When you're a writer, even when you're "giving it your all," sometimes you fail.
"Born. Again" was a story based on an idea I really liked--essentially: What happens when a sexually promiscuous New York atheist spends a weekend with a chaste Midwestern Christian?--but I just couldn't execute the story as well as I would have liked. That happens sometimes as a writer. You're unable to write something as good as you envision it in your head. Should I have NOT included it in "The Cheat Sheet" being that I know it's not A+ material? Perhaps. Hard to say. That's one of the questions I think artists of all types often have to face. Do I include something I rate as my B (or even C) material, just to see how it resonates with an audience? Just to fill out a collection? Or, do I only include the stuff I judge to be my absolute best work?
Whatever the case, this is my least favorite story from "The Cheat Sheet," though I promise tried the best I could...
Before grabbing a cab to JFK, David stopped into Duane Reade for one more thing. He juked through the over-stuffed labyrinthine aisles toward the back of the store and the prophylactics section. He always hated buying condoms. Not because he was embarrassed, the reason most people hated buying condoms, but for two others reasons. Firstly, condoms were expensive. Overly expensive, he thought. Though, can you put a price on not getting disease-riddled and kid-addled? He supposed you couldn't. But, David mainly hated having to sort through all the choices. Trojan, Durex, KlingTite. Reservoir tipped, ribbed, lubricated. He always opted for spermicidal, liking how violent it sounded toward sperm, like it was a homicidal killer of his little swimmers. It was so much better to order condoms online, where you not only got a huge price break for buying in bulk, but where you had time to carefully peruse the rubbers' specs without old Murray Hill shoppers gawking at you.
Meanwhile, Jessica was gassing up her Four Runner at a Texaco station just off I-70 in Independence, Missouri. At the last second, she too remembered one more thing and headed into the gas station's tiny mart hoping they had some in stock.
Both David and Jessica were headed to St. Louis where she was to pick him up at Lambert International Airport, at the Delta terminal, after his 11:48 AM flight arrived. They had initially fought about what city to meet in. He, of course, wanted her to come to Manhattan for the weekend, even though he was embarrassed by his squalid little studio. She wanted him to come to Kansas City where she assured him she had so many rooms in the suburban house she owned that she could give him three guest rooms if he needed the space. She refused to come to New York because she was both a little scared of the city and a little scared of him. He refused to go to Kansas City because he thought it boring and there were no direct flights there. After some haggling, they decided to spend their first weekend together in a city halfway between them. In David's mind, halfway between the ~1200 miles separating Manhattan and Kansas City would put them in either Chicago or Louisville, either city of which he would have gladly accepted. Chicago was a great town, the second best in America he figured and he thought he could probably squeeze in a game at Wrigley and some good carnivorous dining. Louisville would have also worked for him as he'd always wanted to go on the Bourbon Trail and drink his way around the state.
Jessica nixed both his ideas, insisting that, though the mileage to either Chicago or Louisville was somewhat halfway, it truly wasn't since she would be driving and he would be flying. Jessica was scared of airplanes and flew as rarely as possible. She insisted that they should judge “halfway” via travel time as opposed to mileage. His flight was a little over two hours so Jessica said they should meet within two hours of Kansas City. David found that farcical. Mainly because a two hour radius of Kansas City would have put them in such hotspots as Columbia, MO; Joplin, MO; or Manhattan, KS. No, thank you. Also, though, New York to St. Louis via air travel wasn't merely a two hour trip for David as a cab to the airport would take him a good thirty minutes, plus he'd have to wait at JFK for at least an hour or two. Ultimately, Jessica afforded him a four and a half hour trip and that was how they picked St. Louis. David wasn't thrilled that he would be paying $450 for his traveling leg of the trip while Jessica only paid an estimated $30 in gas, but she quickly allayed his unexpressed but transparently growing concerns by footing the bill for the two night's stay at the Marriott.
They had met at their high school's ten year reunion earlier that summer in Tulsa. Or, rather, re-met. There was no way they hadn't interacted at least once during their four years at Half Hallowed Hills High, though neither David or Jessica could remember specifically being around each other a decade previous, especially since she took honors classes and he didn't, though both admitted that each other's names rang a definite bell. David wouldn't have typically attended his reunion and he rarely returned "home" to Tulsa even though his parents still lived there, but he was incredibly horny. He was embarrassed to admit it, even to himself, but the only reason he had attended the reunion was to try to get laid. His girlfriend Jenn had dumped him just four months previous and he hadn't had any sex since then, when, coupled with the sexless final three months of their relationship, meant that he was in the midst of a long cold streak. And, true, shelling out some $500 to fly home seemed like a high price to pay, David had been certain some former classmate would have sex with him at the reunion. You see, him simply living in New York gave him an amazing amount of cache in Midwestern society. Most of his classmates still lived in Tulsa, or, at best, Oklahoma City or Kansas City. Then again, most of his classmates also were happily married, happily parents, happily fatter than shit.
That's why he had been so pleased to re-meet Jessica. Glowing hazel eyes, long flowing auburn hair, the cutest freckles across the bridge of her nose, freckles you could tell she was still a tad embarrassed about by the way she tried to mute them with a slightly heavy brush of concealer. She had a great body too, tall and thin. And thin by, like, New York standards, not Midwestern standards which were far more lax.
Jessica thought David was a cutie the second she saw him, alone and preparing a plate of food at the buffet. He didn't look like any of the other 235 men at the reunion, most of whom she knew, or at least knew their wives, her former classmates. David wore a suit that actually fit, not a fabric-laden suit he was swimming in like the other tacky men in attendance. “Who's that?” Jessica had asked Annamarie who was busy texting with her five-year-old back home.
Annamarie looked up for a second. “I don't know. Maybe someone's husband?”
“I don't think so. He seems to be alone.”
“Do you think he's gay? He must be gay. Or divorced. Not worth your trouble.”
“I want to talk to him.”
Thirty-five days later, David walked through terminal one toward the parking garage where Jessica had told him she would be waiting. She was a little worry wart so she always overestimated how long it would take her to get someplace and thus was always early. For a drive from Kansas City to St. Louis she allotted herself a healthy six hours considering Friday traffic but apparently no one was clogging I-70 in kicking off an early three-day weekend so she breezed to St. Louis and was in the dark parking garage paying two dollars per half hour to read from her Bible as she waited for David's arrival. At 1:45, the time David's plane was slated to land, she was quivering with nerves and shoved her Bible into the glove box, fixed her lip gloss, and got out of the car.
David wasn't much for phone conversation and Jessica wasn't much for e-mail and texting, so they'd both compromised over the last month in order to communicate with each other and start forging a long distance, modern pen pal relationship which had led to them now having their first date in St. Louis. David was the first person Jessica had ever texted with and she actually kind of enjoyed it, though her fingers were slow and clunky whenever she tried to punch something into her bare bones flip phone.
“garage 3, level 2, black Altima, white girl with brown hair” is the text David received the second his plane landed and he was allowed to turn on his Blackberry. Jessica seemed fairly humorless when he dealt directly with her, like in person, or in phone conversations, but then she'd fire off a somewhat playful little text and make him completely reconsider her personality.
It wasn't that hard to find Jessica once he'd gotten into the parking garage. There were hardly any cars there and there was only one girl leaning against her trunk. David immediately felt underdressed and foolish. He was never the nattiest dresser, but when he flew he dressed even more minimalist, you might say. On this day, he was merely wearing cargo shorts, a tee-shirt, and flip flops. Meanwhile, Jessica was all dolled up in a flowing sun dress and high heels. She had more freckles than he had recalled. Perhaps she had just worn more makeup at the reunion.
David didn't know whether he was supposed to run toward her with his arms wide, perhaps throw his bags to the ground for a big hug and a kiss—and maybe if he got lucky, some immediate making out in Jessica's backseat—so instead he just did an ironic half trot toward her, hugging her briefly and planting a smooch on her cheek. She retracted and looked down. She was clearly very shy.
“OK, get in and we'll go to the Marriott.”
Despite Annamarie's pleas, Jessica had approached David—she never approached men! –at the reunion. It couldn't be that hard she figured, people her age did stuff like this every day. People her age had already begun doing stuff like this for years if not decades—that's how they were all married and she was still single. Jessica was so inexperienced, though, that she didn't even know what she didn't know. Mainly, that people typically have a “line” when they approach a would-be romantic partner. Jessica, on the other hand, didn't know that people typically had a line, but she did know that she had no idea what to say to David to kick off the conversation. For her whole life she had only talked to people when she had a reason to. To ask them questions and what not. So she asked David a question:
“Is there meat in that salad?”
David looked up and their eyes met. He smiled. She blushed, he was so cute.
“Uh...no, I don't think so. Are you a vegetarian?”
“Sometimes,” she had said, being serious, she rarely did eat meat, but David thought she was being witty and laughed hard. He had a nice laugh.
Jessica finished fourth in their class's final GPA standings and landed a nice scholarship to KU in Lawrence. There, she had got caught up...well, caught up in “fun.” She had drank and done drugs, but she hadn't drank harder than most girls her age and she hadn't done any “badder” drugs than marijuana or mushrooms or the occasional pills like Ritalin. She started going out every night using the fake ID of a sorority sister who was had just turned twenty-one and thus could use her real ID finally. Mondays were Ladies Night at Charlie's, Tuesdays Flip Night at the Hungry Hippo, Wednesday coin pitchers at LuLu's, Thursdays were for barhopping downtown, Fridays were Happy Hour at Fat Stan's, Saturdays were for frat parties, and Sundays were Drown Night at the Hawg where for five buckaroos you got to drink draught beer until all the week's kegs were killed and, thus, fresh ones could be put on for Monday. Jessica ended most Sunday nights in the bed of some frat boy. She wasn't a “slut,” per se, she really wasn't much different than any of her friends, any of the girls at her college.
Sunday nights back in Tulsa, back when she was in high school, had been her Bible study night. Jessica wasn't super religious or anything back in those days, she just went to Bible study on Sunday night because that's what you did. Just like you went to church on Wednesday night and Sunday mornings. It was only after all that fun had led Jessica to flunk out of college that she began to “re-evaluate” her relationship with God. She moved back home, got a job as a hostess at a nearby Tex-Mex joint and, with no underage bars, or men (er, boys), she had no choice but to no longer have any drinks or sex or fun. But that was fine. She grew disgusted with the girl she had been in her year away at college. She wanted to get back on track. And, she did, eventually enrolling at Oral Roberts and getting a B.S. in accounting.
“And the last time you had sex, if you don't mind me asking?”
On the Monday after the reunion, Jessica had returned to Kansas City and immediately sought out her preacher Mr. Charles. She had told him about her little problem and he had recommended she visit his friend Kyle Loucks, not a preacher, but rather a “spiritual relationship and sex adviser.” It even said that on his business cards, which were die-cut to look like crosses.
“And the last time you had sex, if you don't mind me asking?”
“I heard you, Mr. Loucks. I was just thinking. It was sometime during that year at KU. I haven't had sex since then. I've been a good Christian. I'm saving myself for marriage. I wish I still had my virginity to give my future husband but this is the best I can do.”
“Some people would even call you a 'born again virgin.'” He smiled at her. “And why exactly did you feel a need to see me?”
“Because I met a guy on Saturday night. I never meet guys.”
“No, it's awful.”
“Did you have sex with him?” Mr. Loucks leaned in close and put his hand on Jessica's knee, seeming quite curious with her answer.
He leaned back.
“But I kind of wanted to.”
“That's normal, Jessica. You're a healthy, young, beautiful woman.”
Over the next month, Jessica had begun visiting Mr. Loucks more and more often as her long distance relationship with David continued developing more deeply. He sounded dismayed when she told him she was going to St. Louis to have her first date with David.
“Do you trust yourself to spend an entire weekend alone with him in a hotel room?”
“No. Not exactly. That's why I booked us a deluxe room. It's not quite a suite, but there's two queens and a small couch in the room.”
David was a little surprised when Jessica opened the door to their hotel room and he saw how big it was. This must have cost her a fortune, he thought. They, of course, weren't in Manhattan, but St. Louis was a fairly legit city and this probably cost quite a bit. I guess with a whole weekend together she figured they might need their space. Fair enough.
The hotel room he'd rented for his return to Tulsa had not been nearly as nice. He'd just found the closest hotel to the dinner club that was hosting the reunion and had booked that, sight unseen. He cared more about proximity than luxury, for his goal had been to pick up a girl at his reunion and escort her across the street to this hotel. One of those, “Wanna come back and see my (hotel) room?” kinda things. He hadn't use that exact line verbatim with Jessica but he had used a similar one that had worked. Worked in that she had returned to his hotel room. Once there, he had moved in for a kiss which she had briefly requited but then she had pushed him away.
“Do you believe in God?”
What a weird question to ask, but he was pretty toasted from all the wine he'd drunk so he didn't realize at the time how weird it was.
“Not at all. I'm an atheist.”
That had spooked her and she had, all of the sudden, needed to leave, despite the fact her ride, Annamarie, had already headed back to Kansas City.
“How will you get home?” he wondered.
“I'll take a cab.”
“All the way back to Kansas City?!”
He'd ended that night alone masturbating to a $15.99 hotel pay-per-view, Godless Cum Guzzlers funnily enough, the complete opposite of what Jessica had apparently been.
Jessica hadn't drunk at the reunion because she didn't drink any more. I mean, she did drink sometimes, she wasn't a teetotaler, but she didn't drink frequently and didn't need to drink in social situations. Though she was actually starting to reevaluate things. She had quit drinking socially since her “glory days” in college because she didn't like how it had made her lose control. She liked being in control. Though she had begun to think that maybe micromanaging her own life was a very non-religious thing to do. She'd asked Mr. Loucks about this.
“Aren't I, like, going against God by trying to be so in control of myself? Wouldn't it be more religious, more Christian, more Godly, to turn myself over to him?”
She hadn't further inquired whether drinking a few glasses of wine to turn herself over to him was also legitimate.
“Would you like a drink, David?”
She sat on the edge of the bed and he sat on the couch in the hotel room.
“I'd love one.”
Jessica had sat quietly for the first thirty minutes they'd been inside the Marriott room. David liked to talk, considered himself a great conversationalist, but he was no monologist. He flashed back to the night of the reunion and realized he had done most of the talking then too. He'd been loaded, of course, though, so it had been much easier. Since Jessica had done no talking, he really hadn't learned anything about her. Other than that she was hot. That's all he needed to know as he just wanted to have a one-night stand with her. No one ever says, “Oh, baby, you should have seen this chick I picked up and banged last night...”
“Oh, yeah? Hot?”
But then, after Jessica hadn't hooked up with him that night and left him all alone in his eighty-nine dollar hotel room, thwarting his overall reunion strategy, he'd returned to Manhattan somewhat vexed. Somewhat intrigued by this Jessica. She didn't do Facebook or stuff like that, and he had no e-mail information for her, so he was forced to call her up at work, as she'd given him a business card earlier in the evening.
When she picked up the phone at 1:00 PM that next Monday, David too hadn't thought of what he was going to say.
“Blaylock Accounting, this is Jessica.”
“It's, uh, your former classmate. David.”
“Yes, I recall.”
“Why are you calling?”
“I was just, uh, curious how much your cab ride back to Kansas City cost.”
“Why? So you can make fun of me?”
“No, it's not that. I was just...”
“$225. Without tip.”
David started cracking up before composing himself.
“Dinner's on me next time!”
And their long distance relationship had begun. David enjoyed talking with Jessica on a daily basis. She wasn't like the girls he dealt with in New York, on the east coast. She was so earnest and honest and kind. She didn't worry about being cool, she didn't gossip, she wasn't materialistic, she wasn't slutty; she was just a nice, smart girl.
Jessica, too, enjoyed talking to David. Sure, he didn't believe in God, or “The Word,” but he was so full of life. All the men she met in Kansas City always seemed down in the dumps, beaten down by life, fattened up on BBQ. While David had such grandiose dreams. Dreams of becoming a big entrepreneur and conquering New York City. Like some movie character! She got vicarious thrills hearing about his life there. She knew she could have never handled being a New Yorker, but she liked hearing about his life. She wanted to know more about him and after a few weeks she knew they had to meet. Again.
David didn't know whether they had to meet. Again. But he did know that his month back in New York since the reunion had remained sexless and that now he was well over the eight month mark in sexlessness. After having had literally hundreds of partners for most of the early 2000s, right before he'd committed monogamously to Jenn. It was time to end his longest slump ever. Even if it cost him a plane flight and a summer weekend he could have been at the shore. He, of course, told none of his New York friends where he was going that weekend, nor what he was doing.
Jessica bent down and unzipped her suitcase. David admired her ass. She was in incredible shape. Not just incredible shape for a woman her age. Not just incredible shape for a Midwestern gal. Or compared to the rest of the women from his hometown. But, flat out, incredible shape. Most girls that are, say, a “7 out of 10” in Tulsa would be no better than a 4 or a 5 in New York, but Jessica was a “10” in Tulsa and would probable be the same in New York, though her over-reliance on make-up, bright colors, and high heels would have distinguished her from New York women.
The Texaco hadn't had much of a selection to choose from. One usually goes to a highway gas station to grab some Cheetos or a Slim Jim, the kind of shit one would never eat in their normal life. The kind of shit one only thinks a good idea to gnaw on when they're in the midst of a road trip. White trash trucker food, you know. They'd had several coolers of canned beer, of course, nothing fancy, Natty Light, Beast Ice, Steel Reserve. And, behind the checkout gal's head were tiny airplane size bottles of vodka, gin, and Jack. Jessica knew she really shouldn't drink booze. She didn't want to lose herself that much, and beer, of course, made her too gassy and bloated. Plus, what would David have thought of her if she'd arrived to pick him up with a cardboard case of Coors tallboys? Luckily, the mart did have a few bottles of Yellowtail wine. 2010. A strong year for mass produced wine, Jessica thought to herself. She grabbed a bottle of chardonnay and merlot.
She felt so nervous. She went to the bathroom and grabbed the two glasses. Not exactly classy but she hadn't felt classy ever since she'd met David. She'd read once that hotel rooms were festering with germs. Everyone knew the comforters were covered with...well, Jessica didn't even want to think about it! No one used the comforters. But, apparently, the second dirtiest things in hotel rooms were the glassware. She used scalding hot water to rinse them.
“Red or white?”
David looked up as Jessica emerged from the bathroom carrying the two glasses and two bottles of wine. He didn't particularly like wine and he hated Yellowtail. It was a general rule of thumb that all wine with animals on the bottle sucked. One of his snobbier foodie friends had once told him that. He hated the acidity of red wine, but didn't want to look like a sissy for ordering white.
“Whichever bottle you want to open I'm cool with.”
Oh, great, he's just a lush, thought Jessica.
He stood and walked over as she tried to uncork the chardonnay. He put his hand on her back and she jump startled. She moved a few feet away.
“Please don't touch me yet.”
She smiled softly at him.
They clinked glasses.
“I'm in your hands now,” Jessica said as she looked upward.
They begun drinking and watching television. There was nothing on so they just left the channel on the Game Show Network. Jessica noted that she didn't really watch TV.
After the first glass of wine, David tried to sit on the bed next to Jessica. She jumped up and moved to the sofa. She cracked her knuckles hard. When she was sexually frustrated she always cracked her knuckles, she couldn't help it. And, considering she was frequently sexually frustrated, her knuckles got quite the workout.
After the second glass, David was starting to feel good and he grabbed her as she walked to the bathroom, trying to pull her in for a hug.
After the third glass, Jessica spoke for the first time in a half hour.
“I'm not saying I do, but it's possible I might like you.”
After the fourth glass, David tried to kiss her. She looked at him deeply in the eyes, almost staring through him.
“Believe me, you would greatly regret having sex with me. I would become too emotionally attached.”
Jessica's memory went to shit once she started drinking and she kept repeating herself.
“I'm not saying I do, but it's possible I might like you.”
“I know,” he amusingly responded.
She really kinda liked David and wanted a life with him. If only he weren't an atheist. After the fifth glass, she finally felt that click.
“Can I have a hug?” David looked at Jessica with puppy dog eyes. He'd long ago developed a strategy where, if a girl didn't want to have sex with him, he just asked for something so pathetically meager comparatively. A lot of guys, a lot of his friends, were like: “Want to have sex? No? OK, then how 'bout a blow job? No? OK, then how 'bout you jerk me off? No? OK, then how 'bout...” But David immediately went to the ground floor. Who would deny him a hug? No one. And he'd start building from there.
Jessica looked at him. "Is a hug all you want?"
“Then come over to me.”
He walked over and she opened her arms. He fell into them. She grabbed his face and begun aggressively kissing him. She kissed like she hadn't ever kissed any one before. Licking his teeth and jamming her tongue into his face. But he kind of enjoyed it. It had been so unexpected.
Unexpected to Jessica, too. Not that it had happened, just how it had happened. She was almost able to exist outside her body, looking down at her kissing David, thinking to herself, “Wait...how did I find myself in this mess?”
Wait, how did I get naked?
Wait, how did he get naked?
Wait, how did I get on top of him?
She quit kissing him for a second and looked him in the eyes, seriously.
“Will you go to church with me on Sunday? There's one next door to this hotel.”
She was loaded and somewhat slurring.
“Sure. I'd love to.”
She smiled and pulled David's boxer briefs down. He reached into his luggage and grabbed a condom, putting it on.
She climbed on top of him and just before she impaled herself, again looked David in the eye.
“DO NOT discuss this with anyone. Not even ME tomorrow.”
© 2010 Goldfarb
I promise the rest of the collection is MUCH BETTER. All stories about the sexes, sex, and sexiness in New York, which features these ten other tales:
"The References" -- The final few lines of one's resume are usually devoted to references that can tell a would-be employer you're the right person for the job. One's life references are a little different, but even more important.
"The Ambiguous Woman" -- A man struggles to figure out exactly what a woman is thinking while on a date with her.
"The Boyfriend Trials" -- A fed-up thirty-year-old woman has a most interesting methodology in searching for the perfect partner.
"Health" -- Arthur Lampkin is the sex-ed teacher at a Staten Island high school whose life is a living hell of comical sex-ed tools, oversexed teenagers, and an undersexed home life.
"The Feminist" -- Kelly Meyers is the only male professor at an all-girls college.
"Comedic Romance" -- Love in real life never happens like it does in Hollywood rom-coms.
"He Proposed" -- The day a woman gets proposed to is the most exciting day of her life. And, she can't wait to tell you all about it.
"Gross Humans" -- If you knew what most couples did behind closed doors, you'd be repulsed.
"Ain't Nothing Like a New York Romance" -- There can't possibly be a better place to fall in love than New York City. Can there?
"The Cheat Sheet" - [plot redacted]
You can purchase THE CHEAT SHEET on Amazon Kindle for a paltry $2.51 here: