WITHOUT question, no matter how crowded New York gets, it can be the loneliest place on earth for the brokenhearted.
The bigger the city, the smaller the individual.
The busier the street, the easier it is to get trampled.
The more people there are, the more lost you become.
“You’re late,” the man behind me said, his French accent thick, his words close to my ear so that the summer wind atop the Empire State Building didn’t snatch his words away and send them swirling through the air like a bird on a breeze. “Did you lose your way?”
I turned… and saw him… the hair wrestling with the breeze, those dimples etched deep into his lightly bearded cheeks.
The truth be told, I was far from lost. I had lived in New York almost all my life. I knew how to get to the Empire State Building. And yet I found myself saying, “Yes. I did lose my way. But I’m here now.” I smiled.
He reached forward, lifted my left arm, and with a hotel pen in his hand, he scribbled something on my tricep. Another message on my body. Something I couldn’t see. When he was done, he raised my right arm and wrote something on my right tricep.
And so the game began, as I started following this beautiful French stranger through New York like a lost child following breadcrumbs through a fairy tale.
Rediscovering the city I thought I knew so well.
Learning not to doubt myself.
Learning to be brave again.
Learning that nothing stays broken forever, not even hearts.
MY name is Joe Jordan, and I have a confession, an obsession, an addiction.
I am addicted to stealing hotel pens.
In every room I stay, in every hotel bar I drink at, from check-in to checkout, I must have their pens.
I must also confess, however, that I’m very fussy with my pens. All hotel pens are not created equal. Sometimes the point is too fine or the tip is like a chipped fingernail scraping against paper. But sometimes a hotel gets their pen just right. Just the right weight, the right sized nib, an even flow of ink that’s smooth and silky, bold and blue. My favorite color. Which is why I tend to return to hotels that get their pens right.
The Pickwick in San Francisco.
The Dorchester in London.
The Brunelleschi in Florence.
My pen collection is large. I travel a lot for work. In fact, travel is my work. I’m a travel writer for a men’s lifestyle magazine, so as you can see, my pen addiction and my work go hand in hand. I catch planes for a living. My life is spent picking up suitcases from baggage carousels and pens from hotel desks. I haven’t picked up a man since, well, since Shawn.
That night, I arrived in New York for the first time in six months, since Shawn and I broke up. I grew up here, but I met Shawn on a trip to LA while writing an article on Hollywood’s coolest bars. He was the manager of a bar called Sunset Pink and was handsome and confident and funny. He tried to impress me by tossing a bottle of golden rum in the air, only to miss the catch and let it shatter on the floor before insisting that had never happened to him before. I laughed, and so did he. That’s when he winked, leaned in close across the bar, and whispered to me that he knew the original recipe of the Zombie, a cocktail first invented in Hollywood in the 1930s.
The secret never left his lips, but later that night my cock entered them.
We ended up moving to New York together.
He opened his own bar.
I worked and traveled and couldn’t wait to return home from each and every trip; to open the door and drop my suitcase and fall into my lover’s arms.
Life was good.
Until it became nothing more than something we lived.
After the breakup, Shawn moved into an apartment in the Village.
I moved too. In fact, I haven’t stopped. I packed my life into a suitcase and my computer into a laptop bag. I’ve been working and moving from one hotel to the next ever since.
IT was almost ten at night when I finally arrived at the Beacon Hotel on Broadway and West Seventy-Fifth. My glasses were sitting crooked on my face, and I didn’t care. I had flown directly from one story in Melbourne to hit the next deadline in New York. Well, not exactly directly. It was Melbourne via Auckland before going through customs at LAX and just barely making my connecting flight to JFK before they closed the gate.
I was exhausted but wired at the same time. When you spend thirty-eight hours straight either on a plane or in a queue at the airport, time and tiredness lose all meaning. All you really care about is a shower.
I checked into the Beacon with a Visa card and left reception with a new pen in my pocket. The elevator doors opened, and an elderly gentleman exited with a pug so ugly it was adorable. I knew the lower floors of the hotel were residential, while the upper floors contained the rooms for the hotel’s guests.
The elderly gentleman completely ignored me as he exited the elevator.
The pug looked up and smiled, his underbite crowded with crooked little teeth.
It made me finally straighten my glasses.
Do dogs smile?
I think they do.
All my life I’ve wanted a dog.