Tell Them You Didn’t Mean It And Let’s Go
Jeanie is standing with one foot up like a bright pink flamingo and missing a shoe. I do not know what happened to it. Everything about her is pink. She oozes sex that pink flamingo, that apple orchard. It’s hot August and it’s slow honey. We drip sweat in the road, here at 4 am because we are want-to-be hookers. Neither of us has had an appointment yet. We just stand here all night like if we were hookers. We’ve been approached but then we haven’t had the guts to go through with it and we say to each other, “Seemed like a nutjob,” and then we stand here snapping our gum and wearing our hairspray. I’m trying to find a rich guy to dote on us and let us stay in his house in The Hamptons but so far I can’t find one. Jeanie was dating an electrician all week last week but then he asked where does she live and so she doesn’t meet up with him anymore.
“Hey, what happened to your shoe?” I ask her.
She shrugs and snaps her gum and doesn’t look up from her copy of O Magazine.
Jeanie stays in the pantry of this weird couple’s apartment in The Lower East Side. They rent it out to her for fifty dollars a month. I don’t stay anywhere I sleep in Penn Station. Everybody knows me. We split a storage locker by the West Side highway for sixty dollars a month. It is eight foot by six foot by six foot and it has everything we own in it. Jeanie has a quarter of a million dollars worth of designer clothing mostly dresses in our storage locker. Tonight she is wearing a spandex Diane Von Furstenburg wrap dress. She is a professional thief. Bergdorf’s, mostly. She tosses a ton of dresses over her arm and then in the dressing room she uses scissors she brought in with her and cuts the alarm tag on the dress out of the liner. When she gets home, she just hand sews up the hole where the alarm tag was really carefully and it looks fine, it pulls a little but you can barely see it. This has been going on for a year we are running out of space. Our storage locker looks like the costume warehouse from the set of a movie except we are miniature versions. They are in an airplane hanger and we are in a snowglobe. Plus they have a jewelry and shoe section and we don’t have that.
We meet up in the mornings to figure out what we’re doing for the day. Today we are meeting in front of The Plaza so we can walk the perimeter of Central Park three times because it is a Tuesday. Jeanie is wearing a giant mauve Versace floor-length gown.
“That’s not hot?” I ask her.
She shrugs and fiddles with a slick of grey silk.
“You look like a mudslide,” I tell her.
I love Central Park it makes me feel like somebody in there. My great uncle was painting in Central Park and a guy walked by him and noticed him and then he became a famous painter. Sometimes I sit on a patch of grass wearing these antique airplane flying goggles I got at this thrift store in Williamsburg on my head and wonder what my life would have been like had I joined the air force or the coast guard.
We are participating in a study on the effects of yoga on women who have eating disorders. We do not have eating disorders we are doing this so we can get free yoga. They think that we have bulimia. Jeanie and I do not exhibit any of the signs of bulimia nor do we want to talk about our eating disorder in the group sessions. “We’re not ready,” I tell them.
We keep getting jobs but we keep getting fired. Jeanie steals everything and I always drop things by accident or forget things if I’m not concentrating enough on them. Yoga group is on Wednesdays and if we stick with it they are giving each of us $1,100 dollars which is more money than we’ve seen in at least three months. We sold one of the dresses at the thrift store in Williamsburg but they only gave us 80 dollars. I really like when we sit outside and almost don’t want to go to group yoga tomorrow but Jeanie wouldn’t give us a choice in the matter because she thinks we are being followed by some guy she keeps thinking she sees everywhere and she thinks he can’t come in to the yoga class. I have tried to explain to her that there are many steps she is missing in the logic sequence here but there’s no talking to her about this plus I think she likes standing in zen yoga Warrior One pose while wearing one of her winter white Chanel suits. We almost got kicked out last week when she lit up a joint in the bathroom but I explained to them she was doing it for yoga mood effect and that it was part of her eating disorder and can they please, please help us with this torturous eating disorder. I actually do have lots of problems but don’t feel like I can talk about them to anyone.
We decide instead of walking the perimeter of Central Park three times to hop a turnstile and take the subway. You should see Jeanie hurdle that shit in an evening gown and stilettos it’s atlas stones walking. Sometimes she hisses at the normal basic girls looking at us like we are seaweed scum.
I’m in love with a guy who goes to college which is why we have been hanging out in Manhattan under the guise of being hookers. He’s getting an MA in Journalism and I like him because he’s nice. We met at a party and he said he goes there but I haven’t seen him anywhere here yet. I got into the PhD in English at Yale but I don’t have any money and this subway is going too slow.He calls me at the payphone by the Duane Reade now and then because he thinks it’s cool I’m homeless and he wants to interview me for a newspaper. He asked me to dinner but I chickened out of going even though we have all these good dresses for it. I still feel bad about making him sit there in a restaurant waiting for me so instead now we just hang out here in case he walks by I’ll have the chance to tell him that and then I won’t pretend to be a hooker anymore.
We got in trouble at The Met recently because in the Byzantine jewelry section Jeanie put her face up to the glass window like she wanted the crown that was in there so bad she just kept smushing her face up against the glass like she couldn’t help it and then a security guard tried to move her and she held on to the windowsill with her hands and he was pulling at her legs in the air like she was learning to swim right in front of all of these tourists and so I kept yelling, “She’s bulimic. And a pot head,” but that didn’t really do anything to help so then we just sat on the front steps which is fine because lots of people eat lunch there and we split a pretzel and looked like we were normal girls.Except that day Jeanie was wearing an Alexander McQueen maroon lace evening gown and I was reading through this huge stack of every newspaper printed in the tri-state area to see if that nice college boy had gotten published yet.
We are very good about going to art openings. One early warm evening we were walking on Rivington back to that weird couple’s pantry Jeanie rents and we saw all these people drinking wine. We thought there is free wine in there and suddenly we were at an art show for these new and upcoming painters. This went great because Jeanie was wearing a fancy outfit from Bergdorf’s and I know a lot about painting because my great uncle was a famous one. They thought we were one of them. Maybe we are one of them actually, I went to college and Jeanie understands beauty. I get anxiety sometimes I am a see-through anything. I am something made of glass.
I feel as though the thumping source of my life snapping into several different pieces can best be drawn to the time I got into the PhD at Yale but didn’t have any money to go because now I don’t care about much of anything it’s like what does it matter there will always be a giant egret flapping off a windy coast whether you live up to your potential or not so like why even bother and besides there were all these ladies with the Pope/Yankee Stadium issue. One time we were on the bus heading upstate because we were trying to find that vacation place they went to in Dirty Dancing in case we needed to get abortions from being pretend hookers and there were these two ladies sitting on the bus next to us and they kept talking about how isn’t that Yankee Stadium where the Pope went and I was thinking if I could open the emergency exit window, just slightly, but then Jeanie got mad because it was my turn in our game of Spit but I think what she was really getting at was that we still have our fates. I wanted to ask this social worker about scholarships for the Yale PhD at the free clinic Jeanie makes us get tested for HIV at every other week even though we are pretend hookers but then I just sat there calculating in my head all of the things that I am not. I’m looking for an advisor or something. This is when I long for someone to swoop in and save us and take us to his house in The Hamptons. Every day of my life actually is like army boot training camp. Jeanie says that Sophia Lauren said that beauty is 50% what you have and 50% what people think you have and so I am trying to make my lips look puffier while standing by this payphone. I feel like I’m looking at a painting of myself and also my reflection in the glass holding the painting, in life. Jeanie and I are stranded mermaids, I think. A map to the deepest shit would be that actually, it’s pleasant, this current marching to my demise I’m numb about it which I think releases some kind of endorphin or something and so I can play my heart or cards or God until they break and here we are sitting on our knees praying at yoga about ready to hang upside down and the lady is whispering breathe, breathe.
I Dreamt We Were Some Joke,
We Had To Wear Crowns
We decided we should go shopping because then we could walk around holding sodas from wax paper cups with straws. We had excellent hair this day, Jeanie was wearing a beehive and I looked like I was from California. If you walk down 5th Avenue on just about any day of the week you can get samples most places but you want to go early because later in the day is when the girls working in the stores get very angry with each other. I find this endearing of them in a way because you just know that they have so much student loan repayment and anti-anxiety medication addictions. My mom died of cancer when I was 18.
We went to this giant makeup store and I could see Jeanie putting everything in sight into her pocketbook but nobody else was watching her because the purse was Marc Jacobs and she looked like she went to NYU. I asked this nice lady who had a nametag which said Mary on it if she could tell me what scent was most worn by academics. I lined my eyes in a small mirror and wondered if I was doing it right and if these were frown or smile lines or if it was that my mom doesn’t get to see. We walked out of there with dark teal eye shadow and deep maroon lip gloss on and felt like we were better prepared for the incoming fall season. We were just like in the billboards we were walking past, which actually doesn’t speak too well of us because pop culture is always three years behind and also I think that maybe this life is purgatory.
I picked up a cardboard box from one of the stacks left out for midday recycling and asked Jeanie for a Sharpie. Today we would sit with a coffee can and fly a sign—you probably call it begging for change with a sign, and it would go especially well because we looked pretty. I wished that Jeanie had a giant harp to play out on the sidewalk. I wrote a poem on the back of the cardboard but I wouldn’t bother showing it to anybody because who cares. Jeanie wanted us to sit out on this bench she likes down in Union Square because she likes watching the families walking by with their determined sports sunglasses.
We sat at one of the hotspots right by where Theodore Roosevelt was born which is also good for food because the lunch crowd over there’s mostly business people so they also give us food in to-go styrofoam containers and it’s always a burger which is fine, I was vegan but now I eat anything. Jeanie was sitting out on this bench and I was pacing back and forth because my butt was hurting from sitting with our sign. Ours said: “We are Dolly Parton Impersonators” and so far we had earned 31 dollars and it was only noon and only one guy asked us to sing Amazing Grace. Jeanie looked at the ground the whole time. Maybe if I became a real hooker then I could afford the PhD at Yale and also I would get better grades because my interpersonal skills would be so much better after being a hooker. I bet that nice boy who goes to college has good notes on how to express oneself properly in important settings such as dinner parties or at any ice skating event after party. Maybe he could even come to an art opening and then Jeanie wouldn’t even hiss at anybody because we would feel like we belong there which I think is a part of what art does. Everyday thing here in New York you take a turn and there’s a bunch of beautiful Peruvian knitted cardigans. Jeanie started dancing with some old guy with a bagpipe sitting near us and also I think she wishes she knew who her father is. She looked like she was an elegant movie star in a black and white silent film and I looked at her and thought we are going to be academics so help me I will save us and then she handed me a bottle of water from who even knows where and I sipped from it because it was cold and maybe she was the one always thinking about me, actually, so I said “Thanks.”
Let’s All Eat The Factory
We were puking everywhere. We’d heard there was this place on 2nd with an eating contest. They had a burrito with ghost peppers in it. We didn’t know what ghost peppers were but we knew the rules which were that if you could eat the whole thing, you got the food for free. We were running out of food. Actually, we didn’t have any. We were eating every other day via mostly fruit Jeanie was five finger discounting from bodegas but we were starting to feel real bad about that because what did local shop owners do to us? Nothing. We were getting real thin. Not cute thin, not hip under-eye dark circles thin, we were thin like we had to stop and sleep in a park twice a day thin. Sleep, hunger’s silent twin sister. I kept listening to The Fruit That Ate Itself album on my headphones and now we were thinking about entering eating contests so that we could eat. Ghost peppers are the hottest peppers in the world they used to be used in military torture tactics, I’m not even sure they are legal in most places.
Each burrito weighed two pounds. There was a poster of Patti Smith in the bar right behind Jeanie and she put her hand up to Patti Smith’s hand like she was holding hands with the picture on the wall then Jeanie held her breath like she was jumping into the ocean and ate some of the burrito and chewed for ten seconds and her face got red. She started coughing and then I’m sitting there across this small tiled square table and thinking it’s my fault her life is so terrible. She chewed again and tried to swallow and her eyes started crying and then I just tore into that burrito. I ate half of it in five seconds while the guys behind the bar leaned on their elbows and stared at us in complete awe, stared at us like we were naked.
“What?” I spat burrito over at one of them, my hands might as well have been tied behind my back.
We were starving.
I dug into the burrito with my hands and started picking out beans with my dirty nail bitten fingers like I didn’t care all these men were watching us, like I didn’t care that Jeanie was crying famine all over the table, like I didn’t care that ten seconds later the heat started and it got worse and it wouldn’t stop and my insides were shriveling from plutonium and then there we both were puke flying all over the place we were going to have to pay for these burritos and I tried to think about anything, something, anything, that Linda Evangelista quote, “I don’t get out of bed for less than 20,000 dollars,” and we were puking everywhere and this waiter guy kept coming over and handed us two glasses of milk and I couldn’t feel my hands and I reached for the glass and it fell off the table in slow motion and then I was quoting Foucault’s Pendulum and begging ghosts to fly in with giant feathered angel wings and pick us up and fly us away through the ceiling and I was puking all over the table and feeling the decorative blue and white and yellow imported painted tiles on the top of it like I was reading braille, like they had some answer, while I was leaning over hyperventilating and coughing on my own existence and then I looked up and there was Jeanie, calm as the sea on a mild day, drinking the glass of milk and both the burritos were gone and she was grinning at me and the waiter unable to believe she had eaten both of them said, terrified, “We’re giving you the food for free, we’re giving you the food for free,” and Jeanie sat there smiling and I would be remiss if I did not mention that I have nothing to offer you in return whatsoever but this advice: Do whatever you have to in this life. Mop a floor, fuck a whoever. Do whatever you have to because nobody gives a shit.
NICOLLE ELIZABETH is a writer and has been a bicycle mechanic, waitress, DJ, hardware store employee, baker, panelist on women’s rights in Afghanistan and Brooklyn Rail contributor for many years. She is the Poetry Editor at Word Riot, Inc., runs a bi-weekly column at The Believer’s tumblr, and writes for a whole bunch of places. Also, she once fell of a chairlift. This excerpt is from her novel in progress.