Two months later the Tattooed man and I were holding hands on Hollywood Blvd, waiting in line at another club with a group of his LA-based frat brothers. They passed vodka around in a plastic bottle originally meant for green tea. They laughed about their “brothers,” each of whom had a ludicrous code name. The Tattooed man was also known as AMPM.
“Why?” I asked, and a brother half faded put his arm around my shoulder and pointed at the Tattooed man.
“Because when he first got to college he wouldn’t shut up. His mouth was open and yappin’ all the time like a fucking AMPM.”
The Tattooed Man nodded. True story. There was some guy who couldn’t make it out that night named Rim Job. I felt sorry for him. On the outside, with my short skirt and high heels, I may have blended in quite well with the other girls in line, none of whose names I remember.
I spent two nights with him in a cheap motel I found in West Hollywood. I had wanted to save him money even though looking back, I probably shouldn’t have worried so much about saving him anything. From the motel we could walk to the LACMA and the Grove. On Saturday, sporting a massive hangover, he toured the Tim Burton exhibit with me trying to look interested while I tried to gauge if I was as weird as Tim Burton. I pored over the man’s diary entries and was happy to know I wasn’t alone in wanting to save my “earlier” works because someday, they might be worth something. If not to a world-class art museum, then at the very least, to my grandkids.
“Where did we come from if grandma never married?”
“Wax, wire and clay, darlings. Wax, wire and clay.”
Prior to this we had spent two months texting, a pitifully stunted form of modern communication and godsend for reticent men who would otherwise bumble their feet right through their front teeth; however, a death trap for verbose girls who are used to writing ten-page emails for sport. I didn’t understand that there was a text-message dance of sorts, but I had my coaches: world-class maneaters who knew the “game” well and played by the unspoken rules, had conquered their playboys and brought them home, humbled and fawning, to their mothers and fathers. Large engagement rings sparkled in their horizons.
“Wait on this one,” said Isabel, scrutinizing the Tattooed man’s latest text.
or, “Don’t even respond to this one.”
A childhood friend I’ll call Crystal was even stricter and stayed up late many a night to guide me. She was only a year older but ten thousand years wiser and her voice took on a different tone when she “coached” me through these things.
“If he takes an hour to text you back, wait THREE to text him back.”
“Yes. And if he takes longer than that,” she narrowed her eyes and I trembled, “Give him radio silence for a week.”
It seemed so silly to me, all this calculating with dumb one-liners. Had either I or the Tattooed Man (I know there are two parties at blame here) the good sense to CALL each other, a lot of time could have been saved, but that wasn’t in the cards. I was forced and also forced myself to play a stupid digital game with thumbs because, as some of my contemporaries have observed, to call someone is almost intrusive. No, not almost: it IS intrusive. So we never spoke. Just texted. I refuse to say “wrote.”
Somehow the texting did not “break” things off because there was nothing to break. He made it clear, via text, that he wanted only to be “friends,” and I took it in stride, texting back, “What’d you think I thought we were, MARRIED? VIA TEXT?” Or something like that. He had given me his definition of “friend,” and thankfully and unsurprisingly, it did not match my own.
Crystal’s advice was sound, but more important to me was what I think in Finance is called “insider information.” If anyone needed proof that the world was in fact small, my friendship with Crystal was hard evidence: unbelievably, Crystal was dating a guy who happened to be in the same frat as the Tattooed Man. They attended different colleges but knew each other through frat events, and knew each other in the easy way that guys know each other – not well, but they called each other friends.
This is how I learned that the Tattooed Man was in fact “seeing” a girl back in Chicago. They weren’t exclusive yet, Crystal said, but they were spending a lot of time together and the girl was pretty into him. And the Tattooed Man?
Has he been talking to you? Crystal asked.
The same week the Tattooed Man texted me and asked when was a good time to visit LA.
Summer is a great time, I said, and threw in a smiling emoticon for emphasis. I was smiling. I felt devilish with the information I knew and not just slightly triumphant. These guys, I thought, though in the back of my head I wondered a little sadly if it was “guys” or just “this guy.” I thought about the girl back in Chicago and knew she had no insider information on me – and even if she did, would it matter? I realized then that there was a paradox at stake: nothing and everything.
The Tattooed man’s plan was to drink himself into oblivion on both nights, though this was quite hard for him as his liver was a well oiled machine – much stronger than mine, so I watched my intake. We went out then back to the hotel, he in much more of a rush than I.
In bed, his breath thick with alcohol, he mistook my willingness to kiss as a willingness to do other things. He tried unsuccessfully to put his hands down my green pajama shorts, super short for looking, but not for touching.
“Just my hands,” he said, his fingertips playing at my waistband. I shook my head no.
On the second night he drank more, I drank less. We kissed, (I felt I was getting quite good), and when his hands went south again, they were pushed away. Visibly frustrated, he eventually gave up and threw himself against the pillow.
Whatever smugness I thought I would feel was replaced by a growing disappointment in the situation. In him. In guys. In myself and in other young women that encouraged this sort of behavior, these perplexing expectations. Both men and women have them, I knew, but which begat which? I thought about the god particle – the Higgs Boson or whatever that was popping up in all the news magazines, and how, sadly, I had a better grasp of what it was than the intentions and thoughts of the frustrated young man beside me. What was it? The age? The culture? Alcohol? Most importantly, what made the Tattoed Man think that putting a disclaimer out there, “Oh we’re just friends,” made it okay for him to put his hands anywhere near my pants? In doing so, he assumed our dictionaries were the same but those two evenings in the seedy motel confirmed the fact that he and I spoke different tongues.
“What are you thinking?” I asked. I wondered if I would have to leave him stranded at the motel. I was the one with the car and the home to return to, just an hour’s drive away.
He sighed heavily, crossing his arms behind his head.
“I think you’re a tease,” he said.
“I thought you might say that.”
He looked at me, eyebrow raised. Was he supposed to think otherwise?
“I’m not a tease,” I said.
He turned to look at me, his eyes seemed to be deciding whether to glaze over. I didn’t get angry – I had a right to, I think, but at that moment, I was simply amused. I had changed, certainly – turned a quarter of a century old and kissed a random dude in Vegas and was now lying in bed with him. I had picked him up from the airport. We had gone to get Korean food, and yeah he was pleasant and we had stuff to talk about, but the frustration he showed told me he wholeheartedly expected to get laid. How strange it all was! Lying in a lumpy motel bed in West Hollywood, next to a boy from Chicago in the middle of July!
I would tell him the truth. Full disclosure, as I have written before, is sometimes not a good thing – but he had disclaimed and so would I.
“That night we kissed in Vegas…”
“Yeah…” he seemed to dread what was coming.
“That was my first kiss.”
He did look at me. His expression didn’t change except for the slightest widening of his eyes. So slight that I don’t think it can be accurately measured but by feeling.
“Ah,” he said, “I thought you were going to say that.”
I spoke slowly about my absolute inexperience with these types of things and how I was still, despite his frustration, having a good time even though it felt very strange.
“Strange,” he said.
“Yes, strange.” I did not think it necessary to explain that I had also never spent the night in bed with a guy, even if all we did was sleep.
We were quiet and then, instead of turn away from me, he pulled me close and “spooned” me, as the lingo goes.
He wasn’t a bad guy, but he wasn’t a good guy, at least not to me. But he wasn’t a bad guy. At that moment, he was just a guy I kind of liked for one hazy night in Las Vegas and for several weeks after until I learned some things about him. Then I saw him again in the flesh in my hometown, in the sunlight, sober, and learned a few things about myself. I didn’t have to give up much, that was for sure, just that first kiss.
“Well, you should know you’re not a bad kisser,” he said, his hand relaxing on my belly, finally accepting that it could go no further south, “I couldn’t tell it was your first time.”
I smiled to myself, wanting to tell him that I was, after all, twenty-five and had seen plenty of movies where kissing was, if not integral to the plot was certainly part of key action sequences. Even in “Jurassic Park” one of my all-time favorite films, there was a hearty kiss here and there between the screaming and carnage. And, I wanted to say, I knew all the Judy Blume books by heart. But I don’t think he would have understood. Instead, I said thank you. I put my hand on top of his and lay there with my head on his pale arm, wondering when he’d move it away.