December 1993 - 2/3

He said that we could drink it in the evening, which necessarily would be at my place. I had no intention of having him spend time at my place. I said I had to pee. It was around noon. "We could go to a restaurant and eat, so you could go to the bathroom, though I'm not hungry yet," he said as if he was very much concerned about my well-being. I said I wasn't hungry either. I went to the bathroom in a Hispanic restaurant. He asked if I could recommend him anything to do until we met in the evening. I said I didn't know what he was interested in and I couldn't advise him. When we parted at Amsterdam avenue and 103rd street, I felt close to hating him.

He had been trying to push a few buttons and I was angry at him for his attempts at manipulating me. I felt a physical repulsion and instead of an affectionate leave-taking, it was a cold one, as if it would be too much for him to hug me and show affection when he was on a mission of betrayal and havoc-wreaking. Around five I reached the decision not to see my brother at all in the evening. I was sure that he had a plan all worked out that began with getting me drunk on the Beaujolais. His apparent good will and softness was in contrast with the violence of his intents. Fear started to grip me. I tried to read this thousand page book about the rise and fall of the Third Reich but couldn't stand it. I played the guitar and sang for one hour, trying and succeeding to repel the fear. There was no way I would have my brother at home. He called at 7.30 saying he was outside the building. I said I didn't want to see him.

In French, "I want" and "I can" (je veux and je peux) sound somewhat alike and he pretended to have understood that I had said I couldn't see him, not that I didn't want to. He didn't express any anger. He said he was disappointed. I said I was too, because he was not speaking in his own name but as Maman's spokesman in trying to convince me to sign for the sale of the building. I said that I had told him all I had to tell him, and that I couldn't spend any more time with him and that I was going to work until 11pm. "We're not going to see each other any more then?" he asked with a regretful tone, as if he had missed me so much. I said no and we hung up.

The next evening, John Campo, my former guitar teacher called. He said he had a question to ask me. Trying to flatter me by making me feel needed. I didn't return the call. My brother had contacted him and was trying to reach me through John. Then the following day Arturo, the alcoholic who had been my household help and lover when I returned from the hospital after my accident, called too. So his was part of the conspiracy too! He said he would call again. He called again and gave a number where I could reach him. Between his calls, I remembered that before having him to "help" me, I had asked a woman who had said that her daughter was interested in earning some money. I had told the woman to tell her daughter to come over the next day at a certain time but the daughter never showed up. I had been disappointed and irritated at this cavalier attitude. It's only after that that I hired Arturo who was hanging out in the neighborhood and had always shown good will towards me. So Arturo's mission had been to make me smoke cigarettes again after I had quit when I started working as a bike messenger three months ago, (he was smoking Pall Mall cigarette, the same brand that killed my father) and also to turn me to drink hard liquor. He was always asking me to give him money to buy rum and since I was in no position to deny him (otherwise he would not help me any more), I had started to drink with him, just so I would get something for my money.

It's true I was the one who initiated sex with him and God knows he was reluctant in the beginning, saying that he had a venereal disease as an excuse not to have sex, but I had a solution to the problem, I had condoms, so he had no excuse. He was walking around in my room wearing shorts and he had nice legs and I had literally begged him to have sex with me. In fact alcohol made him impotent. But after we started having sex, he became demanding and insisted on having anal sex after regular intercourse, and I had accepted although, with a soft erection, anal sex is quite painful. I had accepted it as the price to pay for regular sex.

When I returned from France after my father's death, I had told Arturo that he had to find another place to live and he had disappeared and had called me only for my birthday. All of a sudden he was calling me several days in a row. He called again and rambled for a while trying to convince me to call him, but the tape on my answering machine came to an end and he was cut off.

I woke up around 4:30 am on Monday 12.06 and called my mother. I told her I was aware that the purpose of my brother's trip was to make me sign the agreement to sell the building. She denied it. I told her my financial situation was desperate, that I had horrible telephone bills. She said "Don't call, then". I told her that without money I couldn't get my beret business off the ground. I knew it was exactly what she wanted. There was no way to move her. She said again that if I signed the agreement, the building would be sold very fast and that I would have the entire share of my inheritance "right away", that a lot of people wanted to buy the apartments and that they were only waiting for my signature. One more time, she showed a lot of concern for the money that, because of my refusal to sign, could not be made, and didn't show the slightest concern for me, her daughter.

Since I was a baby she had decided that I was bad and that it was ok to mistreat me. My full lips must have inspired her obscene thoughts even when I was only sucking her nipple, and she made me responsible for her own obsessions. How could a girl with such lips be good? Actually, my lips are full but the Cupid's bow shows that I am sensitive. It's not like I'm a slut. She must have been delighted to read my emotions, my sadness, my disappointment, my fear from my expressive mouth. How pitilessly my sisters teased me about my mouth!

THE DAY I SAW THE LIGHT AGAIN

Anyway, this phone conversation was a waste of time, and when I realized that it was hopeless to expect any compassion from her, it hit me: the long repressed knowledge that the accident had been an attempt to murder me resurfaced and all of a sudden I had the motive of the crime and the author. Her silence when I told her about the gunshots in the neighborhood, and asked her if it was not what she wanted, for me to get shot. And also her silence after I told her that obviously, she didn't want me to have any money. She had not objected at all, and her silence meant YES. Yes, she would like me to be killed by a stray bullet. Yes, she didn't want me to have any money. I hardly paid attention to the end of the conversation and hung up slowly, in a trance.

Moreover, she had actually distributed the estate as if I were dead, as if I did not exist. She had made agreements with my other siblings while keeping me in the dark and counting me out. After taking her share, she had divided the estate in six parts, not seven.

So she had orchestrated my murder with the help of the messenger service I was working for and the help of the bus driver as a hit man and the tall pale man pointing me to the driver, to make the murder look like one of those tragic traffic accidents, spreading the complicity over so many accomplices that her hand in the crime was untraceable. Also, the way every member of the family and extended family had disrespected me when I went to France showed that they resented me for having survived. I KNEW.

Now I had the real reason why my personal injury attorneys had suborned me to perjury. It was not, as I had thought first, because my mother wanted to prevent me from getting any money from my injury and expose me to deportation, IT WAS TO COVER UP THE FACT THAT THE ACCIDENT WAS AN ATTEMPTED MURDER. If I told the truth, it would be obvious to the jury that the driver had hit me INTENTIONALLY and not negligently as stated in the claim by my lawyers. Besides, when I had asked my lawyers to sue for punitive damages, they had declined.

TRYING TO GET HELP

On Monday 12.13 I called the police precinct of Midtown North and asked to speak to a detective. I told him briefly about my new discovery. He didn't want to believe me. He said that it was impossible that a bus driver could be implicated in a murder scheme. I didn't tell him that it was a LIMITED STOPS bus and that there had been no stops for a dozen blocks before 41st street. So between two stops, the driver had as much control of his bus as if it were a private car. [And as I thought later, he could have put the sign "NOT IN SERVICE" so as to be alone in the bus, except for an old lady who might also have been an accomplice posing as the token passenger.]

I have observed that every time you complain to the cops, they try to find a flaw in what you say and explain your complaint so they don't have to get involved. The detective told me to hire a bodyguard if I feared for my life!

On Monday 12.13, I called Miss Danger [What a name! No fiction writer would ever DARE to give this name to any character!] who is an inspector of real estate taxes in Evreux, and asked her if there was any news following the information I had communicated her. I wanted to tell her that the reason I had informed on my family was not greed but self preservation, because the hidden money is being used to corrupt people around me, but first I wanted to ascertain whether she sounded good faith or bad faith. She sounded irritated and said that she was just going into a meeting and that she didn't have the time to speak to me. I said I didn't have much time either, but only wanted to know if there was any news. She said she had transmitted my letter to the people concerned and that the problems I had mentioned were out of her domain. She no longer had the warm tone of voice she had had during our first phone conversation which had comforted me and made me feel that I was not all alone in the world. From the tone of her voice, I thought she must probably have been paid off too, because I had made my first phone call from my home phone which is tapped. Of course since I had become aware of it, I made all my important phone calls from pay phones.

I also called an organization for help with domestic violence, but after I had explained my case, adding that I had received death threats, the guy told me that they dealt only with women with children and he gave me another number to call. I think it was the Salvation Army. I repeated my story to a new guy who told me that he was very sorry about this, but that there was nothing he could do. He said that what was happening to me was the price to pay for democracy. Thank you very much.

I called the National Organization for Women. I was getting a bit frantic. After I told my story as briefly as possible, the woman who answered the phone disappeared and I had somebody else to talk to and I started all over again. Meanwhile there was a drunk who was acting out and making noise a few steps away from me and I pushed him back with my foot, and there was a computer voice that asked me to please add five cents for the next five minutes. I had to be careful about people listening to what I said and was darting looks right, left and behind me while I talked. The NOW lady said that she didn't know what she could do for me. I said I had a diskette where I had written my life story and I asked if I could send it to them, so that if I was killed the truth would be known. She said that their organization didn't deal with personal problems but only with political issues related to women. She said that a lot of women call and they have to be turned down. I should have known.

Last I called the French Consulate and asked if there is anything they can do to help French people in difficulty. The lady said to come to the consulate with my passport between one and three. I returned home to get my passport and took the bus across Central Park. In the lobby, a guard asked me who I wanted to talk to and I said the Social Service. He called from his booth and put me on the phone. The woman asked me a lot of questions in a suspicious and unhurried tone, which exasperated me no end. I had said that I needed help and there she was treating me like I was a threat to her safety. I told her I was "a bout de nerfs" (a nervous wreck) because I had received death threats related to my inheritance.

Saying that I was nervous was a big mistake. She asked me to wait for her, that she would come downstairs to meet me. While I was waiting in the lobby, Americans were coming in to get a visa, and with the approaching Christmas season there was a continuous flow of people coming in and out, the nerve wracking noise of the door being buzzed open then clanking shut, and the constant repetition by the guard of the question "You're coming for a visa?" It took the woman forever to come downstairs and I called from the pay phone to ask where she was. I was told she had been taking papers for me and that she was on her way down. As I hung up I saw the door to the sanctum open and a rat-faced woman with glasses and bad hair appeared in the lobby. She had one sheet of paper in her hand. She said "You said that it's about a problem of inheritance? Here's a list of French attorneys." She was ignoring that I had mentioned death threats. I thought about Nicole Montalette, the attorney I had retained in 1992 who had been paid off and was certainly listed on the sheet as a reputable attorney. I took the list from the woman's hand and flung it in the air, saying "J'en ai rien a foutre de votre liste." (I don't give a shit about your list). I turned around and walked out while the guard was saying "This is enough, get out now".

Why had I been asked to bring my passport if all they were going to do for me was to give me a list of French lawyers? I felt close to freaking out, but I remembered that it's always when you most need help that people treat you in the vilest way. So I took a deep breath and walked towards the bus stop on Fifth Avenue along Central Park. I looked at the bus route map and saw that on the limited stops route, the stop just before 41st street was 50th street. I didn't wait long for the bus. A black man who was in conversation with the driver saw my grim face and told me "Smile!" I said I had nothing to smile about. But he tried to humor me and I appreciated a little human warmth so I smiled, then I asked the driver if he could see the right side of the bus in his rear view mirror, then I got up and asked him if he would let me take a look from his point of view. He leaned a little to his left so that when I took a look I could see what the driver saw. It took only one or two seconds to take a look and I thanked him. The flat mirror gave a view of the front third of the side of the bus, and the little curved mirror, in the upper right part of the mirror, showed a complete view of the side of the bus, front to rear.

TRY AND TRY AGAIN

I could not afford to be sorry for myself. I had to make money and considered going out of town to sell my hats if it was what it took. I went to the library and asked for a map of the tri-state area and made a photocopy. Then I went to the Port Authority bus terminal in a daze to inquire about schedules and destinations. As soon as I entered the building, Christmas music insinuated itself into my field of consciousness, reinforcing my feeling of alienation. I went to several bus company counters, envying the people who knew where they were going. I asked for bus schedules. "Where do you want to go?" "I don't know, I want to visit the area around New York but I have no specific destination."

I got a few schedules, conscious of the strangeness of my request. She wants to take a bus but she doesn't know where she wants to go. Had anybody on earth ever been in my situation? I was in a state of absolute despair. The knowledge that my family had tried to off me in such a heinous way was weighing me down, but at the same time I had a feeling of relief. At least I knew what kind o people I was dealing with. They would never be able from now on to manipulate me with pretenses of love. I would never again have to feel guilty for standing up for my rights.

I had a coffee and croissant at Au Bon Pain and tears started down my cheecks while I was deciding to try Yonkers as the next place where I would try to sell my berets. I got up to get a few napkins. In front of me a couple, he black, she Hispanic with bleached hair, both ugly, was petting and kissing ostentatiously. I decided that a little fresh air would do me good and to walk to the 50th street subway station. At the corner of 41st street, a bus from the Hudson line was idling. The driver had gone for coffee and returned. Before he closed the door I asked him if he knew a city close to New York that was upscale enough to appreciate my hats. When I mentioned Yonkers he told me that it was not really upscale, that there was a lot of Italians there. I told him about the problem with the police and that it was the reason I thought about selling outside of the city.

After a while he suggested that I go to some county in New Jersey where a lot of rich people live. "It's not far" he said, "it's just across Georges Washington Bridge." Then the man asked me if I would be interested to go out for dinner with him some night and I said that as long as I was broke, I didn't feel comfortable going out with anybody. I thanked him and left. A few days later there was an ad in the Village Voice about a public school flea market "just across the Georges Washington Bridge" that had space for vendors. I thought maybe the guy in the bus was part of the conspiracy and I didn't call the number given by the ad.

MY BERETS

In 1992 I wanted to make a leather beret to replace one I had, bought in France, that was getting a bit ratty. I unsewed the old beret to get the pattern, bought some kid leather, and then decided to make more and sell them. After making one-of-a-kind leather berets with elaborate applique work (inspired by the cut-out technique of the Cuna Indians), and failing to sell them, I decided to take into account the people's wishes, because it's disheartening to spend an entire afternoon on a sidewalk and not sell a thing.

People didn't want to spend so much on a piece of wearable art that was, after all, only a beret. And not everybody was "into leather", although I personally derived intense gratification in the cutting and sewing of it. I think it was a form of therapy for me, a sublimated and unconscious reaction to the violence of which I had been the victim, even though I had no memory of the violence. I was sublimating my aggression by cutting leather, the skin of a now-dead animal, with big, big scissors.

What people wanted was a wool beret that they could wear with their winter coat, nothing more. So I curbed my creative exuberance and bought some quality wool fabric in neutral tones and found that, even within these limited parameters, there was still room to be creative. Also I created a new pattern that was very successful and could be found nowhere else.

In the fall of 1993, as soon as I set up my table on Prince Street in Soho, my hats sold like hot cakes. On week days, between 2 and 5:30PM I rarely sold less than three hats, which brought me about a hundred bucks. On Saturdays and Sundays, I could sell more than a dozen hats and I not infrequently returned home with $500 or more in my pocket. Linda, the woman-of-the-perpetual-smile, who set up with her hats ten feet away from me just the second day after I started in Soho was hardly competition. Her hats were made of cheap felt and all she did was put garish flowers or whatelse in the hat band. Besides she could sell only to women, whereas my hats were unisex and a good part of my customers were men.

I was elated and worked seven days a week, ten to twelve hours a day. Going to the Garment District to buy fabric was a treat. I discovered fabulous fabrics, different qualities of wool and created two lines: a mid-price line with 100 percent wool lined with cotton flannel in a paisley print on dark grey background, and a luxury-wool line with a lining of silk dupioni in gemlike hues. My mind was working at full throttle figuring the color combinations. That was the creative part. But even the hats of the mid-price line, which came only in black, grey, navy and red, I enjoyed making them and brought the same care I did with the luxury ones. I had a resale certificate and did not pay the sales tax.

Text of my promotional brochure:

"The Beret as an Art form"

Voilů) berets are handcrafted with the techniques of French Couture and a dash of art, that's why they are the ultimate in comfort and understated elegance for men and women. You can wear your Voilů beret for hours without any itch or discomfort: the Ultrasuede) headband and the adjustable drawstring are two exclusive features of Voilů berets which make them the most comfortable berets on the market. Only the soft Ultrasuede and the lining are in contact with the skin. And when the Arctic front is upon us, you'll cover your ears and appreciate the snug fit.

Unlike most hats, the inside of Voilů berets is given as much attention as the outside: there is no cheap polyester headband, no ugly seam in sight and the color of the silk dupioni lining is matched to the color of the shell in interesting and one-of-a-kind color combinations, so that when you take your beret off, voilů, you have an objet d'art in your hands.

Voilů berets are sewn with strong thread and great skill, they're built to last. Even if you splurge on alpaca, camel hair or cashmere, it's money wisely spent: compare the fabric quality, the cut, the craftmanship and the price of Voilů berets with those of any other beret on the market and you'll be convinced at first sight.

Voilů berets come in three main styles and sizes: XL, L, and Medium but XXL and Small are also available upon request. M fits size up to 58.5cm, L 63.5cm and XL 66cm. XXL has the same volume as XL but a wider opening and a deeper lining. The price is that of XL + $2. The price of Small is that of Medium minus $2.

How much of a hat? The choice is both a matter of head size and of style preference:

Have a painless Christmas! In times of economic uncertainty, you might want to give something that's useful and beautiful and reasonably priced. Voilů berets are the thing. Remember it's a rare soul who doesn't look good with a beret on, so your shopping doesn't have to be a headache. Why not give a different beret to the loved ones on your gift list and cross out a few names in one easy step? Orders of 4 and more get a 20% discount. This is a great value for your Christmas dollars! Right now everything is in stock and orders are shipped the same day.

Voilů is a two year old one-person business licensed by the State of New York to collect sales tax. Add $2 for handling and $2.90 for Priority Mail for one to six berets.

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