smileless in new york city

words porochosta khakpour  |  illustration lily padula 

I met him on a street corner, and while I looked like I was a prostitute, I was actually just a broke writer on a rare night out. I was also a features editor at a luxury fashion magazine that would tank in months, but since I had never seen a paycheck from it, I refused to call myself an editor. But it offered perks like going out with wealthy creative people, mostly gay men, and having them dress me up. That night I was wearing a see-through black Chanel blouse with a black suede hobble skirt and Gucci stilettos, all borrowed. I air-kissed everyone in the cab and squirmed my way out the few steps to the East Village apartment I shared with an old college friend—and then I bumped into him. Almost literally.

He was waiting for the light to change and I was jaywalking and in my desperation to get my heels and hobble skirt to deliver me home, I practically fell into his arms.

I immediately knew who he was. He was a famous writer, one of the few the city, and especially the Village, knew by sight. He looked happy to see me, a whorishly dressed stranger who was, in her shock, babbling about loving his work. He told me we could take a walk, if I wanted, even though it was past midnight, and even though I was not a night person, whether or not I may have looked it. We walked and we stopped at a bookstore and he lingered at his books, as if to offer evidence that he was indeed a writer, though he knew I knew it well.

We went on to a bar and he didn’t drink but I drank enough for the two of us. He watched me, as if studying me, and I babbled about books and writers but mostly about myself. I had finished a novel after grad school and I needed an agent. That was why I was here again, the old city I’d lived in and ran away from every other year, it felt like. I was going to teach yoga on the side and tutor and finish edits and find an agent. But things were not easy. I had only been back five days. I had few friends. I smoked. I was rail-thin from poverty not fashion. I had moved back with $500. I no longer spoke to my parents.

He seemed fascinated as I went on and on and eventually he stopped me with a kiss. It was a good one and when we walked back he wondered if he should come up and I said no, mostly because I was imagining the mess inside. Plus, my roommate was also not a night person and it was nearly four and here I was bringing a man home suddenly just after a few days of moving in.

He said he’d call me tomorrow to make a date soon then.

And he did. As I lunched at another older writer-friend’s house, I got the call. We made plans for the following evening. The older writer, a wise mentor, knew him and chuckled at it all. He has a reputation, you know, she warned.

Of course I know, I told her. He even writes about it.


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