Light, sweet, crude
Every two years or so I run into Kerry. She’s someone I hardly know — and have for years. We met in high school, if you can believe it. Neither of us paid much attention. We met again during college. We went on a date that made us both miserable. Every few years we go on another date that’s worse than the last one. Here’s update 2003.
She’s a commodities analyst. I don’t know anything about that, but fortunately, there are anecdotes about anything.
“I’m waiting for the train in Poughkeepsie and I’m reading a financial weekly. I’m on the bench reading and a woman comes up with her suitcase and says, excuse me, do you have the time? I tell her the time and she says thank you — very sincere actually. A while later she excuses herself again, asks me do I know if the train is on time? I say as far as I know it is. She’s very grateful again.
“I’m reading more, and finally she says, have I read the commodities column yet? I thought that was strange, since I hadn’t read it yet, but of course that’s my business, and there are lots of columns in the paper, so why did she pick that one? Most people read it for stock and bond reports, and she picks my specialty. I ask her, what commodity do you follow? She says she doesn’t follow any, but she follows her sister, who is the columnist. And then the train comes and she gets on. I look at the speckle portrait of the commodities reporter, and it looks just like her.”
I’m sitting there thinking it’s good to hear about something I wouldn’t hear about any other way. Kerry was a commodities analyst last time I talked to her — which was, you know, approximately 742 days ago, if you get my meaning. She was one of the few people I knew who worked in the financial district. When I reached her, she seemed surprised I’d called. Not necessarily because we hadn’t spoken in a while, not necessarily because she was fine. Just like, “Why are you calling me?” Tragedy doesn’t bring everyone together.
I’m not sure exactly why Kerry and I keep our cycle of awful nights out going. I find her very attractive. I think she just finds me different from the guys she likes, and that’s refreshing. Historically, people didn’t know why I wasted time on her. I tried telling my friend Meg about it.
I said something like, “She’s got a stare that knocks you back. Her irises are crowding out her sclerae, and she just grins and stares. She looks like such a mammal, with her brown eyes and hair; her small, light frame; and her pointy sensitive nose. And her breasts, yes, disproportionate, full and stretched across a narrow rib cage. The whole effect, eyes pouncing, breasts pushing — she’s moving forward, she’s very forward-oriented. It makes you just want to leeeeaan into her.”
“What you’re saying,” Meg tried to interpret, “is that she’s got big brown eyes and big tits?”
Damn, it sounded better my way.
Anyway, the date: the smart money is, as usual, on separate cabs. But Kerry reminds me I’m lucky to be there at all, considering the last time. (No comment.) Now she’s saying, and not about me, “I don’t want to have a big wedding ceremony. I’m not interested in anything offensive. I just want a big rock.”
Me: “Excuse me, a what?”
“I think about forty-five thousand dollars would be nice. I want something to go with this watch I bought myself last Christmas, did you see it?”
I haven’t quite recovered. “Forty-five thousand dollars for a ring?”
“All right, fifteen.” Is she negotiating?
“Listen, I know you’re running in the big money circles, but unless you marry your boss, I don’t think many people our age are going to have that kind of money for that kind of purchase. Wouldn’t you rather, you know, live for a year on the money?”
“I know we’re not rich enough yet. I’m not expecting to get married yet. I’m waiting until we’re older and rich enough.”
“Well, maybe I could manage fifteen.” I take it all so personally.
“I don’t mean you,” she says, then bites her lip. “Look, if we’re not already married by forty-five, then we can get married.”
“All right, thirty-five.”
Well, I picked up the check and put her in a cab. I have no idea what any of this is about.
“Do you plan to see her again?” Meg asked me.
“I don’t know. I mean, I’d like to. She’s pretty busy, and I’m going to be away for a while…these things slip away. You know my usual style. Play it so cool they forget who you are.”
Meg isn’t letting it go. “Are you trying to date this girl?”
“I only saw her once in the last two years, you know.”
“But you’ll see her a second time, and a third time, and then a fourth time…thatís how these things happen.”
“Well, I like her, you know. I admit it.”
“Listen, Jack, she sounds like a dipshit.”
Damn it, why is Meg my friend?
Stupid things that women have done that made me like them even more
Not to suggest only women do stupid things. But they are the only ones who do stupid things that make me like them even more.
Kerry You’ll perhaps recall that every couple of years Kerry and I have dinner. On one of these occasions, we arrive at the restaurant to find it is full and we have no reservation. The maitre d’ helpfully suggests that if we’d like to give him a name, we can retire to the bar and he will let us know when a table is ready. Sounds good.
“The name is Task,” I tell him, because that is my name.
Kerry says, “I usually just say Smith.”
I’m somewhat surprised. She says, “It’s easier for them to remember.”
“But it’s harder for me to remember,” I tell her, “because it isn’t my name.”
So we go to sit at the bar. I try not to think about why she is used to telling men behind desks that her name is Smith.
Eventually the maitre d’ appears behind us. “Party of Task and Smith,” he says.
Maybe in this story it’s really the maitre d’ I ended up liking. Moving right along.
Shelly When I was a young man with little idea what to do with myself, I naturally ended up in advertising. My first gig was as an intern with the creatives, which was a pretty good place to be. Adding to the agony and ecstasy of this was my fellow intern, a gorgeous young woman my age who somehow, no matter how I tried to pretend, wasn’t all that bright. Sometimes she was charming to have around, but sometimes I wished she would go away. And die.
So we’re working on a television ad for a bank. Some idiot has come up with the idea of cartoon dollar bills running around. So that’s what we’re working on. Shelly and I are in charge of the treatment for the script. I take a look at her draft, and she’s got them working together to build a big wall, which then has the corporate logo on it.
“You see,” Shelly says, “the dollars work together to build a new future for the bank’s clients.” Or something like that.
“I don’t like the wall,” I say. “It’s a negative image: building a wall. Why can’t they do something else?”
“Well, what if, I dunno, we want the logo in there. What if they hauled up a flag that had the logo on it?”
Shelly looked aghast. “A flag! But Jack, how can they do that? They’re only little dollar bills!”
This story has a happy ending, because she is today CEO of Ogilvy.
The task, heroic; the hero, me
So I go to a party some white girl is throwing for herself. Looking around at the celebrants, I think Leonard Jeffries cannot be all wrong. She asks me, “Have you met anyone interesting?” I say, “You mean ever? I know you don’t mean tonight.”
But because the proper study of mankind is heartless bitches, I wade into this Whitey Biennial in search of god, love, and guns, just like my blogless gonzo forebears.
The party has as its setting a bar other than the one I am used to, and I feel out of sorts. Why should I be wasting time in this bar when I could be happily at home, wasting time in my bar? But although the situation is alien, the results can be the same: drunkenness in public. I order some drinks, talk to some fellow inmates.
Resting from the battleground, I talk a bit to my friend Oliver, the world’s most sensitive straight man. He tells me about a job that’s just come into his PR company, to develop a program for a non-profit branch of the U.S. Army, in which 1% of all proceeds will be donated to peace.
Next thing I know, I lock eyes with Kerry across a crowded musical number. She rushes over to me as if she wants to talk to me ever. She has chubbed out a little for the winter, and it works; those tits would be so nice to come home to, by the fire. It turns out she’s there at a different party being held in the same bar. How’s that for an embarrassing scheduling conflict? Kerry and I weren’t due to run into each other again until 2005 at the earliest. So as Oliver wanders off to turn unsuspecting women into warm puddles of adoration, Kerry and I “catch up” on the very meager, stringy, and unnourishing pieces of news since September.
But what she most wants to do is whine, and your chronicler lets her. She’s whining about her roommate, a woman I had not met or previously heard of. She’s sick of her roommate, whose crime seems to be that she is inferior to Kerry, not only in Kerry’s estimation but that of all of Kerry’s friends.
“She’s such a social liability,” Kerry growls. “She’s shy. No one likes her at all, but I always have to take her to these parties because of course she knows I’m going. But no one wants to talk to her. She just stands around.”
“Well, that’s unfortunate,” I say.
“But the worst part is — she gets so much out of it! I mean, she gets more out of these parties than she contributes!”
Say what? Now she’s lost me. What the heck kind of vindictiveness is that? I mean, okay, the lady is boring, but now you’re upset that she’s boring and not miserable?
While I’m trying to figure out a reply for this, one of Kerry’s friends joins us, a woman I have never met. Kerry introduces her to me as Erica, the very roommate! And then, of course, escapes.
So I chat with the hated roommate. Here is what I discover, not necessarily in order: she is tall, charming, bright, sincere, blonde, athletic, well-traveled, and has a big rack. Normally at least some of those things would be enough to make her popular. But it really seems true that no one likes her, and, based on her sad sack aura, she knows it. She even launches into this subject, telling me that she is not “memorable,” and is always being introduced to people who talked to her before and don’t know it. As I went around with her at the party, this was borne out.
It was becoming a very disturbing mystery. How had Kerry and the forces of evil convinced an entire planet that this very acceptable girl was worthless? Including the girl herself? Okay, so she’s a little dorky, but that just keeps her human. I remember something like this in William Goldman’s first novel, where there was a girl with big tits who had no friends. I think I’m here on Earth to make sure that never happens again.
Erica, you will be rescued. Just hold on a little longer.
What's White Now
That is not the name of this article, but rather the name of the one I’ve been researching for the year-end double issue of Paper magazine. Contemporary whiteness is often hard to define, especially as Lenny Kravitz records and Hong Kong action movies seem to be such a stable foundation for it. However, my editors do not want excuses, but results, so I have to go to a lot of cocktail parties uptown. I feel I can talk about these issues here rather than in the magazine, because I have decided not to write the article. Mostly because I don’t like to do work.
For research purposes, my editor called in some favors and got me invited to a Thanksgiving dinner at the home of some successful professionals on the Upper East Side. It was to be a gold mine of whiteness, and I had my notebook ready. The host was the youngest partner at his bank, and the hostess was a supermodel who had just barely retired. They were wealthy, but not as wealthy as their guests, except me. Although I am ethnically white, I was there to represent the non-white perspective, by comparison.
I phoned up Kerry because I know she admires rich white people. I asked if she would be my date. I needed cover.
“Thanksgiving, Jack? You think I don’t have anything better to do on Thanksgiving than be your paid-for trophy at some job?”
“Kerry, you misunderstand: I’m doing this for you. The finest foods, the most sought-after liquors. If there aren’t drugs there, I will buy you some afterwards. Also, the people there are probably looking for a bright young thing to whom they could entrust their commodities trades. If you wear that stretchy black dress, you will get commissions. This is going to be the only time when I ask you to go on a date where you will meet better men than me. Wear the black dress. This is my gift to you.”
Eventually she was persuaded by the picture I painted. She knew she couldn’t let this opportunity slip by, even if it meant being on her family’s holiday shit list. If nothing else worked out, I wanted to see her in that dress. I picked her up in a yellow cab, even though it was out of my way, and we headed uptown to the scene of the trouble. I tried to kiss her in the back seat but she didn’t let me. The combination of white girl, black dress, and the knowledge that she was only the least of the whiteness that our evening would hold — it was almost too much for me. I had brought her along for someone to share my observations with. Now I felt I also needed someone else to tell about how great I thought Kerry was. I tried telling the cab driver, but he didn’t like white people. We soon arrived at the destination brownstone.
When I say “white”, I guess what I really mean is “square”, but in that special way that white people can do it. Someone from Malaysia can be square, but still won’t have the genetic predisposition to admire Phil Collins. (Not to single out Mr. Collins for denigration; although I was never a fan of his solo work, I do like his new band, Coldplay.) But, of course, the average white gesturings at hipness can be just as absurd. So I guess what I mean is “I hate white people”.
Kerry and I floated up, up, in the doorman building to the penthouse palace where hors d’oeuvres were already circulating. I installed Kerry on an armchair, where I could refer to her as needed, and where she could be admired but no one could sit next to her, and went off to introduce myself around. Like a gentleman, I began with the hostess, a gorgeous blonde who would have been young by any definition except that of the industry she worked in. She had the charming quality of being the only beautiful, intelligent woman at the party who was nervous and self-conscious. It turned out this was because her husband beat her. I also said hello to him. I tried to assure her it was a wonderful party, which she denied out of hand. She took me around to meet the other guests. As we chatted, I noted that all the men there had recently sold their businesses for several million dollars each, and all the women there were married to the men. I drifted over to a sofa where a young woman with a serious expression was talking at two men with hardly any expressions at all.
“I just realized I couldn’t stand by and let this go on,” she was saying. The men kept watching her noncommittally. Sensing my arrival, she turned to me and said, “We’re talking about the state of education in New York.”
“Oh?” I said, fully expressing my position.
“Do you realize,” she said, fixing me with a purposeful gaze, the way I imagine Gene Debs would have addressed an audience if he was a spoiled rich girl without two synapses to rub together, “that the majority of children in the city go to public schools?”
She turned back to her crowd of two, but instantly the half of them that was sitting on the sofa nudged me and asked, “You’re from downtown, right?”
“Yes, just near—”
“You got any drugs?”
“Sorry, I didn’t happen to—”
“It’s all right. Can you call someone?”
“Well, I don’t usually—”
By this time he was staring off into space again, in the general direction of the young activist, who was continuing her eye-opening lecture to the other guy. “I can’t believe the shit this idiot is talking,” my sofa companion said, gazing at her with real admiration. “I mean, I’ve slept with her, and I wouldn’t mind doing it again tonight. But…I mean, an idiot.” He turned to me and drew in breath. “So what do you do?”
I was contemplating how to answer that (my card, after all, read “Jack Task, downtown celebrity”) when a small silver bell was sounded to call us all in to put on the feed bag. In a complex algorithm understood by hosts alone, people were spread around the table to heighten the possibility of fascinating interaction. Seating (or “nurture”) was trumped by deeper concerns (or “nature”), as most of the men still craned their necks to keep Kerry’s antics in view. She was down the other end of the table, where I didn’t catch much of her fascinating interaction, but she seemed well-lubricated, and more sparklingly relaxed than she’d ever been when I tried to get her drunk on a regular date. I tried to keep up my end of the bargain with the Stepford Whites down on my side, but it’s hard to compete for women whose husbands just got checks for fifty million dollars. My millions are all tied up in vintage copies of National Geographic back in my mother’s house. If you want to get laid in this town, you need liquidity. I decided to push conversations onto topics where I would shine, such as alcohol abuse. But, like any great filmmaker, I knew that the best way to communicate a story was to “show”, not “tell”. I kept a heavy pour of the house red going around the house of whites.
TO BE CONTINUED….
Snowbound on Park Avenue
One bubbly wifey in a fuzzy Burberry pullover kept watching me amusedly over her platinum rings. “You must be a cigar,” I told her in confidence, “because you are smokin’.”
“Do you like cigars?” broke in her chipper apparent husband. “I brought some great ones from our last trip to Paris. We’ll smoke them after dinner.” He patted my arm with fraternal promise. It was like wife-swapping. I was swapping him back his wife for a stogie. I want you to know that I can’t be bribed. I decided to hit on his wife more when he wasn’t sitting next to me.
We all drank our way through some uptown version of turkey and stuffing, which seemed to mostly be shellfish, and then repaired to the drawing room once again for the continued drawing-out of Kerry’s life of the party. Before the men could fully swarm her, I crouched down by her armchair and hissed, “What are you doing.”
“What do you mean? I’m having fun.” She swigged her Courvoisier and then remembered, “You wanted me to come! What’s the problem now?”
“I don’t know. I think you’re throwing off the data. We were supposed to observe, not take over. You are not following the Prime Directive.”
She looked at me and giggled, then, pointing at me with her snifter like Sidney Greenstreet, she said, “I think you’re just jealous.” She laughed to herself and settled back in the chair.
“Fine. Ruin the white people party. I don’t care.” I headed into the kitchen, looking for the sweater girl. I found her there with her husband. He had collected three snifters and was pouring out something from a flask. “This is the cognac we make at our vineyard in Toulouse,” he said. The third snifter was planned for me. He knew how to make friends. We toasted. It tasted better than the cognac we made at our vineyard. As he poured them out again, he said, “Now, for the cigars.”
The wifey got excited, but said to me demurely, “We want to go to Cuba someday, but usually we just buy them in France, since we’re there anyway.” The husband produced a leather bag with several cigar-shaped aluminum cans which each held an individual. “Are you a big cigar smoker?” I admitted I knew little. “Well, I’m having one of these. You have one too.” He gave me a giant tobacco bomb that said “Romeo y Julieta” on the band; a real literary piece of rope. The young lady selected a much smaller item. “I can’t smoke a whole one,” she said. I put the unlit cigar in my mouth and stood around wondering which way to the Yalta Conference.
“I don’t think they want smoke in the kitchen,” he said, and led us up the narrow stairs to the roof. It was brisk, and we lit up. A snifter of homebrew, an illegal smoke, and a beautiful woman. I was beginning to understand what the white people were on about. I was about to harrumph and begin, “I say, old man, now about this white business—” when the guy got a cell phone call and disappeared around a smokestack to confer about buying and selling. I smiled at his wife, who smiled at me. I handed her my cigar band. “Romeo and Julieta. Like you and me.” She rolled her eyes and stood there holding her burning cigar. “I enjoyed talking to your wife,” she said to me. “I don’t have a wife,” I said. “Your finacée,” she clarified. “Are you talking about Kerry?” I asked.
“She’s more of a beard. You see, I’m undercover. She is not beholden to me. She is a free agent, acting for her own interests.”
“That much seemed clear.” She puffed on her little cigar while I watched the world over mine. “You’re ‘undercover’, you say?”
“Yes, I’m here to observe white people. No offense.”
She watched me for a moment. “It’s a good disguise,” she said. I thanked her for saying so. “I even would have thought you were white,” she said.
“A lot of people make that mistake,” I admitted. “I find it easy to ‘pass’, since my parents were white and I was brought up that way. Now, however, I consider myself more ‘nondescript’.”
Her husband rejoined us and seemed pleased that we were not engaged in hot adultery. He offered the flask around again. “Thanks very much for your hospitality,” I said, and I meant it. “Now I had better go collect my things.”
I air-kissed my way back from the coat room, gathering up my coat, umbrella, and Kerry. “It’s time to go,” I told her. “Thank god,” she said. Her bonhomie seemed to have dissipated. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Tell you in the cab,” she said, and I bundled her into her arctic gear. I assured the hostess the party had not been as big a failure as she thought it was, left her heroically choking back tears on the doormat, and tried to kiss Kerry again in the elevator.
“Do you know what this guy did?” she asked me, when she’d got my head out of her neck.
“One of those guys asked me if I was from downtown.”
“Yeah, they asked me that too.”
“Then he wanted to know how much for a blowjob.”
“He said that? Some guy?”
“Yeah. Can you believe it? Fucking asshole.”
I thought about this for a couple of dings from the elevator. “I guess up here on Mount Olympus, when they look down their telescopes at us, we must seem pretty irrelevant. They want to turn into swans and bulls and really put us to use.”
“It was gross,” Kerry said. I nodded.
“So — what did you tell him? How much?”
She hate me, she hate me not
Stepping backwards in the narrative for a moment, after Kerry and I parted ways on Thanksgiving in the Wilds of Park Avenue, I anticipated the beginning of a radio silence between us, the length of which would be unknown. I had abandoned writing it all up for Paper magazine before the end of the cab ride home. I knew Kerry’s cab would be going in the same direction until it angled over some bridge or other. It made me feel like a low-down heel. I am bad at hitting on the girls I actually like. My only consolation is that there are so few of them.
The next morning/afternoon, I attended a one-off product shoot with the agency I’ve been freelancing for. I was shooting chromes but I wasn’t hungover, and I thought they’d be all right. With chromes the lighting has to be just so, and the last thing I want when I’m hungover is to add light to the room I’m in. That was one benefit of the previous evening ending early. Lately, there are only three possibilities: something goes wrong with the girl, and you leave early; you spend all night drinking with some girl until you can’t even get it up; you spend all night drinking with some girl but more or less can still get it up when it is finally required. Two out of three of those involve drinking yourself into a stupor, for those keeping score. They are bad for shooting chromes. Your only hope of escape is for the girl not to like you, which happens only if you’ve chosen her with extreme care.
After my usual three-hour day, I swung by the liquor store and then home. Since I had skipped a day of drunkenness, I thought I’d celebrate. As the magnum of Stoli was chilling in the freezer, I checked my answering machine and found that, against the expectations of the handicappers, Kerry had in fact already called. She said this:
“Jack, hi, it’s Kerry, it’s just about four o’clock. Look, sorry about last night. I just wanted to say I’m glad you invited me — made me go, really, but it was fun to see you and I’m sorry about losing my temper at the end. I know you weren’t actually offering me money for sex. Or I think I know. Anyway, let’s get together soon, this week, okay? Call me. Bye.”
I poured myself an unchilled vodka and thought about the ramifications of this call, and my receiving of it. It was perhaps the most monumental communication I had ever heard. It was not eloquently worded, well-delivered, or recorded at an especially high fidelity (Neil Young, for example, refuses to leave answering machine messages until 24-bit recording reaches the home), but it shook the foundations of most of what I understood about modern society. To wit:
- A man had insulted a woman’s honor on a date. The woman was still willing to talk to him.
- She called him.
- She did this the very next day.
- She called to apologize.
I also was sensitive to the subtextual reading that Kerry’s objection to my suggestion of money for sex was the money part, which is not the usual problem, and something I felt I could work with. Will you be surprised to know that I picked up the phone and dialed this woman’s number? Let me add another shocking bullet point to the litany:
- After all that, she answered the phone.
With admirable casualness, we made a date for Saturday night, the day of the week historically reserved for the heaviest of dates*. I put my glass in the freezer with the rest of my supply and lay down on the couch to think about what I could have possibly done right. I had been pursuing Kerry in a haphazard way for the better part of my New York gigolo life. Many had tried to determine the source of my mindless attraction to her, though the smart money seemed to be on “dark hair, big tits, knee boots, not particularly friendly”. No one was mystified as to the source of hers to me: there was none. But now I was suddenly seeming to get through to her. In the intervening years, she must have dated every other man in New York. Now it was me or nothing. I had to make sure she chose me.
Kerry. I thought about her. I decided I needed her. Stay tuned.
* Thursday is for dating strangers, because there’s no pressure, since everyone has to get up early. Friday is for dating friends, because you can stay out all night but can’t spend all day preparing for it. Saturday is for when you want to get it on, and then wander around in a love daze all Sunday afternoon to the scorn of everyone else on the island.**
** I feel I have taught you too much in this post. Shooting chromes, the possible ends of an evening, the nature of modern society, which days of the week mean what. I hope you appreciate it, but in the end it’s not fair to all the blogs that only talk about what DVDs somebody bought. In the future I will be less educational, though it will mean the loss of my grant from the Corporation for Public Blogcasting and viewers like yo mama.
Date night, but not for us
As Thursday rolled around, I had spent several days congratulating myself for scheduling The Date That Should Not Have Been, due to occur in just two more days. I went out to my day of toil in the vineyards of overproduction, meeting up with the same agency types who had been recently feeding and clothing me, though not personally, but with money. I showed up fed on Corn Flakes (a former client) and clothed in Levi’s (I am Orthodox in my jeans choice). Just steps into the space, the account executive immediately sidelined me and said, “Can’t you look professional?”
“What do you mean?”
“This isn’t a jeans kind of shoot.”
I looked down at his suit from Yesterday’s Man. “I can’t do a photo shoot in a three-piece. I have to move around.”
“This is an important client. Next time we meet with them, wear chinos at least.”
He wandered off to smile while I did the work. The very concept of “professional” confuses me. What does it mean to “look professional”? It means to wear a suit. Wearing a suit is not difficult. All you have to do is put a suit on your body, and it’s done. You have mastered the process. What does that have to do with your professional abilities?
Another aspect of this myth is the letterhead. Why do deadbeats get printed letterhead? Because it “looks professional”. But what it really is is convenient. Nobody at General Motors wants their entire employee base writing out the address every time they send an envelope to somebody. They get the letterhead printed not for some abstract concept of what it means to be in business, but because it saves time and money for their company. Wearing jeans saves time and money for my company, and for yours if you hire me. For one thing, we’d just spent thirty seconds discussing it, and I bill by the half-second. That’s sixty-three cents you’ll never see again, smart guy!
But I got through it and returned home to more flashing from the only shining element of my life, the bulb on my answering machine. Pushing it turned out to be a let-down. Kerry was canceling the date that was going to change my life.
“Jack, hi, it’s Kerry, it’s about three-forty-five here. I’m really sorry to do this at the last minute, but they just asked me to go out to San Francisco, and I won’t be back until Monday. I really wanted to see you this weekend. The next week or two aren’t looking so good, but can you call me and we’ll figure it out? I’m really sorry, Jack, please don’t think I’m trying to get out of this. I couldn’t say no to my boss. Please call me, or I’ll call you when I get back. Okay. Talk to you soon, bye.”
I pulled from the freezer the just-begun glass of icy vodka that Kerry’s intrusion into my mindspace had interrupted my consumption of a few days before. It had been my backup plan all along, though I hadn’t known it. I sat on my couch and considered what game was afoot. There was the possibility that she was on the level. There was the possibility that she was telling the truth in the particularity of having to leave town, but nonetheless was relieved it got her out of our date. There was the possibility that she was making it up to get rid of me. There was the possibility that the entire date had been a ruse to punish me. They all seemed equally possible. I was even willing to credit as equally possible that she was completely not fucking with me. But I didn’t know which was the truth. I drank the vodka instead.
In Manhattan at least, Thursday is date night, as I have explained: the night for first dates between people who are auditioning each other for a starring role. I went out into the night and stumbled upon dozens, hundreds, an entire city full of these hopeful cases with their locked step and their crossed fingers. Not fair, under the circs. There is nothing worse than being stood up for a Saturday (the most serious of evenings out) on a Thursday (when you’d have to suffer through three whole days of other people’s dates). I headed for the bar, where the only dating was trying to figure out the era of each stain and burn on the bar. Some of them had happened since I’d been going, I was sure.
The bar was almost empty, which is not surprising, even though the neighborhood was crowded with drinkers: they wouldn’t be coming here. I knew I could relax among my fellow rejects from the dustbin of love. I swept into the room and sized up my evening: Crazy Leland, who only knew one joke and was still working on its delivery; Big Sal, who was curled up asleep in a booth, with his feet two feet over the side; Joey One-Nose, our local mafia don who always went home, with great willpower, after two beers and fourteen brandies; and — here I almost turned around and stalked back to my apartment — that firebrand of the drunken pool league, neighborhood girl Teresa, who I hadn’t seen in forever. But she saw me immediately, because she put down the pool stick from the game she was playing with herself and disappeared into the back.
I sat at the bar and called for a vodka. Never mix, never worry. Crazy Leland asked me if I wanted to hear a joke. Joey asked if I wanted him to buy me a brandy. From behind I felt a light smack and I turned to see Teresa back already. “Hey, it’s you,” she said.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m glad to see you,” I said.
“Ha,” she said. “Yeah. All right, buy me a drink.”
I ordered her a Jameson’s on the rocks, and she was impressed that I remembered. But I never forget a drink, or the drunk girls who drink them, especially when the last time I saw them we’d had abortive sex (my favorite). However, if it were up to me, I’d generally not put ice in a premium whiskey.
“So how you been,” she said, as we clinked glasses. I told her, “I been all right.” This was how to talk neighborhood.
I said, “I kept hoping I’d run into you again. It’s been a long time since last time.”
She said, “Yeah, you’re right, okay, buy me a drink.” I managed to sway the bartender back to our end of the bar right in the crucial moment of Leland’s joke, and he refilled her glass. I wasn’t quite to the same pace yet. She swirled her ice around and said, “I’m not having a good night.”
“Yeah, right. What’s right? It’s bullshit to talk about it, though.” That was probably the most wisdom I could expect from any of my emboozled colleagues that evening, but I agreed with it.
I put my hand on her shoulder. As the least drunk person in the room, bar staff included, I felt a fatherly responsibility. “Teresa, I’m sorry,” I said. “I wish things were better for you.”
“Ha,” she said. “You wish you could get me in the sack, is all. Like I’d be interested after last time. Or any time. Like I don’t have enough trouble already.”
I drank my drink and got another one. She was still swirling her ice defiantly. “It’s all the same shit,” she said.
I absently turned my head to take in a bit of the Joey-Leland-bartender conversation, which seemed to require prior knowledge. Teresa drank her drink when I wasn’t looking. I got us some more.
“Thanks,” she said, when the latest one was brought forth. “You don’t have any cocaine, do you?”
Cocaine, that substance that seemed to work for Other People. It bores me. I leveled my cocaine-poor gaze at her. She said, “I know you have some, you guys always do. Come on.” She took my hand, got down from the stool, and started off to the bathrooms, where the traditional cocaine feasts were held. They usually also involved touching.
“I don’t have any,” I said. She stopped, still bathroom-facing, and I took my hand back. She turned around and sat next to me again. “That’s all right,” she said, “it was just a thought.”
We drank in silence for a while. “I’m sorry you’re sad,” I said again, like a bozo.
“Thanks,” she said. We sat there for a while, drinking, not talking, and when she started to fall off her stool too often, I walked her home. She kissed me a bit at the bottom of the steps, and then a bit more at the top of the steps, and then I went home, thinking about Kerry and how she was such a jerk.
I slept in late on Friday because I had nothing else to do. That’s more or less my explanation for everything. I called my ardent supporters at 26 Street Color Labs to tell them I’d be in Monday to get the chromes I should have gotten immediately. But it was only for a job. I had better things to worry about, like my wounded soul [sic].
Kerry had canceled our date, and it was a blow. It was a date that never should have been conceived of to begin with, and when it had been, it had given me hope. I thought maybe I had underrated Kerry, myself, and the race of man. Then she had canceled, and I realized that in fact, once again, I was right about everything. I was not going to get a piece of that.
However, she had suggested that she felt bad about the cancellation, and that we should reschedule. This could have been just cover. Or it could have been true. I had to decide which of these interpretations I would respond to. In the hungover cocoon of my bedclothes, I grasped the phone which would dial her number. I decided to give her one more chance. I would take her at face value: I would propose that we get together again the following Saturday. I was even prepared to consider, if she were not available, the Saturday after that. All without thinking less of her for it. That was how far I was willing to meet her halfway. I dialed her number.
It rang once. I reshuffled phrases in my head for use in the clear, concise message I would leave. It rang twice. I had second thoughts about allowing her such control over me after all, but then reconsidered. It rang three times, and I mentally ran through my oratory. But instead of an answering machine message, I heard, “Hello?”
I said, “Kerry?”
The voice, which didn’t sound like Kerry’s, said, “No, this is Erica.”
I said, “Oh!”
She said, “I’m Kerry’s roommate.”
I said, “I know who you are, we —”
“Oh, because a lot of Kerry’s friends, or the people she knows, they don’t know me, and —”
“This is Jack Task. We’ve met.”
She paused for a second, considering that. “Yes,” she said, “Jack. How are you?”
“Well, I’m fine, uh, actually. How are you?”
“Oh, I’m okay, I guess, thanks. Did you want me to take a message for Kerry? Or do you want to just call back and I’ll let the machine get it? She’s away for the weekend, you know.”
“Yes, I do know,” I said, and I thought about what I had wanted to say to Kerry, and about Erica sitting in her room listening to it, precisely targeted direct to the wrong ear. “Well, I guess I don’t have a message. I was just returning her call.”
“She had to leave town suddenly,” Erica said again.
“Yes, she told me,” I said.
“Meeting in San Francisco,” Erica said.
“So I understand,” I said.
“Did you two have plans?” she asked.
“I was just returning her call,” I said.
“Because if you had plans, obviously, well, I’m sorry to say she’s left town unexpectedly.”
“It’s not your fault,” I said. There was a pause while I tried to figure out what was happening.
“Thanks,” she said.
“Erica,” I said, “are you available tonight?”
“Tonight?” she said. “Friday night?”
“Yeah, tonight. It’s Friday.”
“Well,” she said, and I pictured her looking around their apartment, “actually. This particular Friday I happen to be available.”
“Because I was thinking that maybe —”
“Most Fridays I’m not available,” she said. “This Friday happens to be convenient for me because —”
“I thought that, since you’re free, we could —”
“— because this Friday I happen to have no friends at all because I’m very unpopular due to the fact that no one likes me. What did you want to do?”
“Should we get dinner?”
“I can be ready in ten minutes. What time?”
I looked at my watch. It was three in the afternoon. “How about we meet at Café Ombre? At eight o’clock?”
She said, “All right, that’s fine. I don’t know if you remember, I’m a tall blonde —”
“I remember. I look forward to seeing you, Erica.”
“Great. Okay, great. See you then.”
I went back to bed. At around six I wandered into the bathroom and reconstructed myself by chipping away everything that didn’t look like a gigolo. I had a couple of stiff ones and trudged out across town to that West Village enchanted bistro, Café Ombre, where I have never had a date that didn’t end in tragic, Lake District lovemaking. For a moment, on the M8 bus, I was struck with remorse that I was leading Erica down the garden path. I had no right to take her to dinner, especially not at a romantic spot where she was guaranteed to agree to give it up. This was between me and Kerry. Erica was an innocent. The fact that she had answered the phone should not have made her party to the conflict.
But then again, in any court of justice, the fact that she was a blonde with big tits made her fair game. I refrained from asking the driver of the M8 bus to turn back. I was soon at the café, where I spoke to Javier, a man whose job was equivalent to that of the owner but without the ownership that would entail, nor even the salary level of a manager. He seemed to be not so much a manager as the waiter elected from their number to deal with the non-waiters. He was my friend. He gave me the You Will Get Laid table, a leather booth behind some leafy plants far away from the other tables but close to the bathrooms, so your date couldn’t go hide in them with someone else without your knowing it.
Javier brought me, personally, my usual fine Russian vodka in locally available glassware. I had only taken a sip of it when Javier brought me the next course: Erica looking flushed from the cold, beaming, struggling out of her coat with his help. He gave me a broad stage wink, and took off with the coat, another prevention against your date leaving without your permission, and I rose to give Erica a proper greeting with a chaste peck on the cheek involving an unavoidable press against her chest. We sat in the booth. She looked happy so far.
“Thanks for meeting me tonight, Erica,” I said.
She beamed and said, “It’s my pleasure, Jack. I’m just happy to get out of the house for a change.”
I considered for a moment her outfit, which must have been witty when you considered its brevity. Red heels, tan skirt, and a kind of orange tube top normally worn when it is not winter and you not are a non-hooker. It struck me how sad it was that a girl whom nobody invited out wouldn’t have appropriate date clothing, but would still have hooker tube tops. (I was in a blazer, slacks, and a collarless shirt — all black. Do you approve?) Anyway, she looked pretty hot.
Javier’s assigned waitstaff professional took her cocktail order — vodka Gimlet; what does that mean? We considered the menu and I ordered a professional bottle of wine. It all went off quite well, with the leafy plant swishing importantly whenever the next course was brought or someone had to go to the bathroom. Erica and I gazed into each other’s eyes for our own separate reasons, and finally I got the check and paid it with the money that I get from working. Now we know why I bother.
At my signal her coat was returned and we stepped out into the night, standing on the street corner for one final negotiation.
“Thank you so much for the wonderful —”
“How about one more drink?” I asked.
“Well, sure, all right, where do you —”
“How about your place?”
“Sure, I have some drinks,” she said. “We can go to my place for a drink. That’s no problem!”
“Let’s do that,” I said. She smiled at me, and I felt bad, but I remembered that tube top under her honest winter coat. Wasn’t she just as much to blame as Javier?
After Erica led me into her apartment, I took her coat and left her to mix the drinks while I snooped around the place. I had never been invited back to the apartment she shared with Kerry before, and certainly not by Kerry. I left our coats on a chair and stood in the doorway of Kerry’s room, noting the too-big bed but not touching it: I’d leave that for when I saw her next. Sure, she might have had to leave town suddenly, but she’d be back, and I could resume my lifelong process of learning how to seduce her.
Erica had arranged herself on the couch, brightly waiting for me with two vodka-and-sodas in her two hands. With her hands full, her tube top was beginning to slip, and as soon as I relieved her of a glass, she pulled her top back up while sipping from the remaining drink.
“Bit chilly for December,” I said, gesturing at her cleavage with my glass.
“Oh, I like my vodka on the rocks all year round,” she explained.
“That’s good,” I said. “Drink up.” We drank up. I finished my glass but she didn’t finish hers. Otherwise I still liked her. I put the glasses on her Ikea table and kissed her goosebumpy neck. She had her hands gently on my shoulders, and, grinning, she said, “Oh, you shouldn’t.”
“Why not,” I said, without stopping. She said, “Oh, okay.”
I looked in her face and I said her name. She fluttered and said something similar to my name. I kissed her right down the cakehole and she made it known she appreciated it. We held onto each other there on the couch, crunched up in one corner, feeling important. “I’m glad you called me today,” she said, which was a pleasantly revisionist version of the story, since I had been calling her roommate. “Me too,” I said.
Erica settled in against the cushions and I handed her her drink. She smiled at me and smiled at the drink and smiled. I traced little circles on her thigh with an ice-skating finger. “You know,” I said, “you’re a good-looking woman.”
She giggled. “No, I’m not.”
I leaned back in but I didn’t take her drink. She sipped on it as I bit on her jaw. “Don’t act surprised,” I said.
“I’m not surprised, it’s just not true,” she said, in all her radiant glory. I hooked a finger into her tube top and peered inside. “Looks pretty good to me,” I said. She snorted and spilled her drink on her own clavicle. I raised up the tube top to absorb it. As I wiped her with the clothes she was wearing, I said, “Stop playing games; you know you’re turning me on.”
Her eyes were wide. “Are you serious? I am?” I nodded. She grinned. “Okay,” she said.
I pried the empty glass out of her hand, set it on the Ikea table, and kissed her seriously with hands on head and everything. Then I rolled her tube top up under her arms, which she automatically lifted so I could take it off over her head. She really was as gorgeous as I wanted her to feel. A little goofy, but nobody would know that if they were just looking at the dirty pictures that I’d have to find a chance to shoot.
With her déshabillement a project begun, I moved her aside so I could nestle in the couch’s corner instead. She flopped down on me like a drunk, horny girl will do. We kissed and murmured and felt around each other. I think I took off my jacket. I hadn’t had that much to drink, for me, but I suppose Erica was used to getting kicked out of the party long before she’d had as many as she’d had tonight. Again, was this my fault? I did like her. I wanted something to happen between us. She was the one who was drinking her drinks.
She was spending a long while feeling around my crotch and smirking up at my face. I let her do that for a while and then I said, “Why don’t you put it in your mouth?”
She snorted again and drew back her body in probable surprise, which was a graceful arch despite her drunk staccato movement, but her hand never left the goods. She looked up at me and I nodded that I approved this message. The unzip was easy, the reaching in took some shifting around on my part, and then the tentative engulfment began. You spend so much time walking around the planet sending out the telepathic signal, “Please suck my dick,” that it’s always a relief when someone finally does. As I say, it was tentative at first, with lots of glances at my face for encouragement, but I said, “Erica, I’m just so happy to be here with you,” and after a while she was just all on her own down there, self-contained, putting in a good day’s work, and without any self-consciousness at all. She had been wound up well and now she was going to run out her charge. I squeezed her shoulder with genuine affection.
Life is farce, and so are blow jobs, but I watched Erica with growing admiration. As the only blonde bombshell wallflower in existence, she was a rare specimen to be cared for. I wasn’t going to hurt her. I wanted to help her. I wanted to cherish her, as far as was reasonable. I would do whatever I could for her. Kerry, my perfect woman, to one side, there was no reason that Erica could not also be amazing. Especially since Kerry was out of town for a few days.
As my plans for the coming weekend bounced around in fuzzy bliss, I heard the door open behind me and I turned my head to see Kerry heading in with her wheeled suitcase. She looked over at the couch first, as a couch, and then looked to see I was on it, and then wheeled closer to see that Erica was on it too. At this point, Erica hadn’t stopped moving; she was in the zone. I said, “Kerry!” Erica looked up, then took my dick out of her mouth, and said, “Kerry!” Then I burst across her face. Then Kerry wheeled her suitcase into her room and shut the door. We watched her go, and we listened to the manic sobs. Erica looked troubled. I wiped her face with a rag I found on the floor, which turned out to be her tube top. “I’m sorry,” I said to her, meaning it generally.
“She said she was going to be away for the weekend,” Erica said, still dazed from overstimulation.
“Thank you for a wonderful evening,” I said, standing, putting my jacket back on, and replacing my dick in my pants. “I will call you.”