I met Ihu while working the window at a soft serve yogurt and ice cream stand called the Cone Zone in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Previous to my job at the Cone Zone I had worked at a small café where I stood in the kitchen and buttered toast for lawyers and judges that came through for breakfast and lunch breaks. The Cone Zone wasn’t much of a step up, but I could play Hole records and chat with friends instead of standing next to an old Russian man who barely acknowledged me. I was like a butter robot. I began working at the Cone Zone not long after I had broken up with the first idiot with whom I had ever fallen in love. We broke up because he liked big girls and was hot on the trail of an opera singer. I found out later that he used to come to New York to be sat on by large women.
I would stand glumly at the ice cream shop window and take orders for Butterfinger flavored fat free yogurt topped with caramelized walnuts and hot fudge. The owner of the Cone Zone was a very fit, pretty, petite woman with long layered dark hair that parted at the middle. She was a Jersey girl with a quick, clipped way of speaking and even faster way of moving. She was zippy, taking care of business with no time for nothing extra. Her brother owned a local salon and he offered me a free haircut at her behest. People were always trying to make me look prettier. I didn’t want to look pretty, I wanted to look tough, but I took the free haircut and then two days later shaved my head. My boyfriend chased me around the apartment singing the Monchhichi song about the stuffed toy monkeys that could suck their own thumbs.
Ihu was like a bolt from the blue. I had seen her walk by the Cone Zone many times with her cousin Nena but it took some time for me to get up the guts to talk to her. They both always looked so cool. Ihu was tall and lanky and wore a navy blue A-line mini dress and black and white shell toed Adidas with her hair tied up high on her head, Nena by contrast was short and curvy with close cropped bleached blonde hair. They were always laughing. I finally got the nerve to say hi and asked her if she would every want to hang out. “Sure!” she beamed and invited me over to her house for dinner. I had only been away from Iowa for about a year when I met Ihu and was still trying to get my grip. Her apartment was in the attic of a house and she had painted it bright blue. She cooked fish for dinner, a dish I had rarely eaten in Iowa. Fish seemed like a sophisticated and expensive dish especially when all we ate at home was hamburger. Hamburger soup, hamburger shaped into a roast and covered with carrots and potatoes and “minute steaks” i.e. flattened hamburger.
Part of my reason for moving to New Brunswick was to be closer to New York. My brother was attending Rutgers so the two of us packed up a sixteen foot moving truck and I drove from Iowa to New Jersey. It was no easy feat especially considering that I had only recently received my drivers license and had driven only once in real city traffic. The hills through Pennsylvania became especially treacherous as I did my best to keep us at an optimal speed. We finally made it to New Brunswick and I lived briefly with my brother and his disgusting roommate who seemed to revel in talking with her mouth full. I looked on as she devoured chicken with mole sauce appearing in the dark room as a wet wormy skull. I shudder.
My intention for getting to New York was to try to make it as a model and Ihu had the pre reality TV idea to follow me around with a video camera to open calls. This was in about 1994 and video cameras were still pretty big so there was no way to hide the fact that you were filming. I was shy and Ihu was not. Even without the camera you knew she had entered the room, but I agreed to being filmed and we took the train into the city. It didn’t turn out to be quite the frightening experience I had expected. No one seemed to feel threatened by the camera which surprised me. They seemed to accept the fact that she was filming so I calmed down and went with it. Of course I never became a model, which was probably lucky and the footage Ihu took got lost somewhere in Italy along with the camera. One of the last times I saw her before I left New Brunswick she was headed to Europe with her cousin and they had packed all of their clothes and the camera into trash bags. Her seeming ease with the world and the way she stormed through it astounded me. I had never met anyone like her before in my life, but she gave me hope that I would get used to the city and not feel quite so out of sorts. After that we lost touch but I always knew in my heart that we would find each other again and I looked for her everywhere in airports and while visiting new cities. I knew she could be anywhere. Then one day in 1998, right after I had moved to New York I was walking up Broadway crossing Bleeker and I looked up and saw the most beautiful and vibrant woman. We passed and I heard a “hey, Christiane.“ I turned around and there she was- my incredible friend.