…but I ended up on the Upper West Side today, in search of nothing specific, although I guess it was pretty specific, but not worth describing. Out of habit I revisited my old stomping grounds, including the enshrined, landmarked, must-see destination for all New Yorkers and visitors: The building where I lost my virginity.
As I approached I saw that gold lettering now appeared above the front door to the building. Surely, I thought, these letters would spell the words “MARK THOMAS VIRGINITY LOST HERE. SUMMER, 1991.” That, of course, is exactly what it said, those gleaming, smiling letters, twinkling in the harshly bright winter sun, certainly visible from the sky to all curious pilots and passengers with high-powered binoculars.
In fact there is no landmark, no shrine, no plaque or even a memento of this life event scratched in code onto the sidewalk outside the building. The gold letters spelled out the name of some kind of cultural institution (hah, almost spelled that as “vultural”). I never had reason to seek full disclosure about the status of that building but in 1991 it appeared to be a semi-legal conversion of a private house into a bunch of janky apartments. Today it looks to be fully legit.
Today, if the Cultural Institute took over all the floors, I would assume J’s room is no longer in the same condition as I remember it. Gone would be the loft bed space which she never used for sleeping but for storage. Certainly the mattress upon which our sacred rites occurred would be long gone, along with the bedside mirror in which we sometimes watched ourselves having sex. I, for one, felt a particular wave of excitement from those moments. She had wonderful legs, and she often smirked when my eyes drifted down to look at them when our offline conversations lulled.
If I had not saved a letter from her I might have forgotten that in those pre-Internet days we used the term “offline” in reference to time in which we were not having sex. But that mirror! Those legs! To see her wrap them around me looked as good as it felt. But that mirror is gone and the legs left my life over 30 years ago.
I stood outside the building, not getting too close, not feeling nostalgic or sentimental, just revisiting an old friend from a senswe of obligation. Sex with J. was always complicated, explained (perhaps) 2 decades later when I gleaned through internet dribs and drabs that she changed teams, as they used to say. In high school we would have callowly said “She gone lesbo!” or “She went gay!”
I recall those utterances now with a chuckle of disdain tempered by recognition of how attitudes about sexual preference have changed. When this revelation became clear to me I might have raised an eyebrow at first, but after any initial moments of manly existentia I remember thinking that explains a lot.
Memories of the awkwardness of sex with her had not exactly tormented me over the years but I remembered the strangeness of some of our encounters at times when I was with other women. It wasn’t just the sex but the conversations and the baggage. In 1991 I was 23 and she was 35. That seemed like a pretty vast age difference at the time, not just by the mathematics but the life experiences. She never finished high school, had been raped and molested from ages 18-20, and generally came from a pretty hardscrabble Oakland upbringing compared to my sheltered youth in suburban Florida. These differences came to a head numerous times, making it hard to believe we lasted a whole 9 months together.
I was what some would call a late bloomer, losing the capital V at 23. Others I know boast of having lost their virginity at 16 or 17, then fucking their way all through high school and college. I had girlfriends in high school and college but making arrangements to have sex never even seemed logistically possible in high school, and college dealt me nothing but women who simply did not want intercourse.
And guess what? Neither did I. The sex with which I was most comfortable in college was cunnilingus, and believe me when I say it was delivered like a master. I learned early that it is not all on me. You have to listen, but in conjugal give-and-take she has to give you something to listen for. And her body has to move.
Ah, now I’m getting nostalgic. Hah. As for being “late” to the game I never felt deprived or like my youth missed something for not having fucked my way through school. I had work to do and I do not regret doing it, though my attitudes about my schooling are full of contradictions.
Moving on from this subject. I wandered about the Upper West Side area, revisiting the fabled Parc Lincoln, at 166 West 75th Street; Freddie and Pepper’s Pizza; the Utopia Diner, where I made J go absolutely bugeyed with my account of how close this phone phreak came to being a felon; the old HMV records is now a Bloomingdale’s Outlet, selling skimpy t-shirts for $76 a piece; Papaya’s at 72nd and Amsterdam continues to sell its buttblast weiners decades on; ‘Cesca, said to be Yoko Ono’s favorite spot and a scene from one of the few stories I ever had published, closed; ‘Cesca took over the former lobby of the Parc Lincoln and swallowed its 4 phone booths with rotary dial payphones … Memories? Yes. Nostalgia? Nope.
Earlier that day I had been in Flushing, on word of a major rat infestation at an intersection there. Indeed I saw the holes burrowed out by the rats but they must have been sleeping. I saw no rodents. Instead I saw a dozen or so people engaged in some kind of meditative dance or choreography. There were bells sounding and string instrument music playing.
So many little interactions happen in this world. On Tuesday I saw a near-wipeout when a man came running, sprinting up the stairs from a 4/5 express track. Turning the corner and entering into his path of destruction was the woman I sometimes follow online, but who I’ve never said much more than a word to. I know who she is, what she looks like naked, and that she’s had troubled times in the past. But I don’t talk to her, nor she I.
She and this dude sprinting through the subway could have ended very badly but I guess both their reflexes were on point. There was a suspended moment of shock and awareness after which the man stepped around her and continued his sprint upstairs. Moments later I made direct eye contact with her, saying “Wow!” to her acknowledgment. Her eyes looked at me warmly for that moment but quickly returned to her usual stolid nervous.
After Elmhurst I was driven from the 7 train by the presence of a cursing, angry man who simply made me nervous enough to get off the train at a location I had no reason to be present. I remembered it, though, as a somewhat spiraling series of streets through Corona, so tangled and multi-angled that I imagined the streets had been designed to make an invading army’s path difficult and confusing.
I remembered the auto body shop with its NYNEX payphone sticker on the window. I still don’t have the nerve to as if there is still a payphone present in that establishment. That shop is near an overpass which leads to a school and then a business area where I hopped a Q58 bus toward Ridgewood Terminal. I made video of the ride but have not played it back.
In Corona I revisited a laundromat with a long-abandoned payphone inside. In the past I didn’t have the guts to go in for a closer look. It seemed like I’d be intruding. But the one woman present in that laundromat yesterday did not seem threatening in that respect. She didn’t think me an intruder.
I got photos of the phone and learned that it was abandoned by Ascot Communication, based in Greenwood Lake. That is a payphone service provider I’d never heard of, and I was happy to pluck its memory from oblivion. One of my regrets in having taken thousands upon thousand of payphone pictures over the years has been the dearth of closeup shots I got of the informational placard on them which identify what company, individual, or entity owned and operated the phone. So many names and characters disappeared down the rabbit hole of time.
Yesterday I woke to the smell of gas. It was enough to sicken me a little. Worried it might be coming from my building I was strangely relieved to step outside and find that the whole area smelled like gas. Everywhere. I checked the Citizen app and found, somewhat randomly, that an ex girlfriend all the way up on 41st Street had reported a gas smell. That was a strange way to reconnect with her but I let it pass.
The gas smell evidently came from some fire event way over in New Jersey. Who knew gas smell could sail so far.