I was early for our appointment and the day was lovely – cool and the air was crisp. I decided to walk to the restaurant which was on Varick Street, close to Janna’s gallery. I turned on West Fourth Street in the direction of Sheridan Square. I passed a Starbucks on the corner of West Fourth and Seventh Avenue. I remember that spot as a Chock-Full-o’Nuts when I lived in the city. Chock-Full-o’Nuts seemed to be on every other street corner then; now their numbers seem paltry in respect to the ubiquitous Starbucks that haunt every other street corner. But perhaps I am the one that is being haunted. It was at Chock-Full-o’Nuts that I had met Sebastian.
Sebastian was mysterious with beautiful sad eyes. It was his eyes that first attracted me. I just had gotten my first role in a play and worked the morning shift in Chock-Full-o’Nuts on 57th Street. It was a good job – the tips were all right and I had plenty of opportunity to observe characters. Young models with Gucci bags who ordered black coffee that they never finished, poising themselves then glancing nervously at their large round wristwatches with neon bands, then rushing off to the interview that would be their big break. Old ladies with all the time in the world who would order two of the Chock-Full signature whole wheat doughnuts covered with powdered sugar and proceed to eat them with pleasure, being long past caring how they looked in a mini-skirt or Capri pants.
Then one day, the manager asked me to switch to the late shift instead. I, of course, agreed, not wanting to risk losing my job. Along the downward slope of the after-work rush one evening, a very interesting man came in. He had piercing eyes, but they were not cruel. He sat at my station, ordered black coffee and – in what seemed an afterthought – a single signature doughnut. I smiled at him as I handed over this so-called breakfast. As customers were becoming fewer and fewer, I managed to linger long enough to offer him a refill of his coffee. He accepted.
He looked me over. He was sly about it, but I was in the habit of observing. I smiled and offered even more coffee. He accepted. Then he asked if I were a student. I answered no. Was I an artist? I was an actress. He smiled, seemed embarrassed and asked if I would allow him to offer me dinner tomorrow night, but very late. To myself I thought, “Of course! How could I not?” To him what I uttered was a hesitant acceptance. And so it began.
We arranged to meet the following evening, a Friday. Fortunately, the Chock-Full-o’Nuts on West 57th Street, was basically a breakfast and lunch establishment, although we stayed open until seven o’clock for the after-work/working late crowd who wanted a snack on the way to Port Authority or Penn Station.
Six-thirty pm had arrived at last. I began to clean up my work station. At six-forty-five, Yvonne, the manager, locked the door so that no more customers could enter. I finished wiping down my counter area, removed my apron and took the net off my hair. I remember closing my eyes and tossing my head to let my hair flow down my back again. When I opened my eyes, I saw Sebastian standing at my station.
“I hope you didn’t forget – tonight we have a date,” he said softly with a slightly wolfish smile. “I’ll meet you at the restaurant in an hour. We’ll have a martini at the bar first and a steak dinner afterward.”
“How did you get in? I thought the door was locked.” I was surprised to see him, and I hadn’t heard the door open.
He smiled again. I turned to hang my apron on its hook. When I spun around again he was gone. This doesn’t seem normal, I thought. I was beginning to wonder.
I left Chock-Full and headed to my small furnished apartment on West Eleventh Street. It was getting dark earlier now. This was the day of the autumnal equinox, and starting tomorrow, night would outlast the day. Even though it was already night and I was tired, I decided I would walk to the home, rather than contend with the subway. The air was crisp and cool that night as well; the slight autumnal wind began to sweep upward. I felt safe walking in the dark, even though everyone warned me about how dangerous New York was. I always felt safe. Deep down, I believed I led a charmed life and no harm would befall me. And even if it did, I could figure my way out of harm’s way.
As soon as I got back to my apartment, I took a shower to wash the smell of coffee out of my hair. I put on my black lace panties and bra. Not that they would be seen tonight. Oh, no. Never on a first date. “We’ll see where he takes me, what he’s willing to invest,” I said to myself. No, I was building a costume, creating a character. I would no longer be the laboring waitress, beautiful but poor. Nor the struggling actress, talented but undiscovered. Tonight, I would be a charming, sophisticated woman of the world.
At nine o’clock, I applied my make-up and sprayed on some cologne. I remember it was called “Vivons”. It’s a long-ago scent that has since disappeared from the shops. This is unfortunate, for I loved how it smelled on me. I still have a handkerchief that I had splashed some on and carried with me for a while. It too now lies in my drawer and on a dry day, gives off its aroma. Next, I put on a black mini-skirt and fishnet stockings. I selected a grey silk blouse with a high lace collar.
I was ready when the buzzer rang. I rang back and sprayed cologne around the room. Just as I finished, the doorbell rang. I opened it and there stood Sebastian. He smiled, and we looked each other up and down for a few seconds.
Then he said, “Are you going to ask me in? I cannot enter unless you invite me.”