Windows on the World. The restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center. I was there once. It could have been any fancy restaurant. It was lunch with my father. I was dressed up. I looked forward to these meals with my father. I could order anything, the waiters would pretend to be servants and we would pretend to be rich.
I was almost done with college. College. One deadline after another stuck between temp jobs and the dagger-and-shark landscape of being with Jeffrey.
I was more or less living with Jeffrey in the fancy apartment looming over Washington Square Park that his father paid for where the TV was always on in the living room and rock and roll was always blasting from the stereo. Jeffrey – if he was up – would be making dinner, making a tape, smoking pot or on the phone. He made dinner every night, sitting on the couch with the TV, using a broad flat book on his lap as a countertop, only going into the kitchen to actually use the stove. His food was delicious, loaded with butter, sugar, cream – whatever it took to make it taste good. Vegetables forbidden.
Most of the time it felt a little like home. I stayed most nights, leaving when we had a screaming fight with slammed doors, but I always came back after the burst of relief that seemed so real disappeared on me. My alternative to the gaudy place over Washington Square Park was a tiny dark room – a bargain at $50 a month -- the first room immediately to the left of the front door in a railroad apartment with three or four other people, no one I knew. I had hoped I’d come to know them, had hoped that this apartment on 107th St. that I found through a noticeboard would be some kind of hub of busy people with full lives and friends that I could merge with, but it hadn’t turned out like that, just a bunch of people who met once in awhile over the sink in the kitchen.
The first chapter of Jeffrey’s novel took place in a girls’ college dorm. One girl comes out of her bedroom where she’s just fucked some guy. She starts talking about it all very casually – plenty of jokes and laughter – with the three or four or five girls who are all hanging out. When I read that chapter I was a virgin. I didn’t have friends that I could imagine talking about sex with, not in any honest or casual way. I didn’t have friends period. Not really. Not like the ones in Jeffrey’s book.
Last night when Betty McDonald, the jazz violinist, said something from the stage about being a hippy in ’69 – weren’t we all? she laughed, and a lot of people in the audience nodded – I thought about myself then, how I hadn’t been a hippy. Not a real one. I came along just a little too late, but I didn’t know that then. I thought if I just looked hard enough I’d find the hippies and join them on the beach. As I sat in the darkness last night, my eyes closed, riding the unpredictable flow of the music, I thought of being sixteen and hitchhiking alone from Michigan to British Columbia, down through California and back across to New York. For the first time I thought about how I hadn’t told anyone of my plans. There was no one to tell. I didn’t think of the trip so much as of the girl up in her attic room, thinking it all up by herself.
In Windows of the World my dad in a good suit, looking fresh and energetic, chooses a table by the window.
My father says somewhere between the roast beef and the apple pie that since I am almost done with college I should now think about helping him to pay for it.
Oh. Okay. I murmur. Nod. Chewing. Yes. Thank you. Swallow. Great lunch. The check. The coats. My father kisses me. and returns to his office where, if anyone asks, he will say that he just had lunch in Windows of the World with his daughter who is an English major at Barnard. Lovely. And I go back to wherever I came from.