My brief, charmed stay at the storied West side apartment building
After running through the usual opening gambits, my blind date finally hit on something that holds promise.
"I've just moved back to Baltimore after many years in Manhattan."
I say, quietly, "I lived in Manhattan, too."
"Upper West Side," I answer.
"Me, too. What street?"
I lived at 79th and Broadway, but saying it that way won't get me the attention I now crave. Besides, I haven't lugged this old chestnut out for a while, so I go for it: "The Apthorp."
Suddenly, the room has warmed. I am charming and probably smarter than I appear. He orders another drink.
Saying I lived in the Apthorp is always like eating too many Almond Joys or oysters on the half shell; sooner or later, my elation evaporates into regret. My date remembers parties he attended there with rich, famous people, lots of them. I'm hoping he's not expecting me to return volley here because the reality is I can't: I lived in the Apthorp for all of five months. I was in my early 20s. John Lindsay was mayor. Nora Ephron hadn't moved there yet.
It was spring, 1970, I was a college sophomore. The Cambodian invasion and Kent State killings sparked protests, and I was roused. Not by the political climate, but by one student radical in particular, with curly hair and a vocabulary that sent me running to my dictionary. I followed him to New York because it was clear we'd be together forever. I told my parents, "I'm just languishing in school. I need to find the real world."
The real world turned out to be his parents' apartment in an Italian Renaissance Revival building with iron gates and limestone sculpture. Every amenity at the Apthorp was foreign to me. The elevator operator made the safest of small talk while he pressed buttons and then, at my floor, graciously extended his arm to show me the way out. The men who ushered me into the compound at the imposing gate called me by my last name. In the apartment, Vivaldi concertos echoed through rooms that had 10-foot ceilings.
Tenants, especially the old-timers, knew an interloper in a granny dress when they saw one and politely ignored me. It didn't matter. I learned the names of anyone who did anything for me. I mastered some perfunctory Spanish to befriend the maintenance crew. I over-thanked the elevator man twice a day for carving out a recurring exit strategy for me. I asked the super about his kids. I cleaned before the cleaning lady got to our room.
As much as he didn't want to admit it, my boyfriend, by virtue of being born into this, knew the code. When he kindly explained how I should act, I said something like, "Pardon me. I was told there'd be a revolution here." I should have said, "I just don't get this place."
My blind date dinner winds down and I smile at how much time and attention the Apthorp got tonight. At dessert, my date bemoans the building's current state of turmoil and how blatantly public it's all been. "Sad the way it's unfolded," he says.
We say our goodbyes in the parking lot with a peck on the cheek, throwing little fibs into the air about staying in touch.
My friend who set us up will want to know how it went. I'll say something like, "It was pleasant, but there was no chemistry," instead of saying, "He went on and on about a famous apartment building I flunked out of."
Linda DeMers Hummel is a writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Newsday, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, and many women and parenting magazines.