There were others before her, but she was the first. I found Nikki on MySpace. She liked taking pictures; she was an early adopter of digital photography. Specialized in self-portraits- different angles, tight zoom.
You thought she was beautiful. A carbon copy of every girl-next-door you ever wanted in high school. This was your moment. You spent a year at the gym- hundreds of miles on the treadmill, throwing around dumbbells- training for this like Rocky Balboa looking for a comeback. You had girlfriends before- but this was your moment; experience, swagger, and fitness- you finally felt like a complete package. If out-of-shape guys date average girls, then fit guys have their pick; it’s a logically valid equation.
“Run and tell all of the angels, this could take all night…”
Nancy had done her part by having a kid. Something anyone could point to as making her accomplished enough– anything on top of that is a victory lap. No one would fault her for keeping things quiet- drinks on the weekends, maybe a date, vacation time over the summer. This is how she eased into her forties, and there was nothing terribly wrong with it- even if her only wish were to politely color within the lines and walk away with a terrifically neat and tidy picture of a life well lived.
First time I had dated someone so incredibly settled– she even had a house to go along with the kid. Only a few years older than me, but it felt like decades. With my baseball cap turned slightly askew, I still think I’m a twenty-five year-old rock star with a full road ahead of me. This is the fantasy you indulge in when you’ve never chosen a path- you pretend that you still have choices, and that you could be smug about those boring types with their suburban homes and vacation clubs.
“On Marty’s right was dear old Mom, who was once very attractive and bright. Now, at forty-seven, she was overweight, drank more than was good for her and had more food on her plate than anyone else.”
I wasn’t trying to have sex with Christine, but I wasn’t opposed to it. She was in town visiting from some far off country where she had gotten a job teaching English, picked up a relationship, burnt through it, and came back to her hometown to regroup before doing it all again. She’d come back home for gift cards and praise, complementing her courageous and free spirit, to have a few parties in her honor- maybe hook up with some old flames- and leave before it all started feeling too familiar. I never left our hometown; I was neither courageous nor a free spirit.
We were the first generation to explore our late-twenties as unmarried. As it turns out, this only extends adolescence, creates expectations that life won’t likely meet, and gives you a handful of addictions to grapple with for the next decade. If you’re lucky, you’ll have your head screwed on by forty and then spend the rest of your life playing catch-up like you’re running out of time on a level of Super Mario Bros. (1985)– the background music fast and anxious so you don’t forget.
“Runaway with me tonight, dream the dream and light the light.”
Maybe it’s just part of growing up, feeling the depth of responsibility which that role entails- or the side effect of a tendency to lean toward narcissism- but I’ve never been able to let go of guilt. Lying in bed at night, thinking, how could I have been better or what could I have done differently. You put pressure on yourself to live up to an arbitrary ideal, and when you don’t, you never let yourself forget it. Maybe this is why I can’t sleep at night.
And when I’m lying in bed restless, I’ll often think about Christmas 1983. I don’t think I have coherent memories earlier than 1983, and if I take a moment to really focus, I can remember the feeling of newness and exploration I felt at that age- almost as if I were conscious of it at the time, but I know this is probably only how I see things in retrospect. I was obsessed with Masters of the Universe– captivated by the cartoon, and there were no better days than going to Toys R Us and getting to pick out one of the figures to take home. Of course, I preferred Skeletor to He-Man; even at three-years-old, I wanted to be the bad guy.
Like getting a glimpse of a video game’s final boss moments before your own destruction, unless you’re a real stud, you never get much experience having threesomes. Those who romanticize it have either never done it, or done it so many times that listening to them in the first place would be like taking financial advice from a trust fund kid. It’s nice to be rich. But outside of a resume piece that only comes up in the screening interviews you have with new women you’re trying to fuck, who’ll assume you’re lying anyway, or a sexual bucket list that you only understand as meaningless once it’s all checked off, threesomes are mostly silly.
This is the reality that every internet guru, selling you thousands of dollars of bullshit and filming those ridiculous looking three-way kisses at foam parties in Cancun, will gladly lie about.
Her name was Candace. We met her on Craigslist. I wrote the ad for my girlfriend to post- I had her screen the replies, and she’d have the decent ones text me. We had a good cop/bad cop dynamic- she was friendly with these women, I was demanding. Candace had a boyfriend but he was too nice– he lacked grit. She liked that I was in my thirties dating a nineteen-year-old. This is what women say they hate, and maybe they do on some level, but they’re lying if they say they don’t find it intriguing. After all, what kind of thirty-four year old is dating a teenager? The kind they want to fuck.
Nothing ends well. I hate to be the one to tell you, but if you didn’t already know, romantic endings are for Hollywood. Real life wouldn’t have made it past a single test screening. I’ve never watched someone die, and my hands carry the softness of a man with intellectual savvy- I’ve never known hard labor and this is something I appreciate. After I scrub diligently for twenty-seconds and dry thoroughly, I enjoy the soft touch of my fingertips on my reasonably ageless face. People are shocked that I’m forty- and with a baseball cap turned slightly askew, I can still fuck reasonably young women.
But this isn’t going anywhere. The joke is that once you hammer out the formula, in your Henry Frankenstein fuck laboratory, you’re already halfway bored by the results. They say the journey is more satisfying than the destination, but once you’ve slipped into the realm of hindsight, you wonder if that’s just another bit of Hollywood bullshit. You have so many of the same interactions that it all blurs together and becomes part of your muscle memory- like realizing Punch-Out (1987) is a rhythm game- you could do it blindfolded. You thought you were Tony Soprano, a playboy with a dark side, but you’re really Livia- “it’s all a big nothing,” something you understand now more than you ever thought you would.
“If you’re gonna scream, scream with me. Moments like these never last.”
I ended up with the plaid button-down because I needed a nice shirt to wear on dates– I was single again and recently set up a new OkCupid profile. I had found success on that platform in the past, although it felt like a thousand lifetimes ago when I was dating the daughter of a colleague in my English department while screwing her best friend on the side. All through the magic of online dating, but stay in a lecherous, testosterone sapping relationship long enough and all you’ve learned gets lost to time- too many Diet Cokes in BPA laden plastic cups at Friday’s, too much time spent in front of network television, an unwilling prisoner of your girlfriend’s viewing habits. Why are women obsessed with TV? Modern relationships should carry a warning label.
Women like preppy men, a friend’s girlfriend had told me. Read their profiles and find something you have in common. “Mutual interests.” Perhaps your values will coalesce. Women in their thirties are different, she said- you can’t talk to them like everything is just sex. They want a caring, intelligent man. They’re over their asshole phase.
“Faster than the speed of sound… Faster than we thought we’d go…”
For most of last year, I enjoyed getting to work an hour before everyone else. Often, I’d be the first in the building- the motion lights of the vacant hallways clicking to life upon my arrival. It felt important to settle into work. As I age, my brain seems to take longer and longer to heat up- like one of those old IBM computers, with the turbo button on the yellowing plastic shell, that would only display green type on a black screen. Back when computers held mysteries and nerds were the only priestly caste who could access them. Now computers are vehicles for advertisements and nerds are the people happiest about it.
I enjoyed getting to work early because the roads were empty and I could speed. The highway I’d choose was wonderfully twisted, lined with trees, and toward the end of the school year my backdrop would become a gorgeous sunrise. It felt like playing Outrun (1986), and just the idea that a wrong move could flip my Honda Accord (I chose the “sports model”) and send it bouncing across the road made me feel alive. The only risk embedded in my daily routine was cut short by a speeding ticket. The officer was polite and reduced my seventy-eight in a fifty-five to a seventy-five citing major differences in consequence. I appreciated that. I plead guilty by mail, and got a reasonably prompt reply that my guilty plea was rejected. A court date was to be determined.
Reality struck Matt Kennedy Gould in a flash as every cast member of the show created for his destruction revealed themselves as an actor hired to manipulate him. Every cast member but one, Brian Keith Etheridge- cast as Gould’s best friend, tasked with staying close to him throughout filming and becoming his confidant- remained cautiously silent.
When Gould turns to him, able to digest that the rest of the cast were maybe a lot of Hollywood phonies, out of work actors lowering the bar for a reality gig, he asks Etheridge, with genuine hope, if he’s as much of a liar as the rest.
And you’ll never find a more genuine moment of terror on reality television than the look on Brian Etheridge’s face, as he struggles to explain to his new best friend that he’s just as full of shit as anyone else- that he’s of the elite, Hollywood caste getting paid to make poor, working class Matt look pathetic.
This is where the Joker would pull out a gun and shoot Etheridge in the head- something Etheridge, with emotions and adrenaline running high, feared was possible.
Like buying bitcoin for pennies, the peak time to meet a girl on the Internet came and went before you ever knew what you were losing. Before anyone would have thought to use a term like early adopter– a time so raw that it couldn’t have been confined to language. Before they called it the “wild west.” A time without shape or form.
Forget selfies, rewind past digital cameras- when scanners were still emerging technology, the most pressing question after “ASL” became finding out what she looked like. The description of her body would ignite the imagination. You’d never have guessed that this primitive fumbling would yield more honesty than digital pictures, twenty years later.
I knew I was in over my head when I heard Kristen’s voice. She spoke with the easy confidence of beauty. I always came out of left field. The outsider art of trying to get laid. A puncher’s chance, but give me enough time and I’ll land a clean left hook. There was a crazy charm to this and Kristen picked up on it. She didn’t know what to make of me, but she knew I was unlike anyone she’d ever met. I spoke with the easy confidence of insanity.