Diary of a Marked Woman
Fri. the 21st: At the Xando coffee bar I invite the Frenchman who has been sitting away from me the past few days to come and chat with me. Very soon he asks me about my business ideas. He says that he was thinking about opening a bakery. I ask if he's a baker and he says that he isn't. I tell him about a computer center that would charge much less than Kinko's and whose stores would be located in "ethnic" neighborhood and specifically geared to attract an ethnic clientele, taking advantage of the lower rents in those neighborhoods than on Broadway. It's snowing but after staying two 1/2 hours in the coffee shop I want to go somewhere. He wants to go to K-mart to buy a pair of gloves. He explains that a few days ago he bought a pair for $6 but that after he left the store he realized that the two gloves were for the left hand. I ask him if the gloves were not attached together. He fumbles for a reply. We kill time together until 4:30PM. By then I know that I don't want anymore of his company. He reminds me too much of my brother Francois who wanted to make money without really working, as if he were too intelligent to lower himself by doing some menial work even if it's his owm business. What he wants to do is find investors who will put money into his idea. Well, maybe he is exactly like my brother. He says that he'd like to create a business but in reality he's earning money reporting on me, trying to make me talk...
Here I must abandon the chronology temporarily to focus on a few characters who work at the Bank Street hostel:
Aslan: He is the manager, Turkish originally but he speaks French. He claims that he has lived in France a few years and went to the Sorbonne University. He's in his late forties, about 5'10", heavy set with greying hair in bad need of a haircut. His unkempt air makes him look a bit dirty and smelly although I didn't notice any offensive effluvium.
Goldilocks: He works at the hostel. He looks around twenty-three, has a narrow face with a few pimples and is not good looking. He's a homosexual His saving grace is his long mane of abundant curly hair (that's why I call him Goldilocks) with natural blond highlights. Every time I go out in the morning he wishes me a good day and says "Stay warm!" He also gives me little hand signs to say hello.
Steve: He works at the hostel and is a homosexual. He is clean cut with short hair, the typical all-American young man. He is a bit older and seems to have more authority than Goldilocks. Maybe he's assistant manager.
Crystal: She's a woman of about twenty. I described her earlier. She's not working here, she's just a fag hag. In spite of her gross overweight she's extremely outgoing and cuddly with Steve and Goldilocks. She spends the evenings playing cards with those two, sits on their knees or sprawls all over them. They don't seem to mind and her girlish laughter rings out more often than I would wish.
Sat. the 22nd: Steve who works here is in the kitchen when I get there in the morning. There's a box of donuts on the table. He tells me that I may have some if I'd like. I say thank you very much then he leaves. I open the box and the nasty, pungent smell of frying fat hits my nose and I don't want to eat those things. Besides I don't like to eat any kind of factory made cakes. The Frenchman arrives, says good morning and out of the blue mumbles something in French and the only word I understand is "la corruption".
In the afternoon I decide to go have a comfortable moment in a bar and decide upon the bar of the Warwick hotel. It's quiet and warm, just what I'm looking for. But shortly after the bartender has brought my whisky to the table, a black woman wearing the uniform of the service staff of the hotel comes in from the cold and when she passes my table asks how I am doing with a fake smile. Aminute later the bartender exclaims that he's not gonna let anybody talk to him like that. I look up. He's talking to one of the two men sitting at the bar. He says that the man must go, that he's had enough to drink. The man is apparently in his thirties, dressed in jeans with his long hair in a pony tail. He gets off his seat and stands there doing nothing. Then four or five security people come into the bar area with their radio crackling horribly, they surround the man who offers no resistance and he ends up outside. Afther he's out, the security people linger, their radio still squawking and discuss animatedly what has just happened while the peace and quiet I was longing for is totally destroyed.
The security people leave and the black woman reappears. She says with indignation that the man was not even a guest of the hotel. She says this several times. What difference does it make anyway? Hotel bars are open to everybody, not just the hotel customers. Of course it makes me feel like I'm a fraud, as if I was being there under false pretense of being a hotel guest, although I know the woman is wrong. I ask the woman if she knows where there is a good jazz club and still with her false smile she mentions a club that's within walking distance of the hotel, then she advises me to ask the concierge. Of course she pretends to believe that I am a hotel customer and makes me feel like a fraud again. After my second scotch is finished I pay, leaving a two dollar tip to the barkeep and it's only later that I realize that the whole incident was a set up.
Tues. the 24th: The same things happens with the Frenchman: "mumble, mumble, mumble, la corruption." Maybe he's saying that you don't need a work permit or a green card to make money in "la corruption"? It's been snowing all night and it keeps falling down, tiny flakes that stay. There's about six inches of snow. I go to the library but it's closed because of the weather. Barnes & Noble is also closed but not Borders so I go to Borders. There I look in the history section. There's a man there, in his forties. After perusing a few books I go to the opposite wall and a minute or two later the man is there also, and he comes up to me and asks me if I'd like to have lunch with him. He's about my age and not bad looking. I say OK, where would you like to go? He doesn't know but while looking at him during this exchange, I know that he's too good to be true, that he's probably not a genuine chance meeting, so I decide to be on my guard this time, not to engage in wishful thinking like I have done with Mitch and so many before him. I have suffered too much and don't want anymore heartache, besides this man may want to do more than just hurt my feelings, he may want to waylay me into a deadly trap... Still I don't want to be paranoid and will give him a fair chance.
We keep looking at books and finally I tell him that I'd like to have coffee at the coffee bar in the bookstore so we go there an I take with me a book called "the Medusa Files" about government cover-ups and a book about contemporary France. Once we are seated he asks me what I like to read. I say that I read mostly nonfiction but sometimes I like to get to know a classic author and I read several novels by the same author and then move to another one, and sometimes I just read something silly (I'm thinking of what's-her-name who writes these detective novels that have the letters of the alphabet, like "B" is for "Burglar"). He says that he reads mostly fiction. It's strange how he says this. He says it with such intensity that it sounds like he's lying... like he had prepared the sentence in advance. He says that he particularly likes John Updike and asks if I have read anything by him. I say I have read two books. (Rabbit Redux when I was at the women's homeless shelter last August and Trust Me at the NYC Youth Hostel). I wonder if he knows about this and if he wants to make me feel bad by reminding me the very bad time I had at the shelter. He starts to tell me the story of one of the "Rabbit" books and I wonder if it's really a good idea to do this with someone one has just met. I'm so bored that I want to get up and leave. Then he asks me what the Rabbit book I read was about and I tell him in a few sentences. Then he says that he has read a new book that's called "Bye bye" by this woman author and that it's great and that I should read it. I say I never heard of her. I notice that he's not wearing a wedding band. He's blond with short hair and blue eyes. Not ugly, not beautiful. He wears a dark green parka and dark blue chinos. He's constantly chewing gum and it irritates me. Maybe he wants to cover a bad breath. He says that he lives in the center of Pennsylvania in a very rural area and that he's a teacher. He says that he finds me very attractive. Then I say that I feel like smoking a cigarette and we go downstairs and out where powdery snow keeps swirling about. I was going to take the elevator but he ignores it and grabs my elbow to point me toward the staircase. Once out I ask him what grades he teaches. He says grades five through eleven. I ask what ages these grades include. He says that kids don't know how to read and it's a big tragedy and that he loves children. I ask if he means that even in eleventh grades children don't know how to read and he assents. He says he reads them nursery rhymes and fairy tales, for instance the Emperor's new clothes. I know he's saying this to manipulate me emotionally. Children today don't give a fig about fairy tales. What they like is Pokemon, Power Rangers and all kinds of comic book action heroes, not the children's literature of last century. He says that many children have a very limited vocabulary. He asks me if I know the meaning of a certain words but he pronounces it indistinctly, it sounds like "snow-plover" so I ask him to repeat and he says that he was saying "wardrobe", he sounds surprised that children don't know the meaning of that word (he must think that this little realistic-seeming detail meshes with the Emperor's New Clothes tale and that it will fool me, but I doubt that this word would be used in children's literature) and he asks me if I know what it means. Now he says that he's a librarian and that he teaches children how to read incidentally to his librarian job. "But earlier you said that you were a teacher!" I exclaim. He says that what he meant was that teaching was an extension of his work as a librarian.
Then he says that on week-ends he sells meat and lobsters door to door to augment his income and that he makes more money in one week-end than in one week at his regular job, but, he adds with false regret, there is no health insurance nor any benefits. This is totally stupid. If he actually works for the Department of Education during the week he must have health insurance, paid vacations and all kinds of benefits, why would he need two health insurances? He's probably saying this to make me feel bad because I don't have any kind of insurance myself. Since he said that he lives in central Pennsylvania in the boondocks I wonder how he got to the city this morning and I ask him, and also if he has a car. He answers that right now he's staying with his father in the city so he didn't come all the way from his home this morning. Then he asks me if I have any education. He knows that I'm French, we've been speaking English for maybe a half hour and from the way I speak he still cannot tell whether I'm an uneducated bird brain or a literate lady? I reply that I have plenty of education because I'm interested in a lot of things and I read a lot. "I meant college education", he says. I have to wait for him to finish his cigarette then I ask to go back upstairs. He looks surprised, as if he had believed that I had contrived the cigarette outing to get him halfway to making good on his lunch invitation. The truth is that I wasn't hungry yet plus I didn't find him a good prospect as a lunch companion and I needed time to think things over.
Back upstairs he asks me to follow him, he wants to show me something. He picks up the book he was speaking of called "Bye bye". I read the back cover. It's about a woman who lives under two asumed names and has several parallel lives although she does not suffer from multiple personality disorder. She just wants to have wild sexual and criminal adventures. I give him back the book and say "This woman is a psychopath!" He gives me a smug grin. I notice that he's wearing a wedding band now. He says that he's married and has five children, two of them in college. An infinite lassitude overpowers me and I feel I'm going to fall asleep on my feet if I hear the man speak about his children one more sentence. I say "Oh, really!" with as much indifference as I can express and walk back to the cafe to pick up the two books I had taken there and, not finding them, to the wall where he caught up with me, and I start looking for another copy of the Medusa Files. He joins me there then leaves then returns with the two books. He had put them somewhere without telling me and let me look for them. I say thanks and keep looking at the books on the shelf and he's standing next to me. It's impossible to look at books and keep a conversation going with a stranger and besides I don't like what he's done, what he's said and I'm feeling an urgent need to get rid of him. Without really calculating what I'm doing I take a third book, read the blurbs and walk away. I find myself next to the elevator. I'm afraid that if I press the button and wait he's going to join me and ask what I'm doing and annoy me more so I stand near a bench wondering what to do. Then a woman presses the down button of the elevator and when the door opens I put the three books on the bench and get in, then on the ground floor I walk out quickly and turn the corner on 19th street, walking fast as if he were in hot pursuit and slow down only when I have entered the Liberty shopping mall on Chestnut Street. I reflect that when he saw the three books on the bench the man must have thought that I was somewhere else looking for more books and he must have looked for me all over the store before he realized that I had eluded him. Ha ha ha!
Then I took the bus to Chestnut and 4th and went to the Xando coffee-shop. I took an arm chair under an old-fashioned floor lamp near a bar that runs behind the sitting area and to my left, sitting at the bar with a laptop on the opposite side of the rail was an elderly man who promptly started talking to me. I asked him if he felt comfotrtable typing on a laptop, and told him that I wondered if it wasn't sometimes the cause of back-ache to have the laptop on a support that's at the wrong height. He told me that laptops were meant to rest on laps although everybody who has a table in front of them will put the laptop on the table, regardless of its height.
He asked where I was from and I said that I was from France. He said that he had a sister who lived in Sceaux near Paris. (Like Alex who had a cousin living in Chatou near Paris.) Since this city's name is pronounced "SO" I didn't get the name right away, then I said "Oh, you spell it "S.C.E.A.U.X., right?" He looked embarrassed and said that he didn't know. How come he didn't know if he had a sister who lived there? Didn't they ever write each other?
I asked him where he was from because he had a heavy accent that made it hard to understand him sometimes. He said he was from Greece. That reminded me of an Australian who was staying at the NY hostel who said that a lot of Greeks immigrated to Australia and that they were very hard workers. It had sounded funny at the time, the way he said it. Did he want to make me feel self-conscious because I wasn't working myself? Now I understood that it was to prepare the introduction to this Greek and create good-will on my part since being hard-working is, one would expect, a respectable trait of character.
He said that he was at last doing what he had wanted to do all his life, which was to write, that he was a late bloomer. "You wouldn't be the first", I said. He took a notebook and flipped the pages to show me that there was actually some writing on it (not much) and said that this was his manuscript. "You write in longhand first and then you type it into your computer?" I said with surprise. He looked disappointed at my reaction and put the notebook back in his bag. A moment later he asked if I was a good typist. I said "Pretty good." I didn't want, out of pride, to advertise myself as an excellent typist, and also because I wasn't looking for any kind of job just to make money. Oh, I see! He wanted me to offer him my services as a transcriber-typist! Then under pretext of work he would have asked me to go to his place... But I didn't take the bait. Besides he never said what he was writing about.
I picked up the Philadelphia Inquirer which I had brought to the table expecting a quiet hour of reading but he forced me to take my eyes off the printed page by asking me what causes would I fight for. Before I had a chance to answer he stated forcefully that he was anti-Chrisitan, which took me aback and definitely did not endear him to me but I didn't want to get into a discussion about religion. Then he asked "What about you? What causes do you support? I answered evasively (because I didn't want to get into a heated discussion on constitutional rights and besides my deep concerns were none of his business) that I had a lots of interests and that life was too short to get deep into everything that I found fascinating. "Besides," I added playfully, "you never know when you might die. One always expects to die of natural causes but you could die tomorrow!" "You're right," he replied coldly, "it's not you who decides when you die, it's somebody else!" The guy never smiled.
Later he said that he owned a boat and that one of his lifelong plans was to cross the Atlantic on a sailboat. As a matter of fact, his boat was made in France. I said "Uh huh" noncommitally and started again to read the paper hoping to discourage him from interrupting. It worked. He didn't dare anymore and he left shortly, saying "Au revoir Mademoiselle" "Good bye, and good luck with your boat!" I said.
Sat. the 29th: Share table with old man at B&N who asks me if I own a cell phone. Then "comic man" at next table asks if anybody has advil and I give him my pill bottle. He starts conversation with couple behind me, speaks about loving France but hating the French and the man of the couple leaves and the funny man remains with the woman and they both laugh very loudly in a disturbing manner. I go out to smoke, funny man joins me shortly. Shortly later, man about thirty who works at cafe counter, the one with studs in eyebrows and chin, comes out and invites him to a drink and they both leave together, letting me know that it had all been a set up, including the request for pain killer, which let me know that someone had looked into my bag and seen the pills there.
In the evening I find myself with the Frenchman. I have heard all his rationalizations for antisocial behavior, and they all sound like those I heard from my father and my brother Francois, basically that only the stupid are honest, and that to earn money that the tax authorities cannot trace is the name of the game. I tell him that from what he says it is surprising that so many people go to college or get training to have work in the straight world. I also tell him that my father had numerous times offered to give me seed money to start a business and that he nixed every idea I came up with by saying that he couldn't help me, and that the only business propositions I had heard from him were illegal: a) to be a straw woman, that is to allow my name to be used in legal papers for the founding of a company of which I wasn't told anything; b) to be the madam in a classy brothel that my father considered building on some part of his property in Normandy. I add that my father probably thought that I looked the part. The Frenchman, to my amazement, takes my father's side, arguing that the government takes eighty percent of "grandes fortunes". I ask him at how much money does a "grande fortune" start. He says it's five million Francs. "So the government taxes eighty percent of whatever is above five million?" I ask. Because the way he was saying it, the government was almost leaving people with nothing. It's too easy to justify one's greed by saying that it's because the government is a thief. But if you have five mil, the tax authorities don't take as much. Besides in my country there are a lot of benefits provided by the government, of which my parents availed themselves to the maximum extent allowed by law and even beyond, so the claim that the government is the cause of their defrauding the tax authorities is only a flimsy veil, a rationalization for their need to break the law and for their greed.
Sun. the 30th: On the way to the library I am suddenly overcome by a sense of impending doom. "I must leave this place!" I think. "I have to look in this book that lists all the hostels in the US and go somewhere else!"
When I return to the hostel around 5PM the man who was away for the last two weeks has returned. I see him at the lockers putting things in and taking other things out. Before he left we had been many times in the dining room for breakfast or dinner, he reading the Wall Street Journal, me the New York Times but had never exchanged a word. Now I say "So, you're back! Where have you been?" He says that he spent the last two weeks at the Chamounix hostel. Since he's a bicyclist I say "It must be hard to pedal in this slush!" He replies that that's not really the problem (in spite of the twelve inches of snow, the melting and the freezing of the past week). The problem is the motorists who try to knock him down. "Oh!" I think, "So, you're one of my mother's allies!" Of course nobody but my mother's allies can claim that motorists deliberately try to run down bicyclists.
Later in the dining room he asks where I come from and other small talk. He's cooking vegetables and rice noodles with a foul-snmelling sauce. A propos of himself he says that he comes from California (he has a terrible accent that reminds me of the Brooklyn-Jewish accent. He doesn't say what brought him to Philadelphia but he says that he studied medicine but stopped short of his degree and that now he's sorry, and that he has studied nutrition on his own.
Later he elaborates on his stay at the Chamounix hostel. He says that there is a two mile stretch on private grounds since the hostel is within a park, and that he and the other hostel residents went together everyday to take the bus at the stop by the road and that it was a wonderful feeling of camaraderie, everybody helping each other out etc. He also says that the hostel is a mansion that has been completely renovated and is very beautiful ("Still," I think, "a bunkbed is a bunkbed and a dorm is a dorm, even inside a chateau!")and has a professional kitchen. "Oh! You're trying to attract me there with the promise of a professional kitchen! But why would I want twelve-gallon pans if I only cook for myself?" I wonder. I ask if there's a fireplace and he answers in the negative. He says that the owner is a strange man, a little proud and haughty. He tried to give advice to this man about how to run his business, improve things (no kidding!) because he has experience working in the field, but the owner was not receptive. And the reason why he's back is because the owner asked him to leave, saying that the stay there was limited to two weeks. And bye the way, his name is Jay. So I give him my name.
Mon. the 31st: Jay says that it's funny, with all the time we were in the hostel before he left, we never exchanged a word. He thought that I was unsociable. I say that I'm very sociable but my mother is interfering with my life, not in person but through third parties, and therefore I cannot trust anybody. I add that these third parties of course must appear to be friendly otherwise they would not be able to approach me. He says something in defense of my mother, to the effect that I cannot blame her for being concerned about me. I say that it's not a concern for my welfare that motivates her and anyway she cannot be motivated by anything positive if she acquires information about me by biolating my privacy and deceiving me.
He asks how come I'm here and I say that I was evicted from my apartment last August and since then I've been totally destabilized. Somehow the conversation turns to corruption and I say that if it was not for the corruption of the judge who oversaw my case I wouldn't have been evicted. He says that the American system of Justice is the most corrupt in the world because judges take money from lawyers in big law firm for their electoral campaigns. I retort that if that were so, individuals would never win against big corporations yet there are many cases where the small guy prevailed. He asks who was my lawyer. I say that I acted as my own lawyer. "No wonder, then. You had a fool for a client! You know the saying" "I didn't lose because I didn't know the law! I studied the law! I lost because the judge was corrupt!" He asks for details and I say that I don't want to speak about it.
Then he badmouths the Indian guy, saying that he spent time in a homeless shelter and said that he liked it. Imagine! Enjoying a homeless shelter! He says that the Indian had money from an inheritance but squandered it and now he's broke and taking advantage of the system. I don't say anything. So much of what he says concerns my most painful issues without his appearing to know, I cannot believe that it's by chance. Besides he took the side of my mother, and appeared to attribute my eviction to the fact that I represented myself and to systemwide corruption, not intentional malfeasance, thereby absolving all the parties involved (mother, landlord etc.).
[cont'd: Feb. 1/2 ]
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