“Let me get this straight,” said my brother, leaning across the table and looking at me with a bit of interest for the first time in 42 years. “When you go to New York City you stay with a kid you taught in fourth grade? Have I got that right?”
I had stopped in Philadelphia to have lunch with my brother before traveling on to Manhattan. Now I wondered if I’d made a mistake. “Yes,” I answered. “You got a problem with it?”
He leaned back in his chair and motioned the waiter to refill his wine glass.
“No,” he said. “Of course not. I just think it’s odd that you would be friends with someone who you taught when she was nine or ten. I mean, you must be thirty years older than her, right?”
“Twenty,” I said. “Only twenty.”
“Yes,” he continued. “Twenty. Don’t you think it’s strange that you’ve stayed in contact with her and that now she’s your friend?”
I paused before answering. “No. Her mother and I were friends first and then a friendship just naturally developed with Amy. Even when I moved to California, we kept in touch.” Now I wondered if there might be something wrong with me.
“So, what do you do when you visit her in New York?”
“Not much,” I answered. “It takes half an hour just to walk up the steps to her flat. She lives in an old tenement building on the Lower East Side. Her bathtub is in her kitchen. There’s no elevator, no air conditioning, no closet and no view unless you count the smokestacks of Con Edison.”
“Sounds awful,” said my brother. He stopped peering at me and studied the dessert menu. “And what does Amy do for a living?”
“She’s a lawyer,” I said. “She makes more in one year than I make in five. She wears expensive pantsuits to work and tight jeans and spiked high-heeled shoes on the weekends. She knows all the trendiest restaurants in Manhattan.”
I thought back twenty years ago to when Amy was a curious, outgoing, three-foot-tall, freckle-faced redhead. Now she towers over me, especially when she wears her pointy Pradas. I see her at least twice a year, on my bi-annual visits to the East Coast. She’s the one I call when I need a place to stay after a late night or early morning flight. She can afford to live in a better neighborhood and in a place with an enclosed shower, but she prefers the excitement and bohemia of the Lower East Side. When I stay with Amy I feel cool myself, even though I am 51 years old and wear relaxed fit jeans.
“You need tighter pants,” Amy said when I arrived at her apartment on Monday. “Something that shows off your butt.” She was lying on the floor, pulling on her jeans. They were so tight, that when she stood up she could barely breathe. “Like these,” she said, turning to show me her backside, encased in the stretched denim.
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“And you need heels.” She’d frowned at my feet, encased in old running shoes. “And no fleece,” she added, fingering my vest.
“No fleece?” I asked. “I don’t own anything but fleece. I live in Northern California. We wear fleece.”
“I know,” said Amy. “Why do you think I never moved there?”
“Because of fleece?”
“Yes, fleece.” She slung a big black leather purse over her shoulder. She reached out and patted the top of my head affectionately. “Come on, let’s go.” I followed her out the door of her apartment. She strode down the hallway, the click of her heels echoing up and down the ancient stairwell. I was quiet and contemplative in my sneakers, fleece vest and relaxed fit jeans. Our roles were reversed. I was the student and Amy was my teacher. There was no doubt that Amy was hipper than I. But I was the one in the most comfortable shoes and pants.