I find the number on a big black door. It’s a horror movie type of door. The kind that the girl pushes open and walks through, even though everybody in the audience is saying: “Don’t go in there.”
It’s the early 80s and New York is still scary, especially these dark empty streets below Houston.
But what I figure: there’s scary and then there’s scary.
So I push the door open and walk through. I go past the dark shiny bar where there’s a cute little guy in a bow tie, and where lime-colored lights shoot up behind the bottles. Then into a darkish room. Overhead there are hundreds of tiny hanging lights. They are supposed to look, I guess, like stars in a black night sky.
Pretty empty. No Ginger or Christopher yet.
Well, I certainly don’t mind drinking alone under the stars. I sit down at one of the little tables and order a Jameson.
It’s all very cool. In fact, this place is so cool it doesn’t even have a name. Walking by on Greene Street, you’d never guess there was a bar in here if you didn’t already know.
This is the kind of in-crowd stuff Ginger loves. She gets it all out of New York magazine.
But I guess she isn’t the only one reading because the little tables are starting to fill up. And they are so close together you’ve got to hear everybody’s conversation. So, on my right are two girls drinking vodka and orange juice. One of the girls has a big secret that she can’t tell her friend. On my left are two girls drinking Manhattans. One of these girls has something she just has to tell.
I like New York and I’m not sorry I came. But I’ve noticed: it’s nearly impossible to drink in peace.
The girl on my right who has something she can’t divulge, does, at least, tell how she’d gone on a business trip and met somebody famous. Really famous. And now they are lovers. She can’t say who he is because he is too famous and important and if it came out it would be a scandal. An international scandal even.
“Is he married?” her friend asks.
“Would I know who he is if you told me his name?”
“Oh yes. God yes.”
“He’s in the news?”
“Yes. All the time.”
“Where did you meet him?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“That’s not going to tell me who it is.”
“Is he in politics?”
“Yes. Oh my god, I don’t know if I can handle this. He’s big, very big. He wants to set me up in an apartment for when he’s in New York. He doesn’t like hotels—people recognize him–and of course he couldn’t come to my place with two roommates. Do you think I should? Let him get an apartment for me?”
“He’s really big?”
“Is he old?
“Yes. Kind of. But not too old.”
“Like a senator or something?”
“Oh my god.”
“Not. . .like. . not Reagan?”
“The president? No.”
“Well. . .”
Now the girl with the lover starts to cry into one of the midnight blue, star-sprinkled cocktail napkins.
OK, I admit I’m listening to find out who the famous guy is. I figure it’s going to come out any minute.
But I am distracted by the girl on the left who is crying into her napkin.
This is another thing I’ve noticed. You see a lot of people cry here. At home, if people want to cry, they do it in bed at night with the pillow in their mouth. Or they go in the bathroom and turned on the water. Or like me: drive drunk on the interstate with Roy Orbison in the tape deck. Alone is the point. But here, people just walk in to any public place, sit down, pick up a napkin and start to bawl.
So the problem with this girl is that her ex-husband and his new wife are having twins.
“Well,” her friend says. “They’ll probably regret it. It’s probably going to be so much work that they’ll. . .”
“No! I wanted twins. I wanted twins. And he knew that.”
“Well. I mean, it’s just an accident; you can’t decide to have twins to get back at someone.”
But the girl says it’s like he did, it’s like that’s exactly what he did, and she puts her head down on the table and sobs.
It’s right at this point that Ginger and the guy who must be Christopher walk in.
“A bottle of champagne,” Christopher tells the waitress. “The best.”
And they sit down with me.
Why we’re here, we’re celebrating the fact that Christopher is leaving his wife for Ginger. It’s something
Ginger’s been working on for six months and it was touch and go there for a while.
Ginger is my roommate and a sweet girl in certain ways. Knowing her, I am not surprised to see that
Christopher is magazine ad type of guy, blonde in a black turtleneck. So I raise my eyebrows like, wow, way to go Ginger.
They sit clinging to each other with both hands. Christopher breaks free to pour the sweet champagne; then they go back to the clinch. When he drinks he lifts his hands and hers as if they are handcuffed together.
It’s suicide, of course, to drink champagne on top of whiskey and I don’t even like the stuff. But I’m here to toast them so I toast away.
We drink the champagne and they talk about what destiny their love it.
Their destiny, I happen to know, kicked in a few weeks ago when Ginger persuaded him to sneak away to Mexico with her. Christopher made up a story for his wife, I forget just what.
Four nights, three days in Isla Mujeres to seal the deal. But Christopher didn’t like Isla Mujeras—too many tourists—so they went to the mainland, rented a car and drove around looking at Mayan ruins. But the ruins were broiling hot and had even more tourists. They got tired tramping around and Christopher was getting crabby.
Ginger saw six months of very serious effort disappearing down the drain.
Then a Mexican kid offered to guide them to a place that tourists didn’t know about, a cenote, it was called, an underground cavern with a pool at the bottom. The Mexicans went to swim there on Sundays, the kid said.
Christopher was skeptical, but Ginger begged to go. It sounded so cool and magical and besides she was desperate.
The kid turned out to be confused about where the cenote was exactly, and they spent half the afternoon trying to find it, driving through the motionless little hamlets, where children with eyes still and black as birds’ watched them pass. It seemed they would drive around lost forever and when forever finally came to an end, Christopher would be glad to get back to his wife, a perfectly fine person who didn’t try dragging him around in the heat.
Finally, though, in late afternoon they found the place. They parked the car and, on the advice of the kid, chose one of the clammering little boys as its official guard. Then they walked down the path cut into the dirt wall of the cavern. They went past the little girls selling crudely embroidered handkerchiefs and grayish patties that floated in basins of cloudy water. Past the woman in their embroidered white dresses who sat with their feet planted firmly and their backs against the coolness of the cavern wall, emotionless at the sudden appearance of Christopher and Ginger.
It was all bleak and weird. Ginger felt despair.
Still they followed the kid, walking carefully on the boards that made a rough pathway, winding down and down into the cool darkness to the flat cave floor. And then they found it: a deep pool of crystal clear water, the center spotlit by a ray of sunlight that shot down through a round hole, three feet across, in the roof of the cave.
It was magic. It was—to use a word people liked a lot in the 80s–special. It showed just how unique their runaway love was. How it wasn’t just your ordinary crappy affair. As Ginger had been trying to get Christopher to see all along.
Alone except for the kid, who sat and smoked, and except for a couple of little boys in wet underwear who were looking under rocks in a far corner, they took off their clothes and slipped into the water.
And there, naked and spot-lit in the cool clear water, they swam and kissed.
“We’re in a movie,” Christopher had said. “We’re lovers in a movie.”
And then: “I’ll do it. I have to.”
“Yes,” Ginger had said. “Yes. Yes. Yes.”
Or words to that effect. Ginger will sometimes give a couple of versions so I’m never quite sure.
Now, remembering, they kissed again.
Remembering everything, they pour more champagne.
I keep drinking; don’t ask me why because I’m at that holding-onto-the table stage already. Overhead the fake stars are starting to bob.
And now, what’d they do—turn up the music? Frank Sinatra, way too loud, all slick and preachy, telling you what to do on every damn issue. Love. Luck. You name it.
Even on a good day I hate goddamn know-it-all Frank Sinatra. I’m practically alone in this, I realize.
“These goddamn phony stars,” I notice myself saying. “Kind of pathetic if you ask me. You’ve got to come into some little black room and sit under some fake stars. I mean, I know they’ve got all this stuff here in New York, a lot of stuff. I know that. All the buildings and the lights, a billion lights. I’ve seen them. I’ve been out on the Brooklyn Bridge and I’ve looked back at the City. I’ve seen it, all these, these. . . .”
I try to think but I’ve lost the thread.
I can tell by the way they are both watching me that I need to finish my thought. Whatever it is.
“Yeah,” I say. “Sure. My husband left. Went off with the dental technician. She looked into his mouth and saw his soul.”
I thought that would be good for a laugh. I laugh, but nobody else does. Well, I am only trying to lighten things up.
“Never mind,” I say. “I just made that up.”
I drink more champagne to stop talking. It’s one of those choose-your-poison type of moments.
“You made up what?” Christopher says. “That he left?”
“Oh no. He left alright. It was at night. I know it was at night, because after he told me he was going, I went outside. And I looked up. And there were the stars. A million stars. This is out West. But I’ll tell you something; you live here in the city you don’t see a real star. I know it’s winter now and I guess it’s cloudy, but, frankly, I have my doubts as to whether you are going to see a real star here, even in the summer. What with all the lights, and, and just the glare. Yeah. But that night. The one thing I noticed, was that the stars were still there. You know, you think, for a minute, maybe they won’t be.”
“What did you make up then?” Christopher asks.
“Honestly. I don’t remember.”
About then I manage to get up and go staggering off toward the shooting lime-colored lights. The cute little guy in a bowtie catches me and turns me toward the bathroom. I go in there and barf up all the expensive champagne.
When I get back out Ginger and Christopher are gone.
The girl with the famous lover is gone too.
But the girl whose husband is having twins is alone at her table so I sit down beside her.
We both decide why not have a drink.