Do you remember The Secret? It was big a few years ago. I never actually read the book (or saw the movie – a perplexing concept in and of itself), but I gather that the premise was that one could manifest their heart’s desire- money, love, a dream job, whatever – by wanting it really, really badly and thinking positive thoughts. I’m not here to argue for or against the validity of this practice, but one thing I do wonder about is if The Secret can be applied retroactively. Because I may have kind of done it.
This is my story.
In late spring of my senior year of high school, my French IV class took a day trip to New York City to see Les Miserables, since we’d been reading the book in the original French all year. I was looking forward to the trip, as I’d just made my first ever trip to Manhattan a few weeks before and couldn’t wait to go back. I’d gotten the news that I was one of the 5% of successful applicants to the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University in early April, and my dad had taken me up to New York on AMTRAK to attend the accepted students’ reception.
I’d loved the other students I’d met. In fact, classmates would have included Rachel Shukert – if you are a fan of YA fiction set in Old Hollywood with a strong feminist bent, order her Starstruck books immediately. Lady Gaga would also have been a couple of years below me, and I’m sure we would have bonded over our Wheeling roots and cowritten ice musicals designed to star Johnny Weir. I’d loved the campus. The Brown Science building (which I would probably never set foot in because I am crap at math and science to a degree that I’m positive all those badass STEM ladies judge me for single handedly holding back the sisterhood) once housed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, which was my childhood favorite labor union strike/workplace disaster. All nine year old girls have a favorite labor union strike/workplace disaster. It is not weird and morbid at all.
And, of course, I loved the city. The extensive public transportation system meant that I’d get a four year pass on driving, and I planned to hang out at Coney Island High and the legendary CBGB’s a lot. (Oh, and also study and soak up culture and stuff).
I’d eventually decide I was unable to attend (the crippling debt that potentially faced me upon graduation terrified me, and, in the Grand Tradition of Stupid Decisions Made By Teenage Girls With Low Self Esteem, my boyfriend’s less than thrilled reaction to my acceptance played a bigger role in my decision that I’d like to admit), but at that moment in late May of 1999 I was still eagerly contemplating making the city my home.
The plan for the French IV trip was to take a school van up to the city early in the morning, do some casual site seeing, hit up the 2 pm matinee of Les Mis, and then visit the French Impressionists gallery at the Met before returning home in the late evening. Thus, my outfit for the day clearly had to be chosen very, very carefully – something that would stay comfortable for hours, be suitable for a variety of activities, and, most importantly, would not scream, “Hey y’all! I’m on a high school class trip from South Central Pennsylvania!”
I really have no excuse for this skirt, except that, for a period in the late Nineties, people apparently wanted to embrace their inner Mennonites. My cargo skirt did have drawstrings on the sides, kind of like Rosario Dawson in Death Proof, which turned me from “Marriage Ready Mennonite” to “Wayward Mennonite Who is Concerning Her Parents With Her Life Choices.”
It also allowed me to show off my favorite shoes – a pair of brown Doc Martens my grandma had bought me for Christmas. “Your feet are going to get hot in those shoes,” my mother said to me as she was dropping me off at school that day, with Cher auto warbling “Do you believe in life after love?” on the car’s radio. I rolled my eyes at her, because FASHUN. (My feet totally got hot in those shoes). Topping the ensemble off was a boned button up blouse with a square cut neckline and puffed sleeves that I could wear off the shoulder if I really wanted to try to push dress code. Green, to match my eyes.
My eyes were the one feature I had that would sometimes be complimented by other people – which was still kind of a novel sensation for me. In fact, at the accepted students’ luncheon at NYU, the very attractive waiter pouring water into my glass murmured, “Your eyes are mesmerizing” as he leaned over my shoulder. This caused me to emit a short, startled laugh that sounded not unlike a barking seal and suddenly become very, very interested in buttering my dinner roll, because a) that sure as hell was not the sort of thing I usually heard from my peers and b) seriously dude, my dad is, like, sitting right there.
By senior year I had reached a kind of uneasy camaraderie with my classmates. They accepted me as a member of the class, and would probably have sent me a card or something if I were in a hideous disfiguring car accident, but I wasn’t really a part of the class. Senior year, to me, felt like being on another planet filled with mostly benign aliens – I was tolerated as part of the ecosystem, but I definitely wasn’t one of the natives. As a result, I spent the ride up to New York folded into a corner of the van with my forehead pressed against the window, watching Pennsylvania, and then New Jersey, go by as I listed to the soundtrack from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet on my Discman while my classmates chatted amongst themselves. When we reached New York, I tucked the Discman into my purse – a child sized tote bag my mom had bought me in 1985 when she took me to see Sesame Street Live at the Wheeling Civic Center. The bag also held some spending money for the day, a dark maroon lipstick I hadn’t been allowed to wear for that year’s family portrait because “you’re not looking like the undead in our Christmas card!” and my two favorite books, Helter Skelter and In Cold Blood, which I intended to occupy myself with at lunch. Lunch wound up being in Rockefeller Center, where my French teacher wisely told us to grab something from a vendor that looked clean and then meet back at the Atlas statue before we headed to the theatre.
I perched on a ledge near the flags that surround the Lower Plaza with some falafel and had just opened Helter Skelter when I saw him standing on the 49th Street side of the Plaza. Was that…?
Oh my God.
That was Joey Ramone! Wasn’t it? Maybe. He was kind of far away, but he was certainly towering over everyone around him, and he definitely had long black hair and was wearing sunglasses. It had to be him. Right? Or, maybe, at this distance, Howard Stern. One or the other.
I should go talk to him!
But, oh God, what if he was busy? What if I said something incredibly stupid, which was highly likely? Or, worse, what if it wasn’t him at all?
There were a few possible scenarios that could play out here:
1. It is him. I say something witty and wise beyond my years. (Actual words to be determined, but they will definitely not be: “You have beautiful hands. Do you want some of my falafel?”). He will reply, “I am not at all creeped out by our thirty year age difference and wanna be your boyfriend. Please pass the tahini sauce.” Probability: Quite low.
2. It is him. He is deep in conversation with, say, his manager about a Very Important Business Matter, and I will hover awkwardly nearby until I slink away in a cloud of shame. Probability: Quite high.
3. It is Howard Stern. I will realize it just a touch too late and try to abort the mission, but Howard Stern will see me and then begin making fun of me, which he will continue to do on his radio show for several weeks. Probability: Just high enough to be a real concern.
4. It is neither Joey Ramone nor Howard Stern. It is a bike messenger who is really fucking tired of hearing that he looks like Joey Ramone and/or Howard Stern and will yell at me until I cry. Probability: Also quite high.
Thus paralyzed with fear, I watched Joey/Howard/bike messenger hug the person he was talking to and head to the NBC entrance of the GE Building. “Definitely not Joey,” I decided. “Why would he even be here anyway?”
Except he was on Conan O’Brien about a month later…but that is clearly a total coincidence.
Tune in tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion!