I was twenty-two and irreverent. I was working as a store manager for a jewelry designer in the West Village. She owned two shops that were across the street from one another on Greenwich Avenue. The designer and I had a close relationship, and after I’d pretended to be earnest and responsible for one year, she hired my best friend to be my right-hand woman. When Samantha was hired, my boss bumped me to the store that sold gold jewelry and diamonds and Samantha took my place at the shop that carried silver jewelry. We were often alone in our respective stores, and since my boss was very cautious, and owned two pit bulls, she left one in each store for protection. Their names were Phoebe and Bruno. We were scared shitless of them.
Our boss had recently invested in expensive (she was always telling us how much she was spending on things — she once threatened to fire one of us if we didn’t cut back on our use of the printer paper) Walkie-Talkies for the employees to use in emergencies and for safety. Samantha and I excitedly abused the privilege and often talked on them for six out of the eight hour day. We’d stand across the street from each other smoking cigarettes, singing, talking, joking on our Walkie-Talkies. We were constantly hanging out on the sidewalk and became somewhat of a spectacle to the employees that worked in the neighboring stores.
We had one other way that we amused each other: surveys. We wrote each other surveys with funny titles and emailed them to each other. The questions were totally random, from: “What’s your favorite way to eat an Oreo?” to “How many times have you had anal sex? Honestly?” Since we had free access to printers, we started printing out the questions. After work, we brought them in bulk to bars and handed them out to strangers. They were a hit. We often had groups of people around us, saying, “Can I have one?” “What are these for?” “What do you do with the information?” “Do you work for the L Magazine?” We were very entertained at bars this way, and met a lot of people we otherwise wouldn’t have.
Samantha and I were pretty horrendous at our jobs at the jewelry store, considering the surveys, the hangovers, and the Walkie-Talkies. One night we were so drunk that we snuck in and slept on the floor, using a coat as a blanket. Another night we wanted to go out for drinks but didn’t have much money because we were waiting for our paychecks to clear through direct deposit. We had a plan: Go to the bar anyway and drink until midnight. At midnight our paychecks would be in our accounts and we would pay with our debit cards. We drank from eight until midnight. No paychecks. Both cards declined. We went back to the jewelry store, unlocked it, pushed the gate up, and set the alarm off. The alarm company called and asked me the password. “Pearls,” I said. We then unlocked the petty cash box and took money out of it to cover our fifty-dollar tab. Another time we decided we wanted to dance like Aaliyah. We went to American Apparel and purchased ribbed tank tops, then to the Levi store, where we bought the same baggy “boyfriend” jeans. We stayed after work each night blasting “Are You That Somebody,” trying to imitate the dance.
That spring we were on a terrific and terrifying bender. We drank often and with purpose, like many young girls in New York City. Manhattan was our playground and Brooklyn was where we slept. One night at a house party we put a fifth of Bacardi White Rum into our backpacks. We carried it with us for the following week.
I mention the rum because I have a feeling it may have contributed to the actions that followed. One Sunday at the jewelry store, our boss left early. We decided to start drinking some rum out of coffee cups. This was risky as there were cameras in both stores that our boss sometimes watched. But we were high on each other and didn’t really care. We closed the shops at six p.m., so at four p.m. we began to get drunk.
I was on the computer a lot at work, because I didn’t have one at home, and I was enthralled by Facebook and Myspace. I began looking at Craigslist and reading the ads out-loud over the Walkie-Talkie to Samantha. I told Samantha we should post a Craigslist ad and ask guys to take us out to dinner because we were craving meat but couldn’t afford it. A couple minutes later, she read me what she wrote:
Steak and Scotch
Hey sexy bros, who wants to buy some prime bitches some prime meat and drink obscene amounts of liquor? Let’s kick it. P.s. We’re psycho in a fun way and we want to give you surveys.
We received a large amount of responses. After emailing back and forth with some guys, we decided that the man who seemed the most accommodating and safe was Adam Collins. He lived in Chelsea, claimed he had weed and liquor, and said that if we were “for real” we could come over. He lived on West 23rd Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues. We also made plans with two other guys that we would meet after Adam, and some others later in the week. We wrote a survey that we titled “Steak Frenzy Survey” and printed out a few copies.
We walked to Chelsea — we pretty much leapt to Chelsea. We were beyond giddy. It was spring in New York, with blossoms on the trees and finally, it was bright light out at 6 o’ clock. It was energizing. We knew we were getting some scotch out of the deal, but Adam hadn’t mentioned anything about steak. We were reckless and naïve and dumb enough to not concoct a concrete plan for if Adam Collins was a psycho killer. I think I said something as stupid as, “Dude, if you feel weird, like, look at me or something, and we’ll leave.”
Adam lived in a condominium. We took the elevator up to the eighth floor. We knocked, giggling. Adam answered the door. He looked at us. “How old are you guys?” We were both wearing jeans and V-neck T-shirts from American Apparel. I had on a black and white trucker hat and Samantha wore a hat made entirely out of light brown fur with long ears that came down past her shoulders. We both carried backpacks. We had on gobs of jewelry that we wore out of the store. We didn’t exactly look sexy — but we were young.
“We know we look really young. But we’re twenty-two and nineteen,” I said.
Adam was forty-three with brown hair, brown eyes, and nice body. He let us in. It was a bachelor’s place, with leather couches and music equipment everywhere. He was a jazz musician.
We sat on Adam’s couch and he packed a bong with weed. Samantha and I were totally aggressive and hyper even after we smoked. We asked him our survey questions and I jotted down his answers. Adam went to the kitchen to grab some orange juice and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. His cell phone rang and he answered. We heard him say, “Dude, this is funny. I’m looking for a date on Craigslist and I have the census bureau after me.” We drank his pint of Jack with him, shot after shot and swigging orange juice as a chaser.
I went to the bathroom at some point and I remember the utter shock when I saw the bathtub. It almost paralyzed me. It was so filthy that it was black. A completely black bathtub. Even he knew it was strange, and when I came out of the bathroom he apologized for it. He obviously hadn’t had any females over in a long time.
Adam said he was going to invite some friends over and that we should stay and hang out. Samantha and I looked at each other. We told Adam that we had to get on with our next venture. We told him that maybe we would come back later. On the way down the elevator, Samantha said, “I was thinking how funny it would have been if I’d gone to the bathroom and came out naked.” I laughed and agreed. For some reason I’d been thinking about what it would have been like to have sex with Adam Collins too.
We walked to the East Village to meet a guy whose name I forget. As we walked the stairs to his apartment I had a funny feeling. I looked at Samantha. Samantha looked at me. “I feel like we’ve been here before,” she said. We had been there before. When the guy answered the door, we said, “Hey! We know you!” Through a mutual friend we’d actually been at that same exact apartment with that same exact guy months earlier for a party. We hung out with him, smoked more weed, gave him the steak survey, and when he went to the fire escape to smoke a cigarette we chugged some gin that he had in his kitchen. And we were off.
Finally, we met the guy who would actually buy us some steaks. We met him in the West Village at a restaurant called Fiddlesticks. This was perfect because I was a hungry mess by this time. I was sobbing and obsessing over my lover’s ex-girlfriend and I was preoccupied with my phone and I became very dark and not fun to be around. The guy who was buying us steaks and French fries and Johnnie Walker Red was from California and moved to New York the year before but was having a hard time meeting people. And that’s all I remember about him. Samantha took over and saved the day. I don’t remember getting home that night, but in the morning I woke up with the Californian’s survey answers in my purse.
What is the most ultimate steak experience you’ve ever had?
Wow, I really like Outback. I’ve actually gone here in Manhattan a couple of times even though there are so many awesome local non-chain restaurants. I had an awesome steak at Blue Ribbon Bistro where my buddy works. Worth the $35.00+ I paid. I had an amazing steak once that was soaked in JD and grilled over an open flame while I was a young Marine. God bless the troops!
How would you feel about incorporating steak into your sex life?
Never have, but thanks for the idea. Kind of makes me think about Hannibal Lector from “Silence of the Lambs” though. Not very sexy.
Have you ever watched porn while eating steak?
Not yet. This survey is full of useful ideas.
Why or why not?
Guess I never had the visionary power! You gotta have the vision Man!
A couple of days later, we were still on our rum and Craigslist kick. I was at work and began talking to my mother on Gchat. I made the mistake of telling my mom what I was up to, while Samantha read over my shoulder. Maybe it was a cry for help. I told her that I was addicted to CL, and she said, what’s CL? Craigslist, I said. OMG, she responded. Who/what/where? I explained that Samantha and I were going to men’s apartments to see what they looked like and that we were bringing surveys. My mother seemed intrigued for a few minutes, saying “OMG” and “You freak!” but I could almost feel when she turned on me. Samantha and I stared at the little Gchat window where it said, “Michele is typing…” Finally we heard the familiar ding.
“Not safe,” she wrote. Then she added: “At all.” Samantha and I pretty much fell over laughing. It was so simple yet profoundly true. I knew this, but I argued with my mother anyway. I told her that people do it every day alone and that Samantha and I were doing it together. I told her it was fascinating. I told her that if we get a weird vibe we run away. Her response:
“You don’t know enough stories of women murdered in NYC. You always think you are safe, but you are not in a public place, and you have no idea who this person is or who he told to come over before you get there. I know you think this is just “mom talk,” but it’s not. What you are doing is risky behavior and someday you won’t be able to run away. Knives and guns have a lot of power, and you will do what the person wants. But I know I cannot stop you, you will do what you want, but you should try to get your kicks in a safer way, is my opinion.
“I know,” I told her. Then she continued.
“And if you are going to these men’s apartments, they think you are loose and not smart so they have ideas of taking advantage of you.”
I told her yes, maybe, but, it’s under the strictly platonic section. I told her that I tell the guys before I get there that I am just coming to conduct a survey.
“Well, good luck, but those are words. Do a survey, it’s great fun and art or whatever. But I bet most artists don’t visit unknown strangers in a strange an unknown environment.”
I don’t know if it was my mother’s words or if I coincidentally lost interest, but I did stop shortly after that conversation.
I still get emails from Adam Collins periodically. We were going to meet up again but for some reason or another it never worked out. Now I only get emails because I guess he added me to his mass email newsletter group. When he has a new CD out, or is playing a jazz show somewhere, I am notified. I’m sort of in love with him since he didn’t knife, shoot, or rape us.
A couple months later, in the summer, I was apartment-sitting at a friend’s place in the East Village. One morning Samantha and I were sitting on the stairs outside. We watched a man try to go into the printing shop across the street, only to find it was locked. He turned around and saw us. He walked over and said, “Hey — it’s you guys!” Samantha greeted him enthusiastically, saying “Oh my god, Hey!” I was dumbfounded for more than a few minutes, while they spoke, amiably. Finally I looked at Samantha and whispered, “Who is he?”
“I’m the steak and scotch guy!” he announced. He threw his hands up in the air, exasperated. “Come on… I bought you a steak and French fries and you don’t even remember me?”
He had a point. He could have been anyone. Someone I slept with or someone I worked for. In my brain he morphed into all different kinds of men: A rapist, a sadist, a religious nut, an asshole, a nice guy. But I had no idea what kind of man this was, even though I’d eaten a steak dinner with him. He’d seen me cry. Not safe. At all. The words rang in my ear. My mother was right.
We all laughed and went across the street for coffee. I had my guard up the whole time.
Chloe Caldwell’s novella, Women, is out now from Short Flight/Long Drive books and is this month’s Emily Book. Her book of personal essays, Legs Get Led Astray was released in 2012 by Future Tense Books. Her essays have been published in Salon, The Rumpus, Thought Catalog, and various anthologies. She lives in upstate New York.