Last weekend I went boy trolling with my friend the Newbie. She's 27 and a former stripper, but she doesn't look anything like the stereotype. She went to Williams College, has small breasts and young cowgirl eyes, and covers her mouth when she laughs. She just moved to New York from Oregon, to play music and tend bar on the side, and all she wants to do is meet men.
I am also 27, and though I never stripped, I wrote a novel that can be read with one hand and was 69 percent autobiographical. I have lived in New York since 1973, except for four years at Brown, at which I had one long-term relationship, fourteen pot-induced hookups, and the obligatory two girl-girl kisses. In the ensuing five years I've had two other LTRs, four quasi-relationships in which the guy insisted he wasn't my boyfriend, 29 drunken fool-arounds, three one-night stands, and 31 mainly nonspectacular dates. So I am something of a sophisticate on matters of the heart and was therefore not surprised when the Newbie asked me to take her scoping. It's my second favorite hobby, after crochet.
I selected a bar in Brooklyn near my apartment where the large majority of the drunken fool-arounds had taken place. As the Newbie and I were sitting by the window I saw a preppy cutie walk by. He was wearing khakis, flip-flops, and a worn gray tee. I winked right at him, and he walked in.
"I'm Amy," I said.
"I'm Jim," he said, and then turned to the Newbie and asked what she was drinking. I couldn't believe it. I'd made the invite, but he didn't want to chat with the hostess. He headed for the bar. "Don't buy me one unless you get one for my friend!" the Newbie called.
He apologized and bought me one, too, but the cards were on the table. I'd been cock-blocked by someone who didn't know the grid system.
He sat on a stool next to her, and the more they flirted, the more I started to fume. The subject of college came up, and the Newbie asked him where he went. "Gettysburg," he said. "Have you guys heard of it?"
"They sent me mail," I shot, "but I didn't apply."
"What?" said Jim.
"Um, I said I've heard of it. It's near Lancaster, right?"
"No. You just took a dig at me. If someone told you they went to Harvard, you wouldn't say they sent you mail."
"I know. It was classless," I said. "I shouldn't have said it."
"That's okay. Feel free to look up the ranking in U.S. News & World Report when you get home."
"I think I'll do that now," I said, and ran out.
The next week I took the Newbie out for white wine at a French restaurant. "What happened when I left?" I asked.
"We started making out," she said, "and then we walked to a stoop nearby. We were kissing, and he put his hand up my skirt. I had just shaved off all my hair, and he said, 'I want to go down on you here on the stoop.' " Our waiter raised his eyebrow as he passed.
"Did you let him?"
"No. But I gave him my phone number."
"You got offered oral sex from a good-looking stranger on your first night bar-crawling in the city? What do you know that I don't?"
She shrugged. "Guys like it when you're not too aggressive but friendly. There's a lack of friendliness in the world, and if a single girl is young, cute, and sweet, it's breathtaking to them. It's absurd how many guys who come into the bar where I work invite me to dinner."
"That's because you're behind the bar. You're like an animal in a cage. It turns them on."
"It happens every day, though. I'll go out with whatever guy seems like he won't expect anything afterward. I've also been having a dalliance with one of the other bartenders, Duncan, but I don't want to settle down."
I wanted to choke this little cooze. But I wondered if there was something to be learned from her attitude. Maybe the Newbie was living proof of the single-girl conundrum: When you want a boyfriend, they treat you like a slut, and when you act like a slut, they treat you like a girlfriend.
"I think guys are attracted to my openness," she continued. "And I'm always alone in the city."
"You weren't alone the other night!" I shouted.
"Last night I went to Lakeside Lounge by myself, and all the men were hitting on me."
We were starting to get somewhere. If I went out alone, there'd be less competition. "Hmm," I said. "What were you wearing?"
"Fishnets, knee-high boots, short black shorts, and a little T-shirt that said rock on it." Suddenly everything became glaringly clear. "I met this guy there who gave me a lift on his motorcycle. He wanted to take me all the way home, but I had him drop me off by the train."
"This is New York City!" I shrieked. "I feel like I'm going to read about you in the tabloids!"
"I know," she said blithely. "I need to be savvier."
I didn't know how much more of this I could take. This rube had gotten more attention in a week than I did in a year. She had outsexed me, outflirted me, out-me'd me. I didn't want to learn from her, I wanted to put her on the next bus.
The waiter came over and asked if we wanted another round. I ordered another wine, and she said, "Just a water." But he didn't leave. Instead he leaned down close to her ear and said, "A gentleman who wishes to remain anonymous would like to buy you your next drink."
I glanced around the room. There were two guys at the bar, but they seemed gay, and everyone else was a couple.
"Who's the gentleman?" I asked.
"I cannot say," said the waiter, with an even smile. He was skinny and cute with good, tanned skin.
"Gee," said the Newbie. "I guess I'll have a rum and Coke."
"And for you, miss?" he asked me.
"A side order of her life."