This is what I do.
I set my alarm for 5:35 a.m., and that’s when I wake. I go to a gym on Seventh Ave, where beautiful gay men and single women without make-up work out. I always look like hell—steamy glasses, cellulite on thighs, hair wild but not sexy.
Every morning, it’s the same. “Hi,” I shyly mutter to the guy at the front desk.
“How are you?” he asks. I don’t know his name, but I think he’s straight.
“Fine, thanks. And you?”
He takes the ferry in from Staten Island at four in the morning. He told this to me once while he checked my account for late fees. “Great.” Last month, when I stopped at reception to see if my sunglasses had been found in the lockers, he mentioned he was an actor.
It bothers me that this is all we have. That he’s just another potentially gay man and I’m just another unglamorous woman who works out before my job.
This is what I do.
I work out. I dread wasting time, so I read a book or watch CNN while on the Stairmaster. I read the entirety of The Satanic Verses on exercise equipment over the course of several days; this is a mild source of pride for me.
Afterwards, I go home and eat measured portions of breakfast food. If one serving equals three-fourths cup of dried cereal, by God, I’m eating three-fourths cup of dried cereal. At the start of the day I have no problems with food; food is my friend. While eating bran flakes, I envision myself showing other women how it’s done on Richard Simmons.
Then, I go to my temp job. If I walk, I listen to a tape. Maybe Godspell, maybe Van Morrison. This will leave me feeling lonesome and tragic. I’ll resort to daydreams—standard, weary daydreams. Once, they were good. Back in the eighties.
In September, at Bendix, Madeline looked at me over wheat germ and declared, “Even my fantasies bore me.”
Usually, I imagine being the wife or gorgeous girlfriend of a monogamous guitar player, a really excellent one—as good as Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, or The Edge. We’re always on the road. I like to think of us in airports, wearing dark glasses and carrying duffel bags. We’re typically off to London, Paris, or Rome. We usually have to avoid millions of cameras because everyone is dying to see us, and the lights are blinding. We hold hands tightly, moving quickly, not saying much. The paparazzi go wild. In my ear, Day By Day.
At my temporary office, I flip on the lights, the computer, the printer. I follow the temp rules, trying to find time to write. Sometimes, I have flashes of self-importance. Sometimes, Jeff Simon calls.
Jeff’s a financial analyst who looks like a soap star. He’s cute. In fact, he’s really cute, categorically dashing. The guy has dark brown hair, classic good looks like Ralph Lauren Polo ads, and a snuggly but manly wardrobe of taupe pants and black turtlenecks. A regular Pierce Brosnan. A great jaw. During the week, he’s at the World Trade Center. On weekends, maybe the Hamptons. In tweed sportcoats, he attends Sunday brunches. Muffins and mimosas.
He likes the fact that his girlfriend lives in squalor. When I tell this to Madeline, she says, “You do not live in squalor, Sybil. Dream on.”
It’s nice to be a financial analyst, and it’s nice to say that your girlfriend is a writer in the Village, but the squalor part is best. Waking up in the middle of the night in a single bed, the girl pressed against the wall like a sexy Eliza Doolittle/cockney-street-urchin-cum-Audrey Hepburn, the train rumbling beneath the floor—he wonders, “How did I get so lucky?” He leaves before daybreak; we rarely wake together.
In my Village abode, Jeff gloats over the knee-high fridge, the cans of tuna on the shelf. He likes the toilet paper rolls behind my bed. He’s fond of the desk made from an old door retrieved from the garbage.
What an interesting bohemian/writer girl! Doors for desks, tuna for dinner!
He isn’t a bad guy, this Jeff Simon. He isn’t that removed from the middle class. He enjoys dipping into the lives of the less fortunate. Who better be artists.
How I feel about him: he’ll eat McDonald’s on road trips. He keeps talking about going to the Grand Ole Opry in the summer. Despite his lunches at the Yale Club, he’ll touch my face, saying he wants to see me, asking no questions.
This is what I do.
I get wind of free food at work. Actually, let me be frank: I keep a lookout for it—my ears are open; they’re burning. I’m not looking to gossip by the water cooler. I don’t care about the nitty-gritty details of the lives of these people—I’m a temp. Here today, gone tomorrow. I just want to know who has the chicken wings, who brought in the cinnamon buns with the sugar glaze frosting shit.
My good intentions, the measured cereal, the Stairmaster antics: gone! It happens around ten-thirty in the morning. When I’m done checking my e-mail. Right before I try to figure out how to do a spreadsheet on Excel. A spreadsheet? Excel? Um, I don’t think so! I’m a writer, a temp, the potential love-interest of an excellent, monogamous guitar player!
Free shortcake in the house!
A baker’s dozen is really thirteen? Thirteen sesame seed bagels with real cream cheese, please!
This may be a way to save money: eat everything in sight in order to avoid grocery shopping later. I search out office leftovers, the remains of business lunches, someone’s box of chocolate doughnuts. I climb stairs, wander back halls, look carefree, lie about what I last ate. When I run into the Events Coordinator or the Human Resources Woman, I say I haven’t eaten in days. I pretend I’m starved.
Then, I find what I’m looking for. Forget the measured three-fourths cup of dried cereal. Forget the gym and the actor, gay or straight. I eat like there’s no tomorrow. I love mini-muffins and cold quiche, roast beef or turkey sandwich halves, trays of stuffed mushrooms. I’ll be there for shrimp cocktail, little pizzas, mini eggrolls. You name it.
Afterwards, I go back to my office with my head hung low.
When the day is done, I go home to my basement apartment, look at my mail, maybe watch TV. Perhaps I’ll balance my checkbook, call Madeline, or make gazpacho (I did it once!). Perhaps, I’ll ralph. If I’m good, I’ll write. Additional flashes of self-importance are likely.
Sometimes, Jeff calls. “Meet me at my office.”
Before I go, I undress and weigh myself on the scale I keep in the fireplace. My bedroom is the living room, which is also the dining room. It opens onto the street. Between Tom and me, only a kitchen exists. But Tom is in Greece, so I stand around naked till I reassemble the Sybil Presentation, the exhibition of Bohemian Writer Living in Squalor who I take to Jeff Simon’s office in lower Manhattan.
Subways, pigeons, and scary business suits at the Twin Towers. The TKTS box office, escalators, elevators. Everyone looks busy. I greet Jeff with a kiss, reminding my lips to pucker.
Jeff usually sits at his desk. I read magazines like I’m at a doctor’s office or I talk to investment bankers about their vacation plans. They’re frequently about to take off for Bermuda. Sometimes, I massage Jeff’s shoulders while he’s on the computer. He gets into it and moves around, rolling his body under my hands, and, for some reason, this irritates me more than actually having sex with him. It’s like—and I know this sounds goofy—I’m devouring free food. When I’m kneading his shoulders and he’s responding to my touch, I feel as if I’m consuming chocolate pie. Stuffing it in.
This is no time for judgment; this is what I do.
Even though I was a glutton at lunch, we go for dinner. With Jeff, it’s dining. He knows the good places, and, sometimes, a good place is where he wants to go. Usually, I say, “I’ll just get a drink.” Yet another sad misfortune of my life. Just when someone’s willing to take me to Lutèce or One If By Land, I have to bow out because I ate a dozen cheese puffs at four. I never plan ahead. I never hold out. Good things come to those who wait? Hah!
If it’s a weeknight, he may come back to my place.
If it’s a weekend, I may go to his place on Central Park West.
It’s Jeff Simon’s apartment I’m after. Jeff and I met on a blind date. He made dinner for mutual friends and me.
“Is this your place?” I first said to him, setting a plate of tinfoil-wrapped burnt cookie bars—which took me all afternoon to make—down on an immaculate counter in a drop-dead gorgeous loft apartment overlooking Central Park. A huge picture window framed the Park, and the room was sectioned off by strategically-placed pieces of furniture to indicate a kitchen, dining room and living room. A giant woodblock table stood in the middle of the kitchen, something I’ve always loved. Copper pots and pans hung over the sink and counters; the couch matched Jeff’s pants; maroon pillows rested on a taupe sofa. (“It’s fawn, mushroom,” he said, describing the color.) Lit candles—golden, mustard yellow—were on a table. The only bedroom was a loft upstairs. The entire place was dimly lit, except for candle– and city light.
I felt like Lily Bart in The House Of Mirth, not like myself one lousy bit.
“Yeah, I bought it last year.” He served us chicken and squash.
“I brought chocolate rocks for dessert,” I announced over chardonnay.
“I’ll make coffee,” he said. “Since those are my favorite.”
He ate three hockey pucks, and I decided to stay with him for that. A man who took what I had to offer, no matter how little it was! Sweet Jeff Simon!
We’ve been dating for six months. We’re accessories in picturesque lives, trappings in visions of bohemia and the Stock Exchange. We say nice things to each other. When we have sex, we are more than decent to one another. He’s a kind man. Jeff Simon and I are kind lovers.
This is not the world I imagined, the world I set out for, the world I even admire. My friends used to talk about a love that makes one stagger. No one told me about disappointment. No one mentioned necessity.
And Jeff Simon, in his approach to my naked body, is kind when it comes to disappointment and necessity. Jeff doesn’t wretch or perpetually mourn or spout off biting, erudite witticisms. Rather, he kindly solves for X, never telling me I’m an equation with a number missing. He is a kind lover, and, for this, I like him.
If I’m alone, if Jeff has never been over, I read before bed. One of the reasons I hate work so much is that it cuts into my reading time. I’ve got Tolstoy on my shelves, Shakespeare too.
I pray when the lights go out. Like my fantasies, these prayers are standard and weary. I know what I’m praying for, and I know for whom I pray. To whom I pray, I do not know. I pray and I pray and I pray.
This is what I do.