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Alex by Elizabeth Wurtzel  

He stands at the entrance to his apartment as I walk up the stairs. His face is between the door and the post, as if it is stuck in a picture frame. He says hi and pulls the door open to greet me. The knob is missing. He is wearing gray sweatpants and a cut-up Jack Daniel’s T-shirt with a red bandanna tied on his head. I remember his publicist telling me he is bald underneath.


I follow him across the room. His apartment is just one room. A long one. The bed is at the other end, underneath the window, which faces south but is too coated in white dirt to let much sunlight in. All over the walls are

Playboy centerfolds and pictures of motorcycles and of various heavy metal acts — even a poster of his band. To the side of the bed are a TV and VCR, and the tape in the player says “Sex Kitten.” On the other side of the bed are a stereo and some records and tapes, mostly groups I haven’t heard of. He falls on the bed as soon as he approaches it, which is understandable since there is no other furniture in the whole place. I’m so tired, he says. I guess that is an explanation. He clings to his pillow and squeezes the covers between his legs like a little baby. I keep wondering if he ever takes the do-rag off.


I sit on the edge of the bed. I am wearing a long, straight blue cotton skirt, a sleeveless black shirt and black suede boots. I rarely look so conservative. All I can think to do is sit there and say, Great place. I notice a Polaroid of a little white cat on the mantle over the bed.


I ask, How is your cat? And he says, Bad question. He’s still in the hospital.


I ask, How is your bike? Another bad question, he tells me. It’s still in the shop. It needs $700 worth of repairs.


Oh, I say.


Listen, I volunteer, I can see you’re tired, so I can just leave. We can do this some other time.


No, he says. His voice is muffled. Please stay. His hand clasps onto the empty side of the bed beside him. He pats it the way I pat my futon when I want the cat to come curl up with me.


Lie down, he commands.

A few days before, we are on the phone making plans. I suggest we have a drink sometime, and he says maybe Monday or Tuesday, and then we are talking about our cats. He tells me that Alby is in the Animal Medical Center because while he was on the road in Asia, the cat ate some telephone wire and got dehydrated. Alby was alone in the apartment, although people came by to feed him, but the cat ate the phone cord in protest. It would cost Alex $600 to get Alby out of

the hospital, and he didn’t have the money to do it. So he misses the cat.


He’s just like me, Alex says of Alby. He gets self-destructive when he’s angry.


Yes, I say, it sounds that way.


I feel sorry for Alex. It seems like he really loves the little animal, and I think a person like him should not be deprived of the one thing he might really care about. I feel bad for Alby because he is being deprived of the person who loves him. And then I think, if the cat got into such bad condition living with Alex, maybe he is better off at the hospital.


Don’t you find it strange that almost all we’ve been talking about for the last half-hour are our cats? I ask.


No. Alex doesn’t think so at all. He says, Compared to most people I know, my cat is really cool.




I lie down on the bed next to him, thinking that there is nothing wrong with having a conversation while prone. There’s no other furniture in the apartment, after all. No chairs to sit on civilly. And he is tired. As I get near him, he stinks of whiskey, definitely hard stuff. He told me he’s been up for three nights straight partying. His publicist told me that he’d given up on drinking, that all he does now is work out. His arms and chest are muscled and rippled like a person who lifts weights but his face is lined and puffy like a person who doesn’t do anything good to his body.


I am facing him. I try to make conversation. I hear you got thrown out of prep school.


Yeah. Lawrenceville. I got pretty well educated before I got expelled.


I ask what he did wrong but he doesn’t answer. Did you ever finish school? I ask.


Yeah. In Florida.


Is that where your family lives?








He rolls me to my side so that I’m not facing him, and pulls me close so that we are layered in fetal position, curled up like two plastic spoons that got bent out of shape by the heat. Maybe he wants to cuddle up when we talk. I’m

sorry, he says, pulling me tighter, but this is all I can do right now, I’m so tired.


I am surprised by how nice it feels to be in his arms. I examine his bicep, and look at the tattoo from Hawaii. A girl in a bikini and hula skirt says, Wish you were here. There is another one, the Hell’s Angels logo: Ride Hard, Die Free. He has tattoos across his knuckles, up his arms, on his chest and back. All I have is a tiny tattoo on my shoulder blade. It says FTW, which stands for Fuck the World.

The first time I met Alex was at the recording studio. He was being interviewed by a reporter from some metal magazine in the lounge while the producer was mixing tracks and adding some twelve-string guitar lines in the other room. She was asking Alex about his tattoos when I first walked in.


Some people think of it as an art form, but I just like them all over my body, he tells her.


I interrupt them, ask him if it hurt. I bled a little, he says.


I tell him about my tattoo, which a boy I had an affair with at college gave me, using a sewing needle and thread and some indelible black ink that has faded to a greenish-bIuish gray by now. It said FTW on the boy’s hip, which was pretty much the only thing I liked about him, the only reason I was so eager to pull his pants off night after night so I could look at that mark and feel like he was a skate punk instead of a Harvard student like me. The night he did it I drank a whole bottle of white zinfandel and half a bottle of Wild Turkey so that I wouldn’t have to feel the needle prick at my skin.


I say, It didn’t hurt at all.


He asks to see it. He is sitting on a couch next to the woman who is interviewing him. I know she really isn’t interested in seeing my tattoo. His publicist stands across the room, offering us some fruit: oranges and bananas in a basket. I can tell she is curious about the tattoo. I open a few buttons of the green cropped sweater and pull it over my shoulder. I am glad that I have a nice black bra on. I pull the strap over my arm too.


Alex looks at it.


I tell him I want it fixed since the guy did sort of a sloppy job.


He says, If you give me your phone number, I can call you and tell you the name of a good tattoo artist.





He pulls me close and kisses my ear. He must know he stinks of alcohol because he reaches over my head and grabs something, I can’t see what it is, but he sticks it in his mouth and starts chewing. At first I think it is some pill to keep him from falling back to sleep. It is green Trident. He turns me onto my back and starts kissing me on the mouth. I taste the mint and l taste the whiskey it hides. He kisses me all

over my face and digs a hole in my ear with his tongue. He leaves a trail of sticky stuff wherever his mouth goes.


I don’t know how to say this is unpleasant.


Does your family still live in Florida? I ask.


Yeah. It’s a shithole down there.


I don’t ask why. I just wonder why they left Canada in the first place.


‘Cause they’re dumb.


It occurs to me that he probably didn’t like school very much. This is a hard concept for me to grasp because teachers were always my friends, I always enjoyed reading — I just liked learning a lot. Alex has tattoos all over his body and he plays in a heavy metal band and he doesn’t have a phone because he never bothers to pay his bills, but I only begin to understand the difference between me and him because of his attitude toward school, toward family, toward home. All those things make me unhappy too, but for different reasons.


I thought for a while that he was a rich prep school refugee who just does heavy metal as some sort of act of rebellion. But lying here, I understand that he is what he is and that’s it. He is not slumming. He is white trash. He hates life. Compared to most people I know, my cat is really cool. He has no

choice but the one he has already made. It is the prep school career that was an aberration. Everything that has happened since he got thrown out makes perfect sense.


He is now on top of me. Kissing my face some more and nibbling on my hair which is getting stuck together with green gum. I think, We can just kiss. There’s nothing wrong with this.


Then his hands move underneath my skirt. I have no underwear on. He massages the most inner part of my inner thighs and I say, Alex we shouldn’t be doing this.


I know, he says. That’s why we’re going to.


Alex, I say. Today my editor just asked me if I’ve been fucking around with Don Henley and Steven Tyler because he heard some rumors about that from someone at The New York Times. Funny thing is, they aren’t true. I’ve never even met either of them.


Oh, he says.


But this is true, I continue. And this is bad for my professional decorum.


Decorum’s the wrong word, he says.


My professional standards then — you know what I mean, I say.


‘Standards’ is a better word, he says.


Alex, I ask, giving up on the last conversation. Alex, how come you never hit on me before? I didn’t even think you found me attractive.


The time wasn’t right, he explains. You can’t analyze these things.


His hands move under my shirt and under my bra. He rubs my chest and his thumbs make circles around my nipples. I say, I’m probably the only woman in New York who wears a bra and doesn’t wear underwear.


That’s okay. I like bras.


I decide to stick my hand under his shirt, to seem like I’m participating. He pushes my hands down his stomach and pulls my fingers below the drawstring and into his pants and the flesh I touch there is so hard and so long and so large, it surprises me a little. I usually think that tough guys are trying to compensate for what they lack between their legs. But no.


I hold it tight at first and then I run my fingers along the ridges, curious, interested. I worry that I’m not doing anything to make him feel good. Then I realize, he’s not doing anything to make me feel good either. But I feel obligated to act like I’m enjoying myself.


I moan. I wonder when this will stop. Usually, with most guys, maybe on the first date, you neck until someone says that maybe we should stop. Just because you’ve kissed somebody doesn’t mean you’re going to fuck them, and certainly not the first time you’re together.


But I understand that with Alex I don’t stand a chance. I crossed an invisible line as soon as I walked through the door. If l stay, I have to do it. My other option is to leave. And I don’t want to leave.





I am seeing the band in concert for the first time after hearing an advance tape of their new album, which I like a lot. Alex is wearing a white, rather sheer blouse and tattered jeans. The shirt hangs loosely around his hips. He has dark spectacles on. He doesn’t sing; he growls. He reminds me of Jim Morrison.


A friend of his is in the audience. Alex introduces him and pulls him on the stage. Big Joe here is going to be a big star, he promises. Come on Joe, show us your rock star collagen smile.


I think it is clever of Alex to modify “smile” with “collagen.” He must be pretty bright, I think.


Next, he reaches out to the audience and does a high five with a tall blond guy with dreadlocks and a red bandanna who looks a little like Alex. He is actually

better looking than Alex, his features sharp, his skin smooth and clear. Alex minus the damage.


This is my little brother, he says as he pulls the lanky blond boy toward the stage. My fucking little brother. I guess he’s not so little, he’s got at least four inches on me. Height-wise, that is. I don’t know about his pecker. Is there anyone here who’s done a comparison?


Backstage after the show, Alex is sitting and drinking beer with some skinny frail-looking blonde woman-child at his side. At various intervals, she gets up and crosses the room to retrieve him more bottles of Bud. She is pretty, even natural-looking, surprising because most groupies aren’t.


I bend over to talk to him. Can I catch you later? he asks. I kind of want to chill out after the concert.


I feel like an invasion. I realize that I am one. I am a journalist. I am not a groupie. I suddenly wish I could give up my job, except then I realize that I would never have met Alex if it hadn’t been for my job. Besides, Kent is waiting outside. I should go.


Alex says, Look, I’ll call you next week.


Will you really? I want to know.


I promise.

His hands are now under my skirt again. He touches me, fingers me over and over again, and I realize I am so wet. There is no way to explain how this happened. His idea of foreplay is taking his clothes off. And actually, neither one of us has any of our clothing off. He has hardly done anything to merit any sort of reaction from me besides a voice in my head that is saying, Don’t do this. But my body is acting on its own and I am wondering what is it inside me, where is

this mysterious place, this crazy hidden female thing that wants him so badly that I am wet without his doing anything. My body is begging for it.


At least it won’t hurt.


My skirt is straight and tight. He pushes it inside-out up around my hips. He presses my thighs to the bed and I remember what all those years of ballet were for. He pulls the drawstring open and the sweats slip down on his hips and I almost gasp at the sight of him.


Alex, you don’t want me to get pregnant, do you? I ask. I realize this is a very
prosaic concern.


You won’t get pregnant, he says, and I’m sure he is right.


So he fucks me. No matter how deep inside me he is, there seems to be inches more of him that still haven’t penetrated. This doesn’t feel particularly good, but it doesn’t feel bad either. There is a spot, a small and sensitive spot that he bangs against as he moves back and forth and these incredible noises just come out of my mouth every time he hits it. It’s not because it feels good. It’s just because it feels at all. I don’t know where I am on the pleasure-pain continuum.


He is sitting up on my hips the whole time. He never lies on top of me. I realize that one of the great joys of sex is the feeling of being pressed so close to the flesh that what separates me from him kind of disappears. The one reason I have always thought homosexuality is not natural is that women and men fit together, like a complicated jigsaw puzzle, when they have sex. Where you jut out, I recede, and so on. But right now I am being deprived of the part of sex I love the most because my shirt, my skirt, even my boots are still on and I cannot feel Alex tight against me.


It’s hard to move in this skirt, l say.


You don’t have to move, he answers.


He keeps pumping away, and after about a half-hour, it begins to hurt. My membrane has been stretched as far as it will go, and it’s about to split like Saran Wrap on a jagged edge. I wish he would come already so that we could stop. But he doesn’t.


Eventually, he pulls out of me without any warning and I am relieved. This is when the pain really starts because the accompanying pleasure stops and I am left with a womb too small and too tight for all it has been filled with and emptied of. Alex falls on his back on the bed. His head strikes the pillow like a match and he curls up to go to sleep.





Once I was over at the record company to hear some reel-to-reels off the new album. Alex was there too, making phone calls. There were lots of other writers there as well, mostly from fanzines, but the entertainment editor of Seventeen showed up so I had someone to talk to.


I wandered outside of the conference room to the desk where Alex was answering his messages and I stood over him. He was talking about meeting some people at a bar. He was saying he’d probably end up doing things he didn’t think he

should do and saying things he didn’t want to say because that’s what happens whenever they all get together. Then he hung up the phone.


I’m sorry. I began. I don’t want to bother you. I always feel so weird when I deal with musicians because there’s this kind of us-and-them thing going on — you know, we’re the press and you guys have to watch what you say when we’re around.


Don’t be silly, he said. We’re all people.


Well, I was just wondering, you once told me that you knew where I could get my tattoo fixed and —


Give me your number and I’ll give you a call.


You always say that, I said.


I was moving at that point, for the third time in six months, and I couldn’t really be reached. I never gave Alex my new phone number. He told me where I could leave him a message when I settled in.


But I never left one.


Later that day, his publicist brought out a birthday cake for him. It was early in February, so I knew he was an Aquarius. I was sitting on the floor at that point, and as he walked out of the room I asked, How old are you? He didn’t

answer so I pulled his leg until he bent down and whispered 31 in my ear.

I lie down next to him but I have no interest in sleeping. I hope you don’t mind if I sleep, he says.


Oh no. Of course not. You’re tired.


I pull my skirt back down over my thighs as I sit up on the edge of the bed and feel my hair, how it sticks together, and touch my ear, which is not just gooey but also in pain from being pushed into so hard. My whole body has been pushed into pretty hard. I feel at my lobe that an earring is missing, but I get up to leave because I don’t want to look for it right now.


Can you pass me the soda at the side of the bed? Alex asks.


I hand him the liter-size bottle of Orangina, which he gulps down.


Maybe I’ll go running, I say as if I’m looking for a better suggestion.


You’re a very energetic girl, he says.


Yes, I suppose.


I stand up and look at him lying there. I think I’m going to marry my bed, he says. He starts telling me that he’ll be at a concert I am going to at the

Bottom Line later on, but I know he won’t. I look at my watch. It’s 4:20. I arrived there at 3:30. Fifty minutes. Not bad.


He shows me to the door, even though it means getting out of bed, not because he is being chivalrous but because the knob is broken and he knows I’ll never figure my way out alone.


It was fun, I say, because that’s what you say. Let’s, um, do it again sometime.


Yeah, he says.


Did you have fun? I turn around and ask before I walk through the door. I want to know this because be didn’t come, at least not as far as I could tell.




I want to ask him why we did this since it seemed so unmonumental. I want to ask why he didn’t say the things men always do in bed, whether they mean them or not, like, Ah baby you’re so pretty. Or whatever. I want to ask what the point of this was but instead, the only words I say are, Do you do this often?


What? Screw? Yes.


No — invite strange women to your apartment to fuck?


He doesn’t answer.


When you asked me to come up here, did you know this was going to happen?




I must be very naïve because I had no idea.


I kind of doubt that.


I do too, I think. But I realize that I really did assume we’d hang out, maybe go for a walk, maybe watch MTV, maybe get something to eat. I thought he was just one of me disguised as one of them. I thought heavy metal was just a show and offstage everyone is married and has kids and that the Jack Daniel’s in the

bottle is really just iced tea because that’s what David Lee Roth once admitted. I thought that we were all people really.


He opens his door to let me out. I tell him l really want to go for a ride on his motorcycle. You got $700? he asks.


No, I tell him. No I don’t.


I’d like to go for a ride on my motorcycle too. Maybe we will when it gets repaired.


I offer to try to get his cat out of the hospital, but he says he’s got people working on it already.


I’ll see you tonight, he says as I turn to leave.





The review had already been written before any of this stuff happened, so I didn’t feel conflicted about what I’d done. Of course, had I actually written the damn thing afterwards, I wouldn’t have felt bad either because sex can be so separate from everything else, including feelings, including critical faculties, including my own judgment which is usually pretty good.


But the review came out on a Monday. I was up all night that night, finishing another assignment, and 5:30 Tuesday morning the phone rang. It was Alex. I didn’t know who Alex was when he first said his name, and then I put it together. I was about ready to go to sleep. Come over, he said. Come over right

now. I’m going down to Washington in an hour, so you have to come here right now.


I probably would have but I was tired. Not too tired to go there and hang out for an hour or so, but too tired for his breaking and entering routine. Too tired to fuck.


I kept saying, I can’t. He kept saying, You can. He said, I won’t take no. I said, You’re going to have to. I said — confusing sex and love as usual — If I say no, will you still like me? He said, It’s not a matter of no because you’re going to come over here right now.


I finally said yes to get him off the phone. But when I didn’t turn up at his door twenty minutes later, he called me three more times so we could go through the same discussion again.


I saw your article, he said during one of the calls. It was great.


Thank you, I answered. I’m glad you like it.


Come over now. My ride will be here in an hour and I need to see you now. Besides, I’m running out of quarters.


Alex, you’re crazy, I said.


I know I’m crazy, but you’re crazy too.


Why are you calling me now? Why not call me at a normal hour?


Why are you awake now?


I’ve been up all night. What about you?


Same thing, he said. What he was trying to show me is that we are the same: we both don’t sleep at night. And there is a camaraderie that I feel with all nocturnal creatures, which is maybe why I love my cat, maybe why I feel bad that Alex doesn’t have his cat. But now he is mistaking me for one of him disguised as one of them. He doesn’t realize that I’ve been up all night working while he’s been up all night partying, mainlining, nodding off and drooling.


And I know something isn’t right. When he calls me for the last time, I let the machine get it. I don’t go.





Months have gone by. Maybe it’s been longer. Alex still doesn’t have a phone. Sometimes I think of leaving a message for him with the record company, but I never do.


Sometimes I think of writing him a note, but I don’t know what to say. His band will be playing again soon and I know I can go to the gig if I want. It’s a free country. I can picture him, surrounded by girls, girls who don’t write

for a living, girls who probably don’t do anything for a living.


I walk by the building where he lives, day after day, night after night. I wonder why he’s never there. I wonder if he’s ever coming back. I wonder if I will ever see him again. I wonder how things would have been if I had gone there that morning, and sometimes I wonder if he wasn’t sending me some kind of cry for help, if maybe he wanted me to come over because he too was suffering from the intense loneliness that I feel as I wait for something to happen to change to make my crazy life seem settled and then throw it to pieces again and make my settled life seem crazy. I wait for another Alex. Or maybe I just wait for Alex.


I look for him all over my neighborhood. Every time I see a man on a motorcycle, I think it might be him, and then I see that the hair isn’t long and black, the stomach isn’t smooth and strong. A friend of mine said she saw him doing his laundry one day, so now I think every man with a bag of clothes might be Alex.


I break up with my boyfriend. I look for a new apartment. I move around a lot.
My phone number changes so many times and one day I realize I am in one place, my stuff is in storage in a warehouse on Avenue D, my cat is in my old apartment until I find a new one, there is an answering machine taking messages for me in still another place, and it feels like my life is disappearing. And I can’t find Alex anywhere. It is no comfort for me that if he wanted to, he couldn’t find me either.


I feel everybody disappearing.

I sit around the house doing nothing a lot. I lie in bed and listen to records, kidding myself that I am actually doing my job and then realizing that, in fact, I am doing my job. I hear Tom Petty singing: “But not me baby / I’ve got you to save me / Yer so bad / The best thing I ever had / In a world gone mad / Yer so bad.” And I know what he means. Maybe sometimes everything is so crazy that what’s worst for you is what’s best because if nothing really matters anyway then the one thing that might make you remember that you’re alive at all

is something that’s black when you’re blue, something that’s wild when you’re so tamed you can’t even see to the other side of the cage much less consider escaping.


And then I hear Don Henley: “I was either standing in your shadow / or blocking your light / Though I kept on trying I could not make it right / For you girl / There’s just not enough love in the world.” I feel certain he’s singing to me, that’s the sort of person I am. I watch my boyfriends, and there have been so many, so many more than I ever thought it would take to make me feel okay, and I see that after a while they all get that same baffled look at their faces, that shoulder-shrugging look that says I have no more ideas about how to make you happy so maybe I should just give up. In the beginning, every one of them thinks he will be The One, the savior, the person who will be different from the last failure who would dig ditches to China, who would stop traffic, who would fly across the country, who would wake up for phone calls at 4:38 a.m. just to hear me say, I feel such pain I don’t know why please help me.


It never works for me with anybody because of the gaps — gaps between my legs and in my mouth and in my heart — that are maybe deeper and wider than the Mississippi, that love needs to fill up but there just isn’t enough of it. Never has been. Never will be.


Late at night I feel desperate and think of calling old boyfriends who were never good enough when they were around but who I could maybe talk to right now to make it okay, but instead I roam the streets until the morning light peeks through, thinking about all the work I could get done in the time I spend feeling bad about all the things I don’t do, and I know that one of these days I’m just going to throw my body across Alex’s doormat and I’m not going to move until he comes back from the Far East or Avenue A or wherever he is because it would take something as empty as him to fill up a void like me.



©1999 Elizabeth Wurtzel and, Inc.