A Small Price to Pay



Broadway & Steinway St, Queens, NY 11103

Neighborhood: Astoria, Queens

It was a big mistake inviting her, a big mistake.

She wasn’t worth all the fuss I’d made. I hadn’t seen her in a year and time is rarely kind; she was only twenty- eight but it seemed she’d already been launched into her prime and was now backsliding into the uncomfortable stages of bad skin and poor posture (all a result of bad self- image). We were heading for a party whose sole attraction was a girl I’d fallen for in the brief period I’d come to glimpse her in a weekly writing class. Why she invited me, I had no idea except maybe she needed more novelty in her life.

Why I was going was obvious, but my friend had no clue. She was bisexual and I’d once felt something for her. No longer. I realized she hadn’t grown in leaps and bounds over the years; in fact a peculiar regression seemed to have taken place. There was no other way to describe it.

The trouble was she didn’t know how to handle herself in social situations (not at all). She insisted that we go find food somewhere. When we got to the restaurant–Nostalgia–she only ordered a salad. When they brought the bread she told them she’d eat that. I wasn’t hungry so we made a bad impression on the waitress. She spoke too quickly and too softly; I could barely hear her in that commodious atmosphere. Picture tables of ethnic people, screaming, and live music (Greek). I made do with a plate of zatziki.

She dawdled over her food, while I waited for her to get to the end of a long story. It turned out that she would never get to the end of it, even by the time we parted at 2:30 in the morning. The story involved some guy she seemed to be involved with, named Brian. He was involved with someone named Allison. He was 21. Allison, 28.

They practically threw us out of the restaurant, even though M. tried to order dessert. We were told that the dessert only came with a meal. I didn’t give a shit. I had a bottle of Syrah in my bag and a joint in my breast pocket (I was wearing a suede shirt).

It was freezing outside and we walked, smoked and had a hard time locating the party. I was beginning to look like an asshole. I finally read the instructions thoroughly, but not before she wanted to stop in a Greek food store and have a look around. (She purchased a Greek chocolate bar). This was while we were stoned. It’s possible, when you’re stoned that you will never get to where you are supposed to. She was trying to stall the proceedings.

I finally located the right street and we located the house. I was nervous. She was nervous. Walking in the door, it’s funny the first impression you make. I immediately sensed that the hostess wasn’t happy with M.

How did I know? Must’ve been a tone in her voice. She answered the door like the beautiful girl she was (a child, more). I thanked god that I was stoned. I was detached, still feeling like an asshole. M. too seemed to be feeling a bit like an idiot. The point was that the place was tiny, and a small circle of people barely raised their heads when we entered the room. A strictly conservative vibe seemed to permeate the air; this didn’t affect me in the least. I’d often been to grad student parties where doctoral students walked around in every arrogant form imaginable, and the conversation was strictly about things intellectual. I found the intellectual atmosphere bracing, M. did not. This did not mean that I didn’t drink too much and begin to talk too much either.

I’ve always been suspicious of people who talk too much. And the problem with parties is that that’s what one is bound to do.

The honey that drew the bee (the hostess), was wearing a sleek fitting dress. She smiled often and was charming. My arousal was immediate but not evident. Only M. noticed how a certain fixed intensity came into my eyes when I exchanged a few words with L. M. wasn’t with me, but she wasn’t going to let me feel free to pursue my interests, either. She would feel as if I’d used her to come to the party. There was no real bottle opener (which surprised me) and I didn’t seem to know what I was doing with the bottle so L. opened the bottle. Some people were fussing over a stove and a pan of sausages. We were in the kitchen so to speak. There was a living room some fifteen feet away, where the English group sat. These I would take to be the friends of L.’s roomate, Anne, a dark haired woman who, fittingly, studied 18th C. Literature. She eyed me with suspicion. The reason being that I was sure she’d been identifying me somehow. Which meant I’d been spoken about earlier. Also eying me was a not very young man who had the cunning face of a four-footed animal. Well, that’s all I could think of. He was very intelligent looking.

It may have turned out that this was her boyfriend. I was quite taken aback, and in the next few days found myself thinking about it. He seemed to be a scholar of Foucault and they the happy couple. He thought my name was Val. His name was John. I didn’t get to talk in depth to the beloved L., for the problematic reason that I’d brought M. along and we were both sitting in opposing chairs while people stood over and around us. M. continued with her story, which I no longer found the least bit interesting.

She exhibited slutty behavior as well, regarding some of the eligible bachelors, most of whom were quite charming. She exhibited jealousy when one of them seemed to express more interest in talking with me. She also embarrassed me by saying that she was from Staten Island and I was from Queens. It’s not something I like trumpeted from the rooftops, but the girl had to pull out all of the stops; it seemed her aim was to make us both seem defective in light of these Astoria dwellers.

I could only fixate on L. At one point when M. was talking (the story…) I almost passed into a trance, what with the grass and the Syrah lighting up my head. L. had her back to me, just a foot to my right; I was in torment. Here was my chance and I couldn’t speak with her. I cursed myself for taking M., who wouldn’t put up with my abandoning her to the casual snobbery that seemed everywhere. Lacking in self-esteem, especially in intellectual matters, she kept putting her foot in her mouh. To top it off, she acted as if she were a coquette, when in actual fact she was sending out far too much of a slut vibe. I’m sure I fell in L.’s estimation. It pleased me just to think of her standing next to me, from what I could hear she was having a boring conversation with a technical-minded male. I think they were talking about the prices of living spaces downtown. It’s funny what a little emotion can do to you. I could sit there and reach my sexual peak; I’d rather have stood, leaning against the sink watching her, while all sorts of thoughts flitted through my head. She was drinking bourbon. In a small glass, with ice. I was glad of that. She seemd entirely unaffected by the alcohol, even as the night wore on. I was losing my momentum and worrying about the time. Sick from a cold, I was freezing as well.

M. and I were the first to leave at 1:30 am, and it was nice to leave with someone. I didn’t want to just sit there because it seemed that’s what we were doing. L.’s boyfriend John wound up sitting on the couch. A somewhat louche character I thought, but he didn’t really bother me. I found the implications of their union quite intriguing. Even a little daunting. Still, there wasn’t much lubricity there between them, and I couldn’t get it (her attraction to him).

M. started trashing the party the minute we hit the streets. She was pissed because a guy hadn’t taken an interest in her. She struck me as incredibly small-minded. We waited interminably at cold train stations while she told me of guys she fucked while traveling in Hawaii. She also continued with her story. It turned into a scene from Scorcese’s After Hours; the trains were re-routed and we had to take elevators and go to the street and go to another train station… In the interim she stopped at a Korean deli for a coffee and to use their bathroom.

The night seemed to go on, and get crazier. By the time we hit the station for the 1 train, we spotted a homeless lady shuffling by with plastic bags on her feet. M. said she saw her all the time. I laughed and talked, waiting for her train to come (there were dark figures waiting on the platform, and not a woman in sight) By the time I got home, frozen like ice, A. was still awake, lying in bed with a rabid look on her face. “We’re through!” she screamed, when she saw me. I was too stoned to care and wound up fucking her quite thoroughly that night. She needed it, I needed it. I woke up feeling good, but the day after I was sick as a dog. A small price to pay…

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