“Gibson Mcaskill and Crosby, LLP,” I recite the law firm name painted on a brick wall behind me, in the tone of voice an anchor girl would use before removing her top.
“You’re beautiful,” shouts a man from parts unknown.
“Cut,” says Pete. He lowers the camcorder. “That was really good.”
“Now what?” Randy says.
Randy is slouched in the background, but I’ve failed to notice. Other than being Pete’s drug connection (whom we called upon for a mid-date favor), his role in tonight’s activities is uncertain. He’s got a “Less than Zero” persona but told me he’s a lawyer, and I have no reason not to believe him. But then again, I have no reason to believe him either.
We just wrapped up at Tudor Lounge karaoke, where Pete sang Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” and I did “Interstate Love Song” by Stone Temple Pilots, and Randy, well, I forgot he was even there. And now it’s 3:30 a.m. and we’re at The Pink, the only place we can potentially blend in and belong.
We’ve consumed enough drinks to mellow our dispositions, and I’ve forgotten where they are coming from. These drinks are being mysteriously procured and paid for by somebody unknown, not by me, even though both Pete and Randy are certified drifters on the fringe.
Something I’ve noticed about derelict guys: they love to party and aren’t afraid to beg.
It’s last call at The Pink, at the time and place reserved for zombies looking to score – sex, drugs, and who knows what else? Lightning zaps the sky, straight to the celestial vein. We pile into Pete’s car. Inside, it smells strongly of cigs and b.o. I’m riding shotgun with my head out the window, uncertain whether to even bother smoking weed.
I decide to just let the pinot grigio soak in.
We are a ghoulish, ghastly trio cutting sharp edges against the fog. We sit beneath a tree in Day’s Park, at the same spot where somebody I know may or may not have, as a cry for help, sliced into his wrists with a box cutter.
“This place has the most picturesque litter,” I say. “Where’s the category for that in Buffalo Spree?”
“Melvin Toadsdale, don’t you remember Melvin?” Pete says to either Randy, or to me, or to no one in particular. We’re gathered under the tree smoking herb in the dark. Pete hasn’t stopped talking for even one minute, not to take a breath, not for anything.
“He died,” says Randy. Tires screech from somewhere far away.
“Melvin’s dead,” he continues. “Drug overdose. Three years ago.”
Pete pauses for what feels like an eternity, lowers his head, then starts to cry.
“Fuck,” he says.
A group of bros drift by on the sidewalk.
“I remember he was such an awesome kid,” Pete’s words are muffled by his snotty sleeve. “I wish there was something I could have done, something I could have done to help him before he got back on the drugs that poisoned his mind.” Pete’s glasses fog up, then we’re all silent for a while.
I put my shaking hand on his arm. And then without warning, a new day begins.
The sound of Pete’s screeching tires eventually fades away. The unforgiving sun has emerged from behind gray clouds, which hang tackily over the North Buffalo Denny’s like a hooker’s panties on a clothesline. There’s no place I loathe more than Denny’s. My brain is a lava lamp.
“Randy, will you give me a ride?” I say.
We drive away in Randy’s car, its floor littered with cut straws and credit cards. Randy himself is missing a side tooth, and in profile looks like a skeleton. Behind us, the sun rises over Hertel Avenue with considerably more hesitation than usual.
It’s Memorial Day weekend. Time to take off. Au revoir, fuckboys!
I’ve got an AirBnb booked down in Cold Spring, New York, near the Hudson Valley and an hour’s train ride from Manhattan. It’s a “meditative retreat” according to the married lady hosts, who live in the woods near a pond! My bedroom looks straight from the Free People catalog, and did I mention there’s an ELLE-approved spa in town?
*The one caveat to this hideaway is that there’s no non-vegan food, alcoholic bevs, or drugs allowed on the premises. But I can abide by this. I have respect, pshaw.
I’m not vegan mind you, never was. To quote Anthony Bourdain’s 1999 article in the Times, “Even more despised than the Brunch People are the vegetarians. Serious cooks regard these members of the dining public – and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans – as enemies of everything that’s good and decent in the human spirit.”
I steer my Pontiac coupe up the rocky driveway. Soon enough a dreadlocked blonde in a dip-dyed ensemble emerges onto the porch.
“I’m Shelley,” she says with a mystical air.
She shows me around the house, through the kitchen where there’s “all the granola you can eat,” and a sink spewing unadulterated well water. There’s a sun-drenched meditation nook with incense burning slowly, ever so slowly, and in the yoga studio Shelly describes the guru they stream.
“At 8 a.m, every morning, we will be in here should you decide to join us,” she says with unfailing eye contact, which makes me self-conscious, like, I probably should have removed my black boots with the spurs and leather jacket, I mean, it’s so colorful in here, so… open. So honest.
“Well, I’m going to go mosey into town,” I tell Shelley a half-hour later. She’s reading a book in the meditation nook. “I’ll be back a little later.”
On my way out, I meet the other host, Shelley’s wife, who is really skinny and tattooed with piercing eyes like nails.
“I’m Talyia,” she says.
I don’t know what either Shelley or Talyia do for a living, but it must be something really dope, as their spacious enclave in a rather bourgois neck of the woods leads one to believe. Rich hippies…I think as my car crushes whatever foliage and insects dare to obstruct its path. Could be kinda neat. I roll my window down and as soon as I roll into Cold Spring proper, locate my weed stash.
Later that night in Beacon, a town 10-minutes away: I’m told by the garçon at the French bistro that this town is pretty hip. Turns out, Beacon has a distinct Brooklyn-meets-East Aurora flair. Pretty soon, I’m tucked inside an air-conditioned hotel bar amid a cougar crowd. I watch a Hall-and-Oates cover band, one half of whom is from Buffalo, according to his wife at the bar –
“Oh, really, Buffalo,” she turns towards me and leans closer, “We met there about thirty years ago…”
After striking out with the sweaty rockabilly bartender, I walk up and down the street, as the stars emerge, and chat with a cute young music producer from LA. He’s in town for a wedding, and tells me the pitfalls of no one ever knowing your name.
But I pull an Irish goodbye after asking him to meet me outside for a cig. He probably won’t even come, he probably thinks of me as a dirty, smelly smoker now, and it’s not like I’ll ever see him again…
I walk up and down the street some more while replying to certain texts I’ve ignored.
“I want to apologize in person,” Randy says via a long-winded text from two days ago. “For how rude and disgusting my behavior was, and I want an opportunity to make it up to you.”
I hung out with Randy a few times; but every time we got together, it was apparent that Randy is a legitimate cocaine addict and full-blown alcoholic barely gripping the edge of life. I ran away from him the last time I saw him, literally, ran away after saying I had to return some videotapes. Despite knowing him only a week, I agreed to celebrate his birthday with him. But when I got to his house (aka, his mom’s unfinished upstairs rental), Randy was all alone and hungover, chain-smoking on a folding chair.
“Um, it’s okay,” I type out. “I’m out of town anyway. Near Poughkeepsie.”
“I could go to Poughkeepsie,” Randy replies, with a wink face emoji.
“Lol,” I send back. “Yeah right.”
“No, really, I could take the train. Pete can drive me to the station.”
“I am staying at a vegan and sober airBnb,” I say. “Okay…”
When I return to the commune, Shelley and Talyia are in their hippie love nest with the door half open. I say “Um, goodnight” and tip-toe into my tie-dye bedroom.
The next morning, with caged hens clucking beneath my window, I shake myself awake and realize – Randy might actually be on his way. To Poughkeepsie Station. But really, would this dude actually hop a train in the middle of the night?
I slink into the kitchen, and it’s about 8:40. Yoga is over.
“Good morning,” I say, pouring dark coffee into a mug. “Say, um, is it okay if this guy I know stops by later? I didn’t invite him, per se, he just decided to show up at Poughkeepsie Station…”
“Oh, but you know him?” Shelley looks concerned. “He’s not stalking you?”
“Well, I guess,” I hike up my sateen pajamas. “I don’t know him that well, and he may be a bit stalker-ish. It should be okay though.”
I drive to Poughkeepsie and spend the morning walking across the Henry Hudson Bridge, which is majestic and scary and proof that it’s actually really difficult to jump off a bridge, and definitely not for pussys. Finally, Randy calls and says he’s at the station, so I leave to meet him on the platform.
I love NY train conductor accents … Silver fox train conductors down here have them… I’m thinking as I wait in the hot sun. Finally, Randy walks towards me, and as I get closer I inhale a strong smell – the B.O stench of a homeless cannibal mixed with regurgitated booze simmering on asphalt. He gets even closer to me and hugs me, and what I breathe in is the bubbling spoon of rancid filth spewing from his pores. He’s wearing a filthy sport coat made of tweed, even though it’s over 90 degrees down here. His complexion in daylight is like that of a caved-in corpse – pale, gray, and rubbery at best, with teeth melting out of his skull.
“Bleh,” I recoil in disgust. “You totally reek. I should have known better than to meet you here!”
“What?” Randy schleps towards me, dragging his feet. “I’m here!”
“You can’t stay at my Bnb.”
I’m power-walking way ahead of Randy now, heading towards my car but walking across the parking lot in a daze with Randy lumbering behind me like a sasquatch, half-drunk, and me totally not realizing that obviously this is exactly what would happen, and how did I ever think it wouldn’t?
“I thought it could be cool,” I shout back at Randy. “But now I know this was a bad idea and my whole solo, mediative getaway has all gone to shit, you don’t have anywhere to stay and you are expecting to stay with me at the Bnb, and I’m telling you IT IS NOT going to happen. Okay?”
We’re alone at my car in a vacant lot; Poughkeepsie Station, and not a soul around. Somehow, I didn’t actually think Randy would come. I really didn’t invite him and I never said anything to give him the impression he could crash at my Bnb. Not to mention, Randy is, needless to say, persona non grata anywhere near the hippie commune.
“Just keep away from me. I need to get sushi and figure shit out,” I say, breathing deep, and remembering that this is just another day-in-the-life.
Randy and I are at the waterfall/swimming hole in Garrison, right near the Bnb and where I figure, no doubt, at least Randy can rinse off his stench. I just need to get him to another motel for the night, or to head back to Buffalo, anything but just stay the hell away from Shelley and Talyia, please don’t get me kicked out. I’m a bad girl trying so hard to be good.
But, am I really trying?
On the way to the waterfall, we stopped at a liquor store, which I already knew existed but hadn’t entered out of respect for Shelley and Talyia.
“I want you,” Randy says, slurping from a rum bottle. There’s a few younger couples around, plus a lot of moss. “You don’t understand. I would do landscaping tomorrow if it meant I could come inside you again and again -”
“SHUT UP!” I stand up on a rock. “I am just not into you! Get it through your skull!”
(I had previously told Randy that if he would apply himself and his law degree, join a firm, get malpractice insurance, and pay your dues to the Bar Association, or at least get some kind of decent job like every other fortysomething dude, maybe I would consider dating him. It was obvious, however, that Randy’s ever-present, bloody coke straw is his one true passion and that he will only succeed in ruining my life).
Now it’s 6:00 p.m. The sun is beginning to fade. I check my phone and see a message from Talyia:
“We went out and will be back around 9:00,” it says.
“Great,” I exhale a sigh of relief. “We can go back to the Bnb and I can shower and we can figure our shit out. You need to call a motel and then maybe I’ll go find the strip club in Newburgh…”
“We locked the door,” is Talyia’s eventual response, right as Randy and I arrive at my car; we are both dirty and sweaty, and hungry to boot. “We couldn’t leave it open, obviously.”
‘What the fuck!” My voice echoes; somewhere far away, a bird flies out of a tree. “Noooooooo!”
Randy and I go to Beacon to kill some time. Despite the extensive “nighttime” looks I packed, I’m stuck going out in Victoria’s Secret slides and a muddy skort, with Randy, this year’s worst accessory, to boot.
The Stockholm Syndrome sets in at the air-conditioned hotel bar. I toss away my cares and worries simply because I have absolutely no control over the situation, never did. I succumb. No matter how hard I try, Randy doesn’t listen to a word I say. I’m locked out with him stuck to my side. We are both homeless derelicts, so what’s a girl to do? Enjoy a pinot grigio, even a cig, and Metallica’s “Sad but True” emanating from the jukebox. I stop drinking to keep in driving shape, and when we stagger into the Bnb, it’s close to 10:00.
Inside, It’s deathly quiet. Shelley, Talyia, and a new kid with glasses are all sitting in the mediation nook.
“Well, this is Randy,” I look at Talyia with pleading (but probably bloodshot) eyes. Everyone is silent.
Randy and I creep closer to the crew, until Randy is right up next to Talyia and she looks up at him in horror. I’ve probably grown used to his noxious stench, and can’t smell much of anything anymore.
“Ok I think I’m speaking for the group here when I say Randy needs to leave,” Talyia says.
“Thank you,” I quickly throw Randy under the bus. “I’ve been trying to dump him all day!”
Shelley and Talyia gather around us and the room starts to close in. I worry that my tainted mental state is obvious.
“Have you guys been drinking?” Talyia says.
“No, no, not me,” I say. “Randy, I’ll pay for your Lyft back to the station, and therefore pay you to stay out of my life forever!”
The new skinny kid with glasses comes outside with Randy and I, and he waits with him at the curb. I go back inside.
“Thank God he’s finally gone,” I look to Talyia and Shelley for sympathy, or something, but Talyia shrieks at me like a banshee.
“I think it’s best if you just went to bed!”
And that’s precisely what I do. But it’s only 10:30 p.m. Damn.
The next morning, over dark coffee, I am asked to leave. It’s okay with me though; I do not fit in here. I start to cry because of the lack of control I seem to have over my own life.
“I wish there was more we could have done to help you,” Shelley says.
Like not lock me out.
“I had no idea it would get so bad,” I say. “I thought I could handle it on my own.”
“We wish you peace,” Talyia says.
“Namaste,” says Shelley.
I pack up my room – contraband salami sandwich, leather clothes – and take off down the hill. It reeks of Randy’s booze in my car, and sure enough, I find a cigarette butt in the console. I clean and freshen the shit out of the interior then leave my car at the train station. It’s a fresh and foggy morning, and while waiting for the train into the City, I share my story with a South Carolinan family here for West Point graduation. The train squeaks to a stop. Soon, I’m smushed up against cute guys in Yankees gear heading to a game.
I walk from Grand Central to Soho in my boots with the spurs. “Coffee?” says a man with a shaved head near Washington Square Park. “On my way back,” I say. I’m comfortable in the NY crowd, where you’re totally alone and totally not at the same time. There’s peace when nobody knows your name, when you are just a face in the crowd with nothing but endless pavement, noises, doorways.