One of my friends from college–Jessica –works for a posh hotel near Central Park. Somehow she managed to get me a room for only $50 a night. She’s spending the weekend in Vermont with a fellow, so I’m not even obligated to hang out with her. Obviously I’m grateful for the hookup, but I’m also excited by the prospect of 48 hours of solitude in a new place, distanced from my usual routine. There are acquaintances from college I could call, but I’m not interested. Most of my closest friends have scattered to various graduate programs in the Northeast.
After I check in, I drink a huge coffee and set off for a long walk. It’s spring, and buds and leaves are appearing on all of the trees in the park. This part of the city has always been foreign to me; I only traveled above 14th Street about once every semester. I stroll around, taking pictures of children and animals and daydreaming adults. I buy a pack of Gauloises–I’m on vacation, after all– and I sit on the rocks, smoking and writing in my journal. I wander into an upscale Japanese store filled with pearls, Shiseido, and fine silk. Against my better judgment, I find myself purchasing a silver tube of flowering green tea for Ryan.
I take a hike down to Times Square to stare at tourists and signs, Just as dusk approaches, I realize that I’m starving and the likelihood of find vegan food in midtown Manhattan is slim. I’m too tired to go downtown. I mean, I didn’t get any sleep last night. Maybe I’ll splurge with room service.
I hate cabs–I get carsick. But I take one back to the hotel anyway. And then I remember that their is an indoor pool on the roof. Jessica mentioned this on the phone. I put on my bathing suit and take the elevator upstairs. The pool is empty. I float on my back in silence, staring through the glass roof. Here and there an airplane flies over at a snail’s pace. Lights from the neighboring skyscrapers light up the sky. The moon and the stars are invisible.
I catch myself thinking about Ryan. How did he weasel his way into my mind? I just can’t understand it. Is it because he tells me I’m pretty? Because he says the things I want to hear? I remember something from an old episode of 90210: David Silver tells Donna something like “Smart women always want to hear that they are beautiful. And beautiful women always want to hear that they are smart.” Some bit of wisdom gleaned from his father, successful Beverly Hills oral surgeon Mel Silver.
As much as I hate to admit it, there might be a bit of truth in this otherwise sexist statement. There is only one thing I have never doubted: I am intelligent. The IQ tests, SAT scores, and silly “gifted” program participation only emphasized something I’ve always known.
My mom preached this to me every morning: “Don’t ever let any man tell you what to do, because you will always be smarter than him.”
And a girl in junior high once told me: “You could probably get a boyfriend if you just acted less smart.”
Every time a male has raised his hand at me, whether to push me against a wall or to slap me in my face, it has been preceded with the statement “You think you’re so smart” or “I am smarter than you.” This goes for my shitty second stepfather AND drunken earnest college boys AND angry semi-boyfriends.
I swear I’m not bragging. My personality can be really wretched at times and I have a tendency toward inexplicable moodiness. And I can’t vouch for my taste in anything. I get ridiculous stage fright and my voice is weird at best. I’m definitely not athletic.
Intelligence is my one gift.
But if you had approached me at any time during my painful adolescence with an offer to swap my brains for beauty, I would have not hesitated before accepting your deal. For all of my feminist beliefs and endless rants about the shallowness of my peers, I have always known the beauty trumps intelligence every day.
Well, until just recently. When I turned 22, it suddenly occurred to me that I was pretty charming. All of the books I’ve read and papers I’ve written and humanity I have observed…these had enabled me to actually be an interesting person. And so even if I do sort of look like a monkey…and I’ll never be superskinny or tall…and my hair will always be too thick and weird…it doesn’t matter. Because charm creates the facade of beauty.
But still, I can’t help it….if someone attractive tells me I’m attractive, my panties are vaporized.
Maybe that’s what is going on with Ryan.
Yes, he’s cute and funny and cool. And he loves animals and he has great taste in music. He is a snappy dresser. His laugh is adorable. Everything he likes is awesome and everything he hates is awful.
Oh hell. I have to stop thinking about this.
I pull myself out of the pool–at this point my skin is getting pruney . I head back to my room, where I take a hot shower. I fall asleep the instant I turn off the bedside lamp.
I forget to close the curtains, so I’m awakened by blinding sunlight early in the morning. I resist the urge to pull the blankets over my head and drift back to sleep. I’m flying back to Chicago tomorrow! I’ve got to maximize this day.
My breakfast consists of trail mix and coffee. And then I set off for downtown. I buy several pairs of sneakers–I swear downtown Manhattan is the athletic shoe mecca of North America–and a bunch of clothes. I’m kind of amazed by how fast I am able to spend money. It doesn’t fill me with an amazing sense of joy, but it does give me a little bit of satisfaction.
I decide to duck into a bar on the Lower East Side for a drink. It’s only about four in the afternoon, but it’s vacation, right?
I’m drinking a bloody mary and scribbling notes to myself when a voice says to me, “Your hair is really cute.” It’s coming from the previously empty stool next to me. It’s now occupied by a brown-haired guy in a flannel shirt. And yes, he has dark brown plastic glasses…so of course I’m obligated to talk to him.
“Yeah, well my head’s just one big cowlick, so I just decided to go with it. And, I was in a bike accident a few weeks ago, so I got a bit of an emergency room haircut.”
I have said this whole head=cowlick line no less than 25 times in the last two months, every time a stranger compliments my hairstyle. There is something about this haircut that lures in all sorts of fellows that wouldn’t have looked at me twice when I was sporting pigtails.
“So how old are you?” He says this as he searches my face.
I smirk at him. Another line that is not new to me. “Well, from the looks of it, you’re about 30 and you’re probably writing a book or working on a movie. Then again, maybe you are in a band.”
“What a keen sense of observation. See, your choice in French cigarettes screams ‘undergrad.’ But then again, that bloody mary says ‘middle-aged.’ And your face looks about 16.”
Now that he’s being somewhat mean to me, I kind of want to take him back to my hotel room. I reveal that I am 22 and I live in Chicago, Illinois.
And I was right; he’s writing a screenplay. But he works at some stupid job in the daytime. It stands in his way of really accomplishing anything. I realize that I’ve never slept with someone who was doing exactly what they wanted. It’s always a litany of dreams averted, diverted, neglected, destroyed. I can’t help but think that I am part of this generation doomed to disappointment and self-destruction. All of us have been raised to think we are special, talented, destined for greatness…and now none of us will ever be satisfied with a decent job, a loving spouse, and a couple of well-adjusted kids. Then again, maybe I’m just living in this fucked up bohemian bubble. The rest of the world is sleeping soundly, content after another day of consistency and calmness, while my peers and I are drinking and fucking strangers and plotting unsuccessful suicide attempts.
At least Ryan is spending his nights painting. Every other aspect of his day-to-day routine is tailored to make this happen, whether it’s his dinner or weekend plans or even when he walks his dog. It’s all about maximizing the time remaining for painting.
(Of course later, this will all fall by the wayside. The very thing I love/admire most about him will disintegrate as soon as drugs begin to become the third member of our relationship…And even now, in 2008, I can honestly say that I’ve only slept with ONE other boy that is doing exactly what he wants to do).
I realize we’ve reached this point where I’m supposed to invite this stranger back to his place or mine for some shenanigans and hijinks. That’s what vacation is all about. And he’s certainly cute. He possesses all of the attributes that I normally require. But, eh, my heart’s just not in it. I announce that I have an early flight and I leave after giving him my email address.
Back in my room, I write numerous letters on hotel stationary.
“Dear Ryan, I cannot distinguish between my waking hours and my dreams, because you fill my mind all of the time.” Ripped up.
“Dear Ryan, I really hate you and I wish I had never met you and you are the worst thing that has ever happened to me.” Tossed in the trash.
“Dear Ryan, Stop being so stupid. Why don’t you just come over to my place and fuck me?” Um. Maybe not a good idea. I mean, the sentiment is a good idea. But the timing might be off.
“Dear Ryan, I am so glad we are friends.” Most likely to be mailed.