Every few weeks, all year long, my phone chimes to remind me I’m supposed to be in New York the next day. It’s the end of November. I haven’t seen New York since early February.
Nobody chooses to visit New York City in early February. They go for work; Fashion Week was in full swing on the frigid afternoon of the 8th, as I climbed into an Uber outside JFK. You have to take an Uber, not a taxi, they’d said. You need a receipt to be reimbursed. A middle aged man who’s face I would now fail to pick out of a lineup snapped at me not to eat in his car; I slipped a now slightly smushed eclair into my bag with resignation, and the rusted Toyota Corolla began hurdling through the soot stained underpasses of the outer boroughs.
The wind stung my cheeks as I passed through the smoky glass doors of the Bentley Hotel on E. 62nd Street, a nondescript midrise with adequately stunning views of the Queensboro Bridge next door. Just a hair past 3 pm and the light was already beginning to throw those lovely, long, late winter afternoon shadows across the bland corporate furnishings of my 7th floor room, so I hurried to lay out my things in time to take some quality nudes.
I am not here to model clothes on a catwalk. I am here to take them off, specifically at the Sapphire Gentleman’s Club, 2 blocks away on E 60th, tonight at midnight, for the very first time! The first stop on my feature dancing career and here I am on the Upper East Side. The entire situation reeks of a poorly plotted Gossip Girl episode, and yet here I am, fluffing up silk flowers haphazardly affixed with hot glue to my homemade showgirl costume, which I had generously called “flower child chic” but might’ve been more accurately described as “the sort of glitter glued kindergarten project that would raise awkward questions from your child’s teacher.”
My nerves are high; outside of a brief stint as a house dancer at a small club in Portland, I have never been exactly known for my moves. My limbs are short, my joints painfully inflexible, my hips seem to lack whatever physical dexterity it is that’s required for adequate twerking. Everything about me is so obviously Irish Catholic that calling whatever I do on stage “exotic” dance seems like criminally false advertising.
At least, unlike my nerves, expectations are low. Most feature dancers are porn stars at the crest of their careers; not quite retired, maybe retired, maybe planning to focus on their own content in the future. Porn stars, contrary to popular belief, are not strippers. My coach back in Los Angeles had told me that most of the girls had never grabbed a pole before their first feature gigs. Whether she’d meant this literally or metaphorically is irrelevant, because I have no doubt she was lying to make me feel better, and god bless her for it.
I knew the routine, the songs she’d picked out for me after I’d showed up at her apartment in tears upon learning that I’d be expected to dance to popular EDM music when I had (still have) an iTunes library comprised predominantly of Willie Nelson and Woody Guthrie. She’d found, against all manner of odds and reason, a house remix of Whitney Houston that even I had to admit was a banger.
Tonight, I promise myself with a deep breath, will be fine. It cannot possibly not be fine. I hop in the shower for a quick rinse off (why is the water never hot enough in Manhattan??) and get to taking artsy nudes in the dying light.
New York is the only city I know that doesn’t suffer from the early evening haze that makes all the light seem dim. The sun sinks low in the west as I step outside the Bentley’s glass cocoon. I head towards it, awash in the dull lavender of a Manhattan evening, punctuated by the yellow glow of thousands of porch lights, winking silently from Brownstones worth more than my entire existence. I always head west in New York.
I duck across the sleepy streets of the Upper East Side; even now, on the cusp of a Saturday night, I find the neighborhood fiercely dull. I dodge past pedestrians walking dogs in sweaters I’m positive cost far more than my thrift store coat, which, while $12, and in my mind, the height of style, is hardly warm enough for traipsing around New York during the dead of winter. I dawdle along 65th Street all the way to the park.
The sun has fully set now, the only natural light remaining a bruise tinted glow silhouetting the skyline on the other side of the city. I could hail a cab. The smart thing to do, I reprimand myself, would be to call a cab. The best way to avoid being murdered in the park and becoming the subject of a particularly riveting episode of Dateline, I remind myself, would be to simply call a cab.
I do not call a cab. Instead, I tail a group of college aged boys from about 40 feet behind, down 65th street and through the park, under damp stone bridges, walking in the gutter when the sidewalk ends suddenly. I figure they’re either close enough to hear me scream, or they’re the ones that’ll kill me anyways, and frankly they seem far too boisterous to commit any sort of capital murder tonight. Still, I don’t take a full breath until I’ve reached Columbus.
Lincoln Center is always bustling; tonight is no different. The lights are still up from Christmas as people rush by. A thin layer of crunchy slush still coats the streets, and two men dressed as Mario and Luigi suddenly zoom past on toboggans tied with balloons, to the chagrin of multiple taxi drivers and more than one horse and carriage that move to avoid them. Only in New York, I think, as if I haven’t seen the same stunt played out a thousand times on the internet.
I head north up Columbus, my feet on autopilot. There’s just a handful of places I know in New York, and only one I know well enough to end up there on accident. The Dakota is a cramped spot on the corner of 72nd and Columbus, all exposed brick and oversized wine glasses and not enough chairs. I pull open the door, clammy and pink cheeked from my trek across the city, relieved to discover the interior is just as a humid and sticky as I am.
I do that “hollering but in a normal vocal tone” thing to the hostess over the din of too many thirty somethings indulging in happy hour prices and find myself sitting alone at a table in the corner near the windows. I cede one of my chairs to the gaggle of beautiful girls sitting next to me, who probably work in fashion or finance or somewhere else they’re bound to meet first husbands. I order a Manhattan and a massive charcuterie board, off of which I will eat all of the pickles, most of the cheese, some of the meat, and none of the crackers. I still have to take my clothes off in 6 hours, after all.
I’d texted him earlier. “Hey, I’ll be in NYC 2/8, let’s grab drinks!” So dumb; he knew I was going to be in town anyways, my social media feeds had been clogged for weeks with promotion for tonight’s show. “I’m on your side of town - let’s meet up?” Like I’d just somehow ended up here magically, as if I hadn’t trudged miles in the bitter cold to casually swing by a bar across town - our bar.
He’d called it our bar. I don’t know if you’ve ever had someone tell you that a certain place belongs to the two of you, that they can’t go there anymore without thinking of you. I certainly don’t know if someone’s ever told you that about the Dakota, a place with a list of notable residents so long Judy Garland only appears halfway down, but I can definitely tell you it made me blush whilst also feeling deeply inadequate, which in my book is just about the height of flattery.
Generally speaking, by inviting someone to meet you for drinks at a bar they’ve deemed “your bar” you’re making a fairly confident gamble that they will, in fact, show up, and just as I began digging into the pickles, he did. Looking supremely handsome in a thickly knit sweater I’d never seen before, out of breath, his eyes danced as he shrugged off his jacket (much heavier and more suited to the cold than mine) and gave me a hug that lasted just tenths of a second too long to be only friendly.