DIARY OF A MARKED WOMAN
Some time after the first week of January I was in a state of near panic. Money was almost gone and I felt incapable of calling mother for money, even though she owes me most of my inheritance, and incapable as well of pursuing my lawsuit pro-se. I called a Civil Rights law firm from a pay phone. I had read about that firm in the Law Journal. After I had told my story to a woman lawyer (interrupted every two minutes by a voice that asked me to put more money and then thanked me even though I put the coins in advance) she declined to get involved because the violation of my rights included criminal activity and her firm didn't handle this kind of situation.
I thought about Dick, the journalist and writer. He was boring ok, but I wanted nevertheless to ask him if he knew any journalists who would help me by writing a story about my plight. So I went to the Tavern but Dick wasn't there. Alex was. As soon as I sat next to him, I asked him if he had seen Dick but he hadn't seen him for a few months. Then he told me he had spent 48 hours in jail last week, that his girlfriend had called the cops and complained of him hitting her, that he had been carried to the Tombs and been given a DAT and he had to appear in court on the 16th. He told me how unfair his girlfriend was because she had started grabbing him when she was in a fury and all he had done was push her away. She didn't want to work. I asked what was her previous work and he said "paralegal". She spent his money on drugs -crack, no less- and she called the cops on him. Now he was the criminal, when he had given her a home and all she had to do was keep house and spend his money. Wasn't this the ultimate in unfairness?
He said that she was barred from the Tavern because she had had a violent argument with a customer. So now he was safe from her here. He said that if he was convicted he could be sent to jail. I said that if he wanted, I would testify about his good character. He said no hurriedly. This woman was taking advantage of him and when he was too nice to send her packing, she called the cops on him. "But you're gentle, it's really too bad that she's taking advantage of you like this, you're a generous..." I said, caressing his cheek and looking him in the eyes. But suddenly I thought "Or that's what you want me to believe." I was starting to doubt all his stories about women taking advantage of him and him doing nothing about it as if he was completely helpless. But why would he make up all these stories? It was as if he appealed to my compassion, as if he wanted me to fall in love with him even though he was up to his neck in problems with relationships. It reminded me of Claude Roche who was so sorry about his married girlfriend and so concerned about her mental health that he could not break up with her. But the panic was twisting my guts and I brushed the thought away. After all, I wasn't about to fall in love with Alex and his domestic affairs were none of my business but I wanted to know why he was doing this.
"And that's not all. Now the landlord is refusing the rent check. He wants us out." "Why?" "Because she makes a lot of noise. She yells, she has temper tantrums. The neighbors are fed up, they have been complaining." There was a silence while I was taking in the situation. "So she's going to testify for the prosecution? You save her from the street and she's going to testify against you?" He said yes. "Then all you have to say is that she's a crack addict and that she spends your money on drugs." "Wait wait wait. I don't give her money to buy drugs. She buys drugs with the food money."
"I'm trying to understand the dynamics here. She gives you sex and in exchange you give her drugs." "No!" he exclaims, indignant. "It's not like that." So what is it? I wonder.
The little man from Guyana was at the end of the bar. I told Alex what happened with him at Tap a Keg, how the guy had bought me a drink and a few minutes later insulted me and accused me of trying to pick-up his girlfriend. Alex said that all the men from Guyana he had ever met were all like this, very jealous and macho and that in addition, since the man was of very short stature he was probably trying to compensate by being even more so. "Still" I said, "if he didn't like me, why did he buy me a drink? I had been talking with his girlfriend for about fifteen minutes before he bought me a drink and I don't understand why he went from nice to bully in such a short time. You don't buy a drink to somebody when you don't like the person." As is turned out, this was a wrong assumption. Alex didn't respond. He got a phone call and went to the end of the bar to take it and before returning next to me exchanged a few words with the little man.
Since Dick wasn't there, I asked Alex if he knew any journalists. He did, he knew Don Johnson on Channel Four. I told him that I knew somebody who had been the victim of an attempted murder made to look like a traffic accident and that the crime had been covered up and that the police didn't want to do anything about it, so I wanted to speak to a journalist to break the silence of the cover-up. Alex said that these people, those involved in the murder and the cover-up, were dangerous, that if somebody helped that person they would be at risk of retaliation. "But if you introduce me to a journalist, you're not at risk. You shouldn't be afraid about that." I said. Alex said that if I knew what's good for me I should stay out of this. "But it's about me!" I told him. "I am this person! It's my life that's ruined!" He said that it would be easy to introduce me to Don Johnson, that he lived just around the corner, but that he couldn't do anything until he went before the judge in Criminal Court on the 16th. Then he said that if I told this story, the press would think that I was a crack-pot because they have a lot of crack-pots calling them. "But I'm a good witness," I insisted, thinking about how pristine my life is. No drugs, very little alcohol, no sex. "But you've done drugs." he said.
He went out to order some Chinese food and invited me to share it with him at a table. It was not what he had ordered and he was disappointed. He said he liked me very much, that he would like to know me better and that he wanted to have sex with me. I was taken aback that he would ask me this after what I had just told him. I said that it was not possible because I was looking for a committed relationship, and since he hadn't divorced his wife and was still embroiled in his affair with his girlfriend, he was not the kind of man I was interested to have sex with. He said "Come on, marriage can wait, you're only around 35." As if at 35 a woman was unfair not to have casual sex. I said that I was flattered that he thought that I was 35 but that he was almost 10 years off the mark. "No you're not flattered! No, you're not flattered!" he said angrily. That was the first time I saw him angry. Until now he had been Mr Softee, a Teddy Bear of a man, someone who wouldn't hurt a fly. I told him that I had passed the age of sleeping around. "But I'm clean!" he assured me. I told him that I had nobody in my life, that I was absolutely alone and that the last thing I needed was a one night stand. During this meeting he received two phone calls at the end of the bar. Now he had to leave and he left me with the food.
On Sunday the 5th of January, around 8 pm, I went to Tap a Keg. The bar was full so I decided to sit down at a small table just left of the entrance, between the window and the small side of the bar. I had a beer and paid up. Somebody said that it was lonely in my corner and I said that the Christmas tree was keeping me company.
A woman at the bar on the small side said that she was hungry, that she felt like eating beef stew but didn't know where to find some. After a while I said she might find some at a Hispanic restaurant. She said that in those places it was on the menu on certain days of the week. Then she started to speak about cooking at home, that it was much cheaper and that you could get exactly what you wanted, to which I agreed but was surprised to hear an American speak about cooking and liking it.
A blond woman with a German shepherd sat at the other small table next to me and started talking with the woman at the bar and the barmaid. I understood she was an actress. Since I was bored I started to pet the dog who was lovely and then we started talking, the young woman and I. After she knew I was French, she said that her boyfriend was French and lived in Paris and that she missed him a lot and they could see each other only once in a while. In fact, he lived in Ivry, to be exact. "Oh, you know the Porte de Choisy?" I asked. Of course she knew, and I told her that I had lived in that neighborhood for a while.
Then a conversation started with the woman at the bar who asked what kind of work I did. I said I was writing a book. Of the True Crime genre. About an attempted murder and a cover-up. She was an editor. She had worked on an encyclopedia and she wanted to write. After I told her about what I was writing, she wanted to guess what my astrological sign was. She named a few but not the right one. Finally I told her I was a Scorpio. Oh, of course. then she asked my Ascendant. I said "Gemini". "Oh, my ascendant is Gemini too!" From then on, the woman who was next to her at the bar, and the woman who was next to me with the dog started to say what their Sun and Ascendant signs were. Then the first woman who hungered for beef stew went to a man sitting at the bar just around the corner and talked to him, then the man got off his bar stool and came around. An old man was next to him and for a while they both spoke about astrology. I thought this was so strange, astrology becoming a subject of conversation in a bar among six persons every one saying their sign and ascendant, it was a bit ridiculous. Then when the younger man had come around the corner of the bar, the beef stew woman introduced us: "This is Bill. He is a Virgo Ascendant Scorpio. This is Brigitte, she is a Scorpio Ascendant Gemini." On that basis, we shook hands.
After talking a bit with while standing at the bar I said that I disagreed with the received idea that Scorpios were more interested in sex than any other sign and grew a bit indignant, asking if all the sex perverts were Scorpios and I said that I was tired of hearing this bromide because my family was persecuting me because I was a Scorpio and I didn't even have children.
He said that thinking about something and doing it are two different things and that it was true, basically, that Scorpio is the sign of sex and that certainly Scorpios thought about sex more than any other sign. How did he know what people were thinking about? I wanted to ask if it was possible to think about sex more than men do because I have read that they think about sex every two minutes. I felt humiliated. I was against this categorization. You could ruin a person's reputation just by revealing the person's astrological sign. "She's a Scorpio, Reverend. You know, the sign of sex?" "Nice meeting you. Can I talk to you in private after the meeting?"
But Bill was philosophical about it. That's the way it is. Scorpios like sex, you can't blame them, it's hard-wired into them. He took a seat that had become vacant and I was about to do the same but the beef stew woman's coat and bag were on the stool and someone said to me "That's her chair." So I waited. The woman was at the other end of the bar, standing and speaking with the Indian.
This man is a helper in this joint an is there all the time. He laughs often a big Ha Ha Ha that sounds completely insincere. After a while the woman returned, said that she was going to eat and left with the Indian. After she had removed her stuff from the stool I sat at the bar next to Bill.
Bill started to speak about his brother who had died and left a wife and daughter. He offered me a drink and I had a beer. He was very fond of his niece, she was very smart and talented, a teenager now, beautiful, and he felt it his duty to be a father figure to his niece. But the widow is a lawyer, a corporate lawyer and he hates lawyers. He is concerned that the widow is going to push his niece into a field of college study that is too practical -like law school- when his niece has artistic talents that he thinks she should pursue.
Himself he had artistic talents -photography- but had engaged in a field of work that was practical -stock broker- and he suffered for having neglected his talents. His favorite photographic subject was Nature and he intended to take a sabbatical or resign his job and spend two years taking pictures all over the world and sell them to magazines.
He felt responsible for his niece and if she chose to study the arts or music, he was ready to pay for her tuition. He knew that the mother would not accept to pay for an education in some artistic branch. She was practical oriented.
He lived near Lincoln Center. A friend of his had married and sublet him the apartment when he moved away with his wife. He was angry at his friend because the marriage was still holding. What he wanted was for his friend to divorce, return to the apartment and ask him to leave. And the rent was really cheap but he didn't like the neighborhood. It was touristy, there was no sense of neighborhood, no cheap joint to have breakfast etc etc.
Most of the time when I made a comment he said "I hadn't thought about that." "That's very perceptive." or other words to that effect. He kept ordering beer when my glass was nearing empty so the conversation or, should I say, the monologue, was almost uninterrupted.
After he returned from the bathroom he showed me what was inside the bag he had asked me to keep an eye on: An Olympus camera that looked spanking new. He said that the lens was beyond professional standards because it opened at f.2 whereas professional cameras opened at f.4.
I observed that the roadway outside looked beautiful because it was covered with mist and looked satiny with pink reflections from neon signs, instead of looking wet with bright splashes of light as it would if it had been raining. A bicycle leaning against a tree was silhouetted black against this backdrop. I showed him. He said maybe I could take his picture. He had only four left. I said OK but first I had to go to the bathroom. When I returned I knew I wanted to get the roadway and the bicycle in the picture, and also the Budweiser neon sign in the window of the bar so I asked him to go outside and look into the window as if he was checking the place out. then he came back in, said that he would never have had this idea. I said that I didn't know how it would come out but that I wanted to see the result if he came back. He said that he would come back next Sunday and I said that I would too.
He had an annoying tic: he was constantly pushing his tongue against his gums as if he had just eaten. And he never smiled.
Several times before I left he said that he was so glad that he had met me and that he hoped that we would meet again. I had gone to the john about three times and when I returned there was a new beer waiting for me. I was getting tired of excusing myself. Toward eleven I asked for a shot of whiskey and after the first sip I started to hiccup. I was miserable. I drank backwards but just when I thought I had licked it there came a hiccup to prove me wrong. I knew it was time for me to go. The bar lady became aware of my predicament and she said she would try something for me. She soaked a wedge of lemon with bitters, sprinkled powdered sugar on it and offered it to me. It tasted good. She asked "Is it working?" I said that I didn't know yet, but to come in five minutes to check. The hiccups had stopped and I was overjoyed. I was so grateful that I gave her a three dollar tip. She protested and refused the tip but I insisted, saying that she had done me a huge favor, that she had cured me of a debilitating illness and finally she took the tip, laughing. Meanwhile I was putting on my coat and buckling my aviator's cap under my chin. Bill said that he hoped to see me again and that he would be back next Sunday. I said that I would come. He said something that I didn't understand and I made him repeat. Still I didn't get it. The third time I understood he was asking "Promise?" I was irritated by his groveling attitude and said that I didn't have to promise because when I said I'd do something, I did it.
Back home and the following days, I was angry at him. He had spoken only of himself and his false problems. He had never asked me one question about myself. It was only his problems. Why did he assume that I was competent to give him advice? He appeared to be so egocentric! He saw things only from his own point of view and from his self-interest. He was ready to spoil a mother-daughter relationship just because he didn't like lawyers. His justification was that he replaced his dead brother. He complained of a cheap sublet at Lincoln Center and hoped that his friend's marriage would fail just to give him the impetus to find a place for himself in a neighborhood he liked better. And there was something I didn't understand: If he was a stockbroker, how come he spoke so bitterly about his sister-in-law's family who put their money in his face at a family gathering? Don’t stockbrokers make money?
Next Sunday I would see the pictures but I wouldn't let him bend my ear with his damn pseudo-problems. And I would tell him something about astrology: that it indicated only potentials, that it was not determinative. And about Scorpios I would tell him that what interests Scorpios more than sex is to uncover what is hidden. That maybe Scorpios had been interested in sex when sex was a taboo, but that now, sex was available so easily that there was nothing to unveil anymore. What a Scorpio needs for intellectual stimulation is a good cover-up to take apart, whatever the subject.
On Sunday the 12th, I didn't feel like going to Tap a Keg to see Bill but I had said I would meet him there and I had to go. Besides I was curious to see how my pictures had come out. I forced myself to eat before going, then I went around 9pm.
Bill wasn't there at first glance. The place where we had been on the small end of the bar just left of the entrance was empty, save for an old man against the wall. The bar lady was the same as last Sunday. I called her "Dr Hiccups" and she laughed. I told her that I had never heard of this remedy before that it really worked and I was so happy. I ordered a Becks and started to leaf through the Liberation paper I had just bought. The old man on my left was talking to himself loud enough for me to understand. He was talking about Plato and Socrates and quoting them and laughing to himself. I listened with my nose in the paper. After a while I looked at him and he kept spouting anecdotes about the Greek philosophers. I asked him how come he knew all this. Was he a scholar or was it just a hobby of his? He said he was reading about them just out of personal interest. And he kept going. Euripides had been criticized for making fun of Croesus but he had answered "A monkey with a sack of gold is still a monkey." The old man started laughing, "Hee hee hee", talked some more about it and quoted Euripides again:"A monkey in a gold cage is still a monkey." Again, laughter. I thought, this guy is funny. He reads this Greek philosophers and is entertained. I started to get interested and we talked.
He was a mathematician. That reminded me of François Expilly. He had worked at IBM for 25 years. He had had two strokes and a brain hemorrhage and was living in the building on 103rd Street where there are all these old people in wheelchairs. "A brain hemorrhage!" I said. "You could have been brain damaged! You're very lucky." "Yes, he said, but I have some memory loss, and sometimes I stutter. I can't write anymore, except in the morning." So he wrote! He had three sons. Two of them were scientists, the third was an artist. One of them was gay. He was from Finland, Helsinki, and he had been hired by IBM and came to the US to work for them. He didn't have a high opinion of Americans. "It's what you look like and how much money you have." He gave me a discourse on the meaning of the word "sophistication" and how the word had lost its meaning. He gave me the Greek root of the word and said that now, a woman considered a man sophisticated if he was wearing the right clothes, driving the right car and going to the right restaurants and clubs. Laughs. If an American criticizes the government, he's sophisticated, but if a foreigner does, Americans say :"Go back to your country!" Laughs. I thought this was a bit too pat an evaluation of the American people.
"So, you worked in computers, I bet that 25 years ago you didn't know that computers would become consumer items. In the beginning, computers occupied entire rooms!" I said, eager to have the opinion of an insider.
"Yeah, you know, computers are what you make them, garbage in, garbage out." I was taken aback that a man who had worked 25 years at IBM didn't have anything else to say.
"So you live in this building at 103rd Street? Beautiful building. I used to visit an old lady there. Where did you live before?"
"I lived on 71st street and West End Avenue."
"Oh, West End Avenue. It's a beautiful avenue. It goes up and down..." I gestured with my hand. He grabbed it and pulled me toward him. He laughed and started to hug me.
"...and it has beautiful buildings". The last thing I saw before my head was against his chest was his other arm extended to pull me against him. He laughed and patted me on the back. I must have said something he found irresistible.
From then on, the conversation was disjointed, and most of the time he was hugging me, stroking my head, my hair, my neck. "I feel like I'm your cat," I said. "You have a cat!" he exclaimed as if the matter was important. It felt good. I hadn't been hugged in about seven years. I hadn't been petted, stroked, hugged in a long, long time. I was a bit surprised by this turn of event but it wasn't completely new for me. It had happened before, when I was 23, in Paris, an old photographer grabbing me unexpectedly as if he found me irresistible.
I was concerned about this display of affection. After all, we were in a bar. I pulled away from him but soon, I was in his arms again, against his chest, felt my body against his. A body, somebody's body against mine. It felt so good it was hard to resist.
He stroked my neck, my hair, my face with his hands, and then with his face and with his mouth. He kissed my neck, my cheeks, my eye lids, my forehead, my ears. He nibbled my earlobe then he put his tongue in my ear and I heard a sound like the waves crashing on a beach, and the warmth of his tongue made me long for sex. I pulled away. I was self-conscious. My hair was entangled in the snap button on his sleeve. I freed my hair and pulled away. I felt my face burning from his unshaved cheeks. I looked at the other people at the bar. Nobody seemed to pay any attention to us and the bartender was at the other end of the bar.
"So what did you do at IBM?"
"I worked as a mathematician."
"Did you do programming?"
"No, I was doing research. Analysis, synthesis, that's what mathematics are all about."
Then he spoke about music. "Music is the art and science of organized sound," he said. But he jumbled his speech and I asked him to repeat. After I understood what he was saying, I recognized the definition of music that any serious student learns. Music was an application of mathematics. Time and pitch could be quantified and therefore could be reduced to mathematical formulas. Pythagoras was a genius mathematician and it was he who first discovered the numerical ratio of intervals in the musical scale.
He spoke about Mozart, Bach and Beethoven who were great mathematicians, about Mozart who at age fourteen had written his father requesting another treatise on mathematics because he was done with the one he had. All this interspersed with bursts of "Hee hee hee". About Beethoven's Fifth Symphony he said: "Can you imagine that it took only five notes to make him world famous? But what notes, and what rhythm: Ta ta ta daaaa, ta ta ta daaaa. That's five notes." "Actually, it's four notes." I said. He frowned and started thinking then he said yes, it was four notes. "And he was deaf! He never heard his last three string quartets! Only a superior mathematician could do that." So far I hadn't heard anything I didn't already know, except for young Mozart requesting another treatise on mathematics, but it was nice to speak about something interesting instead of some boring small talk.
Before I could say anything, I was in his arms again, against his chest, eyes closed. It felt so good to be against a man's chest. Feeling the resistance of another body, feeling that for once, something didn't get away as soon as I was about to reach it. And he pressed me against him. In the beginning he smelled bad but now he smelled like some cologne, in fact it was Brut by Faberge.
I pulled back again, looked at the people at the bar who ignored us completely. Still, I felt uncomfortable about doing this in public.
"We could have sex on top of the bar and nobody would notice." I said. He looked embarrassed for a second. "So how old are your children?" I asked.
"My oldest son is 39, the next is 32 and the third is 27. The oldest one is a physicist, he's gay. The second is a biologist and the third an artist."
"I'm forty-four. How old are you?"
"What about your wife?"
"I'm divorced. But still I sent her fifteen hundred dollars for Christmas. She's still the nicest girl I know. Hee hee hee."
"And where do your children live?"
"They're in Finland except the last one who travels around. Right now I think he's in India. And what do your parents do?" "Oh, my parents... they're criminals. I came here to escape but even here they mess with my life."
"I don't understand you but I believe you." he said. I thought this was a nice attitude.