AT FIRST SIGHT by Peter Nolan Smith

1979 was a great year to live in New York. I wrote poems about the Bowery and worked at the city’s #1 punk disco. My girlfriend was a beautiful blonde model from Buffalo. Lisa preferred to hang out at Studio 54 than my club Hurrah, saying, “Being seen there is good for my career.”

She visited the star-studded disco with the 10th ranked tennis player in the world and came home at 4am, exhausted from dancing to Richie Kaczor’s I WILL SURVIVE. Models needed exposure. Lisa got that from the tennis player, but her hair smelled of another man’s cologne. I said nothing, for love can blind a man and sex can render him blinder.

Discos, nightclubs, fashion models, punk rock, drugs, and New York City were an intoxicating cocktail for a man in his early 20s. Girls came onto a punk poet everywhere, yet I remained faithful to Lisa, despite my friends hints at her infidelity and they had proof. The New York Post repeatedly published photos of Lisa with the tennis player.

“They’re just good friends.”

No one bought that line, except for me.

During the day Lisa hunted jobs with photographers. I worked night. Our paths met on my bed. It was easy to believe she loved me.

At 4AM there was no TV. I read her poems of runaways, 42nd Street, and lost souls in the desert. She changed the channel with a welcoming caress and her talk of love after sex were too breathless to be lies for a fool.

Six months into our relationship Lisa was invited to an exclusive club opening.

Our punk disco’s owner wanted me to scout out the competition. Lisa was surprised when I asked to accompany her, but said, “It will be fun. We never go out at night.”

The club was opposite the Holland Tunnel. An unruly crowd clustered before the entrance. The doorman recognized me and waved us inside. Ten minutes later she was met by the tennis player.

The Czech shook my hand and then kissed Lisa on the cheek. His lips slipped down to her neck. My fists clenched white, when he asked, “May I dance with Lisa?”

They danced to Blondie’s HEART OF GLASS and Amii Stewart’s LIGHT MY FIRE. They were a good couple on the dance floor. Everyone watched their every moves, except for a slender brunette surrounded by men. The woman possessed a beauty for the ages. Her admirers noticed her stare and jealously glared in my direction.

I put down my glass and walked across the dance floor, obeying her eyes silent command. I pushed through the men. My mouth went dry, but I didn’t need to speak.

The vision introduced herself, as if I should know her name, “I’m Gia.”

“Gia?” It sounded Italian.

“You don’t know me?”


“You’re the only one here that doesn’t.” She smiled at my ignorance and asked, “Do you want to dance?”

Without awaiting my answer she signaled the DJ to change the music and he segued to Chic’s GOOD TIMES.

No one else existed in the club and she whispered, “I like you.”

“Why?” Somehow she had reversed my age to 15, “Because you don’t care that your girlfriend is fucking someone else and you don’t care.”

Gia shattered into a kaleidoscopic blur and I craned my neck to find Lisa.

My dance companion stopped me with a finger to my lips

“I’m sure she will come back to you. Her fucking Vlad is only business.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I’m a model too.” She tilted her head to strike a Vogue pose.

Even without make-up she was a cover girl, which was everything Lisa wanted to be; paid $1000/hour to pose for top photographers and spread across glossy ads with her name on everyone’s lips.

“I’m no one.”

“No, you’re not. I know you. You’re a criminal.” She whispered the headlines of my recent violence in New York.

“No, really. More a nobody.”

Fame and fortune belonged to Gia for being beautiful and she knew it too. “You want to kiss me?”

The answer was yes, but Gia smiled with half-parted lips. She had good teeth.

“Your girlfriend is here.”

I turned around to face Lisa. Her anger wasn’t pretty and I said to Gia, “I’ll see you around.”

Back at my place Lisa wanted to know everything Gia had said to me. I related the brief encounter numerous times like a prisoner in an interrogation cell. My story never changed in the telling, except I omitted the comment about her fucking the tennis player. Her secret not being a secret was my secret.

Lisa wasn’t satisfied with my version and neither was I, because given a few more minutes there was no telling what the two of us might have done.

“You know she’s a lesbian?” Women are experts at delivering a coup de grace to a fantasy.

“No, I didn’t know that.” I had no prejudices against women with women

“She was playing with you.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time.” I was guilty in thought rather than deed and Lisa began to stay out later with the tennis player.

My trust wavered each time she came back to my apartment with her clothing in a state of disarray. Her skin was marked with bruises, Her lips were swollen. She always had a good excuse for a missing button or torn seam and said, “Studio was crazy.”

Studio 54 was crazy, but not that crazy.

We were over, except for the sex twice a day always after a poem in bed.

Friends at the punk disco said to get rid of Lisa. I stopped reciting poetry and she moved back to her apartment on the Upper East Side. Our phone calls were short.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” I couldn’t tell the truth.

“I’ll come over tonight.”


After closing the club I walked to the East Village. I had a beer at the Nursery and breakfast at the Kiev. The sun rose slowly in the East. Only bums and addicts were on the streets.

Crossing 1st Avenue a red Fiat Spider ran the light.

I jumped back fast and felt the tug of the slipstream.

Another millimeter and its bumper would have broken my knees.

The convertible braked twenty yards away. The driver turned around in the seat. ?It was Gia.

Her smile mixed surprise with amusement. She waved for me to join her. I sat in the front seat.

“That was close.” Both hands were on the wheel. “You should watch where you’re going.”

“Wasn’t that a red light?”

“Yes, but I didn’t see it or you.” She shifted into first gear. “You have any place to go right now?”

“No.” My bed would have been a good destination, if no one was in it.

“You want to come over my place?” It was a silly question from the most beautiful woman in New York and

I said, “Yes.”

Gia drove like an F1 racer to her 4th Avenue apartment. She parked on the street without putting up the top on the Fiat.

“Don’t worry, there’s nothing to steal.”

We entered the apartment, passing one of her neighbors. He nodded as if I were the 12th man to come upstairs that night, but something about her told me that Gia had been with no one. The past months with Lisa had honed my perception about a man’s touch on a woman’s body.

She put on a Steely Dan song.


The room smelled of expensive incense. The sofa caressed my body. She smelled even better than the incense. I wondered what her body looked like naked and then imagined even more.

“What were you doing out so late?”

“Work.” The club has closed 4 hours ago.

“More like wandering the streets like the lost.” Gia pulled out a packet of cocaine. “You want some?”

I nodded in submission to the dual allure, for she had read my soul as clearly as I had read her apathy to the touch of a man.

“I don’t do this usually, but it’s been a long week. My agent has me working every day. She says that I have to make as much money as I can, because my beauty will one day be gone.” She huffed a line. “My agent is also my lover. I don’t really like men.”

“No problem.” Any lurid fantasy had disappeared after the second line. We were only made to share drugs and rock and roll. Sex was reserved for someone else. She did most of the talking. I did most of the drugs. In the end she said, “You know I saw your girlfriend this evening.”

“At Studio 54?”

“Where else?” Gia shook her hair free and looked at her watch. She had a 7AM shooting. Sunrise was a half-hour away. In another hour she would be late, but I had to ask, “You talked with her?”

“Only a little. I was wondering where you were. She said at an East Village apartment waiting for her. She really is beautiful.”

“But not like you.”

“Maybe just like me, only I have a name.”

“Gia.” Many models have made-up names like porno stars. Hers was hers. No one else could have her name.

“It’s my real one.” Gia was good at reading my mind and said, “You have to go.”

She unbuttoned her shirt. It dropped to the floor. This was a dare.

“Sorry.” I could tell she wasn’t into this.

“Don’t be, but you think I’m beautiful?”

“Yes.” There were other words for her gift, but I couldn’t think of them.

“Everyone thinks that, but I wasn’t beautiful as a kid and I won’t be one day.”

“That day isn’t today.”

“I know, but do me a favor.”


“Write me a poem one day. Your girlfriend said you were good.”

“She did?” I couldn’t type a single line with five typos.


“You got it. One poem. Maybe two.”

“One would be fine.”

I walked out of the apartment and then headed over to East 10th Street. Lisa was in my bed. She asked where I had been. I told her the truth.

“Did you have sex?”

Once more I told her the truth. She didn’t believe me and I couldn’t blame her. I didn’t believe me either.

Lisa left for Europe in the Spring. I gave up on her return at summer’s end. She was gone for good.

I saw Gia at nightclubs.

Her entourage was three deep. They sucked the life out of her, but she still graced the covers of magazines like Vogue, Elle, and Cosmos. None of her friends wanted to hear my poem about her. Gia waved from a distance. I kept mine.

Over the years telling people about my evening with Gia seemed like bragging, although I still look both ways crossing 1st Avenue and rewrite the same poem in my head

“After these many years with her beauty in a grave, Gia still looks across a crowded dance floor and her Sophia Loren eyes locked on mine. Her gaze stole my breath and I live on knowing Gia will never die, because I can hold my breath forever for beauty.”

One day I will finish this poem.

But not today.

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