New York, 1985. A sharp fall Saturday. Early afternoon. The air smelled cool and delicious. It was invigorating, like a shot of pure oxygen. I was walking up Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village when I saw her. She was standing on the corner of Eleventh Street about a block away. I could see her curly red hair in all its wild abundance, a crimson beacon. She was unmistakable. She didn’t recognize me at first, but as I got closer, her face became bright, as if it were a sun emerging from behind a cloud.
It was about 1pm. I would never have seen her out before eleven. She was nocturnal. When you saw her in the daytime, it was as if you’d awakened a sleeping owl. Daytime was alien to her. It always seemed as if she were adapting to it. The expression, “groping in the dark” needed to be “groping in the light” for Pamela.
“Pamela!” I said.She blinked, found the source of the words, then she laughed a beat or two.
“Hi, hello,” she said. Once again, I realized how tall she was, probably 5’ 10”. It was difficult to say because of the fullness of her hair. “What are you up to?” she said.
“Taking a walk. Such an incredible day. What about you?”
She had on a navy-blue pea coat. She wore a silk scarf tied in a series of complex, appealing swirls about her neck with a broad blue ribbon around the back of her hair. She always dressed with flair, with panache. I used to ask her, “How do you always dress so well? If I gave you a pair of galoshes and a towel for clothes, you’d look great.”She’d laugh—again, one or two beats. “I don’t think about it.”
So, there she was. When I said the word “walk” to her, she frowned slightly. She was not fond of exercise.“I’m still waking up,” she said. Just behind us, looking like a castle waiting to be sieged, was the Jefferson Market Library. A big, red brick anomaly that I loved. I glanced at the library clock. It was one-fifteen.
“I’m meeting Wilhem for brunch,” she said. She had full lips. She had the wan skin of redheads.“Wilhem?”
“Didn’t I tell you? I’ve got a new boyfriend. I’m in love.”“Wilhem? What’s that name?”
“Dutch. He’s Dutch.”“How’d you meet him?”
“I met him at a party. I’m a goner. He’s going to ruin me.”“What’s he do?”
“He does lots of things. Right now he works in a gallery in Soho. He’s got lots of ideas,” she said.“I’d like to meet this guy,” I said.
She continued her half-convincing lament. “I’m a goner. I’m like a teenager. I can’t think straight. Help me. I’m his sex slave. It’s pathetic.” She laughed at herself.
I couldn’t help but think of that Joni Mitchell line, “Help me, I’m falling in love again.”“Pamela,” I said, “it sounds like it’s a little too late for help.” I felt a pang of envy.
“Too late,” she said, as if repeating some kind of curse. “Too late. Yes, it’s too late.”
I left her there in her predicament and went off on my Saturday walk. She might be helpless, but, unlike me on this beautiful fall day in New York, she was in love.