When I graduated West Virginia University with a bachelor’s in Journalism, I headed south to Charlotte, North Carolina. My plan was to leave West Virginia forever, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“You go down and find us an apartment,” said my wild party pal Stephanie. “I’ll come down in two weeks.”
We had spent hours planning our Charlotte lives. We were going to Kelly girl until we found full-time jobs—me in advertising, her in teaching. We’d each find a Mr. Right and be each other’s maids of honor. I’d have a career and she’d have kids.
Alas, Stephanie never arrived. She totaled her car, apologized for destroying our future and we never saw each other again.
“Move to D.C. with me,” my friend Dave said. I had called to tell him the tale of Stephanie standing me up. “We can live with my sister and her husband while we save up money to get our own place.”
I packed my Toyota Corolla for the second time in a month and headed north. Dave’s sister and her husband lived in Alexandria, Virginia. There were upsides and downsides to living with them. Their apartment didn’t have air conditioning. Or did it, and they were just too frugal to use it? I showered each morning then went to work and dried my hair and applied my makeup in the bathroom. It was futile to do it in the apartment where it was 85 degrees by 8 o’clock in the morning.
Dave slept on the couch in the living room and I crashed on the love seat. It was no easy feat getting to sleep every night.
“Do we have to leave the kitchen light on all night?” I asked Dave the first night.
He spoke in a whisper. “Yeah, we do. Otherwise the roaches will go after Jeannie’s dog.” I wouldn’t have minded. The Yorky was a little too yippy, a little too nippy, for my taste.
“What’s with all the signs?” I said to Dave as we walked out to our cars one morning. “They weren’t here last night.”
Dave walked over to a telephone pole. “WARNING! Do not let your cats and dogs roam unaccompanied at night. Pets have been disappearing at an alarming rate in this neighborhood.”
I knew why. Darla, my boss, had told me that certain cultures liked to eat cats and dogs.
“My friend, Ellen and her husband used to travel with their dogs,” she said one morning when I brought her a cup of coffee. “One time they traveled out of the country with their beloved Anastasia. The concierge at their hotel offered to get the dog settled while they unpacked. At least, that’s what they thought he was doing. Later that night they were served poodle pot roast over saffron rice.”
If there was an upside to living with Dave’s sister, other than the fact it was free, it was her husband’s cooking. He was from Viet Nam and had worked as a chef in a Japanese steakhouse before he became a cartographer for the U.S. government. Imagine eating Japanese steakhouse food over perfectly steamed rice every night.
“What’s he doing?” I asked Dave the first time we ate dinner with Jeannie and Sung Te.
Dave shook his head. “I have no idea.”
Jeannie’s husband had taken a large apothecary jar off the top of the refrigerator. It was filled with russet powder. He leaned his chair back, opened a drawer and took out a tablespoon. He dipped it into the jar and withdrew a heaping spoonful of powder. He sprinkled it over his beautiful tofu and veggie stirfry.
Dave and I ignored our own plates as we watched Sung Te eat. His face turned crimson. Sweat ran from his hairline and dripped off his chin. His nose began to leak and snot joined the sweat. He took the napkin from his lap and rubbed his face briskly.
He noticed us staring at him. His eyes disappeared as he smiled at our chagrin.
“Hot is good!” he said.
It was hard to walk away from Sung Te’s suppers but the love seat was giving me a crick in the neck. Dave and I relocated to Fairfax, Virginia. We got an apartment across from Dart Drug, not far from Fairfax Circle.
When you’re in your 20’s and living in the nation’s capital, you join the other yuppies who are eating and drinking and being merry. We didn’t have to buy anything but cereal and milk to eat. We ate lunch out and dinner at happy hour buffets.
“Let’s go dancing,” Dave said one Saturday night. I spent the next hour making myself look like Madonna. I shouldn’t have bothered. No one noticed, no guys anyway. I didn’t mind. The bar was big fun with a dance floor the size of a basketball court.
“Is that a man or a woman?” I said as a towering black person with a platinum beehive headed our way. His/her false eyelashes looked like black awnings emerging from silver eyelids.
“That would be a guy. See how his shoulders are broad and he doesn’t really have a waist or hips? That’s how you tell.”
Dave reached out and nudged my mouth shut but I continued to stare. “She, I mean he, is beautiful!”
“Hey look!” Dave said. “Is that guy wearing a skirt?”
I turned around to follow his gaze. “He is. They’re showing guys in skirts this year in GQ.”
I was bored. “Want to go out and watch the guys play volleyball?”
“Nope,” Dave said as he grabbed our gin and tonics from the bar. “They’re playing Boy George. Let’s dance!”
A few more trips to Traxx and Dave met the man of his dreams. Nico was a petite and feisty Latino. He was a cologne model at Neiman Marcus and an illegal alien. Dave and Nico approached me with a business proposition one evening.
Dave poured a glass of wine for each of us. “Do you think your friend Laura would marry Nico?”
My brow furrowed. “Why?”
Nico leaned forward into my space. “So I could get my green card. She would have to live here a little while. Our toothbrushes would be side by side. She would know my favorite color. It’s important if the INS comes. I would pay her mucho dinero.”
I considered the plan. Part of me didn’t want to help Nico. He was a priss and he bugged me. But, Laura could use the money. On the other hand, it would mean another roommate and things were tight as it was. What the heck? Maybe she’d say no.
I shrugged. “I’ll ask her next time I see her.”
I was reading in my room one night when I heard the oddest thing. It sounded like the smoke detector was going off.
“Whoo! Hoo! New York City!”
I put a robe over my pajamas. “What is that noise? Who is chirping?” I said as I opened my bedroom door.
Dave looked up from the couch where he was watching the news. “Nico’s dancing.”
“No, he’s not. He’s yelling! Make him stop.”
Nico emerged from the kitchen. He was wearing an apron over a Speedo. Typical. “Whoo hoo! Oooh baby!” His hips went round and round. Dave’s blue eyes opened wider. So did mine.
“Nico,” Dave said. “Save it for later.”
I went back to my bedroom. I got a mental picture of Laura and Nico getting married. Him in his Nieman Marcus tux, looking up at her. Her in a white tea-length dress, towering over him. Maybe she’d ask me to be her maid of honor.
One night we were out at a nightclub and Nico ran shrieking over to Dave and me after a so-called trip to the bathroom.
“Vamos!” he said. He appeared to be holding his pants together.
Dave huffed. “We just got here.”
Nico insisted. “I will pay for cab. My pants broke.”
Dave squinted at Nico. “How’d your pants break?”
Nico paused, then answered. “They went kaput when I did a split on the dance floor.”
“What were you doing on the dance floor? I thought you went to the bathroom?”
I went outside to get a cab.
Nico’s pants weren’t the only thing that split.
“Don’t bother calling Laura,” Dave said as he looked out the window on the way home.
“You sure?” I said. “She could use the money.”
Nico reached across me to stroke Dave’s arm. “Novio?”
Dave shook him off. “I’m not your novio, Nico. Not any more. Hasta la vista, baby!”
Nico slept on the couch and his sister came and picked him up in the morning. Dave called to me from his bedroom before I left for Jazzercise. “Hey D, wanna go out tonight?”