The Definition of a Huckleberry Friend

One of the many iconic scenes in Breakfast at Tiffany's is when Paul Varjak tears himself away from his typewriter upon hearing the strumming of a guitar from his downstairs neighbor Holly Golightly. Normally dressed to the nines, this quintessential New York party girl is seen perched on a windowsill, pared down in a sweatshirt and jeans with a towel wrapped around her head, stealing a contemplative moment to herself as she croons "Moon River." There was one line from that song that stood out merely because I had no idea what it meant: "My huckleberry friend." For years, it hung in my mind. I searched Paul Varjak's relationship with Holly Golightly for the answer. Theirs was a mutual adoration laced with innocent flirtation; there was a certain playfulness that freed them from being neither friends nor lovers. What was between them was open to interpretation. It was beyond definition.

Everyone should have a huckleberry friend at one point or another. It is an experience that showers your life with magic for as long as it lasts, whether it be for a couple of weeks or a couple of years. The after-effects, however, last for much, much longer. I met my huckleberry friend at the very end of a dinner party uptown in 2008. He introduced himself just as I was leaving. His eyes contained big, blue floating orbs that were at once angelic and impish. Although we'd never met before, I felt a curious kinship with him. He began inviting me over to his apartment, just to talk over tea or cocktails. I always felt deeply insecure that I wasn't interesting enough for him to want me as a friend, but the invitations kept coming anyway. 

His tastefully appointed studio apartment was more like a private parlor in which he could host the people he liked–and he wasn't fond of very many. He served his tea and cocktails on a silver tray with proper china and glassware. The tea was always either loose jasmine tea leaves from Chinatown or a sachet of Lipton tea; the cocktails were made from old, long-lost cocktail recipes that he had scribbled down on a notepad. He had undeniably good taste and was more than happy to impart his opinion at any given time. He convinced me that white jeans were chic all year-round and that I should sometimes wear sunglasses with prescription lenses indoors just for fun.

In the beginning, I had written him off as one of those flighty, fabulous people that say "Let's do something" and never do, but he proved me wrong. He was reliably available which allowed us to develop rituals around each other's company. He'd meet me at Citarella to keep me company while I grocery-shopped. We had dim sum lunches in Chinatown on random weekday afternoons and ordered the same dishes every time. On Sundays, we'd stroll through the neighborhood and top off the afternoon with a strawberry ice cream sundae at Lexington Candy Shop. With him, every moment was crystallized into a charm.

Years ago, after a particularly heated fight with an ex that left me in tears, I called him because he always knew how to cheer me up. He invited me over to his apartment for a little tea and sympathy. I made the walk down Park Avenue that winter’s evening, with a big fox fur hat on my head, clutching the front of an oversized gray wool coat closed with a gloved hand. My nose, pink; my eyes, puffy. Crashing into his sofa, still upset, I recounted the argument with bewilderment and confusion as he poured hot water into a pair of mixed matched teacups. He pulled out a small, clear plastic dessert box from his mini fridge. “I bought you a slice of pumpkin cheesecake because girls like sweets," he said with a shrug. He cut the wedge in half and placed my half on a zebra-patterned plate with a red rim. 

That night, he decided that the ultimate pick-me-up was to go dancing at Beatrice Inn, the louche subterranean West Village hot spot which has since been closed down by authorities. We hurried down the steps and pushed our way through the dark crowded room. With our drinks in hand, he led me up to the black and white checkered dance floor where we danced the night away, brushing shoulders with everyone around us. Then, there was a change in tune. I recognized the opening notes and the beat. It was Roxy Music’s “More Than This." 

I could feel at the time, there was no way of knowing...   

"We have to dance to this song," he said, turning his baseball cap backwards and holding out his hand. “Will you dance with me?"

It was a slow-dance. Our faces were close but facing away from each other. The rest of the room faded away. What year is this? Where are we? What is happening? I thought moments like these only happened in movies. I felt like I was falling in love, but suddenly I didn't know what love was anymore. I thought we would kiss, but we didn't. When the song ended, we hopped into a cab uptown-bound. I dropped him off on Park Avenue and rode the rest of the way back to my apartment. 

When Christmas rolled around weeks later, he asked me to meet him in Union Square for lunch. He had a gift for me. It was wrapped in brown paper with a hunter green ribbon. With it, he gave me a tiny white envelope sealed with a messy little blob of red wax. “Don’t open it now," he insisted, “It’s embarrassing." I stuck it in my bag and we went to lunch as usual. When I returned home, I opened the gift, a CD, The Best of Roxy Music. The second track was “More Than This." The card said:

To J:

This is the only present I bought this year that has any meaning.

x E