50th anniversary

My New York

Chapter 6: Lovers

Alex Katz’s revisiting of his 1940s “Subway Drawings” for New YorkRead more here. Illustration: Alex Katz
Alex Katz’s revisiting of his 1940s “Subway Drawings” for New YorkRead more here. Illustration: Alex Katz
Alex Katz’s revisiting of his 1940s “Subway Drawings” for New YorkRead more here. Illustration: Alex Katz

This anniversary issue is devoted to what might make other people in other places go crazy but here we call connection. Not just the connections we choose, like our poker groups or going-out friends, but those that could happen only in a city as clotted and manic as ours. Fifty years ago, New York’s founding editor Clay Felker wrote a mission statement for his new magazine. “We want to attack what is bad in this city and preserve and encourage what is new and good,” he wrote. “We want to be its voice, to capture what this city is about better than anyone else has.” Here, we return to this mission, attempting to capture the city’s voice through stories that are spoken as much as written, almost entirely in the first person, and always about how our disparate lives intertwine. Read more about the project here.

My Lovers: “Silk shirts fall open, rings are forgotten next to sinks. My diaphragm is always in my bag.”

A brief list.

Photo: Courtesy of Joan Juliet Buck

1. The first man I sleep with is an Englishman who crossed the Atlantic to join me at the Buchanan on 48th Street. We go to Serendipity to have frozen hot chocolate. Every morning he brings me paper-cup coffee in bed from the grocery store.

2. He lives in the Hotel des Artistes, but he’s a businessman. The front page of the New York Post thrown casually on a chair bears a photo of him dancing with a Ford heiress. The next week, and the week after, and the week after, that copy of the New York Post is still there. I take a closer look; it’s a fake, printed for a party.

3. I’m in love at last. He’s French, and he really prefers black girls. When he takes me dancing upstairs at Max’s Kansas City, I’m acutely aware of how white I feel.

4. He’s older, he’s a critic, he’s angry; he takes me on the terrifying Cyclone roller coaster on Coney Island. Stockholm syndrome sets in, and I go back to his place. I’m too scared of the New York night to leave and grit my teeth until morning.

5. My husband and I move to New York, but the house we’ve rented has fleas. We call in the exterminators and sleep at the Plaza.

6. The journalist knows the city. We watch Woody Allen play the clarinet; we force a jittery Helmut Newton to eat a Nathan’s hot dog in Times Square. I like his company, but I don’t trust him, I’m holding a torch for someone else.

7. I’m 35 years old and on one of many dates with the extremely rich man. I’m sitting to his right, presenting my best profile. He leans toward me and asks, “Have you thought about your biological clock?” “I don’t want children,” I snap. I don’t realize this is a New York City proposal.

8. He’s brilliant. He writes comedy. He’s funny like my Uncle Don, he’s bipolar like my father. Best to keep away from anything that feels like family.

9. October is Concorde season: Directors, actors, writers, and publishers fly in from Europe. Silk crêpe-de-chine shirts fall open, rings are forgotten next to sinks, and promises are made, forgotten, canceled. My diaphragm is always in my bag.

10. After a movie with friends on Third Avenue, why not go around the corner for frozen hot chocolate? As we walk down the street, I’m struck by the figure of a tramp staring at the bright window of Serendipity. Thin and old, he looks like the first man I ever slept with some 20 years ago. A week later, there’s a message on the machine: It is the Englishman; he found my number in the book. I stop answering the phone. And then comes this message: “I’ve been waiting outside the Buchanan every day, and it’s cold. Please let me come up.”

Joan Juliet Buck

My Assignation: “My back was up against the tree, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I was dying to try out Eataly.”

482 stories from New Yorkers on the bars, street corners, and stoops where they kissed, got naked, and did things they would someday regret. Read them all — and add your own.

See the Full Love Map.

My Missed Connection: “Even then we didn’t kiss.”

The aftershocks of a nonevent. By André Aciman

It must have been around mid-January, during one of those long winter breaks. I had run into her in the corridors of Lehman College in the Bronx, and, with nothing to do, we decided to take the downtown Broadway local from 225th Street. She said she had to drop something at home; I did too. She said she wanted to pick up a blouse she’d had altered somewhere on Broadway and 93rd Street. I said this was close to where I lived with my parents.

We stopped by her mother’s apartment on Fort Washington and 161st Street; she fed her cat, took some clothing off because it was getting warm inside, then she played some music. We sat on the rug in the living room, facing each other, close but not close enough, listening to Santana and Abbey Road. Eventually we had to go, she said. We took the subway to my parents’ home, where I wanted to drop next semester’s books. The super saw us walk into the building, winked at me; I pretended not to notice. When we opened the door to the apartment, she said she was thirsty and wanted a glass of water. I gave her a glass of water. I wanted to kiss her then, but I wasn’t sure it was what she wanted. I showed her my bed, which was still undone, and she sat on it, and I still wasn’t sure. Then she stood up and went over to my desk and looked at my things. She admired my pens. She said she liked my Pelikan, so I gave it to her. Then we left and walked down Broadway, where we eventually found a place to munch on something. But we were moody, and we ate without joy. When I took her back home that evening, even then we didn’t kiss. She wasn’t happy with the way the blouse was altered. Plus it was cold, and New York was so dirty.

Without giving any loud signals, my life took a turn that day from which it never recovered. Something happened — or didn’t happen — that made her stop seeing me. She said she would call, but she never did and, soon, I stopped calling as well. I never again attempted anything with girls I felt drawn to. Instead, they did. Every time I felt deeply attracted to a woman, I would find myself playing out the scenes in our parents’ homes. The carpet, the music, the glass of water, the undone bed, and the excruciating urge to kiss, coupled with an equally excruciating dose of self-hatred for failing to dare. Life may alter the décor and the women each time, but the scene is invariably the same.

My Andy: “He, no doubt, was attracted to the handsome Princeton boy I was.”

Exposed by Warhol’s diary.

Between 1979 and 1981, Andy Warhol and I were close friends. We’d been introduced by the irrepressible Henry Geldzahler, then the commissioner of cultural affairs under Ed Koch. We attended parties, openings, and the famous Factory lunches, and we spoke often on the phone. I was flattered by Andy’s attention and conversation, and he, no doubt, was attracted to the handsome Princeton boy I was. When his diaries were published posthumously, I was mentioned in them five times. But one entry had the greatest impact: December 31, 1980. In it, Andy wrote, “Wilson Kidde called and said he’d made it with a girl.” This would have been unremarkable to record for posterity — had Andy not known that I was gay. Lots of people knew that, of course, but not everyone.

I recall another detail from that telephone call, one not recorded in the diaries. It took place shortly after Andy’s longtime companion Jed Johnson had moved out of his Upper East Side townhouse. Andy said that he’d found one of Jed’s socks under the bed and it had made him very sad. This was the only time Andy revealed his sentimental side to me.

The summer the Diaries came out, I showed up to my family’s Waspy beach club in the Hamptons to find a copy placed conspicuously next to the members’ sign-in registry. It was clear the news had traveled. Andy had outed me from beyond the grave.

Wilson Hand Kidde

My One Good Roommate: “ ‘Fabulous Nobodies’ is what my co-worker called them.”

Imagining the Paris Review of Budapest. By Heidi Julavits

The house belonged to a film director who was always “in Belize.” His young wife invited her transient friends — and her friends invited their friends — to live with her in the house, which was invisible from the street because the city had built a block around it.

I was a friend of a friend. I rarely saw our roommates. They did coke and drank red wine while I slept. They recovered behind one of the many closed doors while I completed job applications atop their morning-after stick.

For about 48 hours, a man shared the day with me. He was moving to Hungary to start the Paris Review of Budapest. He didn’t want to be a model or an actor or an actor-model. (“Fabulous nobodies” is what a co-worker at my eventual waitressing job called these dreamy, pretty people.) He emitted a calming energy, like a gong struck so long ago you can no longer hear it. I’d moved to New York to stop going to parties. I considered, for half a second, following the man and his silent-gong energy. I should toil in the mailroom of the Paris Review of Budapest and fuck all the fabulous nobodies trying to lure me back to goallessness, fuck the noise and fuck the heat, which had been so unrelenting since I’d arrived from San Francisco, even at night.

I stayed.

In the early years, I kept tabs. He landed in Budapest — this was 1993 — and discovered that no one in a barely postcommunist country wanted a literary magazine. They lacked more immediately useful publications. The man and his partner founded the Yellow Pages of Budapest. He opened a Mexican restaurant using his grandmother’s recipes. He became known as the Taco King of Budapest.

I became things too. I became a writer. I became pregnant. In 2008, when I traveled to Budapest on assignment, I was pregnant again. Days before leaving, I remembered, as though waking from a sleep I didn’t know I was in: I know someone in Budapest! Online, I found the man. I emailed him. He seemed so excited to see me; I was, to a degree that surprised me, since I hadn’t thought about him in years, so excited to see him. When I arrived, the man met me at my hotel with a pair of his girlfriend’s shoes (I’d read the wrong weather report; I’d brought only rain boots). There we were, in a small hotel room, just the two of us, basic strangers save for the weekend we’d lived together in an invisible-from-the-street house stuffed with cokeheads, and it wasn’t even awkward. Around him so much human warmth emanated from me, and not just because I had an actual human inside of me.

His girlfriend hung out with me on the days when the man was busy. Other times, the man and I would just talk and talk; our shared history, though nonexistent, seemed to inexhaustibly lead us forward, outward, in all the possible directions, and I felt encircled, as though by a block of buildings, and safe.

Save for a few emails, I’ve had no contact with him since, which does not explain the importance I’ve assigned to him. He made me feel at home even when neither of us had homes. He was the first person I met who suggested I might, without ceding to my baser instincts, make for myself in this city a life.

My New York: Lovers