Things to Do; People to See

Pepto

As soon as I arrive, I realize that I need to leave.

They serve ouzu to us as a welcome in little plastic cups that are designed for shots. The liquid has been tinted a neon, vaguely toxic pink. It’s 9 in the morning.

Just drink it. This is what I tell myself. But after 12 hours on a ferry, four of them spent crunched in half across two pullman seats — one hand on my luggage the entire time — I cannot do it. I just cannot.

I think of the pastis that J____ and I drank on a patio in Marseille, its beautiful color — pearly, almost peach in the light — and how we drank it with water and ice in narrow little glasses under rolling storm clouds, taking our time, the air around us heavy and shifting. Even though we knew that we’d get caught in the rain.

When you’ve had the really, really good, the really, really bad shows its cards quickly and with gaudy flair. There is no mistaking it. There is no moving backwards, no erasing what you’ve seen. This is what it means to grow up.

I nudge the cup to a boy beside me at the table. He is no older than 16. He shakes his head no with a weary smile. He’s already had seconds.

*

In the doubles, they always pair men with women for maximum hookup potential. Just to keep things exciting.

I try to deduce my roommate’s personally — the exact amount of hookup potential present — by the piles of his stuff that are amassed in the corners of our room. Baseball cap. Khaki shorts. Name-brand sneakers. Tevas. Dirty towel. Black duffel bag. John Grisham novel. Only two items strike me as odd and basically reduce our hookup chances by half, even before I’ve seen the guy’s face: A pair of boxers printed in the logo of a sports team I do not recognize and a yellow bullhorn.

The boxers are a red flag for their shear lack of irony alone, but let put it this way: Imagine if I owned (and traveled with!) a pair of panties with the Miss Saigon logo printed on them. I rest my case. As for the bullhorn.

Really? A bullhorn?

When I think I’ve got this guy basically figured out, he abruptly puts an end to my little game by showing up. And I guess I need to say it. He’s kinda gorgeous. Supertall, blond, lean-muscular, deeply tanned. My dream boy. Ten years ago.

He introduces himself as Woodrow and smiles unabashedly, a little dopey. For the next two days, I will continually screw up and call him Wilson.

At the absolute oldest — and I’m being generous here — he’s 19.

Hookup potential is null.

*

He sits down next to us at breakfast. He is youngish, handsome, with a mouth full of gleaming, obsessively straight teeth and mirrored sunglasses that wink at us in rainbows when he turns his head.

Then he goes in for the sell.

He starts to talk to us, stilted, a little awkward, about all the amazing hostel activities in which we can partake for a nominal fee. Kayak trips, bus tours, booze cruises, toga parties. We’re being upsold. At breakfast.

I sense what he’s doing and become totally dismissive, focusing squarely on spreading Nutella on my toast. He likewise dismisses me and concentrates on my younger, more awestruck companions.

Silently, I get angry. I am trying. To eat breakfast. Or maybe I am angry because I’ve been written off. Cynical. The girl who won’t bite.

*

It’s Cross Dressing Night in the club except I don’t. Whenever someone comes up to me and asks why I’m not dressed up, I look at them, bewildered, and say, “But I am in drag.”

I have made friends, a crowd of genial Canadians, the youngest of whom have just graduated… from high school. One of them, a skater type named Vincenzo, has two Italian-born parents and speaks a garbled mélange of their Calabrese and Tuscan dialects, meaning that he gets around Italy in the same way I do: Understanding every word but being unable to speak a single one. Because of this, and his palpable enthusiasm over pasta preparation methods, Team Italia soccer, and custom-made D&G suits, I find a kindred. His friends are cool too, and at Cross Dressing night, I find myself inclined to dance.

The boys sport their girlfriends’ sundresses and the girls have borrowed boxers and tanks and have penciled on goatees. I have done none of the above, moving to Beyonce and bad hip hop. I feel almost human.

At one point, Woodrow, wearing a seafoam green ruffled bikini and a purple sarong, dances into our circle and lifts me up off my feet and nearly out of my outfit.

“So are we going to hook up later, roomie?” he shouts into my ear. He puts me down before I can answer and he gives his hips a mock-effeminate shake and shimmies away, as though this will do something to assist in my decision.

*

On the stairs under the moonlight, he says hello to me, chummy and sweet, and when he introduces himself — name and city — I realize that I’ve met him already, but where?

He stops to chat under a street lamp and I remember: It’s the guy who tried to sell us on the booze cruise at breakfast. For a moment, I’m totally thrown. Smiling, all the awkward pauses gone, without his sunglasses, he seems wonderful. Open. Human. There is no sign of his dismissal earlier in the day. He speaks passionately about the island, its natural beauty. He tells me to give the booze cruise a try.

“Seriously,” he says with a smile. “It’s really fun.”

And for an instant, I almost believe him.

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