When I was in college, which was a protracted period of time during which I refused to take my last required math credit in order to remain an undergraduate (and have lower tuition rates), I worked at both the college bookstore and a movie theater. At the latter there was a young man with a certain frat boy swagger, pointy gelled haircut, and movie star good looks. We’ll call him “Austin”. (Not his real name, but he was named after a city, so close enough.) He was suave, debonair, and had a certain je ne sais quoi that spoke of privilege and grooming, while still maintaining a crassness that in this day and age would have defined him as a “hipster”. I learned recently that he went on to become a male model, so it seems that I had good (read: shallow) taste when I invited him to accompany me to the bookstore’s annual company gala. I didn’t really have any expectations of romance for the evening, as I was convinced he was out of my league, but a girl can dream.
I dressed for the evening in my favorite dress, a red flower printed frock with a short, swinging skirt and strappy flirtatiousness, with freshly shaved legs and new white sandals. I drove my Vespa (tucking my skirt under my crotch to keep it from flying up) to the movie theater, where we met for our date. A few of our movie theater co-workers took on a motherly role, taking pictures of us together with disposable cameras from the Bartell’s Drug Store across the street as if we were departing for the senior prom; this was the late 1980’s, so there were no cell phone cameras, children. Austin and I walked off, waving goodbye to our popcorn slinging friends, and headed for the Student Union building where the soiree was being held. Upon arriving we enjoyed the Styrofoam-textured chicken dinner and open bar while hobnobbing with various bookstore employees and local authors at the event. Several of my co-workers asked me for the scoop on my dreamy companion. “We’re just friends. He works with me at the movie theater,” was my falsely casual explanation. He was a decent trophy date, displaying good manners and making the rounds among the attendees with ease.
As the party started to wind down I had the choice of joining some of my bookstore associates for drinks at a local pub or continuing the evening with Austin. I clearly made the wrong choice when I decided to stick with my date and see what the evening might bring.
We wandered around the campus for a while, chuckling at the frat boy wobbling as he relieved himself in the shrubbery, commenting on various features of architecture, and sharing memories of classes taken in many brick buildings with Harvard-esque gargoyles and embellishments. Most of his stories were of a fairly puerile nature, consisting of three main topics: farts and other bodily functions, awkward or embarrassing sex, and stupid decisions made while drunk or high. Despite his sense of humor, or perhaps because of it, I actually began to wonder if I had a shot with this paragon of good looks and sarcastic charm. I pictured us having a picnic by the lake on a red-and-white-checkered blanket while feeding a friendly gaggle of swans crusts of bread. (Is a group of swans called a gaggle? I really need to look that up.)
Before we had exhausted the scenery of the entire campus on our stroll, he mentioned that he had to go to the restroom, and we stopped at the library so that he would not have to anoint the landscaping like the young man we had encountered earlier. I waited in the hallway outside the restroom for what seemed like an eternity. When I was just beginning to wonder if he had crawled out an open window and abandoned me in the library hallway, I heard him calling my name in an urgent voice from inside. I looked around to see if anyone was nearby, and the coast was clear, so I cracked open the door, saying, “Yes?” “There’s no T.P. in here! Go get me some! Quick!” Judging by the odor that permeated the men’s room it was clear that his need for toilet paper was pressing. Apparently the Styrofoam chicken hadn’t agreed with him. As casually as possible, and while holding my breath, I checked the empty stalls and discovered that there was not a single square of toilet paper to be found. “I’ll be right back,” I said, exiting the men’s room (and gratefully inhaling a breath of fresh air) and went to the ladies room to retrieve some toilet paper. I encountered another library patron who looked at me askance as I walked toward the men’s room door clutching a large wad of tissue. Her eyes grew wide as I sheepishly smiled, opened the door, and walked in. As discretely as possible, I handed Austin the toilet paper under the door to the stall and quickly scurried out, but not before he shouted, “More! I need more!” I repeated my trip between the lavatories and then returned to my post in the hallway. Austin finally rejoined me, with the quip, “Whew! Somebody needs to light a match!” Charming. That picnic with the swans was looking a lot less enticing now, unless I remembered to bring some toilet paper and air freshener in the picnic basket.
As we left the library, Austin said he needed to needed to go to his friends’ apartment, as he has promised them he would “hang out” with them for the latter part of the evening. He invited me to come along and despite my mounting doubts I walked the fourteen blocks with him to a rundown building next door to a dry cleaner and a dubious nonspecific Asian-ish restaurant that also served pancakes twenty-four hours a day. He rang every bell at the locked entrance until someone buzzed us in and we walked up several flights of stairs to visit his friends. Despite the warning signs I had thus far seen, I was still prepared to give Austin the benefit of the doubt. After all, anyone could have an urgent need to use the restroom only to find that the stall was not properly stocked with tissue, right? And an underdeveloped, juvenile sense of humor wasn’t the worst personality flaw to have, was it? Then we opened the door to his friends’ place.
The apartment was a dark cave, decorated (and I use the term loosely) with Rush and Journey album covers nailed at unaesthetic angles to the dingy walls and a tapestry depicting Elvis clutching a large phallic microphone and humping Anne Bancroft… or Jane Fonda, I’m not sure which. A half-potato set into a Mason jar sat on the window sill, and the thicket of green tendrils that had grown from it were taped up to the window with duct tape at random intervals. Three young men were lounging on a couch that would have would have glowed like a supernova under a UV light. They were watching Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and grunted at our arrival. In a gallant gesture, Austin pulled up a chair for me behind the couch, sparing me the dubious prospect of sitting amid the cluster of burnouts, one of whom was not wearing pants.
I sat there in bewildered silence, watching the grainy and disturbing pictures float across the screen as my buzz from the open bar dwindled and Austin and his friends drank beer and made pithy comments like “Whoa!” and “Dude!” while watching the video. Apparently, Austin’s gallantry ended with the proffering of a chair, as he didn’t offer me so much a glass of water, let alone any of the crappy, cheap beer he and his friends were consuming. At one point, I tentatively asked if I could have one, to which one of the burnouts responded, “I don’t know. What will you do for it?” My response, “Not kick you in the balls?” did not merit a beer, apparently. I asked Austin a few times if he would please walk me back to my Vespa, to which he responded, “In a minute. This is the best part.” There must have been several “best parts” as this was how he answered me each time.
While there, despite the fact that this was not his home, Austin received several phone calls on their landline phone which he discretely adjourned to a bedroom to take. When the gentlemen on the couch asked who he had been talking to upon his return, he would regale them with stories of which girl it was, how many times he had [insert depraved sex act] with them, and how stupid they were for letting him do the things he had done with them. “Oh, yeah. I’d tap that,” or “Bitches,” were frequent comments to his diatribe. Was I invisible? I didn’t expect this to be a romantic evening, but COME ON! A little decorum wouldn’t kill you, Austin.
After about an hour-and-a-half of “The Wall” (rewound several times and even sung along with at times), and a few half-hearted questions about what color my panties were from Austin’s couch-denting comrades, I asked where the bathroom was. Receiving no response after several attempts, I gathered myself up and walked out the door, stopping only briefly to pee (purely out of spite – I could have held it) into the large terracotta pot housing a heart-shaped topiary rosemary bush outside their door. In my edited daydream, the swans were dead and Austin was picking his teeth with their feathers.
I walked several blocks alone back to my Vespa, now stone-cold sober and questioning my taste, judgment, and sanity. My new sandals were causing some rather excruciating blisters on my feet, adding to my misery. As I approached my Vespa, still parked in front of the theater, I saw one of my friends reading a novel while working the closing shift. “How was your date with Austin?” she asked. “Still going on as far as he knows,” I replied. We commiserated over stale popcorn and Bud Long Necks with bendy straws that she had stashed under the counter. (We have may have liberated a box of Junior Mints, too.) After only a few minutes of recounting my tale of woe, we started laughing. And we laughed hysterically until the last show let out and it was time to head home.
After that night, Austin’s shiny façade among the crew at the movie theater was tarnished by the gossip that spread about our date. He was put on restroom cleaning duty and eventually gave up on any illusions he had of the glamour of the “movie business,” much as my experience led to me giving up on the illusion that he was attractive. He quit working at the movie theater, and I quit expecting pretty boys to be as nice as they looked. I learned the hard way that you can’t judge a book by its cover, even when you work at the college bookstore.