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Depending on where you got your information (say, Cosmopolitan magazine, the hostesses of the View or my aunt Ina), there were well-documented ways to go from single to married in New York City without: A) kissing fifty frogs, B) unwittingly sleeping with a serial killer or C) settling.
Unless you were me. I'd be lucky if I got to kiss five frogs before I dropped dead from Another Saturday Night Alone Syndrome. Why was I still single at age twenty-eight?
My friend Amanda: "You don't need a boyfriend to be happy, Jane." Um, actually, you do. Did I mention she's living with someone?
My boss Gwen (unsolicited): "You'll find love when you stop looking." Really? I've never heard that one before!
My friend Eloise: "You have high standards. Not that there's anything wrong with that." No annotating required.
My engaged (younger) cousin Dana: "You're negative, that's why!" Just wait till you meet her.
Cosmo: "You gotta put it out there, girlfriend!" Like I didn't own a Miracle Bra in every color?
Me: "Because you can do everything everyone suggests, and it still won't make the man you can imagine having kids with love you back Or even ask for a second date."
What was my aunt Ina's suggestion for finding true love? It had something to do with a certain "perfectly nice looking fellow" she'd met in the hallway of my grandmother's apartment building. He'd been taking his trash to the incinerator, and -- oh, forget it. I might just as well let her tell you herself.
"It's one date!" Ina Dreer yelled into the telephone. I held the cordless away from my ear. "A couple of dances at a wedding, some small talk. And you get three hundred thousand dollars! You can't go on one lousy date for your grandmother? For me? For that kind of money? Why do I even bother? Tell me, Jane, why do I even bother?"
I mentally finished Aunt Ina's monologue for her: Go ahead, Jane, be single. Never get married. End up all alone like your great-aunt Gertie, God rest her soul. So what if I promised your mother -- God rest her soul -- that I'd watch over you? So what if she worked her whole life to support you after your father died so young? What do you need with three hundred thousand dollars anyway?
Actually, dear, sweet, guilt-tripping Aunt Ina had a point there. I did need the three hundred grand. My apartment was seven hundred and sixty-two buckeroos a month (rent-stabilized) -- which was super-cheap by New York, New York, standards, but hardly one-quarter-of my gross monthly salary. Which, according to Mademoiselle and Glamour -- and probably The Wall Street Journal -- was the guideline for what you should pay for housing.
Plus, I'd been sleeping on the same lumpy futon for six years, ever since I moved to Manhattan from, Aunt Ina's spare bedroom after graduating from college. With three hundred thousand big ones in the bank, I could finally afford a real sofa bed. Ina had sprung for the futon as a college-graduation and first-apartment present. She'd also narrowed her ever-suspicious pale blue eyes at the ten-by-twenty-one-foot studio I was so excited about as though it came complete with muggers rats, then ordered custom-made "burglar bars" for the fire-escape window and hired an exterminator for me.
What else would I do with that financial windfall? Immediately DKNY my wardrobe, which was currently limited to career separates on sale at, Ann Taylor and Banana Republic. I aspired to DKNY, which was three promotions away.
"Jane Gregg, am I talking to myself here?" That was followed by Aunt Ina's trademark deep sign.
The pack of Marlboro Lights on the table in front of the futon was taunting me. I was dying for a cigarette, but it would kill Ina if she heard me inhale, and I loved her too much to disappoint her. My aunt didn't know I'd started smoking again. I'd quit for one day six months ago and made the mistake of telling her about my big achievement. I'd never seen her so happy -- well, except for when her daughter Dana, got engaged two years ago. How could I tell her I'd only lasted seven hours as a former smoker?
"Aunt Ina, I would meet this guy, but I'm sort of dating someone right now." Lie. Big, fat lie. It wouldn't be right to go out with another guy. No, you don't know him. No, I don't want to say too much, or I'll jinx it. Yes, he's nice. And would you stop worrying about Grammy's money? She's not going to disinherit me just because I won't go to Dana's wedding with the schlub who lives next door to her. He's not my type, anyway, okay?"
"'Sort of dating,' she says," Aunt Ina mimicked. I could imagine her shaking her strawberry-blond head. She loved repeating what people said in the third person. "'Not my type.' What do you know -- you've never even met Ethan. He's not a schlub! He's a perfectly nice looking young man. And he has a big-deal job working with money. Not like the artsy-fartsy weirdos with gunk in their hair who you and your skinny friends run around with. He's from Texas. That means he knows from respecting a young lady. Oh, what am I wasting my breath for? Go ahead, Jane. Be single! Never get married . . ."
I tried to conjure up a vision of Ethan Miles, the three-hundred-thousand-dollar Incinerator Man. I doubted he looked anything like Matthew McConaughey or whatever other hot actors hailed from the Lone Star state. Granted, I wasn't about to win the Miss New York Pageant, but at least no one would describe me as "perfectly nice looking" Please. We all knew what that meant. And Ethan Miles lived in Queens, for God's sake. Separated from my seventy-six-year-old arthritic Grammy by one white wall. What marriageable man, especially a transplanted Texan, lived in Queens, next to elderly people? If he was such a catch, why didn't he live in Manhattan?
It was true that Grammy had inherited three hundred thousand dollars from her spinster sister, Gertie. Ina was afraid that Grammy, long widowed, would disinherit both Dana and me because we didn't visit her enough. Gram thought weekly Sunday get-togethers involving pastrami sandwiches, German potato salad, butter cookies and living room piano recitals were de rigueur. Disagreeing with that concept was the only thing I had in common with cousin Dana, Ina's only child. At family functions, Dana liked to roll her eyes and announce that my sarcastic tongue would keep me single and out of Grammy's will. Which tended to send Ina into a tizzy about how I'd have to live on my twenty-six-thousand-dollar salary for the rest of my life.
What Aunt Ina didn't seem, to understand was that I had a master plan. And even if the plan faded miserably, I was still due a four percent raise in three months. If you added my five percent Christmas bonus, I'd be earning just over twenty-eight thousand by the new year. That wasn't bad, was it? According to my friend Amanda, you were doing okay career-wise if your salary matched your age in thousands. I was close. Although in February, I'd be twenty-nine.
"Did you buy your bridesmaid shoes yet?" Aunt Ina asked. "If you need money, don't be proud. They have some nerve charging so much for shoes that aren't even leather!"
Yeah, try one hundred and thirty-five smackers. "Pale peach peau de soie pumps, two-and-a-half-inch princess heels. I know. I'll get them. Don't worry."
"'Don't worry,' she says," Aunt Ina snapped. "You have a final fitting for your dress next Saturday, Miss Smart Aleck. What are you waiting for? The shoes to mysteriously appear in your closet?"
Yes, actually. That was exactly what I was waiting for. "I'm getting them this weekend, okay? My friend Eloise is going shopping with me. She knows good shoes."
"The one who dates the foreigners?"
I tiptoed to the door and knocked hard. "Aunt Ina, I have to go. Someone's at the door."
"Honey, listen to me," Aunt Ina whispered, as if anyone but my uncle Charlie was in her apartment with her. "Both you and Ethan Miles have been invited to Dana's wedding without guests. What's so terrible that you walk into the Plaza Hotel together, sit at the same table? It'll make your grandmother happy, and what's the crime that everyone will think you're a couple? You'll feel better, trust me."
Only married people and singles who lived with significant others could bring dates to Princess Dana's wedding. Losers like me -- and Ethan Miles, apparently -- had to come alone. The reasoning seemed to be that $225 a head, Dana shouldn't have to pay for a casual fuck's prime rib.
"Should I give him your number?" Ina asked. "You shouldn't have to attend a wedding alone at your age. I understand it's a little humiliating."
No, actually statements like that one were a little humiliating. Besides, I was twenty-eight, not thirty-two, for God's sake!
"Aunt Ina, I told you. I'm seeing someone. It wouldn't be right to go to the wedding with this Ethan guy, okay? I really have to go. Love you! Bye!"
Even if I never had another date, I was not going out with Mr. Incinerator. Ever. And I most certainly was not taking him as my date to Dana's wedding, an ostentatious snooze-fest raining a perfectly good Sunday two from now on August 2. Like I needed Miss Superiority to know I was so desperate for a boyfriend that I was dating Grammy's next-door neighbor? No thank you. The guy took out his trash in front of people! Besides, it was bad enough that I had to go to the wedding at all.
No, actually it was worse: I was a bridesmaid. At least the dress wasn't as embarrassing as it could have been. I personally wouldn't have chosen peach -- a color no one looked good in -- as my wedding party's color scheme, but then again, it wasn't my wedding, as Aunt Ina reminded me every time I "made a smart remark" about Dana's abominable choices. Peach turned my dark brown eyes into two mud pies, and the dark brown of my hair into a mousy makeover "before." I should be grateful that at least the dress didn't have a big bow on the butt.
The Plaza Hotel. Who got married at the Plaza Hotel? No one. It was insane. A wedding at the Plaza Hotel must cost five hundred thousand dollars. No one got married there. Well, except for Ivanka Trump, maybe. And by the time she got married, even The Donald wouldn't be able to afford a wedding at the hotel he owned.
Twenty-four-year-old Dana Dreer, of the Forest Hills Dreers, was not supposed to get married at the Plaza.
Did I mention that her fiancé, a thirty-year-old from Far Rockaway named Larry Fishkill, started up an Internet company whose IPO made him an instant millionaire back when that was still possible?
Thank God I wasn't allowed to bring a date. Who would I bring? I didn't even have a gay male friend. Not having a date when I was invited to bring one -- now that would be humiliating.
Ina finally said goodbye with her trademark long-suffering sigh and hung up. I put the cordless back on the recharger and returned to what I was doing before she called. Which was: choosing the perfect outfit for tomorrow's Super Day. It was now nine-thirty, which meant I had almost ten hours to decide on the perfect ensemble to accomplish the three most important things in my life, which were (in no particular order):
1) Getting Promoted: I had an appointment at sharp, tomorrow morning with William Remke, president and publisher of Posh Publishing. I'd been slogging away at Posh for six unappreciated years, three as an editorial assistant and three as an assistant editor. If I didn't get promoted to associate editor, I'd -- well, who knows what I'd do? Maybe take an extra half hour at lunch or use letterhead as scrap paper -- lots of it. I'd do something.
2) Getting the Man: For years I'd been fantasizing about Jeremy Black, my interim boss (my real boss was out on maternity leave). Jeremy was Posh's vice president and editorial director. Single (and straight), thirty-seven and a dead ringer for Pierce Brosnan. He was so movie-star good-looking that I had trouble uttering words and looking him in the eye at the same time. Which most likely accounted for the fact that he completely ignored me. Except when loading up my in-box with slush (sent by the hordes of would-be writers who didn't have agents) manuscripts.
3) Getting the Enemy: And good. She was a big part of the reason I'd had it with my lowly title. Natasha Nutley was a faux celebrity whose tell-all memoir I'd been assigned to as project editor. Did I mention that Gnatasha -- oops, I meant Natasha -- and I went to junior high and high school together? That I'd hated her tall, skinny, beautiful guts since I was twelve years old? No way would I let Gnatasha (the Gnat for short) think I was anything less than a senior editor making one hundred K a year who summered in the Hamptons and had a very good-looking, very successful, very adoring boyfriend who --
Right on time. I ran down the foot-long, foot-wide hallway into the tiny kitchen, kneeled down on the black-and-white linoleum floor and opened the cabinet under the sink. "Hey!" I shouted over the little garbage I can.
"Come on up. I need help! Don't forget the Super-Straight hair balm, okay?
"Gimme ten minutes!" Eloise Manfred shouted back from the depths of the cabinet.
Eloise lived in the apartment below mine. The walls, floors and ceilings were so thin in our six-floor walk-up that we'd discovered we could chat the night away if she shouted toward her kitchen ceiling and I opened the under-the-sink cabinet. If either of us was ever being murdered in our kitchens, the other could call 911. I'd once told Aunt Ina that, thinking she'd stop worrying about my doorman-less building. She didn't.
Eloise and I worked together at Posh Publishing. During my first week at Posh, I'd mentioned I was apartment hunting, and Eloise told me about the vacancy right above her. She'd shown me a picture of her place and said the studio upstairs had the same layout. Rent-stabilized had been all I needed to hear. I'd rushed to the landlord's office with my entire life's savings in cash, which almost equaled one month's rent and one month's security (I had to borrow two hundred from Ina). With the exchange of cash a clean credit check and the signing of a two-year lease, the little box was mine. My studio looked nothing like Eloise's decor-wise. She wasn't Posh's assistant art associate (a title almost worse than mine) for nothing. Eloise had done the most amazing things with flea market screens, sheer, silky curtains and blown-up black-and-white photos. I'd lived at 818 E. 81st Street for six years and still had the hot-pink plastic Parsons table I'd bought for my college dorm room.
If you were wondering how I could afford the apartment on my salary -- which, trust me, was even more pathetic six years ago -- it was all about budgets and credit cards. Aunt Ina taught me something about budgeting that I actually listened to. It really worked. I got paid twice a month, so I put aside half my rent and utility bills with one paycheck, and half with the second paycheck. Then I paid myself fifty bucks in a savings account. The rest was walk-around money, food and subway fare. Everything else, like clothes, and shoes and stuff for the apartment went on credit cards. I had four: Visa, Ann Taylor, Macy's and Bloomingdale's. The only thing I ever bought in Bloomies was MAC makeup, but I liked having the card. Anyway, thanks to Ina's system, come bill-paying time I always had two halves of my expenses.
I heard Eloise lock up her apartment and jog the steep staircase to the sixth floor. Then I heard her stop, jog back down and unlock her door. She must have forgotten the hair balm.
Among the many things I loved about Eloise Manfred was that she was two years older than I was (the big three O), and didn't mind being single. In fact, she relished her freedom and the choices out there. She dated constantly. Younger men, older men, cute men, ugly men, muscle-men, short men, bald men, hot men. All nationalities and colors and professions. Aunt Ina had met Eloise once. The three of us arranged to meet in my apartment for a trip to the designer outlets in Secaucus, New Jersey. This was during Eloise's Swarthy Man phase. She'd brought Abdul upstairs to introduce us, and Ina's arrival had coincided. Ina had taken one look at Abdul and instructed him to take Second Avenue to 42nd Street, then to go crosstown to the Lincoln Tunnel. Abdul, whose English wasn't too great, nodded politely and smiled, having no idea what she was talking about. Eloise and I hadn't either, for that matter. Until Ina had whispered to me, "Isn't he the car-service driver?" I'd held my breath. But Eloise had laughed and kissed Ina on the cheek.
Copyright © 2003 Melissa Senate