Everybody wants instant wisdom. They want to read words that speak brilliant thoughts, and follow those thoughts to the yellow brick road of maturity and insight.
Only life it is messy. Plans go awry. People leave. People hurt. People die.
Life, real life, the one we live, makes you want to cry.
And sometimes it makes you laugh so long and so hard every part of your body hurts. Only some people can do that to you. My best friend can do that to me.
She wasn’t always my best friend. There was a time in our lives, strange as it seems now, when we didn’t know each other.
Lucia and I worked together for about a year before we even said hello to one another. Our office was large––240 people in one huge room, then 120 after the layoffs, then later 1200.
You could get lost in our office. Or you could have, what in retrospect, was one of the best times of our lives.
We were in our 20’s. Nobody took our job seriously. (OK, I did but nobody suspected.) We got paid what in the 1970’s was a living wage for having fun.
It was supposed to be a six week temp job doing paralegal work for the phone company when there was only one.
For some of us——me for one——it became a career. Not for Lucia. She was only there about two years. But nobody forgot her. Nobody.
She was beautiful. Everybody loved Lucia. People were always telling me that I should befriend Lucia; we had a lot in common, they said.
The person who said this to me the most was a guy I was dating.
Yeah, I thought, he wants to date Lucia’s boyfriend.
Oh, there’s nothing like a 20something cynic.
Though upon thinking about it, most great cynics are in their 20’s.
We worked on lower Broadway across from Saint Paul’s. Much later it would become famous as a place Ground Zero workers went into for some respite. Then a lot of my friends went to the grounds during morning break for morning devotionals. Otherwise known as getting stoned.
Had I joined them I would have met Lucia much sooner.
We didn’t hang out together during the blizzards of 1978. So many people to know. In order to get paid we had to come to work, and then we could leave. It made about as much sense as it reads. Us doing it——really so we could have blizzard buddies; made even less sense.
We didn’t meet at the party in the Bowery. A woman rented a loft on the Bowery, and we all gave her $5.00. The music was loud; the drinks were strong and flowing. Almost every guy brought a pocket filled with joints. I’m sure there was coke but I didn’t want to
I met Lesley and Helene that night. Lesley, was Lucia’s supervisor. I think I knew that. Helene was going to be mine after the Great Layoff the next month. They admired me because I was on my feet running around all night. I admired them because they looked so classy sitting on a bench strategically placed near the door so they could leave whenever the urge hit. Though now that I think about it I think they sat on that bench just because it was there.
It was snowing and my date——same one as above——kept going to the floor to ceiling windows to make sure his white Caddy was still there, and that everybody at the party knew he had a white Caddy. I was known for my clothes. Vintage or new they had a certain flair. I had a love/hate relationship with the spotlight but I was never crass. Showing off your Caddy–—that was crass.
I made him take a large group to The Kiev, (Russian, cheap, great, open all night) at Saint Marks and Second for breakfast. He was more The Brasserie (French, pricey, open all night) type. I could extract revenge while seeming like Pollyanna’s sweeter sister. The group included Ilene, Lucia’s work best friend.
I had a crepe machine at home and was perfecting my savory crepes the rare nights I was home. Invariably Ilene would show up. She lived in a 150 square feet and was cheaper than Boone’s Farm.
The Great Layoff was two months later. We must have started out the evening after the layoffs in the same bar——The 140 Club, grossest bar in Manhattan; and a place at least 100 of us began the evening two or three nights a week. But Lucia went with one crowd, and I went with another.
There was a supervisor, Andrea, older than us, and very very screwed up. Ask her how she was and she would say: “do you mean mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually?” So you never asked her again.
I don’t remember how she ended up homeless but Lucia invited her to move in. I was helping her learn to answer “how are you?”
One night, that fall, Andrea invited me for dinner. It was the most adorable walk up studio in the West 90’s. Lucia had bunk beds, and pictures of taxi’s hung over the lower bunk. I would get to know those pictures well.
We talked over dinner. Only Lucia and I forgot that Andrea was there. I was divorced; Lucia was separated——that in itself was amazing as few people our age were. Lucia was of Puerto Rican descent, from The Bronx——and well you have to understand that I had always romanticized The Bronx. It was, I had been convinced as a kid and still was a bit, the coolest borough. I knew very Hispanics in New York, and wanted to know more.
Lucia had gone to The High School of Art & Design, one of the two selective art high schools in the city. I lived near it.
Lucia’s birthday is January 3rd. She told me how all her life her birthday had been overlooked because of Christmas, New Years, and Three Kings Day on January 6th.
We talked until dawn when I went home to change——yeah I know, a lot like doing the walk of shame but there was absolutely nothing to feel shame about.
Our work friends had always intersected; now they became one.
That New Years I had a very small party, for Lesley, Helene and a few good and usually Gay men, with smoked salmon, exotic cheeses and Dom Perignon. I said it was also for Lucia’s birthday. She believed it.
But that coming Saturday I had my first “Lucia’s (first annual) Surprise Birthday Party or First Saturday after New Years. I invited everybody from work. Her childhood best friend (husband worked with us) invited the rest of Lucia’s friends.
One thing I was fearless in was party giving. I knew my apartment with a ten by ten kitchen, five by five archway that could be set up as a buffet, and twelve by twenty five——twelve feet ceilings, wood burning fireplace, was perfect for a party with much dancing.
We got Lucia to my apartment by saying we were going out for dinner. Instead 50+ people were there to say: “surprise.” Lucia’s party went on until dawn. I hope she liked it.
Since then our friendship has outlived live in relationships–mine, marriages–hers, plural and much much more. Way too much tragedy, and not of the “I broke my nail” type though I can be dramatic.
Lucia’s daughter, Luce, not even a glimmer then, is 25–the age Lucia was when we met. Luce is one of the lights of my life.
Lucia’s biggest accomplishment (and she went onto become one of New York’s first girl contractors——very high end——will always be Luce.
But mine, I think, will be friendships that have gone on forever––with Lucia in the center.
I’m not sure if we’re wise yet or ever will be, but I can say with great certainty, we’re on the road to….the fabulous yellow brick road has long played a part in our lives.