The Kathy Club
The Kathy Club Sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time. Sometimes you get lucky. Twenty-five years ago my parents were searching for the perfect pumpkin and found it on the North Fork of Long Island. They ended up with a pumpkin and a house. My parents found their house the same way I found my rent-stabilized apartment on Central Park West. Serendipity. Right place, right time. The same spirit that guided my parents to the North Fork and landed me on Central Park West must have been present the Wednesday night we found our way to the beach, and ultimately took our places in the Kathy Club. These days the feel of an old pair of flip-flops, the smell of roasted corn or Coppertone soaked towels are sparks from the past that take me back to those magical summer nights. Suddenly, there’s hope, there’s comfort, there’s faith, there’s joy. I wake up in my apartment and walk over to the closet, a narrow, long cavern, stretching back the length of the room. The rods hang one in front of the other with the clothes filing themselves chronologically, the oldest and least worn gradually drifting to the back over time. It’s my own personal timeline, a holding cell for past memories and expectations for the future. The first rod holds an array of suits and dresses hovering above an orderly row of high-heels desperate for more frequent outings. I’ve really come to hate that first rod. I face it with a cold determination, cringing at the sight of the heels that will tear off the backs of my feet and leave me limping home. I crawl to the back of the closet, through the years of clothes, past college galas, weddings, funerals, good dates, bad dates, good friends, bad friends, and grab the best pair of flip-flops I will ever own. They wait patiently in the dark abyss with my bathing suits, board shorts and sweatshirts that will forever smell of bonfire. I put them on and walk out of my apartment and on to the beach. Most nights it was a small group – three or four women and their daughters: Kathy, Kathy, Kitty, Kathleen, and us. I don’t even remember how it began. It just happened, every Wednesday evening in the summer. The sails charging across the bay were beautiful, but were really just part of the scenery, sharing space with the clouds, the white caps, the orange and red streaks across the sky. Blankets and chairs assume their places in the sand as barbecued wings, ribs, and Harbes corn are passed around. The horn blows loudly to start the race and I am jolted back to Columbus Circle and shoved with my fellow travelers down into the subway station. I’m convinced I could just stand perfectly still outside my apartment building and successfully get bumped along to some random destination, wherever the crowd decided to take me that day. Instead, I fight the tide. I take my seat on the subway near a group of giggling young girls and return to the beach. Everyone is laughing. We were always laughing. A topless woman makes her way across the beach as the sun begins to set, hardly expecting to encounter a modern day Ya Ya Sisterhood. Kathleen spots her, carefully digs her wineglass into the sand (no need to make it a full blown disaster), and springs into action. Now, we’re really laughing. She adjusts her Bermuda shorts and floral blouse and chases the woman down the beach. “Does this look like France to you?” she yells. Well, if it did, it doesn’t anymore. The woman makes a run for it. What else is she going to do? Kathleen returns, plucks her wine from the sand, and shakes her head, “Some nerve.” Wine on the beach is one thing – nudity, no sir! Our makeshift living room is sent flying into the air as a hot gust of wind blows. It fills the subway car and follows me to the street, where it pushes past me. Does everything have to push me here? I assume it too has somewhere it needs to be. I check my surroundings. I’m constantly lost, in more ways than one. In my defense, I’m never going to the same location and never know what will happen when I get there. I think I have the whole city fooled though. I wear the right clothes, have the right bag, and walk with confidence down the city streets right into a cloud of steam rising from the subway grates and across the bay. It descends on the beach as night falls. The boats are lost to us. We can only hear the clanking of the lines against masts, the flapping of sails, and the sailors muffled voices in the distance. There is obviously only one solution – line up all the cars and shine the headlights out to sea. “Help is on the way!” Thank God for us. We congratulate one another on a job well done, but are interrupted by the crashing of hulls and the unmistakable displeasure of the sailors, who are now not only blinded by the fog, but high beams as well. Miraculously, the fog lifts. The boats recover and fly their spinnakers as they round Robins Island. We race to the jetty to wave them in. I kick my flip-flops off to better scale the rocks and shimmy my feet into nude leather pumps. I slide the flip-flops into my bag. I miss them already. The secretary notices the shoe switch. I smile. She doesn’t. “She’ll see you shortly,” she tells me. This part is the worst. Now I just get to sit here and clam up. People shuffle past me through security as I sit on a couch specifically reserved for this exercise in torture. They glance over. They know what I’m doing here. They know what the couch means. I drift to a safer place as I wait. The sailboats moor and the sailors also drift to a safer place – the bar. We’re still on the beach. It’s freezing. Nothing is as you would expect. The air is cold and the water is warm. Kaylyn and I swim in the darkness and refuse to leave the bay’s warmth. We make some half-hearted attempts, wading out of the water and immediately diving back in. “Elizabeth,” the secretary yells, forcing me to finally leave the comfort of the bay. She points me towards a row of elevators. “Human Resources – fifteenth floor.” I ride the elevator. I hate elevators. Most people hate riding them with people. I hate riding them alone. If I get stuck, I’d at least like to know there’s someone to talk to. The elevator doors open and a woman greets me. She reaches out her hand. “Please, call me Kathleen.” And, just like that, in that moment, everything is ok. The Kathy Club was hardly exclusive. A coffee cake or ice pops would easily gain you admittance for the night. And for that Wednesday, you were one of us. We all had stories and they were great stories. Everyone listened. We were all given equal time. There were no games, no political correctness, no sidestepping or dancing around the truth. No one was embarrassed or felt foolish. We were ourselves. We ate and laughed and sometimes we even watched the race. Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time. Sometimes you’re not. And when you’re not, it helps to remember all the times you were. They say you can’t go home again. Well, you can, if you have a long enough closet. I’ve hung my memories up, but I air them out when I need them. So if you spot me in the city and I look a little lost, I’m probably at the beach and it’s probably Wednesday night.