I don’t know what I’m doing here. It is a Thursday night and I am in a tiny Lower East Side theater at a dress rehearsal for the play I’m in where I am going to take all my clothes off. Now, generally, I don’t act and do not, by any means, take all my clothes off. This is how badly I want to know this city, to be as close to this city as I can – I decide that getting up in public and removing my garments is the best, most visceral, and only guaranteed strategy. I practice detachment daily, rehearsing under hot lights in a black box theater, reciting unnatural lines, giggling when the time comes and wiggling awkwardly out of a bathrobe pretending people are watching, mostly to prepare for the day that they are, and all this, just so I can Know This City, know it close and know it true.
It so happens that I am in a little bit of love with The Lighting Tech (who will herein be called just that), and this makes things even more awkward. I am great at faking bravado – this is my skill set, and, like I said, NOT acting. I have the gift of fraud. Give me a stage and I’ll strut across it, I’ll bend backwards despite my own complete lack of coordination; I’ll pretend I’ve stripped for thousands millions of times and that this isn’t my first terrifying time; I’ll dance and I can’t dance; I’ll flirt and I sure as hell can’t flirt. Especially not here, like this, naked after my bathrobe drops, under hot lights, with The Lighting Tech mere feet away. Instead, I will go home alone, like usual. Like so many new New Yorkers, my early romance with New York is a lonely and deeply imaginary one.
I am new to New York and it is summer, my first New York summer. I am spending my every waking minute on the Lower East Side and eating mostly excitement and possibility, not so much food. Until I find my own place, I am staying with friends of the family in their now-matriculated-to-fancy-college son’s room, the walls a slightly depressing collage mix of Star Trek and Kerouac, and all I have to get by with is my journal, my bike, my imagination, and now this strange naked play, my clandestine debut ball. I may be hibernating in someone else’s childhood lair, but now I have a New York thing, a commitment, this thing that I Do, and my nights feel a little bit more contextualized with that knowing. I get on the train with my headphones on and my jeans cuffed, and even though I’m alone as hell, I feel more alive and a part of the world than I ever have.
This is how I come to know this city. I am young and newly queer in a strange body with strange desires and this is uncharted for me, confusing enough, but suddenly now there are also bridges and oceans and bricks and cats and trucks and bikes and me, the whirring of colors, city like newsprint in the morning, all over my fingers and my face, and I’m completely lost. I take walks, and the quiet in my head grows to be permanent, solid, everlasting, inside the scream of the city. I enjoy this noise-to-quiet contrast while gulping coffee snacking on pastries from Moshe’s bakery on 2nd Avenue. It’s a romance with myself — always out on dates with myself, writing myself feverish love letters, and coming home to myself. I fall asleep with myself, listening to the barely-audible creak sound of the rising moon.
So I don’t know what I’m doing there, but here I am, on scene 5, take number 3, delivering lines, in my bathrobe. It is late at night and I feel that subtle internal shift, what happens to me when I realize it’s night in this city and there is too much life here and too much electric charge to care much for food that isn’t caffeine or raspberry hamentaschen. Instead, I am focused on the task at hand and my racing heart.
We are supposed to test the fade on my final scene now. I walk to the front of the stage in my robe. Outside I can hear truck horns wail-fading by, someone screaming at a wayward biker. The Lighting Tech talks over them, says, can you stand a little stage left, a little shyly. I move, and the lights go on, off, then on, then dim on me. The director says to take off the robe, he laughs a little, knows it’s funny during tech week. Usually it’s a big dramatic scene, big Political Statement where I take the robe off and strip off, layer by layer, the parts of my gender construction. I believe that tomorrow night, when I have an audience, this will beat hard in me, feel important and loud and maybe even a little bit sexy.
Right now, though, it is just time slowing down, a tiny boxy room in a city where I am not hungry, I am alone, and I am about to be very naked in front of someone who has a tiny bit of my secret heart, and all because I felt too awkward to go meet people in this city the Usual Way – the party, the art opening, the subway. So this is how I come to know this city. It is a bizarre paradox, and I know it all too well as I undo the belt on the robe, slide my arms out of its massive sleeves, feel its furry weight as it hangs for one hopeful moment and then falls with a soft thud to the cold stage floor. I dare myself to look at The Lighting Tech right in the eyes, as the room goes dark, and I feel my arms at my sides, my skin still warm from the lights, ready for the cool-down of the bike ride home.
Temim Fruchter plays drums in The Shondes and enjoys little more than a Brooklyn brunch involving lox, pickled turnips, and a veritable vat of iced coffee.