Last Christmas

I spent Christmas Day with Annie.  She is moving to Chicago on Thursday, so she won’t even be around for New Year’s.  I didn’t know it then, but I know now that I won’t ever see her again.  I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.

Annie texted me the news of her moving last week.  I asked her when she decided on this, and she replied back, “two weeks ago.  I think if we were closer friends I would have been more emotional about it, but I only see her a couple times a year, and sometimes several years go by when I don’t see her at all.  Annie wasn’t that emotional about it either when she told me.  It wasn’t even like she told it in a snooty vengeful kind of way either, like the way some of my friends do when they tell me they’re moving away.  Those use it as a way of saying, I’m done with this town and I’m moving on.

Annie’s always been expressionless and uninterested about everything except when it comes to dating and relationships.  That’s when she starts to giggle and loosen up.  I just play along when she starts to talk about boys.  It’s the only  way our conversations become fun.  When I try talking about other topics with her such as music, movies, or politics I run into a dead end.  I see her eyes glaze over, so I figure it’s easier to pretend to be interested in things she’s interested in.

We went to Chinatown for lunch after we braved the crowds at Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree and to watch the ice skaters skate on the tiny ice skating rink in front of the enormous tree.  We had to dodge all the tourists taking selfies with their selfie sticks.  I don’t do selfies.  Neither does Annie, thank God.  Ok, that’s another thing we have in common.

Annie was in the mood for Peking duck noodle soup.  I’ve never even heard of this dish before, and the reason I’ve never heard of this dish before is because it doesn’t exist.  We kept checking the menus that were taped to the windows of each restaurant and we couldn’t find it.  After the fourth restaurant, I suggested to Annie to just go in and ask- maybe it was an off-the-menu specialty item?

“No, try the one down the street,” they said.  Which one down the street?  There were tons of restaurants down the street!  We settled for the only “A” Department of Health rating one on the street.  They didn’t serve Annie’s particular craving-of-the-moment either, so she had to settle for a Sichuan pork dish.  The poor thing looked so dejected.

To help cheer her up, I took her to the ice cream shop next door.  Even though it wasn’t even forty degrees outside, we sat in the park where the  traditional Chinese street singers were singing loudly into their mics as we ate our ice cream with our chattering teeth.

“Do you think you’ll like Chicago?” I asked over the really loud singing.

Annie shrugged.

I was wondering why the sudden move to Chicago.  “Did you find someone there?”

“Not yet,” Annie deadpanned.

“You know, Chicago isn’t like New York, right?”

“Well, I really needed a new job, and it was the only one I could find, so I took it.”

At that moment, I envied her, I wish I had that sense of spontaneity that she had, to just get up and leave, and that is the great thing about being unattached.  Annie doesn’t know anyone in Chicago, but she is not close enough to anyone here to make her stay.  Being single is a double-edged sword.  You have all the freedom you want but at the cost of not having anyone important to share your life with.  Still, I’m not brave enough to just pick up and move to a different city, as unattached as I am.

“You could always come back, you know.”

Annie doesn’t reply back.  I’m thinking maybe Annie doesn’t want to come back, or maybe she doesn’t know enough what’s ahead of her to think that she can come back.

“Hey, what do you think of this guy?” Annie hands me her phone to take a look.

“Scott. He’s cute,” I say for encouragement.

“He’s from Chicago.”

“But it says he lives in New Jersey.”

Annie doesn’t respond.

“You know that you’re moving away from here, right?”

“Yeah, but why can’t he move to Chicago?  Why don’t they ever offer anything for me?”

I let out a heavy sigh.  The toil of online dating has clearly gotten to Annie.

“You could always send him a picture of me and tell him that I’m going to be your substitute?”  It was my feeble attempt at making her laugh.

Only there was no laughter at all.  Annie looks at me without saying a word.  She looks at her phone for a minute and shuts it off.  She then turns away and starts walking towards the subway.

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I’m Not Robert Redford

          I worked at a small optical shop on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with Larry, the owner’s brother, and Paulo, the optician.  Larry was a pharmacist who got caught dealing narcotics illegally out of his pharmacy.  He was still on parole, and was now stuck working behind the eyeglass counter for his baby brother, Michael.  This wasn’t the most ideal work situation for me, but one that fitted at the time.  I just moved to the city and needed the extra money.

            They had a weird camaraderie, with Larry’s interest in sports and girls and Paulo’s interest in neither, the only thing they had in common was being Jews from Brooklyn, a not uncommon thing in New York. 

            When I first told Paulo and Larry I went to church they assumed that I had a thing against Jews.  I tried to reassure them that I wasn’t raised that way.  Growing up in Buffalo, no one cared about what race or religion you were, just as long as you wore the right kind of jeans.  Here in New York, people cling on to their ethnic and religious identities much more strongly.  Native New Yorkers have this efficient way of sizing up people outside their clan by which borough and neighborhood they’re from.

Paulo asked one time, “So do you like your priest?”

            “I’m not Catholic, I’m Protestant.”  I tried to explain the difference, but Paulo could never keep it straight.  Either that or he wasn’t at all interested.  He would rather discuss more important things, like gardening and Barbra Streisand.

            Paulo and I shared a passion for musical theatre and saw Broadway shows together from time to time.  One summer evening after seeing “Gypsy” we took a stroll up Broadway and headed east past Trump Tower and crossed Fifth Avenue to the front of the Plaza Hotel.

            “Let’s reenact the last scene from ‘The Way We Were,’” Paulo bobbed up and down.

            “You mean you want me to be Barbra Streisand?”

            “No, I’m Barbra.”

            I was confused.  “So I’m Robert Redford?”

            He looked at me with a wistful nod.

            “Uh, this is a little weird for me, Paulo.  Much as I’d like to help you out.”

            He sighed, and resigned to the fact that he was stuck with a five-foot-two Asian girl instead of a tall, square-jawed handsome blonde.  He turned one last time to me and searched my eyes like Barbra’s character did to Robert Redford’s character named Hubbell.

            “Oh, Hubbell,” Paulo murmured as he wisped my bangs away from my forehead, exactly as in the last scene from the movie.  I wondered if any of his other female friends had to do this with him.

            And that’s the way I came to see him, as a girlfriend.  We would giggle together at the crazy customers that would come into the store.  We would share recipes and talk about our favorite TV shows.  We even planned a fall foliage trip together.  A “Sound of Music” fan, Paulo picked Stowe, Vermont as our destination because it was the town where the von Trapp family settled after they fled Nazi Europe.  I decided that we should leave after work and make the six-hour drive during the night.  That way, we could wake up first thing in the morning at the inn and get in a full day’s worth of sightseeing.  We ended up getting to the inn so late that there was only a single room left with a queen-size bed.  Paulo freaked out more than I did about sharing the same bed.

            “You promise to not take advantage of me tonight?” Paulo asked as he climbed into bed.

            “I promise,” I mumbled, tired from the drive up.

            I’m glad that we were joking with each other again after the seriousness of what Paulo told me during the long drive.  I really wasn’t paying attention to the beginning of the story, as I was concentrating on the road, but after awhile, I realized that he was telling his story about how he found out that he was HIV positive.  I didn’t know what to say.  I was never good at forming consoling words.  He obviously told me to get a reaction out of me, but I didn’t know what kind.  Should I burst into tears and hug him?  Should I tell him that everything will be OK and that he’s going to beat this?  I don’t even remember what I said, something like, “Well, there are better drugs out now that prolongs one’s life.”  The subject never came up again, and we went on with our simple friendship.

            I eventually left that job and we quickly lost touch.  I e-mailed him recently, just to see how he was doing.  It took him two days to e-mail me back.  He said everything was fine and was getting ready to go on a gay couples’ cruise in a few days.  I was happy that I received a reply back and that he was doing OK.