I hit Spa Castle with my friends this week, and there is a cute boy behind the counter in the café, reading The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire while something smokes in the waffle maker behind him. It’s one of those places that gives you a buzzer to let you know when your food is ready, and when I collect my tray, I give him my deepest eye contact and tell him I will not be relinquishing the buzzer. Instead I will be keeping it so he can buzz me later if he wants some company, and I sashay back to my friends. I’m wearing one of those frumpy uniforms they make you wear at Spa Castle, and my ass is wet from my swimsuit beneath it, and I have sauna hair, but I don’t give a shit.
When he buzzes me later, I hand him my phone number. He is endearingly nervous, and he croaks out an adorably corny “stay beautiful” as I walk away. I’m worried I gave him Sketch’s number by mistake, the one phone number that I know better than my own. I can just imagine how that text message would look: Hey Tippy, it’s Read from the Spa! Let’s go make out! Stay beautiful!
But I’m trying not to think about Sketch today. Here’s this puppy of a man who reads books, and when he texts (confirming that I did somehow give him my number and not my ex’s), we make plans to go for a coffee and lay in some grass somewhere sometime. It’s all vague and delightful; we exchange texts that are pages long, mostly about David Foster Wallace. He is sweet, he is handsome, he is literate, and he is fourteen years younger than me.
How many years can the age gap be before it is just creepy? It’s the books he’s reading that allow me to tell myself this is OK, that he must be very mature for his age. When men say shit like this, my eyeballs arc in their sockets, but somehow, I give women a pass to go scope out something young and tight. I have boilerplate double standards; just yesterday, I was sneering at someone on the 7 train who was wearing a tee-shirt emblazoned with a bunch of women’s asses and legs with high heels stuck on the ends, until I realized the commuter was a small-breasted lesbian. Then I liked it. Great shirt!
Are only women allowed to semi-ironically objectify others? I recognize that this is fucked up, along with all the other unreasonable things that make me angry (included on the list: posters printed in landscape, when a woman’s hair touches my arm on the bus, and when my blog stats show too many page views out of France). But there you have it.
My mother keeps pressuring me to go out with some men in their fifties, men who will steer me along a more adult path. But I am not interested in the men who possess dress socks and diversified investment portfolios. I am interested in the strange man I saw on the subway this morning who has his feet tucked up on the seat, hugging his knees, like maybe he saw a mouse down there and didn’t want it to scamper across his interesting shoes. What is his story? I am interested in the weird ones, and every time I leave the house, I see at least three misfits I feel like I could fall in love with.
“I just want someone who I can be friends with and have sex with and maybe read books in bed with,” I whine to my friends.
“What you are describing is a boyfriend,” they tell me.
I guess I want all the rewards of a boyfriend without any of the work or sacrifices of being in a relationship. And while still being in love with Sketch. And with the right to go online and merrily say whatever I want about what just went down, like my female perspective is the only important one.
Ugh, I am a HORRIBLE person.
On Tuesday, I see Sketch for the first time in three months, and I bury my face in his neck, running my hands over him to be sure he is real and intact. “I want you. I need you. I love you,” I tell him in a breathy rush. He reminds me of the fact that as soon as I have him back, I routinely push him away. “Hmmmm,” I say absently, clinging to him. I do not remember his eyes being so green.
Meanwhile, I have an entire human being lodged up my ass. That rich d-bag in France who doesn’t carry around pictures of goats continues to stalk my page. Your traffic is booming! WordPress reports. But I can see fifty-nine clicks out of France, and the message should more accurately read: Someone is stalking the fuck out of you! Because I don’t have readers in France, just one man who keeps sliding oily threats under the door that is a mutual friend.
Free speech is not consequence-free; I write about real people and real life, and while this sounds great in theory, in reality it is a little like one of those slam books that got popular when I was in the seventh grade. A notebook would get passed around, and you could anonymously write comments about your friends. Eventually, it would make someone cry and pull off her embroidered best-friend bracelet and cafeteria seating would be all in disarray as alliances were redrawn. Eventually, the slam book would disappear into the back on someone’s closet until we forgot again how much it hurts to hear how someone really sees you.
So this is what is happening now. The rich fucker in Paris knew that my last password-protected post was about him, and my blog stats show fifty-nine attempts out of France as someone threw his weight against my password. I picture him clenching a Baccarat glass full of bourbon until it shatters, as he tries combination after combination.
I flirt with the idea of sending him an email. Dear Mr. Your Legal First and Last Name, CONGRATULATIONS! As the reader with the most recorded page views, you are entitled to a free WHEN YOU STOP DIGGING t-shirt. Please reply immediately with your size. For an additional 7.99, you may opt to have this t-shirt fitted with a zipper, in case you can not fit your head through the neck hole of a normal shirt. Text back the code #giant head for more information.
I don’t though. My therapist has told me to rip up paper when I’m angry, so I sit and shred an entire IKEA catalogue over a wastepaper basket while making the noise that is supposed to settle your rage-centers down: shhhhhhhhhh. I have been shushed, and it makes me furious. Shhhhhhhh.
But we’re not down for good. I’m go back and take down all the posts that someone might use to get me in trouble with my job, trying to imagine what I would do if I got fired from teaching. The three jobs I held before this one were: editor at a tech magazine where I drew minimum wage and lived on dehydrated noodles for a year, marketing drone at a financial firm in New Jersey where I collated things in between methadone-assisted naps at my desk, and a brief stint at a children’s party service where I drunkenly played a very sloppy Snow White. I don’t exactly have a broad skill set. I guess I would leave New York and go teach English someplace. I could start a new, more unfettered blog from a safe, Southeast-Asian distance. I would call it The Backhoe.
In all this, I have remarkably little time left to ponder the fact that after months of wanting to see Sketch, I finally saw Sketch. It should feel like a bigger deal. Instead I’m left feeling vaguely the way I do after a celebrity sighting here in New York, something I feel I handled awkwardly, but will dutifully tell many people about, while internally the memory fades like a newspaper left in the sun. A few days later, I can barely read the headlines.
I do ask Sketch to please help me understand why we can’t seem to get our act together. He cites things he has told me about before, the ways in which I madden and frustrate him, and he closes with this: “And you have a big mouth, Tippy.”
Oh. Sometimes someone says something and it makes it’s way around all the careful layers of denial curled like bubble-wrap around the things I know are true. It is like coming around a corner and catching yourself full-face in the mirror. So that is what I look like. And also: yikes.
Sketch is right. I do have a big mouth. I put things on broadcast. And I sort of congratulate myself while I do it. I will not be silenced, I proclaim. It’s a little fucking grandiose; afterall, I am not protesting an unjust political system, I am not fending off corporate goons in the name of my union, I am not sending secret encouragement to the other adherents of my oppressed religion. Instead, I am writing a bunch of shit about dick sizes. “There are some things you can’t tell people,” Sketch tells me, gently, begging me for a little privacy.
And for all of his fury, that is all that the man in Paris wants. I have decided to show you mine, to show you who I am and hope that the consequences will not be too dire. But that doesn’t give me the right to pants somebody else, even if it provides exactly the ending that I want. So instead, I put the entire blog on private while I rest and regroup, and try to figure out what to do about Sketch.
Because Sketch is a person who needs to have the last word. On our way out of Central Park, our arms and legs imprinted with a matching meadow motif from laying in the grass, we walk by a stoned man smoking a joint on the corner who mumbles something as we walk by. Sketch rejoinders, the stoned man has something else to get off his chest, and the next thing I know, Sketch’s hat and bag are on the sidewalk and he is squaring off his shoulders.
“Come on, let’s go,” I say, as the love of my life and a man who may or may not be a homeless person trade verbal jabs and begin to circle like pugilists. “Come on.” Finally, Sketch rejoins me, letting it go.
“It’s that last word thing,” he says apologetically. His neck is red.
I understand. It’s hard to let someone else feel like they won. But at this point, I don’t need the last word. I just need a word. Setting the blog on private feels like someone has clapped a dirty hand over my mouth.
Feeling mousy and beaten, I try to raise my spirits by dreaming up hashtags I can attach to this post, once the blog goes live again. The post will be password-protected, but the man in Paris will be able to see the tags. I consider: #You’renotinteresting #eatabagofdicks #peoplewholiveinglasshouseswiththeirwivesshouldn’tthrowstones
But finally, I settle on #notaboutyou. Because this isn’t about him. In a way, it’s not about any of them, not even Sketch. This is my shit.
And here’s a bunch of pictures of goats, because I DO carry around pictures of goats.