“Okay, I have a confession,” Amy said, “about men and women and all that.”
David gets ugly about men, women, and money.
We had been talking about men and women and all that. Amy might have heard cynicism in my voice, the kind signalling that only truths were coming out now. It wasn’t a date, so we didn’t cower behind diplomacy.
“You know I’m a total feminist, right? But when it comes to dating–”
“Here we go.”
“I have to admit that if it’s a first date and the guy doesn’t pay … I think less of him.”
“That’s why my bar bill last year was seven thousand.”
“Seven? I hate myself for thinking that way. And yet I never want to see the guy again.”
“At least you admit it. But if it’s any consolation, I’d feel like a schmuck if I didn’t pay on the first date. Oh, and I also hate myself for it.”
At the end of the day, no matter the circumstances, men have to pay for pussy. Everybody knows this, but with the exception of outright prostitution, nobody admits it. I’ve encountered some who’ve dabbled with this truth. The Nigerian princess shaking me down for $500. The wannabe writer, her finger bent, reaching into my wallet to extract a five dollar bill for no good reason other than to demarcate that indecent line which separates the genders. The dinner whores who’ll boost your ego for a seat at a good restaurant. And the rest? Murkier. The jobless or underemployed ones, always broke, cluelessly trotting through life maintaining that somehow they’ll get all they want. But what they really want is a deus ex machina rescue from their self-delusions.
Then there is Veronica, a Vermont girl I’d known distantly for two summers. Twenty years younger. An amazon. A booty to worship. Veronica struts with the expectation of worship. You look at her and think of only one thing. Her approach was so direct, it was laughable. Well, I went for it anyway, but not as far as she wanted, which was total asylum from the world so she could paint. Another artist with no money and no prospects. Unfortunately, Veronica had no idea about how to expertly tease out coin: she lacked the panache of her New York sisters. Veronica went for the outright proposition at the get-go. She didn’t pretty it up. Maybe this wasn’t so bad. Maybe it saved us a lot of trouble.
“It’s such a treat that you’re back up here,” Veronica said. I ran into her at the Spoke one night, a few weeks after I arrived in town. “By the way, I broke up with my boyfriend.”
Veronica had changed. An urban haircut. A clothes upgrade. In the space of a winter she’d vaulted from merely attractive to hot. Otherwise, though, she was a typical Vermont girl who painted paintings of flowers and thought they were works of unimaginable genius. She knew how to paint a flower; no denying that.
“Buy me a drink!” she said. “And let’s have dinner this week!”
But even before we had dinner, she called a few days later from her car at the curb of the new establishment in town that specializes in chicken wings. They also pretend to make martinis.
“Let’s get drinks, David.” She meant to say, Buy me drinks, David.
Veronica drinks enthusiastically. She wanted to know about New York. I complained about the high prices of apartments, possibly attempting to implant in her a sense of my worldliness and resources. It turns out I was also guilty of enabling prostitution.
The script followed its inevitable course. I bought her drinks. We went back to her car. She told me she’d always liked me. She said her old boyfriend was too young. She said she liked older men.
“Must we talk about age?” I whined.
Then Veronica complained about money. “I have lots of expenses,” she said. “So many bills, David. The vet for my dog. My car. Rent. It adds up!”
Christ, they’re rushing their fences. It was a quote I remembered from The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, when an East German agent tries to turn an Englishman without even a seduction. But Veronica didn’t stop there.
“I’m also a sex bunny. Oh, you should buy one of my paintings.”
“Oh? How much?”
“Two thousand dollars.”
I laughed. Veronica frowned. We kissed. We groped. “I always knew you were a dirty boy,” she said.
I recognized my disadvantage of sitting in that car with Veronica of deep blue eyes and straw-colored hair. Loneliness. A life up in the air. The girl I wanted to marry and impregnate inexplicably living in California to recalibrate her life. She had no time for crazy leaps of faith. Meanwhile, I’m racing towards fifty and — I won’t lie — getting a bit desperate.
Veronica didn’t lie about the sex bunny part. In that regard, she fulfilled the contract many times over and with great commitment. She taught kids the next town over how to ride Morgans, and she rode me like one, hunched over staring ahead, racing me to the finish line. Only thing missing was one of those little horse whips. Within a week I had paid her rent. But it isn’t enough for her. She keeps complaining about how much she owes her dog’s vet. Her car needs to go into the shop again. She still wants to sell me a painting for two large.
“Well, get a job.”
“I have a job, David! I have two jobs.” In addition to the horse riding job, she models a few times a week at a life drawing studio. That is the sum total of her employment and her employment ambitions.
Veronica’s grown tired of me. She’s disappointed. The bills keep coming in. All she wants to do is paint, and no one seems able to understand that. Sure, I understand. All I want to do is write. None of the losers in this town can in any way help her fulfill her dream of painting — naked, by the way — the floral still lifes that might one day find traction in coastal tourist shops. Meanwhile, next month’s rent is coming due.
I want to tell her, Veronica, the way to my wallet is through my heart. I want to say, Veronica, you need to seduce me, make yourself indispensable, and everything else will come from that. I want to say, Veronica, just get me to love you and I’ll pay for everything without even knowing that I’m doing it. This is how it’s always been.
Veronica made the mistake of thinking that all older men are elementally different from the younger ones. The truth is that if you’re in your late forties and still single and childless, then you haven’t grown up. You’re still a boy. You still believe in love without a contract. You haven’t been forced into making tough decisions. You react with petulance and confusion when the woman who’s twenty years younger than you looks to you for money and decision-making and strength.
When Veronica finally understands all this, you see it in her face. The realization that she’s blundered.