On my good days, I like to think of myself as a lovable mess. I was nervous going in to the city, to meet Puff at Café Orlin, and there was a blizzard and the streets were thronged with Santa Con revelers, a yearly pub crawl in which New Jersey lends us all its frat boys for the day. These boys put on Santa costumes and antlers, and spray urine and vomit all over the streets of the Lower East Side.
Puff is better looking than his OKCupid picture lead me to expect. I take one look at him, standing outside of the restaurant looking into his phone, and blow past him in a gust of nerves. I hide in the crowded restaurant, buffeted by the moving tides of brunch, before backtracking to get him. I keep stepping on people’s feet.
Over eggs, we trade travel stories; I was in Bolivia last August, and he had lived there for a year. I struggle to hear what he is saying over the roar of my own self-doubt. I get eggs in my hair, trying to eat and talk; I believe everything he tells me, even when he jokes that he was born a woman. Face value is all I’m running on here; first dates make me incredibly literal.
After brunch, we slip uptown through the intoxicated masses. Snow spirals down, the slushy footing treacherous. We go to see a play, Too Much, Too Much, Too Many, in which a man with Alzheimer’s has accidentally drowned. I wonder if it is possible to have something that is the opposite of Alzheimer’s, where you remember too much?
Puff walks me to the subway after, and kisses me once, no tongue, before releasing me.
Afterwards, I go to an ex-boyfriend’s house with a gift; Normal and his adorable Vietnamese wife are having a first birthday party for their son, Bo. Bo means avocado in Vietnamese, and the party is avocado themed. (They also have an older son named Bap, which means corn). Although I feel I have pretty much settled on my answer to the question of children (resounding no), I always vacillate after seeing these particular children. It’s hard not to, when you’re holding a baby in a corn costume. Chatting with my ex, he reminds me of the time we went to Mexico together, fifteen years ago, and I puked off the top of a pyramid. I had completely forgotten about that.
Lovable mess? I have just met Puff, but I immediately need him. My texts to him sound like those of a drowning woman, all exclamation marks, and I find myself pulled back to his place all week in a riptide of lust. I give my students a multiple choice exam, for the express purpose of not having to grade essays over the break, time I planned to spend hiding in Puff’s apartment getting it on. No one would ever know where to find me; Puff lives on St. Mark’s Place, which is kind of like living at Disney World. His fellow denizens live in a fug of their own pot smoke, and host weekly “jam nights.” Puff is a huge fan of Phish, and his apartment looks like someone who “grooves” to “funk” lives there. In my head I employ air quotes. There are pictures of hot dogs on the wall.
We go to see another show, a funny one this time, and walking me to the subway, he drops his hand to the small of my back, and my resolve to wait until date 9 crumbles. We climb the six flights of stairs to his apartment. His neighbors have a cement pug in the hallway like a guardian. In his apartment, we drop everything, and have exactly fifteen minutes of sex.
“So, what do you want to do?” he asks me, after. I am tilting my body in a way I hope is attractive, fishing for a compliment. “Do you want to stay or do you want to go?”
It is two in the morning, and I’ve just had sex, and it’s cold out. I want to stay.
“Oh.” I can hear the jam band through the floors and strata of marijuana smoke. “Because I don’t think I can sleep, if you are here.” He doesn’t offer to put me in a cab, or to walk me to the subway, which I ride, bleary-eyed with my own bad decisions, teetering in my heels, and still hungry for something. A man on the street hands me a condom like a token, and I take it with thanks.