By the time I reached my friend Rachel’s apartment in Greenwich Village, it was 11 PM. I found a place to park on the street, hauled my suitcase up a flight of concrete steps, and pushed the buzzer for her apartment.
“Hey, Rachel, it’s me,” I said. I’d known her since I was in grade school, actually kindergarten. When I went to a magnet school in 9th grade and she went to the local high school, I hardly ever saw her again. But somehow, every year or so, we’d bump into each other. Chat about this and that. Never romantic. Just a friend who I’d known since we were kids.
“I’m on the 4th floor. At the top of the stairs, turn right. First apartment on your left.” Well, so much for my initial idea that maybe I was imagining her cold response when I first called from the gas station. She definitely wasn’t happy that I invited myself to visit her.
I lugged my suitcase up the four flights of steep stairs, caught my breath, and hesitantly knocked on her door. No answer. I knocked again.
Rachel opened the door with a forced smile plastered across her pretty face. She was tall, almost 5′ 10″, long blond hair, buxom, and often wore jeans and a paint-stained sweater or sweatshirt. Tonight she had on a bathrobe. Her hair was in a ponytail. From second grade on, one word defined her – artist. She was so talented. Did terrific sketches of all of us kids and last I heard painted in oils.
“Follow me,” she said. I followed her down a dingy, poorly lit hallway. She opened a door and pointed inside. It was a bare, 10′ by 10′ room, with a mattress, no sheets, a tattered blanket on top, and a mushed up pillow. “I can’t talk now,” she said. “I’ll see you in the morning. Oh.” She pointed across the hall. “The bathroom.”
“Rachel. Look, I’m sorry. I’m going to leave. Obviously, this is a bad time.”
“Art. It’s late. I know it looks like crap, but it’s clean. I’m just in a bad place. You didn’t do anything wrong.” She backed out of the room and closed the door behind her.
One great thing about my being 21 years old was that I could sleep anywhere, anytime. Not bothering to change my clothes, I took off my shoes, collapsed on the mattress, and fell into a deep sleep. Too bad I can’t time travel every night and recapture that magical ability to sleep so deeply straight through the night.
At 8 AM, I got up, used the bathroom, and looked around the apartment. The place looked like it was built in the twenties. Battered wooden floors, stain-streaked walls, the smell of mold and who-knows-what, permeating everything. No one around but me. I wandered into the kitchen and there was a note propped up on a box of Cheerios. Sorry about last night. Had to leave early this morning. Be back around 6 PM. Will have dinner. All will be revealed.
There was a key on the table.
I took a shower. Found a clean towel. Changed my clothes and wandered outside to my car. An hour later, I parked at the entrance to the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, NY. For eight hours, I wandered around. It was absolutely amazing. A 360 degree theater experience of seeing the world from low flying planes, exhibits from a hundred different countries, international food, and on and on. My crazy desire to be here wasn’t so crazy. Be in class to hear a droning lecture on history (who can remember the subject) or be somewhere where history was in the making?
At 5 PM, I headed back to the Village.
I unlocked the outside door and trudged up the dingy four flights. I knocked. Then knocked again.
The door opened and a heavy-set black guy put out his hand. “You must be Art. I’m Jamey,” he said.
“Hi. Nice to meet you,” I said, as we shook hands.
“Rachel is in the kitchen. You like meatballs and spaghetti?”
“Hey, wanna beer?”
So, we sat, sipped our beers, while we watched Rachel stir the red sauce. Then we had dinner, chatted about who remembers what, and had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. That part I remember clearly.
Before I went to bed, Rachel took me off to the side. “See why I need this to be kept a secret?” she said.
To my shame, I understood.
“Yesterday, we had a fight. It upset me and I was in a terrible mood. Today, we’re okay again.” She leaned forward and gave me a hug. It’s good seeing you, Art.”
Our parents, hers and mine, would have been shocked. In 1964 a white girl sleeping and living with a black man was not acceptable. Now, over 50 years later, most of us think much differently. If you walk down the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, CA, most couples are mixtures of all different colors. It’s a wonderful sight to see.
But… Go to the midwest, to MAGA land, and they haven’t changed very much. Bigotry is still rampant.
Fortunately, not in my heart.
Check out, THE REAL STORY, a mystery