Naked in the Naked Citybytrigudis©
Note: This is a true romance tale. Those seeking graphic sex should look elsewhere. Also, because I've submitted it for the Winter Holiday's Contest, please vote if you enjoy it. Thanks.
I had always wondered what it felt like to actually be in Times Square on New Year's Eve. For years, I had watched the ball drop from the safe, warm confines of my parents' living room. I was no different from many Americans who had turned this into a New Year's ritual. New Year's just didn't feel like New Year's without watching the ball drop (and for close to a half-century the presence of Guy Lombardo as well).
So, being nineteen years old and on winter break from college, I decided that this year would be the year. The decade was turning, and what better way to greet the 1970s than celebrating it in what many considered the center of the human universe on December 31-January 1. Not wishing to go alone, I recruited my friend Miles to come along. We had known each other since junior high. In fact, in years past, we sometimes found ourselves at the same New Year's Eve parties. We knew the same people, the ones from the local teen center and the YMCA where we pumped iron in that dingy hole of a gym that hadn't been updated since Eisenhower was president. We were both muscle heads, albeit smart muscle heads. I was a pre-med major, while Miles studied civil engineering.
Remarkably, we called a few days ahead and got a night's stay at the Hotel Edison. On the last day of 1969, we left Penn Station for the morning train ride up. After checking in, we had lunch and then walked over to Times Square. Already, there were people milling around. "Damn, Troy, if it's like this now, you can imagine the crush of humanity we'll run into tonight," Miles said. "Maybe we should stick around to save a space."
He might have been right, but there was no way I was standing around in a bulky overcoat in thirty-five degree weather for over ten hours with nothing to do but save a space. "I'll take my chances," I said, and then suggested we do something to kill time. Reluctantly, he agreed. On previous trips with our parents, we visited the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and other Gotham tourist haunts. We'd seen Rockefeller Center, too, watching the skaters glide around the ice rink. Perhaps now was a good time to join them.
After walking the five blocks to the ice rink, we rented skates and then hit the ice. Neither of us was a Dick Button or Gordie Howe. Still, after taking a few tumbles, we got ourselves in gear, did okay for big guys who hadn't been on skates for a few years. As we gained more confidence, we speeded things up, began to race each other. We competed with each other in the gym all the time, had an ongoing contest on bench press to see who could reach four-hundred first. We were both around fifty pounds away, but at just past two-hundred, Miles outweighed me by over ten pounds. Pound for pound, I was stronger, and he didn't like that one bit.
Little wonder that he went hell-bent for leather to outdo me on skates. Heavier or not, Miles could move. He passed me on the turn and gained more distance on the straightaway. As we went into the next turn, I threw caution to the wind in an effort to catch up, lost control, and found myself careening toward two young women. "Watch it!" I yelled, just seconds before rear-ending them. The three of us went down, slid across the ice and into the guardrail. Thump!
Hearing the noise, Miles turned and shook his head. "Race over, buddy," he said after skating over, a gratified smile plastered across his slightly bearded face.
The ladies were not amused. "Where the hell do you think you are?" snapped one of them. "This isn't a speed skating venue." She wore a red wool cap, denim skirt over striped leggings and a heavy blue ski sweater. Her blond hair fell in curls below her ears.
After apologizing, I stood and then reached out to help her up. Miles did the same for her friend, a raven-haired beauty in a double-breasted green coat and tight gray slacks. "Sorry, girls," he said. "Guess that's what centrifugal force will do."
Miss Raven-Haired flashed an admonishing look. "No, that's what being inconsiderate will do," she said, her tone a model of indignation.
From their accents, I gleaned they weren't from Maryland. "Native New Yorkers?" I asked, watching them brush the ice from their clothing.
They glanced at each other as if to give mutual approval to engage in conversation. "New York State, not the city," the blond said. "We're from Woodstock, Ulster County."
Miles' face lit up. "Woodstock, where that big rock concert was held last summer? Were you there?"
Miss Raven-Haired looked slightly annoyed, as if people had asked this many times before. "Actually, the concert was in Bethel, over fifty miles away. And no, we didn't make it. It put us on the map, though."
"So we figured we can at least make Times Square for New Year's," the blond said, "something I think someone should do at least once, especially if they're from New York." She paused, then: "So what are you guys doing here besides tearing up the ice and plowing into people?"
I deduced from her faint smile that her anger was dissipating. "Well, believe it or not," I said, "we're here for the same reason, to make the scene in Times Square."
They told us their names after we introduced ourselves first. The blond was Lea, her friend, Marie. Like us, they attended college. Lea went to Hofstra, while Maria attended SUNY. Both were juniors. We stood around next to the guard rail, talking about our majors and watching the skaters whiz by. Both said they had skated here before. "And I've always wanted to go inside and sip hot chocolate afterward," Marie said. "Never did that." She peered through the glass of a coffee shop where patrons could snack and watch the skaters. "It doesn't look too crowded."
"Great idea," Lea said. "You guys care to join us?"
Miles and I looked at each other and nodded. "Okay, but it's our treat," I said. "It's the least I can do after crashing into you like that."
I had had just one New Year's date in my life, and a disastrous one at that. It was a blind date set up by a well-meaning friend's girlfriend. Diane was my date's name—not bad looking but she had the personality of a bitter, hen-pecking wife, critical and demanding. Not that we didn't get along, but I drove her home right after having dinner at one of our town's better restaurants, fed up with Diane bashing everything from the food to the service, both of which I found excellent. Needless to say, I watched the ball drop alone.
Technically, what we had at the rink wasn't a New Year's date, though I was beginning to think of it as such. We seemed to mesh well, laughing and joking, discussing everything from The Beatles' rumored breakup to movies we'd seen ("Alice's Restaurant," Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," Easy Rider"). Feminists would no doubt call something else I was doing chauvinistic—silently rating them numerically on looks. Both earned sevens in my book—all subjective of course, particularly with them because they looked so different: Marie, the olive-skinned raven-haired, dark-eyed, Latin-looking senorita (in fact, she was of Italian and Irish ancestry she told us later) versus Lea, the blond, blue-eyed Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm or Tom Sawyer's Becky Thatcher, two images of her that came to mind. Take your pick, I thought.
What it came down to was personality dynamics. As the minutes rolled by, communication between the four of us morphed into two, two-way conversations. It seemed like a natural pairing took place, Miles and Marie, Lea and I. Sure enough, when we got outside to walk them to their Midtown hotel, the glass-walled, 50-story Americana, that's how we paired off. It was mid-afternoon, and the girls wanted to rest up for the New Year's festivities.
"Which, before you skated into me," Lea said at the lobby entrance, "didn't include you two."
"I'm hoping that's an invite to join you in Times Square," I said.
She nodded and gave me a brief hug. "Can you meet us here, say, around seven? We'll have dinner and then ring in nineteen-seventy at the best place in the world to do it."
"It's a date." I then looked over at Miles who was making his own time with Marie. "Hey, buddy, we just got an invite to join these fine ladies for New Year's."
Miles looked over at us and laughed. "These girls must be of one mind. Marie just gave me her own invite."
When I saw them kiss, I turned to Lea. "Shall we?"
She took my head in her hands and planted her soft lips on mine. "Consider that my pre-New Year's kiss," she said.
"If that's your pre," I said, "I can't wait until midnight."
"Well, you'll just have to," she said with a teasing smile. "See ya at seven."
We walked back to our hotel full of heady anticipation. Miles warned me not to get my hopes up. "There's a good chance they won't even show," he said. "Women are fickle, you know that."
"Think positive," I told him. "They might be saying the same thing about us. But if they stand us up, so be it. We'll still do what we came here for. Nothing lost."
Hours later, I kept that in mind upon entering the Americana's opulent lobby, my eyes darting around the vast space, busy with guests coming and going, many dressed in formal black-tie New Year's finery. We dressed in what later would be called business casual or dress-down Friday under our heavy, hooded coats.
Miles glanced at his watch. "See, I told you they might not show," he said. It was a couple minutes past seven.
"Give it another five minutes," I implored him. "Chicks take longer to get ready." No sooner than I said that, I saw the elevator doors open and out walked Marie and Lea, dressed appropriately for the occasion—winter coats,slacks, fleece-lined boots and wool caps. The forecast called for temps to drop to the low twenties, not the sort of weather for heels and skimpy outfits. Too bad, because I could just picture the way Lea might look in one. Even under heavy clothing, it was obvious she had a lovely bod.
We greeted them with hugs, then discussed where we might eat. We were somewhat anxious because we didn't have reservations. "I think we'll be okay," Lea said. "It's still early for New Year's."
The girls snuggled against us when we got outside and then began looking for a decent restaurant that wasn't too crowded. I told Lea I liked the smell of her perfume—Arpege, she told me. For a couple blocks, long blocks, we locked arms as we walked. Feeling her shiver, I slipped my right arm around her waist, pulling her tighter against me. She looked up at me and said, "I'll need a lot more of that in Times Square."
It didn't take us long before we found a place to eat, a small steak house within the theater district. We even got seated right away. When Lea slipped off her cap, I could see that she had altered her hair style. The back and sides dropped straight down below her shoulders and the front swept back in a glorious top layer. Marie sported a simpler coiffure, hair of shoulder-length, parted in the middle. They were both so pretty, I couldn't help but wonder why they were here with us instead of their boyfriends—assuming they had boyfriends. As we ate and the conversation got more personal, Lea revealed that she and her long-term boyfriend had split several months ago. "Believe it or not, this is only the second date I've been on since then," she said. Marie said her boyfriend was away at sea. He had joined the Navy to keep from being drafted and perhaps being shipped to Vietnam. When it came time to reveal our own "love lives," we told them the truth: Miles had a girlfriend on vacation in warm Aruba with her parents. I was still looking, dating different women but thus far failing to connect with any of them in a meaningful way.
By the time we left the steak house, close to nine o'clock, I felt as if I had known Lea for longer than just a few hours. When the chemistry's right, you know it. I couldn't be sure if she felt the same way, though she acted like it. As we walked toward Times Square, she snuggled against me even closer than before. The conversation flowed—there was no groping for things to say, so typical when people first meet. If only I could find a girl like her back home, I thought. Of course, I also knew that people act different when they're away, less inhibited, more open to doing things they wouldn't normally do at home. If I met a girl the same way back in Maryland, it was almost a sure bet we wouldn't be kissing and snuggling just hours later, preparing to celebrate New Year's.
Here it was a different story,snuggling as much because we dug each other as to keep warm. We found ourselves on the edge of the crowd a few blocks away, hardly a front row seat, though close enough to where we'd see the ball when it dropped. The crowds back then were smaller, "only" about seven-hundred-thousand people as opposed to the million souls that would brave this scene in the years to come. Security was less tight then also. All those many barricades the city erected years later, especially after 9/11, didn't exist then. The twin towers of the World Trade Center were still under construction. What happened a little over thirty years later was unthinkable at the dawn of 1970. We talk about an innocence before the JFK assassination. Well, looking back, we were in another sort of innocence then, years before a few terrorist cells could wreak havoc on whole nations like the USA and France.
What remained the same, past, present and future, was the revelry. People were having a blast, some no doubt intoxicated or close to it. Obviously, they had hit the bars before coming out here. Meanwhile, there was nothing much to do for the next few hours except keep our place and try to stay warm as best we could. Body heat was the name of the game, Miles', mine, our dates' and those hundreds of thousands of other bodies packed into a few square blocks, a biomass seldom equaled except on New Year's Eve in Times Square. What a relief when the moment finally came, when the ball began its dramatic descent and the crowd screamed the ten to one countdown, shouted happy new year and then smooched with their significant other. It felt great holding and kissing Lea with a passion that had been missing from my life for too long.
"Well, was it worth waiting for?" she said when we decoupled after close to a minute.
"Beyond my expectations," I said, still holding her. I meant it, too. Not only was my physical attraction to her there in spades, but emotionally I was beginning to feel something as well. We seemed to groove together, enjoyed the same movies, laughed at the same things, shared a like political bent. It concerned me a little because I didn't anticipate this going anywhere beyond our stay here.
"You guys ready?" Miles called out. He and Marie had just finished their own little kiss fest. They wanted to go bar hopping (the drinking age in New York was still eighteen). Frankly, by that point, I had had enough of crowds, and said so as we started to move out. Ideally, what I wanted was to share more time with Lea in a warm, cozy hotel room, theirs or ours, it didn't matter. As luck would have it, Lea had the same idea, said she even had champagne back in her room at the Americana. It all sounded perfect to me.
Marie waved her hand and said, "You guys have fun. Do your thing and we'll do ours."
Miles winked and gave me a thumbs-up. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do," he teased." Then he and Marie walked off arm in arm.
"Well, that was easy enough," I said.
Lea stifled a laugh, as if she was part of an inside joke. "Sometimes in life things do fall into place, right where you want them."
I left it at that and began walking. It felt good to move again, to bring needed circulation back to my near-frozen feet. As we huddled together on the way back, we talked about what the next decade might bring. "Hopefully, we'll pull out of that little Asian country where we had no business being in the first place," she said. I agreed, as did much of the country by that time. Both of us planned to join campus protests against the war. Of course, neither of us could anticipate the carnage that would occur on the campus of Kent State in the coming spring.
The Vietnam War was far from my thoughts by the time I entered her room, went to the window and checked out the view. "We asked for as high a floor as we could get," she said. "Isn't it magnificent?"
Nodding, I gazed at the scene below from over forty stories above the street, the thousands of lights twinkling from all those buildings in the wee hours of the new decade. Turning from the window, I noticed the bottle of Dom Perignon in an ice bucket on the dresser. "You weren't kidding about the champagne. Did you bring it from home?"
"Actually, I bought it after we left the ice rink. Now, why don't we slip off our coats and stay awhile." I thought, does it get any better than this, alone with this babe from Woodstock high above Manhattan on New Year's?
We threw our coats on one of the twin beds. After kicking off her boots, Lea got two plastic glasses from the bathroom. Picking up the corkscrew, she said, "This hotel has great service. They even supply corkscrews if you need one."
I watched as she twisted the tool into the cork, laughing to myself that this could be a metaphor for something more intimate. "So I guess this bottle was meant originally for you and Marie," I said.
She looked up, smiled mischievously. "Truth be told, Troy, it was meant for us."
"Are you kidding?"
She paused her twisting. "It would have been just Marie and I had things not gone so well with us at dinner. You can thank your friend Miles and Marie for being so understanding. They both knew I wanted to be alone with you. They went bar hopping so we could be alone up here."
Now I got the meaning of Lea's stifled laugh. "What about them? They don't plan to stay out all night, do they?"
She chuckled. "They might. I don't know about your friend, but Marie can really put it away when she wants to."
After pouring the champagne, Lea handed me a glass and proposed a toast. "To a healthy and happy 1970," she said. We touched glasses and then took our first sip. "Speaking of which," she said, reaching inside her suitcase, did you see this?"
She handed me a special double issue of Life Magazine, titled "The '60s, Decade of Tumult and Change." The cover was a collage of headshots of the decades' newsmakers—The Beatles, Mohammed Ali, Martin Luther King, JFK, Nixon, etc.
"A decade of tumult and change is right," I said, thumbing through it. "It's a little scary thinking about what the next ten years might bring."
"Or, on a more personal level, where WE might be in ten years. Ever think about that?"
We sat on the edge of one of the beds, holding our drinks. I kicked off my shoes and unbuttoned the top button of my striped wool polo shirt. Lea then slipped off her sweater. "It IS toasty in here," she said. She kept her blue eyes on me, waiting for my response.
I then told her I hoped my future included practicing medicine somewhere. What kind, I wasn't sure. When I reversed the question, she said she hoped to be teaching on the high school level and married with kids. "Man, I'll be thirty," she said with a trace of trepidation. "That still seems old to me. I mean, Ringo Starr, the oldest Beatle, isn't yet thirty."
After sipping more champagne, I said, "My parents told me that time seems to speed by faster as we age."
She started rubbing my foot with hers. "Yeah, I've heard that too." After staring out the window for a few seconds, she faced me again and then took my hand. "Years from now, whatever I'll be doing or whoever I'm with, I'll always remember this night. I'll tell people I entered a new decade with a future doctor who ran into me, literally, on New Year's Eve at Rockefeller Center."