I love the smell of street meat in the morning, when the food carts are firing up well in advance of the lunch rush. The aroma lured me down from 33rd Street to 31st. As I knew, Ahmad’s offerings, of which I greedily partook, weren’t even advertised as halal (food that is permissible according to Islamic law).
Ahmad told me my kabob plate wouldn’t be ready for another ten minutes. I said I’d return and I wandered north. There was the entrance to the Interborough Rapid Transit Company. Back in the day, when the subway toilets were delicious dens of iniquity, my boyfriend at the time liked for us to cruise there, just four blocks from our apartment. We’d see what was on offer, but mostly he liked me to go down on him in front of the assembled strangers. Men with weak egos are so needy!
The sound of a siren speeding down Park Avenue South snapped me out of this reverie, and I realized that my late breakfast (or early lunch) must be ready. I headed back down to 31st, where Ahmad handed me the steaming container. I peeked inside at his glistening meat, laid gently over yellow rice, peppers, onions, tomatoes—all drenched in his creamy tahini. I always gave him $10 for the $7.50 plate. He smiled, winked, and said, “See you tomorrow.” He knew I’d be back for more.
My office was three blocks away. It wasn’t really a part of town I liked anymore, and not just because of my memories of that asshole of a boyfriend. The office building stood where an impressive old armory had been when I first arrived. Now the neighborhood had become lined with sterile sentries of condominiums and chain stores. Granted it still offered two spectacular cultural institutions (the Morgan Library and Scandinavia House—where the receptionist invariably greeted me in Swedish).
When I had met that boyfriend at Uncle Charlie’s South, I was just out of college. He was 12 years my senior and the details of his migration from the Midwest to Manhattan remained murky, at best. He had been married and, back home, he’d worked for the state’s Republican Committee. My friends didn’t express concern about our age difference, but could not comprehend how I slept with someone with his politics.
The bad boyfriend was extremely promiscuous, even by the standards of that time and even by the standards of a slut like me. He gave me gonorrhea more than once and, then, once, I gave it to him.
He could not hold a job.
I was working an entry-level position and decided to apply for my first credit card. He offered to co-sign the application. A few days later, Citibank called. I met with an employee—a guy in his 50s who seemed sweetly paternal to a boy like me. The bank officer said I seemed like a responsible young man and he’d approve a card for me on the condition that I remove my co-signer. Apparently, the boyfriend had left a trail of bad debts across the country and across the years. The guy at the bank advised me: “You can find a better friend than this guy.”
The bad boyfriend dumped me that Valentine’s Day.
He was taken from me by a new lover (and, later, would be taken from him by AIDS).
With money tight, we lived together uncomfortably for the few months remaining on the lease. He was planning a move to Florida with the new lover, while I moped around so completely and conspicuously that my co-workers commented and my friends worried.
Luckily, one of my friends found me a cheap sublet in Hell’s Kitchen. Another friend, in an attempt to cheer me up, wanted to introduce me to the Anvil—a notorious nightspot in the then ungentrified Meatpacking District, a neighborhood redolent of the charnel house.
My first time at the Anvil, I ventured into the backroom and, in that gloom, someone stopped me, kissed me, caressed me, and I went down. We left for his place in the East Village. It turned out, as weeks, months, and years passed, that I had somehow found my forever lover. Decades later we are still together and married—bonds firmly tied deemed legal at last.
Despite this happier life, for some reason on weekdays at work in Murray Hill, I continued to be haunted by days gone by, by the ghost of the bad boyfriend, and the ghosts of Altman’s and Lord & Taylor, where the boyfriend briefly worked. Like Altman’s, L & T had been as infamous for its tearooms as it was celebrated for its Christmas windows.
On yet another morning in the office, I took a break for an early lunch from Ahmad. He greeted me warmly. Eating, as always, at my desk, I again thought back to that stinky subway toilet, now shuttered beneath the building, and the one time there were just two of us cruising there. The cute, even younger, guy was servicing me when the door flew open with a bang. A cop walked in. He tapped my shoulder and told me to get out. I felt badly about abandoning my partner in crime to whatever “justice” awaited him, but I bolted. As the door closed, I saw the cop unzip his pants.
Being in the old neighborhood every workday may explain why my thoughts drifted back to days gone. But why would I mourn the loss of that boyfriend? I’ve decided that he was not the only one in our relationship who was needy. And, I have to admit, although he was a very bad boyfriend, he was also a very good fuck.
S. R. Smith is a Brooklyn-based writer, who has worked in nonprofit publishing and public relations.