Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sex and Two Cities: Naked New York



PLAYBOY, April, 2003
NAKED NEW YORK

By Anna David

In Los Angeles I never find the men, only the boys. Perhaps because the town dream is celebrity (an excuse to play all day), the males here seem trapped happily in perpetual adolescence. It's all about games and sex and drinking, a film executive says, pretty much summing up a typical LA boy's dream activities. Even the ones in suits - the ones alleging to be men - seem interested only in chasing after perfect newbies with enhanced bosoms that flood L.A.X. daily (part of California's fresh-meat for fresh-produce deal with the rest of the country). So convinced is the male Angeleno of his endless dating possibilities, L.A. girls have to get used to the fact that one day, out of the blue, he just may not call. The first boy who did this to me told me his reason years later: "You really needed to wax, baby," he said, shrugging. "Down there." Over time I got used to it. But when I grew up and the men around me didn't, I began to suspect that things might be radically different on the other coast. I decided that a trip to New York was just what the waxer ordered.

THE MAGAZINE GUY

"He's good-looking, straight, the editor of a men's magazine and I've never heard of him screwing over anyone I know. Either you've managed in one night to uncover New York's undiscovered gem or there's something really wrong with this picture."

So says a friend of mine--one of those beautiful, cynical publishing girls who has a firm grasp on her city's dating scene--when I tell her about making out with high-powered Magazine Guy in the cab the night before.

At first, I'm horrified and feel defensive on his behalf, but I slowly realize that she has a point. Nongeeky Magazine Guys, an only-in-New-York phenomenon, are intellectual rock gods to us Magazine Girls; if Viggo Mortensen and Dave Eggers could morph into one creature (who also had the power to hire us at a competitive salary or at least give us that world-weary-but-wise girl column we've been aching to write), he'd be the Magazine Guy. We definitely don't have MG's in L.A.

I meet him at the Hudson, Ian Schrager's newest hotel, during an allegedly exclusive party for something no one in attendance seemed to be sure of. It's my first evening in town and I'd slept maybe three hours the night before and not at all on the plane. I arrive feeling self-conscious about my outfit, a hybrid of New York and Los Angeles sensibilities--little black dress over Juicy jeans with a pair of slip-on Jimmy Choos--and I'm fully aware that I have dressed for the girls, not for the guys. (In New York, trendiness is everything; in Los Angeles, as long as it's sexy, it doesn't matter how last year it is.) Two seconds after I walk into the hotel, a girl gives me the up-and-down and promptly spills a drink on me.

Admittedly, I'm not in the best frame of mind to meet a guy. He's introduced to me by Peter, a friend who claims to never go out. In New York that seems going to fewer than nine bars a night, because people are always clapping him on the back and saying things like, "Didn't last night go off?" or "You'll be at Sway tomorrow night, right?" Upon first glance, I'm not particularly impressed with Magazine Guy--or, more accurately, I'm not impressed with how not impressed he seems to be with me. He's dark-haired and tall and appropriately chiseled. However, he is far more interested in chatting with an essentially incoherent Page Six reporter than he is in charming writers from the left coast. I inform Peter that I find Magazine Guy cheesy and too into himself.

The next night after dinner I go to meet Peter, who happens to be having drinks with Mr. Magazine and some other guys. From the get-go, Magazine Guy's attitude has undergone a 180. Before I even sit down in the chair he's suddenly made available by his side, he's tossing out those you-know-you-look-exactly-like compliments. I'm sensing that getting a guy's attention in New York can be difficult but once you have it, it's an easy thing to hold.

Later, after M.G. and I have succeeded in holding each other's attention for a good hour, he starts exploiting his job mercilessly by telling me about an article that he's editing on cunnilingus. He says he would tell me what the article espouses but it's actually something far easier to show than it is to tell. I gulp. Later, when he asks me if I want to share a cab--explaining that his West Village apartment is on my way back to Brooklyn Heights--I say yes.

Now, if we were in L.A., this would mean we'd leave together and then I--being the chick--would decide, depending on a zillion tiny occurrences and whims, whether we're embarking on a random night of sin or just a kiss and number exchange. I figure it's the same thing in New York, only with a chauffeur. Once ensconced in the cab, he starts giving me a back rub--a really good back rub--that evolves into kissing. As the cab pulls up outside his apartment, he starts saying things. They're a jumble of last-minute, nonsensical utterances meant to persuade me to get out here rather than continue on to Brooklyn, something about how he has a king-size bed and a queen-size one and I could sleep in either. I keep kissing him. I'm somewhat self-conscious and aware of the cabbie a few feet away. De Niro's Taxi Driver line about how he always had to wash off the seats at the end of the night twists its way through my mind. Ultimately, I say no. I tell MG that he could literally be Norman Bates in Psycho and I wouldn't know it. He nods and hands me his business card.

When I talk to Peter the next day, I pretend he's a girl and share way too many details about what happened. He tells me Mag Man called him the previous night, complaining that he was alone because I wouldn't come in with him. I'm incredulous--I've been spending the morning contemplating the softness of his lips and all he seems aware of is the fact that I didn't fuck him. I take out that bloody business card. After toying with the idea of e-mailing, I remember that there's no time for clever and cute. I dial determinedly, leaving a message that I have plans for the night but I'd like to meet up with him afterward. It's New York so I decide to be aggressive.

Later that night I swing by his place. I've been to third-floor walk-ups as much as I have penthouses. But when the elevator doors open directly into M.G.'s apartment I'm horrified to admit that I can actually feel my legs spreading at the same rate as the doors. He lounges on a couch near a table that holds a bottle of Dom Perignon with an attached card from Tom Ford positioned for maximum effect. What happens later in the king-size bed (yes, there is a queen size, too) is not sex, but it's highly enjoyable. (I, like many women, subscribe to the Clintonian definition of sex.) Suffice it to say I feel a need to check out what he'd learned from the article he claimed to be editing. While the information is not earth-shattering, I believe most men could benefit from following the advice. When he puts me in a cab and and hands me money, he does it in a way that doesn't make me feel like a prostitute or as if I've sacrificed all my pseudofeminist sensibilities.

The next morning, my cell phone flashes a text message: "Thanks for staying over--Norm Bates." I message back, "Thanks for not being psycho." He messages, "Thanks for tracking me down." Me: "It was worth the trouble.

It's been weeks and I still haven't gotten a response to that. The last I heard, he had turned down a chance to star in The Bachelor and was dating an actress. I guess I'm not the only one with an MG fetish.

THE ACTOR

If you live in Los Angeles, the last kind of guy you're looking to meet in New York is an actor. So it's ridiculous that as I'm fawning over MG; one of New York's most reputed skirt-chasing bold-faced names stops by to say hi to Peter and ends up joining us. Because my focus isn't on the Actor--and because I'm the only woman at the table--he becomes increasingly interested in me.

"What kinds of things do you write?" he asks, glancing down from his cigar.

"Mostly pieces on celebrities," I say with a smile.

"What bullshit," he laughs, tapping ash on the table. "You should write about something interesting."

I can't argue with him on that point. If I inform him of my current project, he's sure to take his cigar and go, so I listen as he tells me that I should read Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky (I'd mentioned that my great-great grandparents were from Russia) and care about politics more. In L.A., I can't help thinking, an actor guy would probably tell me I should read movie scripts about Russian submarines and care more about what's in the trades. I nod flirtatiously, not bothering to mention that Notes From the Underground happens to be sitting (unopened, but there) on my bedroom table.

Since I have two games going at once, this entire exchange is happening in front of Magazine Guy and Peter. And so begins a fascinating verbal sword fight between Actor and Editor; MG makes a reference to a movie Actor was in and Actor counters that Mr. Magazine spends too much time watching bad movies. At first I think Magazine Guy is unsophisticated, like a fan who happens upon a famous person, but as the dialogue continues I realize he's brought up the movie role both because smart people know the movie sucked and the Actor's part was tiny. Actor seems completely indifferent. Is this a Sophisticated New Yorkers' version of a dick swinging contest? When Magazine Guy wanders off briefly Actor grabs my hand, asking me if MG and I are serious.

"Please," I say, shaking my head. "I just met him."

Actor smiles. "Well, I'm going to get your number from Peter," he says. "We'll go out in L.A."

He reaches to the pendant on my necklace, a picture of a naked woman (not me). "Get her dressed, will you?" he flirts, affixing me with that cocky gaze he's done so many times on his TV series (which is nothing like Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy, believe me). I promise. He squeezes my hand. I leave with MG, figuring that's the end of that.

Several days later, as I'm running through the streets of Brooklyn, my cell phone rings.

"Hey, I'm calling from the National Enquirer and I've got a story for you," says someone in a guy-doing-a-flirty-crank-call voice. I hate guys-doing-flirty-crank-call voices.

"Who is this?" I counter, in my I-don't-have-time-for-this voice.

He says his name, first name only, and I draw a blank. Only when he mentions Peter do I make the connection, trying to decide if the National Enquirer joke is funnier or less funny based on who it is. I decide less, then change my mind.

"Are you back in Los Angeles?" he asks, now sounding completely recognizable.

"I will be in a few days."

"Are you free next Monday or Tuesday?" he asks. "Could we go out one of those nights?"

"Probably."

Monday and Tuesday pass without a word. But if LA has taught me anything, it's don't ever take an actor's treatment personally. It's almost a relief, oddly, to find out that the New York version is just as flaky as the LA one.

THE INVESTMENT BANKER

Back when my best male friend from college, Jack, lived in LA, he liked to set me up with incredibly wealthy bores. All he tells me now is that he's found me an Investment Banker who, of course, I'm going to fall in love with.

I meet Banker at a French restaurant on the Upper West Side. When I walk in, I realize I've been given no physical description, so all I'm looking for is someone who appears to be rich. That describes everyone in the restaurant. I mention his name to a waiter and am led immediately to a table where a young-faced, graying man in a button-down shirt and blazer sits.

We haven't looked at the menu and Banker is telling me about his divorce--he had a miserable quickie marriage to a woman he'd known for only a few months. By the time we order I've heard about Banker's chef (on vacation), celebrities he lives near and the 500-plus employees he controls. The shocking part of is that he's not coming off as horrible. Or maybe I'm just surprised he's such a talker--bad dates in LA usually mean awkward pauses. In this case, I'm struggling to even get in a "You're kidding" or "Oh, my." By dessert, Banker begins to reveal a darker side. "Do you have nightmares?" he asks.

I don't.

"I've been having a lot of nightmares lately," he responds. "The same one kind of over and over. Or variations of it."

He frowns the way people do when they're trying to remember their dreams. "It's really violent."

"Violent how?" I imagine he dreams about people tearing up dollar bills.

"Well, my ex-wife has this ax - and she's trying to kill me. No, not me..." Another frown. "She's trying to kill a woman I'm seeing."

He smiles, satisfied, the way people do when they remember their dreams.

Huh. I down a glass of water, wondering if I'm blushing. I have this inconvenient, Zelig-like quality of getting embarrassed for people when they aren't embarrassed for themselves.

"So, do you see a difference between women in LA and New York?" I ask him. Anything to get off of this "paging Dr. Freud" track.

"Absolutely," he smiles. "Women in New York are much more aggressive."

Then he regales me with a story about how a woman once overheard him giving a clerk his address in a video store and slipped a note under his door a few days later. I'm trying to decide if there's something supremely excellent about him that I fail to see or if his address screams "I'm a billionaire" in that indecipherable-to-Angelenos New York speak.

"Who says you have to go back home tomorrow?" he asks suddenly. "I mean, couldn't you just as easily write in Central Park as you could at home?"

I'm not exactly sure what Banker is suggesting so I explain I'm actually ready to go back. He looks hurt. "Because I've had such a wonderful time," I add.

When I make my move to leave, he walks me to get a cab. At the moment when the kiss on the cheek turns into a kiss on the lips, I let it last for about half a second. The truth is, much to my Jewish mother's chagrin, my years in LA have shown that I'm more drawn to the out-of-work actor than to the guy who can give him work. If I were a really good person, I would probably tell Banker to lose the ex-wife-murdering-the-new-girlfriend-dream bit from his rap, but it's much easier to wave enthusiastically as the cab pulls away.

THE SINGLE DAD NOVELIST

When Single Dad Novelist comes to pick me up--by foot, how quaint--I already know he doesn't stand a chance. I'm far too obsessed with MG. During dinner at a local Italian eatery, Novelist actually reveals himself to be more interesting than he seemed over the phone. Before becoming a writer and editor, he lived in Seattle and played in a semi-successful band. Nothing about him screams former band member--but then, nothing about him screams anything. He just seems like a surprisingly unbitter guy who stands back after having been slightly rumpled by the world.

The only topic that seems to get Novelist animated is his daughter. He talks about their trips to Coney Island, their garage sales, their recent cruise (and shows me pictures of that one, to boot)--even the disco party this eight-year-old center of his life wants to have. Maybe it's my biological clock ticking but I can listen to cute kid stories all night. Problem is, this isn't making me fall for Novelist so much as it is making me feel happy that his kid has such a great dad. I don't care what the premise of that Adam Sandler movie was. On a first date, a guy with a kid is not sexy.

After dinner, Novelist and I take a walk around the neighborhood. I ask him all kinds of questions about being a novelist, an occupation that doesn't much exist back home. Of course, there are screenwriters--the whole town, right down to the guy who bags my groceries at Gelson's (true), is one of those. But they talk about the selling, the percentage, the pitch meeting. If they're really creative, maybe they talk about their three-act structure.

We stop in at his apartment, which is filled with art made by friends-turned-successful-artists and stacked to the brim with toys and momentos and books on top of books on top of books. I tell him I want to read his books and he digs through a closet for copies, which he signs while I snoop. He's sitting under a painting he did of Jesus smoking a cigar and we're listening to a record he says he likes to play when he deejays parties (which he seems to do when he's not writing, editing or fathering). I'm almost won over by his Renaissance Man array of skills, his modesty, his calmness, his (in L.A. terminology) good energy when he looks up from signing.

"Hey, we should go to an ATM," he says. "I can get some money so we can go into to the city together."

His eagerness somehow translates to desperation. I shake my head and tell him I'm going to the city on my own.

He's the nicest guy in the world. Too bad I seem to be a sucker for assholes, no matter the city.

AND ALL THE REST

I meet many other men during my week in New York--an adorable hotelier with a lisp and a girlfriend, a music manager who seems to manage only the violinist of a band I didn't know used a violin, a writer who tells me that Sex and the City has ruined the dating scene in New York. "People think because something's been on that show, it's a big deal," he says. That's the last thing New York needs--more things for girls to analyze.

For the hell of it, and because I'm not used to it, I try different ways of walking down the street. At first I try to attract attention with a male companion in tow-hey, I'm happy and I'm on vacation - and I find men that avert their eyes from my hip-swinging, big-smiling gestures. (A hot dog vendor actually looks past me, to the guy, and asks him how he's doing--prompting my male companion to wonder if he was actually just hit on by a man selling hot dogs.) But when I do my best imitation of the New York street gaze--distracted yet tough-looking eyes seemingly fixed on something at neck level--I get the random catcalls from construction workers and the like. Perhaps even more than Angelenos, New Yorkers want what they can't have.

On the way home my plane stops in Vegas, where an overweight, drunk and angry man takes the aisle seat to my window. (No one's in the middle seat, thus my bag occupies its leg area.) Vegas wants to stretch, though.

"Look, you better move that bag," he snorts, by way of greeting. My sweetest side does not emerge and before I know it, Vegas is yelling. A Good Samaritan walks by, insisting I move to his seat and he handles Vegas. I'm overwhelmed with gratitude, the fact that a stranger would come to a girl's rescue like that. I almost feel myself tearing up. But when we land, Hero Man doesn't zip off into the night. He waits for me.

"So, you live in L.A.?" he asks, reaching a hand out to hold the offensive bag. For a second I try to figure out why he looks familiar--and then I realize he's a dead ringer for Anthony Perkins playing Norman Bates. No joke.

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