"You're coming already?" "What do you mean 'already'?" "I've only been here a few weeks." "I don't care." Why should she?
I should have hung up the phone then and taken a test. I should have hung up and taken a written test on New York City. New York City 101. I should have learned all the streets, all the neighborhoods, their nicknames, where all the sights were, and where to eat every meal. I should have sat down and figured things out. Instead, I stayed on the line and asked her what she wanted to do while she was here.
"We have no plans. We just want to wander around New York and your neighborhood. We want to see where you live. We can't wait to see where you live." We? Meaning her and a friend just like her. She wants to see where I live so when she goes back to Ohio she won't worry. She'll worry anyway. "Anything else, Mom?" "Oh, I don't know. I just want to relax." "You want to relax in New York City?" "Yes." "Are you sure?" Dumb question. Mothers are always sure, even when they're not. "Yes. I don't want to have any plans." "Do you want to climb the Statue of Liberty?" "No, I did that with your sister when she was three." "Do you want to go to the Empire State Building?" "No." "Do you?" "I want to shop a little." Progress. "At Macy's. Maybe Saks." "Okay." "And I want to eat in Little Italy. See if that restaurant I ate in 15 years ago is still there. It's where that mob boss used to eat." "What's the name?" "I don't know." "Okay." "Oh, I remember?Tessa and Mimo's, I think." "I'll see if I can find it." "Oh, and I want to eat at Tavern on the Green." I knew she had plans. "I want to see a play on Saturday night. Either Ragtime or Chicago. Go buy tickets for that and something else. You pick." "There's a great show down the street from me. I saw it on my high school trip. Remember that?" "What?" "I'll get us tickets for that on Sunday. I loved it so I think you'll like it." "What's it called?" "Blue Man Group, Tubes." "I don't want to see that." "I think you might like it." "I want to explore Soho." "Fine." "I want to spend Sunday in Soho and see the antique stores." "Fine. They're all over the place here. Then we'll go to the theater. I think you're really going to like this show."
Mistake #12,079,392 in my mother's eyes. What was I thinking? I am an idiot. Why would a mother like something her daughter likes? The spread is too big. The odds were against me from the start. But I tried. You have to give me that.
So her plane landed and the relaxation began. Not my relaxation. Her relaxation?or what she thought was supposed to be relaxation. I was tense the whole weekend. It was a long damn weekend. We had no plans. We lived in my hell. I like no plans. I like to be spontaneous. But I don't like to be spontaneous with my mother. Her idea of being wild and crazy is buying the expensive jelly at Bergdorf Goodman.
So she wanted to be crazy. We were crazy. We ate at Tavern on the Green for brunch on Saturday. She ordered a Bloody Mary. Very impressive, Mom. I smiled for a while over that one. I had a mimosa, but only because she ordered that drink. We were crazy for 10 minutes. Then we wandered. We wandered around looking for nothing. Mom and her friend wanted to go where they wanted to go. Where the hell was that? I wondered. Turns out she didn't know either?or at least she didn't let me in on the secret.
We wandered. We were crazy. We wandered some more. We bought jelly. At the end of each block we were faced with another crazy decision. "What's down that block?" "I have no idea. Probably more of the same," I said. "More of what same? This is New York. It's different all the time." "Well, probably more men selling hot dogs on the corner just like that one over there. And there's probably a deli somewhere on the block. I would guess there's a boutique and probably a shoe store, too. "Let's go." And so it went on the road to crazy. Every block was another exit to nowhere, and there was no way I was getting off. Manhattan's only so big, I thought hopefully. "Do you know where Macy's is?" "It's on 34th." "This is 75th." "You're right, Mom." "It's far away." "Right again." "Should we walk?" "We can."
Regress. Why did I say we could walk? Why did I subject myself to listening to them say at every corner, "Straight or turn? What do you think is that way? I can't decide which way to go." And the sign said WALK. They hadn't decided. And the sign said DON'T WALK. They hadn't decided. And the sign said WALK, and they walked without telling me where they were going. Of course they didn't know where they were going. They were just following signs.
We did this uptown for two days, Friday and Saturday. I'm no longer a sane person. Then Mom proclaimed she wanted to spend Sunday in Soho?my neighborhood. I knew it was coming. I was ready. Soho was ready. It had charm and charisma. It had character. It was different from uptown. It was better. At least I thought it was better. That's what all the people in my neighborhood said. That's what all the papers said. Well, not all the papers. Maybe just the Voice. I'm sure I read it in the Voice.
I pumped myself up. "I can handle downtown," I kept telling myself. "I can show them the post office and J. Crew. I can tell them Little Italy is around the corner. Anything is better than uptown."
Before Ragtime they met my roommate. We were secretly dating.
Broadway. Lights. Dancing. Costumes. Glitz. Ragtime.
"I just love New York." It was all she said after the show. She loved the lights of Broadway. She loved the glamour of Times Square after the theater lets out. She loved the swarming taxis and the neon lights after a good show. "There's no place in the world like this," she kept saying. We went for gourmet pizza. "Only in New York can you go for gourmet pizza after Ragtime," she said. She asked my roommate questions. He knew the answers. She had no idea we were seeing each other. She liked him.
"Should we walk them back to the hotel?" he asked me. "No." "It's almost 1 in the morning in New York and you want them to walk by themselves?" "Yes." "They're old ladies. Come on." "Fine." And we walked them halfway, but only because it was his idea. "See you tomorrow. We'll meet you on the corner. Are you coming with us to brunch?" she asked him. He said yes. He wanted to go. Sunday. A day of rest. He looked at me on the corner and told me the best thing about a bad day is that it always ends. It hadn't started yet, but he knew me too well. He put his arms around me. A cab stopped and relieved itself of two old women. The cabbie passed them on to me. Discard. Recycle. Thanks a lot. "I don't think I can eat this. I thought I ordered something different," she said as the gay waiter told her what she ordered. She was mistaken, not him. "He's got a cute butt," her friend said while his back was turned, "but he better move it a little faster. I'm out of coffee." Blemished Soho. "I'm sorry. I just don't think I can eat this. I can't eat tomato sauce this early. Can I get what I thought I was ordering?" "We don't have that," he told her. "You don't have eggs?" she went on. "There were eggs in the tomato-y one." "We have eggs, but we don't serve them that way." "You don't serve them scrambled?" "No." "Can you make an exception?" "No. We don't do that." "I can't eat what you brought me." "Fine."
And through the whole conversation he was by my side, thinking, You never send a meal back in New York. You never send a meal back anywhere. I hope she inspects it before she eats it. I hope she knows what could be in her food.
The gay waiter brought her what she asked for. Her friend still didn't have coffee. He paid the bill. We left. They had a bad taste in their mouths.
The four of us went to Anthropologie. Thank God it was big. They went and did what they do. We smelled candles together, and when he was sure they weren't looking, he kissed me. He kissed me again. I looked around and I kissed him. "You might want to go back to the apartment," I told him. Save yourself. "Why?" "Because it only gets worse from here." "It doesn't seem that bad." "Not yet, but it will. They want to wander around again." "Oh. I'll tell them I have work to do." "You do have work to do." "I know." "Kiss me." "They're over there looking at us." "Okay." "Hey you two, are you ready to leave?" "I have to go back to the apartment. I have some work to do." "Will we see you tonight?" "I'll meet you at the theater. What time?" He looked at me. "5:30," I said and he waved goodbye. He wanted to kiss me. "He's very nice," Mom said. I know he is, I thought. Smart too. It's every man for himself in this world.
Then we walked. We stopped. We entered boutiques. We exited boutiques. We entered antique stores. We exited antique stores. Corners. Streets. Starbucks. Sidewalks. Signs. People. Starbucks. People. Starbucks. Two Ohioans + 27 ways to go = contemplation, deliberation, consideration = one insane former Ohioan. The road of life takes different paths. Four hours on an unmarked path. Painful feet. Blame Soho. Stained Soho.
"What's Soho mean?" she asked me for the third time. She couldn't remember. "South of Houston," I told her. "What do you mean?" "Houston St. Take the first two letters of each word?South and Houston." "Oh." Long pause. "But what does that mean?" "It means all the area south of Houston. That's where I live." "Oh." Long pause. "But we just passed Houston." "It's House-ton." "There's no 'e' in it. It looks like Houston to me." "I know, but everyone here pronounces it House-ton." "Okay, but we just passed it." "I know. Now we're in Noho. North of?" "Houston. That's clever." "I know, Mom, I know."
Five-thirty. I met him around the corner at the theater and explained that they were on their way. "They're around the corner making purchases at Barnes & Noble. There's a Barnes & Noble down the street from them in Ohio." He smiled at me. Kiss me, I thought. He kissed me. They walked around the corner. Perfect timing. They didn't see a thing.
He suggested dinner at an all-American eatery, Silver Spurs. How could you go wrong in America at an all-American eatery? Her hamburger wasn't done enough. Damn anything below the theater district. I could read her mind. I wondered if she knew I won't go above 14th without an argument. The spread's just too damn big. Blue Man. Blue mother. Blue friend. "It was nothing like Broadway. How could you take us to see that? You should have known better," she told me.
"How am I supposed to know?" "You just are," she said. "It was too loud. Too much. Too blue. Too much. Too much. Too much." "It's not your fault they didn't like it," he told me after they left. "You can't be responsible for other people's actions. You just bought the tickets." "I know," I told him, and he knew I was still blue. Blue Girlfriend. He hugged me in the New York wind. He knew what I was thinking. She gave birth to me and has no idea what I'm thinking. Ever. She will never like Soho. Blemished, stained, tainted, cursed Soho. They left New York the next day on a morning flight. "We had a nice time, dear," she said on the phone from the airport. "Ragtime was wonderful. Wasn't Ragtime wonderful?" she asked me. "Ragtime was wonderful." I agreed. Three hours of wonderful.