Two Stops

You identify as hairless?

Signe Pierce, Optical Delusions. 2017, C-type print and frame. 20 × 16". Courtesy of the artist and Annka Kultys Gallery.

November 6, 2017

The after-party for the Calvin Klein Underwear exhibition was held on one of the piers, I forget which one. I couldn’t even tell if we were in Brooklyn or Manhattan, because we’d been driven to the venue in a bus with tinted windows. The party’s centerpiece was a performance by Kesha, but she canceled last minute. Now that we didn’t have to watch her perform, we had an excuse to say we were fans.

There were free drinks at the bar, and waiters kept coming by with hors d’oeuvres. My date, B., was an intern I’d met a few months earlier at another sponsored party. Since then I’d learned that he was into threesomes, didn’t work in fashion or PR, and didn’t have Instagram. He was from Switzerland and new to America and refused to tell me his age. Whenever we were together it was hard to tell what would happen between us: nothing, something, or something crazy. I wondered if my friends thought I looked too old for him.

I knew B. liked to flirt at parties, but that night, every time he shook someone’s hand he put his arm around me and held me closer. He kissed me softly on the cheek, a more tender gesture than I was used to.

I watched as he flirted with gay men while making sure they knew he was joking — he would never! Especially not that night, when he was with me. This was offensive, the way B. would always tell men he’d make exceptions for each of them, except that he wouldn’t. Would he?

I talked to my old coworkers about their new jobs and about our old boss, an awful man who would never get called out for his misconduct. Some of us had seen him on dates with the male models he brought around to the office, but we didn’t know for sure that he’d slept with them.

We talked about other editors we knew who were cruel and sleazy, about fashion photographers who should have been jailed long ago. A couple of weeks earlier, Condé Nast had announced they were no longer working with Terry Richardson, but by that point the allegations against him were many years old. One editor at the party seemed uncomfortable talking about any of it, maybe because his magazine featured Terry’s work all the time.

B. handed me a champagne flute.

“We’re talking about sexual misconduct,” said the editor.

“My favorite topic,” B. said with a wink.

There was a giant, glowing CK set up in front of a window overlooking the river. We walked through a selfie room, where classic Calvin Klein Underwear ads were projected onto a wall. I’d heard rumors that the Times was working on a story about Bruce Weber, who had taken many of these iconic photos. It was still early, but B. wanted to leave.

“Two stops,” he told the driver.

I asked B. why. He said that he was tired and had to work in the morning. I was drunk and mad about a lot of things in my life. I hated my job and all the other guys I’d been going on dates with, and I wasn’t over my recent breakup. It was clear that B. had started dating someone. That he’d used me to get into the party, flirted with my friends, flaunted his connection to me, and always planned on meeting up with someone else later. Maybe he was planning on bringing her back to the pier. Did he want her to see that same scene, with him as the protagonist?

My voice was rising, and B. was gesturing with his hands that I needed to lower it. So I got louder and told him to get out at the next light. I didn’t really mean it when I said I didn’t want to speak to him again, but that’s what ended up happening. Later I found out he was 21 — ten years younger than me.

November 7, 2017

China Chalet for an art auction. A friend, C., had just found out that her boyfriend, the director of a gallery, was cheating on her. C.’s editor was also at China Chalet. He’d brought along D., an intern from their magazine. The editor left, but D. stuck around and joined us at a table.

“I can’t look at Facebook anymore,” D. announced. “I’m too triggered by all this ‘#MeToo’ stuff. I just don’t want to read every single person’s trauma story right now.”

I’d read a good op-ed in the Times by Lupita Nyong’o, I said, about the way professional and personal boundaries were often blurred in filmmaking. “Our business is complicated because intimacy is part and parcel of our profession; as actors we are paid to do very intimate things in public,” Nyong’o wrote. She demonized the perpetrators while tearing a little hole in the sheet that separated the people in power from their victims. This was why these cases fascinated me. It was like learning we were all part of a cult. Maybe there was a way out. But maybe there wasn’t.

“Isn’t Lupita Nyong’o transphobic?” D. asked. The lights came on before I had a chance to respond.

Outside the party, I saw E., a man I’d slept with once, years ago.

C. and I got into a cab, and D. followed us inside. “Am I overstepping?” he asked.

“No, of course not,” C. said. We told the driver to take us to Clandestino. C. had noticed the weird moment between E. and me on the sidewalk. “You know him, don’t you?” she asked.

Around when I’d first moved to New York, I said, I’d gone home with E. after a party and was so drunk I’d almost passed out in the car. We had sex on a sandy mattress on the floor of what counted as a room in his curtained-off loft, and I blacked out. I walked home in the morning thinking I’d never see him again, since he was a messy punk who lived with like ten roommates. But at a gallery opening a few weeks later, a friend introduced me to E. as an old classmate from a prestigious art school. I smiled and said “Nice to meet you” and shook E.’s hand before I recognized him. He looked hurt and confused, and I turned bright red. But shouldn’t I be the one who’s upset? I said in the cab. He shouldn’t have taken me home in that state.

“Yeah,” C. said. “I mean, ‘#MeToo.’”

“But who hasn’t been in that situation?” D. asked.

At Clandestino all the barstools and tables were taken, so we each got a cocktail and stood in a circle. We started talking about skin-care treatments. C. and I were the same age and terrified of every line or acne scar we spotted while washing the mud masks off our faces every Sunday, hungover. D. said he wanted an alternative hair-removal treatment because lasers wouldn’t be able to detect his blond follicles.

“What hair do you want removed?” asked C.

“All of it except my head hair,” he said, eyes wide and suddenly very serious. “I identify as hairless. But the treatment is really expensive,” he added mournfully.

“You identify as hairless?” I asked.

“I don’t necessarily want a constructed vagina,” he said, clarifying. “I just want this hair removal procedure.”

This felt like a non sequitur, and it took me a few minutes to understand what D. was saying: he was claiming hairlessness as his identity; hairlessness would free him from the constraints of his cisgendered condition. It wasn’t until the next day that I made the connection — his connection — between hairlessness and femininity. Did I also identify as hairless, or was it simply expected of me?

November 8, 2017

Some friends and I stood in line for champagne at an after-party for an arts gala at Halston’s old town house.

A famous young artist kissed both my cheeks. “Did you know that the guy who used to live here, he was this guy who hung out with Andy Warhol?” he said. A blond socialite wearing a high fake ponytail and Ray-Bans told me she liked my look. She wore a new Gucci dress with a sequined cape, and I had on the three-seasons-old JW Anderson sweater I’d worn to work that day over a wool skirt and black tights. She talked to me about what New York used to be, when she was out getting into trouble. She looked about my age. I learned that she’d been married once and engaged again, but the recent fiancé had gotten “heavy into drugs” and was now in rehab.

“That was all back in Malibu, you remember,” she started saying to a friend, a giant man I recognized from last week’s Halloween party at the Brooklyn Museum. She introduced him to me as F. He didn’t seem to recognize me. On Halloween, F. had fed me bump after bump of coke from the wing of his hand in line for the bathroom and then asked me to come into a stall with him. His girlfriend was waiting downstairs, he said. In the stall we played a game of truth or dare. I’d picked dare.

“I dare you to show me any body part I want to see,” F. said, preparing another small pile. I hesitated, and he quickly said “Tits.” I was wearing a sexy costume and felt like a different person, like I was in New York before it sucked, which is how I always felt at big parties full of drag queens and drugs. I pulled down my top for a half second.

“Truth or dare,” I said. F. picked dare.

“I dare you to give me more drugs,” I said. F. asked me to make out with him, and I left the stall. The friend I was with, a girl from another magazine, said we should go with F. to the Boom Boom Room. “Something bad happened in there,” I said, pointing to the bathroom.

“Yeah,” she said, “before you got in line, I made out with him. He’s a big art dealer, or curator, I forget.”

I wanted to watch the patriarchy go up in flames, but I wasn’t excited about what was being pitched to replace it.


At the Halston house, F. was telling me about his wife and about old New York, spitting in my face with every sentence. I hated him, he was so ugly and uncool, and yet I didn’t tell him he was spitting on me, or that he had called his wife his “girlfriend” when we’d met before, or that we’d met before. Then he started telling the socialite about the party on Halloween: “I was at the museum, and then I ended up at a warehouse party in god knows where, I really have no idea, and then at about six in the morning, I press a button and I’m in a car on my way home. Still have no clue where I was or what way the car took me to get back, but that’s the future, isn’t it? We’re living in the future. I’m telling you, I’m having the best time I’ve ever had in New York. It’s only getting better here.”

Even the socialite looked confused by this. “Now?” she asked, frowning.

We were supposed to meet Rose McGowan at Café d’Alsace after the party, but she canceled at the last minute. I saw on Twitter that she had been hit with a drug possession charge, which she insisted was a scheme to keep her Weinstein dirt quiet. I hadn’t even read her Weinstein story. I’d read Asia Argento’s, Gwyneth Paltrow’s, and Lupita Nyong’o’s, and then I’d stopped. The stories were so familiar and dark, but also loaded — I wanted to ignore their details. It was an instinctual reaction.

I still wanted to know that the articles were being published, and in large quantities, but reading stories of abuse and humiliation, like the big Bill Cosby exposé from a few years back, was as stupefying as a hangover. I didn’t feel empowered; I only felt more hopeless. I wanted to watch the patriarchy go up in flames, but I wasn’t excited about what was being pitched to replace it. If we got all of it out in the open, what would we have left? My fear was that guilt would destroy the classics and there’d be no one left to fuck. All movies would be as low-budget and puritanical as the stuff they play on Lifetime, all of New York would look like a Target ad, every book or article would be a cathartic tell-all, and I’d be sexually frustrated but too ashamed to hook up with assholes, or even to watch porn.

November 9, 2017

I left work early and went to my intake session at the city counseling center. I told an old woman very briefly about my family and my childhood and the man who broke my heart in grad school by cheating on me and the man who scandalized me just months ago by cheating on me with a lot of women in our shared field. I was happy with my career, I said. That was one thing I had under control. I’d initially wanted to go to therapy because I had writer’s block. Now there were so many other reasons. My eyes clouded over but I didn’t let any tears fall. I wanted to seem strong, so I would be assigned a good, smart therapist.

The Times was keeping a running list of men who experienced professional fallout following accusations of sexual misconduct. Along the edge of the list were photos of guys with pale, drooping jowls, rosacea, male pattern baldness, glasses, bulbous noses, squat or too-narrow heads, and puffy bags under beady eyes set too close together.

I wasn’t immune to finding power sexy. I’d gone out with men because I was impressed by their jobs, thought about leaving men and then remembered their jobs. I told myself that this wasn’t a shallow train of thought, it was actually a tribute to a man’s character: the position he held said something about him, something I was supposed to like. But now it was clear that the jobs, especially the impressive ones, were the parts I hated most about the men. The cheating happened at the office. Maybe it stemmed from the atmosphere there.

Later, I went to a performance that combined opera, modern dance, pornographic sex, and a stage play about modern technology and its effect on relationships. Afterward, a group of us took the train into Manhattan and tried several Lower East Side bars until we found a bearable one. I tried to tell a story about the extreme behavior of certain young millennials, but either it came out wrong or there was no right way to tell it. “He identified as hairless,” I said. No one said anything in response.

We went to the park so some of us could smoke a joint, but it was cold out, and there were too many rats scurrying around. I shared a ride home with a comedian who had been very serious the entire night. In the cab she told me a story about a man she’d been seeing while she lived in Amsterdam. He was the lead singer in a band, and now a lot of the women he’d slept with on tour were speaking out about him possibly date-raping them after shows. She was still in love with him, but she didn’t seem emotional or bitter at all.

“I tend to believe the victims,” she said quietly. “It takes a lot of bravery to say something like that. People always say that victims come out of the woodwork to get attention, but really, how many women want that kind of attention? They’re still interested in dating men, right? And they’re going to have a much harder time doing that once they’re known for calling out a rock star for misbehaving — oh, right here is fine,” she told the driver.

November 10, 2017

I went to the gym and started sobbing on the treadmill. I texted my ex. I told him he had ruined my life and that I was so depressed I couldn’t function. I told him I was crying at the gym, thinking this would provide him with a clarifying mental image. I thought about texting him other things, like how earlier that day I’d seen the neighbor’s cat we used to play with together on my fire escape. The cat would come inside through the bathroom window and let us brush him. Alone that afternoon, I ran a comb through his thick fur, picking up a mass of gray undercoat while he purred. After a few minutes, he crawled back out the window, down the fire escape, and into my downstairs neighbor’s bathroom window, where another cat who looked exactly like him was waiting. They hissed at each other and then both stepped inside. I wanted to tell him that it might have been two cats the whole time. Instead I texted him that he was a monster. He apologized again, and said that apologizing was all he could do.

November 11, 2017

I went to see some friends do stand-up. I laughed a lot, and then got anxious thinking about what I could contribute to this crowd. I wasn’t funny at all. I hardly talked after the show, but my friends kept making sure I was involved in the conversation by bringing up things they knew about me. The whole experience made me emotional, which made me get even quieter. The bar closed, so we went to another bar. Someone did lines off a table. At one point everyone was in agreement about Kevin Spacey — it was totally normal, they said, to hit on a minor drunkenly in your twenties.

“Gay teens have sex with old men,” someone said. “There’s a movie out about it right now. It’s getting Oscar buzz!”

November 12, 2017

I stayed in my bedroom all day. When it got dark out I turned on the lights and went to the gym. At nine I went to a dinner party that honored the winner of an annual fashion fund. Everyone was happy and telling one another how happy they were. This was the most deserving recipient in the history of the award, we all said. An older man with one pearl earring walked in, and my friend and I talked about how great he looked.

Later on, he grabbed our asses at the same time and whispered into the space between our heads, “I’m not here. I have no name.”

Another friend I hadn’t seen in a while asked me about my boyfriend, and I had to tell him we’d broken up. Usually, people change the subject when I tell them, but he said, “He seemed like such a nice guy,” so I had to fake a laugh and say, “Well, turns out he wasn’t.” After the ceremony, everyone else went to a karaoke bar, but I put my headphones in and walked alone to West 4th.

The long, sloping passageway that led to the platforms was covered in ads for a grocery delivery app. Special instructions: no dressing, one said. It showed a cartoon man sitting on his couch, wearing only boxers. What do you know? Salmon does travel uptown, said another. On the lower train platform, another set of ads, this one for a phone with an improved selfie camera: Does loving yourself have a limit? The train charged in, blocking images of a duck-lipped woman in deep focus. I sat on an empty bench and looked up. Along the seams of the subway car’s ceiling, a set of ads for a bedding company said, Get dressed never, 500 more minutes, and Let’s not run away together. I turned to read the vertical ads mounted behind me. They were for an apartment listing app and said things like, Search: separate entrance for roommate, and Search: Crazy cat lady–friendly. There was a poster-size ad further down on the train for something medical. The only part of a Spanish phrase I could translate was You are not alone.

November 13, 2017

I got up and read the news of another public figure being accused of sexual harassment, like I did every day. At work, I went to a bathroom stall to either cry or get lost in a sexual fantasy about a man I was messaging via Tinder, or both, at different times. The days were getting shorter and darker and everyone was talking about bleakness and cuffing.

November 14, 2017

I met G. at her apartment after work so we could go to a techno show we’d bought tickets to weeks earlier. She poured us two huge glasses of white wine. In the Lyft, I realized she was very drunk. We got to the venue in Gowanus and she stumbled out of the car. She stayed for a few minutes and tried to pull herself together, but she had to leave before eleven. I stayed there, dancing alone.

The DJ I liked finally went on at one in the morning. I was very drunk. I felt hands on my thighs and turned around to face a girl with long blond hair, a lacy cleavage-baring bodysuit, and tight black jeans. She danced with me for a while and then danced with a girl with long black hair and a mesh top over a black bra. Then she came back to me and got closer and closer until we kissed. She yelled into my ear that the girl with black hair was her girlfriend, and then took my hand and led me to the back of the dance floor. We danced in circles and made out for what felt like hours. She had perfect teeth when she smiled. Eventually, she asked me how old I was, and I lied and said 30. I should have said 29. Thirty is just as bad as 31. She laughed and said she was 22. She kissed me again to show me she didn’t mind. She asked me where I lived, but the music was too loud for us to understand each other anymore, and she said she didn’t know English well. When the girlfriend found us, the blonde started talking to her quickly in Spanish and laughing. They both laughed. I went to the bathroom and was glad to see that they were not in the same spot when I came out. It was almost three. I got in a cab that took me in a huge loop before the driver realized his mistake and then blamed it on me. I didn’t argue.

November 15, 2017

The stories about Louis C.K. came out and I was devastated. The way he wrote about sex felt necessary to me. There were perverts everywhere, and we should understand them because we should understand the world we live in. It was easy to imagine that Louis thought what he was doing was attractive to the women he assaulted, even if it was traumatizing: when he did it on TV, people loved it. His new movie was canceled, and everyone insinuated that he was a sicko who deserved to never work again. Maybe they were right, I don’t know. But I wasn’t ready to live in a world that censored a pervert honest enough to say he was perverted. It was his fault — he shouldn’t have done those things. It was my fault, too. Maybe I shouldn’t have loved his comedy. I shouldn’t have shown that art dealer my tits on Halloween. Sometimes I felt guilty about loving the recklessness that came with being a woman.

Most days, I felt exhilarated when I read about men getting fired. I thought about my ex-boyfriend, who had cheated on me with women who were trying to advance their careers. This was an imbalance that was being abused. But he disagreed with me that his behavior was inappropriate, beyond the fact of his cheating. And yet I didn’t want to start a campaign against him. I was afraid of looking petty, or, worse, like a victim. I’d rather erase the memory, not explode it. Because if I hadn’t been cheated on, I would have gone on thinking that I never could have been, which would have been preferable. Maybe if I didn’t know about any of it, I would be able to read about other women being humiliated.

Every time I broke up with someone I’d go back to the gym. It was a different gym each time, because new gyms kept opening closer and closer to my apartment. My roommate, H., went to many gyms, too, but with greater consistency. He was dense and angular; he drank protein shakes and carb loads or whatever. Whereas I spent my time stretching and hunching in the mirror, trying to see more concave areas, more negative space between hips and ribs. No matter what, my weight read the same on the scale. I looked thinner and felt lighter, but the numbers didn’t get smaller. I wanted to take up so little space that my coworkers would look at my chair, assess the amount of room left on either side of me, and not be able to mask their envy.

It was easier for me to give up eating than it was for me to give up drinking. I didn’t stop eating, though, because then I’d have to stop going to the gym, and then I’d start smoking again.

November 16, 2017

After work I attended a launch for a new smartphone and a new R&B album. The launch concluded with a pink neon-lit party, during which my friends and I took pictures of our new free phones with our old ones, drank free cocktails, and ate hors d’oeuvres you had to work for. From a back door came a procession of wooden planks strapped to smiling waiters that held anise-spiked dark chocolate that had to be chiseled off a bar, whole bunches of baby bananas, persimmons with the stem attached, skewers of shell-on shrimp, and white radishes that looked like they’d just been pulled from a field. G. said she was keeping her old phone and her new one: one for personal use and one for sponsored posting. “It has a really good camera,” she said.

Later, I met up with a brand consultant for a second date. I started telling him about other Tinder dates I’d been on. I lied and said that they’d all happened before our first date, which was weeks ago. I kept doing this, for some reason: comparing everyone I’d just met to everyone else I’d just met, aloud, to their faces. Guys lied about their ages a lot, I said. A 40-year-old said he was 36, and a 48-year-old said he was 44. Should I be lying about my age? I wanted to attract people my age or older than me, I said. If I said I was in my twenties, I could start attracting twentysomethings, whom I hated. Don’t you? I asked. He stared forward, blank faced. No thirtysomething man hates twentysomethings, he said. Was I anxious about aging? he asked. The anxiety was what I was supposed to lie about. All thirtysomething women are supposed to say they are excited to finally feel adult and to know themselves. But I didn’t lie about that. I said if I was anxious about anything, it was becoming obsolete, in my career and in my sex life. He was surprisingly sympathetic. He wanted to have sex with me, though. I wanted to have sex with someone, so it may as well be him.

November 18, 2017

I went with C. to the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day fundraising pre-dinner. In the lobby, we told a woman with an iPad who we were, and another girl took us to a private elevator, whose operator knew what floor to take us to. When the doors opened, another attendant took our coats and gave us tickets. A short hallway opened to an apartment painted in bright colors and hung with paintings and artifacts of world travels. Two bichon dogs wearing hot-pink fleece vests and diamante-studded collars clinked around a tiered table full of champagne bottles. A man was filling flutes and placing them on a tray held by another man. Another man was ladling a creamy pink punch into short goblets and handing them to women wearing Chanel suits and costume jewelry.

The publicist who had invited us introduced us to the owner of the apartment, a woman whose face was asymmetrical with botched plastic surgeries. She was wearing a pink fleece vest, too, and furry pink slippers. Many of the attendees looked to be mothers who wore pearls, with daughters who wore Tiffany charm bracelets or Cartier bangles. The publicist and the waitstaff were the only men in the room, until a man walked in with his younger wife. Her Hervé Léger dress squeezed her upper back, giving it a long crease. It took the man only a few minutes to find a reason to talk to a famous model who was sipping a clear cocktail near the window. The trophy wife stood patiently to the side. The owner of the apartment, now holding a dog under each arm, posed in front of a small step-and-repeat that blocked a doorway. Someone handed her a microphone and took one of the dogs from her so she could hold it. She talked for a few minutes about her home, her dogs, and her career as a film producer.

The founder of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, a leading activist, mentioned how close she was to each of the dogs, how much character they had, and how her own dog loved them like sisters. What followed was hard to follow. It was a winding speech about activism — first animal-rights activism, and then something vague about underprivileged women, a half-told anecdote about a stalker, something about writing several books and breaking several Guinness World Records, and then a story that started with, “No one told me that Honduras isn’t a vacation spot.” If it wasn’t for her trip to Honduras — “Which I do not recommend, by the way; it’s the most dangerous place in the world, did you guys know this? I didn’t” — she would have never met so many women in need of business training. And that was the goal for the fundraiser the following night, to which everyone was required to bring their checkbooks.

November 19, 2017

At some point on Sunday, in bed, I googled the owner of the apartment. Her one film credit was a short she’d written, directed, produced, and voiced. It starred her two dogs. Next I googled the speaker. Her books were mostly about her dogs, and her Guinness World Records were for dog with the most expensive wedding and dog photographed with the most celebrities.

November 20, 2017

I swiped through Tinder at work and went on a date with someone I’d matched with hours earlier, J. He looked like an older Ryan Gosling.

“It’s weird, because that guy isn’t that attractive, right? But because he’s so charming, he is. And now I am, only because I look like him.”

After one drink, he insisted we talk about the abuse allegations against Al Franken, Louis C.K., and Lars von Trier. Everyone I went out with brought up sexual harassment, which made me uneasy. They all spoke with the same flippant tone about women getting ahead of themselves or making bigger deals about certain things than was productive. It was as if they were making sure I wasn’t one of the ones who would get hysterical. At least J. backtracked a little and then let me change the subject. We’d both just seen The Square and loved it, and he’d just broken up with someone, too, and 31 seemed so young to him. We went from a bar in Ridgewood to a club in Greenpoint and danced to minimal techno until 2 AM. An obscure song started playing and we both said “I love this song” at the same time. At the end of our date, he put me in a cab and kissed me and said, “We should stay in touch.”

November 21, 2017

A growing percentage of my texts were from men who wanted to “stay in touch.” We had inside jokes, we sent each other articles about things we’d discussed on our dates, we even started telling each another about other dates we’d been on, commiserating about what the app was doing to our minds.

There were many men, most of whom I’d met and at least made out with: a lawyer, a garbage man, a magazine editor, a TV camera operator, a CEO, a graphic designer, a social-media analyst, a photojournalist. There was a married woman who had no job. I didn’t quite feel rejected by any of them. It was about chemistry, I told myself. Some seemed intimidated by my busy life. Others were hung up on an ex and just wanted to hook up, but found that texting me later was fun, too. I knew that J. wasn’t going to want to date me, which only hurt because he was perfect on paper. His detached kiss and all the conversations tapering off into platonic feelings made me sad, and I started to cry, as I often did lately, without warning. Was I not irresistible to anyone? Was being irresistible to men what I wanted the most?

November 22, 2017

I was emailing a man from my past, a new divorcé. “Stop that,” said H. I switched to the conversations on Tinder with guys who were old enough to be my father. There were messages I left unanswered, some about sex and others about expensive dates and still others about the full moon that night or the delicious meal they made from scratch, alone. Sometimes they would enter my fantasies, their hunger more interesting than the other, brutish kind of lust. These men were happy to repeatedly ask for my attention, and maybe even happy that our dynamic meant that I often acted callous toward them. I wanted them to continue to want me, but I couldn’t imagine becoming exclusive with someone so fascinated by my autonomy. I sent a series of texts to a man in his late forties I’d been on one boring date with. He was away on a business trip in an earlier time zone. “Hello, darling,” he wrote back, as if we were in a full-blown relationship. That kind of thing didn’t used to bother me so much.

November 23, 2017

H. and I went to a Thanksgiving party at our friend’s West Village apartment. We brought a green-bean casserole and ham. I was surprised to see an acquaintance of my ex, and more surprised to find out that he hadn’t heard we’d broken up. “But you guys had some kind of understanding, right? You weren’t, like committed.”

I couldn’t help myself. “He wasn’t,” I said. “I was.”

“I never knew, by the way, that you’re a writer. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I assumed he would have told you that,” I said, stunned again.

“You can never expect anyone to do your promotion,” he said. “I learned that the hard way.” I knew that he wanted me to ask about his own writing career, but I didn’t.

I excused myself to get a glass of wine. A woman I didn’t know well sat by me during the dinner. She said she’d gotten back together with her ex, who had broken off their engagement a year earlier. C. was there with her boyfriend, the gallerist. They’d gotten back together, too. After dinner, H., C., and I went to the Thursday night strip club in the basement of the Monster. I had never seen male strippers before. As a woman, I wasn’t allowed to get a lap dance, which meant none of the men walking by us would paw my shoulder or kiss my cheeks. They just smiled and winked. “A lot of them are straight,” said H. “Like, a lot.” Some could pole dance almost as well as female strippers, and others simply stood on the stage and flexed. There wasn’t a correlation I could trace between skill and tips, only one between attractiveness and tips. C. got a phone call from her boyfriend and had to leave. I could see tears forming in her eyes when she hugged us to say goodbye. H. disappeared into the lap dance room. I was alone, a handful of ones ready to fold into a waistband if I was impressed enough by a silently dancing man. It was still Thanksgiving, and the emcee hadn’t mentioned the holiday once. I was surrounded by older men, but it was like they didn’t see me. If I didn’t know why, I’d be sad about that, but since I did know why, I was happier than I’d been in months.

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