“You are from New York and therefore you are naturally interesting.”
I sympathized with this sentiment when Lena Dunham’s Girls character, Hannah Horvath, first said it while talking to her mirror’s reflection in season one but I’m not quite sure I understood the statement’s veracity until last week when I met two of New York’s–as far as I’m concerned–most historical landmarks: a 90-year-old Lucy, and 81-year-old Gina.
What is it about crossing that 80-year threshold that grants a person the ability to sound profoundly more interesting, dynamically more hilarious and evocatively wiser than the rest of us? Is it the substantial weight of a heavy, experiential lifespan sitting just below the vintage belt? Or do opinions, perceptions and conversations become pleasantly inflated in older age? New York is magical in that on any given, rather regular Tuesday afternoon you can find yourself asking these questions and in the blink of a wrong turn subsequently find yourself at the obscure intersection of living example and answer.
On one such Tuesday, I met said intersection. The two fireballs pervading the cloverleaf have essentially made home for themselves on two steel chairs positioned just outside B-Space, an Australian-product-only boutique in Nolita, run by a bevy of attractive young surfers-cum-men boasting accents that–I am sure–would make any female New Yorker weak in the knees. Come to think of it, actually, B-Space has made home for itself on their turf. Both women have lived on that precise Nolita block since their births.
“This used to be my shop,” an older, silver-coiffed woman, wearing a black and silver chain necklace she described as older than her, explained as she noticed me walking by slowly, curiously gazing in through the window. “We had everything in there–pin ball machines, pool tables, gum.”
“Now they’re all Australian over here. Do you want some ice cream? It’s from a brand new place, right down the block,” she asked me while pointing at her 16 Handles cup.
“No thank you,” I declined while she continued on. “I’ve lived in the same apartment, right above this store, my whole life. Rent used to be $20. You know how much I’m paying now?”
I could have guessed.
“$87. Eighty seven whole dollas.”
But I would have been wrong.
Fascinated, I began lowering down to the store’s bench to resume a seat next to my new friend in her steel chair. I’d gathered that her name was Lucy on the account of almost each and every individual walking by, stopping to greet her–“Hi Lucy! Looking good today.”
“They always say that,” she explained to me while her friend, Gina, came and sat just beside her.
“So, $87, really?” I asked.
“I pay $89,” Gina explained. “Who’s the new girl?”
There are plenty of wonderful, older women living in New York City. Evidently, I just haven’t taken enough time to get to know them. Lucy and Gina were a phenomenal place to start, though, especially in light of this weekend’s most underrated holiday: National Best Friends Day. They shared rather stealthy stories from their past lives–noting deceased parents, husbands, relatives–and opting mostly to remain in the present moment where effectively everything was perfect. In that very same moment, the importance of friendship became discernibly clear. After a while, after all, the people you call your best friends become family, don’t they? Here are a couple of our favorite conversational nuggets as transcribed by Charlotte Fassler.
Lucy: Who’s that?
Gina: How the hell do I know? People walk by, they say hi every time. They see us, they say hi, and that’s it.
Lucy: Oh, that looks like Viola’s son. Lawrence?
Gina: Hey Lawrence! Sorry, we didn’t know it was you
Leandra: Do you have any kids?
Gina: She has a son, a big son.
Hot Australian approaches on bike.
Lucy: Oh Tina!
Australian: Tina? Close…it’s Tim. Hi Honey
Lucy: Ooooooh! These are new girls.
Tim: New girls, Hi, I’m Tim.
Lucy: Timmy! Don’t say I don’t wear it.
She holds up her arm, clad in a bracelet.
Tim: Yeah, look at you go.
Lucy: He got it for me from Australia.
On the evolution of Prince Street:
Gina: Years ago, before all these shops the Italian people had a clothes line from here to here (points at the buildings)
Lucy: It was all Italians. All Sicilians on Elizabeth street, right Gina? Mott street was covered with food all the time, and Chinatown…it’s still there.
A slight younger woman walks by with a man, she says hi to Gina
Leandra: You guys know everyone in the neighborhood, huh?
Lucy: We’ve live here a long time
Gina: Well she’s been here long too
Leandra: So do you sit out here very often?
Gina: In the summer, when it’s warm
Leandra: What do you do in the winter?
Lucy: Stay in the house!
Leandra: Go visit each other and stuff?
Gina: Yeah, sometimes—
Lucy: We stay in our own houses.
Another passerby continues forward, this one clutching on to a walker
Passerby: Hey How you doin’ — where’s your puppy?
Leandra: It’s lovely that you all know each other
Gina: Even the junkies know me
Leandra: What’s that?
Gina: Even the junkies know me.
Lucy: Around the corner, there used to be a drug addict store.
Leandra: A drug addict store?
Gina: A methadone center
Lucy: Yeah, the methadone
A second hot Australian emerges.
Lucy: Hey where are ya going?
Australian: I have to go to the West Village, but I’ll be back. Be back in an hour.
Lucy: Okie dokie.
Gina: Bring home a hippie?
Australian: No, Jesus.
Gina: Bring something good?
Australian: You want something good?
Gina: Yeah, yourself.
Gina: You know I would like to try corn dogs, they say they’re very good.
Leandra: Corn dogs?
Gina: Corn dogs
Hot Australian: What’s that?
Gina: Corn dogs!
Hot Australian: Corn dogs?
Gina: Corn dogs!
Hot Australian: What’s a corn dog?
Lucy: Oh, I’ve seen ’em!
Gina: It’s Frankfurters, wrapped around in the–
Hot Australian: Prosciutto?
Gina: No, corn bread.
They begin talking amongst themselves with an older gentlemen named Joey.
Lucy: I don’t like no green peppers, only the red ones.
Joey: I love hot sauce.
Gina starts looking through photos that were inconspicuously handed to her. They are pictures of children in Mexico. The photos fall out of Gina’s lap
Lucy: Hey. Joe wants to see them too!
Gina: Hey! There was a bug on it!!!
Joe: I can’t take you no place.
Gina: You’ll take me no place.
Lucy: There’s my son!
Leandra: Are you close with your son?
Lucy: Yeah, he’s my only one.
Leandra: Do you still live in the same unit you were in when you were born?
Gina: Yea. Me too.
Leandra: Do you also pay crazy rent, like $80 per month?
Gina: No way, pshhh. $89.
Lucy: I pay $87. But we’re senior citizens. Some of them pay less than us.
Gina: Mary Jones, Fifty dollars.
Lucy: When I got married I was paying fifteen dollars.
Leandra: What did your husband do?
Lucy: He worked at United Fruit.
Gina: You paid fifteen dollars when you got married? I paid fourteen dollars when I got married.
Lucy: And when my mom passed away I started paying twenty dollars.
Gina: We’re widows now. The weeping willo–widow.
Leandra: You don’t look weeping to me.
Leandra: You’re not weep-ing!
Gina: I had a son, he died. All my family is gone now. We just got each other.