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It's Nelly's World


alec vanderboom

A thoroughgoing rube from the sticks now, I had almost forgotten how a city dweller is a flea in the flea circus: most of the time low, invisible, touching the ground.  Then, suddenly, vaulting high.  You can always count on unannounced possibilities for temporary transformation, the chance to spend a night passing as someone you were never born to be.  You don't know exactly where you're going, but you go; and sometimes afterward you still don't know exactly where you've been, except that the air was thin up there.

What's going on this weekend? Maybe the question wasn't even asked, it was thought, and only electrical impulses passed among friends.  Party on Lispenard Street would come to you Friday afternoon, and past darkfall you were walking alone down an empty street, watching for a single row of lights on a fourth floor somewhere along the block.  Whose place? Who knew?  Party the only information  necessary.

At one--all I remember was huge, dim, crowded--I stood in line for a drink.  The girl behind me struck up a conversation as we waited.  It was a long queue.  It was good, therefore, that I felt I could listen to her British accent, creamy rich, forever.  She wore a silk cocktail dress from the fifties; she worked in a thrift store in the Village.  Whatever it was we talked about, it was lively, full of bubbles, and once I had my chardonnay in hand I turned.  "You aren't going to be one of those people who take someone's number and promise to call but never do?" Her swift arrow flew straight.  It was one of the most galvanizing, and brave, questions I had ever heard.  The friendship it caused has spanned thirty years, three continents, and two marriages.   All from a chance meeting in a chance place.  That is why you wanted to live in the city in the first place, and forever.

Twenty years later I asked her if she knew whose place that was.  She named a famous (and famously bitchy) British expatriate fashion editor.  Who knew?  See.

To prove you can go home again, only you may not quite recognize the place anymore, this week I again received an invitation: friend of a friend, downtown, like before.  Only now there's a specific address, and there's Google.  With its real estate tabulations that tell you exactly what the penthouse loft went for last year.

Oh my goodness.

I went to survey my closet, only to find it full of the same things that were there ten years ago, and ten years before that. A shopping expedition was in order, but now there were no sales racks at Saks and Bendel's to haunt every lunch hour until something eventually showed up, in my size and in my hands: what a steal.  Feel that tissue silk?  An editorial assistant had no business owning something so fine, except she did, by effort and a little magic.

Now and here, though, the only option was J. C. Penney at the rural mall.  How is that thirty-dollar frock going to go down in the loft of today, no longer dimly lit raw space with blowers hanging from the ceiling, but the Sub-Zeroed, Wolf-ranged domicile of the one percent?

We'll see.  I'm going.