This was the year I turned 23 or 24 or possibly even 25? I'd have to go back and look at W2 forms to be sure. It was the year I forced a huge, random change in my life- a big move from the South to the North with the intention of chasing something different. Anything, anything at all, please.
On this birthday I was taking a Greyhound bus from Boston back to Greensboro, N.C. This was to be a temporary return from a brief "scouting" trip. I was going home with the intent of packing up my life and moving to MA.
I've taken Greyhound from N.C. to Massachusetts three times and taken return trips twice. The bus stops in Manhattan where one needs to transfer. There's a bus leaving about every hour from NYC to Boston or NYC going South. Every trip to and from I've felt compelled to skip my immediate transfer and wander aimlessly around NY for a while ("a while" spanning anywhere from two to 24 hours).
I've got a story for each time I've gotten off the bus, at least in my head. Some are less than interesting. One goes, "it was early in the morning and really cold. Men in business suits were bustling around. I wanted to sit in a diner and drink a mug of coffee, but the crowds freaked me out so much I bolted into a fancy restaurant. They served coffee in fragile, thin handled tea cups. The wait staff were beautiful dark haired boys dressed in chest to calf length aprons. They spoke Italian to old men in long, expensive looking coats. The coffee was over priced and not very good. Because the cup was thin it got cold too fast. I drank my bad coffee looked at the NY people and then got back on the bus".
Where I get off I guess its Port Authority. Because the idea is to just float and experience for a while I don't often take note of where I am or where I'm going. I get off a bus and look for a subway station. I look at the maps and try to find something that sounds familiar or exotic or both. This time, the birthday time, was early evening the first of November and it was cold and possibly rainy. Or perhaps it was unseasonably warm and rainy. Or it could be it was cold and snowy, but I felt flushed and sweaty from traveling, adventure and the beginning of change.
I was wearing rubber and plastic duck boots that had begun to split and were leaking in the slush. I was also wearing what would become my transition east-coast winter uniform: pleated corduroys that were about two inches too short, a huge bulky wool ski sweater decorated with aqua and pink geometric shapes and my grandfather's black wool overcoat with the liner that had begun to detach and droop.
And (oh my, it's just come back to me) a pair of fluffy rabbit fur ear muffs.
At that time I rarely wore make up and my hair was styled in a perpetual "growing out stage" short haircut, sometimes wild and standing up, sometimes flat against my head.
I mention this because what amazes me when remembering this time was IF I felt good and connected and alive to what was around me, I automatically translated this into feeling attractive no matter the state of my grooming. If I felt capable of being charmed and seduced by events and people around me, I also felt totally capable of charming and seducing. Funny, that.
Soooo, anyhow on this birthday evening I recall seeing "Soho" on a map and randomly heading in what I thought was that direction. I got off at a random stop. I had $5 in my pocket, two extra subway tokens and my NY to Greensboro bus ticket.
The plan was I would walk until I saw an interesting bar, treat myself to a birthday beer and then find my way back to the bus station.
I walked a lot, not too rushed about finding a place because then I would have to drink my cheap draft and head back. I wanted to savor this, the few hours in between the up coming in-between stages of a move. In my dreamy, time/space stealing (anything's possible!) state, I managed to wander out of the well lit retail, bar and restaurant areas and into some dark, shut-down, empty areas. At first this was no problem. I figured any moment I would turn a corner and the lights and people would start up again.
Several blocks and increasingly unsettled (not quite panicky- no, I was too dumb and fearless for that) turns later, I burst back into civilization. It was a bit fringy, sparsely populated, but neon-lit. I was feeling the cold and remembering the long bus ride in front of me. I quickly crossed a street and entered the first bar I found ready to thaw my toes, drink that beer and get directions back to the station.
From the outside the place had looked completely non-special. Some small lit sign let me know it was a bar. Three tall, awkward concrete steps lead to a very tall, but plain white wooden door that was hard to open from the third step, but also impossible from the second step. I remember having to balance on the far edge of the top step while holding onto the handle for counter balance then using my weight to get the door open, and then a moment of letting go of the handle, shoving the door open further with my elbow and then leaping forward from the edge of the stair.
Inside, the place was huge. The ceiling appeared to reach up an extra warehouse size story. The bar stretched so long the far end appeared to disappear into shadows. There was a stage and a dance floor and lots of tables. It was red and glowing, and ready for a huge, well established artsy, hipster crowd.
It was also empty- or at least appeared that way. I couldn't see into the far corners of the place. Something about the music and the shadows made me think there were people moving around the perimeter in and around a backstage area, but that might have been my imagination.
I sat at the bar, excited and happy again, if only just to see this place. It felt like Alice in Wonderland down the rabbit hole having entered a place that from the outside promised, at best a friendly warm "old man" neighborhood hang out, only to find it secreted this funky, cavernous, art-strewn space.
A quick editorial break At this point I feel like I want to pick up the pace of this story. Mostly because I worry I may be creating a suspense that the events of the actual story do not warrant.
In this story all events lead up to the fact I celebrated my birthday (23? 24?) in N.Y.C. and nothing bad happened. In fact, all sorts of undeservedly kind, interesting things happened. For me this is the actual "twist" to the story, because in a sense I was able to experience in the best way all the good that had ever come out of my search for "moments", for magic and generosity (the type forced on one folding arms across one's chest and falling backwards into a crowd of Christian camp youth kids in the mountains of Virginia. . . .You will hit the floor, but they will catch you on the first bounce- and would it mean as much if that didn't happen?)
This was going to be one of the last times that has happened not like THE last, but perhaps one of the last times I took it for granted- one of the last times it seemed like "of course, this is what life has to offer, if you luck out enough to wander down the right random street".
Not the actual end of this feeling, just the end of actively banking on it. Something like that.
In the next several months/years after this, my life would change drastically. I would learn suspicion and impatience. I would learn the very important limits of my own charm, and my interest in attracting magic and testing, testing, testing. I would learn how important it is to own a good pair of winter boots and how to shop for pants of the correct length. Basic life skills. All very important stuff. All stuff I should have learned long before entering that bar, but somehow hadn't. What I like most about this story and why it remains memorable, is the fact that for one more evening/moment/birthday, I didn't have to.
Rhett the bartender
Yep, his name was Rhett. He was about eight foot tall with a dreaded weave that fell half his length. He materialized out of the shadows just as I was wondering if I should move farther down towards the middle, near the glowing multi-colored midoris
He was friendly, initially, in that regular bartender way and asked me how I was. I was very good and told him as much. I had my I.D. ready because back then, more than likely due to my clueless dressing style, I often got carded. Did he ask me for my I.D. or not? Did I announce that today was my birthday or did he just discover it from my license? I can't recall. I was just giddy and goofy enough that evening to have announced "I am great! I am in N.Y.SEEE! I almost got lost forever in those dark, dank mugging grounds I like to skitter next to, but in the last moment, Once Again! I did not! And by the way in case you're interested, I'm about to change my boring stagnant wastrel life (yes, pretty sure I am . . . haven't broken my lease yet. . but I'm just about positive) . . and in addition, today is my birthday!
Let me take a moment to thank Rhett, wherever he is . . .
It turned out Rhett was just as loopy as I was, in that momentary "life must change" type way, I think. I hope, for his sake.
Mostly, I know better than to take a bartender's job friendliness to heart. Even back then, when I didn't know I wasn't as cute as I thought I was. Bartending is a freaky, uncomfortable, bitterness rending job. Don't screw w. the bartender. I was a cocktail waitress long enough to know that.
But still I was in NYSEEE! Plus I had enough cash on me for one cheap draft and then I'd be out of there. So, in essence I answered his question and then sat back on my too high stool next to the too high bar in the two story high ceiling'ed, empty NY club and grinned to fill up the place.
But my craziness was no match for his and he grinned back with as much "caught you captive audience" as I had given.
I'd let it slip that it was my birthday and he was Ecstatic!