I had to make a rule. It was my only rule really, “No murderers” seemed too hard to enforce.

* make us famous

The catalyst for the rule was this guy Paul someone. If I could remember his full name I’d use it, even though that is cruel and could backfire on me, but he annoyed me so hard. His initial email, while long, was chatty and winning and included a lot of compliments, and I am as vain as most, I think. I looked forward to meeting him. It unnerves me that I’m still so interested in people.

Paul brought me a paperback book. He sat and talked with me on the bed. There wasn’t anywhere else to sit in that apartment; it was a loaner. He was hipster skinny and antic, dressed like an attractive academic. He worked for a textbook company. He was married to a Polish woman and he didn’t feel sexually appreciated by her. They had two children and she was teaching the kids Polish, which he couldn’t understand. He felt alienated in his house and as if he had missed his chance to be young and wild, as they had married when he was 23. I made all the face noises of sympathy. His hand gestures became a little frantic. Occasionally anger, scary anger, popped through, and immediately after he sought to justify his position, to underline his vulnerability, to achieve victimhood again. He repeated the same story three times. I feel that if anything presaged this employment it was that I had sex with a 24 year old when I was 17 to get him to shut the hell up and stop whining.

I gave Paul head. It didn’t take long. The bedspread was white and he kept his arms crossed in front of him. It felt ceremonial, Catholic. Afterward he said writerly, inarticulate things about how fellatio feels and then he started to sob.

Sobbing takes time. Choking back a couple tears can be sorted out quickly, but chest gulping ugly-faced sobbing takes a while. He let loose. I made face noises and, as I am not a heartless bitch, I actually felt very bad for him. I realized that he was going to go well over the hour, and I thought for a moment that if he wanted this AND the head perhaps we should have dispensed with the mid-century American literature survey, but I made many sympathetic noises and cradled his bony shoulders and told him it was ok and in general provided the entire HwaHoG experience. Eventually he hiccuped himself to a stop and, baring his teeth in abasement, pulled on his clothes and left. 

He wrote a bunch of emails about how grateful he was and how accepted he felt. He made another appointment. 

He did this twice more. Nowhere is it more true than in this business that it’s easier to keep a customer than to get a new one, but I hated seeing him. He started to stare at me and tell me that I’d changed his life. He asked me out to lunch. I went. I knew hardly anyone here and I had strict rules about free food. 

We met at cafe Alsace, on 89th and Second. I had gotten very little sleep and was in the clothes I’d worn yesterday. Something fun had happened the evening before but I don’t remember what. He ordered an arugula salad and couldn’t manage to eat it without dropping leaves out of his mouth. Here is the important part: that happened twice, and then he started doing it on purpose. He made a fuss over how embarrassed he was. I ate eggs. I caught a cab downtown and he shared it. He stared at me and stammered and awkwardly declaimed that he really really liked me. The unacknowledged tension is supposed to be, “in spite of what you do.” I was really tired, so I just didn’t bother. 

The next week I had a man who stayed two hours and talked about how his son had been horribly neglected by his ex-wife. That led into his childhood sexual abuse, and something about a lawsuit. He cried quite a lot. I felt a lack of sympathy. I was afraid of what that meant about me. Then Paul arrived. He cried during the sex, stopped crying when we stopped having sex for a moment, and began crying again at the moment of orgasm. I tried to make all the right faces, but I think I failed somehow. Afterwards I ate sushi and took a shower and felt like an android and made a rule: no criers.