By Kalev Pehme
Wendy’s office was just above the Paris movie theatre overlooking the Pulitzer Fountain and Sherman Square adjacent to the Plaza Hotel. Her desk was situated so that she had the view before her all day long. Her work was not very demanding and her boss was never around. So Wendy spent a good deal of time learning the ways of that small corner of the world. It didn’t tale her long to realize that this spot was one of the favorite places for adulterers to meet. After all, it had a romantic cast to it, a lovely fountain, the heroic statue of General Sherman (“war is killing” Sherman), and the line of horse-drawn carriages waiting to take tourists around Central Park across the street.
The men and women who met there for the furtive trysts were mostly midtown professionals, or members of the elite of the upper East and West Sides. Many were middle-aged men meeting young women like her. The men were married, and the young women, some as young as eighteen or nineteen, became distinct to her. Some were obvious predators and gold diggers, looking to land a very rich man. But more than she first imagined, there were many young women who truly met these men, because they wanted to be loved and were willing to settle for a man who was married, either because of an unlikely promise that he would leave his wife for her, or for the fact that being a man’s mistress was not all that bad. After all, men live with their wives, even love them, but they truly love their mistresses. It was good to have some kind of love in your life rather than none at all, Wendy thought.
Wendy sighed, as she wished that she had someone in her life. At the age of twenty-three, she never felt that passion at all and she longed for it. Therefore, she didn’t hold it against these young women with the older men.
There is Bob, she observed to herself. That was the name she gave to one middle-aged man, probably an attorney who sported a wedding ring and a ridiculously expensive watch. He had a regular schedule. He was Jewish, and quite a good dresser, custom made suits as well as shirts, emblazoned with lavish ties. He came every other day at the same afternoon time during the work week to meet a lithe Puerto Rican girl with a delightful body, dressed in an incarnadine dress that he probably bought. It was slinky and tight, and set off with an expensive bag and a gold chain around her neck. She always came with a bright smile, and she would French-kiss him in front of everyone on her tippy toes, because he was taller than she was. The crowd there, sitting on the edge of the fountain, is like the rest of New York, leaving everyone to their own devices, noticing, but not becoming emotionally involved.
The Plaza is an Edwardian-era dowager who seems to protect Grand Army Plaza and the Pulitzer Fountain rather than being just a neighbor. Under nude Pomona, the goddess of abundance who bends slightly down, the Puerto Rican girl has taken Bob’s arm and they are walking somewhere, probably to a love nest that Bob owns somewhere on Central Park South or in the vicinity.
Wendy preferred the men, but she also noticed how many cheating women there were meeting their lovers. It was the same for them as for the men, only the women generally met men of their own age. It was not a rarity to see a middle-aged women meeting a young man, but it was no all that common however. Manhattan women are very well preserved, better than any other city in the world. It is not just the plastic surgery and the best salons, it is the way they dress and the jewelry they wear. And they are all so thin, Wendy said to herself, thinking she could lose a few pounds.
There was Wendy’s favorite woman again; she called her Kay. A woman of about forty, Kay was dressed in a cream-color shift on this day whose warm sun is much too good for New York. She was meeting her beau, a man a few years younger than she, and he was very elegant. Dressed like a model, he was tall and bearded, and smoked in a sleazy Hollywood way. He was reserved, giving her only a peck on the cheek, but sprouted a smile that said exactly what he wanted. Wendy wondered what his tongue was like, a bit embarrassed for herself. They left Grand Army Plaza immediately, evidently in a rush.
Wendy wondered whether detectives kept surveillance around here. It is so routine. Just hang out, and find everyone who is sleeping with someone else’s spouse right here. At least someone’s getting it, Wendy thought. It always seems like everyone in Manhattan is getting it except me, the train of thought continued.
Wendy was not unattractive. She was a brunette, well-figured, with a slightly sense of bemusement in her smile, and looked as if she were easily distracted into a day dream. During her teens and through college, she went through a number of young males who delighted at her body when they could get it, and that was only when Wendy really needed to be mauled a bit. Her last boyfriend was a complete confusion and revelation to her. He would punish her for anything he perceived to be wrong. He did it by pulling off her clothing, throwing her over his lap, and then he paddled her buttocks mercilessly, thirty or forty whacks at time. She wept and screamed, but he continued until her flesh was all pink and red. The only problem was that Wendy enjoyed it. She spread her legs that he could see it all, and afterwards when he made love to her she would explode in orgasms that she never had with anyone else. It was only when she discovered that she wasn’t his only bad girl that she, humiliated, realized that what she wanted was someone who was tender and loving. But she never met anyone, not even a married man who would meet her down there beneath alongside Pomona.
For a while, she tried the dating sights on the Internet, but it was too weird for her. She wanted to be married, so she tried the site that claimed to have brought together tens of thousands to the altar. She filled out more than a hundred questions about herself, and later she realized how the whole thing works. They would match her with someone who answered in exactly the same way. They would find her male counterpart. It’s bad enough, she thought, that men and women are attracted and fall in love with people who look exactly like themselves, but that principle was extended to include people who in the virtual world would have the same character and quirks that she did. Wendy tried for a while, and then realized that she didn’t want someone just like her. She wanted someone special, because she wasn’t special. But, then, why would a special man want me?
Fours years at a university training to be a journalist, and Wendy ends up as a glorified secretary in a small public relations firm, sending and receive e-mail messages, occasionally writing a press release, chatting with clients on the IM, and occasionally going to a PR event at some fancy hotel downtown. She was smart, but had no way to express her intelligence. What was she going to do romantically, then? Find her male counterpart in the virtual world, go through a preset protocol of questions and answers, and then discover that the man she is supposed to meet is a mirrored reflection of her dull life? She did actually meet one man, the same age as she, who worked in an import-export company on East 47th Street, who basically did exactly what she did. He was demure like her; he had some sexual excesses that he admitted to, but nothing spectacular, just like her; he chatted on the IM with her in exactly the same terms; and, very early on, Wendy knew that she had nothing to say to him, because he presented nothing new to her at all. The only real difference between them was that Edward didn’t want anyone special He wanted someone just like her and he would have married her if Wendy hadn’t walked out on him during their final date at—what else?—Tavern on the Green. How boring is that?
It was just about closing time, and the lovers continued to meet each other in the real world outside of her office. They usually did until about four-thirty, five, in the afternoon. By the time she reached her small co-op studio that her father had bought for her as a graduation gift, all the lovers of the city were at their favorite restaurants or on their way to them.
It was a very busy Saturday afternoon on Madison Avenue, with an unusually high number of tourists roaming about, many who had stopped in at the Metropolitan Museum of Art earlier. Wendy was hungry and dropped in on her favorite soup bar, a small throw-back to days not so gentrified on the Upper East Side. It was packed, and she barely got a seat. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a young woman about her own age sat down next her, saying, “You don’t mind if I sit with you. There’s just no room.”
“Sure, you’re here already.”
They had ordered the same soup and burger, Wendy noticed. But that wasn’t all. She was more than just punk. Her hair was dyed purple, and her nose, ears, and upper lip were pierced. She wore a mid-length t-shirt that exposed her navel jewelry, and wore black nail polish. Her hair was more like feathers, and she had googily eyes and a noticeable tattoo on the back of her neck. It was some strange symbol from some primitive tribe in some remote land, perhaps. She was exceptionally thin, but she wore her wiry frame well, walking on a high platform shoes that were a throwback to the days of disco. Her black, leather mini-skirt barely covered the top of her thighs and as she sat she exposed her panties which were decorated with a pair of kitsch cherries at her crotch. She ate greedily with her long, pointed fingers, and then she violated Wendy’s privacy, “My name is Conne. It means…”
“I know what it means,” Wendy interrupted. “I had years of French, and I even went to Paris for a summer to learn more. Why would you use that name?”
“Oh, I hate my real name. Rita, what is a Rita? And anyway, I am a conne and I love my conne,” she replied animatedly, pouting her lips and sticking out her chest while opening her palm to the side of her in a grand gesture.
Wendy blurted out a single laugh.
“What’s your name?” Conne asked.
“Wendy,” she answered in the latest trend, which is not to give a last name to strangers along with not giving a mobile phone number to any man who is not exactly known to you.
“That’s just like Rita. You should change your name like I did to one name, and make it dirty or very exotic.”
“Otherwise, you’re like everyone else.”
“What’s that tattoo on her neck?”
“Oh, that’s some kind of Buddhist labyrinth, but not a maze.”
Wendy was startled to realize that although Conne looked so odd that she really had a solid intelligence about her. It oozed out of her. “I didn’t know there is a difference.”
“Yes, yes, there is. The idea of a labyrinth is to get into the center so that you can meditate. You know, where you get the three qualities of consciousness to merge,” Conne continued. “They are, the artist told me, the abiding, the flowing, and the uniting. The maze is designed to get you lost.”
“But that’s not my favorite tattoo. Look at this one,” Conne said excitedly while lifting up her shirt above her breasts. Her bare nipples were pieced, and beginning above her breasts, flowing into her cleavage, and then curving around to her back and around and down to her leg was a serpent in Japanese colors. She hissed: “I just love snakes.”
Wendy thought to herself: She thinks it’s art. That’s why she doesn’t care about showing me her body in such an immodest way.
“I don’t think I could do that,” Wendy said. “It’s too permanent for me.”
“That’s the idea! You can’t lose it, and it’s all yours.”
Conne repositioned her shirt once again, while Wendy sat a bit disoriented. She wasn’t uncomfortable, but she was not her usual self any more.
“Conne, what does your family think about all this?” Where did that question come from? She thought of what her own parents would do if she had done something so crazy.
“Oh, my mother and father barely talk to me, but my brother Vermeer is okay with it. In fact, that’s why I am here. I am getting a bite, because I am campaigning with him at today’s East Side block parties. He’s running for the Assembly in the Democratic primary next September 11th. I love my brother; he’s going to be President one day,” Conne replied. “I am so proud of him.”
“Does he call you Conne?”
“Oh no, no. He calls me Rita. You have to vote for my brother.”
“I’m not registered.”
“No problem.” Conne picked up her massive macramé bag, and pulled out a yellow voter registration form and a pen and gave it to Wendy, who was stunned to receive it. “No excuses. Fill it out now, and I’ll mail it for you. I’ll pay for the stamp.”
To her own amazement, Wendy did exactly as she was told. She gave back the completed form and the pen back to Conne who folded up the form and placed it and the pen back into her bag.
“Remember, you’re a Democrat, and you’re voting on September 11th for Vermeer ter Horst for the Assembly. You be voting at the elementary school up the street. Don’t vote for that other creep.”
“Yes, it’s Dutch. We’re really from Michigan, but my brother wanted to rise up here in New York. He planned it all his life. He’s very ambitious. You know, you have to meet him. You really are his type. You’d like him. He’s at the 200 block of 85th Street’s party. It’s a gas. I’m having so much funnnnnn! I love campaigning!”
Wendy finished off her quick meal, and Conne literally took Wendy’s arm and they walked together up Madison Avenue to 85th Street with great speed, with Conne practically pulling Wendy along. There the local block association was having its annual block party. It was filled with vendors selling all kinds of tchotchkes and a soul band was playing everyone’s old favorites. It was heavily crowded, a combination of tourists and locals, enjoying the sunny late June day. Conne directed Wendy through the bustling horde with a confidence and mobility of a purpled-headed cruise-missile heading for its target. Then, Conne shouted out, “Vee, Vee! I want you to meet someone!”
Wendy then saw him. Vermeer was her brother, but without any accoutrements. He was dressed casually in Ralph Lauren WASPy clothing and, of all things, saddle shoes, that made him look like a 1960s preppie. He was blond, too, and Wendy thought of him as something really different in his conventionality. He was holding a small stack of “Vote for Vee” handouts. He had been shaking hands with a local resident when Conne called. He excused himself, and walked towards the two women. Wendy loved his smile; it radiated care and love for his sister.
When they met, Conne told her brother, “I just registered Wendy here and she is going to vote for you on September 11th.”
“Hi,” Vermeer said while extending his hand to Wendy. “I’m Vermeer ter Horst, and I thank you for your support. We need every vote we can get.”
His right hand was warm and sensitively soft. This man had never done a day’s hard work in his life, Wendy thought. But he is very good looking and she guessed about twenty-seven-eight-years-old. He looks faithful. That’s the world, faithful, Wendy thought absently.
“Well, you have my vote, for sure,” Wendy replied sweetly and with a smile.
There is something about all politicians who run for office. When told that they have someone’s vote, they become very affectionate and appreciative, if they are like Vermeer. It added to his confidence and also to his deep need for love.
“Vee, she’s single and you’re single, and she’s just your type. As soon as I saw her I knew that she’s the one for you. You have to ask her out on a date, tonight, after we do these block parties. I won’t even come to bother you. You’ll love her and she’ll love you and eventually we’ll live in the White House. I can’t wait!”
Conne then pulled out a handful of “Vote for Vee” handouts, and started to work the crowd, leaving Wendy and Vermeer standing in front of each other. “Vote for my brother,” she would say to everyone she met as she gave them the propaganda. She did with poise, and with a charming smile and enthusiasm. Her appearance, rather than putting off people, intrigued them instead as no one ever expects a motley-painted tattooed-girl to be campaigning for a candidate on the Upper East Side. Moreover, she was very attractive, because of the way she was and stood out.
“How about it, then?” Vermeer said.
“Tonight. Are you free?”
He asked me, Wendy thought to herself. She was absolutely delighted for the first time in years. “Yes, I am. But are you doing this because your sister insisted on it so much?”
“Yes, but no. I do want to get to know you better, Wendy…”
“Watson. Wendy Watson.”
“Good to meet you, Wendy Watson””
“Good to meet you Vermeer ter Horst.”
“Meet me at Pollock’s at eight.”
“Great, I love that place.”
Suddenly, Conne came back to them. “So, where you are going tonight?”
Vermeer smiled at his kid sister: “Pollock’s.”
“Great, I love that place,” she answered. “We have to get to 83rd Street now, my president brother.”
“I know, I know, Rita. But we’re running for the Assembly right now, the bottom of the ballot.”
He turned to Wendy: “At eight, then?”
“Yes,” and she nodded warmly.
Wendy watched as Conne took her brother’s arm in the same way that she had done previously with her and guided him through the crowd eastwardly. They have an aura about them, she thought. They both have it. They seem bigger than the life around them. How strange. I’ve never met anyone like them before, she said to herself. She watched them until they turned the corner and were out of sight.
Wendy then turned and found herself at the end of the block back at Madison Avenue that was still filled with people, shopping and walking about. Then, she saw him. It was Bob, Bob from Grand Army Plaza, Bob with the Puerto Rican girl. He was pushing a double stroller with two young children asleep in it. He was walking with his posh wife, a woman who looked like a younger version of the woman she called Kay. They were all dressed causally, and they were made for each other. They looked like each other, and their mannerisms were the same. They spoke quietly and pointed out various things in the store windows to his knowing wife. They disappeared when they entered a children’s clothing store. If only she knew, Wendy thought. May be she does. Who knows? But who cares? I have a date, a real date with a real man on a real Saturday night. Now, what am I going to wear?