Talking to Strangers: Madison, WI
Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.
by Austin Duerst and Nina Ham
What do you do for a living?
I bartend and work in two neuroscience labs. In one I give people MRIs while they're making decisions about money — we're trying to learn about the parts of the brain that are involved with economic decision making. In the other lab, I'm helping culture a line of stem cells.
Are there a lot of sexy neuroscientists?
There aren't a lot of sexy neuroscientists. A lot of people in academia are very serious and they don't think about dating all that much. This is what I gather, at least. They don't really dress that hot, you know? They're just trying to get work done, which can be bothersome sometimes.
What's the craziest line anyone has ever used to try and pick you up while you're bartending?
Well, we were closing out the bar one time, and one of the musicians who was playing here that night stayed a little bit later and was standing next to me. And then all of a sudden I felt this thing on my leg and was like, "What is that?" I saw that he had his shoe off and was fingering my ankle with his toe. This went on and on, and I was like, "Whoa, this is really happening." He was kind of hot, so I let it happen for a little bit [laughs]. And then he started brushing my thigh, and I was, "Whoa, dude..." Too far.
Have you ever had sexual experiences with women?
I've dabbled. I think sexual orientation isn't really important. I just love people, and I think everyone has the right to love whoever they want. The first time I was inebriated. But there have been a couple of times when I was sober and actually thought about it, and it was a real and meaningful experience to me. But I just like dick a lot. I mean, I like girls too, but mainly I'm into the dick [laughs].
What's the most attractive quality you look for in a person?
That's a difficult question, because one thing I'm very interested in is someone who has self-confidence, but if they're arrogant, it's an absolute turn-off. But if you're not confident in yourself and you don't believe in yourself, that can be equally unattractive. Having confidence in yourself without being arrogant is a very fine line to walk, but if you can get that, then it really seals the deal for me. It's an art, really.
Do you believe in absolute monogamy? Do you think it's natural?
No, I don't. I think it's possible, but as far as being "natural," absolutely not. I think everyone should have primary partners that they are completely honest with, and that can be lifelong. But that doesn't necessarily have to be absolute monogamy. The primary partner is important — someone you know you can depend on — but sometimes you get crushes on attractive strangers.
What do you do for a living?
I play music for a living. I'm primarily a drummer, but I do other things as well.
Are you originally from Madison?
No, I'm from Dallas, Texas. I came here originally because I was looking for a place that was a little more calm, and I like the people here.
I feel like the singer and the drummer are usually the two performers who people are most attracted to in a band. You know, every once in a while I'll hear about that: "Ooh, drummers." It's kind of true, and I have no idea why. I think people were more interested in guitarists back in the '80s.
Do you think it's the physicality? People watching you bang on things?
I honestly have no idea. But that actually works against the people who come up to you after shows. It's like, you think it's hot watching me bang on shit? That's when I just say, "I'm good, thanks."
Well, what are they supposed to say to you after a show? "I love the way you were holding those sticks?"
Well, no, but it's just not very interesting to me to find someone after every show and sleep with them. From the get-go, I was never really into that. I've always just understood that it's empty in the end. Sometimes I actually get shit from the other guys in my band for that. They'll be like, "Dude, girls were all over you!" And it's like, "So?" It's not like I don't know what those things are like, or have never done those things, but I'm not really interested in it.
I know you have to have some wild sex stories. You can't be as saintly as you're coming off.
No, I definitely have some stories. I'm actually going to write a book [laughs].
Well, then, give us the prologue here. Give me a fragment from your future novel about the wild and crazy life of a traveling musician.
This isn't the craziest story, and it may not be funny to you, but it is to me, because it's so indicative of relationships I had in Texas. I had relationships there that were just nuts and not easy to deal with. I actually have a scar from being cut with a razor by an ex-girlfriend. But anyway, after a show, we went back to this girl's art space. So that night, I was tired and said I was going to check out and go to bed, and the girl who owned the space showed me upstairs to a bedroom. And I was so tired that I just dropped onto the bed and fell asleep. But I didn't realize that this girl ended up getting into the bed, too. So however long later, she wakes me up and is shouting, "You motherfucker!" And I had no idea what was going on, and the best I can figure is that the girl just assumed that we were going to have sex, that she was going to somehow make it happen. And she was yelling at me as if she were my girlfriend and I had fallen asleep in the middle of something.
Seems awfully presumptuous.
Right? And it's not that crazy of a story, but it was actually one of the breaking points for me back then, where I was like, "I've got to get out of Texas." Because I hate to think about things like, Oh, my girlfriend is nagging me. I hate shit like that. That's how things are in Texas; it's that cliched madness. But here in Madison, it's not like that at all. People are more realistic and logical about things. I'm sorry if that's a boring story [laughs].
If that's the sample chapter of your book, I don't think it's going to be a bestseller.
Okay, this is a little bit of a crazier story, I suppose. Another time, I met a girl who was wearing this leopard-print hat and boots, and I ended up sleeping in her bed. But before we got into bed she said to me that we were going to get naked, but that we weren't going to do anything. And at that time I felt like I had to do it, because it was so bizarre. I also remember that I was chewing gum at the time, and in the morning the girl was in her kitchen making food, and I realized that I had lost my gum somewhere in the bed through the course of the night [laughs]. So I'm checking my hair for it, and I go into the hallway, and I hear this girl just talking to herself and making the band breakfast in the kitchen, and it turns out she was naked the whole time. And I look down the hallway and two of my bandmates were like, "Dude, she's been doing that for an hour." And we ended up just leaving, which I kind of feel bad about. But it was all too weird for us to deal with. And I never did find my gum.
Carl, 22 & Alice, 21
Tell me a little bit about yourselves.
Alice: I'm a senior at UW-Madison, majoring in journalism and political science.
Carl: I'm a community non-profit leadership major at UW-Madison, and I'm about to graduate.
Because you're the only couple I've encountered who've demanded to do a joint interview, let's just blow the doors off the hinges from the start. Tell me a juicy sex story you've shared.
Carl: I'm not going to monopolize the conversation, because I know Alice has some juicy sex stories. But it's kind of well-known throughout our friend group that I might be one of the craziest people anyone has ever met. Tell him about the first time we had sex, Alice.
Alice: Carl and I first had sex over winter break in a ski-lodge-bar bathroom. That's when we first started talking to each other. And then it happened again in a room full of people when they were sleeping, and some woke up and saw us doing it.
Carl: I thought they were asleep because I was very intoxicated at the time, but looking back now, had I been more sober, I would have kept going. I wouldn't have stopped.
Alice: He also asked me the next morning whether we'd had sex, which was disappointing. Also, the sex was pretty disappointing [laughs].
Carl: Well, if it was disappointing, it seems to have stopped being disappointing, wouldn't you say? So we'll blame that on the alcohol.
What do you think is special about the Wisconsin dating scene?
Alice: I think the Midwest is the most friendly place in the entire world. Even a man we met from Saudi Arabia who Carl and I have taken under our wing has told us that Wisconsin is one of the friendliest places he's been. I think we're a very friendly folk. So what if we have more bars than grocery stores?
When it comes to sex, do you want someone who's "friendly" and "nice?" Is that what you're looking for?
Alice: Well, no, obviously not.
Carl: She says "no," but I think what she really means is "yes." If you can find someone who's actually nice and who's respectful of their sexuality, you can make them feel completely comfortable. I think men aren't very good at making women feel comfortable. It's not that I'm awesome, it's just when you're comfortable you can be as awesome as you want to be.
You no doubt have noticed the abnormally warm winter we've been having. Do you think it's mixed up the sexual chemistry in the air, seeing as how most years we'd be knee-deep in snow still?
Carl: I think people definitely have more sex during the winter. You're just more confident about yourself. You aren't sweaty and you don't smell bad. I mean, honestly, if you go out to a bar in the middle of a Wisconsin summer, you're just a filthy person. Nobody wants to go down on you when you smell that bad.
Alice: But you like that!
Carl: Well, I do, but I'm not a normal person.
Alice: This is what I think: in this town, the day it gets nice out, it's like, boom! Everywhere there are runners, there are people working out. Why are they doing that? Because this is a party school. They know that if they're going to want to fuck someone, they've got to look good, because there's all this competition. So if you see everyone else working out, then you have to too, because everyone is getting thinner and sexier and hotter. If you don't join, then you're not going to get any ass, anywhere, any day.
Carl: I completely agree with everything she just said, actually. I still hold my point to be true, though.
If there's a final word on Madison sexuality, how would you define it?
Alice: I think there's an odd view of Wisconsin as a whole as a bumfuck, hick state. But I think what it comes down to is everyone here just wants to fuck. I think that's what it comes down to.
Carl: I've had something like seven threesomes, and each one had a girl in it who was awesome and intelligent...
Alice: I've been in two threesomes, and one was with Carl and another guy. I felt like a platter of delicious fruit.
Carl: Yeah, she was in one. But to finish my point, each of them was with ridiculously intelligent and incredible girls, and because of their intelligence and their views on the world, it made the experience that much better. It's like I was saying earlier, if you're nice and involve yourself, it makes for a better time. Some girls just want to fuck you like it's a porno or something, but if you have a girl who knows her body and can interact with you, you just have a longer and better experience.
Say, are you a stranger? And would you like to talk to someone? We're plotting some Talking to Strangers segments with Nerve readers. Send a picture of yourself and a few lines about why you think you'd be a fun interview to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Let's Talk!"