Date

I’m looking at my own face looking back at me – a picture of it, at least. The circular image pulses out animated waves of telecommunication, signaling to a 10km radius that I’m searching for romantic attention – an alert to any girl that notices. I’ve opened Tinder on my phone, desperately seeking. I swipe a bit, then look at my messages.

I breathe.

Julie and I matched recently. She’s cute, mousy, covered in tattoos and piercings. Her hair is dyed jet black. Her big eyes glisten. Underneath her Suicide Girl aesthetic she reminds me a bit of Allison. I’m just staring at my phone, conflating my experience of love into one visage, imagining. I want all girls to be one, and for that girl to come over now.

Julie arrives around 9pm/21h. I invite her in, pour her wine and we sit in the kitchen, re- establishing our comfort.

“So you’re leaving tomorrow?” she asks me.

“Ja…”

“Are you packed?”

“For the most part. I need to figure out if I’m bringing my camera equipment.” “But why wouldn’t you?”

“It’s just a lot of stuff, you know? A whole other bag, a tripod. It would be nice to bring as little as possible, since I’ll be moving around a lot.”

“I see. Well, do you want to make pictures there? Ist das der Plan?”

“Yes… and no. Obviously I’ll take pictures with my phone, but I actually don’t care to shoot a new video there. Wirklich nicht.”

“Warum nicht?”

“Weiß nicht… Vietnam… enough stories have been told there, I think. And that landscape… the water, it’s all green and brown, you know? That’s how I picture it, from movies, everything all rainforesty and murky. Not crisp. It’s not my palette.”

“Palette?”

“Yeah, like, it’s not the look I like to make images with. Not the setting for a video I would want to make.” I point to the pictures I have around my apartment. “I like these deep blues and whites and greys, more of this minimalist Nordic aesthetic. For some reason I picture Southeast Asia as very messy.”

“Ach so. Klar. Dann kein Kamera, oder?”

“Right. Then no camera… Okay, decision made! Thanks for that.”

I smile at her and she smiles back.

“Prost!”

We drink. I refill the glasses.

“And who are you visiting out there?”

“Oh, my friend Jane.” I sip, put down my drink. “We went to university together. She’s doing PhD research in Ho Chi Minh City. And then Anish will join us, from San Francisco. He’s a Silicon Valley tech guy. We’ll go to Thailand.”

“Ooh, ok.”

Julie smiles, I guess satisfied by my itinerary. “So you have friends all over America?” “Sorta, yeah.”

“Where are your favorite places?”

This is how I outline it:

  • New York, basically the capital of the world, and my life past.
  • Los Angeles, the land of dreams and perfect weather, and my origin.
  • San Francisco and the Bay Area, beautiful, more mature, and where I went to college.
  • Chicago and the Great Lakes, the capital of Middle America, genuine people, terrible weather. Jane lives there.
  • Portland and Seattle with Vancouver in the Pacific Northwest: Cascadia, so wonderfully fresh and relaxed.
  • Miami, vibrant gateway to the Caribbean. Possibly overrated.
  • New Orleans, the mysticism of the bayou, jazz.
  • Austin, the cool part of Texas.
  • Denver, a crisp, nice place, especially if you love winter sports and mountains.
  • Philadelphia, DC and Boston, the other major cities in the East, all overrated IMHO

I go more into detail about New York, about Brooklyn, about Williamsburg and Greenpoint and Bushwick, about Fort Greene and Prospect Park and Smith Street. I tell her about DUMBO and she plays with her ears. I tell her about the bridges and we play with our feet. Julie seems captivated, like she’s taking her own trip there as I speak.

“Geil,” she says.

It means hot, or more specifically: horny. This is what Germans say. “Don’t you miss it?”

“Yes…”

But I think more about this and about Europe, about Scandinavian design and egalitarianism, about Mediterranean and Italian cuisine, about France and its cinema and fashion and philosophy, about Amsterdam and drugs, prostitution and total liberty, about Germany’s power and modesty reflected in the people and its foreign policy, about the continent’s lovely old architecture and rich history, about health care and free education and multiple-party democracy, about world happiness rankings, about relaxed borders and budget airlines and efficient railways, about middle class prosperity and the strength and values of the European dream, about exploration and adventure as an expat, and about Berlin specifically: the affordability and the fun and the freedom to live normally, the total chillness along with the intensity of the party scene, and to be free in the truest sense, to walk onto the U-Bahn without going through turnstiles while drinking a beer and the absolute vibrancy to behold in the parks and streets.

“…But not really.”

Julie gives me a look of incredulity. “If I lived in New York, I don’t know why I would ever move here.”

“I like it here,” I say as she finishes her wine.

I get up to pour her the last of the bottle. I walk to her side of the table. For a moment I become oddly self-aware, see myself in some sort of seduction mode, and contextualize this pursuit within my larger existential anxiety. I try not to judge it – sex is what I need.

“I’m glad you could make it tonight. I’ve been looking forward to seeing you all week,” I tell her, touching her shoulder.

“I know, I wish I could have seen you sooner, but things are just too crazy with work…”

I take her hand and pull her up to me. She gives in easily, like she’s been waiting to be held, taken.

“Well you’re here now.”

“Ja…”

I lean in and kiss her, slowly, slightly, light kisses again and again until it becomes passionate. She acquiesces, her body nearly collapsing into mine, but with grace and intention. I pick up her petite body and carry her into my bedroom, her arms around me. I set her on the bed and we take off each other’s clothes. Once the awkward amusement of pulling off our jeans is complete, I play with her bra and panties, hold her by her waist and kiss her mouth and neck. She reaches for my crotch, first with trepidation and then with enthusiasm when she discovers that I’m erect. She smiles, massages it with her hands, breathing heavier and heavier, then she leans down and puts her mouth on it.

All of my blood and life anxieties flow into that: the day’s stressful micro-experiences, the timing and organizing and planning and scheming, the anticipation of travel and packing and loose ends, the moral self-judgment of my wayward ways, my family and when I last spoke to everybody, the future, persistent memories, my hunting heart and unrequited feelings, other women, the constant desire for validation, the aches in the muscles of my back, world news and religious fundamentalism and economic collapse, the years of mistakes I’ve made and personal regret and disappointment and eternal pain – all of it. This is all that matters. This is the center of the universe. I put mine in hers and we rock around for a while. We each zone out on the smooth friction, in the moment, present, in bliss. Sex is maximum intimacy. It’s amazing how powerfully we both crave it. In orgasms we find meaning.

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