Photography © Glenn Bowie
The girls have set up a grooming station at the rear of the office near the women’s bathroom. The point is to give women a big lift after staying home from work during the lockdown. A new hairdo, or nail treatment. All within walking distance or a quick elevator ride from their own office suite in this building. Tanya’s brain child. No Need To Leave To Be Lovely Again reads the sign she had made professionally, now pasted on a glass window of a shut down lobby store.
Apparently, Mario and the other two doormen are going along with this scheme. Tanya must’ve concocted some inappropriate promise she plans not to keep. I’ve been in that same position, myself, with Tanya. At any rate the office is a very long space, and there’s no real office work, yet, per se; so they’re not in anyone’s way. So far.
Between four chairs, they’ve managed to hang thick plastic sheeting from the ceiling. How they got it tacked up there is anyone’s guess. I don’t know what amount of walk-in business they’re expecting since this building is still less than half occupied.
The other day I cut through Grand Central during lunch time and it was The Twilight Zone. A mere scattering of people. Where was the usual crush? I stopped to stare at the big clock. Just then I got this weird craving for The Oyster Bar. I haven’t thought about going there for more than a decade; or three. Stepping in with a blonde on my arm. The soaring ceiling coved and glittering above the simple red and white checkered table cloths. Casual chic they call it. Noisy. Those gleaming oysters shucked and spread across an ice bed with lemon wedges and cups of red sauce tucked in. Before mobiles, a rotary phone was brought to your table by a server in stark white, like a doctor, announcing: For you, Sir. More like past three decades, now. Now I’ve got a headache. Tempus fugit.
The girls have one customer this morning. A dame called Marge with big eye bags and a head of short, tight orange curls. “That one is past the point of no return,” Kenny says.
Like he’s Adonis or something. He’s smug, about most things. Though I can’t really challenge him on this. Women today don’t look anything like this Marge. Another Twilight Zone moment.
“I knew there’d be trouble when Tanya came back to work,” I say. “She’s the ringleader. The other two, Stella and Ali, they just go along. Not a lot of brain power, all in all. We need more damn business. Drum it up,” I tell Kenny. “We’ve got to keep them too busy for this beauty parlor crap.”
“Drum up business? You want me to stand on the street playing guitar like the Naked Cowboy?”
“Is that guy still out there?”
“It’s winter, I doubt it.”
“I’m not so sure.”
This is a fucked up city. From the naked painted ladies taking pictures with the tourists in Times Square, a few summers back, to the naked guitar guy. I first spotted him out on that narrow center island, cars whizzing in both directions, where the street loops on the east side to circle back around the pocket park.
“How do you think the guitar guy gets paid?” I say. “Who is behind that stunt?”
Kenny whistles looking around. “Panhandles. People shove bills in his guitar. And, elsewhere.”
He knows more than he lets on. His Uncle Patsy got shot to death in his own car during a mob hit. Kenny said his mother saw it all play out on crime TV.
“Women are behind everything,” he says.
A sudden loud screech comes from the back. We both turn to look toward the plastic. “What the hell?” I say.
“Tanya maybe gave the old broad a bikini wax. Ouch!” Kenny grabs his crotch.
I’m thinking we could get cited; or something. I don’t know the rules for this sort of practice. “Don’t you have to get licensed by the state?” I say.
He blubbers up laughing. “You’re a naïve guy,” he finally says sobering up. “Rules and regulations – out the window. Anything goes, my man. Nobody’s working in those departments now. You can build a skyscraper and they won’t even come snooping for a building permit.”
Now there’s wild loud laughter from behind the plastic.
We both look back there again. Why? Are we expecting a mirage? Perhaps the woman has been transformed into another type of red head. I’ve been married a long time. I jiggle change in my pocket. A young Ann-Margret type would work OK for me.
“I guess the old broad is sleek and ready,” says Kenny like reading my thoughts.
We continue watching the plastic. It doesn’t move. Nobody pushes through to walk out in splendor. Nobody parts the waters.
Susan Tepper is a twenty year writer and the author of nine published books of fiction and poetry. Her most recent are Confess (poetry from Cervena Barva Press, 2020) and a zany road novel What Drives Men (Wilderness House Press, 2019). Right now she’s in pre-production of an Off-Broadway play titled The Crooked Heart, re-written and adapted from an earlier novel, which focuses on artist Jackson Pollock in his later years.
Glenn Bowie is a published poet, lyricist and photographer from the Boston area. He also owns and operates an elevator company that supplies custom-built elevators for clients from New England to Hollywood. Author of two poetry and photograph collections (Under the Weight of Whispers and Into the Thorns and Honey) on Big Table Publishing, he donates all profits from his books to various charities for the homeless and local animal shelters.