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42nd Street Hasn't Been The Same

A story about mid-town Manhattan.

I’m at Chez Josephine in Hell’s Kitchen knocking back a gimlet of gin. Chez Josephine is by far my favorite restaurant in all of Manhattan. It’s an ode to Josephine Baker the American-born, French provocateur, resistance agent, and civil rights activist. (She was the first Black woman to star in a major motion picture, 1927’s Siren Of The Tropics).

I’ve been going to Chez Josephine since I was in the womb (it opened the year I was born). The late owner, Jean Claude Baker (one of Josephine’s many adopted children) used to come stay with our family in the Hamptons back in the early ’90s. I know that sounds like a glamorous flex, but its glamour is dwindled by the fact that he would always recall the time I (allegedly) pooped in the pool as a toddler. He was the first, fabulously snarky New York City Queen I ever met.

The late Jean-Claude Baker, the legend.

It’s not the same at Chez Josephine without him (42nd street’s never been the same without him) but I still go because there’s no place like it. It’s the last of its kind in this town. Red velvet curtains. Live piano. Paintings of Josephine Baker everywhere. Low-hanging chandeliers that grace the top of your head if you’re wearing big heels. Royal blue patterned wallpaper and exposed brick and lots of gold. Snails seeped in butter. Characters. Like real, one-of-a-f*cking-kind-only-in-New-York’s-theatre-district kind of characters. Eccentrics have been gathering at Chez Josephine for decades.

The iconic entrance.

It’s my first time at Chez Josephine since the pandemic and it’s eerily quiet. I mean, it’s a theatre place and Broadway’s been dark for over six months. Meghan and our friend Lyle, a tall, handsome gay man who wears salmon pink shoes and has hair the color of the beach are the only people there.

“This is so depressing,” Meghan says.

“I know,” Lyle says back, looking into the still sea of empty tables.

“No, it’s not! It’s beautiful! We’re in New York! We’re at Chez Josephine! COME ON!” I belt like I’m in a musical because I’ve been denying everyone’s experiences lately. I’m extremely manic about New York right now. After spending the summer in the wildly-humid, conservative, covid-denying state of Florida, I’ve developed this very real fear that someone is going to snatch me out of Manhattan and force me to live inside of a MAGA rally in rural America. Meghan has endlessly assured me she’s not going to pry me out of New York anytime soon, but for whatever reason, I don’t trust her. I feel like she’s secretly plotting a move to Westchester behind my back. And anytime she complains about the fragile state of the city amidst this harrowing pandemic, I break into a toxically positive monologue about how New York is having a rebirth and we can’t neglect our city in her darkest hour and there’s still an energy here like NOWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD.

Which I believe. And want everyone else to believe. So I am being very controlling about everyone’s personal thoughts and feelings about the new New York.

Meghan and Lyle change the subject because they don’t feel like getting a frantic earful from me, I guess. They start talking real estate. I interrupt them several times to remind them that it is a "buyer’s market" in New York. They ignore me which makes me feel like the kid sister who no one takes seriously. I slug back my gin gimlet and eat the cold cucumbers that adorn the glass’s edge. I think the cucumbers are for show but I always find myself eating the accouterments. I’ve definitely accidentally consumed a piece of a flower that was floating inside a fancy martini before.

I never drink gin. I vomited from too many Tanqueray & Tonics when I was sixteen and since then, I can’t even look at a bottle of tonic water without dry heaving. And the smell of gin takes me right back to sixteen, hugging a toilet bowl in low-rise jeans (nothing is more demoralizing than hugging a toilet bowl in jeans that have a three-inch zipper).

But I do drink “Josephine’s Gimlet” at Chez Josephine, despite the gin because I’m festive and sentimental and it was supposedly Josephine Baker’s drink of choice. I’m not sure what’s in it but it tastes like lemonade with an unexpected throat punch.

I’m on a new medication called Trintellex (which totally sounds like a diet pill from the 90s) and really shouldn’t be drinking. I know better than to drink something as unpredictable as gin when I’m only a few days into a new psychotropic drug. I know this. But lately, I’ve been actively making terrible decisions about my darling mental health. I’ve been getting up at 8 AM which always depresses me. I’m a much happier and more stable woman when I’m awake at 5 AM. I like myself much better when I’m a happy and stable woman, but I’ve been sort of rebelling against my quality of life. It’s not just the early morning slip-up, I’ve been inconsistent about my morning routine. People who have depression need to be diligent about things like morning routines. I haven’t been writing gratitude lists and meditating and praying and all the other gay shit I do to keep my head above water. (I’m gay as fuck, so don’t @ me for using gay as a slur. ‘Till you’ve had your ass handed to you in school by a group of terrifying blondes for being a “dyke” you don’t get to police my language, sweetie ).

Side Note: I’ve also been doing “bad” things like relying on Ambien to sleep, but, like is that so bad? I do have very real insomnia. But I Ambien shame myself every time I take it, which is often. “Chemical sleep is better than no sleep,” my doctor told me recently when I asked him if it was bad to take Ambien every day. I just feel like I could crack the code of insomnia holistically if I were a better and stronger person. Do you ever feel at your core like you’re failing at life and just like constantly berate yourself for not being a perfect gluten-free vegan yoga wellness guru? Even though you, like, know those girls probably take Ambien too and it’s all a glimmery facade but you still feel ashamed and sad that you’re not, like, perfect? I guess that’s depression? Or maybe it’s anxiety? Or maybe it’s just generational shame. A product of being a player in the Instagram game.

Anyway, throughout the night, I have three gimlets and a glass of champagne and half of Meghan’s glass of champagne. Lyle leaves us to go to Carbone, which is like, only the trendiest Italian place in all of New York, and unlike most trendy places, it’s not overrated. I would have a threesome with Ivanka and Jared for a bite of that pasta, and I can’t think of people I’m less attracted to than Ivanka and Jared. (Except for you know who).

Meghan is completely, annoyingly sober, and super smug about it.

“I have a big day tomorrow.” She says, grabbing my hand as we walk down 42nd street, the street that’s never been the same since the passing of Jean Claude Baker. I’m whining about how I want to stay out and go somewhere else because I’m forever 22.

“I have a big day too. You’re not the only one who workths.” I slur. That’s the other thing. I’ve been crazy defensive about my work ethic lately. Which is weird because no one has been questioning it. Except for myself and that’s nothing new. I’ve been livid with myself for not working hard enough since I was fourteen. I feel proud when I get sick from overwork because that proves that I’m *actually* doing “enough.” If it doesn’t make me ill, I clearly haven’t pushed myself. I don’t know who to blame for this one because I’ve felt this way since before the #girlboss hashtag took over Instagram and turned young women everywhere into raging workaholics who feel they’ve failed unless they’ve started and sold a six-figure business before 30. I’ve felt this way long before Instagram existed.

We go back to the apartment and I pour myself a glass of wine and take the dogs for a walk. It doesn’t dawn on me that I’m walking the dogs with a glass of wine. My best friend Eduardo and I always make fun of this older woman we know who walks her dogs with a bottle of wine. She literally takes massive slurps right out of the bottle on her nightly dog walk.

“Talk about a drinking problem.” We sneer when we see her.

Am I the old woman who drinks wine on dog walks now? Sigh. I wanted to be the next Glennon Doyle.

Amazing how quickly the gold turns to dust.

When I get back into the apartment Meghan is wearing my green silk pajamas and I know that’s a bad sign. When lesbians start sharing pajamas they stop having sex. They morph into the same person. They start speaking in the same cadence. They bloat and relocate to North Hampton, Massachusetts. Where they collect wind chimes and stray cats and grow easily offended and wear lots of fleece. They don’t have children, just animals, and gay men snicker about the wiry hairs growing out of the moles on their faces behind their backs. They forget about the days when they lived in Manhattan, wore heels, got botox and went to fabulous restaurants like Chez Josephine. Your life can go sour very quickly. One day she’s wearing your pajamas and the next day you’re calling the cops on the high school party down the road. Shudder.

“Let’s call my mom!” I say too-cheerily because I am on new medication and drunk, so my emotions keep dramatically seesawing between hopeless depression and delusional joy.

It’s my mother’s birthday. We FaceTime her and I tell her way too much as I’m inclined to do after a few too many drinks. I’m telling her about how I want to have a kid soon. I’m telling her about how we’re going to try using the pop dildo to impregnate me (you have to read this piece I wrote about it, it’s pretty amazing. The dildo, not the piece), I’m showing her the art in the apartment and swishing around a glass of wine as I do my best Selling Sunset impersonation. My dog Bowie detests when I’m buzzed (he’s a rescue and clearly has trauma) and snaps at me. He doesn’t have teeth so it doesn’t hurt physically, but my ego certainly feels the bite. Eventually, I relieve my mother from my rambles about childbirth and fall asleep. In my makeup! You want to feel shame babe? Write a book called GIRL, STOP PASSING OUT IN YOUR MAKEUP, and then proceed to sleep in your actual makeup at least twice a month. Write a self-help book about how utterly important it is to feel your feelings and then try to control your partner’s feelings about a global pandemic. Order pasta and gleefully eat it and then shame spiral about how reckless your eating habits are and then shame-spiral for shame-spiraling about something so empty and vacant and culturally-damaging. Become an internet writer and then get addicted to the dopamine that floods your brain every time your finger presses “publish” on a new piece and then feel dead inside, like your life has is void of meaning. Talk to your mother about strap-on dildos that can impregnate you after drinking too much gin.

Anyway this morning I felt very bad about myself. But I’m so sick of feeling bad about myself. It’s so…boring. And I live in the most interesting place in the world, during a very interesting moment in world history, so it’s really silly for me to be bored. I should be manifesting my career as the next Glennon Doyle not beating myself up for getting a little sparkly in the eyes last night.

This is why I think Lana Del Rey my higher-power has just appeared at my door. She’s wearing heart-shaped sunnies and cut-off jeans and her hair has been freshly dyed blonde. I can smell the bleach.

“Bitch, get over it. We have poems to write.” She’s smiling which we all know is rare so I have no choice but to finish this piece and join her.

My debut book GIRL, STOP PASSING OUT IN YOUR MAKEUP: THE BAD GIRL’S GUIDE TO GETTING YOUR SH*T TOGETHER is available NOW on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and BAM! If you send me a screenshot of your order, I’ll send you swag!


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