I’m grateful for my unresponsive landlord, who has left me without light in my apartment for the past few days. My bedroom lights blew out, my ceilings are high, and I am short. I dress myself in the dark. Caste out of my cave on the first spring-like day, I wander to the West Village to run some errands. On my way to Chelsea Market from 13th Street and 7th Ave, I see Will Ferrell jog down 13th Street in a t-shirt. In my head, I see myself running after him in my black trench coat and peep toe flats. I play it cool. I am amused because earlier that morning, I saw Will on the Today Show while sipping coffee in my pajamas.
At Chelsea Market, my brain comes alive as my salmon salad from Friedman’s Lunch swims inside my blood. After lunch, I buy black cherry balsamic vinegar, and I walk up to the High Line to greet the sunshine. When I overheat, I move to the shade and pull out my library book about nonviolent communications. Two stylish women who look like they’re in their 50s sit at a table next to me. They have shopping bags. They chat. They sit quietly. As Marshall Rosenberg leads me through how to listen to people empathically, the women kiss on the lips. I watch as they stroll towards the stairs on 16th Street, holding hands.
My iPhone battery is dying, so I cross the street to charge my phone at Starbucks. The kissers walk into Starbucks a few minutes later. I feel excited to see them again – just like Will Ferrell – twice in one day. I want to talk to them. I pack my bag and walk towards the door, stopping at their table. I introduce myself. I barely have to explain myself. The chatty woman tells me that her name is Gail, and her girlfriend – let’s call her Gloria. Gail moves her shopping bags from a seat and I join them at their little round table. I tell them that I saw them on the High Line earlier, and ask what they were doing there.
Gail, on the left, lives in the neighborhood, and says it was a nice day to walk on the High Line.
I ask if they’re a couple, and Gail tells me they’ve been a couple on and off for twenty years – more recently on for two years. I ask how they met, and Gail tells me that twenty years ago Gail was promoting parties for women at different clubs. One night in the middle of winter, she went to a friend’s party in Tribeca, which she mentions, was not the Tribeca of today. There was a snow storm that night – a blizzard. Gloria also came to that Tribeca party. The following week, Gloria came to a party that Gail threw.
I ask Gail what Gloria was wearing. I think that is a quintessential question for people in love for so many years. At the moment you recognize the person you will love, do you see the shade of her eyes or the shape of her dress?
Gail didn’t remember exactly what Gloria was wearing, but she did know what she was wearing: vintage black ski pants, a jacket with a lot of zippers, and a scarf. They laugh.
Gail says, “I don’t know what she was wearing. Gloria always had an amazing sense of style. Her hair was red then. Maybe those were her Gigli days.”
Romeo Gigli is a designer. I had to google that. I ask Gail what they did together when they first started dating.
“I was working as a hotel manager and I’d get off work at 3 o’clock and she would come by at 3 o’clock. We would go to the old Barneys a lot. Gloria was a favorite there. Everyone knew Gloria at the old Barneys. She was a stylist, a wardrobe stylist. The old Barneys was the best. Barneys and Charivari. She had a country house and we’d go there. We’d do what everyone does. We went out to dinner.”
I ask them how old they were 20 years ago. Gail is going to be 57, and Gloria is going to be 65. That would make them 36 and 45 when they met. Gail came out in San Francisco in 1974, when she was 19. I asked Gail if she joined the Harvey Milk happenings.
“I was in high school from ‘71 to ‘73, and that’s when Roe v. Wade came around. Abortion rights, gay rights, black civil rights. I graduated in ‘73 and then moved to San Francisco. At that time some of the gay boys who I met working in a coffeehouse were going to the Castro to protest Anita Bryant at Harvey Milk’s camera shop. This is before he was in office. Anita Bryant wanted to fire teachers for being gay. My nephew is graduating high school and his principle is an out lesbian – that’s how much things have changed.”
Gail tells me that if I had approached Gloria and asked her for an interview, she would have said no. Gail told me she would never say no, but Gloria would, because she’s so shy.
I ask them if they balance each other out, with Gail being more outgoing and Gloria being more reserved. Gail laughs, and tells me that Gloria is not shy around her. Gail says, “We’re best friends. Twenty years later we’re best friends. I love everything about her. We broke up for a few years and I had another relationship. I realized that I just missed how compatible we were. So, I said let’s talk and work this out. She was seeing somebody else for about a year, and I was seeing someone for about two and a half years. I realized I wasn’t emotionally available because I still had feelings for Gloria. There was still something there.”
I ask if they live together and have a country house together.
“The country house is gone. Gloria and I lived together for 10 years and now we don’t live together. Eventually we’ll live together again, but it’s just not that big of an issue right now. When we broke up Gloria bought an apartment, and then my apartment went co-op and I bought it.”
I ask Gail what they love to do in the city.
“Walk on the High Line. Walk around. We go to the movies all the time. We walk around the neighborhood. Bed Bath & Beyond is fun with Gloria. Everything is great with her. Whatever it is, it’s always good.”
I ask what they are doing tonight.
“We’re going out with a couple that Gloria fixed up – her second successful fix up in the past couple of years. She’s very good at it. The first one is lasting four years and counting, and this one looks like it might have legs. They’ve been going out for a few months. It’s very funny how they ended up together. They went on a few dates fifteen years ago, and then they got distracted by other people. Fifteen years later, they both became available, and now they’re on fire.”
My bracelet falls off, and Gail catches it. “Is this something that fell off you?” she asks.
Yes, my bracelet – I made it.
“Oh my god. It’s your bracelet, it’s great. But you almost lost it. That’s not great.”
I tell her it’s ok – it’s just brass. I ask her if she likes my S hook.
“It’s really good. Totally,” Gail says.
Gloria tells me she loves my blouse. I love my blouse, too.
Gloria and I chat while Gail gets up from the table. She is easy to talk to. She tells me she likes the idea of my writing project, and says that in New York, there is a sense of isolation even though we’re all over each. We’re on the train and nobody’s looking at each other. There are millions of stories in New York. We’re all just trying to navigate life.
This talking to strangers thing is my attempt to unearth some of the stories that live quietly inside this city. I also want to live inside Mister Roger’s neighborhood, and I imagine myself waving to Gail and Gloria while walking down Greenwich Ave. on my way to Village Natural with my friends, who also smile and wave at Gail and Gloria.
Gail returns to the table. They are getting ready to leave. I tell them they’re both gorgeous, and I thank them. They walk out the door and I follow behind after I throw out some napkins and my coffee cup. I see them walking down 15th Street ahead of me, holding hands again. I’m glad they put on their ski pants in that blizzard.
At some point, I lose them, then I nearly collide into Susan Sarandon as she walks out a big black door. I hear her admiring a woman’s puppy. I love Susan Sarandon, not only because she created Spin in Gramercy for Yoshi, but also because she gave a kickass Oscar speech in 1993 that affected me and my 7th grade relationships.
We are all navigating life, famous or not famous. We jog. We sit in the sunshine. We love puppies. We fall in love. We wear dresses and scarves and bracelets. We tell our stories.