Her voice floated down the hallway of the expensive high rise apartments.
“You’re being very cruel, JJ. Very cruel.”
I push the elevator call button frantically as if she is going to come chasing me down the plushly carpeted corridor with what? Her dentures?
That crazy old bat’s voice continues to taunt me as I watch the floor numbers ascend to the floor below me.
But then the car is called down again and I jab the button a few more times’
“Very. Cruel.” The voice insists.
I look around my lush surroundings. A High-rise building in a toney east side neighborhood. Complete with a doorman to keep you waiting in the lobby for as long as the tenant desires.
Up till now, I have spent a more than a total of three hours cooling my heels in that lobby.
How did a crazy old witch like that afford a place like this? I wonder again.
I need to get a better grip on my life, I think.
I jab at the down arrow few more times.
Only nine short days ago, I had a decent job that was paying my bills. A joint near campus that catered to ivy league kids who had a taste for beer and money in their pockets.
And I could walk to work.
But as usual, I had spent my last dime on a holiday weekend. Knowing that I had cash tips coming in that night, all I had to my name was my room paid up for the next month, a subway token, and a half a pack of cigarettes.
I had suited up in my rancid uniform. Then I lit a cigarette and headed up Broadway to grab an early dinner before my 5 O’clock shift began.
In my path, I observe my friend Maxwell, the ex-boyfriend of one of the waitresses and a barfly at my workplace The Gold Rail.
He is hot footing it down the street with something large under his shirt. He holds it like a pregnant woman in late term.
Even though it is the opposite direction, I follow him into a tiny park and catch up with him. He s standing behind a tree, peering out. He reminds me of lookout for a gang in a western movie.
He jumps a little when I tap his shoulder.
“The bar is gone.” He tells me. “Taxes. They never paid them. Sherriff put chains on the door ten minutes ago.”
“What’s under the shirt?” I ask
He reveals an entire roast beef. It is nestled against the line of hair beneath his navel.
Before I leave, he offers to cut a piece off for me. But I decide to make other plans.
“Whatever,” He calls to me, “Come by my place tonight, we’ll be having this with a keg that Sully rolled out of the back when the Sheriffs were coming through the front.”
The trouble is that I AM hungry at the moment. I light another cigarette to stave off the hunger.
I decide to give Fiorelli’s Pizza a try, they have a bar, and the uniform is the same. A smelly jean skirt and greasy stained red Tee.
It wasn’t a very lucrative job. But it put enough money in my pocket to get lunch and carfare while I searched for something better.
It would have been a good plan ,but the college boys were too grab ass . After three days and seventy-five dollars, I walked out.
A boy had come up from behind and grabbed both of my breasts while I was carrying a tray full of drinks. I threw the tray down, smashing ice and glassware all over. I kneed him in the balls. He sank among the broken glassware and I marched out the door for good.
This means that I won’t be working in my neighborhood anymore.
I took a day off to organize myself.
I grabbed a cup of coffee and a joint that morning first thing.
I try to lay down a job hunting strategy and decide which neighborhood I should be looking in. The train line went to the village but the job would need to be a good one. Late night cab rides consume rent money like water on a desert floor.
I spy the yellow pages as I sip and puff. It seems like a good idea, to look at the different restaurants in town. Maybe it will help me pick a neighborhood to work in.
I thumb through the heavy yellow catalog of business numbers, pausing at the Hs for hotels. I wonder if I should head to a hotel.
But then I remember that these are union jobs. I have heard that it’s a catch 22. To get a union job you need to be in the union. You only get in the union if you are hired for a union job. So I move on.
But before I finish with the H’s altogether, my fingers rest on a page that heads with ‘Hypnosis’.
I have always been fascinated with the concept and as I relight my jay, I wonder if hypnosis might help me get a better grip on my life after all.
It’s always such a fucking mess.
Even though I know I can’t possibly afford it, I call a few numbers, to find out what the process actually costs.
The first three calls are answered by a service, and I have no interest in a callback. I don’t want one of my three communist roomies, taking a call like that. I am afraid what the prevailing opinion might be.
The fourth call actually produces a whisky-voiced woman, who after a moment informed me that her initial intake was one hundred and twenty-five dollars and each appointment after would be seventy-five an hour.
“There are cheaper hypnotists in town,” She assures me, “But I am world renowned.”
I thank her politely and tell her goodbye, but she stops me and wants to ask me a few questions. Why did I not want an appointment? Was it money? Was I not working? Did I want a job?
She was looking for an assistant she told me. “I’m getting older and my eyes are giving me a little trouble,” she confesses.
While we never actually nailed down how I would be compensated as her assistant, the general understanding was, that I would not only get paid but that she would treat me to some hypnotic sessions on the house.
After I hung up, I could not believe my fantastic good luck.
My roomies were skeptical, but they were in their thirties. To my mind, life had already beaten them down too much for optimism.
That night I went out and spent fifty of my seventy-five dollars, earned from having my body parts squeezed earlier in the week.
I needed to celebrate my good fortune.
I just knew that a few hypnotic sessions would fix my life.
Lucy Loco lived on the east side in a neighborhood sans much in the way of business. As I looked around, I wondered where people ate and shopped.
Later I would learn that people that lived here had everything they required delivered to their door, from other parts of town. It kept the riffraff away.
I wish I had brought a book, though. As soon as I arrive, the doorman instructs me to take a seat and wait. After twenty minutes I get up and tell him that I will be late for my appointment, but he assures me that Ms.Loco is aware that I am waiting and will send for me when she is ready.
An hour and a half later.
Nothing in the world could have prepared me for the sight of Lucy Loco. She was at least a hundred years old and sported that classic Crone face that terrified us all as children. But is was not her age or unkind face that was so alarming.
Lucy wore a lime green tube top and her bright yellow spandex pants were translucent in spots, from the wear and being stretched beyond the intentions they had been designed for.
Her eyes were milky with cataracts,
On top of her head rested a platinum blond, Carol Channing type pageboy wig.
But it was the inside of the luxury high-rise that bewildered me the most.
Inside her apartment, there were only two furnishings. An office chair, and a metal folding one.
Scattered all over the floor were un-spiraled loose sheets of notebook paper. Each one bearing a page sized letter scrawled in bright red marker.
She invites me to sit down in the folding chair, never apologizing or explaining why she made me wait so long.
It takes Lucy a minute to settle in her chair, She needs to pick at some imaginary lint on the front of her. I say imaginary because she most certainly cannot see beyond her nose which she illustrates perfectly when she leans over and picks up a sheet of paper with the letter N scrawled on it.
She holds the paper up to her nose as she tells me, I can’t see very well anymore, so these are notes I leave to myself.
As if that explains it.
After a minute of turning the paper this way and that way she finally announces that she is holding the letter N which means that my first order of business today is to call all the TV networks.
She wants me to promote her.
This is an election year and there is a man in the south that is trying to get elected as Governor. His marketing gag is that he is going to run a thirty-second commercial that will mesmerize everyone to vote for him.
I am not completely unaware of this man’s ploy, he is on the talk-show and radio circuit. I have had to change the channel on him more than once.
Lucy is convinced that every network is going to want to talk with her and get her opinion.
Just as soon as I alert the networks that Lucy is willing to give interviews.
To prove to me and presumably, for me to prove to the network executives, Lucy’s notoriety, she produces a scrapbook out of nowhere.
The scrapbook is little more than an account of a movie that she had worked on, opposite one of Hollywoods biggest stars. The movie was an action packed tale of stealing a priceless jewel. Lucy played the part of a hypnotist in it.
The First page of the scrapbook is the front page of one of those scandal sheets that people read while waiting to buy groceries. It has a full-color picture of her face, nose to nose with the film’s leading man. It proclaims that he is having an affair with a world renowned Hypnotist.
“See there,” she points from memory alone, she knows where the words are printed. “See?” She says. “World renowned,” She licks her lips in satisfaction.
“Did you REALLY have an affair with him?” I can’t resist asking.
“Naw,” she waves her hand thru the air, “That’s a load of crap.” she says.
I spend about forty minutes, trying unsuccessfully, to gain her an appointment with a network executive.
But PR is not my forte, and finally, we give up. Her phone rings and it is her doorman.
One of Lucy’s clients is here, and it means I have to go stand in her chair-less kitchen for the next hour.
“Pee if you need to now,” Lucy advises as she picks up another sheet off the ground.
“Let’s see,” she murmurs, “who is coming up now?”
She is scrutinizing a Large S when the buzzer rings, but she waves me back to the kitchen.
“Some of these are very famous people who do not wish to be recognized.” she asserts.
The rest of the afternoon did not make much more sense to me, I reported to my roomies.
“When she heard that I live with three grown men, she wanted me to get you to help her with a design,” I tell them, rolling my eyes. “She says it’s an invention that will wash the outside windows on the high-rise buildings.”
My roomies are laughing with delight. “She sounds brilliant” Dennis chuckles.
Pissed, I flounce off to the closest bar to spend ten of my last twenty-two bucks.
I arrive a little before nine o’clock the next morning. She has asked me to get there early. She has an appointment in Queens to get an adjustment to her dentures.
But she makes me wait again, an hour this time. I make a mental note that we will discuss compensation for this as I thumb through glossy pamphlets. These are real estate brochures extolling the virtues of this premium residence. Again, I wonder how a crazy person is supporting this lifestyle.
I am again finally permitted to the upper sanctum.
But for the life of me, I cannot get this woman out of the house to her appointment. Instead, she spends the morning asking me crazy questions like do I know how to clean the fat off of chicken skin?
Other times she sends me to the kitchen to stand for an hour. This time, I open her refrigerator door. Inside it is a sealed can with something written in an alphabet I do not recognize and a half consumed tin of anchovies.
I am forced to call the denture place several times until at two o’clock I finally manage to get her out of the house and underground to a subway.
But she still needs to hold everything up.
First, we have to find a toilet, an impossible endeavor in an underground station. But by some miracle, I am able to secure the use of one at a pizza stand by telling them that she is my mother.
After what must have been twenty-five minutes, Lucy emerges and announces that she needs to eat something before she will take another step.
Lucy, of course, isn’t carrying any money but reassures me that we will ‘settle up’, for the train ride and pizza, when payday came.
After carfare and pizza, I have less than four dollars left till payday, whenever that was. But I decide that the subway is not the place to discuss finances with my employer.
We finally get to the denture place around three-thirty.
Lucy disappears into another room with a technician.
The man behind the counter is enamored with me and wants me to have all my teeth pulled so that he can make me a really nice set of dentures.
I will look like a movie star he promises. No charge.
“Sparkling white” he tries to persuade me, “Not yellow, like you have now.”
I promise to think about it, and he slips me his business card, as Lucy emerges from the lab.
Two more of my precious subway tokens leaves me with just two, and we don’t get Lucy home until five thirty.
Back home I collapse on the couch and have to turn down an outing to the bar because I am out of money again.
The next morning I am grouchy and tired. The roommates have not left any food I can filch and I missed dinner the night before.
I have a token to get the cross town and one to get home tonight, but I think I might take the two-mile walk through Central Park instead.
Today, I am deliberately a half an hour late and I have brought a book to read.
This morning, the wait is only a half an hour and Lucy has not yet changed out of her tube top and stretch pants.
I am so hungry I can not cope with much today and her crazy chatter starts up the second I get through the door.
“Did you know if you cut an earthworm in half, it becomes two worms?” Then she goes on about how she and my friends should start a bait business that we can peddle down at the piers.
We settle down on our chairs and she says, “What’s on the agenda for today?”
She picks at her giant alphabets.
She holds the paper up to her nose and scrutinizes it for about three minutes, turning the paper around from side to side.
Bored, I open my book.
I have had enough.
Finally noticing the silence Lucy asks. “JJ, what are you doing?”
Reading, I tell her.
“Do you think that is a professional thing for my assistant to be doing? Is that what I am paying you for?”
Standing up I tell her that I am out of money and patience. I tell her I am leaving. Just then the phone rings and Lucy picks it up. I brush past her and flee down the hall and I hear her open the door to call down to me.
“You’re very cruel…”
I keep pressing that damned button until at last the door opens revealing Lucy’s next appointment: A beautiful and well-heeled woman in Gucci boots and half karat diamond earrings.
I stare open mouthed at her, trying to form the words, that old bag is crazy, and what are you even doing with her?
But I silence myself.
Clearly, this woman is doing better than I am.
Instead, I descend down the elevator and back out into the world to search for work.