The Worst Kids in New York
It was Mother’s Day, May 13, in New York City, and all over Manhattan, diligent sons and daughters were paying tribute to their creators. Judy and Mark Roller, cornered drinking iced coffees at a midtown Starbucks, said they were meeting Judy Roller’s mother (and father) for lunch later that day and then taking her to a performance of The Music Man.
Meanwhile, at the ESPN Zone in Times Square, Michael Ernest and Dexter Brown were drinking pints of Fosters and watching the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings play on TV.
“First we went to a Yankees game, and now we’re here watching playoff basketball,” said Mr. Ernest, who is from Las Vegas. “I was supposed to call my mom from the Yankees game, but I didn’t have time. I’ll call her at half-time, though. Actually, I was just getting ready to call her now.”
Mr. Ernest looked at his wrist as if to check the time, but he was not wearing a watch.
“My wife went to visit my mom today in Las Vegas,” he continued. “I was supposed to call her when she got there. I was thinking about doing that thing over the phone where you have someone deliver some flowers using a credit card. But I guess it’s a little late now. Yeah, what time is it in Las Vegas now, like four? Yeah, all those places are probably closed.”
Mr. Ernest paused. “Now I’m feeling a little guilty,” he confessed. “Now I’m going to call my mother.” He looked over to his friend, Mr. Brown. “What about you? Are you going to call your mother?”
A few blocks away at the Lazer Park arcade, a man named Jairo was playing a shoot-’em-up video game called Point Blank while his wife looked on. “My mom wouldn’t mind me being here,” Jairo said. “Actually, right now she’s in church. She spends the whole day in church, so I’m here.” Jairo said he didn’t feel compelled to buy his mom a gift. “She already has a gift,” he said. “I went to the dentist.”
A short walk over on Seventh Avenue, there were a number of sons and daughters enjoying Mother’s Day at the Lace Gentlemen’s Cabaret. Asked what he was doing for his mother on her special day, one gentleman said, “No. No questions,” and then, “Get out of here!” But “Jessica,” a Lace dancer and “college student” from “Baltimore, Md.,” said she had, in fact, called her mother that day to wish her a happy Mother’s Day, and then went rollerblading in Central Park before coming to work.
The English actress Charlotte Rampling, 56, was sitting on a couch in the lobby of the Mercer Hotel. She was there to do some press for her new film Under the Sand , in which she plays a woman who refuses to accept that her husband is dead and gradually descends into madness.
I had heard that Ms. Rampling, who has appeared in such films as The Night Porter and Stardust Memories and is buck naked in the June 2001 issue of Vanity Fair , lived in Paris.
“So in Paris, you lead a pretty conventional life?” I asked her.
“What’s a conventional life, my friend?” Ms. Rampling said. “Could you just explain what you’re asking? Because I don’t understand the question .”
I tried and tried. Five minutes later, the conversation still wasn’t flowing. Then I tried with this one: “Who was a better actor, Mickey Rourke or Robert Mitchum?”
“What kind of questions are these?” Ms. Rampling asked. “What a boring interview this is. Yeah, why are you doing all these sort of … questions? ‘What do you like, what don’t you like, what do you shit on, what do you crap on?’”
At that moment, my tape recorder suddenly stopped.
“You better start redeeming or otherwise I’m on my way out,” Ms. Rampling snapped, as the tape started rolling again.
But again, the cassette recorder stopped. “I’m actually spooking it,” Ms. Rampling said.
“Ever drive a man to despair?” I asked.
“No, you have to ask the guy, not me! I don’t know. I imagine I probably did quite a few, yeah.”
“What was the most touchingly desperate thing a man has ever said to you?”
“Has a man ever gone literally crazy after being involved with you?”
“Do you like getting involved with people in general?”
“Do you smoke?”
“I smoke cigars. I’d like one now, but you can’t smoke in these bloody American places.”
“You want a piece of nicotine gum?”
“I hate gum and I hate people that eat gum, so don’t start doing it.”
I asked Ms. Rampling if she thought about the possibility of immortality. She went blank.
“You don’t care?” I asked.
“Why wouldn’t I?” Ms. Rampling snapped. “I mean, are you answering my questions, too, as much as you ask them? I’m not going to answer now.”
Then she changed her mind: “I know I’m going to come back in all sorts of different lives. Just a hunch I’ve got. But I’d rather just sort of die–I don’t want to go on forever in this body, although it’s quite a good body and very good soul.”
“Have you had any past lives?” I asked.
She was beginning to laugh here and there–until she was asked for a great story about Hendrix or the Stones from her swinging London days.
“No,” she said. “I don’t tell stories. Especially not to journalists …. I have nothing to say. It’s just too aggressive–it’s actually too abusive, this form of questioning. So I just don’t say anything; I’m not telling you anything here. Just abusive: ‘Bing, bing, speak, speak, what do you want, sex …. ‘” She made some unintelligible, grunting sounds.
“Look at me,” I said, trembling. “I’m–-”
“I have no idea who you are. Yeah, there are a lot of murderers who look like you.”
Unfit to Print or Date
“Ivy League Graduate,” the April 22 New York Times personal ad read. “Loves opera, art, concerts, theatre, dining, outdoors, family. Good-natured. Seeks refined, thoughtful gentleman. Non-smoker.”
The person who placed the ad, a 61-year-old single Jewish woman from Queens, admitted she was nervous. She had tried personal ads in the past, to no avail. She’d had unpleasant experiences with the men she met through an ad in The Jewish Week ; she wasn’t Orthodox, they weren’t … anything.
But the single woman had hope for The Times , which had just premiered its own personals section, the first in the newspaper’s history. “I just feel that people who read The Times are serious-minded,” the woman said shortly after her ad was published. “They wouldn’t be fly-by-night.”
The ad got a pretty good response. Within a few days, three men called. “The first man was fairly recently widowed, and he doesn’t like being alone,” the woman said. She was more hopeful about the second caller: “He’s a professional man, much better spoken,” she said. (The third caller, alas, was accidentally obliterated after the woman pressed the wrong button on her phone and erased his message.)
Still, love was in the air. The woman sounded as fluttery as a high-school senior on her way to the prom. “Maybe someday I’ll be able to say, ‘I met my husband in The New York Times ,’” she said.
About a week later, the single woman called back with an update. She’d met the widower for a coffee date. Suffice it to say that he didn’t make much of an impression. “He was poorly dressed; his attire was beyond casual,” the woman said. “It wasn’t something you would wear to meet someone. His fingernails were dirty! His hair was messy … his shirt, of so many different colors, it was in such poor taste! That was one thing. But his fingernails were dirty! Look, I’m an educated, well-bred woman. I was all dressed in a silk blouse, in jewelry. I actually, literally felt sick afterwards.”
But what about the dream caller, the professional, the man she was really interested in? “I called him and asked him to go for a walk with me sometime,” the woman reported. “He never called back. I guess he’s just arrogant.”
The single woman then announced she had sworn off the New York Times personals.
“It’s just the same nonsense that happens with everyone else who places a personal ad in every paper,” she said. In The Times, she said, “the women are more sophisticated, the men are the same.”