One autumn when I was in my mid-twenties, I found myself attracted to a woman who ran the coffee bar at a used bookstore. Please don’t commit suicide after reading that last sentence. It’s just where this story begins.
She didn’t work near where I lived, so I came up with reasons for being in her neighborhood. I was working on a "story." I had to run "errands". I was shopping for a "book." For weeks, I leaned on one elbow across the counter while she steamed milk, and I listened to her talk, because I’d read somewhere that listening is seventy-five percent of what makes people believe you possess sexual charm. I learned that she was recently divorced and that she’d gotten her nose pierced to signal her independence.
"I’d really love to spend some time with you," I said, every day.
Eventually, she submitted.
"I close at seven tonight," she said. "Why don’t you come over to my place?"
Oh, yeah. It was rarely this easy for me. I felt so confident that I didn’t get to her place until almost 7:15.
She lived in a small studio in a large building at the corner of a noisy intersection. After the divorce, she’d put most of her stuff into storage. Her only furnishings were a plastic chair that looked filched from an events hall at the Y and a double frameless futon that folded into a couch, the type of thing that usually only appears in a dorm. She had no dresser. Clothes were strewn about the room in piles of various sizes and shapes.
Also, there was a man in her apartment.
"This is Eric," she said. "He works at the video store downstairs."
"Hey," I said.
He didn’t look happy to see me.
She gently touched my arm.
"I have something to show you," she said.
The only other rooms were a walk-in closet and a bathroom. We went into the closet. She laced her arms
"Please take me home with you instead of him," I said. "I deserve it.”
around my shoulders and drew me close, giving me a soft, deep kiss.
"I’m so glad you’re here," she said.
Then we went back into the apartment and watched a movie with Eric. When the movie ended, she yawned and said, "I’m really tired. I’ll see you guys later."
Eric and I rode the elevator together without talking.
She had me on a short leash from then on. In retrospect, she was going through a serious rebound, and I should have played it as such. But I was immature and she was soft, and smelled like nice flowers, and she looked so cute in a semi-dangerous sorority sister sort of way. I rarely found myself with the kind of girl who could, in fact, go wild. So I hopped the train whenever she called.
On Halloween, she invited me to a party thrown by the patrons of a bar that largely catered to Goths who liked to ride motorcycles. When I arrived, dressed, per usual, as Scary Helmet Man, she was on the couch making out with a fey, dangerous-looking young man. He wore white face powder, black lipstick and eyeliner, and a black vinyl jumpsuit. I decided to help myself to some Everclear punch.
Within a half hour, I couldn’t feel my feet. She sat between Tommy Gnosis and I, kissing him, with a hand on my knee. I wasn’t technically against a three-way, but the guy said to me, "You’re very conventional, aren’t you?" so that pretty much ruled out the grand experiment. When he got up, she folded toward me, purring like a bobcat. We wriggled together.
"Please take me home with you instead of him," I said. "I deserve it. I like you."
Later, as the glare of the streetlamps melded with the first peeps of dawn through the cheap plastic slats of her shutters, we lay together naked on her bed. It wasn’t very comfortable. My tailbone pressed against the floor.
"I don’t…" I said. "I can’t…"
"Shh," she said, as she slid a Trojan into my hand. She was lying there like an oyster begging to be shucked, so I stumbled my way across her body and put my lips to her neck. We slid together with biologic ease. I gave her nearly five good minutes before I passed out drunk.
We didn’t go out again until Valentine’s Day.
After that, I didn’t press too hard. The holidays came, and there were other romantic entanglements. Still, I was really surprised when I stopped by the bookstore one day and she said, "I want you to have a really special Valentine’s Day."
She could see I looked nervous.
"Don’t worry," she said. "I’ll buy dinner."
"Oh," I said. "Great."
"And," she said, "we can have dessert back at
When the night arrived, I showed up at her apartment to find
her poured into a charming strapless black dress. Good
lord, I realized, I was a man on a date with a woman! This was my town,
and I knew the perfect place to go before dinner: A singer-songwriter showcase
in Wicker Park where my crazy ex-girlfriend was playing.
A "crazy ex-girlfriend" is a stock character in love-life
narratives, and the person in question is hardly ever actually crazy, but I mean
it literally. The poor woman who sang and played guitar that night was actually
committed to a group
Her gaze said, "Please don’t hurt yourself."
home several years later. She had many terrible
problems, but she could also be so mean that sometimes you couldn’t feel
sorry for her. It wasn’t hard for her to bring people to her level.
The show went long that night. As my date and I sat in the
audience, I began to feel very hungry. When I get hungry, I become a little crazy
myself. My ex-girlfriend was on second-to-last. She’d obviously seen me in the
audience, because as she took the stage, she said, "This first song’s about meeting your soul mate. I’m sure Neal knows all about that because he’s here on a date. Hooray for Neal."
The combination of my hunger and the sneer in her voice loosed my sanity from its moorings. Throughout her set, I sat there with gritted teeth and serial-killer eyes and metaphorical steam coming out of my ears. My date looked at me sweetly. Perhaps she could see that the fingernails of my right hand were digging into the flesh of my left arm. Her gaze said, "Please don’t hurt yourself."
Alas, that was something she couldn’t prevent. After the show, we went outside, where I punched a wall. I said, in a voice less than subtle,
"THAT STUPID BITCH! SHE’S TRYING TO RUIN MY LIIIIIIIIIIIIFE!"
And then, I added, "ARRRRRRRRRRRRGH!" and punched the wall again.
My date hailed a cab. I got in, having expended my quotient of manic-depressive behavior for the night. She gave the driver her address.
"Aren’t we going to get dinner?" I said.
"Not tonight," she said.
"What about sex? Can we still have…"
She shook her head sadly. "I think you have some things
to work out."
You’re one to talk, I wanted to say.
I didn’t see her again, though from time to time she’d drop me an email to tell me that something I’d written was naïve. Then she got married and I got married, and all banter ceased. The last time I heard from her, she asked me to write an article about a device she’d invented that prevents toddlers from throwing their sippy cups.
Sorry, I told her. I don’t do public relations. But if she’s reading this now, and it’s certainly possible that she is, I wonder if she’d be nice enough to send over a sample. It sounds like something we could really use around here.
Bad Sex With Neal Pollack appears monthly.
©2004 Neal Pollack and Nerve.com