hated the dealers and felt humiliated to depend on them, so that when I stopped I was relieved. No hard feelings. "And when did you stop?" the little man asked. In February 1995. Anyway I had given myself until age forty to give it up. I passed my deadline by three years. It was time to stop. Anyway, I think people who smoke pot are immature. At some point in your life you have to stand up on your own, without crutches."Well, the little man said, a bit miffed, I like to smoke a joint after work to chill out and I don't know what's wrong with that." I didn't say anything.
Alex listened to all this. I thought "You never know who's listening." Maybe Alex was a spy. Or maybe the little man was, maybe both. Fortunately, I told the same thing at my deposition of March 31st 1995 and it's the truth. If I had said something different today, if I had not stayed off drugs, maybe Alex or the little man would testify for the defendants to destroy my credibility at trial. The little man left.
I found Alex a bit strange. He said I looked so classy with my hat. He really loved my hat. Maybe he was a hat fetishist and cared more about the hat than the woman underneath. He said it again after the little man left. And he repeated verbatim something he had said several times at the party: "A French woman enhances the conversation she joins. An American woman is argumentative and gets on people's nerves. A French woman elevates the dialogue. A French woman brings wit and class to the group. An American woman just detracts from it." "Well, I said, I know some French women who are real bitches so you should give me some credit here." He did not reply. When he ordered a second beer for me I said that he didn't have to, that he should let my buy my owm but he insisted so after that I let him. I was curious to know what it was exactly that he found attractive about me. It couldn't be just the hat and my being French. Yet he kept bying me beers but he didn't aske me any questions about myself. He kept complaining about his girlfriend. He had taken her in after her husband died. They had been living together for a few years. She was a cocaine addict but himself he didn't do drugs. She didn't work. She bought drugs with the food money. Their relationship had deteriorated but she didn't move out. It looked like she was taking advantage of him. I started to ask questions and asked him why he didn't do this or that, tell her to leave. "I can't!" he said. "She has no money and no place to go." He was doing a good job at character assassination and just when it looked like she was the worst woman on earth, he said that he couldn't find it in himself to kick her out. In other words, he was a decent guy, Mr. Nice, who was being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous woman. Poor Alex. "Well, you know, I said, I have been kicked out with no advance notice where I shared an apartment, and I was paying my rent, and it didn't kill me. When the guy told me I had to leave at the end of the week, I thought well, if that's the way you are, I don't want to know you."