This is a preface to the chapter, “If Irritation Occurs, Discontinue Use,” in our new book Girls?
While I had anticipated the dog days of summer before moving to the East Coast, nobody warned me about the two things that drive everyone but the tourists out of the city: unrelenting humidity and cruel nightly temperatures barely cooler than the daytime highs. I didn’t understand how serious the situation would be until I spent my first sweltering July in an apartment without air-conditioning. After that initial summer, I swore the next year would be different. And, for the first two months, it was.
I’d had just enough time to familiarize myself with the difference between the ‘high’ and ‘economy’ settings when my A/C unit went missing. According to the block’s resident homeless person, “two men on garbage cans” unceremoniously ripped it from my second-story window from the alleyway outside. I swore I wouldn’t bring anyone home until I got around to replacing it. Which, of course, I never did.
On an especially muggy Friday night, I resigned myself to sitting on the couch in front of the rinky-dink box fan I bought at the hardware store around the corner. Clark, one of my roommates, announces his friends are on their way over to pre-game, bringing an effective end to my plans for a quiet night in front of a box fan.
To avoid sticky situations involving my all-male roommates and their friends, I have taken great steps to avoid interacting with them socially; ensuring they only see me dressed up if I’m on my way out the door. When the first of Clark’s friends arrived, I thought I’d be safe from their advances by asserting myself firmly in the ‘BroZone’ at the beginning of the conversation.
I was aimlessly cruising the Internet on my laptop when the baby-faced yuppie arrived. He held out his hand to shake.
“Hey, nice to meetcha. I’m Preston.”
I give him the once-over. He’s pale and skinny, wearing leather loafers without socks and khaki shorts. His outfit is better suited for a day at the docks than an evening of East Village bar slumming with Clark and his crew. There’s a not-quite-half sleeve tattoo poking out from the cuff of his purple Polo. From his repeated adjusting of his shirtsleeve, I can tell he’s dying to talk about it, making it one topic I don’t plan on addressing.
“Yeah, you look like a Preston.” I smirk as I say it.
“If that’s your way of saying you like my khaki’s, it’s cool–I like them, too.” He forgoes seating himself on a number of unoccupied spaces on the couch, seating himself on the cushion next to me. I note the liberty he’s taken with my personal space and return my focus to the computer screen.
The troupe’s badinage continues, aided by a steady rotation of hastily rolled joints. Preston veers toward flirtatious while I stick to deprecating him, but he takes it all in stride. Does he have a thing for pretty girls who ignore a living room full of boys?
Preston’s eyes light up when a little blue baggie is produced from someone’s pocket. He’s quick to ask for “just a little bump.” Cleared for one, I watch him help himself to three, then four more. With each cocaine-laden keyful Preston brings to his nose, I find myself thinking increasingly judgmental-if unfair-things about him.
The boys drain the last of the bottle of Patron which had been full when the night started. Another baggie appears and starts to make its way between hands. Team Clark cut through their supply at record pace, either oblivious or indifferent that they’re going to be totally blitzed before midnight. It makes me wonder what kind of nonsense they’re going to get into, or if they are even going to make it to the bar. They are running on Coke Time; lines increasingly larger, speaking over each other and switching topics at an ever-increasing volume.
I’ve managed to mostly separate myself from their conversation, but it’s been over an hour since I was able to focus on getting work done, caught up in eavesdropping on their conversation instead. They break down why the prettiest girls in the city are insecure, and how great it is that they can fuck so far above Their Level as a result. From the sounds of it, every girl’s name can be exchanged with the word whore and every hookup is abetted by alcohol. The Word documents open in front of me can’t compete with lunatic insights like these.
I retreat to the kitchen for more ice water, sweaty and stressed by the heat – not the liquor and coke like everyone else – when they rouse enough excitement to get off my couch. Preston moves slower than the rest of the group, half of which is already out the door. I can tell he’d rather spend the night mooching bumps off his friends while chatting me up than at a bar with the boys.
“Hey, can I use your computer?” Preston calls from the other room. “Just to add me on Facebook real quick?”
“Uh, sure.” I let him do it because he asked first, because the banter we’ve been engaging in hasn’t felt forced.
Once the guys leave, Preston’s Facebook gets my undivided attention. Though he looks at least 10 years younger than he actually is, the activity in his feed reveals that he likes good music, appreciates art, and spends an awful lot of time on the Internet. After speed-clicking through the last few years of photos, I settle on the fact that I could describe him as cute (but not hot) to my friends, should the need ever arise.
Preston and I exchanged Facebook messages over the next few days. It was easy to ignore the fact that he felt more comfortable testing the waters by befriending me on a social network than asking for my number right out the gate. It didn’t take long for him to send me his phone number, hinting that he’s trying to speed up my reply time.
After a week of persistent texting and a failed attempt to meet up with friends in Brooklyn one night, I wound up back in Manhattan at 11pm on a Saturday night with no plans, no access to air-conditioning and no weed to abed my suffering.
Drained and a bit let down by the way my night had played out, I relayed the events of my evening to him. He responded with his address and some added incentive: I have half a bottle of wine, four beers, one Four Loko, a shit ton of pot and TV… and A/C. See you soon.
Loosely aware of Preston’s amorous intentions—and certain that I can sidestep them—I consider my options: sit at home, sticky with perspiration, or take a cab to his place. The A/C (and bag of weed) was all the carrot waving required for me to hail a ride moments later.
I take a seat on the couch and we make our way through a bottle of red wine between bong rips. The tempered climate of Preston’s living room is most agreeable. Goosebumps rise on my arms and legs, and I relish the electric, spine-tingling sensation. It feels like I haven’t really been cold in years. We never bother to turn on the TV. As it turns out, Preston makes better conversation in person than he did via text, and I don’t notice how late it is until my phone starts to ring after one AM.
Preston excuses himself to the bathroom, and I silence the call without reading the name flashing on the screen. It seems like bad manners to answer while sitting on Preston’s couch, taking advantage of the weed, wine, and polar chill that he’s been sharing with me.
I’m paying more attention to the Pandora station than Preston when he returns from the bathroom, a tactical error on my part. He moves like The Flash – launching himself across the couch, lips puckered as he tries to swoop in for a kiss.
“Whoa!” I put my hand up to stop him mid-motion. It’s a miracle I don’t wind up putting a finger in his eye. “Um… wow. Listen…” I want to come up with a good reason for shutting him down that will allow me to bask in his pleasurably chilled apartment for just a little bit longer, but I’m too stoned to think that fast. “You’re cool but uh… I don’t really like kissing,” I blurt out. So much for subtlety.
He leans against the back of the couch. “You… don’t like kissing?” he asks, clearly amused.
“I mean, I just don’t like touching.” The proverbial hole is only knee-deep at this point; I’m not done digging just yet.
Preston smirks, his eyebrows rising skeptically. “I see… so, you don’t like kissing or touching and that’s why you came over here: for a no-kissing, non-touching good time?”
“Something like that,” I mumble.
This is terribly awkward. I can’t make eye contact, focusing my attention on gathering up the purse at my feet instead.
Pandora is still playing whatever mix Preston put on, and the next ten seconds are filled only by lyrics of unidentifiable origin. When I look over at Preston, he’s still smiling.
“Are you mad?”
“Mad?” he chortles. “No, not mad. This is all very amusing to me.”
Preston’s facial expressions are still warm, his body language convincingly relaxed. This might be the first time I’ve had someone take rejection so well. It’s confusing, if nothing else.
He walks me to the door, barefoot.
“Are we cool? I mean – I don’t want you to cry about this or anything.”
Preston chuckles, insists everything is cool, and cheek-kisses me goodbye. The door makes a heavy clunk as he slides the deadbolt into place and I wait in the humming silence for the elevator. Outside, the humidity slides up my skirt without hesitation, an abrupt reminder of why I’d gone over to begin with.
I am halfway home when he texts me: A quick ‘bate sesh and a long cry and I’m good to go for the night. I had fun tonight – see you soon. x
I smirk but don’t reply. It was clearly for the best that I not spend the night pandering to Preston’s advances in exchange for reprieve from the awful summer heat.
To read the chapter on Preston, pick up your copy of Girls? today. Buy it here.