My friend and I decided to have lunch. She said she had very little time today, but at 1:30 we could just hang out in her office for an hour. Since I was going from my friend’s in Chelsea to a hotel in Brooklyn and she was downtown I agreed this was a good plan.
I called a Lyft, which was extremely prompt. It did not smell too much of air freshener, though it did, of course, smell of it. I have a real scent/nausea problem. On a scale of 1-10, I wanted to vomit about a 2. I considered this a success. We sailed down the West Side Highway. Houndlike, I kept my nose to the window. It was a beautiful New York afternoon. Hot 97 played Cardi B and brake lights sparkled in the light rain. I looked at New Jersey, and the rows of pilings sitting in the Hudson, looking absolutely human, abandoned. I looked up at the brick apartment towers of Battery Park City, and wondered which apartment belonged to my former shrink, who was kind of a dick. Lil Wayne came on, and I wished he’d been around when I was in therapy, because then I could have told my shrink that what I most wanted was to be myself but 20 percent more like Lil Wayne, and could he perhaps facilitate that?
We went flying past my destination. “Excuse me,” I said. “That was 225 Liberty Street.”
“No, 225 Liberty Street is further down,” he said.
“It’s really not,” I said. Who cares, it’s fine, it doesn’t matter, I thought, even as we drove into a tunnel. Luckily, it was a short tunnel. We emerged, and the driver came around to my way of thinking about the location of 225 Liberty Street.
Seven minutes later I arrived twelve minutes late. My friend had told me to walk through Saks 5th Avenue and then I would find the elevators to her office. I am sure that she, who does this every day, found these instructions sufficient but I just stood there, surrounded by scarves and handbags and drowning in more perfume. I called my friend. “Exit Saks and tell me what you see,” she said.
I did this. “I see plants,” I said. “I see people with jobs talking to people with jobs.”
She was sighing with impatience when I saw a sign directing the viewer to several locations, one of which was her company.
“I see it,” I said. “I will be right up.”
Ha, ha, ha! No, I wouldn’t! I gave the receptionist my friend’s name and extension.
“Laura?” she said.
My friend’s name is not Laura. I repeated her name. “I need her extension,” she said. I repeated it. She told me it needed to be seven numbers, not four. I texted my friend. She texted back seven numbers, and the emoji where the person is burying their face in their hand like “Jesus Christ.” The receptionist called my friend. My friend said fine. The receptionist took my picture and handed me a card. “Scan your bags over here,” she said. I had a tiny carry-on and a neatly arranged purse and a New Yorker tote stuffed to the gills with nonsense and I dragged them all to where I thought she was pointing, except that she was pointing somewhere else. The bag-scanning machine and the man who motioned to it were tucked into an alcove off the main lobby. “Quite an operation in here,” I said, as he ran everything through and put stickers on everything saying “INSPECTED.” I headed to one bank of elevators. “No, over here!” the receptionist shouted. I headed to another bank of elevators. “Put your card in,” said the guy at the card-scanning machine. “Put it in the other way.”
My friend was waiting for me when I got off the elevator, some 14,000 years since I’d walked into the building. She looked good. We were dressed the same: grey hair up, black sweaters, jeans, both very tall, no makeup, just some nice girls from New England. We had met when we were 16, on the first day of something called the Massachusetts Advanced Study Program, which no longer exists. We spent every minute together, imitating people, making up nicknames for everyone, making up songs about them. I’d had friends before that thought I was funny, but she was the first friend I’d had who thought I was funny who was also funny. I woke up every morning of the six weeks buzzing with excitement that I would get to see her and make her laugh.
My friend had a decent little private office off a large room filled with cubicles. “Fancy lady,” I said.
“Fancy lady executive!” she said and fixed herself a bowl of high-fiber cereal. I told her I’d just eaten a slice of pizza at a place where I’d been wanting to eat for five years. We talked about dogs. We talked about Massachusetts. She’d taken a college class once with my mom, at UMass, and we took turns doing imitations of my mother listening to a lecture. “Now my imitation of my mom listening to a lecture is just me listening to a lecture,” I said.
“Remember when you liked that guy and I told you that we’d almost dated but then he totally blew me off, and you sat there nodding sympathetically and pretending you were taking my warning seriously and then you went after him anyway and he did the exact same thing, basically with the same M.O., same script and everything?” she said.
“That was a good one,” I said.
“A classic,” she agreed.
We sang the song we’d made up about this situation which only had one line: “It happened to you, but it won’t happen to me, yes, it happened to you, but it won’t happen to me.” We agreed it was still a very good song.
Our time together was up. My friend! How many more times would I see her before we died, I wondered as I walked back through Saks. I sat in the front seat of the Lyft, which was a big, nice sedan, driven by a man in his 60s with a good vibe. As we crossed the Manhattan Bridge it started pouring. I noticed that the car’s air freshener smelled like Opium.
“I like the smell of Opium,” I said to the driver. “It’s one of the only smells I like.”
“That’s good,” he said.