by GD Dess
Startled awake by my phone ringing, I picked it up and looked at the screen. No Caller ID. Who calls at 12:09 a.m. with a blocked number? Nobody I knew. I put the phone down and waited for it to go silent before closing my eyes. At 12:11 a.m. the phone began ringing again. I answered, but remained silent. I heard static. Breathing. . . .
Do you know who this is? The voice inquired.
This is the Bayside Blonde.
The Bayside Blonde . . . ? I had to think. I had been using the on-line dating apps Match and Ok Cupid. I had written several pathetic notes to prospective matches who had expressed interest in me. But I had not provided my phone number to any of them.
You answered my ad in the New York Review of Books. You sent me your phone number on a postcard with a picture of the Flat Iron building. One of my favorite New York buildings. So clever of you.
It was coming back to me. I had responded to an ad in the New York Review of Books personals section. There was only ever a half dozen at best. Usually penned by people far older than I. In all the years I’d been reading the review, I’d never answered one. The Bayside Blonde’s ad had said little about her. It simply asked for men interested in dating an intriguing, fit blonde woman to send a letter, no more than a paragraph, introducing yourself, to the NYR, Box—56. Rather than scribble out some nonsense about myself, I had picked a postcard from my collection and sent my phone number with the initial of my first name scrawled underneath it. I doubted anything would come of it. It was a spontaneous act, something I felt I had to do. Oh, I said. The Bayside Blonde from the New York Review of Books.
That’s me, she said. I put that ad in as a test. I wanted to see how many people would respond.
How many people did, I wondered?
One. Which was what I expected. Not many people are willing to take the time to write anymore, that’s why there’s so few personal ads in magazines.
There were never very many in the New York Review of Books, I said.
Interesting. I hardly ever read it. I don’t have much time to read. Even though for the moment I’m partially incapacitated and need to keep occupied. I just got out of the hospital. Nothing serious, really. I’m on the mend. Moving around a little. I love the sound of you, of your voice. So much darker and smoother than I had imagined. I spent a long time imagining it. That’s what took me so long to call. I looked at your card for weeks trying to think what you’d sound like. It’s pinned to my lampshade next to my bed. Every so often I flipped it over and looked at your number and thought about what it would be like to talk to you. I had to know. What’s your name?
Just what it says on the card.
Yes, I lied.
I like that. The movie stars are naming their kids that way now. West. North. Truth. I dated a body guard for three years. All the movie stars do that now, but I started it. Your parents were advanced thinkers.
What’s your name?
I’ll get to that . . . I need to wait. We need to go slow. I have to have you understand that everything I tell you is between us. Only us. I’ve been around for a long time and I know how things work. That’s why I called. After I received your postcard, I knew we had to have a conversation, not an email or text exchange. I’m put off by that. I can’t abide that. I lived in Europe and the Greek islands for many years. How old are you?
That’s what I would have guessed. I’m very intuitive. I’m sure you already figured that out. That’s why we get along.
What’s your age?
I’m ageless. At least that’s what people say. It’s because of my looks and my personality. The way I’ve lived my life … It’s been amazing. Everyone says my life has been amazing. I worked in Washington for years. And London and Paris. Capitals. I like being in the center of things. That’s where life is. When you get to know me, you’ll see I’m telling the truth. I never lie. Even when I’m lying. I may exaggerate from time to time, but who doesn’t? Words have a way about them. They’re hard to control. I don’t try too hard to control mine because then they sound inauthentic. You know what I mean? I’m a very traditional person though I’ve had unusual experiences. . . .
After I left college, I had no plans except to get away. I went to Europe. I lived there for many years. In England, then Switzerland. Like Nietzsche, I thrive in the mountain air. Some people prefer the seaside. Not me. It’s too humid. You can never have crisp, dry sheets near the water. I insist upon that. I need dry, cool air, although I do love the seaside. I’ve been around. My mother was a doctor. She was very gifted. My father was a golf pro, very talented. My mother went to Africa to help underprivileged peoples in undeveloped countries. She caught a disease and died. We never recuperated her body. The State Department intervened, to no avail. My father went into business with a rich banker he met golfing and made a lot of money. He later went into politics and did very well. He taught me about opera and the arts before he fled to Argentina.
Something was wrong. My conversations with most dating prospects involved give and take. They developed a rhythm as we danced around myriad topics, graceful and courteous as a minuet. Sometimes the dialog was as banal as an old married couple’s recounting what they had done during the day. This woman had no interest in a colloquy. Her speech hurtled forward compulsively, driven by some inner need to tell herself to someone. I found myself pulled into her whirlwind of words just as I was all too often sucked into the vortex an infomercial. For there were nights, or early mornings, when I had too much to drink or had consumed too many edibles, and in flipping through the channels on the television, I landed upon an infomercial from which I could not disengage.
Sometimes it was the voice of the pitch man or women that paralyzed me, sometimes it was the picture of the slicer-dicer spitting out perfectly cut cubes of cheese that mesmerized me. Sometimes, inexplicitly, I became so intensely fascinated by the commodity being hawked that I felt I had to have it. Only incapacitation from intoxication kept me from dialing the 1-800 number on the screen and ordering one. I didn’t know what was keeping me on the phone tonight.
When I came back from Europe I moved into a women’s residence near Grand Central Station. They still have those. Right out of Edith Wharton. I got a job working with a creative director at Bendel’s. He had art shows in the village. He invited me to Fire Island. I met a woman there and moved in with her. Became involved in fashion. I’m very stylish, as you can probably tell. She introduced me to a lawyer. Very smart. A Southerner. I don’t usually like people from the South on principle. But he was a gentleman so I went with him. I became a para legal. You’re not married, and just looking for an affair, are you?
Of course not, I said.
Of course not. She laughed raucously. I like you. You’re funny. I’ve never been married, but I came this close. Charlie. He was my man. He was the one. He was a bit like my father. Gallant. Sophisticated. He said he had waited all his life for me. He wanted to marry me. Have kids with me. We got engaged. Then he woke up with a back ache one morning, and three weeks later he was dead. I was devastated. I buried him. He’s with the lord now. We’re only here as a guest, G. When our time is up, it’s up. It’s not my fault. My mother died young, leaving me with my father whom I had to look after. He was a handful. He escaped my purview. One day he vanished. Ran off to Brazil with our housekeeper. I had to fend for myself, you understand. You know how these things go.
I thought he went to Argentina, I interjected.
South America, yes. It’s the big picture that counts, G. That’s what you’ve got to understand. That’s what I’m giving you. I know things. I’ve gotten into things. You can’t imagine. I went to Harvard and Columbia. The army wanted me to join up as a second lieutenant in the intelligence division. They pursued me hard. We’ll give you everything you want, they said. All because I was one of two, and the only woman, who scored the highest on this test that one of my professors said I should take because I was so smart. Then the Department of Defense began calling me and telling me all their problems. They kept insisting I come work with them. Write your own ticket, they said. It’s a never-ending game of material climbing, of gaining acquisitions. There’s nothing wrong with having money, by the way. Trust me, I know.
My mother was a stunner. Men loved her. Women loved her. I loved her. In high school, after she died, I started going out with men who were old enough to be my father. I met an Indian man. He was very successful. He moved to California. He wanted me to go with him. He called and begged me to come join him. He started a business. Became immensely rich. He sent me pictures of his house in Malibu. Wanted me to marry him. I ran into him years later in John Wayne Airport. Still handsome as a prince. He regrets losing me. Understanding people is about international relations, I’m sure you’re aware of that.
What was it that had incited me to mail that card? Was it my hormones, excited by the prospect of a possible hook up and sex? Or was it the hope that it was never too late to find love. I knew many people who had met their partner—actually fallen in love—through a dating service. Why shouldn’t I? I missed the feeling of being in love. Even though these last years I approached the possibility with increasing trepidation. After I turned forty, my emotions became wary of forming attachments with anyone other than myself. Self-preservation became a pressing concern. Falling in love was potentially as dangerous as falling down and breaking a hip. You might not recuperate. Nevertheless, I didn’t have that many dating opportunities. I was somewhat of a recluse. I had a small circle of friends, some with benefits, none of whom I would choose to snuggle up with for the long voyage into my twilight years. With every new encounter, there was always the hope that perhaps this was the one. I knew the Bayside Blonde was not the one. But I continued to listen.
Of course, I don’t get sick much. It’s because of my diet. I’m a vegan. I have strong defense mechanisms. An immaculate immune system. I don’t do drugs. Never have. Of course, alcohol, that’s another matter. There’s nothing the matter with a good cocktail. I’m sure you agree with that. I feel like I know you, G. Like there’s a connection between us. It’s subtle, but significant. I pick up on these things. I’m an interesting person and a good listener. I like talking to intelligent men. I’m a sapiophile. I can tell you’re smart. I consider myself a good person.
Good people do go to Washington. I was there. I worked for a senator. I know that city inside and out, outside and in. I dated a congressman who later became a secretary. He said I should run for office with everything I knew. You can believe me when I tell you this G, I never got into a lot of things other women did, not me. I’m a traditional person even though I’ve had an unusual upbringing. I worked for a former president. I was a law clerk. I knew Clarence Thomas, and a lot of the people you read about and see on TV. Not Paul Manafort. I didn’t know him, which is interesting considering the crowd I ran with.
You’re so beautiful, the judge I clerked for said to me. No one looks like you. No one walks like you. I was working my ass off, you understand, and he was talking to me about my looks, about my ass. G, you know all about #MeToo, I’m sure. Well, I was in the middle of it. I never said a word, although I knew a lot. No big deal. I’ve put up with men all my life. Men want sex. Everybody knows that. I guess that’s why I’m still single. I don’t have anything against sex. I enjoy sex. I’ve had plenty of sex, let me tell you. Andrea Dworkin and I were in the Greek Islands at the same time. I can’t tell you where I met her because I promised. I learned a lot.
I went out with extraordinarily wealthy men who wanted to marry me. Marriage always comes up on the third date. What a team we’d make. You’re brilliant, you’re beautiful. I want you to be part of my plan, my long-term plan. That’s what men said to me. What are your plans, they asked me? My plans? You have to have plans, they said. I never had plans, G. If I had had plans, I’d have had a different life. And I’ve had a wonderful life. Wonderful. Amazing. I’ve never had children, but I’ve had animals.
My family was very cultured, very educated. Both my brothers had degrees. My older brother died some time ago. Around the time my father vanished. My younger brother cut off contact with me. He thought I was responsible for my father’s disappearance. Accused me. Called the cops. Informed NATO. It became an international affair. I was exonerated, naturally.
I have a situation with a bank, but you can’t tell anyone. I didn’t file the proper documents somehow. It’s very involved. I can’t go into it. My attorneys think I might be murdered if I expose this. But I’m out hundreds of thousands of dollars. Probably a million at least. Someone is walking away with my money. I’m not going to stand for it. When white-shoe lawyers tell you that they’ll kill you over this, well then . . . you know you’re on to something.
I was a super knock-out. Beautiful. I want you to know I’m still good looking in case you’re wondering. Only older. Older women are attractive, you know. Cougars they call them today. Although I don’t like cats. There’s a certain savior faire in an older woman. I think the French president is married to an older woman. I lived in Paris. Did I mention that? I was a hand model. When you see my hands, you’ll know why. Although they are a little knurly now. Not much. It’s not distracting. I’ve been through it all.
Here’s the deal G . . . I’m thin. My legs have taken me everywhere. I worked in physio-therapy for some years to pay the rent. I was between men. My mother wanted me to go to medical school but I went to law school. I dated millionaires. They gave me whatever I needed. But there was never a quid pro quo. Do you understand what I’m saying? I wouldn’t do that. I either liked them or I didn’t. I learned how to invest from watching them. I’ve done okay. I did many things ahead of my time. I couldn’t help myself. I was swept off my feet by a man who took me to Malta. You can’t believe the beauty of that island. He gave me blank checks to go shopping with. He wanted to keep me there. Never let me go. Like Circe kept Odysseus. I was living a lifestyle. Picassos, tapestries, Braque’s, yachts, I had it all. I’m not into that anymore. I have a closet-full of designer clothes with the price tags still on them from those days. Vintage at this point. Chanel. Yves St Laurent. Karl Lagerfeld. You name it.
It was now two o’clock in the morning. Minute by minute my curiosity was succumbing to somnolence. It occurred to me I should go to the bathroom. I was at that age when you used the toilet to empty your bladder before undertaking any journey, whether it was to dreamland or the drugstore. I threw the covers off, slid out of bed, put the phone on mute, and headed to the bathroom. My urine drained out of me like a long sigh. I yawned. Flushed the toilet. Went back to bed. The Bayside Blonde was babbling on.
Listen, a man I know has proposed I come start this very interesting venture with him in Hong Kong. It might affect our relationship, G. His proposal is fascinating. I have to go there to check out the vibe. But I don’t like change. I want my life to stay the same. I don’t know why it doesn’t. The people involved in this scheme have no money. They want my money. The bank has my money. It’s a fabulous deal, however, from the way it’s described. You can’t tell anyone.
I never went steady as a child. I went to LaGuardia high school. You know, for the arts. I really want to get back to painting. That’s my real métier. I always had to be the best. My father instilled that in me. Be the best, he said. What’s wrong with that? I’ve always been more existential than spiritual. You know what I mean?
I was different from the people I met at school. I think differently from most people. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. I’m very open minded. I knew Andy Warhol, that whole gang. I loved Marianne Faithfull. Nico not so much. I’m an art collector. I have a huge collection, hundreds of paintings, Warhol, Basquiat, Schnabel, I got them early. I have a good eye, as they say. I want to auction them off. A lot of my collection is from Africa. I was in the Peace Corp. It’s all legal.
Please understand. I have to decide what to do. Whether to take up this new proposal and restart everything. Which I have nothing against as I’ve done it so many times. I’m an internationalist. Or globalist. Although I’m not into economics. I worked in politics, but I’m not political.
Now listen G, here’s what I’m trying to say. I have to make a decision on this proposal. And it may put the kibosh our relationship. I don’t want to get started on something only to have to pull away. I’m not like that. That’s not me. I don’t want you to be disappointed because I like you. So, I’m going to have to think on this whole thing. As soon as I get it straight, I’ll get back to you.
I understand, I said.
I just need to get my affairs in order, come to some conclusion. I may have to go to Hong Kong. I’ll keep you updated. I don’t want to leave you hanging. So good to chat. Thanks for reaching out to me. I’ve enjoyed this immensely. Really. I can’t even tell you. I’ll ring you back. Don’t worry. You can count on me, G. You know when I say something, I’ll do it. I’m not like those other girls. I’ll get back to you. I don’t want you to worry.
I’m not worried.
Don’t worry. I’ve got your number.
BONUS: Another New York blonde talking on the phone–