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I met Billy the week that Wall Street collapsed. It was midnight, and I was standing on the curb of a well-lit street in Midtown Manhattan, hoping to hail a cab and, in the meantime, steal a smoke. I rarely carry cigarettes, because I "don't smoke," but pour three drinks in me and I certainly "do smoke." (Chain smoke is more like it.) With Parliament Lights an astronomical $9 a pack in New York these days, I must often rely on the kindness of smokers.
"Can I bum one of those?" I asked. He was sitting on the ledge of a planter. He tapped out an American Spirit and handed it to me. Not my brand, but whatever.
"Lemme buy you a drink," he said, gesturing to the Irish bar behind him.
I was so broke that week. I shrugged. "Okay."
It was one of those sprawling pubs you find in Midtown Manhattan: Random clovers, Guinness posters, the Pogues on the jukebox. Inside, a buddy of Billy's leaned against the bar, taking shots with three blonde women wearing spaghetti-strap dresses and fake tans.
I did not like this bar. I told Billy so.
"Yeah," he agreed. "This bar kind of blows." He had ordered us both beers and taken a sip of one. A little bit of foam sat on his upper lip.
What I did next is something I have never done before. I do not think I will ever do it again. It was unsafe, reckless, and if my parents are reading this, it is entirely a metaphor. I can only tell you that I hated that bar, and I liked Billy — quite a lot, actually. He had interesting ideas about the magazine where I work and about politics and about art. (He also had cigarettes.) I didn't understand why the stupid, douchey bar had to come in between me and someone I liked. So I turned to him and said, "Would you like to come back to my apartment and have sex?"
He licked the foam off his lips. "Yes. Yes, I would."
We collapsed in a cab that edged down Broadway: his hand reaching up my skirt, my hand digging in his hair.
"Hey, hey, hey, not in this cab!" the driver barked at us. He made us put on our seatbelts. We were genuinely sorry, two good kids scolded by a teacher, forced to opposite ends of the backseat for the thirty-minute crawl back to Brooklyn. We were obliged to actually talk to each other, which, in the end, was probably a good thing. As Billy told me about his mother in Florida, his deadbeat younger brother, his father who had died not long ago, leaving his family in terrible debt, he reached his hand across the black vinyl, and held my hand.
"So transactional law," I said, looking out the cab window. "What kind, exactly?"
"Basically?" He sighed. "I'm responsible for the market crash."