Excerpt

Here’s a little taste of my essay, “Rules of Repulsion,” my contribution to Love Is a Four-Letter Word. Everyone in my family will hate me after they read this. Maybe you could go buy the book–it’d make me feel better.

Carrying a thermos emblazoned with the Black Flag logo and wearing Doc Martens, slim trousers, and a vintage button-down shirt, Booth sported the definitive early nineties proto-hipster style that I’d only ever seen in music magazines. My hometown had one stoplight, and my high school boyfriends favored dirty jeans, motorcycle rally T-shirts, and engineer boots.

In my limited worldview, Booth was the Platonic ideal of cool.

People hugged him mightily and announced how happy they were that he was back. When he sat down next to me and said, “Hi, I’m Booth,” I felt the most inchoate sense of longing an eighteen-year-old has ever felt. I knew that if I could make him love me, I would be the happiest girl in the world.

It seemed he wasn’t quite as entranced but was keen to chat. He told me about his summer, which, as I recall, included some sort of cross-country road trip involving ironic tourist destinations. And he’d been to San Francisco to get a tattoo. He lifted up his shirt to show me his scrawny, pale back. He had a line of tattoos down his spine and described the provenance of each. I recognized each one as a totem of absolute fucking cool.

Booth possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of music. We had very similar tastes, save for one genre: jazz. In fact, Booth was a jazz music major. He played the contrabass, which seemed to suit his personality—the largest and most formidable instrument on any given stage.

I was awestruck. I forced myself to say good night, however, knowing that I faced a long day of orientation symposiums on date rape and the importance of gender-neutral pronouns. I told Booth that I hoped I’d see him again.

“Good night, Dana,” Booth said. “It was nice to meet you.”

That night, in my unfamiliar and lumpy institutional bed, I replayed that final exchange ad infinitum. He had remembered my name.

The next day, my roommate and I decided that we knew enough about how “No means No,” so we skipped orientation and sat on the lawn outside of the classroom building, under an old apple tree. Our housemates—none of whom had attended the symposiums either—joined us, and while everyone else chatted amiably about their hometowns, I thought about Booth and absently tossed half-rotten apples down the hill.

A little while later, a Ford Bronco rolled down the school drive and stopped ten yards away. Booth stuck his head out the window. “Hey there!” he called to me. “What are you up to?”

“Nothing,” I said, and abandoned my housemates.

He drove me to his off-campus apartment in North Camden, and while he was making coffee, I scanned his pedigreed library. “I see you like Henry Rollins,” I commented, noting that Booth seemed to own every record and book the turgid, parochial moron had ever produced.

“Yes! He’s my hero!” Booth bounded over to the shelf and pulled out a Black Flag tour diary. “Lemme read you something. It’s so great.”

It was a passage in which Rollins recounted jerking off into a sleeping girl’s hair because she had kicked him out of bed. I stood there patiently for five minutes as Booth read and wondered if maybe I should’ve attended that date rape seminar after all.

He finished and looked at me expectantly.

“That guy’s an insufferable douche bag,” I said.

“You’re wrong,” Booth countered, unrankled. This would turn out to be one of Booth’s greatest and most irritating qualities—I couldn’t get him riled up about anything. “You’re wrong” was the only thing he’d ever say when we argued.

We sat on his couch, drinking black coffee, smoking, and listening to a Japanese Ornette Coleman bootleg. I tried to make conversation, but he shushed me every time. “You have to listen to this part,” he said, pointing reverently at the stereo speaker.

I began to wonder if maybe he wasn’t all that interested in me. And how was I supposed to make him interested if I couldn’t stun him with my erudite, witty observations?

After thirty-five torturous minutes, side two ended, the tone arm returned to its cradle, and Booth emerged from his reverie. “So,” he said. “Wanna fuck?”