Some people have a knack for chatting people up, turning on the charm, getting phone numbers.
Me, I’m an introvert. If I’m on a bus or airplane or a train, I’ll be listening to music while reading a book or a newspaper.
But sometimes you just have to take off the headphones.
She was an elegant Italian beauty. We started talking about current events. She had a lovely voice. We both worked in magazines. The traffic was awful. We had time to talk. We exchanged numbers.
The other editors in the bullpen knew that I was living with my parents and didn’t have much of a social life. They called her “Bus Girl.” Everyone loves a meet-cute. “Hey Ivan, how’s it going with Bus Girl?”
She had trained as a singer. I brought my new guitar over and we sat on the porch. I played her a song I was learning.
She sent me a text. An invitation to join her for an afternoon at the Cloisters. I had plans already with two friends that I had known since I was 14. Moe was coming in from Brooklyn and we were going to hang with Curly in New Jersey. I ditched them both last-minute for Bus Girl. (Not cool, I know.)
If you met her, you’d know instantly that Bus Girl was the wrong name. This was a woman with impeccable taste. She shared with me her depth of knowledge about Renaissance art and music.
We were from different worlds. Her ancestors had equestrian tapestries hanging at the Cloisters while mine were at the racetrack betting on the ponies.
We stopped at a Starbucks on the Upper East Side, where there was an artist, a real New York artist, holding court with several of his friends. He sold collage paintings downtown near Wall Street. He handed out business cards.
Later, she called him. They started seeing each other. They had a baby, but the little girl never met her father. The artist died tragically of a preventable illness because he didn’t see a doctor until it was too late. She moved back with her parents to raise the child as a single mother. The kid loves horses.
Wait, “kid”? That little girl must be almost 21 by now. I don’t remember offhand the date of M’s birthday, but I’ll never forget when I met her mother on that clear, crisp Tuesday morning in mid-September 2001.
A romance wasn’t to be, but Bus Girl gave me what I needed more: A bit of beauty, a glimpse of culture, a new friendship in a world gone mad.
I’m glad I took off the headphones.