In these scary times, I try to remember the exercises we did as young actors to control the anxiety, to keep us in the here-and-now. I plant my feet beneath my hips, breathe from deep in my diaphragm, picture a string holding the top of my head. It helps, it does, but face it––I’m not always good at staying in the present. That nostalgic music blaring from the micro-speakers on every stretch of sidewalk doesn’t help, either. This morning it drifts the twelve stories up to my balcony: too far to make out the melody, close enough to feel the disco beat. The eighties. I shiver.
I heard disco on every sidewalk in the eighties too, but back then it came from boom boxes as big as cartoon cavemen’s clubs. The scene comes to me unbidden: a Sunday morning in spring. Two guys outside our first-floor windows, both wearing wife-beaters, hauling around competing boom boxes, one blaring “Stayin’ Alive,” the other “I Will Survive.” That Sunday, even dissonant disco seemed like the fanciful background score for a movie musical. Crocuses were popping, dogwoods budding: in the bright light, moving to the bright beat, we laughed out loud. Spring in New York redeems everything. We thought we’d hurry the warm weather along by shopping for patio furniture.
Those were the days we thought we controlled the very seasons.
We drove to Manhattan, where Jean-Paul stood in Conran’s surveying the wares as if he were surveying his estate holdings: metal chairs painted blue, red-and-white striped cushions, yolk-yellow umbrellas. He wore a look of such beneficent pleasure that I felt myself grinning. I hated shopping, but when it made Jean-Paul happy, that was enough to make me happy too. In the eighties, we shopped every weekend, all three kids along for the ride, bribed into a trip to Manhattan with the promise of John’s Pizza or the Museum of Natural History or the Central Park Zoo.
We lived in Brooklyn: we’d rented for years in a neighborhood that was pretty funky when we moved in. By the eighties, though, it was crawling with yuppies. I couldn’t bear the thought that we might have turned into yuppies too. It was true we’d finally scraped together enough cash for the down payment on a fancy schmancy apartment, but we picked it up cheap during all the foreclosures. It didn’t look cheap: it was a two-story, five-room slice of renovated mansion our children called The Castle. Back in the days of the Robber Barons, our gonzo living room had been the ballroom, so grand my cheeks flamed orange when friends saw it for the first time. We still had the original chandelier, big and gaudy as the disco ball at Danceteria, where Jean-Paul entertained the latter-day Robber Barons who were his clients now. We had fifteen-foot ceilings and a spiral staircase. We even had a patio, though that morning it was bare.
We meant, that Sunday, to cover our patio with primary-color furniture. A year before, Jean-Paul had made partner—okay, it was only a ten-person agency with five partners, but still, they were hot in the eighties. Jean-Paul was the liaison to production companies because he knew how to talk to directors and producers. At first I thought it would kill him, this admission that our acting days were over for good, but the fast-talkers he worked with convinced him that their boutique agency was not just creative but avant-garde. “Avant-garde corporate clients,” I said. “Civilization advances.”
Those were the days of 18 percent interest, but with Jean-Paul’s promotion we had all the credit we needed. He convinced me that it was fine to load up the charge cards, that it was cheaper to buy now than in six months when stores jacked up prices again. We didn’t have to pay a nanny the way everybody else in the building did. The first time I heard anybody say nanny was in the eighties, and I giggled at the Mary Poppins sound of it. Soon I spent more time with those nannies than I did other mothers, and usually I liked them better too.