Ellie invited me to dinner at the studio she shared with Lucia. I didn’t really like Ellie. She was a project: recently separated diabetic from another planet, badly in need of friends. This was a typical conversation.
“Hey Ellie, how are you?”
Ellie, eyes glazed over, hair in need of brushing, stooped posture would then mumble.
“How do you mean how am I? Physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually?”
I would then put my fingers through my hair, split a few ends and try to think of a witty yet appropriate reply. As there was none that I could think of, I would move onto a less open-ended question:
“What did you do last night?”
Ellie would actually think about this for awhile before mumbling a reply. When she coherently invited me to dinner, I was so shocked that I accepted on the spot. Then I spent the next week trying to think of a way to get out of it. But….
The apartment was a top floor walk-up on West 94th Street between Amsterdam and West End. It was Lucia’s; while tiny it was brightly decorated with posters of yellow cabs going up one wall, and on top of the bottom bunk bed. There was a loom and weaving Lucia had done. Though I had worked in the same room as her for a year, I had always been a bit star-struck in her presence.
The bright colors, minimal but nice furniture, the weaving, photographs, and hand painted objects suddenly humanized Lucia. it turned out that she had made dinner; fish in a tomato sauce. Being a good guest, I brought some pot, and Lucia rolled them into the most beautiful joints I had ever seen. That was a feminine art I had never been able to master.
That, and some wine, began us talking:
“Lucia is it true that you dated Mike O’Byrne last spring?”
“Yes..?” Lucia looked perplexed.
“Just broke up with him. We were keeping it quiet since he got his big promotion. ”
My friend Shelby had moved back to Miami for a couple of months and the girlfriends I had made at work weren’t soul-mates yet. But something in Lucia’s eyes told me that I could talk to her.
“You were dating him? for how long?”
“Since June. Waste of three months.”
“How come nobody knew?”
Rumors traveled faster than I could chug a 48 ounce glass of Diet Coke when hungover, at Summit. Once when very drunk the prior March, after the layoffs, I had found myself in bed with the project manager. Yes I had blacked out. Nor am I proud of that or what I did. I looked at him, screamed, found my clothes, quickly got dressed, and ran out of his apartment. While I didn’t tell a person, he told at least ten. I gave up trying to understand men after that. Lucia knew of that incident of course.
I decided that I could tell Lucia the truth.
“He should come with a sign that says ‘hi, I’m Mike. I’m beautiful and smart. I hate kissing and love to dress up in ladies lingerie, but I’m still the worst f–k in town.’ Not that wearing ladies lingerie should make him good.”
Lucia couldn’t stop laughing. That was the first time I was to hear:
You’re so funny; you’re so funny,” as Lucia waved her perfect arms. The perfect exterior was just a facade. I could tell from how hard she laughed, while waving her arms in a strange sort of disco duck dance. I loved this girl; my line wasn’t that funny.
Ellie went to bed while Lucia and I talked until the sun came up. Mike was the most significant of the guys we had dated in common from our job, or friends at work. We went through the list giving each points for things that I would rather not repeat.
Turned out that she was giving Ellie a free place to stay, while she got herself together. Thus began one of my biggest motto’s. “Others talk; Lucia does.”
A few months later after Ellie began turning tricks at Under the Stairs, a jazz restaurant a block or so away from their apartment, I coached Lucia in the “you have to leave, Ellie, speech.”
Lucia is truly a good person, and sometimes that really angers me because gives everybody who needs a place to live a space during the most desperate hours, unless they would begin turning tricks, which isn’t too likely among our age group now. I often still call her Saint Luce. What saves her from sainthood? Many things that I will eventually get to.
It feels like we have had one continuous phone conversation for almost 30 years, and another in person conversation.
While I was in awe of her looks and aura, she was in awe of mine. We should have learned then to appreciate our selves. But no. We had to learn the even harder way.