Little stops a New Yorker in his tracks.
But, there I was. Brought to a halt.
Caught half stride by the determination in front of me.
The overalls he wore had seen their share of grease guns and oil pans in another time, another place. Now, beneath the Washington Square Arch in Greenwich Village, the downtrodden body that had recently laid claim to the Goodwill bargain continued duct taping the punctured tire of his bike. Even the stench of old, caked hair, carried by the trace of sweat trickling into his eyes, could do little to dissuade his resolve. For this rare, cheery-eyed example of the homeless frequenting the streets of New York, the most important thing at hand was wrapping that tire sufficiently to hold the air his battered tire pump stood ready to deliver.
It's not that I'd never seen such images before; after all, this is the land of the free and supposedly the brave, but the old man's image gave me pause while passing through to the other side and my date with the 4th Street subway station, a few blocks away. The hesitation was long enough for my hand to finger the money clip, but not long enough for me to finish doing the right thing. The peeling of just one twenty would buy him a new tire-two tires on Houston Street. But there was that wavering moment, the lack of tenacity that had kept me from carrying out certain other actions in my life, an indomitable serious weakness that was unique to me and perhaps to all of us-the questioning of instinct. You're such an asshole.
I ran to the subway station and my appointment at Zano's, never releasing the cowardice clenching of my money clip.
For many, New York's conspicuous consumption was best defined by its coffee intake. And, in Lower Manhattan, Zano's coffee shop proudly stood center stage, 24/7, resonating with the cacophonous stirring of cups and the orchestrated sips and slurps of dark, light, and flavored java.
"What if…" Samara said.
"You're asking me?" I blurted out, bumping the table and spilling my meal for the day. I jumped back. "Son of a…"
"Can I buy you another cup?" she asked in her usual analytical tone.
"No. Think I'll just stay on the 'fast' I've grown accustomed to for the past few months."
She smiled and sipped her own cappuccino. "Whatever works for you, Derek."
As I spread the Times classified section across the marble slab table and let the double espresso soak through, I avoided the eye contact she used so persuasively. That, together with her trim body topping out at five-foot-seven, made it almost impossible to win any debate, at least for this man, especially when she chose to focus her green eyes on my mouth.
"At least leave me with some sense of identity. Okay, Doctor?" I muttered.
She nodded, smiled and leaned on her elbows, studying the dark brown Rorschach design seeping through the Lexus ad proclaiming the 2005 models unrivaled. "You know, after all this time, I don't think I've ever seen you so relaxed," she said. "Do you have an answer?"
"You're asking me again the same worn out stupid question that is so fucking rhetorical it's off the scale."
"Derek," she whispered, "I'm just being the way you said you liked me...curious. Remember? By the way, your body may have just tensed up, making words sound bitter, and your language gutter-prone, but… I don't believe it."
"Oh, Jesus. What? Don't believe what?" I asked.
"That you are not the same blissful, relaxed man that arrived back from the Far East a week ago," she whispered once again, eyeing my six-foot frame that she had reminded me ad nauseam needed the ingestion of some extra meat and potatoes.
"Why must you whisper all the time?"
"It makes you listen, Derek. Makes you listen to my curious questions."
I stood up and motioned for the waitress. "Could I have a double espresso to go?"
"Doppio coming at ya," the little waif of a blond shot back at me.
"I'm leaving now, Samara."
She sat motionless.
"I'm going. Do you hear me? I don't want any more questions."
Samara continued turning her head left and right gazing at the coffee stains. "I'll be finished with this little study before your take-out arrives."
"God damn…" I sat down, took a deep breath and leaned across the table. "If I answer the question, will you just let me leave without planting more guilt? Okay?"
"Not intended to stir up guilt. I'm not that way."
I turned on my chair. God, can I get through this? Right now, at this very moment I want to just lose it. "Why are you all the same?"
"You mean the gender or the profession?" she quipped.
"Both. All. Okay? Here's the answer. The answer is as it's always been, as you've always known it for… Jesus, how long has it been… two years?"
"Two years? You mean our relationship?"
"I've not accepted it as a relationship yet, okay? You screw around with my head and…"
"At your request," she interrupted.
"…at my request, and I tell you what you want to hear, and we see each other every Tuesday night at this funky coffee house, and you always manage to get me pissed. That's a relationship?"
"Oh, Derek. The best. You pay me to get you upset, just like in a marriage."
"Husbands never pay their wives, for chrissake," I shot back.
"Oh… in more ways than one, Derek."
"Okay. Okay. This is going nowhere."
"Right. You were going to give me the answer, remember?"
"The answer. Okay. It's so obvious. I'm scared, Doctor. I'm fearful, and I'm lonely, too. I'm a basket case, okay?"
"You forgot 'I'm horny'."
"Shit," I muttered, "that's a given."
Her eyes remained diligent as she said, "It's important you say it."
A young, black house painter tried to navigate the tables, carrying two empty five-gallon cans in one hand and lugging a full can in the other. "Excuse me," he said.
Samara glanced at the painter's backside. "You'd think he could go out the back way, right?"
The painter continued toward the front, "Excuse me, mon…sorry…thanks, oops…sorry." As he arrived at the entrance, the manager, whose body and hand gestures left little for the imagination, met him.
I leaned forward in an effort to get Samara's attention away from the disturbing painter. "Okay. I'll say it. I'm horny."
As she brought her eyes back to the table, "And what else, Derek?"
I didn't like this part. I didn't like it at all, but like a Twelve Step program, I had to admit certain things. "I'm not a normal person," I blurted out, turning the heads of several Village types, one giving me a thumbs-up.
The waitress handed me my coffee, and surreptitiously leaned in. "Mister Turrel, this is not the place to be so vocal, you know?"
"Oh, come on, Patty, but it's okay to parade house-painters through while we're having coffee?"
"What? Oh, sorry. He's just working on the storeroom. Don't worry, my manager took care of it."
I reached in my pocket, threw a twenty on the table, and stood up, my eyes never leaving Samara's. "Patty, how long have you been serving me and Dr. Jennings, huh?"
Patty stuck the twenty in her pocket. "Long enough to know that these kinds of tips pay my rent every month. Five-forty for the coffee." She slipped the check under my hand with the pen. I signed my usual swoop and spear and took Samara's hand. "So, Samara, you want to do it, or not?"
Samara shared ever so slight a grin and hoisted her handbag onto her shoulder, leading the way to the front door. I followed, as usual.
This was always our foreplay. She had suggested role-playing as therapy, and…well, it was interesting. I had to admit it. A little crazy, I know. But, it worked for us. Truth be told, neither of us were "normal," especially in the romance department. For instance, I always stopped for a yellow rose on these Tuesday nights, and she always appreciated the gesture. But, she wouldn't let me buy her red roses. Don't know why. A quirk of hers. Like I said, not normal.
That's how my crazy Tuesdays always started. I still liked sleeping all day. Somehow, it was easier that way. The setting sun was my usual wake up time and Wednesday through Monday was my usual workweek. Tuesday charged me. No, it wasn't the sex. And it sure as hell wasn't the role-playing. It was a sense of recklessness, that feeling that I could break all the rules and still make it through the night.
The rest of the week was grind, grind and more grind. I hated the market, but I knew it well. I was extra lucky. My losses never caught up with my gains and, although I spent less and less time with the Dow Jones, I mildly continued in the midst of the dust and noise of my jackhammer and welding torch.
My passion was finally paying well, but not quite as well as the market. I wondered many times when I'd have the courage to throw away the earplug, the clip-on PDA, and the glasses that let me weld and watch the MSN ticker tape screen in the corner of the lens at the same time. But, next to Samara and rock, electronics were the next best turn-on I had.
As usual, we walked the short distance to the loft without talking, allowing for the simple ritual-like silence as she mused over the fragrance of the yellow rose. Maybe it was to counter Soho's waking-up-at-ten routine. Junkies, lookiloos, celebs, and wannabes cluttered the sidewalks like overgrown vegetation that needed pruning. Didn't matter that pockets were being picked, drug deals were going down, cops were cruising on bicycles shootin' the shit about the Mets or the Yankee games. Didn't matter. People just went their own way and paid no mind-just like Samara and me.
I leaned over and pulled the sheet up over her flawless skin. I got off on just seeing the black sheet contrasting her olive color, especially when she'd fall into a deep sleep after making love. It was always I who lay awake, staring up at the seven-hundred-pound marble and iron mobile that hung from the twenty-two-foot ceiling. The strange-looking art piece I'd playfully named "Family" had been a present to myself during the lean years when there was no one, either to buy my work or to sleep with. I thought of the years earlier when I'd turned down ten thousand and a permanent spot for it at MOCA, in LA. That act of "craziness," as my agent called it, left him speechless and me hungry for a bit longer. But, when it's your first-born, it's hard to give it up.
I glanced about the studio at the hanging plastic tents that surrounded the ladders, scaffolding and heavy stones barely removed from their mother's womb at the quarry. I still felt alone. Even with the pieces I placed about the floor like children of sorts, even-my eyes drifted back to Samara-even my lady, couldn't remove the feeling of aloneness. But that's how I understood it…the way I preferred it.
"You want to be alone, Derek. Just accept it. It's part of your eccentricities."
"What happened to 'abnormalities?'" I remember asking her.
"I think you've worked through the bad ones. The good ones are… good. Very good."
I never forgot her gesture that day. She pointed to my head and said, "One day your conscience will agree with your demanding friend inside there."
Oh, she left it open to continue with the therapy, but something rang true in her comment, and I opted to work on her suggestion. It wasn't long before I suggested we graduate to a new level in this happiness quest… another of her favorite phrases. I was insistent, but she resisted, saying, "I don't think it wise to change roles."
That's what Samara said to me on the last day I was formally a patient and the first day I formally became her lover. And… well, here we are. That's how we've been relating ever since, Samara and me. Now she provides the mental challenge of an intelligent woman, mixing in a safe amount of "psychologist" game, and I remain right where I wish to stay…alone. She still loves playing the doctor side of her genius, and insisting on a strict "therapeutic" hour, here and there, and I've insisted on paying her normal fee to carry it out. That was the arrangement. I'd pay the money, and in exchange, she would give me the therapist thing. The rest-the mothering thing, the lover thing, and the artist's companion thing-that was special and still a bit overwhelming for me at times. No woman I'd ever met managed power like Samara Jennings. Not controlling power, but strength of conviction.
I turned over and watched her slow breathing. Her calm face showed the occasional twitch, subtle smile, and raising of the eyebrows, all the usual sure signs she was in the final minutes before awakening. After all these months, I was beginning to think she loved our arrangement almost as much as she loved composing, which is what I suspected she did in her sleep, given the tight schedule of patients she had every day. But, however she made the time, she got everything done, including the progression of her concerto. As she started to awaken, I thought of Tanglewood coming up in the summer, the season her concerto would premier, and how it might affect our Tuesdays as the summer drew near. Fortunately for me, that was a few months away.
She turned and backed her body into me, her usual wake up routine. Then came the little whimpers, like now, until I put my arms around her-like now. These early morning habits usually exposed my backside to the "elements," as she had labeled them. I never share this part of my aloneness with her, though. Don't know why. I just never do. I always try to keep my mind calm, focused and loving, but this mental-backside of mine, what's behind me now in its own shadow, you know, this is when I feel cold, really cold. Strange. Whether it's summer or winter, the "elements" grip my shoulders like a cornice atop a mountain, sometimes buffeting with a curling, blowing…. I'm going off the edge again. Of course there are no winds. Of course. The air in the loft is always calm. I'm not crazy, you know. It's only in my mind, these howling winds, winds that Samara is still working on. Sometimes, she senses something is bothering me that professional experience can't calm. Those times, she addresses me with care and understanding, with mothering, with sex, whatever she feels will appropriately soothe me. I wonder many times if this is love or love's trickery.
I like the mornings-sometimes. She holds me to her breast like a mother; does her magic like a lover, and even subtly rocks me sometimes like I remember my grandmother doing. But then…
This morning was like many others. She stopped her little whimpers. Now there was only the thirty to thirty-five breaths per minute she always took just before awakening. Soon, I would be in the arms of… I didn't know, really. I still didn't have a word for it. Goddess? I'd be taken care of, gently held, and asked the usual Wednesday morning query, the question that usually kept me awake Tuesday nights, anticipating the words that always screamed at me, even though they were delivered in her usual whispered confidence. And, as usual, I could only stare at the ceiling with the dry throat that always followed on hearing the question once again, the question that was progressively becoming a demand.
"When are you going to do it, Derek?"