Last Friday night as I was leaving POI’s apartment, a short, young Hispanic man with a curly ponytail and buckteeth called out to me.
I smiled politely and thought of standing behind the locked gate until he walked away, but he didn’t seem to be in a hurry. He leaned against the tree just outside POI’s building. Maybe he lived around here, but probably not. He threw down a cigarette stub as I opened the gate. It was nearly 11PM. I had to get home.
He walked toward me.
“You married? Gotta boyfriend?”
“I do, I do,” I turned right, picking up my pace and, noticing him keeping stride with me, tossed my head back towards POI’s building, “I’m just leaving his place now.”
“Damn,” he slapped the back of one palm into the other. His next question took me by surprise:
“Well, you on Instagram?”
I paused at the intersection, my robust Instagram feed running through my mind. A delivery truck rumbled by. I was about to say, “Yeah,” but then thought better of it. I donned what I hoped was a curious look.
“Instagram? What’s that?”
He cocked his head. “Woman, you don’t know what Instagram is? You know Facebook?”
“Yeah, it’s like Facebook, but with just photos. Lotsa people use it now. Everybody use it now! I don’t believe you don’t know what it is! I’ll bet all your friends on it. You pretty! You gotta get on Instagram!”
“Oh,” I said, “Thanks. I’ll uh, look into it.”
The walk sign came on and we crossed the street. He kept on shaking his head, incredulous someone my age was unfamiliar with Instagram. (Honestly, I’d be shocked too). There were two whole avenues to go, I surmised, before the guy –
“My name’s Luis,” he said, holding out his hand.
I shook it quickly and shoved my hand back in my pocket. I wasn’t afraid, not after the Instagram comments, but there was something funny about his eyes. He wore small round glasses which magnified eyes that couldn’t quite focus. One of them looked at me while the other sort gazed off into some distance.
He wore a baggy grey hoodie which was inexplicably lumpy and jeans shredded at the bottom. Short legs. He walked with the slightest swagger, more from pants that were too long and sagging than from attitude. He talked a mile a minute.
“You Asian,” he pointed out.
“See, you’re nice.”
“Whoa, whoa, look, don’t take no offense. I’m just making observations here.” He said ‘observations’ more slowly than the rest of the words, as though he’d just learned it and was testing it out.
“It’s just I go up to Asian chicks all the time because, you know, I find them attractive, but damn most of the times you guys just run away!”
I laughed, mostly because I had considered running away – or at least back into POI’s apartment – but that might have been rude. And presumptuous.
“Maybe you’re just not meeting the right kind of Asian girls.”
“I guess not. I mean, I finally meet you but you’s gotta boyfriend! Is that why you didn’t run away?”
“No,” my turn to cock my head at him, “Should I be running away?”
“No woman! I’m just bein’ nice! I ain’t shady! I just wanna be friendly and say hi and almost one hundred percent of the time the Asian girls run away! They’re so shy and like…fearful, you know? And all I wanna do,” he kept spreading his palms and touching his chest, “All I wanna do is say hi because I think you Asian girls is gorgeous.”
“Well thanks, that’s really nice of you.”
“Man, I wanna girlfriend so bad. It’s been ten years since I’ve had a girlfriend. But ladies, they don’t want me. They want the tall guy with the stacks, you know?” He held his hands to show imaginary stacks of cash. A Drake song played faintly in my head.
I did know.
I had made it known to friends and family (half jokingly), when I first moved to New York, that I was hunting for a New York billionaire. A few months later I found myself standing in the longest line I’d ever seen at the Columbus Circle Bed Bath and Beyond with POI, who needed new pillows and sheets. I suggested he go to TJMaxx. He had snorted.
“That’s where the poors shop.”
I raised an eyebrow, letting him know that my mother shopped there and so did I (but never Ross, good Lord if you shop at Ross you’ve hit rock bottom). Though when I was in elementary school, I’d been embarrassed too when my mother shopped there. But you grow up, start working for ten, fifteen dollars an hour and realize, “Damn, money doesn’t just come out of my parents’ pockets?”
I told POI, in a mild effort to provoke him, that I intended to marry a billionaire.
“That’s not me, bro,” POI had said, “You’re gonna have to find some other dude.”
Luis pulled his jeans up. It occurred to me I was a good two, three inches taller.
“I know I ain’t aaaalll that,” Luis said, “but I mean, I do honest work.”
I was about to ask but his speech was just beginning,
“I mean, I’m fearless. I ain’t afraid of nothin’, I could sell drugs and shit but I don’t because it’s frowned upon. I could make three, four times what I make now by selling drugs but it’s not respectful, you know what I’m saying?”
“Yeah…” I said, “Well, no. What do you do?”
“I’m a strip club promoter.”
“Yeah, I mean, I pull five, six-hundred dollars a night bringing people in but that’s like chump change compared to selling drugs. But I’m friendly, you see? I’m friendly so it’s easy. I bring in so many ladies-”
“-Ladies?” I interrupted.
“Yeah! Ladies! Girls! Women!”
“No! To have fun at the strip club! What most people don’t know is that nowadays, ladies, like yourself, spend more than men at the strip club. Ladies are way more generous – they buy the dancers drinks, they tip bigger, and they don’t cause trouble. They just there to have a good time and they looooove it. They be like, ‘Ooh a strip club?’ (here his voice got high) ‘I never been to one before, let’s go!’ And they come and get all dressed up and like, go crazy because they feel like powerful but also they respect the dancers you know?”
I wondered if I’d ever go to a strip club. Someday, probably, with enough drinks.
“So,” Luis continued, and I was thankful to see 8th avenue up ahead, “I promote to both men as women but honestly, the ladies are the bigger spenders so I like to bring as many in as I can.”
I nodded, amused. You learn something every day.
We came to the intersection of 8th avenue and 35th – I stopped and he stopped too. “Well,” he said, “I guess this is where I say goodbye to you. What’s your name?”
“Betty,” I said.
“Betty, Betty, Betty. Betty you’s gotta get on Instagram.”
“I’ll…look it up,” I said.
He could sense, in the same way I was friendly, that the conversation was over. I was relieved. A wave of fatigue came over me. I wanted to be at home. Wanted to text POI to have a safe flight – he was heading to Asia for two weeks for fun, not work. A very un-billionaire thing to do, but I didn’t want to find another dude.
We stopped talking but remained at the same corner because I also needed to cross the street. I stood for a few moments then turned right, hoping he’d walk straight ahead. Instead he crossed the street and turned right so we ended up at the same corner at the same time. Thankfully, a throng of people had come from the other side, among them, a group of young women looking to have a good time. It was time for Luis to get to work. He reached into his lumpy hoody and pulled out fat stacks – of glossy promoter cards. I picked up my stride and breezed past him just as the throng of people swallowed him up. They couldn’t however, drown out his distinct raspy voice:
“Get your drink on at the strip club tonight! I be selling crack on the streets but it’s not what you think!”