A few weeks ago, I sat down to write something that entertained me as an idea. When it was finished, I was pleased by my result. I sent it to the “Shouts and Murmurs” crowd at The New Yorker. Within twenty-four hours I had my reply. They liked it but not as much as they needed. It had “evident merit” and they thanked me for letting them see it. In my book, this was almost as good as having them say, unqualifiedly, Yes. See how little it takes?
How Mistakes are Made
I’m eighteen. Not bad looking. Not dumb. Don’t hang out on street corners or in bars. Interested in girls, absolutely. Finding it hard to get past their tests.
Used to be, I guess, a guy and a girl got together. If they liked what happened, they stayed a while together. If they really liked it, they could get past it, you know, get married.
Used to be. Now there are too many steps in-between. Little tests. Guys don’t do little tests. We do big ones. Wanna do it? You pass.
Freshman at Yale. Big deal. Co-ed. Means rules, tests, behavioral examinations. What do I know? That seems to be the name of the game. What do I know, how much, can I share it?
None of this where I come from, which is Charlottesville. Very civilized. Very sophisticated. A garden. Error free.
Definite gradations of access. My dad used to talk about getting to first base, second, third. These girls aren’t interested in doling themselves out. They want you to offer. They’ll decide whether the offer is a go.
New thing. Now you have to be sensitive to their needs. Probably was always like this, just heightened. More verbal. Gestures, clothes, vocabulary. All keys to what to expect from us.
Funny thing is, these girls all use the same tests.
Now, I’m not exactly pure. Have had half a dozen really good handjobs. Twice great head. But when I discovered the rules, I decided to pull back. Construct my own tests.
In short, if a girl could get past Book Number Four, she’d have a shot, a good one.
Being fair, which I am, I suppose passing all the tests means some kind of security. For them. Not for us.
Book Number Four? “Summer and Smoke.” Tennessee Williams. Sensitive, lonely, divided. But we don’t get to go straight to number four. We have to get through Books One, Two and Three.
One, of course, is Holden Caulfield. Prep dweeb. Weird. Not a guy’s guy. But girls like to know what you think of Salinger. I don’t think of Salinger. He’s old, dead, spooky. How would you like it if your whole reputation rested on some thin, fancy-acting little twerp walking dazed around a city?
Two is a cross between vampires and Wonder Woman. “The Hunger Games.”
I read it. Weird. So this girl is brave. Big deal. But what girls want to know is how you think you could “relate” to her, to her story.
Well, I’m all for a little violence. Nothing serious, just enough to let the other person know you’re not weak. Enough that you’re respected. The rest is b.s. Designers, advisors, magic. Weird wasps. Pictures in the sky. Having someone watch your back.
For my money, if you’re worth anything at all, you don’t need protection. In fact, to hit someone is a pretty good feeling, better by far than having your poor white ass snapped by a wet towel in a gym lockerroom.
Book Three? Come on, think!
Jane Austen. Myself, I prefer Thackery, because Becky is such a bitch. So I say so.
Rarely get past Book Three.
But if I do, there’s Alma and Dr. John waiting for me. Sorry pair of losers. One lives mostly in her dreams, the other doesn’t even bother to dream, he just fucks. You can imagine how Alma might find this a relief.
Say something like that, though, and the test is finished. You’re dismissed as some kind of Neanderthal.
Say that Alma is too timid to be real, you’re heartless, a potential wife-beater. Say that Dr. John seems to be having a good time, or would, if he could get rid of Alma hanging on him, you’re a chauvinist pig.
Here’s what I’m going to do. The first girl that runs these tests on me and stops before “Summer and Smoke” is the girl I’m going to marry.