This morning I came into the gleaming marble and platinum foyer of the gargantuan building where I’ve been putting in forty hours a week. I stopped at the concierge desk to give them my ID for entrance, and as usual, there was a bike messenger there as well. Downtown they are everywhere. They are tiny splashes of color on the urban landscape – dots of green hair and spiral print shirts, trying gracefully not to become splashes of color on the pavement.
I’ve always been attracted to the absurd and slightly frightening, the otherworldly; bells in the hair and mismatched eyes, devil horn implants; I’ve dated guys who wore more make-up than me and whose jewelry could kill a civilian at twenty paces. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll enjoy an Ambercrombie and Fitch romp every once in a while, but…
I don’t know why I’ve always been so attracted to the Bike Messenger species. Almost without exception, they are punkasses with freaked out hair, head-to-toe tattoos, and insane clothes, playing mad music on their headphones. They roll up their pants to their calves and wear ugly shoes that click on tile floors. They fascinate me. I feel this bond when they come into the office, and I feel like I’m undercover, like they couldn’t know I secretly relate to them, to their community of outcasts, dirty bars, fuck the man, and rock and roll. I used to see them at the Rathskellar downing their post-work pints, watch them in awe.
This morning as I came up to the desk, there was a messenger leaning on the desk smiling at the woman reviewing his identification. At 8:30 AM she hadn’t decided how she felt about the day yet, but he was trying to persuade her that it was going to be all right.
Even from behind he was a sight to behold, all Halloween and hardware. Slung across his chest was the uniform messenger bag: Pearl Izumi in chartreuse with a fluorescent orange ID flag stapled to it. The walkie-talkie chattering softly. He had one earphone in and the remote of his walkman clipped on to the strap of the bag.
He was leaning on the desk and when he stood up, he was easily six foot four. His hair was pale blond and kind of dreaded so it spiraled up off his head and it was tipped bright orange. Every inch of his exposed arms and legs were covered in ink, but these delicate, Tim Burton-esque curls. He had a purple ring through his nose and when he looked down at me, he froze me with these blue eyes that were so light they were almost translucent. He gave me the same warm smile that the desk concierge was presently ignoring as she smashed the computer screen with the heel of her hand.
I froze for two reasons… he was so startlingly beautiful. And I realized I knew him. He had a bit more ink on him, a few more holes, but he was Paul, and he spent the fall of ’95 drawing pictures of me with charcoals.
There was a party in Allston the first week of school. It was a big party, and pretty crowded, but I knew most of the people there. I sat down on the floor in the hallway (it occurred to me lately that there came a day when it stopped being okay to just sit on the floor) and I was wearing this ankle-length gauze skirt and burgundy Docs that I had stuck gold stars all over. I saw Paul across the room. He was one of the few people at the party I didn’t know. We made eye contact and he came over and sat down on the floor next to me. “You have stars on your shoes,” he said to me. I peeled two off and stuck them to his cheek. “You have stars on your face.”
We sat on the floor watching people for a while. Then he reached in his pocket. “I brought you something,” he said. He opened his hands slowly. It was an orange. He peeled it in one go with his very long thumbnail, in a perfect spiral, and then offered me a slice like it was a diamond. We sat on the dirty floor of this Allston apartment and he fed me oranges and watched people and said random things to one another and listened to the Verve. He told me he was a painting major.
“I want to draw you.”
Our exchange was surreal and dreamlike and easy.
An hour later in the living room, he was sitting behind me in this huge chair and I was sitting on the floor between his knees. “I brought you something else,” he said. He put his enormous hand to my throat and tipped my head back gently so I’d open my mouth. He placed a pill on the end of my tongue and handed me a bottle of cider. I swallowed without a word. An hour later we were wandering in the mist, through this garden I had never seen and have never been able to find again, rolling hard and dancing through the Allston night.
We fit into that slot together for the brief time we knew each other, full-tilt and half-insane.
I sat for him in the studio of the BU School for the Arts. There was a beat up velvet couch that smelled like a church basement and it was covered with coffee stains. At least I hope it was coffee. Other painters spent the whole night in there frowning into their canvases. Mostly we went at night and I played my guitar and he drew me. It is one of the sexiest feelings in the world to have someone following every inch of you so intensely; feel their eyes mapping you, and then seeing the results – how they see you – on paper. It was a good thing he could paint because he tried to make me dinner and practically burned the apartment down with the bread.
It was fun for a few weeks. He called me to meet up with him and I tried to take a cab to his house, but got in the back of a cop car instead and rattled off the address before thinking briefly that the taxis were using serious armor these days. I never made it and we kind of lost touch after that.
So seven years later he’s standing in the lobby of this building in Post Office Square, all Halloween and hardware…
Just two days ago — before I ran into him — Ruby I were talking about gifts that guys give. I think flowers are unoriginal, and I much prefer something out of the ordinary, or something randomly meaningful, even if it’s as simple as a Magic Hat #9 bottle cap with a silly phrase inside that made him think of me. And I said, “Remember that kid Paul I went out with sophomore year? The night we met at Matt’s party he brought me an orange. That’s it right there.”
In the lobby, he kind of recognized me and he squinted like he wasn’t sure from where. I reached over the counter for my ID and he saw the BU insignia and the exposed tattoo. He took my wrist in his enormous hand, studying the tattoo. He turned those translucent eyes on me and he said, “You have a star on your wrist.” We both smiled. I walked toward the elevator as he slid the walkie-talkie out of its holster, watching me go. It was just as surreal and dreamlike as that Allston garden I’ve never been able to find again.