Our third day in Iceland leaves us with a brutal duty free whiskey hangover. Fuck the sight seeing, fuck the tours, fuck the weather. Today is shopping and Blue Lagoon spa day also known as it’s Kara’s birthday. After our continental hostel breakfast, which we were late for, we rip up and down Laugavegur which is on of the main shopping streets in down town Reykjavik. Her debit card never leaves her hand as we Tasmanian Devil our way from one shop to another. I find a vintage Cars t shirt from 1979. She finds a birthday outfit. We both get mementos to gift our friends and family at home. The debit card is spitting out sparks and fumes like an overused Toyota.
“Dude we gotta stop or we are gonna miss our bus to the Blue Lagoon…”
Easily the most photographed site in all of Iceland, The Blue Lagoon is perhaps the most supernatural looking body of water on Earth. Descriptions of its waters range everywhere from “the same color as the new Gatorade drink” to “frosty blue.” Though the latter term may sound good, the water in the lagoon is anything but “frosty.” The temperature in the swimmable area averages about 40C (104F), and the soothing, mineral-rich water is rumored to have curative powers.
The M14 bus runs from the Meat Packing district all the way down to the furnace that is the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I was a rider on that bus for over 13 years until I met her. Always staring at the bricks of Stuyvesant Town from my bus seat window and getting off the at the bricks of The Lilian Ward housing projects. Always alone, with a comic book or a newspaper in one hand and a cd player bound by a rubber band in the other. I never really talked to anyone on the bus, just peeked at the girls over whatever rhyme I was writing in my note pad or keeping my eyes down whenever the neighborhood thugs harassed or slapped boxed each-other to the annoyance of everyone. There was no hope on that bus line, always loud and over crowded with the scent of ciggarettes and weed fuming off the underpaid and overworked. I did my best to keep to myself with the exception of the minor “excuse me” or “my bad” that followed whatever petty interaction. I would never have thought in a million years I would have spotted a Kara Mullins on that bus.
When I first rode the M14 bus the year was 1989. Kara must have been 8 years old then and a lifetime away in Indiana. I was a introverted 14 years old in a very rowdy 9th grade in Harlem. We wouldn’t meet until about 14 years later. Back then the homeless owned Tompkins Square Park and Alphabet City was known more for arson and heroin than the art and music scene that was slowly brewing. An accidental bump meant a fight and a wrong stare meant you could get shot. Robbery and assaults were as common as the cops that were absent. The drug wars rivaled those of the Columbian cartels and Arabian terrorists vying for control of whatever God forsaken slum. For detectives we had Rambo and Bambi, two undercover cops whose idea of justice was robbing any street dealer brave enough to stand on a corner. Alphabet City was truly a hell on earth, until…
Here comes gentrification! By 1994 Mayor Giuliani’s Broken Windows Theory (the idea that any small crime, like shoplifting, was an indicator of larger criminal activity so any level of crime was prosecuted to its fullest extent) was starting to clean up and rebuild the Lower East Side. By 1999 most of the hardened criminals were locked up or following the Notorious B.I.G. adage of “get money” instead of the “take money, money” attitude of the 80’s. Community gardens popped up in place of abandoned lots that were littering the city. Coffee shops opened up replacing the drug spots disguised as Jamaican smoothie stores and Santeria Shops. After the fall of Dead Man Walking, a crew of drug dealers that sold a fatal brand of heroin, It was safe for the birds to come out, chirp, and shit on parked cars again. Shit, it was safe to have a car and park it on the street! The corner store bodega went from selling Cheese Doodles to Sun Chips. The enpanadas sold in the local diners turned into whatever vegans would create out of tofu. Yellow cabs, finally on Avenue C. My neighborhood was now shopping vintage and trying it all on.
The ridership on the m14 also changed. There was cashmere mixed in with the Carhatt and Champion hoodies. The “thank you’s” mingled in with the “good lookin outs”. The whitest person on the bus wasn’t the disgruntled bus driver or a light skin puerto rican chick too conceited for her own good, It was actual white people! In all of their earth tones and Upper West Side black fashion with designer purses and books they read while balancing themselves during a packed commute. White dudes with black rimmed glasses and tall blondes straight out of vogue siting next to some convict just getting out of Central Bookings and some lady who should have got her tubes tied 5 kids ago. This was truly a fascinating time. Fuck hiding in a free copy of the Village Voice this melting pot of a society captured my imagination way more than the tranny ads in the back of The Voice. The locals weren’t as thrilled as I, screw facing anyone that sounded more optimistic then the fate they had self prophesied for themselves, they knew this meant higher and higher rents. I wasn’t paying rent at the time so what did I care? I lived in a neighborhood where most people lived their entire lives not passing Avenue A and no one on the other side of that Avenue ever ventured into the Lower East Side unless it was to cop drugs or fuck a drug dealer. Now the entire world was moving in. The old Alphabet city was slowly ebbing away.
So there I was on October 21, 2003… On my way to my mothers house from a long day of copying audio and video crap for whatever small change my boss paid me off the books. Recently single with a 2 year old son, it was safe to say me and the man in the mirror were not on good terms. The “baby mother” kept the apartment and kid. All I got was the top bunk of the bed I grew up and was abused by my step father on. I had nothing in the win column of life. I wasn’t hiding in the Village Voice anymore I was trying to bury myself in it. Then it happened.
I don’t know what made me pull my head out of my Helvetica and Times New Roman grave. Maybe it was a bump from a sloppy no respect for boundaries passenger or the smell of someone eating chicken on the bus but I looked up… and there she was. Only a few rows in front of me chatting away on her cellphone. Her skin was pale as the upcoming winter but rich as the finest of lotions. Her hair was short and her make up was light and impecable. Her dark Seven For Humanity jeans where flared at the bottom and her heals where black and pointy looking every bit the cosmopolitan any New York magazine would had rushed to print. I overheard bits of her conversation as she was chatting about some cousin that got pregnant just blabbering on the phone in the cutest working girls voice. Chatting away carelessly, oblivious to my eyes that where giving the back of her neck a laser beam sun tan.
I. Couldn’t. Take. My. Eyes. Off. Of. Her.
I folded up my newspaper and put my headphones away in my bag. Every single “the first time I ever saw her” montage that any director in any romantic comedy could ever come up with was unfolding on this bus in front of me at that moment. Then we get to my stop. She also gets off at my stop OH MY GOD this is fate. She walks one way. I, to shy to even try with a serious lack of opening ice breaker wit, walks the other way. Back to life, back to reality…
Fast foward to later that night.
My friend FOCUS convinces me to finally shower my depression off and go out. We go to a Steve O movie veiwing party which grosses me out so I spend the rest of the show in a bathroom stall. FOCUS gets me really stoned. Soon we graduate to smoking dust or sniffing meth or whatever by that time who could have kept count then *POOF* I’m at Guernica’s, dazed out of my charred mind, at some drum and bass party. I HATE drum and bass, but the bar was around the corner from my house and I’ve gotten lucky there on a few occasions so I was OK. Lucky being a free drink or maybe a girls phone number that would go to a random pay phone somewhere. That was my type of luck. FOCUS is doing this weird rave rain dance and I’m too stunned in my intoxication to care. I sit at the bar and order a Corona from the pretty bartender. I always ordered a that beer from her because she would have to turn around and bend over to grab one out of the freezer allowing me to see the color of her thong. Yes, that pathetic act consisted of as much action as I was getting those days. Ugh my life. I turn around to face the dance floor and spit my drink out causing some raver to slide into the dj booth. HOLY SHIT It’s the girl on the bus, siting directly in front of me. In that moment every substance I was on kicked in like a SWAT team doing a pre-dawn raid. What are the fucking odds?! “I can do this I can do this I can do this” is what I told myself over and over and over… I don’t remember what my process was to inch near her but in a blink of an eye I was siting right next to her, looking real balmy. Showtime.
“Hi, my name is Osvaldo, yours?
“What was that again?”
“Its ok my friends call me OJ…”
Small talk small talk small talk.
“So your name is?”
“how long have you lived here?”
“A few months, I’m celebrating my birthday today…”
Que evil mastermind grin. Small talk small talk interrupted by her two male friends small talk small talk small talk some girl sits next to me and starts chiming in talk talk talk small talk.
“So uh, if you need a New York tour guide here’s my number…”
“Why don’t you give that girl your number?”
The girl that sat down on the other side of me inexplicably starts hitting on me. Weird because I’ve seen her before and had tried but was shot down by her she did some tribal moves in UFO parachute pants. Humiliating, right? I shoo her away like a fly over my desert.
“Because I don’t want her number, I want yours…”
What?! I can’t believe I said that. Who in the Randy Macho Man Savage did I think I was? This isn’t going to work. I’ve sunk my own Battleship. Let’s wave the white flag boys we are going under.
“Here’s my number…”
And with that she stood up and left with her friends in tow. When she walked away I sunk into the couch like someone had stolen the pillows from under me. Everyone around me is talking as the party is in full swing but everything sounds like Charlie Browns teacher in the middle of a lecture.
“Wha wha whaaaawahaaha wha wah…”
Fuck this, at 4 am I play myself and call her, in part because I wanted to see if the phone number was real and the other was that I wanted to continue partying, but with her. She answers and politely declines.
We miraculously have our first date the following Friday at the old Kush on Ludlow st. I brought a “buffer” (a friend whose sole purpose is to get you out of a bad date) and she brought a furry sweater. Later I find out she also planned on a ‘buffer’ herself but her friend canceled on her. Brave girl. The night ended with me picking pieces of her white wool sweater out of my clothes and hair after an epic make-out session on the floor outside of her place on 9th st. and Avenue C. This continued for 3 months until we finally went inside her apartment. 7 years to that exact date when I first saw her on the M14 we are now in Iceland, freezing outside of the Blue lagoon but in awe of all we had just witnessed. From the opera singers to the glasses of wine in this heated blue water of amazingness. The tour bus that was supposed to take back to our hostel, has left us stranded.
Happy Birthday Kara.