4. Frida & Diego

           

            The next morning I woke up early, happy that I wasn’t going to the store—that strange world of European aristocratic sex parties, eleven year-olds buying thousands of dollars worth of lingerie, coffee highs, sugar lows and a constant stream of the most fashionably dressed women I’d ever seen in my whole life.  The more I thought about it, the more it felt like a true circus up there.

            I woke up alone in Bushwick in my homemade loft-room with drywall and doors that didn’t quite fit in its hinges or go all the way to the ceiling. I felt grateful I’d had Momoko and this safe haven—rustic but endearing—to come to.

            I bee-lined for The Archive, the only coffee shop in my desolate, Sarajevo-looking neighborhood and bought a green tea and a blueberry scone while I waited for Momoko to show up.  We both had the day off and wanted to utilize our freedom.  I sat down to wait for her and opened the book I’d been reading, Michel Houellebecq’s Platform. Not two minutes later, I felt someone standing above me.

            “Excuse me, but do you like it?”

            I looked up to find a bearded guy with ginger-colored hair staring down at me.  I’m not sure why, but his look was oddly comforting, almost like Paul Bunyon had appeared in Manhattan. Maybe he'd caught some salmon with his bare hands, bit off its head and ripped its flesh apart like a hungry grizzly bear. 

            Taking my feet off the opposite chair, I pulled out my earphones.

            “Do I like what?” I did the slow blink, not on purpose, just nervousness. The slow blink was Momoko and my universal sign for apathy, cynicism and anything in between. 

            “The book.”

            He then, and I’m pretty sure about this, slow blinked me in return. 

            “Yeah, it’s pretty good.”

            He looked out the window and then back to me. “Hmm.”  He then went up to the counter and picked up his drink, which I noticed was also a tea.  I then watched him pour out half the hot water and add milk to the top. Then he came back and peered down at me and ever so coolly said,  “Well I don’t want to ruin it for you so I’ll save my opinions for a later date.”  He had very large blue eyes with very long eyelashes that looked great with his reddish mane of hair.

            I tried not to focus on him, them—the eyelashes and blueness of his eyes—lest my curiosity betray me.

            “That sounds like a plan.” I blew on my drink and turned the page. 

            “What?”  He deadpanned me again, those long lashes dancing as he slow blinked me yet again.  

            “What?” I was suddenly completely confused.

            “What sounds like a plan? My opinions or a later date?”  He was hypnotizing me.

            “Both at once?” I smiled truce and reached out my hand. “Hi. I’m Rosalie.” He took my hand and shook it.

            “I’m August. Nice to see you.”

            “Likewise.” I made eye contact with him before looking at our hands shaking one another’s. I never actually met people at my coffee shop, much less shook their hands.

            “I gotta split but you should check this out.” He handed me a blue flyer.  “We meet here and also the dive bar on Seventh every now and then for trivia games.”

           I looked from the flyer to his eyes.

            “Anyway. We’re actually meeting here tonight if you wanted to stop by later and see what the fuss is all about. We’re Brooklyn’s Finest.”

            “I can see that.” 

            “I’d say you’d fit in just …fine.” He made neither a smile nor an attempt to leave.

            I slow blinked him.  

            "Oh come on that's like the tenth time you've slow blinked me. Get outta here."

            “I think I’ve seen you guys here before. What are you reading now?” I realized as I talked that my words were coming out in shallow gasps, kind of like drowning, but not in the Baroness Lucy way. Shyness was not the only one of my Achilles heels but it was a big one. “I’ll think about it. I live right there, so--”

            “Rosalie, right?” He was still peering down at me, one hand on his pack.

            I nodded. 

            “What do you do in the city?”

            “I work retail uptown.” I smiled at the hipster.

            “That's cool. Anyway, gotta run. Nice to see you.” He motioned to the flyer as he hoisted his backpack.  “You might like it.”

            “See you around.”

            He did a little wave as he left the coffee shop and I stared at the back of him as he unlocked his bike, then rode across the street and headed down the block, tea in one hand. 

            I then slowly turned back around only to see Momoko sitting at the counter like a 007 secret agent, humongous white shades covering her eyes, slurping a frosted coffee drink through a straw, staring right at me. She came over.

            “Well, God, I didn’t want to interrupt. Talk about chemistry; I should’ve brought my fog lights along. That guy was muy caliente.”  Momoko sucked blended cold brew through her straw and rearranged her long, straight brown-red hair over her shoulder as she stood there in the middle of the cafe and waited for me to tell her something juicy.

            “Not so loud.” I looked to see if anyone was listening to us. Friends could be so embarrassing! “And please. He gave me a flyer for a book club.”

            “That guy was hot and you know it.”  Momoko has ignored what I’ve just said completely and bent down to smooth a small ripple in her neon purple pedicure.   “So are we ready to jet? I think we should go to Coney Island because you said you’ve never been and it’s still warm enough to jump in the ocean.  Plus I really need a cigarette and I can smoke all day at the beach. Plus, I brought you the cutest suit.”

                                                                                    ***

            Momoko Thompson and I had been friends since preschool in California but never that close, which was why it was easy to be her roommate and casual co-worker.  When girlfriends have established the closeness-factor within one another’s lives and have both decided on a similar level of intimacy vs. distance proximity, things were easy. The drama usually ensued when one friend expected more from the other and wasn’t getting what she’d signed up for. Momoko and I were so different that our orbits never overlapped much and therefore keeping our respectful distance wasn’t hard.  This was good for keeping a basic low-maintenance friendship.             

            Momoko—who’s name means little peach in Japanese had moved out to New York after school to try the plethora of things that “looked fun”.  She was currently working as a part-time stylist for magazine shoots, as a model for various legit and not so legit companies, as an extra and small-bit actress, as an advocate for vegan life, as a karaoke hostess at Rockette, a full-time hipster, and of course, over-worked sex goddess. She always got lots of call backs and go-sees for modeling because she was one of those exotic Hapa girls—half Japanese, half Swedish-Irish—tall and lanky, flawless pearl-colored skin and haunting brown hair that turned red in the sunlight.  Never worked out, ate whatever she wanted, drank excessively and smoked like a chimney, had coffee for blood, and of course never had even the slightest resemblance of a dark circle under an eye.  She said that her variety of jobs kept her excited to wake up every day and keep it fresh and I could understand that.

            We rode the Q train as it rattled toward the beach.  Momoko told me about the copious amounts of sex she had last night and I told her about the annoying girl I met with Jack the other night and she told me that people only identify a nemesis in the first place because there’s something about them we identify within ourselves and then I told her Jack wanted to film us, to which she simply replied “hot.”  Which I took as a perfect example of our orbits not colliding very often.  

            Momo was talking about tinted mineral makeup versus liquid bb creams.

            “Momoko, do you ever lament the past?” 

            “What?” She took her ear buds out.

            “The past. Do you ever lament it?”

            “No. No way. Lamenting the past is for suckers. Why? What about?”

            “Nothing.”

            The old Q train creaked and moaned and we were the only ones going to the end of the line.  Outside it had become stormy and windy, full and leaden with heaviness. 

            When the train lurched into its final rung and we climbed out, I saw that Momoko was right and I was disappointed.  Not sparing any niceties, Coney Island was kind of a dump. There were old wooden planks coming apart, chipping paint on signs and benches, plastic bags blowing in the cool wind, large metal bins heaped high with trash.

            Momoko insisted on having a cheese dog from Nathan’s even though I reminded her she was a Vegan to which she said “only if I’m going for that whole New Age look, and that looks’ so over done right now.”

            I settled for some of their curly fries and we walked down to the beach and laid out our towels amongst the small piles of seaweed and broken glass. We had been there all of four seconds before two guys rolling ice chests in the sand asked us if we wanted a cold corona for six dollars. We declined and then they asked us if we were always this fine. To which Momoko promptly said, “Yeah. We are.” 

            Momoko then told me how she was dating three guys at once and how frustrating it was to have someone knock in the middle of the night and not know who it was going to be.   I tried to sympathize, but seeing as how I’d been in that situation—oh, never—I really couldn’t say.

            “Omigod Rosalie, I’m just gonna say it, you totally need to get single at some point. You don’t know what you’re missing.”

            I turned and pulled my sunglasses down, taking in Momoko’s facial expressions, trying to read her for ulterior motives.

            “No offense, but it doesn’t sound all that great.” Having there be a knock and literally not knowing who it was? Geez.  “Anyway, why do you say that? ”  If a trusted friend says those words a woman should always be highly suspicious of either herself or her friend.

            “I don’t know.” She licked mustard off the tip of her dog. “I just think you’re young, and you know, the world’s your oyster and all that. People learn a lot when they’re alone with themselves.”

            “Why do you think I live with you and not Jack? And what’s that got to do with being single?” What did she know about anything anyway?

            “I don’t know. Or not. You seem happy. But then why were you so flirty mcflirt with the grizzly hipster?”

            “Please.”

            “Well, and what’s this about lamenting the past? You’re obviously talking about Charlie.” 

            She knew me well. “No.” I denied it. “Jack wants me to move in, to film us having sex, to move in the direction of holy matrimony. If I think about the past it’s only because I’m unsure of the future and the steps to take to get there.”

            “Jesus, Rosalie. Now that sounds tragic. What happened to your life?” She whipped open the last Sunday Times. “Here, then, if you’re headed in that direction, despite warnings from your most crazy friend then let’s dissect.  I can’t save everyone.” She pulled out the Styles Section and extracted the Wedding Section.

            We huddled on the freezing beach and scrutinized what was considered ‘success’ in the kingdom of married coupledom a la the Times, judging via the pictures and short paragraphs written about each couple and trying to gauge if they were happy, if they’d last, if they were right for each other.

            “I don’t know if I’ll ever get married.”  Momoko stripped down to her bikini, despite the cold temperature. “Do you?”

            “Well, yeah. I do. I mean, I would. If it were right.”

            “Well I think it’s totally outdated and over-rated. My dad doesn’t need to give someone a few goats to take me off his hands anymore thank you.”

            I agreed but thought there could be a more modern twist to marriage to fit in with the needs and wants of this century. “I think it’s all about the Frida & Diego.” 

            Momoko looked up at me. “What’s a Frida & Diego?”

            “Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The artists.”

            She gave me a slight nod and I picked up a piece of plastic and started drawing two houses in the sand.

            “Those two knew what they were doing. They loved each other but couldn’t stand to be around one another too long—how can such genius constantly collide and not go crazy?—so they each had their own house and had a drawbridge built between them. So Frida was able to raise or lower it depending on her mood and if she felt like seeing Diego. And if she needed her space, she just drew up the bridge.” I drew a little drawbridge going up.

            Momoko’s eyes widened as she thought it over.  “Wait, wasn't Diego cheating on her left, right and center? And didn't he drive her absolutely mad psychotic? Don't know if they are the best example, Rosy, you know? She had a fucking unibrow."

            Just like that I wasn't so sure I bought Frida's trip, her letters, her story. Drawbridge? Maybe she should have left him and married someone nicer. Hard to speculate about life. "Well, maybe if they're bad examples, think of some other iconic duo." 

           "Like Zelda and F. Scott? Romeo and Juliet?" Momo started to smile wider "Jesus and Magdalene? Adam and Eve? Cleo and Ceasar?" Momo started to laugh. "See, the love story never seems to include the endings!? JFK and Jackie? Marie Antoinette and the Dauphin? Let's jump in!" 

            The sun peeked its head out of the clouds and we jumped into the frigid water. We stayed in about four seconds before shrieking for our towels on the sand. 

          Momoko told me how she was planning to sublet her room in the loft for “brighter, more spiritual places.”

            “I’m talking about España, Rosalie, where the men are hot, the wine flows freely, and there are real beaches with clean salt water.” She pointed to the trail of grime and trash that etched the tide line and as if on cue a mother down the beach slapped her child on the head to solidify the fact that the outer boroughs of Manhattan could be a little whoa. I cringed and the image of Drusilla calling her child a beast rolled into my mind. ‘She’s such a beast. I hate shopping for her.’  I pushed it out. And I pushed this woman slapping her child out.  If she were going to slap her child in broad daylight, what was I supposed to do about it? She was probably crazy, anyway. I looked at the child who seemed to look directly at me and wonder why I wasn't doing something. I looked around and everyone was ignoring it or hadn't seen it. Sobered for the little child and also feeling powerless.

            I surveyed the scene before me—the quiet lapping of small waves, the barrage of men in street clothes rolling ice chests down the beach, the housing that stood like empty ghosts overlooking the beautiful bay that nobody seemed to have the time to notice.

            “What’s so great about España?”

            “I don’t know. I just want to go.  Just leave. I have a few plans in mind.”

            “Like what?”

            “Like, a spiritual quest.  Through the Pyrenees. It’s one of the places I want to see before I die.  And you know what else, Rosalie? I want to evolve. Evolving is on my to-do list.”

            “Uh huh.” I zipped up my hoodie. “What about the whole ‘wherever you go, you pack the same bags?”

            “That's the whole point of traveling. It's to change what's in your bag." 

                                                                        ***

            Momoko and I parted ways at Union Square as she was off to see boyfriend number 2 in the Bowery and I went back to Bedford in Brooklyn to peruse the stores on North 7th.

            My cell phone rang and it was Veronica calling from our hometown in Northern California.

            “Rosalie. Guess what?” Veronica was very excited and breathed heavily into the phone.

            “What? Tell.” Veronica immediately lifted my mood, making me feel lighter, giggly, happier.

            “We got engaged! He proposed a few minutes ago!”

            My heart leapt for my friend! “Really? That’s wonderful! Oh my god, congrats!” I shrieked and she shrieked and it was that moment that women friends share together the world over.  Veronica had been in a relationship with her college boyfriend Benjamin—Charlie’s best friend for forever and we all knew it was only a matter of time.  But, wow! It’s not every day that your best friend gets engaged.

            “I know! And we’re gonna have an engagement party. And you have to come home for it. I’m booking you a ticket home, okay?”

            “Oh, Veronica, awesome, of course. When’s the party?”

            “Not sure. Probably early November. But, Rosalie? I feel so happy, like my life is on course and I’m doing what makes me happy.”

            “Absolutely, Veronica. You guys are meant for each other, and you’re happy with him.” 

            “You have to be my maid of honor, okay?”

            “Yes, Veronica, of course. Anything. I’m so happy for you. I love you so much!” I sang into the phone. I was happy for Veronica. It was what she had wanted since we were three.

                                                                        ***

We talked for almost an hour and after I congratulated her a bunch more I hung up and went into the bookstore I’d been standing in front of as something had caught my eye.

            In the window was the book The Rainbow Goblins. I picked it up and sat down on the ledge where next to me were a stack of fliers for the same book club the hipster August had told me about.   I picked up a flyer and stared at it, trying to picture myself in a book club.  

            I had stopped reading as soon as I finished school. Life just seemed to take over and before I knew it, a whole year had passed and the only two books I’d read were What Color is Your Parachute and a book on the secret world of plants.

            Then there were the fashion magazines Momo had lying around the loft. But I had never more than half-heartedly read any of the content in them because how many times can you read about whether the cellulite cream works or not?  What I had begun to do with the fashion magazines was pull them apart.  Ripping them into lines of color, collaging all of the greatest designs into shapes, patterns, feelings. It was an unconscious sorting and shaping of how I would have done it if I were the creative director of the photo shoots.

            Usually I took a the images of your classic magazine shoots—say of the models dressed as Robots in the New York Botanical Gardens and doubled it; adding in more lights, more frizz, more makeup, more flowers, more neon, more metallic, more of everything. Whatever it was, I wanted it to ooze from everywhere.  In fact, my idea of beauty always contained a certain element of oozing and constant of color.        

            I was four or five years old and my mother gave me The Rainbow Goblins by Ul De Rico.  It’s a kid’s book about goblins who chase rainbows and lasso them and steal their color. There is the blue goblin, the yellow goblin, the red goblin, etcetera and they live in a cave in the side of a mountain by a deep valley. At the very end of the story they pull one of the rainbows down on them so hard that it drowns them in a field of flowers; just too much color. They drown in a river of melted Crayola crayons. I remember seeing that when I was so young and the image was delicious. I wanted to drown in that color. I wanted to eat that color. To me, there could be nothing better than drowning in color; in a beautiful sea bed of bright flowers.  Madison Avenue had appeared that way to me. 

            I picked up another book club flyer, bought the book and headed home to my sanctuary in Bushwick.