bart plantenga

It was the strangest affair of my life ever, to this very day — if affair is even the right word. It was the summer of the big heat — pavements melting and crossing the street was described by one newspaper as “prancing across a waterbed.” But everyone had endured it for so long it was not worth complaining about anymore.

Since Yo-Go was only two doors down from “my” office on E. 40th, I went once a week to break my pizza-felafel routine. But then, suddenly one day I noticed I was going every lunch hour. Not because Yo-Go’s menu was so extraordinary or affordable, but because she worked the register. She with the radiating face like a TV screen with a happy scene from a musical I cannot remember the name of.

For weeks I took the Uptown 6, taking the local in hopes that whatever wit I imagined I had would allow me to compose that perfect, witty opening line.

One day at 12:23 PM: “It’s like the Clockwork Orange Milk Bar in here.” The white walls, white blenders, white aprons, white bags, white everything. Her face beaming like a shooting star. Finally, a cinematic allusion as ice breaker that worked.

“The Korovaaa! YES! I’m Inna by the way.” Her hearty, earnest, ah-HA-finally-a-kindred-spirit kind of laugh filled the Yo-Go with pure electric exuberance.

“Ha! I’m Kees. I like your hair!” The swirl of a soft-ice, vanilla cone. Kees prounounced as in “case of beer.”

“Love YOURS!” She pointed beguilingly to my job-op-demolishing, blondified haircut performed by an amateur barber-friend-of-a-friend who smoked too much ganja. Or the perfect amount, if one was to believe Inna.

“Kees, have you come to rescue me!?” Um.

Mesmerized, I failed to respond as her undulating smile hoed a row in my heart as if it was a garden. Had some famous, lyrical poet once written something to that effect? Hmm. I’m now a paused video with everyone else on fast forward, observing my lyrical reverie as it is being gate-crashed by agitated office workers barking their moral indignations: “YO! This ain’t no frickin’ rom-com, Romeo!”

Suddenly, one day soon after, she stopped charging me for lunch, handing me whatever vegie, something shroomy order that had not been picked up; a quick head scan of the premises before fake-ringing it up – ka-Ching – “That’ll be no frickin’ dollars and no frickin’ cents. Thank you sir, have a nice dream.”

Holding my white bag, I hear me urging myself to move on, a comeback of sufficient cleverness failing, her face beaming, expectant. They say infatuation skews our experience of time, how it puts the eggs of present, past, and future into one Buddha Basket.

And upon exiting, a small bell — dingle dingle — chimes like in movies with angels to signal their appearance — or the character’s slide from inner to outer. Satori. Epiphany. Something like that.

I head west to Bryant Park with my warm mind in an ambient hum, impervious to noise, cabs running red, sharp objects improperly disposed of. Is there a crunch moment when infrastructure, geography and conflagration evanesce?

Yes. But I cannot point to that exact instant. Sometimes things happen without reason, without a pinpoint.

I sit under a tree together with my mirage of her. A romantic poem needs composing as I inhale the sweet, white liquid through a straw. Who could I tell about Inna? Perfect strangers, the older bonneted woman secretly feeding the squirrels, the bookkeepers with their reputations for keeping secrets?

Back at work, I opt for Osbourne with the dreadlocks who runs “our” mailroom.


“Yea, Inna.”

“Like Inna Dub Style? Like King Tubby Inna Fire House? You ’bout to OD on your own mantra and every’ting is irie.”

“Yea.” I describe her face as a beaming bouquet of hope and desire. Osbourne offers a celestial grin.

Friends, however, prefer the sneer, shaking their heads as if they’d snuffed out all enthusiasm like a cigarette butt crushed on the heel of a hurtful shoe 20 years ago.

“Cut your losses; dump her now.” Their revenge scenarios involving ingenious cruelty and cold-heartedness are offered as therapeutic insights.

A week later, just after fake-ringing-up my “purchase” and just as I was passing under the dingle-dingle bell in the doorway, I glanced over my shoulder to witness a feat of mind over matter, involving a parkour maneuver only attempted in film interpretations of comic-book super-heroes inspired by deep memories of the pommel horse in gymnastics class. Inna was leaping over the counter in cinematic slo-mo to escape great tumult behind the counter — her manager expectorating his words, neck veins bulging, hair dissheveled, bug eyes, punching and flailing air like one of those dancing air-tube balloons you see at the parking lot entrance of a mattress store grand opening.

She shook me from my daze, gripped my elbow with exhilirated torque, giggling, yahOOing, sucking me into her slipstream with wide-eyed triumphant joy, heading for Bryant Park, oblivious to sirens, angry honks, the white, fetid liquids gathered in roadway seams. Her eyes declaring: The Great Midtown Prison Break! We passed Bryant Park, waving, shouting at the women — faces aimed at the sun, uncomfortable heels kicked off, feet on facing chairs, Band-aids on both heels — to rouse them from their lunch break slumbers. We felt like we’d broken a holding pattern, knew the next line to the song.

“Josh pro’ly had a thing for me — UN-RE-QUITE-ED, for sure!”


“My boss!” A loving squeeze of my elbow. There she goes up ahead skipping. Skipping! Remember Jeanne Moreau in Jules et Jim in that delirious race across the bridge? Like that.

No one had skipped on West 40th since 1957 and that was a child who didn’t know any better. Skipping as if joy could conquer dead-air architecture, dead-end jobs, absurd museum entrance fees. If anyone could get us in free, it’d be Inna. What’s the point of happiness if it’s intoxicating scent can’t get you in to places you can’t afford.

Her grip grew tighter; I was reminded of the term “for dear life.” We headed west, however imprecise that destination, further down 40th, crossed 7th Avenue, 8th, 9th, singing-screaming Disco Inferno at passersby. Her skipping — and then me too — allowed us to transgress Midtown’s wired-tight sense of propriety.

“If you move west fast enough, the sun never sets.” She did say that, right?

At a red light she was whistling so beautifully pure of tone ... was it The Andy Griffith Show theme song? Our heads collided, thudded as we kissed so hard, her teeth piercing my lip, she continuing to whistle into my mouth. Is that even possible? Yes, as whomever is my witness.

We laughed at the blood dripping onto the cracked sidewalk. She sucked blood from my lip. A funny line from a zombie movie. I don’t remember exactly.

We sang – screaming, really — “We Will Survive.” So made for each other as if inhabiting our own wavelength, finishing each other’s punchlines, her sweat smelling sweet, her life story emerging — she has moved 30 times in her 24 years.

“Will you take me with you?” We were squinting into a pale sun.

“Sure, but where’m I going?”

“Will you be mine?”

“Sure, whatever. But you’ll probably wanna lease me, not own me.” Some laughter and her quizzical what-do-you-mean-by-that face. Had she regularly been betrayed by promises of forever?

We wandered beyond 12th or 13th Ave or whatever it’s called, onto Pier 81, toes hanging over the edge of Manhattan. We’re standing still as fence posts for a fence that isn’t there, observing tourists in odd shorts, baseball caps, their heights protected by abundant girth, waiting in the clearly marked queue for the Circle Line Tour. They’re ready to be told what to see and how to see it. Loudspeaker: “Washington Square, Union Square, and Bryant Park were once cemeteries. An estimated 20,000 bodies are buried in Washington Square.”

“See that amulet on my sandal strap?”


“It’s a traveler’s amulet my father brought back from Sweden. He’s not around much so he sends me little like this and survival funds.”

She opened her purse, pulled out a wad of $10s and $20s. She explained the meaning behind the amulet but I only heard snippets ... bronze ... Viking ship ... rune inscription on the back ... distracted by the commotion on the Circle Line Pier ... Frigga, wife of Odin, blessing him ... her enchanting lips ... Unharmed go forth, unharmed return ... She had already visited 38 countries, 20 on her own.

“It’s unclear: Am I heading toward something or away from something?” Is this a trick question?

“Both are possible.”

“Frigga, goddess of foresight and wisdom ...”

“Inna Frigga?!” She kissed me to shut me up.

“Family name’s Plott.”

“Inna Plott?” I was suspicious but disguised it as enchantment. [Over the years, I’ve used various search engines, but have never found a single hit for any Inna Plott (various spellings).]

“Yessss. And what about you Kees, as in case o’ beer?!” And then in a blink, she pushed me over the edge, holding on, pulling me back in the last blink of a second. “WHOAA!” She liked that. It’s an old high school guy joke.

I later write down: heart-into-mouth scare.

Her exuberance has suddenly acquired a sinister edge. Note: Insomnia-induced, delirious eye blink rate, quivering lip, low blood sugar, a desire-reality gap, loved my near-death scream ... experts claim it enlivens the everyday of certain types.

“If I push you in will you still love me?” The right response was key to the sexual fulfillment calculus. But I felt suddenly disheartened, aware of the fact that the fact was a fiction of precarious manufacture.


“I’d follow you, you know. We get to the other side, we find a house with a view. Live happily ever after.” Had she missed a certain stability in her life and had she thus invested normalcy with magical life-enhancing properties?

My frown must have revealed consternation because her responding frown seemed tinged with the hurt of a personal history that involved maybe overly ambitious or unduly absent parents. Anyway, all I remember was our two facing frowns and then me gazing down and away — further interrogation seemed futile. I gazed down at her elegant sandals, that revealed her wiggly toes, nails painted STOP sign red, that amulet, the logo of a luxury brand renowned for its discreet tone, the heels dramatically worn, listing to the outside, a detail which inexplicably saddened me as her finger knifed the bend of my elbow, our eyes cast like skipping stones to a somewhere, anywhere else.

I never returned to the Yo-Go, although I sometimes scurried past the front window on lunch breaks, peering in without appearing to, disappointed ... and relieved that she no longer worked there.

bart plantenga is the author of novels Beer Mystic, Radio Activity Kills, & Ocean GroOve, short story collection Wiggling Wishbone, novella Spermatagonia: The Isle of Man, wander memoirs: Paris Scratch and NY Sin Phoney in Face Flat Minor & LIST FULL: List Poems of Necessary Orderliness [Spuyten Duyvil], which proposes lists as everyday working class poems of utility and humility. His books YODEL-AY-EE-OOOO: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World & Yodel in HiFi + the CD Rough Guide to Yodel have created the misunderstanding that he’s the world’s foremost yodel expert. He’s also a DJ & has produced Wreck This Mess in NYC, Paris & Amsterdam since forever. He lives in Amsterdam.
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