They didn’t know what a Golden Age, that was for sure. She’d come into the bar after midnight every few weeks and order a Lemondrop Martini, the good kind. She got behind the bar once and showed them how. These kids today, she’d say, everything sanitised and pre-made. You don’t know.
How the streets of New York were electric then, under the soles of tailored feet, in the bustle of a city aching for the future. What it was to stay up all night, truly led by feelings and not dictated by hashtags and hot lists and no, just a lip to an ear and off you went with some stranger, who’d heard that this month it was some little bar off 42nd.
And the men, the men with their crisp shirts and their leather, soaked to the bone in their close shaves of tobacco and lemons, whiskey and sex. Before everything killed you young, that’s when you really lived. You’d put on some crushed green velvet thing and a fur coat over the top, and it didn’t matter that where you lived was a pull-out bed and that you had to be strategic about the cockroaches in July and the frost in January. Out on the street you were anyone, and if you dreamed and played and worked at it you could be someone.
Like when that man in the Rainbow Room held your jaw between his thumb and forefinger, turned it to one side and then the other and handed you his card. You had a car waiting for you the very next Saturday, and by the month after your very own apartment somewhere Upper, somewhere East. You ride that elevator sweetheart, let me tell you. You don’t go crying about popped corks and spilled champagne. You think he’s a lion and you’re just some gazelle, but gazelles have to live too, let me tell you.
And The Hamptons in the summer, the waves the waves of the sea and the endless chatter and the clinking of crystal, real crytal and real wine not all that stuff you had to endure when you came off the train at Penn Station from Nowhere, Indiana. You take a piece of kohl two inches thick and you give your lids a wipe. Now you’re not some Mary Jane suburban housewife to be. You’re Vita, you’re Dita, you’re Theda. You’re fucking Cleopatra. You live that dream. Pour me some more of that martini, let’s last the night.
You sit for a man for hours and he carves your face into marble. Do you know what it means to be immortal? Who cares about Instagram stars or ten million followers? One day there’ll be a power outage and you’ll all be nothing. And I’ll be watching over the grandest city in the world long after I’m dead, my eighteen year old visage swooping over the balconies of the Hotel Astor. Now light me a cigarette and don’t tell me what I don’t know, I’m too old to hear it.
And in the care home they wait, they give her an hour or two because they know she’s not doing any harm. They cross the street and pick her up. They laugh about how she slipped past the guards, or lockpicked the window again. And she smiles back. She puts on some fight but it’s all verbal. She knocked back her drink and she puts out her smoke on the bar. She turns to her audience and they all applaud. The old lady in the robe walking around like she’s in mink. You don’t know what it is to be immortal, she says, this ain’t no Golden Age.