JOAN TATE, tipsy after another revelatory lunch with her son, illustrates her point (early August 2000):
Here’s a famous story. And remember that I am his mother, so the fact that I am the one telling you this—that tells you something. It’s a famous story, and it shows you what kind of a person Manny is.
The year was—. Well, Scott and I had just sold the place on 72nd Street, so it was 1973, and Manny would have been nine years old. We were living in a three-bedroom on West 10th. It was rent-controlled and had twelve- foot ceilings, and you don’t want to know what we paid. We paid one-fifteen a month.
And when we lived on West 10th, Manny would wait for the school bus on 6th Avenue, on the corner, in front of Balducci’s. He went to school uptown, and the school had its own buses. So Manny and Dave Fowler and the other kids whose parents lived in the Village would all wait on that corner together, in front of Balducci’s, for the little squat yellow school bus. There was an air vent that blew warm air onto the sidewalk, and on cold mornings in the winter the kids would all fight over who got to stand under that vent. Dave Fowler, with his little backpack, would time the other kids on his wristwatch so they would all get their turn.
Except for Manny, who didn’t want to stand under the vent, and who never wore a hat, and who wanted to wait for the bus twenty feet away, in the ice and the snow, shivering.
Well, I asked him about it, and he said, “The air comes from Balducci’s cheese counter. It smells like what Dad eats.” Scott had this one unpasteurized Camembert he liked, which smelled like—which you just had to have smelled. Manny said, “Smells are the result of microscopic particles in the air, and I do not want microscopic particles of cheese hitting my head like meteors.” I told him that if he would just wear his stocking cap, then the smell wouldn’t get into his hair. And he said, “Stocking caps are undignified.” Well, I was his mother, I knew better than to try to argue with him about that, but I did ask him whether there was any kind of hat that he would consider dignified. So that he might wear a hat in the cold. And he said, “A bowler.” That was how we settled it. I made Scott take Manny uptown to find him a bowler.
It just goes to show you what kind of a nine-year-old Manny was. And it also goes to show you that he was the same then as he is now: fussy about the unlikeliest things, and picky, and obstinant—obstinate, and prepared to suffer for the strangest reasons. And so now, now when he tells me over lunch that he wants to change? Well, I am his mother—of course I am elated.
He says that the motes—the scales have fallen from his eyes. He says that he is tired of making things difficult for himself, that he’s tired of being in debt. This is the first I have heard about him being in debt, but he’s tired of it. He even told me he wants to take his romances more seriously. Might it be that now, now that Manny is thirty-six years old, I am finally going to get to meet one of his girlfriends? What kind of women is he even attracted to?
JENNICA GREEN, who never has any luck on Valentine’s Day, describes the evening of her boyfriend’s arrest (mid-February 2001):
This is so going to make me sound like one of those women, and I so am not one of those women.
All afternoon it was as if the city was as oblivious as I was to what was happening. Right up until two minutes before Arnie called from the police station, the city was, like, intent on being gorgeous. With the snow, and the serenity, and my first afternoon off in months. Deceiving me, you know? All afternoon I’d been communing peacefully with the awnings and the fire escapes and the lampposts. The elegant side of Soho. The wet black iron and the fresh white snow, in relief against each other. The sapphire light, the deep-sea light of a snowy day.
But sure enough, at five o’clock, just as I need to get a cab and get home and get packed, the snow . . . devolves into sleet.
The pretty drifts on the fire escapes and lampposts? Melting and drooling down, onto me. All the snowbanks on the sidewalk? Melting, simultaneously. The gutters are inundated. Frothing up this . . . filth. Ice, cigarettes, cellophane, flooding the street. The sewer grates are overcome. Spewing dirty water. Of course my umbrella is funneling the sleet straight into my shopping bags. And it’s dark, and my cell phone starts ringing, but I can’t get it.
Bear in mind, I’d been at work that morning. In my decent clothes. My black zipper boots? Sopping. My black coat? Sopping. The sleeve of my sweater? Like a wick, just sucking all this clammy, icy whatever straight from the stem of my uumbrella up to my armpit. If you come from San Jose, California, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived in New York, you feel so . . . vulnerable tooooo shabbiness.
I get to 6th Avenue, looking for a cab. And of course on 6th Avenue the wind tries to mug me. It has its fists wheeling. Wham, across my face. Wham, my bags are flailing around everywhere. And I’m trying to fend it off with my umbrella, but my umbrella is doing that gagging thing. You know, that thing umbrellas do when the wind gets them? Where they look like a cat coughing up a hairball? The only way I can keep my umbrella alive is by pointing it directly into the wind, which blocks my view down 6th Avenue, practically. And my cell phone is still going off, but I suddenly see this cab.
I don’t have a free hand, so I hail it with my umbrella. Getting myself even more drenched. But the cab starts flashing its turn signal. So it’s my cab, right? I got soaked trying to hail it, so it’s my cab. Right?
Which is when the crazy German woman materializes.
The cab had stopped . . . ten feet away from me? Fifteen? But from nowhere this crazy German woman has appeared and is opening the door to my cab.
She is dry. She has a cigarette in her hand, which she is putting out, and she has a muffin, which she is putting into her pocket. Getting in my cab. Huge, curly, wheat-blond hair with lots of ringlets, all pinned up like a diva’s. Getting into my cab. And, let me describe this coat she is wearing. It’s rubber, first of all, and white, and it goes down to her knees, with a belt and buttons but with a huge fur collar. Like, white rabbit fur. And she is wearing it with a mustard-yellow scarf and turquoise pants. Dry, and getting in my cab. It’s as if she had been waiting in a doorway for me to hail a cab for her. So I lose it. I’m like: “Hey! Hey! That’s my cab!” And she just gets in. Just opens the door, gets in, and reaches over to close the door. Ice is splashing me everywhere. My umbrella finally gags on its hairball and dies. My bags are beginning to tear. So I absolutely lose it. I scream, and I do mean scream: “You fucking cunt . . . that’s my cab!” And, all right. I don’t want this story to make me sound like one of those women, so let me tell you why I was in a hurry. Which only matters now to prove that I am not, whatever, a horrible person. So, my plan: Step 1, at eight o’clock on Thursday night I would meet Arnie, with my bag packed.
Step 2, at eight-thirty we had reservations at Four Noodles, because we’d been warned to have one good meal before we left. Including by Rose, Arnie’s globetrotting grandmother Rose, who told us: “The first thing you do when you get to the island is go to a grocery store. They have avocados the size of my handbag there. You can eat them for breakfast, or lunch with cottage cheese and paprika. Because let me tell you, there is not one restaurant on that isl...