Then Ally
Posted: 3/11/12

I lived in the Bay Area for the first seven years of my life.  And in those seven years I was part of a little-girl gang that consisted of Ally, Cara, Katie, and myself.   We liked to listen to Mariah Carey in my mom’s white Nissan Maxima (because it had a sunroof) and pretend that we were talking on her car phone.  We also liked to play dress up and Barbie.

After moving to a rural suburban area in New Jersey, I (as you can well imagine) lost touch with all of these childhood friends.

And then, many years later, there was Facebook.

First, Katie and I became friends.   Then Ally.  Then Cara.  Katie soon ended up on the East Coast for a summer internship.  We met in Princeton and had a pleasant enough evening.  She moved to Manhattan the following year.  We see each other fairly frequently but we have absolutely nothing in common.  Coincidentally, Cara and I studied in Rome, Italy at the same time.  We met up for lunch near the Pantheon one day.  We had nothing in common and we never met or talked again.  Somehow, Ally and I became pen pals.  One year, for my birthday she mailed me a pair of green lace panties.  After about a year of exchanging letters, we began talking on the phone.  I went to visit Ally while I was on Spring Break during my sophomore year of college.

Ally’s back-story is:
At the time my family was moving to the East Coast, her mother was cheating on her father with some rich guy.  The mother ended up divorcing her husband and marrying this rich guy, who was so rich that he retired at the age of 35.  Ally and her mother and her brother moved to Orange County.  Last I knew, Ally hated her real father (who my parents remember as a really great guy) and she calls the rich guy, her stepfather, “Dad”.  At the time that I visited, Ally was 21, worked at the Banana Republic at the local mall, and lived with her parents while she attended Community College.  She was at Community College because she was overwhelmed at the thought of moving away from her parents.  She confided in me that she had only ever left Orange County with her mother.   They traveled to the Bay Area to visit her real father, Hawaii, Cancun, and Arizona (once, to see Arizona State).

The trip to Orange County is not worth going into detail about.  Her friends had too much money and everyone was bored.  At a small get-together, I put a log on a small dwindling outdoor bon-fire and successfully stunned a crowd of shivering girls in short skirts.  I strained for conversation for the four days that I was there.  I left feeling as though I had experienced a novelty.

A year after the visit, Ally and I were talking on the phone about once a week.  She would call me at 11 am (8 am in California) and say, “Oh my god, Nicole.  I am naked in someone’s bed and I don’t know where I am and how I got here.”  She decided to visit me for almost two weeks in July.  It was going to be “The Best Trip Ever”.  We were going to do “all the fun things in Philly” and then go to New York City for a few days.

To paint a picture, I was living in a small studio apartment near the Art Museum at the time.  I had a car.  I was in much better shape than I am now.  Still, from the beginning, Ally was overwhelmed.  She pointed out every homeless person and every black person as we drove from the airport and she called her mother three times before the night was over (I had picked her up from the airport at 4 pm).

The next day we went to the beach.  I had the idea that it would be nice for her to see the Atlantic Ocean because she never had before.  I know that the Jersey Shore is a fucking dump but Ally acted without any grace, vocally expressing how displeased she was with the entire affair.  Everything was “disgusting”.  She disappeared from our blanket and went and talked to her mom in hour intervals near the water.

We had plans to go to a club that night in Rittehouse Square with a few of my girlfriends, but eventually she told me that she did not want to go out at all because she was worried about being raped by black people.  When I told her that she was being absurd, she texted an acquaintance from High School who had lived in Mt. Airy until the age of ten.  Ally asked this acquaintance if Rittenhouse Square was dangerous and the acquaintance advised her to stay away because she was surely going to be shot.  Still, somehow I coaxed her into going out.  To everyone’s surprise, she had a lot of fun.  She danced with everyone –even black people- and we had to essentially drag her out of the club at 2 am.

But the next morning, we fought because what we had done the night before was not fun when she looked back on it in the morning.  She said that I was a bad friend.  I put her life in danger.  She hated Philadelphia.  She hated my lifestyle.  She told me that she wanted to go to the nice areas, the tourist areas.  And she wanted to go shopping!  So we did.  We went to the “Rocky” stairs (but not into the art museum).  We went to the Liberty Bell.  We went to Old City where she proceeded to ask every woman working in every boutique “Is this vintage?” over and over while holding different garments from the racks.  To one Sales Associate, she simply inquired, “What is ‘vintage’ anyway?”  All day, we fought and bickered.  She was too hot and it was my fault.  Everything was dirty.  Why are there busses?  Why are there ugly people?  Eew, I can’t believe you took me here.  It smells.

That night we went out for cupcakes.  I thought that taking her to Brown Betty’s would satiate her, but it was closed for a week.  We went to Naked Chocolate (which is now Philly Cupcake, I think) and luckily she had seen this specific establishment on the Food Network.  Instantly, things were better.

When we got back to the car, which I had parked near 19th and Locust, I had a flat tire.  I tried to recall how to change a tire from Driver’s Education and I am still embarrassed that I could not rise to the occasion.  I angrily decided to call AAA knowing that we would be waiting for at least 2 hours.  A homeless man on a nearby stoop, whose name has now escaped me, offered to put on the spare tire if I threw him a few bucks.  We were right under a street lamp, people were out and about, and there were two of us; I conceded thinking that the process would be much more efficient than if I called AAA.

Immediately, Ally panicked and refused to get out of the car.  She screamed at me and told me that I was putting her life in danger.  Eventually, she put her head between her knees and curled into a ball in the front seat of the car and sobbed uncontrollably.  She then called her mother and proceeded to scream into the phone, then turn around, still sobbing, and scream at me through the open front window.  She begged me to send the homeless man away.  He was going to murder us both!  In actuality, the homeless man just told me -in between Ally’s very tense and uncomfortable rants- about how he had lost his job a few years back.  He had been jumping around, living with family members, and trying to find work and get his act together.

Then, a non-homeless guy walked past while the homeless man was jacking up my car and began to make small talk.  He went home to get a better car-jack and a flashlight.  When he came back, he ended up helping the homeless man.  Ally was hysterical the entire time.  My tire was changed in less than fifteen minutes.

When it was all over, I realized that I only had a $5 bill with which to pay the homeless man.  I told Ally that we needed to go around the corner to an ATM so that I could get him some money.  She sobbed, “No!  No!  We are going home.  We are getting out of here!  How much fucking money does he want?”  I explained to her that I only had $5 in cash at the moment and she began rummaging through her wallet and throwing all of her cash across the driver’s seat screaming, “Here!  Take all of it, you bitch!”  I took a $20 bill and handed it to the homeless man simultaneously apologizing and thanking him profusely.  I shook hands with the non-homeless man.  We left.

When we got back to my apartment, I gave her my keys and told her that I was going to bring my bike inside because it looked like it was going to rain.  In actuality, I just needed time to breathe and clear my head.  When I walked up to my apartment a few minutes later, I stood outside the door and was able to overhear her on the phone with her mother describing how “poor” I was, how I live in an area of Philadelphia much like East L.A., and how I told the non-homeless guy that I live near North Star bar and so now he is going to come rape us.

She hung up the phone when I came into the apartment and told me that she was leaving in the morning.  She changed her flight and all that I needed to do was drive her to the airport.  I conceded.  She said that she hoped that I wasn’t offended.  I told her that it was impossible for me not to be offended by the way that she treated me and openly looked down on my lifestyle.  What did she expect?  She said that she felt like her life was in danger.  I told her that she was acting absurd.  She said, “And, if I am this unsafe in Philadelphia, then I can only imagine how unsafe I will be in New York City.  And like, how are we going to get around in New York?”  I tilted my head to the side, puzzled, and said, “The subway.”  She burst into tears and said, “See!  I knew that I couldn’t trust you!”

Our car ride to the airport at 5 am was silent, but a little less awkward than the hours preceding where we slept next to one another in my double bed.  When we got there, I hugged her and I told her that I was sorry that it did not work out but that I hoped we could still have some sort of amicable relationship.  She agreed.

At 8:30 am, I received a phone call from a strange number.  My first thought was that something happened to Ally and that she needed my help.  I picked up.  It was her mother.  As soon as I said “hello” she began screaming that Ally’s flight was delayed so she was all alone in the Philadelphia airport.  Everything was my fault because I did not accommodate enough for her daughter.  I did not bend to her will.  I did not assure that she had a fun time.  In my head as she yelled, I thought, “I can’t change the entire city of Philadelphia to be less poor, cleaner, and demographically more white.”  Still irate and not taking a breath for air, her mother then told me that I lived like an animal.  Just before I hung up, she screamed, “And you let a black person change your tire!”

BANG and the D.I.O. Spirit
Then Alley

Dear Nort and Jort,
Love Nora and Jules

Dear Dagmar,
Love Becket

Dear Stonehenge,
Love Anna

Dear Richard,
Love Lissa

Dear Gordon,
Love Emily