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New York City, fall, 1980
There she was, standing on the corner of Eleventh Street and Sixth Avenue, about two blocks away from me. I could see her curly red hair in all its wild abundance, an auburn fire. I walked closer. Pamela. I would never have seen her there before noon. She was a nocturnal being. Her true nature revealed itself only when the sun went down. When you did get a rare glimpse of her in the morning, her eyes might be open, but she wasn’t fully present. Daytime was unfamiliar and confusing to her. It always appeared as if she were adapting to it, that it was unnatural. The expression, “groping in the dark,” needed to be “groping in the light” for Pamela. She did not like daytime at all.
Just behind me, like a castle waiting to be sieged, was the spired Jefferson Market Library. A big red-brick anomaly I loved.
It was a sharp fall Saturday afternoon. I was in the midst of one of my mammoth weekend walks that I loved. I came to know New York as a walker, making it mine, step by step. At that moment, I was in the heart of Greenwich Village.
I walked toward her. “Pamela!” I cried.
She blinked. Then, recognizing me, she laughed a beat or two, her signature. Her laugh was unsyncopated, not especially mirthful, but endearing.
“Hi, hello,” she said. Once again, I realized how tall she was, probably 5’ 10”. It was difficult to say because of the fullness of her hair. She had the wan skin of redheads, small eyes, full lips.
“What are you up to?” she said.
“Taking a walk. Such an incredible day. What about you?”
She had on a blue pea coat and a beige wool skirt. She wore a long silk scarf around her neck tied in complex, appealing swirls. She had a broad blue ribbon around the back of her hair. She always dressed with flair, with panache. I used to ask her, “How do you always dress so well? If I gave you a pair of galoshes and some nail clippers, you’d look great. Look at me,” I’d say, putting on a pose of desperation, pointing to some bland khakis and a V-neck sweater I was wearing. “I’m straight out of a Brooks Brothers catalog. I’m always so preppy. Can’t you help me? Give me some style? I’m begging you.”
She’d laugh. “You dress fine. It’s you.”
“Plain? Dull? Colorless? Really?”
She was not fond of exercise. So when I said I was on a walk, she produced a slight scowl. “I’m still waking up,” she said. “Don’t talk to me about walking.” I glanced at the big library clock. It was one-fifteen. “I’m meeting Wilhem for lunch,” she said.
“Didn’t I tell you? I’ve got a new boyfriend. I think I’m in love.”
“Wilhem? What’s that name?”
“Dutch. He’s Dutch. Yes.”
“How’d you meet him?”
“I met him at a party. I’m a goner. He’s going to ruin me.”
“What’s he do?” I suddenly felt like a hovering father.
“He does lots of things. Right now he works in a gallery in Soho. He’s got lots of ideas, though,” she said.
“I’d like to meet this new guy,” I said.
She continued her half-convincing lament. “I’m a goner. I’m like a teenager. I can’t think straight. Help me. I’m his sex slave. It’s pathetic.” She laughed at herself, at her predicament.
I couldn’t help but think of that Joni Mitchell line, “Help me, I’m falling in love again.”
“Pamela,” I said, “it sounds like it’s a little too late for help.”
“Too late,” she said, as if repeating some kind of curse. “Yes, it’s too late. Take me out and shoot me.”
I’d heard this once or twice before. When she fell, she fell hard. Often, she’d disappear for weeks, caught in the thralls of romance. I was envious of her abandonment, of her relinquishing everything for love.
“I can tell you like this, Pamela,” I said.
“Part of me does. Part of me is scared shitless.”
I wanted to talk to her some more, to prime her for details, but I also wanted to get on with my walk. I was protective of those walks. I guarded them with everything but a pistol.
“I’ll call you later,” I said. “I’m in the middle of a gigantic walk.”
“Yes, yes,” she said. “You love to walk. I know. I pity you. I’d rather take a cab. I’d take one to cross the street if I could.”
“I know you would. New York taxi drivers should give you a medal.”
I turned and started to go west on Eleventh Street.
“Call me!” she said, raising her voice so I would hear as I walked away. “Save me from love!”
I took one last look at her, tall, flame-haired Pamela. She was about as New York as you could get. I left her there in her predicament and went off to finish my Saturday walk.
She might be helpless and bewildered, but, unlike me, on this fall day in New York, she was in love. I walked on, hoping that someday that exciting bewilderment would come to me.