The Last Pharmacy



79th & Amsterdam, NY, NY 10024

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

I have three different nights confused in my mind. It was raining each night–a sentimental story. This is a sentimental story. I have been living in Vermont so long now that when I come back to the city its cleanliness and prosperity seem obscene to me. These nights were different–in my memory it was darker then, it was raining and the whole city was like a playground where you could be lost and never find yourself, or wake up someday in Vermont of all places and never recover.

I can’t say her name out loud. The first night it was snowing and not quite April and we had a baseball game uptown, I think against Horace Mann, and I had to wait in the bus to stay warm–coach wouldn’t let me pitch because it was too cold. The snow in the new green grass was strange, like something alien, like the surface of a planet that didn’t exist yet. It was 1973. I was 15. I had called her up the night before–the first time I had ever called a girl to ask her out. We decided to go see Truffaut’s “Day for Night,” it was playing on the East Side, I think in the mid-60s, one of those movie houses gone for so long now it is embarrassing I am old enough to remember.

It had stopped snowing by the time I picked her up, I think we took the 79th Street crosstown bus and then walked, it was warm enough for that, I was shy, she was like a small angel, the most beautiful girl I had ever seen, 13, angelic curls around a clown’s droll and lovely face, flat enticing eyes, I think I could tell we were of the same tribe…something made me call her, it was snowing then raining, and I called…I still can’t believe I called her up. It changed my life.

So we watched the Truffaut movie, “Day for Night,” I rented it again the other day, it was snowing in Vermont in April and I had just turned 50, wanted to see what it felt like to remember…a movie filled with light and shadow. By the time it ended, in 1973, the snow had stopped but warm rain was pouring down. We decided to walk home through the park. We were just kids–nothing could hurt us. I had my arm around her shoulder as we walked, we may even have had an umbrella of some sort. We walked across Central Park in the dark warm rain and nothing would ever harm us.

When we reached her mom’s place on 79th and Amsterdam about the Last Pharmacy–this place where my heart would one day shatter in ways that never would be mended (a different story, one I cannot tell)–she gave us cointreu to warm us and we talked about poetry and I fell more and more in love, then ran home through the dark streets, all rain gone, ran faster than the ecstasy and longing that chased me, outran it the whole way until it caught up with me finally at the front of our old prewar building at 81st and Riverside and followed me in, up the elevator to my room looking out over the black river to the Jersey shore, where I sat a long time watching the river lights glimmer and dissolve in their colors…

After that spring, which ended in the rain in Central Park at the end of a John McLaughlin concert, mid-June, we scattered to our vacation homes, we saw each other again a few times, in New York and then in Cambridge, and I held this sense of what it was like to walk in warm rain across the park the last night of March after watching Day for Night, so that each time I saw her I fell in love again. We always seemed to wind up glancing off each other, naked in the lovely light, we were always such angels, so not what would last…as if we were intended to orbit at a distance, in those few years…

The second night I was in the city for a few days acting in a movie that my brother was shooting for a course–the most bizarre thing, I am last of all an actor, after other possible careers like banker or assassin, but there I was at Far Rockaway on the beach in the rain enacting this terrible part he had written for me in which I betrayed my best friend in order to sleep with his wife, then regretted all of it but too late, I had already set the wheels in motion and soon every one of us would be dead. It was a hell of a shoot, exhilarating and complex, and afterward we all hooked up at a bar on Avenue C and she came to see me, and we went home together and I slept there feeling as though my life might soon take some new turn, waking that morning to the phone ringing on and on, not really saying goodbye–I think she told me that night that whatever else had happened with us–I was her first lover, and she was mine–I can’t remember it precisely now, but what she said that night made me happy. She didn’t want to make love–she had been with a woman the night before. We lay naked in bed and I fell asleep.

Ah, now, this third night…how can I explain this. I was living in Long Island City, had just moved back to the city after seven years in Cambridge and Somerville. We connected on and off by phone. I wonder now if I thought that in moving back to the place of our origin, the place where I was born and lived my whole childhood, I might find her again. It was 1982. It was raining and dark. Reagan had sent everyone into the street. She called up and told me her favorite movie was playing, I had to see it, so we went to see “Les Enfants du Paradis” in one of the movie theaters downtown that now also has been destroyed for a Gap store or something, and I sat next to her in the darkness watching the clown in the grim black and white city, the city so occupied, the clown and the fascist world swirling about him, the sadness and the beauty of it, never touching her, watching the movie as if finally I understood something, something beyond words, something that would have meaning later on, not just then, something about her that would finally make her real to me, make her this lostness this darkness in Vermont in early April, more than two decades gone now–remembering now how the movie ended and we walked outside into the night, how it was still raining, cold rain, and how we said goodbye, thinking then of course that I would see her again but in fact our lives turned in their courses and it was the last time I would ever see her face.

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