Returning to The Beau

I'll never forget that July, when I was at least fourteen or fifteen years old,  my sister, father and I put on our bathing suits and took the elevator down to the Beau Rivage pool. The towel girl sighed, "it'll be open in three hours. Someone pooped in the pool and we're loading it with chlorine to clean it." My father looked at the tableau: grecian style pillars surrounded the pool chairs with bright blue awnings and everyone was tanning and reading magazines. 

"We'll wait," my dad said. We took three pool chairs in the sun. The Gulf Coast humidity was stifling and the sun started to fry us slowly. We lifted the flag on the back of our chair to summon three Shirley Temple's with little red umbrellas. I flipped through an issue of J-14 magazine or Seventeen. 

From far away I noticed a man -- tall, over-tanned, perhaps in his early 40s -- approaching the pool area. He bypassed the towel stand. The attendant was mid-sentence and tried to stop him but he kept going. He took off his white t-shirt and tossed it on a chair and dove gracefully in the pool. Everyone gasped collectively. An elderly woman in a polka-dotted one piece got up from her chair, a magazine dangling in her other hand, high-heeled flip flop shoes. When the man finished his lap she ran to the edge of the pool and began whispering in his ear. He looked around, his face turning red. 

"Oh that's why the pool is empty!" he said. "I thought you were all waiting on me." The silence that had already existed poolside now felt more pronounced. 

"Yuck," said dad. "Let's hope he's having a shower." 

#

I went to Alabama in 2017 for the Christmas Holiday. The plan for the day: dinner at home and then a trip to the casino. This was tradition on my trips back home visit my parents. The only question was which casino?

"Let's go to The Beau," father said, referencing the Beau Rivage by its casual nickname. I spent many weekends there in my preteen years, 19 years ago. It had such a high honor in my memories and I could count off my stories in a list: the one long lunch when mother sent back a dish and the chef came out to see who insulted his "seafood sampler"; the evening we walked from the casino along the beach for dinner and my sister had her first soft shell crab. The pool in all its Grecian-style glory! It was four feet deep all the way around, perfect for kids like us. The rooms were to die for -- floral bedspreads in a provincial style and the bathroom had a yellow and cream stripped wall paper that I adored and a separate room for a shower (which I thought was rather fancy at the time). 

Then, like much of the Mississippi coast, Katrina destroyed it. It was rebuilt, but by that time we'd moved on from Biloxi vacations to visiting New York City instead. 

"No one wins at the Beau," my mother said last winter. ROI was a major factor in picking a casino. For Biloxi casino's, ROI was basically determined through anecdotal word-of-mouth.

"You won $500 once, I think," I said. 

"When? I don't remember it." 

"The night you left us in the room and went to the casino. We danced around the room and played the radio. You called us from the lobby to check on us. You said you'd won some money."

"I left you alone?"

"We loved it.  We were so happy we didn't know what to do first." 

That night was the first time we got a taste of an adult-free world. My sister and I were the children of close range helicopter parents who only loosened their leash in hotels. We relished small things like walking to the ice machine alone. So being in a hotel room alone was a big moment. 

"I must have gone crazy," mom said as she remembered it.

Dad stood up and stretched. It had been decided. "Lets go to the Beau." 

At sundown we drove west. I was nervous. I didn't want to see the Beau Rivage through my jaded, adult eyes. I wanted to always remember it the way that I remembered it as a preteen: a beautiful, lush place that transported me from the Redneck Riviera to the south of France. I never thought I'd go anywhere equally as majestic. 

But now, you see, I've travelled. I know that on the matrix of beautiful world locations, The Beau is in the cross section of "beautiful in comparison to its surroundings" but also adjacent to “corporate” and “gauche”.

After forty-five minutes of driving a curving off-ramp dropped us right at the entrance. By god -- I craned my head out the window of the car to look up -- it hadn't changed. 

We rode the elevator to the lobby and I couldn't stop pointing to make note of a memory in a specific spot then suddenly doubting myself, Finger to my chin: “was this the spot where? Well, no, maybe it was over there instead?” The ice cream shop still sits in it's corner (we had a magical night once having ice cream on the front porch in the evening). They used to pump the same Jessica Simpson song through the loud speakers and pause it to play the theme song to their resident entertainers: Cirque du Soleil. Now? Top 40 and smooth jazz. I admired the flower boxes on the floor, a design maneuver meant to bottleneck crowds from one spot and squeeze them out into the casino. They always irked my father. Once he pulled over a bell hop and said: “can’t you do anything about the flower boxes?” And the man shrugged. “I’m giving you an idea so you can get a promotion!” he joked.

I beelined past the poker tables to the ATM. There was a delicate little Japanese restaurant with tatami floors and bamboo walls that we adored was replaced by a sports bar. "Shame, ain't it," dad remarked. Must everything change? 

I put $100 in our favorite machine. I sucked in the familiar smell of cigarette smoke and the beep-beep-cha-ching of the neighboring players. Every time I made a play on a slot machine a jolt of excitement and suspense filled my body and disappears instantly when I lose. My mother and I kept losing so we moved to a cheap machine then back to the $1 machines and lost my father somewhere. Hours went by.

Defeated we dragged our feet to the gift shops. I think at some point in my adolescence I had a Beau Rivage mug. Where did it go?

We decided to go home, but we were all stalling by the entrance, trying to think of something else to do. It was like the last night in a new city, no one wants to go to bed because then the trip is officially over. We hit the road again and crossed all the bridges I knew well. No, things are never as magical as they are when we are children. The more we leave home, the more adulthood makes snobs of us. 

The Weeklies: March 3 - 9

Last Sunday afternoon I took the train two stops to a coffee spot in Brooklyn to meet another new friend from Vina, Julia. There was a sunny nook at the front section, she got a tea and I got a latte. We talked until 2 pm, and she said: "there's supposed to be a snow storm tomorrow." I was skeptical, but she was right. My office closed on Monday for the snow day. I worked from the sofa and the window seat and the dining room table. A busy week was upon me; it was nice to have an easy day.

The rest of the week unfolded in a series of surprises. I knew that I would be at the doctors office on Wednesday, a gala on Thursday, dinner out on Saturday. But none of those things went exactly to plan. 

Tuesday night I found myself at the Westfield shopping center. For the non-New Yorkers, it's a beautiful shopping pavilion adjacent to the old World Trade Center site, but filled with high end stores. I was in need of a dress for Thursday night's gala. I'd purchased something plaid and matronly over the summer that I suddenly hated. I went into three stores empty handed, then shuffled into Smythson, my happy place. 

"Do you have the bordered correspondence cards?" I asked the shop keeper. It felt especially good to know what I was looking for and ask for it confidently, as opposed to circling the floor at Cos, sweating and telling people that it's "dressy but not too dressy," "long but not too long". The confusion of the abstract. At Smythson, I could be direct. The shopkeeper showed me their newest color: marigold. I took a box and inquired about their leather notebooks. 

"They used to be on sale," he said. He pointed to a box covered in DHL stickers. "The sale ended, all of that inventory is going back to the UK." I frowned. Then I sighed. It would just be the cards then. 

Wednesday evening I left the office and immediately walked downtown to an appointment with the ENT. I've been struggling for years with ear congestion and eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD) but my old ENT had no solutions besides sending me to a pricey audiologist who told me to "watch my salt intake." There was brief period where I was told I was most likely going deaf! 

My new ENT held up a nasal endoscopy tool -- thing a big metal thing with a hose coming off of it and a camera on the end. "We'll stick this down your nose and see what we can see." 

"Can we not?" I asked. "I'm afraid of throwing up." 

"It'll just feel like a piece of spaghetti going down your nose," he said. 

"But I don't like the idea of spaghetti going down my nose," I crossed my arms. He sprayed my nose with two solutions and my throat began to numb. I squirmed when he put the tube at the opening of my nose. Then he paused. 

"Let me get the pediatric one. It's smaller." 

A little dramatic tear ran down my face and when he finished, he said: "Your whole system is inflamed." 

He prescribed me six medications (steroids and nasal sprays). 

"Can you chew the medicine?" I asked. The doctor looked up from his computer. 

"You don't swallow pills?"

"No, I can't," I said. The pediatric tubes and the chewable medicines! I'm always struggling to look older and feel older but everything I do infantilizes me further. 

Thursday evening was the big company fundraising gala. I worked the front desk (in that matronly plaid dress I'd picked before). The night went by in a flash and the new meds made me extremely drowsy (even while not drinking). Around 10:45 I left the event, hopped in a cab and went home, where another party was already in session: Alistair was having his coworkers over for dinner. I had a few glasses of Italian wine and they left at one o'clock in the morning. When I woke up for my o'clock in the morning for my French lesson, I was more tired than I had ever been in a long time.

"Weren't we such a New York couple that night?" I asked that morning. "Me popping into your dinner party straight from a fundraiser." We laughed. 

We both were in bed that night by ten o'clock. We relaxed and recouped Saturday with a light sushi lunch and dinner with a friend at a Cambodian restaurant. It was warm on Saturday and so I walked as much as possible. Sometime on a sunset walk down Broadway between Houston and 14th Street, I realized my nose was opening. 

The Weeklies: February 24 - March 2

If not for the snow I'd be grumpy about the weather. But the snow! How I love it, how magical it is, how it adds a new dimension to otherwise bitter cold. I was envious, last week Alistair was in warm Paris and all my favorite bloggers in Europe were basking in the sun. Crunching snow under my feet made it easier for me to accept that we were due for a long winter.

#

Wednesday evening I took the train uptown and felt so nervous I couldn't breathe. I had an appointment to get a crown put on my tooth. I imagined the pinch of the syringe in my gums, the loud whir of a drill. I was so afraid of this appointment that I'd put it off for forever. 

My calm dentist told me that it would be easy as pie, I wrung my hands and asked him, "What's the exact procedure? I'm afraid of the dentist." 

"There is nothing to be afraid of," he laughed. Twenty minutes later my new crown was snug on my tooth, needle and pain free. I was so happy I bounced to the subway and took the train home. 

#

Saturday I woke up anxious and excited. I'd had another meeting with a friend from my friend-finding-app. We made plans for tea in West Village at Luv Tea, something I'd been dying to do for awhile and too afraid to bother anyone about it. It was the perfect afternoon. We both ordered date and ginger tea, a table cleared as soon as we needed one. We had a lot in common, both having spent some time living in Florida. 

On my walk home I passed a psychic who was sitting on at a table on the sidewalk. 

"Hey can I talk to you?" she said. 

I knew this shtick. 

"Ah, no thanks," I said. I gave the New Yorker wave -- a dismissive shake of the hand down near your waist, and a shake of the head -- and kept walking. 

"But, you have a very strong energy, I can feel it," she said. I looked at her more closely now. She had her coat and scarf on, but she didn't look older than nineteen. 

"Just for a minute!" she said. I laughed, people on the street were beginning to watch. I kept going east.

Eventually I turned south and aimed for the grocery store. I saw a familiar face coming towards me on Spring Street. My ex, also nicknamed on this blog as Alistair (among many other nicknames for complicated reasons), looking giddy and smiley (most likely about something running in his head). Thank god for my winter hat, which goes to my eyebrows and covers my hair, the big coat that hides my figure, that makes me a mystery woman. Sometimes people I know well don't even recognize me this way. I popped in the grocery store feeling relieved about the lack of interaction. I pilled my favorite decadent foods into my basket: prosciutto, salmon, and coastal cheddar, and this delighted me. I'd had a good week. I had things to look forward to. 

The Weeklies: February 17 - 24

The highlights of last week: my two French lessons, the delicate snow that fell mid-week, and meeting a new friend, Madeline. 

Vina is one of my favorite apps. It's the platonic version of Tinder. I've had it almost a year but never met anyone from it. I've done a lot of messaging, but everyone I had made plans to meet flaked. Last week I matched with a girl who lives not far from my new home. We made a plan to meet halfway between our places Wednesday night at a German bar called Black Forest. 

The Girl-talk was delightful. I drank a large wheat beer (and told her the story of how my father discovered wheat beers). I had a few bites of a soft pretzel but without dinner I grew tipsy fast. I walked home in the dark recounting every stupid thing I'd said. When I got to my place, the two resident sidewalk rats, Merrill and Sandy, were tussling underneath a car. I startled them and they startled me, and all parties ran in opposite directions. 

I wrote voraciously Thursday and Friday. For the first time in awhile I felt my ideas mesh in an agreeable way. 

Saturday I stayed in and complained about the usual ailments. I woke up in the middle of the night with a stiff neck and shoulder. There was so much pain radiating down my arm that it took twenty minutes to sit up. I took a BC Powder, rubbed my shoulder with IcyHot, and microwaved a buckwheat heating pad and applied it to my neck. Then, like a mummy, lay stiff on two pillows until I fell asleep again. I had a nightmare that a man with no face was circling the bed, "Wake up! Wake up!" he hissed. I woke up, sweating and afraid. I was up till the sun rose and somehow, drifted back to sleep again.

Sunday I was determined to overcome everything that had made me sad at the end of the week. I took a hot bath filled with a half a bag of epson salt. I sunk down into the water till it touched my chin and felt the pain easing in my neck and shoulder. I could even turn my head. I dressed, had breakfast, and took the train to Soho. I had a long list of things to buy and I hoped to have solo tea at the Boise Tea Parlor. (I've been dying to have a tea service but I've been without a companion for it.) 

Because there was a light rain, Soho was empty. I browsed and eavesdropped. (I heard one man tell another man, "Because you're never fully dressed without the spring 2019 collection.") When it came time to go to tea I walked in the opposite direction and took the train home. I was having a good day and felt like a solo meal would be pushing my luck. I had a glass of wine at home and watched "Shetland” instead. 

The Weeklies: February 10 - 16

Last Sunday I followed Alistair down Canal Street. We were headed to dim sum; I didn't know the spot. 

"It's huge," he said as he described it. "There are escalators."

"How come I don't know this place?" I said. We took a left turn down a little dead-end street. 

"Oh damn," Alistair and I said at the same time. There was a crowd of 30 people at the door, a woman with a microphone announcing the tables. We were going to have to wait so we took a number: number 92.

A few minutes later Alistair's friend waved at us from across the street, grinning. He knew someone at the restaurant, "we just say the name and skip the line," he said. Ten minutes later, our group of six were lead inside past a mob and up an escalator. Slowly, the restaurant revealed itself. The dining room was a wide, open space as large as a whole city block. There were at least a hundred tables and between them were waitresses pushing around carts of dim sum. I've never been more surprised by a restaurant in all my life. 

We were seated and the carts immediately stopped to serve us. We were a little ambitious: duck and pork, steamed pork buns (my favorite), rice noodle rolls, two kinds of dumplings, and so on, and so on. 

Mid-meal a Chinese dragon came through the entrance of the restaurant and danced in the small corridor. Chinese New Year was earlier in the week. 

"You bring it to your business to get the demons out and to bring good luck," one of my friends said. 

I started to feel that New York feeling in my chest: I'm in this place I've never heard of that turns out to be a spectacular marvel, and now dragons are dancing! You cannot love the city without appreciating surprises and irony. It was a great start to the week.

However, Monday had it's usual loneliness. Every other Monday night I go to writing group but that means a few hours wandering Flatiron beforehand. I used to go to a tea shop to write before it closed. Now I hover in the doorways of coffee shops searching for seats where there are none. After doing this twice I settled on my last choice: an expensive pastry shop. 

I stood over a case of eclairs and chocolate mousse cakes and pointed to one. 

"What is that?" I asked the man behind the counter. 

"That is magnificent," he said. It was blood orange flavored chocolate mousse cake with a blood orange macaroon on the top. I bought it and sat by the door. The place was nearly empty. There was a man in his 60s by the door chatting up the staff. A girl waited by his table and he invited her to sit down. Another one, I thought. 

A chapter from my book was workshopped at the weekly meeting. It went well until the very end, someone made a snippy comment that made my ears turn red. I brushed over it in my "old Ariel" way, but spent a night and the next morning feeling rage in my stomach. Oh, the things I could have said! 

Tuesday night I met Alistair for karaoke. Wednesday morning I got up an hour early so I could do a Skype session with my French teacher. Unlike the first time, I felt a little more at ease. We went the whole lesson only speaking French. I can understand a lot but I am too fearful to speak.

That evening I took myself to get a manicure. I listened to the conversations around me (I'm always eavesdropping, always listening). 

"Can you believe it?" one of the women told the receptionist as she slipped on her coat. "This time tomorrow I'll be on a beach." 

I was intensely jealous. I had taken Thursday and Friday off to satisfy a days-off requirement (long story) and had been planning to go somewhere warm. My schedule didn't mesh with Alistair's business trip this week. I decided to make the most of it by scheduling a spa treatment. That night when I got home the spa called and cancelled. So much for that.

Thursday was Valentine's Day. Alistair and I decided no gifts and no plans. I cooked him his favorite dish, but otherwise I spent the whole day indoors watching TV. I wanted to be out in the city, shopping, having tea, seeing a film or whatever, but I felt too depressed to do anything. Out the window of our apartment was a sunny street, but I didn't feel deserving enough to even be on it. 

Friday was unseasonably warm. Alistair and I went out to run errands and later that evening saw "The Favorite." A bunch of 20-somethings in front of us laughed so loudly to their own inside jokes that a man told them to "settle down." Smoke from their e-cigarettes clouded the screen.

"A great movie that was ruined by them," the man said to us when the theater lights went up. 

Alistair was keen on going out on Saturday and I (still in my unconfident hermit phase) wanted to stay in. We did manage to have a dinner together at an Italian restaurant. That evening we watched a documentary series called, "The World's Busiest Cities." The hosts visited a man who lived in one of the Hong Kong "coffin apartments." He explained that he was a restaurant dishwasher forced to move into a coffin apartment when his parents died. It was so depressing to see his little yellow box, his TV, his clothes stacked in garbage bags. Last week I saw films and beautiful New York things and yet I can only think of the man who lives in the box. 

The Weeklies: February 3 - 9

Last Sunday, Alistair and I decided to run errands on the upper west side. I re-told Alistair all of my favorite Columbus Circle stories. He laughed at how excited I became and how quickly I spoke as we passed my favorite places. 

Our first stop was Sur La Table. We Facetimed with Alistair's friends in Sweden, bought ourselves Nespresso pods and a butter dish, then headed further uptown to West Elm where Alistair bought a drink stand to sit beside his Eames chair. We lugged it to the subway and had dinner at home. 

The warm weather on Monday and Tuesday lifted my spirits slightly. You see, I had been in a boredom trap, so on Tuesday I made a list of new things to try, specifically, things that scared me. I emailed a French teacher from Craigslist for a Skype lesson in intermediate French, I decided to join a gym (but haven't yet). Even still, I feel like I need something more.  Alistair listened sweetly as I pouted about not traveling this week on my days off, about not having any friends in town, and general winter malaise. 

On Wednesday a reprieve: after work I took a ferry to Greenpoint for a book launch with my colleagues. It was raining but through the windows of the boat the New York skyline and Brooklyn Bridge were glorious. We stopped at a bar beforehand for burgers and fries. I took the G train home and returned to the apartment sopping wet.

Saturday morning I put on my nicer pajamas, pulled back my hair, and did an introductory Skype call with my French teacher. I told Alistair to watch something loud on TV, I was so nervous, so worried about making a mistake. When you write as much as I do, you consider being articulate as your only strength. Then when you speak in another language it feels...debilitating and embarrassing. My teacher kept pausing, "Are you sure you're comfortable?" she asked. I wasn't. I was mortified. 

That afternoon I took Alistair out to his favorite brunch spot, Bessou, to thank him for helping me move. It's a charming place that barely gets the crowd it deserves. We both ordered miso soup and beef short rib with potatoes and poached eggs. Mid-meal Topper Harris called. I hadn't spoken to him in three years. 

"Topper! What's happenin'?" I said. I told him I was at brunch and planned to have him call me in the evening to catch up. Around 6 pm Alistair put on a tux and left for a work function. I used the opportunity to watch all my favorite trashy TV shows. Topper called and I talked his ear off and from his suggestion, ordered pizza from a (believe it or not) place that served pies in the same style as pizzeria's in Nice, France. 

"Don't forget to ask for their chili oil on the side," he said. 

At 10 pm my pizza arrived and I ate it in front of the TV; a slumber party for one. 

The Weeklies: January 28 - February 2

"Do you want to say goodbye?" Alistair asked. We were at the threshold of my old apartment. We'd dumped the last of my furniture (my old beige couch, a white dining room table and my childhood desk) with the help of two Task Rabbits. Someone came by and bought my bookshelf. 

I told Alistair that I didn't want to say goodbye, but that was only because it would make me cry. I fought for that apartment. It was the first place I paid rent for on my own. Living there felt like ultimate independence. 

I handed off the keys to the super and got a Lyft back to Brooklyn. 

The temperature dipped down into single digits on Wednesday. I normally hate cold weather (unless there is snow!) but when I stepped out of the apartment and shivered to the bus stop I realized: this weather makes me feel alive. 

You see, I've been bored lately. I need something new. I know I just moved but I've been waiting to move for five months, so it definitely doesn't feel new. But cold weather? Feeling my toes and fingers tingle in a new way? This was something that could challenge me. 

That day there was a snow squall warning and for twenty minutes the wind whipped up around us and the snow fell horizontally as if my office were in a tornado.  Everyone got up from their desks and watched. And after it was over, the sun came out again, and everything was still.

Thursday night I made homemade chili with cornbread for Alistair. Friday I had to speak at a meeting but was so terrible I went back to my desk holding back tears. Nothing worth noting happened on Friday or night or Saturday. 

The Weeklies: January 19 - 26

There is a story I always tell: There was one semester in college that I befriended a girl in my English class named Kristen.

Mobile, Alabama, the southern town where I went to college and spent the bulk of my life, is homogenous to a fault. Kristen had the air of someone from far away, and when we first spoke, she confirmed it. She’d grown up in California, met a boy from Mobile, and moved to Mobile to be with him.

“But, it’s so dumb,” she said. “I moved here and we can’t live together.” 

Two other girls in the class who were listening, sighed heavily, nodding to each other.  

“Living in sin,” they said. 

“It’s not like that in LA,” said Kristen. 

Myself and the other classmates tried to sum up the larger reasoning behind the rule.  

“Well, you’ll be married soon,” one of the other girls said. 

“A Catholic wedding,” Kristen interjected. “So we can drink.”

On the last day of class I saw Kristen easing late into her seat. Someone asked her if she was taking the second class in the program.

“I broke off my engagement,” she said flatly. “I imagine myself in New York.”

#


At a wedding reception In a little room off the main dining room at Le Petit Retro, in Paris, Alistair and I were making conversation with one of the party guests. 

"Where do you live?" he asked us. We both gave our separate neighborhoods--me uptown in Washington Heights, him in Brooklyn. There was a one-hour-and-thirty-minute train ride between our homes. We finished the story with our usual joke: "Essentially, it's like a long distance relationship."  

Everyone laughed. 

"You should live together," he said. Alistair smiled demurely. 

"Ariel would be a great roommate," he said. 

"Why not? Really, why not?" the guest asked. 

Why not? 

Whenever Alistair and I brought up the subject, I brought up my reservations. No one I knew back home had moved in with a partner. Alabama was conservative and my very small community was extremely Catholic. Everyone married early and went straight from living alone to living together as a married couple. I would expect to make my parents very angry, I'd expect to have a few old friends (and even their parents) grow apart from me. I would be leaving Manhattan, with the tall buildings and the buzzy energy, for Brooklyn, a hip scene that I never ever feel at home in. So, there was that to consider.

The hours of schlepping and the hour-and-ten-minute commute to the office continued for another year. The summer passed, and Alistair suggested when my lease was up in February of 2019 to consider it again. I decided that I would do it, and thus began our plan.

Over Christmas break I packed my things and just last weekend the movers arrived. On the MLK holiday we found spaces for all my clothes and photo albums and artwork in Alistair's airy, maximalist, parlor-floor apartment. It already feels like home here. 

Alistair's family is so happy about our decision. Me? I've relied on the support of Suni and Philippa and the clerk at the storage facility where my furniture is, my coworkers, and customer service agents for all the home services I've cancelled. 

People are always telling me, "You can't please everyone." But that line doesn't work on me anymore, it has to be more extreme, I have to say: "You will make enemies." Because I will. If I live the life I've wanted for myself, naturally, people will disagree. That's OK. 


Last week was my first week here. I've watched television with Alistair, wrote, admired my books on the bookshelf and made a Moroccan lamb tagine. It is as blissful as I imagined.