I met a girl at a party who almost got into a fight over directions.
In fact, that’s pretty much exactly what she said when she came up to me: “I almost just got into a fight with a guy out there over directions.” She glanced at the sidewalk. She was still incensed. She had long blonde hair and wore a newsboy cap.
I didn’t know her name. We hadn’t met yet. She wasn’t really even talking to me. She said what she said to the girl to whom I had been talking. We hadn’t met yet either. I had been standing in a corner by the window; it was a very crowded room; and the first girl asked me how I knew the guys who were throwing this party we were at.
“I don’t really know them,” I admitted. I told her I like the shop, I like the clothes here, I said I live in the neighborhood.
Only the last part was true. I had actually just been out taking a walk, looking at the Christmas lights on people’s houses and fire escapes—it was a clear, cold night, about 10 o’clock—when I came upon this shop at the corner of Perry and West 11th. It was a surf shop—surfboards visible through the large plate-glass windows—that much I knew. The little shop was filled with people, a holiday party clearly, and the party had spilled out onto the sidewalk; it looked warm and inviting. Why not? I thought. I opened the door and slipped in.
I headed right to the bar like I knew exactly where I was going. I was handed a drink, a sweet and very strong holiday punch. Five parts Rum or something: perfect. Everyone at the party seemed to be outstandingly beautiful, girls and boys alike, so much so one might wonder if this was a criterion for getting invited. I pushed my away through the crowd, made my way around the circuit once, then retreated to a corner to take it all in. That’s how the first girl and I started talking. But my answer about saying I liked the shop, liked the clothes, hadn’t satisfied her. “You don’t surf?” she said.
I considered lying, saying, “Yeah, sometimes I surf,” or, “I used to surf, but not anymore.” She might have believed that. I could’ve told her about California, where I used to live. But in the instant I knew that my lie would somehow be found out. So I said I liked the clothes—they also sold T-shirts and sweaters and stuff. She took a sip of her drink then said, “You really don’t surf?”
That’s when the blonde in the newsboy cap walked up. The two said hi, like they knew each other, and then she said the thing about almost getting into a fight over directions.
It was very noisy so I wasn’t 100% sure I’d heard her right. I asked if that's what she'd said.
She nodded, like it was the most normal thing in the world. “I was so pissed off. We’re talking and he nods in that direction—” she points toward the northeast– “and he says he’s going to a party in the East Village, just sort of nods his head. You know?”
“And so I say, ‘That’s not the East Village. If you go that way, you’ll run into, like, Sixth and 12th.’ Right?” She was talking to us now.
The other girl and I look out the window toward where she’d pointed, and then we both say, “Yeah, right.”
“’That is not the East Village.’ And he just looks at me and does this dismissive thing with his hand, as if saying I’m a girl and I don’t know what I’m talking about. He shows me his phone, his fucking phone, and says the phone says that’s the East Village. And it really pissed me off. I mean, I’ve lived here five years—”
“—I know what you mean,” I interjected, “you have managed to live here for five years. You have earned the right to give good directions. You don’t need a phone telling you.”
“Exactly. I know how to get to the East Village, and that is not how. I don’t care what your fucking phone says.” She sighs, takes a long sip of the fruity drink. “I just had to walk away; I almost wanted to hit him.” Suddenly the taste of the rum punch hits her; I can see the recognition on her face. “Wow, this drink is really strong.”
The other girl and I agreed. We had figured this out a couple sips ago: we are all very quickly getting very buzzed. Then the girl in the newsboy cap looks at me for a moment with a puzzled look, as if it suddenly strikes her that she had been talking to me all this time but didn’t know me. “What’s your name?”
“I’m a fan of anyone who gives directions,” I add.
She nods, and smiles mildly. We stand there for a minute not talking. It’s really loud. The other girl looks out at the crowd, scoping where to go next; she really doesn’t want to be standing here talking to two people about the value of good directions, especially since one of them is old enough to be her dad. I can’t say I blame her.
The blonde girl asks how I know the guys who are giving the party.
I say what I said to the other girl: I like the store, I live in the neighborhood.
“He doesn’t surf,” adds the other.
I could kick her. What I want to say is: A surf shop in Manhattan? For real? It must be a front by some clever boys to pick up cute girls. I definitely have to buy some things here.
The blonde girl asks where I live exactly and, when I tell her, she asks if I was impacted by Hurricane Sandy. I tell her how I was--no power, water, lights. She says she was similarly affected, but there is not a trace of complaint in her voice. It was like she was now standing up for the storm. I’m not saying she was pro-storm, but let’s say, pro-storm-experience.
The other girl has a look on her face like she doesn’t understand a word either of us is saying.
“I mean it, I’m really glad. To go without power or water or heat for a few days? It gave me a feeling for what it’s like for a lot of people every day. Every goddam day!” She pauses and takes a sip. “It transformed me. It really did. It transformed me.”
By now, the windows behind us are all fogged up; it’s so hot in here and so cold outside. Suddenly she steps up onto the banquette, and she uses her finger as a pen on the fogged over glass. In a beautiful cursive hand, she writes, “Love Liz”.
She does it really slowly and carefully; they’re the most elaborate capital letter L’s—very fancy, if you know what I mean, with big exaggerated curls, like a girl might do when practicing writing her autograph in her journal.
As she stands up there, I start thinking about how I happened just to wander in here, by chance, without an invitation, without a thought, but also not without feeling welcomed, and how I had ended up connecting with this feisty girl with improbably beautiful cursive handwriting. I think about how few people nowadays really value getting good directions from someone, how they’d sooner believe their phone, and how few of us have really nice handwriting anymore, how this is no longer valued, because we communicate mostly by email and text, and rarely write letters or postcards or in handwriting on fogged over windows.
I tell her how beautiful it is. You can see the lights of the city sparkling through the letters.
Liz steps down. I give her my drink to hold. I step onto the banquette and, using my finger as a pen on the fogged over glass, I add my autograph to hers: “& Billy.”
I take my glass back from her. “Cheers,” I say, and the three of us toast. “Here’s to knowing your way. Here’s to knowing New York.”
Liz puts her head back and finishes her drink until the ice in the plastic glass falls onto her mouth. She licks her lips. She says she has to get going.
I ask her where.
“That party in the East Village.”
She says I should come but I say thanks, no, not tonight.
I watch her walk out and, as she passes by him, say something to the guy on the sidewalk. I can just imagine. I slip out the door and head the other way.
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International AIDS Vaccine Initiative