Lucy’s Project

by

05/05/1998

Neighborhood: East Village

New York in the summer of 1981 was everything it wasn’t in the winter of 1979. Punk died instead of disco. The city was no longer bankrupt. Even the East Village showed signs of regeneration, since abandoned tenements can only be burned so many times before the ashes won’t catch fire.

People had work. Mine was menial construction on an after-hours club along the Hudson River. After paying rent, I had enough money for either Chinese take-out or beers at CBGBs. I lost weight either way. I thought about robbing a bank. Whenever I entered one, guards put their hands on the guns like they had been studying ESP.

Getting real employment was the solution. I had a college degree. My record was clean. I’d worked nine-to-five and knew they didn’t kill you, however the nightclub owner had promised the work crew various jobs once the International opened its doors. At his previous after-hour club I had coined $500-700 a night. We hoped to open before Labor Day. On August 13th the club was $20,000 short of our goal. The International’s salvation came from a criminal refugee from Odessa. My boss didn’t say where the Russian got the cash. It could have been smuggled icons or drugs.  None of us were boy scouts and we were glad the club would be opening soon. Being broke was not our style. My boss mentioned Vadim had a beautiful girlfriend. Almost covergirl pretty, except the blonde was too short to make it on the runways. The DJ said she sounded like my old girlfriend from Buffalo. I hoped it wasn’t her. Despair told me it was. Lisa had left for a modeling job in Milan a year ago. I hadn’t heard from her since. No calls. No letters. No messages from her friends. I once spotted her in a French lingerie ad and thought about hunting for her, except the magazine photo offered zero clues to her trail. She could have been in London, Paris, Milan, or Munich. I knew none of those cities and stayed in New York, yet her footsteps on cobble-stoned European streets echoed during my nightly walks around Manhattan. I told Danny that his suggestion was too much of a coincidence. “She’s gone for good.” “No one leaves New York forever.” Danny Gordon had been born at Lenox Hill and believed there was nowhere else the world to live. “She’ll be back.” “That’s what I’m worried about.” Up to now I had been forgetting Lisa piece by piece. The smell of her skin after we made love. Her laugh if I told a bad joke. Her stilted dancing to the Psychedelic Furs. Buying leather jackets together. Hers white. Mine black. Some of them never went away. No matter how many drinks. No matter how many days. They had lives of their own. “Still it would be funny if it was her.” Danny wasn’t letting go either. He had a thing for her. Any man would if she looked his way. “Funny, but not ha-ha funny.” I chucked a hammer at him and the missile put a dent in an op-art sculpture from the 60s. No one noticed the damage for a week and then everyone denied any knowledge of how it got there. With the Russian cash we sped through the final stages of the construction. A Labor Day opening appeared realistic and on the hottest day of summer the Russian came to inspect his investment. We were tearing asbestos from the ceiling. It was a dirty job. The filaments wormed into the skin and scratched the blood in my lungs. Rat dust caked my sweating flesh. Danny and I couldn’t have been lower of the feeding chain of Manhattan. “Guys, I want you to meet, Vadim.” Our boss shouted from the entrance. The gang on the scaffolding stopped working and sucked on bottles of water before glancing through salt-stung eyes at a muscular man in his late-20s. Vadim looked no different than us, except he was wearing a pastel linen suit. He was also clean. The crew muttered hellos. Mine was silenced a second later, when a slender blonde in snug Versace entered the garage. Her b-grade beauty was as haughty as a dethroned princess. Danny, the DJ, nudged my ribs. “So much for the lack of coincidences.” “It’s a small world.” Lisa hadn’t changed from our good-bye. “And a long life.” “Think she recognizes you?” “We lived together for a year.” I whispered, hoping she wouldn’t look my way, but her head turned to our perch. A dice roll of jade green eyes indicated my lack of social progress had not disappointed her low expectations for a punk poet. “No, she hasn’t forgotten.”

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