In the mid-eighties, I lived with a roommate from my undergraduate days at the University of Detroit in a tiny two-room studio apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Late one fall afternoon, I headed uptown a few blocks to visit my friend Pam who had this beautiful, two-bedroom, pre-war seven room apartment on Broadway and 98th Street. My whole apartment could fit in her living room; that’s how big it was. The building had four elevator banks, each of which opened up to two apartments on every floor. I got in the elevator and after me entered this beautiful statuesque woman wearing a blue silk A Chorus Line jacket. Having been in theater during undergrad, with a whole bunch of my friends who had also moved to New York, I knew a lot of actors working on Broadway. And from the way she carried herself, I knew she was a dancer. Being the brash young man that I was, I looked at her and smiled confidently asking, “are you in the show?”
Her look of disdain could have melted a steel girder. “I am not a Broadway gypsy,” she curtly replied turning away.
I had been shot down. Boom! Up in a puff of smoke went any chance of getting her name, let alone a phone number. I would later learn that Francés had been with the Martha Graham Dance Company.
Quietly we rode the elevator until it stopped on the eighth floor. The doors opened and there we were, looking at apartments A and B. What were the chances we were both going to the same place? Pam opened the door and to her surprise greeted us both. While escorting us to the living room she introduced me to Francés. Running around packing boxes was her roommate Kristine, who would later star as the mom in the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She was moving in with her fiancée John, who happened to be starring in Amadeus as Mozart on Broadway. As Kristine and John were coming in and out the bedroom with boxes, we sat in the living room enjoying our conversation and getting to know one another. It turns out that Francés was there to give Pam a deposit check for Kristine’s old bedroom.
It was during our conversation that I realized that Francés was from an island. I could hear a faint British accent. Not willing to be shot down again, I didn’t ask if she was from Jamaica.
“So, what island are you from?” I asked.
She looked at me quizzically.
”How do you know I’m from an island?” she asked.
Two years of dialect classes were paying huge dividends.
“I can hear the Irish lilt in your voice.”
“I’m from Grenada,” she said with pride.
I had her.
“Oh,” I quipped, “you have a communist Prime Minister. Maurice Bishop!”
“How do you know that?”
“I read. I read lots of things,” I said.
The elevator ride down with Francés was a lot more fun than the one I took up with her. We said goodbye on the corner of Broadway and 98th Street. As I walked home I thought to myself, this girl is really special, I’m punching way above my weight class. Years later, when I asked Francés why, when she was heading downtown on the subway, she had crossed Broadway to the Uptown side. She smiled lovingly and admitted that she was so infatuated she’d forgotten which way to go.
A few weeks later, my roommate Harry and I went to visit Pam. But Pam was away for the weekend at her boyfriend’s cottage in New Hampshire. However, Francés was there making dinner for Louise, a classmate from Bennington College. She invited Harry and me to join them. Being two bachelors, there was no way we were turning down a home-cooked meal and without hesitation accepted the invitation to join them. Harry, forever the gentleman, offered to run to the wine store to get a bottle of cabernet. As dinner was cooking, I helped Francés hang shades for her bedroom windows and put together her bed frame. The four of us enjoyed a wonderful meal and an evening of great conversation. As the night wore down, Harry and Louise eventually said their goodbyes and headed home. I stayed the night. We were virtually inseparable for the next 27 years.