Lucy liked bad music, had a dog everyone but her could smell, and owned her own fixer-upper in and up-and-coming neighborhood south of the university. She’d had three different last names other than her maiden name. Various forms of narcissism and/or alcoholism marked her former husbands with whom she had bad marriages and no children.
Lucy had a penchant for celebrity and had spent much of her youth as a rock-n-roll band groupie. She stayed more than one night in jail for various petty crimes, not the least of which was a disturbing-the-peace charge where shed thrown a shot glass through the street window of The Gate, a third-rate tavern in the Northeast that convicts and steelworkers from the nearby mill frequented.
By the time I met Lucy, she had tended bar and cocktail waitressed at numerous lounges of low repute. But she’d gone on a self-improvement binge and attended nursing school. She worked a succession of bar jobs, each better than the last, until she finished school and started on the Medical-Surgical unit at a big hospital in Midtown. By that time, she’d climbed to the rooftop of the Ritz and was making $400 a night serving out-of-town corporate executives and wealthy adulterers who sat in the dark corners of the bar. Her fellow employees admired her strong will and devil-may-care attitude work and life.
I fell for Lucy the first time we both stepped on the service elevator to the rooftop bar and restaurant. She was getting ready for a shift and straightened her skirt and showed me her teeth. “Anything in them?” she asked. I had a close look at her fake-blond hair and desperate attempt to hide her age underneath her makeup.
I told her no.
“I’m Lucy,” she said, stretch up her full height, which was a couple inches over my five-foot-ten. “I’ve seen you around. You’re the guy who takes care of the furniture, aren’t you? What’s your name?”
“Patrick,” I said. “I repair and refinish all the antique and reproduction furniture here at the hotel.”
“You do a helluva job,” she said. “It’s about as fancy as a place gets. How much are these things worth?”
“Sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. I have a book with the insurance-replacement values in them.”
“Must make fabulous reading,” she said as she stepped off the elevator into the rooftop kitchen.
She turned and smiled and waved. She made her way around the large standing refrigerators and between the stainless-steel prep tables. “Maybe I’ll see you sometime,” she said.
I was 30 and dumb and still fumbling when it came to relationships with women. But her savage beauty and age did things to my insides. I found out through the hotel grapevine—a vibrant avenue of falsehood and truth—that she was 44 years old. My heart melt.
I began to appear on the rooftop more often, taking and refinishing the sideboards and armoires that years, hands, and banquets had ravaged. During my days, I took them to my workroom in the engineering department and stripped off the finishes and made them look almost new. I’d wait until the staff was starting to go up to the restaurant for the night shift to return them, hoping for another meeting with Lucy.
Around the same time, she started showing up to work early to take dinner in the employee lunchroom, where I’d see her on my coffee breaks. After a few times, I made an excuse to eat late and come at sit at her table. We made small talk and learned a few things about each other. Over the course of a couple of months, she told me of her humble beginnings and how she’d come to work at the Ritz.
“You get sick of feeling dirty all the time,” she said. “I mean, bar sitters only hold your interest so long, you know. After a couple of years, you hear all the stories. The money was all right but hardly anything that would keep a person like me in a mortgage. Renovating a house costs money, you know. The hospital pays well, but since I don’t have a family you can speak of, just a daughter who’s 22 now, the Ritz fills in my free time and gives me enough to make me comfortable.
“Plus, I own a little land on the Klamath River in northern California, just five acres, but it’s all mountains and national forest. I want to build a place up there where I can retire. I figure I have about 10 years more to work. I have a pile I’ve put away. The house will be worth something when I get it done fixing it up. Altogether, I figure I have a couple of years before I can get out of here and find a job at a little hospital or clinic up there in the wilderness.”
She asked over the months what my story was. I told her quite honestly that I’d been drunk most of my life and had sobered up a couple of years before. I had gone to grad school in Wyoming and had a three-year-old whose mom I never married. All I ever wanted to be, I told her, was a writer.
“Now that’s interesting,” she said. “A scholar who fixes expensive furniture and wants to be a writer. Keep your mind to it and you’ll make it someday.”
We came to have a standing date at the employee lunchroom every Friday. She worked Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. She caught up on her rest and read novels until time to go work on Fridays and Saturday nights in the bar. She worked in the restaurant on Sunday during brunch.
I became fond of Lucy, her drive and determination. I was scared to ask her out, unsure of myself and still getting over the relationship I’d had with my daughter’s mom. For a couple of years, my main concerns had been single-fatherhood and child support. I was broke nearly all the time. Some weekends I was to spend with Sydney, I filched food from the employee lunchroom for our dinners on Saturdays and Sundays.
My mates in the engineering department noticed Lucy and I spent time together in the lunchroom. The hotel was like a little village that way. Rumor spread through the hallways and rooms, through the departments and offices like water running to a river. While everyone didn’t know everyone’s business, everyone got a taste for what was going on here and there. It was well-known, for instance, that the GM was having an affair with the front-desk manager. She, on the other hand, was carrying on with the concierge, who was also close—very, very close—with the day waiter in the lobby bar.
One of my coworkers was a stout mechanic by the name of Bruce. He hated me for reasons I would never understand. He didn’t like the way I directed my own job, for instance. He disliked the fact that I seemed to come and go as I pleased. He approached me one day at my workbench. I was repairing a glass end table a guest had broken by sitting on it.
“So, you and the nurse lady’s getting along just fine, I hear.” He stood across the workbench from me, the fluorescent fixture above lighting his body but leaving his head in darkness.
“You mean Lucy?” I said, looking up from the joint I was gluing.
“You know she sleeps around a lot.”
“I didn’t know that,” I said. “That’s kind of her business, isn’t it?”
“You just ought to know what you’re into, kid.”
“Don’t call me kid.”
“She’s way out of your league, anyway,” he said. “You know she hangs out with all the big-wigs that come to the hotel, and you know we got a lot of them. What’s she want with you?”
“Nothing,” I said. “We have lunch once in a while.”
“Yeah, my ass,” he said. “You got a thing for old ladies?”
“She’s old, man. What’re you after? The senior-citizens’ discount at the movies?”
I finally asked Lucy out as fall was setting. We had just finished eating on Friday and she was headed up to her shift in the bar. My day was about to end and I was going to pick up my daughter that night. I stopped her at the service elevator. No one was around. She gave me a deep kiss. “I wondered when you were going to finally do that,” she said. “I was getting kind of sick of waiting and was going to do it myself if you didn’t do something soon.”
We went to a movie the following Thursday night. I can’t remember which one. She started holding my hand about halfway through the picture. That night, I stayed over at her house and had to get up early to make it home to change before my shift. I rushed through coffee and headed out the door.
I felt light and good. Something special had happened and I felt like my life was turning around. At least now, in my single-fatherhood, I had something to look forward to besides weekends with my daughter and being completely broke. Before long, Lucy and I had become the talk of the hotel.