The prop shop in Green Point where I work is not well heated, so when it's cold outside it's cold inside. Not as much in the front office where I spent most of the day, but in the big warehouse rooms where the furniture is stored and wrapped for shipping. The guys who work in back are in and out all day loading and unloading trucks, and lately seeing them bundled up in jackets and hats reminded me of my first job in New York at Pearl Paint on Canal Street. I had dropped out of Parsons, where I'd been studying painting. This was 1982.
I worked in the fine arts department on the first floor, selling paint and brushes, pencils, sketch pads, charcoal, etc. I brought home $125 a week -- I remember that number because when I left that job to work in the stockroom of the bookstore at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, my paycheck went up to $146 a week, which felt like upward mobility. The rent for our apartment on 10th Street and First Avenue (a tiny, cheaply-renovated, rent-stabilized 2-bedroom) was 400-something split with my roommate and good friend JG, so I was spending about half my income on rent. I don't remember feeling particularly impoverished. We ate dinner at Odessa or Leshko's (the bill was probably under $10 for the two of us) once a week or so, and otherwise we cooked our meals at home and lived simply.
Part of my job at Pearl Paint was to unload trucks full of boxes of art supplies, so all winter I was in and out, from the bitter cold into the overheated store and back and forth all day. Just after Christmas I got very sick with a cough which got worse and worse until one night I was coughing so hard I couldn't catch my breath, and JG and a guy I was dating at the time took me to the emergency room at Beth Israel just up First Ave. We were there all night, and some time the next morning I saw a doctor who X-rayed my chest and told me I had pneumonia. He sent me home with antibiotics.
I think often about that guy who I only dated for a few months, maybe less, but he spent the whole night in the emergency room with me. I met him at a party I'd gone to with my best friend at the time, D. D and I went to school together at Miami of Ohio, both transfered after our sophomore year, me to study painting at Parsons, him to study acting at NYU. The host of the party was D's high school girlfriend who had in the meantime come out as a lesbian. A faction of the party moved up to the roof to smoke a joint. Then everyone went back downstairs except me and this guy -- his name was Paul, that's all I remember. It was very dark and we were lying on our backs looking at stars and making out a little, talking.
He lived on Cornelius Street with his older sister, an actor I think, in a one-bedroom apartment. He slept on the couch. There was never any privacy, so we didn't have sex for the first few weeks we saw each other, and after a few weeks I didn't even really want to any more, but then one night his sister was out and we were alone at his place and he sort of forced the issue. He was way more into it than I was, and it was awkward. (He's not the only man from that time I look back on and think, "that guy was great -- what the fuck was my problem?")
Paul was serious and political; at the time, I wasn't so much. I took him to a party on the Upper West Side with some of my theater friends from Miami who had also moved here. I don't remember what the conversation was about, but I referred to someone as a "flaming faggot." Paul reprimanded me for the slur. I thought he was humorless. We fancied ourselves so jaded and above it all. At like 22. How embarrassing.
I wish I could remember his last name. I'd love to know what he's doing now. He's probably a writer or teacher or activist, maybe all three. Or maybe he's dead. He was kind and smart and his affection for me freaked me out for some reason, so I cooled off and we stopped seeing each other. I wouldn't be surprised if I just stopped returning his calls. I used to do that.
The other thing I remember about that job at Pearl Paint is that sometimes I walked over to McDonald's on the other side of Broadway to eat lunch. I often used to see there an odd-looking man, also eating lunch, who wore very thick black glasses and it looked like he was wearing a wig. I was fascinated by him but didn't want to stare long enough to figure out what was odd about his appearance. But then, one day, his wig was a little crooked and I realized that it was connected to his glasses and to prosthetic ears and a prosthetic nose, all of which, because the whole apparatus was slightly askew, were not exactly where they were supposed to be, so that I could see under them were only holes in his head where his nose and ears would have been.
I was a heavy smoker then, and a couple days after returning to work after being out for a week with pneumonia I was standing on the sidewalk just outside the store at the end of my lunch hour smoking a cigarette when one of the cashiers, an older Latina woman (probably in her thirties, but at the time that was old) walked by, looked at my cigarette, clucked her tongue, frowned, and shook her head.
Now of course my paycheck is bigger, but I will, when I move at the end of the month, be spending about half my income on rent. And I didn't have any debts back then. Not financial ones, anyway.
They want my passport and Social Security card at the prop shop -- for a form that has to be filled out for the Homeland Security Department, the fact of which reminded me that I haven't had a regular job since before 9/11 -- and I can't find them. They're in the black case that I keep my files in, which doesn't seem to be here. I can't imagine not having put it with the "take to New York now" stuff, but I must have packed it in one of the boxes I left at my parents' house in Indiana to be shipped to me later when I'm settled. I wasn't in my right mind, whatever that is, when I left Texas.