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a girl problem
She already has a boyfriend. Which should have been obvious. Girls like that always have boyfriends. Everybody agrees she is beautiful—and not in a “girl next door” kind of way, either. Instead, there is something about the way she carries herself and the way she looks—tall, angular, blonde—that suggests this is not a person to be trifled with. In a James Bond movie, she would be the supervillain’s icy girlfriend, the one with razor blades tucked into her high heels.
Even her old-fashioned, fuddy-duddy name is attractive to me: Martha. It is a name that plays against type, a name only a gorgeous girl could make chic. If I were the kind of superficial guy who dated models, she would be the sort of girl I would be attracted to. As it happens, I am exactly that type of person. Unfortunately, Martha seems to have zero interest in me. And, as I said, she already has a boyfriend.
I don’t learn this for a few weeks, because she is not forthcoming about her life. She is not forthcoming about anything. In fact, she rarely speaks at all. If I say hello, she will say hello, but she doesn’t meet my eyes. Mostly she just sits at her desk glaring at her computer screen. Maybe she is mad at the computer. She seems kind of mad at everything. My friend Ken calls her “Smiley.”
Unlike Martha, I am quite single, having most recently concluded an affair with a girl trudging through the final stages of a divorce. She is the first divorcée among my set of young artsy-fartsy New York friends, and the fact that I am sleeping with a woman who is still technically married is a huge turn-on. When we are together I constantly refer to her by her married name.
“I would like to fuck you, Mrs. Levine,” I say, and for the short duration of our relationship, that is mostly what we do.
Why her marital status should prove so titillating to me I do not know. Perhaps because I had never before seriously considered marriage for myself. The whole idea of it is so remote that the act of sleeping with a married woman carries with it a fanciful, libidinous exoticism. It’s like having sex with a mermaid.
Growing up, I had no reason to believe that a long-lasting, healthy marriage was even possible. Not only did my parents divorce, but every single one of their siblings did, too. Moreover, I would estimate that well over half of my friends also came from “broken homes,” a phrase I have always found needlessly melodramatic:
“Have you heard? Michael’s home is broken!”
“My God, how will he bathe?”
Marriage felt like a fading American institution, as relevant to me as the Elks Club. Plus, I considered myself punk rock, and punk rockers don’t believe in boring societal conventions like marriage. We prefer boring societal conventions like punk rock.
I could not envision marrying any of the girls I’d dated up to that point. There hadn’t been that many. I’d begun dating my previous girlfriend at the tail end of high school. After we both dropped out of college a couple of years later, we moved together into a tiny and lightless apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. That lasted until she slept with a coworker, which was bad enough. Worse was my reaction, which was to spend a long night walking through a rainstorm singing Morrissey songs to myself, an image so unbearably trite it still makes my skin crawl when I think about it.
Following that breakup, I embark on my Great Year of Sexual Liberation, a year in which I devote myself to the manly art of seduction. I am determined to become a man of frequent and voracious sexual conquests. I will not become entangled in any long-term or even medium-term relationships. I will reinvent myself as the man I have always wanted to be, an unrepentant fornicator of women.
The only problem is I am terrible at it. Despite my best efforts, most nights end with me alone in my apartment, sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the television, eating buffalo wings from a greasy cardboard box.
I don’t understand: getting girls to sleep with me should be easier. At twenty-two, I have the kind of boyish good looks that are, annoyingly, most attractive to older gay men. There is even a name in gay culture for young men who look like me: “chickens.” The men who pursue us are “chicken hawks.” Women don’t seem to find me nearly as adorable as do fifty-year-old men in leather pants. I don’t know why.
Certain friends of mine are able to pick up girls at will. I don’t know how they do it. One minute, I am out with them scanning the room for potential hookups, the next they are hustling random girls into taxicabs. They aren’t even necessarily the best-looking guys. They just possess something I lack. Charm, perhaps. Or swagger. Or cocaine. If a girl ever does throw herself at me, it is usually just because she tripped on her way to sleeping with one of my friends.
On the rare occasions when I am able to lure a comely maiden to my bed, the results are usually disappointing because I am not good at sex. I’m just not. I don’t know why. It doesn’t seem like sex should be that difficult. After all, the mechanics of the act are easily understood, no more complicated than “Insert Tab A into Slot B.” But I cannot seem to do it right. Perhaps I am thrusting wrong, or maybe my tongue lacks proper extension—whatever the reason, it’s rare that I can bring a girl to orgasm, and when I do, it feels fluky, like sinking a basketball from half court.
One time, I spend the night making out with an attractive redhead who, as morning approaches, is on top of me in her bedroom. I am attempting to bring her to climax. Despite some moaning and writhing, nothing substantive seems to be happening. Then, after a long time, just as I think I am finally making progress, just as I think all of this manual stimulation is about to pay off, she breaks from me and gently says, “Can I go to sleep now?”
Also, despite my intention to become an unrepentant Don Juan, I cannot help but get involved with my conquests. I always give out my correct phone number. And if I should happen to spend the night with a girl, I always call the next day, whether I want to or not, which leads to many unwanted telephone conversations about their lives and problems. Girl problems are exactly the sorts of things I was trying to avoid when I began my Great Year of Sexual Liberation. No, I want to be a girl problem.
Another issue is that I am incapable of reading the coded language of human sexuality. There is an impenetrable semaphoric system that men and women use to communicate with each other—batted eyelashes, discreet but meaningful glances, flicks of hair. I cannot decipher these messages and so usually end up bungling flirtations. If a lady were to ever “mistakenly” drop a perfumed handkerchief near me, for example, I would probably pick it up and blow my nose into it.
The only reason I ever bed Mrs. Levine at all is that her friend relays to me the message that she finds me attractive. Otherwise, I never would have known. And for whatever reason, Mrs. Levine and I are excellent in bed together. I cannot explain it, but we are. We have nothing else in common. Our relationship consists of the following: sex, pint of Ben & Jerry’s, repeat. It’s perfect.
Except that I start to feel bad about myself. I start to feel, dare I say, whorish. I do everything in my power to stifle this emotion, to shrug it off as some sort of bourgeois residue from my suburban upbringing, a bit of emotional dandruff easily brushed away. But I can’t. I discover I am not the person I am trying so hard to be. After a year spent seeking it, I realize I do not want carelessness.
I want a girlfriend.
So I end things with Mrs. Levine, and because I am afraid of conflict, I do it in the worst possible way. One day, without warning or explanation, I just stop taking her calls. After a couple of weeks, I hear through the same friend who set us up that Mrs. Levine is deeply hurt. She feels used. She hates me. I don’t blame her. My behavior is inexcusable, cowardly, assholish.
I have finally become a girl problem.
Six months later, Martha shows up at work and I begin to wonder if my humiliating attempts to interact with her aren’t karmic payback for the unfortunateness with Mrs. Levine.
I am smitten with Martha from the moment I see her. I love that she ignores me. I love that she’s a bitch. Looking for any opportunity to speak to her, I show her how to play a computer game called Minefield. “See?” I tell her. “Your job is to find the mines without accidentally stepping on one.” I try to impress her with how fast I can find the mines—really fast. It is the nerd equivalent of muscle-flexing on the beach. “Like this, see? Now you try.”
“That’s okay,” she demurs, returning to her work. I slink away from her desk, a puppy that has just been made to smell his own mess.
Through the office ether I learn that Martha not only has a boyfriend, but she lives with the guy. He’s older, around thirty, and apparently runs a hotshot film festival. Of course she’s with some big deal jerk-off Hollywood type. That’s who girls like her are always with.
Maybe it is the fact that she is unobtainable that allows us to become friends. Within a couple of months, Martha’s chilly exterior has thawed enough so that I am able to have regular conversations with her. I learn she is twenty-five, two years older than me. She grew up in Minnesota, started college there, spent a year in Paris, came home broke, worked to save money, transferred to a college in Washington, D.C., and finally graduated the previous spring. Now she’s in New York and living with her boyfriend, Christopher, who is a (self-important, phony asshole) great guy. In fact, I’d probably like him a lot, she tells me.
I’m sure I would.
One night, a friend invites me to a party for Saturday Night Live at one of those posh New York restaurants where nobody in New York actually eats. When we arrive, I station myself near the kitchen door to catch each waiter on his way out so I get first dibs on the yummy little meaty things on sticks. I take many.
From my satellite position on the fringes, I notice that the party seems to radiate outward from a roped-off area where I am not allowed to go. It is a party within the party, where the SNL cast, host, musical guest, and various VIPs hang out. Seated at a table with REM lead singer Michael Stipe are the actor Stephen Dorff, the model Famke Janssen, some other vaguely recognizable beautiful people, and Martha.
Martha? What is she doing here? And why is she allowed in the cool section? She’s not cool! I’m cool! I have my own sketch comedy show on MTV! Why is she allowed in there and I’m not? God damn it. Even when I’m cool, I’m not cool.
From behind the velvet rope, I try to catch her eye. After I have been waving for a while in her direction, Stephen Dorff sees me and gives me a confused half-wave in return.
Not you, you dolt.
Finally, Martha looks over at me and whispers something to the guy next to her. He looks up. Christopher.
He’s a handsome guy, but nothing special. He’s not chiseled the way I thought he would be. Nor does his chin jut. I assumed he’d have a jutting chin. He’s not too tan, doesn’t wear bad jewelry. He just looks like a guy. Worse, he looks like a nice guy.
Martha puts her napkin on the table and joins me at the velvet rope separating us. “Hi,” she says, giving me a peck on the cheek.
“Are you having fun?” she asks.
“Not really. Are you?”
“It’s okay.” After a pause, she says, “I’m so glad to see you.”
This is a stunning turn of events. She’s “so glad” to see me? Is she drunk? I think she might be drunk. Nobody is ever “so glad” to see me unless they are drunk. Even then I suspect they are just happy to be drunk.
I do not know what to say to her in response. I point at the guy she was seated beside. “Is that Christopher?” Why am I bringing up Christopher now? Now, when she is actually expressing interest in me? Am I stupid? Yes. I am so stupid they should put a sticker on my forehead. The sticker should read, “Warning: stupid.”
“Yeah. You should meet him.”
“I can’t go in there.” I nod at the bouncers.
“Don’t worry about it,” she says, lifting the velvet rope. I duck under and follow her to the table. Nobody stops us because nobody ever stops a pretty girl. Martha introduces me to “Michael” and “Famke” and “Stephen” and, finally, to Christopher, who shakes my hand warmly and asks me some questions about myself and my TV show, but does not invite me to sit. Sure enough, he seems like a (douchebag prick starfucker) nice guy.
Martha and I chat for a few more minutes before I find myself feeling overwhelmed by my own dullness among these luminous creatures, and I excuse myself to catch up with my friend, who has, of course, left with a girl. As I step back across the velvet divide, I glance over my shoulder. Martha’s attention has returned to Christopher and the better world he inhabits. Somebody says something funny and everybody laughs. I wait for Martha to look back at me but she does not. A few minutes later, I leave the party and head home, alone, stopping on my way to pick up buffalo wings in a greasy cardboard box.
© 2012 Hot Schwartz Productions