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Have you ever had the perfect day? A day when the world smiles on you with sunny skies and fills each hour with such bright and lovely things that, as you snuggle down to sleep, you say to yourself, "Now, that was a wonderful day"?
I've been wondering lately, how many people actually have days like that? Are people having them all around me and I just don't know it? For instance, could the guy standing in front of me be smiling so enthusiastically because he just met the love of his life? Or the woman behind me, will she glide into bed tonight and say, "This was the day -- I'll remember this day always"?
Okay, probably not.
I don't imagine you have to wait in an interminable ATM line on a truly perfect day. Surely, on a truly perfect day, cash materializes in your pocket on command. Sadly, in my world, the closest thing to perfect is when the ATM actually spits out money instead of that admonishing beep and Sorry, cannot process your request at this time message.
You see, my life is fine. It is neither outstanding, nor bad enough to require medication. I've never been privy to a perfect day, but I haven't had a lot of especially bad days either. I guess you could say I live in that vast cushiony-soft gap between superb and suicidal. In other words, I am your typical twenty-five-year-old modern American female.
I am a well-educated, reasonably intelligent, fairly productive member of society. Like every other modern American girl I'm slightly heavier, shorter, and more impoverished than I want to be. I'm pretty sure I'll never find Mr. Right, but on that point I am more than willing to be proven wrong. In my world, managing to get fifty bucks out of the ATM is one of life's greater pleasures, right up there with Hershey's chocolate and outlet shopping.
I step up to the ATM machine with the standard mixture of trepidation and hope. Every ATM encounter is a gamble, and, as is usually the case, the odds tip in favor of the house -- Chase Manhattan. I swipe my card and say a little novena to Saint Jude, patron saint of lost causes. "Please, let there be enough money in there." I'm not Catholic, but it can't hurt. I hate it when I'm the one sad girl who has to keep swiping and frantically punching in dollar amounts in decreasing increments till finally leaving the place red-faced with ten bucks.
The machine coughs out the sweet whir, swish, click-click click and bills sputter out to freedom. I grab the money swiftly, before it can get sucked back in.
The piercing whine of a cell phone rings out. The three people in my vicinity not already on the phone riffle through their pockets and purses.
The ringing continues. They all look at me. I lift my giant black tote to my ear. Yep, it's me.
I shuffle through the crowd and out onto the street, digging through the gum wrappers and convenience-store receipts that have gone forth and multiplied in the dark recesses of my bag. I flip the phone open. "Ryan Hadley." Damnit!
"Aw, you did the work phone answer." It's Audrey. She screams out to Veronica, who is no doubt right next to her, "She did the work phone answer!" Back to me. "That's a round on you, baby!"
"Yeah, yeah" is the only reply I can muster.
"Where are you?"
"Sixty-eighth Street. Two stops," I say.
She screams, "Well, hurry up!"
I get an earsplitting crash-thump, followed by a muffled "Oops."
Veronica picks up, "Listen to this."
In chorus they belt, "All the women who independent...we all love the overdraft/ All the honeys makin' money...we love living check to check..." The tune almost sounds like "Independent Women" by Destiny's Child, but not quite. (Sadly, Audrey has only three CDs in morning workout rotation: Beyoncé's Dangerously in Love, the Destiny's Child remix album, and the Charlie's Angels soundtrack, circa the year 2000.)
As Audrey continues to belt out lyrics in the background, Veronica says, "We call it 'Ode to My Overdraft,' subtitled 'Credit-Dependent Women.'"
"You are so Destiny's Bastard Child," I say.
"Girl, you're gonna be Destiny's Bitch if you don't get here soon."
Then comes the oh-too-familiar snap, crackle, pop of signal loss.
I blurt, "I'm losing you. I'll be there in fifteen minutes!" as I follow the throng of people disappearing underground and race onto the Uptown 6.
Audrey and Veronica are my best friends. Together we're the ultimate triple threat -- a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead. Audrey is fair and petite, occasionally fragile and slightly pristine, but we love her anyway. Veronica is tall, slender, and as fiery as her hair, though not nearly as ruthless as she'd like you to believe. And I'm, well, somewhere in between. Given enough Lycra and Lancôme, any man is putty in our hands. At least, that's the theory.
When we met, sophomore year in college, the Triple Threat was more than just theory. Our alma mater is the kind of university with stately brick buildings, stone spires, and tree-lined greens. On the surface it looks like a very distinguished bastion of higher learning. It woos unsuspecting parents into believing their child will receive a top-notch Ivy-ish education at a bargain price. It is actually a members-only gathering place for barely postpubescent borderline alcoholics. Oh, yes, we did very well there.
Lately, however, the Triple Threat has become a little more dour than dangerous. We are free from romantic attachments (can't get a date to save our lives), tired of stupid men (angry about aforementioned dating problem), and most importantly we are all in the midst of "financial crisis."
Now, to the modern American female a "financial crisis" is defined as the condition in which too much rent and/or food money has been spent on too many beers and/or clothes, resulting in a maxed-out overdraft and/or credit card. The only recourse available to a modern American female in the throes of "financial crisis" is excessive beer and cigarette consumption at local dive bar with best friends.
The Gaf, our dive bar of choice, is just around the corner from my apartment and the perfect place for chronic financial crisis recovery. Actually, The Gaf isn't a great bar for anything except financial crisis recovery. There are never more than three other people there, the bartender is older than Rome, and it's dark -- good for hiding.
The old mahogany paneling and Irish pub paraphernalia give The Gaf that added je ne sais quoi -- the kind of je ne sais quoi only overcome by good beer at low, low prices. But when you add in the great jukebox and the owner's take on the New York smoking ban, you have what we like to call paradise. At least once a night, Bill, the owner and chief bartender of The Gaf, tells whoever will listen that he left Ireland to "escape tyranny" and that he won't let "the fascist imperialists" tell him what he can and cannot do in his bar. Thus, to Bill, every cigarette smoked in The Gaf is an act of civil disobedience; we are more than happy to support him in his efforts.
As I amble into the bar and see Audrey and Veronica at our favorite window booth, I finally feel the great weight of work lift off my shoulders. I hang my purse on a nearby hook and flop in next to Audrey.
I'm about two bottles behind in the conversation, so the girls give me an encore of "Ode to My Overdraft" in a sad attempt to catch me up. And I thought Audrey's predilection for vintage Beyoncé was a harmless fascination.
At the conclusion of the fifth and final verse, Bill erupts in applause and gives us a round on the house. God bless Bill.
"Ryan!" bellows the usually composed Audrey as she slams her beer down on the table. "How was your day?"
"Fine," I reply.
"The usual," she replies, lighting a cigarette. "And you, my dear?"
Audrey shrugs. "Same."
Ah, the depressing side of financial crisis and romantic drought -- same old, same old.
"So, we all got nothing?" I say, disappointed.
Audrey wiggles in her seat. "Oh, wait! I almost forgot! I saw the Fonz today!"
"Heeey," I imitate, giving her his trademark thumbs up.
"Where?" asks Veronica.
"Coming out of Starbucks at Forty-ninth and Seventh," replies Audrey.
"What did he have?"
"A grande, I think."
"What was he like?" I ask.
"Shorter than I thought; kind of older too."
"Well, he's got to be my dad's age," says Veronica.
"Or older," I add.
"Yeah," says Audrey, deflating rapidly from her momentary high.
"Wow," I groan, "the highlight of the week is a Henry Winkler sighting?"
What happened to all the excitement, the thrill of being a modern American girl in the big cruel city? We used to have actual stories or, at the very least, daydreams. These days a real whopper of a night on the town involves two pitchers at The Gaf and dinner for three at a burger joint on the corner.
"Are we losers?" I ask the girls.
"No," chirps Audrey.
"Absolutely not. We're young and vibrant," says Veronica weakly.
"We don't have it that bad. Besides, Ryan, things will pick up," declares Audrey.
Okay, things aren't that bad. I mean, in the four years since college we've managed the basics -- crappy jobs, tiny apartments, great friends. Not bad, especially considering we decided to begin responsible adulthood in New York City. But there's no zing anymore, no thrill. What happened to waking up in a city that doesn't sleep and finding we're king of the hill, top of the heap? All right, I admit it: I was lured into the greater New York metropolitan area by Frank Sinatra. I guess it sounds pretty ridiculous now, but at the time it seemed perfectly reasonable.
I was an "ambitious, headstrong young woman driven to achieve the American Dream. Where better to do it than New York City?" Well, that's how my father explained it to my mother when I left home. Pretty great of him, right? The thing you have to understand is that his idea of life in New York came mostly from Doris Day movies. To live the kind of big-city life he envisions requires a closet full of brightly colored shift dresses (with matching shoes and handbags) and several years of finishing school. My New York dream, on the other hand, was much more realistic. It involved only two things -- Central Park in fall and a man named Harry. In other words, it came mostly from Nora Ephron movies. The sad reality is, after about six months in New York all the modern American girl dreams about is surviving her twenties without a substance abuse problem or sexually transmitted disease.
When I first got here, though, New York seemed so full of possibilities, so ripe for my conquering. To my wide and untrained eye, the people, the pace, the scale of it, was only a detailed backdrop for my storybook triumph. I got off the train and glided through Grand Central Terminal feeling weightless, buoyed by the knowledge that college had prepared me for something. The specifics of that something were hazy at best, but I was confident it would be big, special, or at the very least highly lucrative. I was sure I would find an exciting and fulfilling life of wealth, success, and handsome men waiting for me right around the corner.
In a way, I was right -- people live very well on Park Avenue.
"Do you think we've done everything right so far?" I ask the girls.
"What do you mean?" asks Veronica.
"Do you think we've done it all right? That we are where we should be?"
"I think we're doing just fine," replies Audrey sweetly.
I nod to Audrey in agreement. Yeah, fine. But shouldn't there be more? Lately, I can't seem to shake the feeling that I'm missing something -- that there's more out there. I feel like spectacular, extraordinary things are always happening to other people -- but never to me. It seems like the longer I live in New York, the further away I get from my New York dream.
For example, my big personal success for the day will be making it to my apartment without falling down.
"I think I'm going to go home and pass out," I say to the girls.
"Me too," replies Audrey.
"Your place tomorrow?" asks Veronica.
I nod as I wrestle the hook for control of my bag.
A few air kisses later and I'm on my way home, already dreaming about the one perfect thing I know I'll have today -- six and a half to seven hours of wonderful, comalike sleep.
Copyright © 2005 by Sarah Castellano and Emily S. Morris