Blue on 14th Street

by

12/31/2006

100 W 14th St, New York, NY 10011

Neighborhood: West Village

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Blue never counts the raccoon coat in her estimate. By this time in 1984, t’s too old, even though from a distance it makes her look like a rich person. The coat, which falls to her ankles, is from the 1920s and was her grandfather's. The inside label even spells out his name in baroque cursive writing: David Stewart. She loves the coat even though several of its pelts have fallen off and a few others are just hanging on for dear life.

So not counting the coat Blue estimates that she, or rather what she is wearing on her body, comes to a grand total of $860. She is also wearing a Jhane Barnes cranberry/black wool alpaca silk blend sweater that probably wholesales for $300. The knit is vertical, rather than horizontal, making the sweater much more flattering.

The sweater was a gift from Jhane Barnes’ PR director, Thom, who, like Jhane Barnes herself inserts an "h" into his name to make it more interesting. Blue is on her way to his apartment right now. When she visits him and her real friend, Jacques, Thom's boyfriend, she makes sure she is decked out from head to toe in natural fibers. Since they became friends she not only knows the finer nuances of natural fibers but precious natural fibers too.

But back to the estimate: Jhane Barnes sweater, $300, Black Keds Sneakers, $20, black oversized canvas pocketbook, $20, Lee jeans, $20, eight fire opal rings (which Blue wears on eight fingers, excluding her thumbs) $500 -- for a grand total of $860, including the Jhane Barnes sweater and Lee jeans.

The year is 1984 and Blue has been estimating her physical worth since she moved to New York two years ago straight from college. She works as a secretary in the ad sales department at North American Travel Agent, the official publication for the American Association of Travel Agents, where she reports to three space sales reps, all of whom are about 30 (eight years older than Blue) and gorgeous, which Blue is pretty sure she is not. One, Sloane, even has a real, new, fur coat.

Blue earns $15,000 a year, which is a huge raise from her last job as an editorial assistant for True Detective – $3,000 more, in fact. But now she sees $15,000 doesn’t buy hardly anything, and she hates the job.

Blue has nothing in common with the sales reps that make tons of money and talk incessantly about Le Cote Basque, Le Cirque and on and on. They each wear at least $860 of clothing and jewelry every day – and they pay for it with their own salaries or those of their rich boyfriends.

Two of out three of the reps are members of the Junior League, something Blue had never head of until she moved to New York. Nor did she know that having a last name first name was a sign of pedigree. In addition to Sloane there is also Ellison and Parker, who goes by Muffy of all things. Her only friend at North American Travel Agent is the art director, Jacques.

The sales reps at North American Travel Agent would not wear rings on each finger except their thumbs. Blue is not sure how much the rings actually cost, but she assesses the lot of them at $500 based on nothing.

Her grandmother bought them in Australia for her mother years ago, way before her mother even got sick, and they probably were less expensive than what you would pay for them here.

When her mother died, Blue inherited all her jewelry, including her wedding band and diamond ring, and, of course, all the opal rings.

Last week Jacques dyed Blue’s black hair blonde and she is now on her way back to his apartment on 14th Street so he can put a blue streak in the front, which he thinks is very clever. He said if she likes it he’d add more streaks later. Blue is not too sure about this idea at all, although she does like being a blonde.

You may have been wondering about Blue’s name, and whether it’s a nickname. It isn’t. She was named after her mother’s childhood Russian Blue cat, a fact that she finds horrifying. She tells people it is a nickname and that her real name is Amanda.

When Blue emerges from the IRT train, which she caught at 96th Street, she calls Jacques and Thom on a phone near the tracks to tell them she is on her way, something she always does. She is looking forward to this. While Jacque dyes her hair the three of them will do lines of coke. They might even go to Rick’s, a bar with gigantic margaritas on Eight Avenue. More than likely, though, they will instead drink Greyhounds in the apartment and talk talk talk.

Jacques will also make homemade biscuits, both he and Thom are from West Virginia, which he always saturates in butter and tops with thinly sliced ham. She plans to eat at least four of them before their toots, which leave her, thankfully, with no appetite.

As Blue walks up the steps that lead to the street she thinks she sees someone behind her, but then when she turns around no one is there. She turns east on Seventh, in the direction of Thom and Jacques’ building, The Village House, the very building where Bernard Goetz, who shot four black kids on the subway last year, also lives.»

Although Thom applauds what Bernard Goetz did he dislikes him because he wore a synthetic coat during a TV interview. Thom is pretty conservative for someone who does coke all the time and starts the day with a screwdriver.

>Personally, Blue feels sorry for the boys that were shot by Goetz, but she keeps this information to herself, at least around Thom.

She once made direct eye contact with Bernard Goetz in Thom and Jacques' lobby, bringing her Making Eye Contact With Famous People list to three: John Savage from "The Deer Hunter," whose coat she checked when she worked at Merlino's Cafe as a coat check girl, and John Travolta, who looked directly at her when she was walking by Trader Vics where he was standing outside.

Fourteenth Street between Sixth and Seventh is dead this evening, which is unusual for a Saturday night. There’s hardly anyone around. Blue can hear herself breathe. But it’s not what she hears it’s what she feels.

Someone is behind her. She turns her head back in the direction of Seventh Avenue and there is a black man who is walking behind her but he is crossing over to the south side of the street. Blue continues to walk, but faster now. Blue looks straight ahead but can't help but see the man cross back over to her side of the street. Blue walks a little faster but resists the urge to run. What if he’s just a normal person and not a drug-crazed rapist? How embarrassing would that be?

He’s behind her now and Blue holds her breath.

"I’m going to shoot you," he says from behind her, just inches away.

She stops, and realizes she has answered the question that she always wanted to know: Would she resist and attack or comply during an attack. She is going to be a complier.

Blue turns to face the man but doesn’t see a gun, although one hand is lodged in his beige cordory jacket. He wears a black skullcap, just like so many of the men in the Most Wanted pictures in the post office. He doesn’t seem as tall as she originally thought, just very powerful and wide. Like that guy they call the Refrigerator who plays for the Chicago Bears.

"Give me your money," he says to Blue, who is momentarily relieved that he is saying this rather than "Take your clothes off."

She hands him her large canvas pocketbook and he takes it, standing there and not saying anything.

Not only does Blue want to be compliant she wants to help. She wants to illustrate that she is in this thing with him.

"You probably don’t want to carry that," she says. "Do you want me to take the money out?"

He just stands there looking at her, holding the pocketbook in his one gargantuan hand while keeping the other entrenched in his jacket.

She takes it back from him, pulls out the wallet, panicking at first because she can’t find her money amid the crumpled papers that are also in the billfold section. She pulls out the wrinkly $20 and hands it to the man.

"It's only $20," she says.

He still doesn't move, or speak. He doesn’t blink, either, which she finds the most unsettling thing of all.

"You can take these rings too," she says, since he hasn’t told her she can go yet. She pulls the opals off her left hand first and hands them to him, and then does the same with her right hand.

She can’t shut up. "They’re opals and they’re from Australia," she says. "Fire opals, which are more valuable than regular opals."

He still doesn’t say anything and he still doesn’t blink. Blue can’t stop herself. "I shouldn’t be wearing them anyway because it’s bad luck if you’re not born in October."

She wishes she hadn’t said that.

Does he now think that he is bad luck? "I just mean they’re probably worth something."

He puts the rings and the money into another jacket pocket, not the one that possibly houses the gun.

"Walk up the street and don’t turn around. Walk slow."

"Okay," she says, noting a certain cheerleader-like enthusiasm in her voice.

She does what she is told. She walks for what seems like miles and doesn’t turn around until she crosses from Sixth Avenue to Fifth.

She is alive and she didn’t get raped or maimed or shot, although she can’t imagine eating biscuits and ham, or doing lines of Coke, or drinking Greyhounds.

She doesn’t have any money now to get home. She’ll borrow some from Jacques and Thom.

She wonders if the rings will bring the man any luck.

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