Steph had memorized the brochure. In a jungle like New York, a girl needs a place like the Greenwich Village YWCA. Of course “village” didn’t mean village, but the name at least conveyed a flavor of humanness. The “CA” didn’t really mean much, not like it would in Iowa, but “YW” hinted of girls like herself. Des Moines wasn’t hicksville, but to get on the stage, you need to be in the Big Apple.
When the taxi dropped her, she at least recognized the entrance. Maybe they feature the facade entrance on the brochure to reassure Iowa girls that they’d been dropped at the right place.
And now two weeks a New Yorker, her feet tired and her spirit not what it once was, Steph still thought a lot about Iowa, where people said “Hi,” and didn’t push, and probably didn’t even know a subway map needs a map.
She knew a lot about the map, Avenues vs. Streets, lobbies, high heels on escalators. Nobody is just going to sign you on. In the faces of so many of the girls and guys — she figured the latter were homosexual, but some were looking at the girls — occupying the plastic chairs in the waiting rooms, she could see dreams fading. But in others there was a doggedness, what might make the difference. Iowa girls stick with things.
Working at Dunkin’ Donuts was part of the process. Auditions don’t fill a day (or even any of some days) and income allows persistence. Staying occupied was a big part of survival, she found. Lots of actresses were nobodies until, say, they happened to stumble into some two-bit show that closed after three performances, but they’d met somebody who knew of another audition. Nothing worked the way Iowans would deem straightforward.
The Village YW (appending “CA,” Steph picked up, was a give-away that you were a hick) was a bed, wardrobe, dresser, chair and table sized for solitaire. Toilet and shower down the hall. No overnight visitors, of course. Don’t cook in the rooms, teapots and hotplates overlooked. Clean and safe. Fair enough weekly rate. She earned more at Dunkin’ Donuts than she would have back home, she wrote to her mom.
It was pretty lonely though. Washington Square was a nice place to sit until it started to get dark. The pigeons would come right up.
There was a black girl waiting by the bathroom. More or less Steph’s build; more or less Steph’s age.
“I’ll just be a minute, hun,” the girl apologized. “Have to brush my teeth.”
“I’m not exactly in a hurry,” admitted Steph. Nice how the black girl said it, as nobody else had apologized for anything.
The girl looked at Steph more closely. “Did maybe I sell you an egg salad sandwich yesterday?”
Steph looked back. She had indeed bought an egg salad sandwich. The girl behind the deli and was black — that much Steph remembered — had asked what she wanted to drink and Steph had wondered if she might have a water? The girl had probably seen her glance at the prices. When she brought the tray, there was a coffee. “‘Bout time to clean the pot, anyway.” In drinking it, Steph realized that the coffee tasted so Manhattan.
“That was you?”
The other flashed her teeth, too white to ever need brushing. “Guez so. Us niggas alls look da same to you whiteys.”
Steph stepped back.
“Oh, honey!” the other suddenly in perfect English, bouncing her fingers on Steph’s shoulder. “You should have seen your eyes,” now laughing, but then sobering. “I mean… Oh, shit! That’s not bahis şirketleri funny at all, is it? ‘Nigga’ and ‘whitey’. Sorry.”
Steph didn’t know how to respond.
The other continued. “You’re new here, right? Broadway?”
“Me too,” continued the girl. “Been here a lousy month finding the theaters and wondering why I came. Sorry. Really. Name’s Jessie,” extending her hand, toothbrush still in it.
Steph took the hand. “Steph. From Iowa. Yeah, I’m newer. Just little parts, you know, maybe even dancing. I’m just checking.”
“That’s why I left Fargo,” the black girl still holding her hand. “Nothing for me there, ‘cept dancing with pasties.” A grin, then her face taking a conspiratorial turn. “Just kidding. Never got that far, even. You did stuff in high school?”
Steph wasn’t sure where this was going.
The girl read her face and grinned. “No, not that shit. Like musicals and plays?”
“I was in Thespians and the choir, but it wasn’t like an arts high school, or anything.”
“Same as me,” the other reflected. “And here we are in this place to cat-fight for a walk-on.” Then she grinned again, “But no dance-off between us two ’causes they already know if they want black or blonde. I like how it’s natural, but for some shows, you still need to peroxide. What’s your name again?”
“From Iowa, right? Steph from Iowa.”
Steph nodded as the bathroom door opened.
“So you come on down to the deli some mo’, you hea’?” with a black voice, “Can’t have them di-rectos thinking you might die of malnutrition halfway through a production.”
Until now, Steph had never admitted to anyone at the YW that she dreamed of being on stage, and here she was talking about it!
Steph knew it wasn’t right, Jessie loading her tray with extra cheese, ham, whatever was handy, but Jessie countered that Steph could slip her some éclairs, except she couldn’t stay in shape if she ate them. Can’t be chubby unless there’s a chubby role.
The two had their regular bench by the arch. In the square, it’s better to be sitting with someone. Sometimes, if Jessie were bushed, she’d stretch out with her head on Steph’s lap. Steph could trail her fingers through the nappy hair and nobody paid the least attention. Probably Jessie would think a white girl’s hair was boring.
Jessie was probably the better dancer, or at least knew a lot more about it, but Steph had more acting background. It was fun talking about it.
“You know, honey,” — Steph liked how her friend called her that — “it maybe doesn’t matter what we can do if we fuck enough directors, but that’s not how we’re going to make it, right?”
Steph hadn’t considered that option and didn’t say “fuck,” but hearing it, she agreed.
The two used Jessie’s ghetto blaster — “Makes me not want to be a darkie.” — for workouts, Jessie’s leotards doing nothing to flatten her. “This is why we pay the bucks to stay at the YW, not the YM,” noticing Steph’s glance. “The thing is, honkey ho, up on 52nd, you ‘gotta wiggle your fruit so they’ll remember you. White works best.”
“Wrong, wrong,” Steph corrected, “except for getting on at the Cotton Club,” Steph didn’t actually know if there still was a Cotton Club, but she loved making Jessie lose her beat.
“You be da strawberry and I’s da blackberry.”
Steph liked their workouts, getting sweaty, arm on shoulder to practice high bahis firmaları kicks, should Radio City call.
When she got new leotards, she got ones that showed more of her and Jessie grinned and said that they should also practice slow dancing.
Steph blushed when without asking, Jessie swept her into her arms and their nipples almost touched, but it was just in fun.
“You’re one good dancer,” complimented the better dancer, chest to chest.
“This place is full of losers. What’s one more?” Steph’s comment after her name vaporized from a callback list on 43rd.
“Shit fire, girl! We ain’ no losers!”
“Don’t say, ain’t.”
“Wha’ I cain’ jus’ say ’bout whateva’ I like, whitey girl who hardla’ neva’ turned no trick!”
The two laughed till they’d not a wiggle left within them.
Steph attempted the drawl. “Why you talk like dat?”
“Be ready for shows dat call for Aunt Jemima, honey chil’.”
“Then you gotta’ eat mo’ of donuts, mammy.”
“Cain’t, because they sometimes wan’ us to be African Americans.”
The YW lounge was for rummy or watching TV if someone else hadn’t claimed the channel. New York has more channels than eye contacts.
Steph told Jessie that until now, she’d never even had a black friend. The ones in Des Moines live in a different neighborhood.
Jessie nodded. Up there in Fargo, she hardly had a black friend either, and laughed until Steph got it.
That was the first time they kissed, right there in the YW lounge, watching TV, the kiss you do when you realize why friendship’s important. In the City, you can kiss whomever you want.
Their rooms were barely large enough for an extra chair, but Steph would haul hers to Jessie’s and the two would do a tea party, usually featuring Munchkins, the price being right. Jessie would tell her to get more chocolate ones so she’d do the Moonwalk better. Michael Jackson’s a formerly-chocolate, Steph challenged.
When Jessie leaned across the table to pop a Munchkin in Steph’s mouth, Steph let her work the sweet against her lips. In your friend’s room, you can nibble a Munchkin for as long as you like.
“Your feet as tired as mine, honey?” and that’s why they got on Jessie’s bed, a YW one where the two scarcely dented the mattress.
Steph at first thought it just about feet, but Jessie’s back was tired, too. Girls, those who live out of suitcases, anyway, know each other’s bras by the straps, and this was the one her friend always wore for auditions. She had Steph unhook it, and not much later rolled on her back. Steph had never before touched another’s nipples on purpose, and as Jessie smiled whenever Steph brushed over them, she returned to them one by one
Steph’s top, then bra, came off as well. “Strawberry pies,” Jessie’s description. Steph had never been touched this way by a woman, but knew that her friend would understand. She didn’t know why she was pushing back, but maybe she didn’t have to know.
“Just a question. You don’t have to do it.”
Her friend hesitated, then leveled her eyes with Steph’s. “Dem’ berries is ready for de picklin’.”
Steph stared back, not quite taking it in, but you don’t hang around theaters without picking up things. You just don’t always process what you don’t think you need to process. Her friend wanted to have sex?
“Jessie,” Steph tried. “We’re kaçak bahis siteleri just, you know… special friends,” having trouble keeping up with where she was going, but perhaps that helped. “Special friends that love each other, I mean.”
“Can I make love to you, Steph?” Steph knowing that her friend knew she could do whatever she wished with her.
Jessie moved a hand from Steph’s breast to her stomach, and when Steph nodded, descended to where Steph had never been touched except by the doctor, and that was just once. It didn’t occur to her to pull away. It didn’t occur to her to hide how she was.
Steph didn’t know what to say, but then again, knew she needn’t say anything.
Steph arched and fell as a dancer might, her eyes opening wide, losing focus and then closing. Rivulets of sweat ran from her forehead onto her cheeks. She’d hardly any breath remaining and her toes could feel the pounding in her chest.
As she climaxed, Jessie kissed her neck.
“Sometimes it takes a friend to find out,” said her friend as the two lay still, then breaking the seriousness, “Lucky for us that next-door’s empty, Ms. Hopping Frog. Sho’ you ain’ done no tricks, back there in Iowa?”
“Jes’ with da football boys,” Steph thankful for the turn “Second string,” then thinking she needed to clarify. “Football boys, not cheerleaders. I mean we’re not really into cheerleaders, or anything. We’re just alone in this place and now we’re not alone.”
“We’re not alone,” agreed her friend, “Sorry if it felt weird.”
“Special, not weird.”
“‘Cause you’re special. Maybe we didn’t come here to get famous. Maybe we came here to be chocolate and marshmallow.”
Steph nodded, pale breasts cuddled against cocoa ones. “It’s special, even if we’re maybe not exactly the same.”
Jessie read her mind. “It’s not like doing it changes you into what you’re not. You’re you, and that’s enough.”
Steph wasn’t sure where to go. “Know what, Jessie? We’ll both get call-backs next week and drink champagne at some swanky club, order a lobster.”
Her friend smiled. “We’ll share it, though, as maybe they won’t be the leads.”
“Actually maybe not order lobster,” the Iowan conceded, and ventured a feeling, a very new feeling. “Maybe you invite me in to see your paintings and I spend the night. You know, a Village date.”
“Oh yes, my art,” giggled the black girl. And then more seriously, “You said you weren’t…”
“I’ve been to MoMA,” decided the white one, and then a pause. “I’ve never been on that sort of date.”
“Rare for me, m’self, my pimp keeping an eye on me, an’ all. Dem’s fine strawberries, fo’ sho’ You bes’ go fetch yo’ makeup.”
“Don’ need no makeup, dis bein’ a YW date,” her Ebonics, and then, “Can I?”
“You don’t have to.”
“You do have some art in here, right?”
Jessie made a point of looking around. “Modern art, we’ll call it.”
“I know I can come again.”
“A white girl? Well my lordy!”
“Think they’ll reduce the rate, two YWs sharing a bed.”
“This is New York City, whitey”
It took Steph no time to undress her, the difference from Broadway being that YWs don’t have dressing rooms.
“African Methodist Episcopal Church meets United Methodist Church,” Jessie’s assessment.
“I’m Scandinavian and you’re terrible!”
“By the way, Missy Corn Tassel. I was a cheerleader. When you’re the black one, you get your picture on everything.’
“With the football team, you say? The first string, I mean.”
“Couldn’t date them other cheerleaders.”
Steph pondered where they were. “That’s why we got each other.”
And indeed, some things do work out.