The best stories I can tell you all start with the internet; a hare-brained idea taken from an article in a newsfeed, funny tweets, borderline thirsty photographic displays. It’s not just how I meet men, it’s my vehicle for making friends with people that live in parallel universes, quite like mine but not my own.
Let me be forthcoming: when I first started talking to Alex, I thought she was going to be a very different kind of person. She told me she lived in “Stuy-Town” and I envisioned Bed-Stuy, birthplace Lil’ Kim and Notorious B.I.G. Alex was not referring to that particular piece of Brooklyn, however, but Stuyvesent Town. The difference between the two is not subtle; a pocket of Brooklyn just now beginning to gentrify and a cluster of high-rise buildings, formerly rent-controlled but now an entry point for unwed yuppies.
I liked Alex as soon as I met her – she was just so pretty, so… Manhattan. What she lacked in street smarts, she made up for in lux experiences: private school education, Island vacations, and famous ex-boyfriends. She could—and did—tackle any street in the city in a pair of five-inch heels.
We spent most of that first weekend together, convenient compatriots giving each other a dry run. Could we actually be friends? The only way to find out was to go out into The World; to see if we meshed as well in the presence of others. It wasn’t consciously decided; it’s just how these things are done.
It’s Labor Day weekend, and that was the only reason I agreed to go out on a Sunday night. I don’t even bother to take the subway back to Brooklyn to change clothes; Alex offers up several options from her closet.
I settle on a black dress designed for a girl several inches shorter and a pair of gray Calvin Klein booties, which are mysteriously (almost) my size, despite being owned by someone seven inches shorter.
It’s chilly outside. Since the weatherman’s promised cold front hasn’t rolled in yet, it seems prudent to walk while we still can.
In pursuit of adventure we walk south, her strutting and me tripping over the uneven sidewalks between Alex’s apartment and the Lower East Side. The East Village is a mess of drunken fratboys and entry-level financiers, as to be expected the night before a bank holiday. Anyone who is out is clearly hoping things will get sufficiently wild.
I try to settle into the sway of walking in borrowed stilettos, praying a pair of shoes could transform steps into struts; hips and thighs rolling harmoniously with each clack. With every block anticipation grows thicker, the buzz of inexperienced party-goers louder.
As we near our destination, we’re stopped by three attractive strangers who hold us up long enough to necessitate introductions. I catch the gleeful look in Alex’s eye upon their approach. I know I’ve signed up for a night worth remembering, so I follow her lead as she proceeds to lie about just about everything.
Extending her hand, Alex introduces herself as Penelope. She’s sporting a hefty two-finger ring bearing her real name in faux-gold, but the guys don’t bat an eye. I give a fake name too, Blaire, and nod as they introduce themselves: Mickey, Jordan, and Matt.
I let “Penelope” do most of the talking while I observe the alluring troop before me. Mickey is Joe Average; white, a little chubby, blue-eyed. Jordan is taller and leaner and charismatic, with a Rembrandt smile. Even in heels, he is clearly taller than me. Internally, I debate if he is six-three or six-four before settling on the latter.
It is clear Mickey and Jordan are out for adventure, while Matt has been dragged along somewhat unwillingly. Petite and bespectacled, Matt mentions his girlfriend twice in the first five minutes. The mention of a woman not present does not sit well with my compatriot; her irritation made clear with a snidely raised brow and dramatically pursed lips. Alex is raring to go, leading our three stewards and me to the corner for a cab.
“Guys, where are we going?” she sing-songs, looking altogether too pleased.
“My friend owns a bar on the west side,” Jordan offers.
Alex’s eyes light up and four of us – all but Matt – pile into the back of the first yellow vehicle that stops. Matt swears he’s going to catch the next one to meet us. We haven’t gotten far when Jordan’s phone bleeps. He shows us the message: Taking train back to Brooklyn, have fun!
“Going home to his girlfriend,” Jordan intones. Collectively, we sigh and roll our eyes.
Crowded together for the first time, we struggle to fill the silence with an easy verbal exchange:
Mickey turns around the passenger seat. “So, what do you ladies do?”
“I’m in finance,” I say. Nailed it. A perfect conversation stopper.
“What about you, Penelope?”
“I’m a writer.”
“Is that what you do, or is it just something you do?” Jordan asks.
“Just a thing that I do… I’m really a… a… I’m a nurse. A nurse for babies. You know, like in the hospital after they’re born or whatever.”
Alex is eager to keep with her ruse, and I struggle not to laugh with each new fib. The boys give us incredulous looks – the joke has been taken too far, the overabundant mendacity renders the whole thing unfunny. I populate the air with questions for the gentlemen until the car comes to a stop.
The bar is empty but the owner friendly, pouring rounds of whiskey with enough bite to invoke a “Whiskey Hot” standard of attraction, and a willingness for the four of us to lower our standards a bit.
At once, we succumb to Restless Heart Syndrome, and cab number two takes us to the next bar; a basement in the Meatpacking District, an area overrun with sloppy drunks and punch-it-in types and their weepy sometimes-girlfriends. As the rain picks up, we head underground, into a dimly lit basement with our hands wrapped around bottles of cheap American beer.
Alex pretends to slug down the shots bought by Mickey and Jordan before pouring them on the floor when she thinks they aren’t looking. Jordan raises a brow when he catches her, but says nothing. Our eyes meet and we trade flirtatious, close-lipped smiles instead.
Every time Alex and I disappear to the bathroom to cackle about the fake selves we’ve created, we return to find other girls trying to cut in on our new beaus and bottles of Bud Light. We aren’t rude; all it takes is a smile and they scurry to the next dark corner of unaccompanied men. At Alex’s insistence, we abandon our seats and sprint in the rain across the slick cobblestone streets to another bar, one far more crowded with a dance floor that buzzes with music and pheromones. The steam accruing inside the bar’s windows is as indicative of the heat we generate as the burn we are starting to feel. This is the turning point, the cusp of the hour at which we have to decide if we want the night to end, or give in and avoid another night alone.
The rain starts to let up and Alex makes it clear she wants to go, despite Mickey’s attempts at coaxing her to stay. I give Jordan my number, a little regretful to call it a night as I follow Alex out of the bar and into the dark.
I almost don’t answer when Jordan calls. Who calls people? I think, upon seeing his caller ID. Proper gentlemen, I remind myself before I pick up. I don’t correct him when he calls me by the fake name I’d given him, but I can’t stop smiling at the fact he’s actually calling to ask me out.
Jordan wants to meet at a bar in Williamsburg; we sit uncomfortably in the dim red light, sipping from pint glasses and exchanging thin-lipped smiles during the lulls in our tentative exchange. It is much harder to find conversational footing with this admittedly handsome stranger when sober, I realize.
Jordan gives the room a cursory glance and holds up his glass. “Should we get out of here?”
“Sure,” I say, following him out.
“Where do you want to go?”
I consider the nearby options and come up blank. Everything in a 10-block radius is going to devolve into a meat market in the next couple of hours. “The city?”
“Hmm,” he says.
Once we catch a cab, he tells the driver to take us over the bridge. Traffic is a nightmare, as always. We sit in the dark of the back seat, trying to recreate the ease with which we’d related before — but without the social buffer of other people. How do you outdo a cross-city Sunday night adventure?
The answer is simple: we have to get drunk.
Our ride drops us off in Chinatown, and we make haste into the first crowded spot we encountered. All seats occupied, standing room limited, a continuous din of voices. The close quarters give us other people to look at and talk about, as well as an unforced feeling of intimacy.
Several drinks deep, we talk about dreams of writing children’s TV shows and our mothers’ maiden names. I don’t bother to change her name, though I keep up with the lie about mine.
I am not a kisser by nature, but Jordan has a beautiful face and smooth control of his lips and jaw. Making out in the back of the cab on our return to Brooklyn is pleasant, easy — a little sloppy, even.
“This is me,” he says when we come to a stop.
I kiss him on the cheek. “I had a good time tonight.”
“Are you not coming inside?”
I don’t particularly feel like fucking, which is where I think he envisions this is going. I’m tired — drunk, obviously, and nervous. But the sooner I lay down the better off I will be, so I smile and scoot out of the backseat after him.
What the fuck am I doing?
He places a finger to his lips as he unlocks the front door. “My brother’s my roommate, so just be quiet.”
We creep through the apartment and keep tiptoeing even after the bedroom door is shut. His room is a giant blank slate; high ceilings capping off white walls, windows so high off the ground I cannot peer out of them. His desk is tidy but not clean, and there are stands for several guitars and a keyboard taking up one corner.
“Can I borrow a t-shirt and some shorts? I can’t really sleep in my jeans.”
He places these things at the end of his bed and excuses himself to brush his teeth. I’m not sure where the shyness comes from, but I change hurriedly, concerned that I don’t know how to navigate this situation. When he returns, shirtless, I take in the view of him walking from the bathroom to the bed. He is a lot fitter than I realized. Drunk and desirous, we pick up where we left off before the cab stopped, but I am so tired — already sinking into the little spoon position. I am swallowed by sleep against my will, and only released come morning.
We wake up and we are shy. The room is still spinning when he calls me by the alias I’d given him. Somehow, here, now — it feels wrong. In the bathroom, I change back into my clothes and silently thank myself for wearing flats the night before. Nothing is worse than a hangover in heels.
From his front door, Jordan escorts me onto the subway and out of Fort Greene. We part several stops later – and he kisses me before I disembark, prompting the girls seated across from us to shoot me dirty looks. From the platform, I have a last look at the man I’d woken up with as the subway pulls away.
I didn’t leave Jordan on the train that morning intending never to see him again. With every exchange where he called me Blaire and I didn’t correct or confess to him, the guilt intensified. While I’d given him glimpses of the real me — slipping up with my mother’s name, discussing writing and other hobbies — he still thought he was dealing with Blaire, a girl crazed enough to roll around with someone haughty with a body he thought was named Penelope.
There was a lot of regret to be dealt with over having lied, and having done it needlessly.
His first text, days later, went unanswered:
Hey, how are things? I might have a short day on Thursday. If you’re free we should get drinks.
As did the next, four months later, which arrived after I’d ignored his well-intentioned call:
Hey. What’s going on? Hope all is well. Just got a text from that bar’s owner and you came up. Was wondering if you were around today. He invited us to hang with some of his friends, would love for you to join.
I stared at the message for a long time before taking screenshots, which I passed on to Alex/Penelope. But I didn’t reply; knowing that if I did, eventually I’d have to spill it all and admit to lying about everything… except my interest in him.