This is the final chapter of a three-part series on how I tried to find female friends when I first moved to New York by putting up a Craigslist ad titled, “Hot Girls Who’re Chill.”
When we last left off, I had made plans to meet the Table Turner, an older gentleman who promised to introduce me to all the right people, on Friday night at 8 PM, at the swanky bar of the Four Seasons Hotel on Park Avenue. My understanding of that night’s itinerary was that we were going to have a drink and get to know each other a little bit before his entourage of brain surgeons, models, and TV personalities joined us. I left the house wearing 4-inch black leather knee high boots and precious little else.
So, it’s 8 PM, and a taxi deposits me on Park Avenue and 57th Street. in front of this:
A smiling doorman smoothly revolves me into the hotel’s lushly decorated, empty, foyer. I am ferried, by a series of courteous nods from various hotel personnel, into the right elevator, and, finally, up to a majestic and vehemently impersonal lobby.
As the elevator doors close behind me, I catch the eye of an older, silver-haired gentleman some 20 metres directly in front of me. He is reclining on a set of black leather furniture with two younger women. The tactile softness of the gentleman –the waves in his hair, the wool of his suit jacket– contrast against the women he’s with, their angular jewelry and sharply-lined eyes. He looks like he could be a partner at my law firm, men whose nails are better manicured than mine, and after whom I totter in a constricting pencil skirt, balancing a boxful of documents in my arms, while they glide obliviously through glass doors ten steps ahead of me. He looks me over for a second, and smiles. A big, broad, unmistakable grin. It feels good to be appreciated (for what and by whom mattered less then) and, had I started drinking earlier in the evening, I might have let him beckon me towards him. Instead, walking past him and into the bar, intoxicated only by the nebulous tremors of youth, I simply returned his smile.
(So, no. I did not get that the dude was with high-end escorts and the only reason he smiled at me was because he thought I was one too.)
Anyway, I timidly enter the drinking area, or arena, given its monstrous size, of the Four Seaons Hotel. It is filled with round wooden banquet tables covered in heavy tablecloths, like a collection of chocolate cakes slathered in thick vanilla icing. Busy servers walk back and forth noiselessly between the tables and the bar, above which hangs a gigantic, glittering, yet somehow still conservative, chandelier.
A husky, middle-aged man in a black sports jacket, sitting alone, waves to me from a banquet table at the far corner of the room. As I weave towards him through the tables of people in the room, I notice that he doesn’t look so… friendly. I now know that he was just nervous. But at the time, I take the grimness of his expression personally, which makes me, more than ever, want to prove myself to this Craigslist stranger.
“Hi!” I squeal, falling into the chair beside him like a stuck pig. Another artifact of youth: I was always eager to reassure other people that I was harmless by acting like a total goofus.
Now that I’m close enough, it hits me: dude is old. Not Richard Gere old or Paul Newman old. No, this isn’t a young man in an old man’s body, or an old man with a young man’s body. This is simply an old man in an old man’s body. His jacket is boxy and kinda cheap-looking, his hair uncouth, his teeth sepia-toned, and his pores stretched like dadist timepieces over the over-sunned desert that was his face. No, this guy is Jack Nicholson old.
“So…” one of us says to the tablecloth.
What was I doing here? How had I gotten myself here without pausing to tell somebody of my whereabouts tonight? Oh, right. No friends.
“Would you like a drink?”
“What do you drink?”
In law school, when I first started to drink liquor, a classmate had introduced me to the cranberry vodka, which she argued was the perfect cocktail because it tastes sweet but reliably gets you drunk. So I’d been drinking cranberry vodkas for the last three years. But now that I was a lawyer in New York City, I figured that I should graduate to something less… colorful.
“Gin or vodka?”
“Gin or vodka in your martini, dear?”
“Vodka,” I say because I am not really sure I’ve ever had gin before.
“How would you like it?”
“How would you like your vodka martini, dear?”
Reach into cultural reference library, volume 1986-2004, quickly scan through personal memory for clues. James Bond movies, something about shaking and not stirring, can I get away with saying that without sounding ridiculous? 90210 episodes, did the Peach Pit serve drinks? What did Angela drink when she went out with Ricky and Rayanne? Mental review of paper placemats at Chinese restaurants with pictures of cocktails on them, maybe I should have ordered a grasshopper!
The Table Turner beckons a server to our table and orders two vodka martinis, dirty. The drinks can’t come fast enough, and when they are finally placed ceremoniously on the infinite thread-count tablecloth in front of me, I down mine like a champ. The Table Turner smiles at me for the first time that night, and orders another.
I will spare you the bio-emotional details of how it was that the vodka very quickly relieved me of my shyness, a process with which you are surely already familiar from personal experience. All you need to know is that, very quickly, the Table Turner and I settle on a steady rhythm of him talking at length about his accomplishments –his original career as a nuclear scientist for the U.S. government, his budding career in fashion photography, his son (who was my age, a fact that makes me feel proudly precocious), his first novel, a work in progress… you know the drill. (I didn’t.)
All the while, I slurp on an endless supply of twenty-two dollar martinis and eat vodka-soaked olives with my fingers, chewing around the core of each one as if they were small apples, and when I notice the tray of expensive mixed nuts (no peanuts here!) in front of me, I inhale those too, hungrily tossing them into my mouth as I say encouraging, affirmative things like, “Oh, really?” and, “That must have been difficult to do.”
There are certain people in this world who will unfailingly inform you, in your first conversation with them, of the geographic location in which they were raised. These people are from Texas or Brooklyn. Sure enough, after a couple of drinks, an unmistakable Brooklyn accent slips into the Table Turner’s speech, and after detailing his lifetime achievements, he points his thumb at his chest and says, proudly, apropos of nothing, “Brooklyn boy, born and raised,” as if it added a special dimension of awesomeness to him. It is true, though, that there was something that differentiated the Table Turner from the waxen figures at the other tables and from the silver-haired gentleman in the lobby. His skin wasn’t as milky.
Though definitely not as drunk as I’m getting, alcohol does loosen the Table Turner’s tongue somewhat, and he begins to speak in free verse. In one of the rare pauses in our “conversation,” he leans back in his chair, smiling with half-close eyes, and murmurs approvingly:
“When you came in here…
everyone was looking at you
get to your seat.”
It made me feel like a prized racehorse, which really isn’t that bad of a feeling, to be honest.
A few drinks later. “Look,” the Table Turner sweeps his arm across the room, at the groups of well-coiffed men and ladies-who-lunch socializing with each other at the other tables:
“I got the best table in the room…
And my seat is
the Best Seat
Do you know why this is the Best Seat?
Because it’s in the corner
and I can see
all at once
It’s the power seat.”
Now the Table Turner is starting to fray a little at the edges. Like an overstuffed rag doll whose seams are coming loose. His face has taken on an unhealthy complexion and little beads of sweat line his forehead. His body lilts, like his speech, and his breath reeks of alcohol. He puts one big hand on the table in front of him to steady himself, and closes his eyes like he’s saying a prayer.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m ah… I’m okay. I had surgery this morning.”
“Like, this morning?”
“Yeah, so I’m pretty doped up right now…” he chuckles, emphasizing the word “doped” like it’s an edgy word that all the hip young people are saying these days.
“Wait, you had surgery today?”
“Yeah, it’s okay. I’m a tough guy.”
“What did you have surgery for?” It suddenly occurs to me that I have never seen the Table Turner stand up. For all I know, he could be a merman.
He pauses a bit, then sheepishly, “My teeth.”
“Oh. You had dental work done.”
“Yeah, it was pretty major dental work though. But I wanted to see you tonight. How could I disappoint a pretty lady?”
I don’t know if it’s because he called me “lady,” or if I’ve reached that level of drunk where, for a small window of time, you see everything with abject clarity, but suddenly I am head-slammed by the real power dynamic between the Table Turner and me.
There was nothing here for me to prove and no one to prove it to. The alleged “A-list cohort” of brain surgeons and models had been a classic “bait-and-switch” trick, and even if these friends did exist, I didn’t want to meet them anymore. I didn’t need anything from this man. Rather, it was the Table Turner who had come here, post-op and woozy, to prove himself. It was he who needed to convince me, the other people in the room, but mostly himself, that he was who he wanted to be. That he had the life that he wanted to lead, the multi-stranded, multi-colored, multi-faceted life that he took pains to illustrate for me, me! A mere stranger who had the naivete to try to look for friendship in the dark alleys of the internet.
I had nothing to lose to this man. It was the Table Turner who had everything to lose if I did not smile back at him, if I put down my drink and walked out, letting everyone in the room watch as I left him there, in his pathetic little corner, tucked away from social circles he could not join. A little tangent of a man who has spent a lifetime yearning to touch a well-clothed banquet table more than once. A Table Turner that spins yarns about himself to wide-eyed children before they realize that he’s full of shit.
My body, which had been directed towards the Table Turner, to better receive his every utterance, returns back to me. I cross my arms and sit upright in my seat: I collect myself. With a cool eye, I turn to look at him and this time, I don’t even see Jack Nicholson anymore, just a sick man propping himself up with both elbows on the table. Could anything be more pathetic?
As if on cue, bright red specks appear on the section of the tablecloth under his face, seeping into the expensive fabric, and growing, via capillary action, into fat crimson droplets. Fuck me, the old man’s nose is bleeding.
He grabs a handful of cocktail napkins and, holding them to his nose, excuses himself, mumbling that he’ll be right back.
Alone at the most powerful table in the house, I lean back in my chair and stretch my arms and legs. Looking around the room again at the dull gentlemen and ladies with hideous designer bags, I am no longer impressed. Details that had been invisible to me are suddenly palpable and I can see that the dapper servers and bartenders are not restrained, just strained. Tense and tired at seeing the same old scene play out in front of them every single night. I can see the ugliness lurking beneath the decor, the significance of the smile from the silver-haired man in the lobby, the crassness of the Table Turner’s self-aggrandizement, the torpid practicality, rather than the romance, of adjoining a hotel to a bar.
By the time the Table Turner shuffles out of the men’s bathroom with an even bigger wad of paper towels held up to his face, I am already on the phone with a law school classmate, waiting for the elevator to go down.