My father invited me to have lunch with him. He was working in the World Trade Center, a business man in the American world with a Hungarian accent and a European flair. I was a young and pretty college student thinking regularly about suicide, living mostly with a boyfriend whose family is rich. I live in his apartment most of the time. It has two bedrooms and two bathrooms, a balcony over Washington Square Park, cable television, lots of pot, my boyfriend’s fancy stereo and his record collection. There is usually music playing because he plays music all the time when he isn’t watching television. When we fight and I go to spend a night or two in my own place, there’s no music and no television, not that I would listen or watch if there were. I have a tiny dark room in an apartment I share with people I don’t know. I only have to pay $50 a month. You can’t beat that.
My father invited me to lunch at Windows of the World, the restaurant on the top floor of the World Trade Center. I’d never been there before, but I knew what to expect. My father’s invitation to lunch is like a narcotic that I swallow yet again. It dissolves in me, this anticipation that I will meet my father – we will both look good and there will be an instant leap of recognition. I will dress up within the boundaries of my hippie taste so that I look good in both worlds – mine and his – and my father will be in his suit and tie, full of lavish energy. His eyes will appraise me in a flash and find me to be exactly what he is looking for and I will roll on the wave of that enthusiasm, buoyed by its flourish and we will sit at a table with linen and silver, two or three globe glasses at each setting, a neat little bouquet in a silver vase. There will be wine that my father will taste first as the waiter stands aside respectfully, wine that he will of course agree to with a nod, and there will be large menus and I will order and I will eat. I accept the invitation as if any other response were possible.
Perhaps I wear the long, full white skirt made of light wool and the white v-necked blouse with Geoffrey Beene’s initials embroidered in red on the pocket. I usually wear things that my boyfriend’s stepmother gave me when I dress up. Kitty is a rich, exciting and glamorous woman so I feel rich and exciting and glamorous when I wear her cast-offs or things she picked up on a shopping spree and tossed my way.
I arrive downtown and go first to my father’s office, riding up the smooth elevator. He hasn’t been at this office long, a year or two. He introduces me with gusto first to the receptionist, then his secretary, then some young man fresh out of college, then an older man. I am a big hit. I’m good at this. This is so easy, to be gracious and beautiful, a little witty, friendly. I am good at the two-minute relationship.
Delighted, my father sweeps me back to the elevator and up another twenty or thirty flights.
He makes sure we get window seats. We sit across from each other as we have so many times. My boyfriend has been sleeping with an older woman called Harriet who is a writer with paperbacks you can find in stores. I will be done with college in a few months. I keep track of how many more papers I have to quickly type up overnight. I am writing a long short story, using my boyfriend’s stepmother as the main figure because she’s fun to pretend to be. I smoke pot every day and do any drug that comes my way – quaaludes, acid, cocaine – nothing exceptional. I try not to eat at all except when I’m in a fancy restaurant and someone else is paying.
“Now,” says my father, and he puts on his serious face. “I need to talk a little business with you.” We have told the waiter what we’d like and I am neatly pinned. “Now that you have almost finished college, I’d like to make a proposal.” He draws out the word “proposal,” putting a little spin of irony on it to inject a little humor here, a little but not too much. “You know, money does not grow on trees.” He lifts his eyebrows and looks at me.
I smile to make this easier for him.
He continues. “And so, now that you are almost finished with your schooling, we need to think about how to pay the bill! I hope you will agree that it is not too much to ask that you help your daddy. You don’t have to do much.” There is something said about monthly payments. I am nodding. I take a sip of water and look out over the city that I am hovering over.
My father’s conversation moves on now. He’s made his point, gotten my agreement, so now we can enjoy our lunch. He is drinking his wine, putting large gobs of butter on the soft white rolls, careful not to butter the whole roll and bite into it, but tearing off a chunk, putting the butter on – not spreading it, just placing it with a quick swipe of the knife – and popping the soft, buttery morsel into his mouth. This is the correct way to eat bread. He has taught me and I have learned. Because we are partners, capable of the style that my mother and sisters are not.
The meal becomes every meal we have together, the part I forget when I say yes and pop the pill – cloudy hours with my father talking and me, eating and nodding to prove I am still here and he has nothing to worry about.