More than a month into a self-inflicted stint of sobriety, I went to a Mets game with some people I didn’t know very well. While I’ve never found baseball particularly stirring, I never saw much reason to spend intermittent periods “on the wagon,” either. In the name of trying new things, I accepted their extra ticket to break up the monotony of previous hot, sober nights in the city.
After the game, the four near-strangers convinced me to join them at what was to become my favorite bar: Lucy’s. The bar’s namesake is an infamous bouffanted babushka who’s tended bar there since the 70s; her aging face and wig are well-chronicled by framed newspaper clippings and glamour shots on every wall, hung just high enough to be out of reach. Lucy’s is one of the last barsin the East Village that actually deserves to be called a dive.
Between my second and third glass of water, I caught a reasonably attractive man making eyes at me. He caught my attention not because I’d caught his, or that he was particularly alluring; but because his somewhat overdressed state. I took my time assessing his immaculately pressed white button-down, the crease in his slacks leading to well-oiled leather shoes. The “businessman” look was working for him, but it was out of place in the sea of greasy t-shirts and tight jeans surrounding us. As he rolled up the cuffs of his shirt, several inches of unfinished tattoos were revealed. My interest was piqued; this was a game-changer. His stares grew longer and more obvious, but a guffawing pack of drunken baseball fans rendered him unable to sidle alongside me at the bar and spark a conversation.
The once-over he gave me as he breezed by on his way out was too blatant not to warrant harassment from the peanut gallery.
“Someone thinks you’re cute.”
I caught the nod he gave me with his chin toward the front door: Come outside, I want to talk to you. I waited a few seconds before excusing myself. Baseball tickets aside, my new friends have proven less interesting the drunker they get.
He’s out there waiting, hands in his pockets – not smoking, as I assumed he would be.
“I saw you looking at me inside… thought I’d introduce myself, since you couldn’t seem to get around to it.”
He shakes my hand, “Kasper, with a K.”
A dozen coy barbs fight their way to the tip of my tongue, and I let out the lamest of the bunch: “Like the friendly ghost?”
“No – with a ‘K’, like I said.”
I can’t place his accent, and his voice is higher than I expected – delicate and lilting. If I had heard him speak before I caught him staring, I would’ve assumed he was gay. Kasper introduces his friend, a classically handsome man in glasses and similar attire. The conversation falters and they’re quick to suggest we head back in for another drink. Our newly formed trio attempts to merge with the group I arrived with, who eye me warily as I continue talking to the only people here that look like they’ve come straight from the office.
Their explanation for the attire begins as, “We’re lawyers,” and devolves into a more accurate summary: they are third-year law students, interning for a firm over the summer, hoping to secure positions after graduation.
The group I arrived with raise their eyebrows reproachfully when the lawyers aren’t looking. The invisible, irritated barrier between the two clans continues to rise. Having tired Lucy’s special charm, my baseball buddies decide to move on.
I insist they go ahead without me – that I’ll catch up, though we all know I won’t. They roll their eyes, whispering imploringly as we hug goodbye: “Don’t do it – he’s so fucking lame.”
They’re right, of course. But doing the right thing seems less fun than doing the wrong thing, so I stay and chat as he drinks enough to work up the courage to ask if I want to leave.
I am not convinced this is a good idea, or that it will yield a favorable sexual outcome. I say “Yes” without hesitation. Before the conversation can take any other unexpected turns, he asks permission before kissing me. Gentle and tongue-free, far from the pushily wanton mess I was expecting.
In the backseat of a cab, Kasper becomes noticeably nervous, giving the driver too many directions for a journey that covering 15 blocks and requiring only two turns.
The car slows to a crawl as we pass billboards taking up significant portions of the sides of buildings; Hollister models with trim hip-to-waist ratios and blinding white smiles radiate their Americana perfection onto the empty streets. We pass a tiny movie theater, stopping in front of the dreary gray scaffolding that encircles our high-rise destination. Kasper hands the cabbie a ten for the six-dollar fare before ushering me out of the backseat. Making our way across the downtrodden urban lawn, he asks if I’m allergic to cats. Apparently he took the bizarre initiative to bring one along for his summer in the city.
Walking from the cab to the building, I notice how far Kasper’s shoulders slump forward for the first time – and resist the urge to pull them back. Poor posture in tall people always bums me out. If he were to straighten up, would he be five inches taller than me?
He was right when he said he was staying in an amazing spot; a sublease from two NYU professors that had left town for the summer with a giant Picasso sculpture courtyard. Kasper disappears into the bathroom and I putter around studying furniture and bookshelves, trying fill in the blanks about the apartment’s owners. Huge bay windows line the south wall, overlooking the darkness of Houston Street. I breathe a long moment, surveying the city before turning back to the starkness of a white L-shaped couch, a small flat screen TV in the middle of a low Ikea side-table, and box of children’s toys beneath it. The kitchen counters are crowded with dirty glasses and empty cans of soda water. I spy an envelope confirming his sublease and unlikely-sounding first name. Poor guy.
We lay on his bed fully clothed, giving each other the abridged version of how we came to be here, in this city, and why.
“What were you like growing up?” he asks. It’s a funny question. Who cares what anyone was like growing up? I don’t, but maybe that’s because I want to put as much distance as possible between the girl I was and the woman I am now.
“I was… awful,” I say.
“What does that mean?” he interrupts.“Awful?”
“I had stupid haircuts and listened to punk rock.” Some memories are easier to share with a stranger – you can be blunt, no backstory necessary.
He looks at me incredulously, scanning from Mets-blue top to skinny white jeans.
“How could you have been ‘punk rock’? You’re wearing so much white!”
I break eye contact, considering my denim-clad thighs. I had never considered that the color of a person’s pants could give insight into their high school identity.
We move from chatting to making out semi-seamlessly, our kissing stalled by short bouts of conversation. Kasper asks what my parents’ names are. With my pants halfway down my thighs and his partial erection inches from my hand, it doesn’t seem the ideal time to talk about our families.
Still, I tell him their names and ask about his. We’ve been in his bed, kissing and panting, steadily losing clothing for hours. Kasper says how tired he is, and with unwelcome daylight slashing the walls, I can’t say that I blame him.
“Should I go?” We lay in the dimness, dewy with sweat.
“No,” he kisses my cheek, “I really want you to stay over.”
Our petting resumes. “Tell me what you want,” he says, his voice effetely soft, breathily begging me to push him around. The idea of walking him through how to satisfy me is exhausting.
Am I going along with this out of obligation, or just bored sexual curiosity? Chasing orgasm, I tell him when and how to curl his fingers while they’re inside me, urging him to apply pressure when he slides over sensitive, unseen flesh. Either he really doesn’t get it, or he doesn’t actually want my input. It’s like he thinks I’ll break or bruise should he exert more than a miniscule amount of pressure, despite my assurances otherwise.
“I’m good at following directions,” he says ironically.
There’s nothing to do but ask if he has a condom—it’s what he’s been waiting for.
Despite the ineffective kitty stroking, I’m not opposed to humoring him; after all, how bad could it be?
Kasper grabs protection from some unseen shelf in his closet, his back to me while he rips the foil. I ponder the intricate web of ligaments and muscle tissue running between his groin and ass, the way they move together as a single unit; I watch the pale, flat flesh of his glutes twitching as he rolls down the latex. Had every man I slept with flexed like that when they put on a condom? If so, how had I never noticed before?
There’s no spark, no fire between us once we begin; it doesn’t feel like anything more than skin touching skin. The door’s open, but maybe you shouldn’t come in. The sex isn’t doing much for either of us, actually, and it isn’t long before the gentle rocking of his hips slows further, then stops.
Panting, Kasper puts his head to my chest. “I’m sorry,” he offers, “I’m just so tired.” He situates himself against my back, limp and worn out. We nuzzle for a few moments before his body goes slack with sleep. Soon he starts snoring and I struggle to nod off in his too-soft bed as the apartment begins baking from another punishing New York summer.
Every half hour his oversized cat awakens me by wedging itself between my legs and the blanket; perhaps longing for home and whatever girl I may remind it of, but serving only to double my discomfort. There’s nothing cute about cat fur stuck to sweltering skin at 8 AM. Kasper, comatose beside me, seems impervious to the heat and undisturbed by my increasing restlessness.
I check my phone. It’s 10:30. A completely acceptable time to bail on this failed mission. I wiggle back into my jeans, quietly deciding to forego a bra for the walk home. Kasper’s eyes slide open, watching me tie my shoes on the edge of the bed.
“I have stuff to do today…” I offer, though he hadn’t asked.
“Do I still have your card?” He squints as he rolls over. I’d handed him one at the bar, sometime after my friends left, but before I decided to accompany Kasper home.
“In your wallet, I think.”
I am just outside his room; purse in hand, headed for the door. The mirror by the doorframe catches my attention. I don’t look rough per se, but it’s obvious I spent the night somewhere other than my own bed.
“I’ll email you,” he calls, still in bed.
I tuck a strand of hair behind my ear and consider what it says about the state of my sexual proclivities when a guy has seen me naked before having the chance to ask for my number.
This is my cue to make a speedy exit. I don’t say goodbye before letting myself out, careful to keep the door from slamming shut. Fluffing my hair in the mirrored walls of the elevator, it occurs to me that I am okay with never seeing Kasper again. If I’m honest with myself, I’d known we were incompatible from that first foppish handshake. I should’ve called it quits after we left the bar; taken comfort in the conversation and his tenderness when kissing me on the corner – but I had to push it. Right? I just had to see how far the congeniality would go, like always. The bolstering of my self-esteem stopped once our clothes came off. This realization is a sign, I think.
Walking through the open square between buildings, I spy the Picasso sculpture Kasper mentioned when we approached the building. The broad, stone face of Sylvette’s Portrait stares blankly as I walk by. Her lack of enthusiasm is not contagious, however; as I traipse up the street a bounce finds its way into my step that wasn’t there the night before – not quite a victory strut, but leagues above the walk of shame I anticipated. Loosening my grip on my purse handles, I watch it swing forward and back, keeping time with my stride. One step forward and the bag’s behind me. Carry the step through as the purse swings forward. I give the satchel a little jerk, half-daring the lacy bra inside to leap out onto the sidewalk. It’s already too warm for jeans, but otherwise I feel just fine; I can only imagine how terrible it’d be to make this hot morning journey hungover.
Once home and settled into the comfort of my bed, I chuckle at the positions I’ve put myself in over the last 12 hours: from baseball game to Lucy’s, trading the company of one group of strangers for another, in and out of bed, trying to force a connection and orgasms that just wouldn’t come. With the cool cotton pillowcase against my face, I pray that if Kasper does find my card, he does the smart thing and throws it away.