Martin brought a New Yorker to the pool as a shield. The walls that surrounded the pool and courtyard were metal, painted to look like wood. Premiocre. The pool felt made for Instagram. An aerial photograph would reveal its shape, a 1:1 square, ready to plop in the feed. But it was not pool’s specs that made Martin feel so on guard. It was the people. Pastel swim trunks on muscular thighs, high waisted bikini bottoms, designer hats worn backwards. Each gesticulation was flamboyant, like they were competing for the attention of reality television cameras.
Martin unfolded his Threshold beach towel and took off his soft, striped polo. He had a top-heavy triangle torso, and the kind of long arms that escaped and knocked things over during abrupt turns. He felt naked in a high school locker room. He situated his foldable cooler, boxed Pinot Grigio, and reusable water bottle with an “NPR” sticker on it on a pool chair.
As he settled into a long piece about land appropriation in South Africa, four people started a game of “pool-run derby” with an inflatable avocado and a selfie stick. He wondered: even though he finally made decent money, signed the lease that said his studio apartment cost $2,100/month and that he could use the pool anytime from 10am-8pm, was he really invited? According to the article, white people weren’t invited to South Africa, but they owned 95% of the land. Martin thought of the people whose homes were torn down so the Poolfluencers could play “pool-run derby,” and knew he was part of the problem.
Martin had incredible mixed feelings about living in The Belvedere. He had just turned 30 and was making enough money that he could afford rent alone in a “fancy building.” He started that search determined for historic charm, maybe something on 16th street near Meridian Hill Park. But, as Martin saw more places, he realized that modern made sense. There were more USB ports. A “Productivity Hub.” And he wasn’t going to complain about a pool. Too bad The Belvedere was literally in between a public housing complex and a historically black university. Martin factored a monthly recurring donation to a homeless shelter into his rent figure.
He signed the lease with some excitement and a little uneasiness, his feelings for decisions of all sizes. While the Poolfluencers inflamed the latter, the Productivity Hub helped with the excitement. While its name sounded like it could be a yurt on a farm owned by Jack Dorsey, its sliding doors and options for private workspace were nice. And Martin vowed to use it to work from home more. Slow his life down a bit. Martin was a Senior Copywriter at a global communications firm. He managed three junior copywriters and they had a good team—they shared articles and made each other laugh. Happy hours were harmless if not fun. So now, he was 30, what else?
Maybe that’s why he chose The Belvedere. Its digital marketing was slick—you were stepping into a lifestyle, not a building. Martin was paid to write a copy like this all day long, why shouldn’t he get to live it? Also, after that scary birthday, he was introduced to an old concept in stronger doses—loneliness. Maybe he’d make some friends. Maybe more. After all, he hadn’t had sex in over two years, and was beginning to think he might have forgotten how.
“MARTIIIIIIN. Finish your book and hang.” It seemed Andy didn’t say anything unless he was screaming and pointing at his instruction’s recipient from long, pool-side distances. If the pool was a prom, Andy, with his rich-son-on-a-soap-opera jawline, was its king. Martin didn’t challenge that, he just didn’t love Andy’s choice of language. “Finish your book.” Nobody who reads would say that. One, Martin was reading a magazine, Two, the chances that a reader would finish their book in a given sitting are slim. Andy could have said “finishing reading.” Or “when you get to a stopping point.” Or “when you finish your section.” Martin would have excused the vague use of section. “FINISHHHH YOUR SECTIOOONNN.” Martin conceded that it may not have the greatest pool-side-shout-ring to it. But Martin knew nothing about screaming across a public place. This was Andy’s territory.
They met at one of the building’s wine tastings in the lobby, where Andy was the loud boy in class you couldn’t keep your eyes off of. He interrupted constantly. But contrary to everything Martin knew about presentations and the human condition, the sommelier didn’t mind. She was charmed. Martin was charmed. Andy was a hit.
Andy made it a point to talk to everybody at the tasting, staff included. He remembered names and details, always made the circle bigger so nobody had to stand alone and facilitated building friendships. “For sure dude.” Those were the words Andy said as he touched Martin’s arm—midway between a bro-tap and a caress. Martin’s Tempernillo (available after the event for $45/bottle) quaked. Andy mentioned seeing Martin by the pool. “Feel free to come hang next time.” His tone held authority, like now Martin was allowed. Hence, the “MARTIIIIIIN. Finish your book and hang.”
Martin was annoyed, but really, he was nervous. Fuck it. He didn’t even finish his “section,” and walked over, shirtless and aware of it.
He approached a grill/beer-pong session. Andy stopped his turn at the table, put his hand on Martin’s back, and proclaimed: “Everybody, this is Martin. Martin, this is …” then, with a GW Medical School spatula in his hand, pointed to and named every single person at the pool-side gathering. “Jeremy…” ex-football player build, East Carolina Pirates Bucket Hat. “Mark…” skinny guy with gnarly stubble and a full-bodied laugh. Golf club tattoo on his peck. “Kirby…” blonde woman with a soccer player’s body and trendy red bathing one-piece with a lot of crisscross straps. Flawless rap gestures. And many more who responded with head nods and peace signs from the other side of the grill.
Having been properly introduced, Martin was left to fend for himself. Andy turned to the table and spit some Drake lyrics. “TELLLL MEEEEE, WHATTT’SSSS REALLLYY GOINGGGG ONNNN.” Andy’s young Drake wasn’t bad. He sunk a cup and celebrated the right amount.
“Kawhi Leonard is completely overrated.” Mark picked up right where they left off, hard seltzer in hand.
“Untrue. The facts do not support it,” said Jeremy.
“We’re talking about Kawhi Leonard,” offered Kirby. The Raptors had just won the NBA championship. Martin did not mind sports talk, but was always disappointed when it was a setting’s first subject.
“I didn’t know how productive he could be on offense,” Martin said, almost with a visible question mark.
“Exactly, versatility,” said Jeremy.
“Elbow J, all day,” said Kirby.
“Yeah, he was a sixth man, then he got good at D, then he starts hitting jump shots and suddenly he’s the next Jordan?
“It’s just another media cycle,” said Mark. Huge swig.
“But he’s stoic in press conferences, he’s not exactly your prototypical brand spokesman,” said Martin.
“Yeah! What he said!” from Jeremy. Nice!
“He did just win a championship,” said Kirby.
“Against the fucking Warriors,” added Jeremy.
“They suck too,” jabbed Mark.
“You’re a fucking idiot,” said Kirby. “Martin, is that right? How do you know Andy?”
“I feel like everybody knows Andy.”
“Fuck Andy.” Mark is kidding.
“You’re lit, bro,” says Jeremy.
“I am lit. I’m just kidding. Andy is wonderful. Kawhi?” he does the meh face and grabs another seltzer from a cooler.
“A lobby wine tasting,” said Martin.
“Those are cool right? The Belvedere is like, fun,” said Kirby, almost as if it’s a secret that if said too loud will become untrue.
“I love wine,” says Jeremy.
“It’s good stuff,” says Martin.
Just then, a woman wearing a bright yellow one piece with jean shorts on, accompanied by semi-heels that had seen their fair share of concerts and dive bar floors, entered the courtyard through the main doors. Things seemed to slow down as she moved, the party watched her, as her look was dignified enough that she may go tan all by herself, but accessible enough that she may give everyone a hug and shotgun a seltzer. She was beautiful.
“Ana, welcome back,” said Kirby. She handed her a glass. Everybody cheers! Martin was the last to put his cup in.
“Cheers!” Slow, summer sips. Except for Mark. Mark swigs.
Martin felt Ana’s attention turn to him and started writhing in under preparedness.
“Hi, I’m Ana.” She turned to Martin directly. The part of the stomach inexplicably tied to ball pain and erections did a somersault. She had deep, hazel eyes and the kind of skin you could tell was smooth. Her hair—strand by strand—was waging a blonde vs. brunette war.
“I’m Martin.” Sticking to the rules of partying millennials on the East Coast, they did not shake hands.
“You one of Andy’s friends from the hospital?”
“No, oh gosh, is Andy sick?”
“No, he’s a physician.” Her emphasis was funny. She understood this was news to intake.
Martin looked around. Two guys were standing on a courtyard table, dabbing. “Those are Andy’s friends,” Ana pointed.
Mark got up and joined them.
“Oh, I see. No, I just live here.”
“Me too.” Ana held a casual smile then said, “Should we do a shot?”
It had been years since Martin was asked to do that by a stranger. Even longer since he said yes.
Tequila. Unchilled. Grimaces.
“Hey, I think a big group of us are going out to Takoda tonight, if you wanna come?” Takoda was unbelievably basic.
She saw his hesitation. “We got to see Andy throw up last weekend…”
Martin was planning on baking a quiche and watching a Frontline episode. He’d already made the crust.
“Ok, but if it’s Takoda, let’s do another shot.”
“Let’s split one.”
Andy joined the conversation from atop the table, “Best I everrrrr haddddddd.”
During a lunch break the following Tuesday, Martin settled into Less, a splashy summer indulgence, after a heavy rotation of nonfiction. The book had a lot of hotels, and Martin was beginning to feel these fancy, boutique retreats for urban sophisticates were what The Belvedere wanted to be. Really, it was a bit of an expensive hostel. But on this day, the pool was empty and perfect, the way it looked in the brochures. Martin adjusted the lounge chair down one notch and tried to get used to his new life here.
Sometimes, fiction made Martin sad, because he wanted to be published so badly. He pulled out his journal. It was something to do, like holding a cup at a party. But he struggled to write for an audience of just himself, and at this pool, was constantly worried about losing that company. So, his heart pounded when the gate swung open. He looked up, worrying it was a squad, corrupting a Tuesday with Taylor Swift and product-forward selfies. It was Ana. He watched her take off her cover. Without making any kind of eye contact, she dove into the pool, which was not allowed. But hers was so graceful no lifeguard earning an unlivable wage would object. She immediately started swimming laps. Breaststroke, at her own pleasant pace. Martin was pretending to journal but was watching.
She hopped out of the pool as smoothly as she entered Martin’s sense of space and pulled out a book from her bag. The cover was unidentifiable, but the corners were crumpled, like she read often. Martin could make out a Vanity Fair tote bag. Not quite the prose of the New Yorker, but they had good profiles. But less people had this tote. Maybe it was cooler? Both totes were impractical, but they said more than they carried.
Martin put down his journal, he wanted to enter the pool while her ripples were still there. If her dive was like a sexy whisper, his entry was an ill-timed joke. As he flopped around, Martin focused on one thing: do not look over at her. But that’s what he did every ten seconds. Once, she returned the glance. Coolly and sharply, unwavering. Martin dunked his head under instantly with a child’s shyness, but the image of her eyes was plastered in his mind like when you stare at the sun for too long. When he surfaced she was gone from her chair. His heart dropped. But right then she emerged from below, far enough away from him to be polite but close enough that he would never have done it. That stomach part tingled again.
“Do you like your New Yorker subscription?” She dove into conversations with the same grace (re-introductions weren’t necessary).
“Um… yes. How did you know I subscribed?”
“I glance at other people’s covers.” She pointed to his chair, where the magazine was neatly folded, label-forward like a lifestyle advertisement. “Also, screens, at work. I always know which of my coworkers are hustling a little too hard on LinkedIn.”
“That’s a bit intrusive …”
“You do it too, everybody does.”
“You’re right. I am always hoping Russell from engineering will like the Forbes article I shared.”
“Oh you’re one of those guys, posting important think pieces on LinkedIn.”
“Russell doesn’t seem to think so.” She laughed. Probably just being polite.
“What are you reading?” He motioned toward her crumbled book, plopped on the chair with pages spilling, looking more like it belonged in a teenager’s car rather than a Vanity Fair tote.
“Oh, nothing. It’s my journal.”
“I have a journal too.”
“It’s not like a classic journal, per se. It has thoughts and drawings and no format. Sometimes I like to look at it when there is nothing else to look at. Reminds me of stuff I can worry about or not worry about.”
“Oh.” Martin said, instead of: I follow a strict, bulleted format in my journal. Also, that’s what I was doing before I couldn’t stop staring at you. “I struggle to write for no audience.”
“But that’s the whole point, it’s just for you. Treat yourself, you little moleskin boy.”
“Ok, I can do that.”
Then they shared some silence.
“Did you have fun on Saturday?” she asked.
Martin stayed for a beer at Takoda but left after he saw Ana kissing Andy. It made all the wonton drinking feel like a waste.
“I did. And I paid for it dearly the next day.”
“Hangovers are cruel, aren’t they?”
“I have a ‘I made out with Andy’ hangover.”
“Oh my. Does Gatorade help with those?”
“I wouldn’t know, it’s my first one.”
“Well, I can’t blame you. It’s a handsome nectar.”
“You think Andy is handsome?”
“I didn’t really think about it before our tongues were touching.”
“That’s a data-driven way to find out.”
She laughed and changed the subject. “The New Yorker always felt like homework to me.”
“How do you mean?”
“How many issues behind are you?”
“4.” Actually 8.
“It is hard to read other things.”
“Plus, the umlaut is pretentious. And saying ‘aughts.’ Nobody says that.”
“You should write an open letter to the Standards department.”
“They’d just destroy my syntax.”
God she was funny. Before she left, they floated for a bit, near each other.
The Belvedere could provide a good lunch break.
“Andy George Washington Medical School” produced Andy’s LinkedIn page as the top search result. “Andy Fulton.” How proper. Martin clicked. Andy was from Long Island and went to Lawrenceville then Penn. So why then GW Medical School? Wasn’t that a bit of a downgrade? (Martin went to a public high school in Wisconsin, but then to Kenyon. He thought paying 200K for a college education was fucked up, but if you’re gonna do it, you might as well go to a progressive liberal arts school with an esteemed literary reputation).
Martin searched “Andy Fulton.” He expected a flood of anonymous lawyers and CPAs, but instead, the second hit was Andy’s website. “Andy Fulton | Writer, Performer, Doctor.” Martin was on the slick homepage (its background a high production video of Andy doing stand-up with professional lighting) before he could wrap his head around the facts. Andy was a “comedic performer.” He was on a Harold team at Washington Improv Theater. Had multiple storytelling shows, including the Moth, to his name. Performed stand-up for a cancer benefit at the Kennedy Center. Lin Manuel Miranda was there.
And he was a writer. Who had been published, a lot. Some humor pieces on GomerBlog, which, Andy was quickly learning, was a top source for doctor humor. “Neurologist Forgets Common Dementia Symptoms, Has Dementia.” “It’s All About Timing: Bringing Comedic Empathy to the Operating Room” in Slate. This was a real piece of writing. “An Open Letter to the Grad School Social Media Aesthetic” in McSweeney’s. Fuck. Martin was trying so hard to get published there. He read it. “Stop with the photos of your ‘friends’ in front of your institution’s arches. We know you’re actually lonely and would kill any of those people for a leg up when you have to get a real job.” It was a little harsh, but much funnier and more accessible than “DMs to a Young Influencer”—a spoof of Rilke’s classic and Martin’s most recent (and woefully unpublished) satirical endeavor. Andy had even been published in the New England Journal of Medicine (only a co-author, but still). Martin couldn’t be envious, exactly, but he could further understand the allure.
Martin closed his laptop and grabbed a New Yorker. This night, he was too tired for anything long and significant, so he settled into one of Anthony Lane’s famous two-part reviews— “The Farewell” and “The Art of Self Defense”—movies Sir Lane called “a two-tale tone” and “something worse than macho.”
As he drifted off to sleep, the summarizing thought of the day—that comes with the slippery clairvoyance of the following dreams—rung in his mind in confusion, stumping men smarter than himself or even Anthony Lane. If Andy was so well published, why did he refer to the New Yorker as a book? “Finiishhhh yourrrrr boooook.” Martin volleyed those words around his drifting mind. It was almost like counting sheep.
Martin hadn’t yet begun his over-analysis in earnest. He liked Ana. She made out with Andy. But what else? So he was completely unprepared when he started to see her all over the building. The first time, Martin was turning the corner in the lobby, headed towards the coffee machine that could make gourmet lattes, usually behind a sea of beautiful people demanding packages. Once, Martin saw a tenant tell one of the front desk attendants, with the volume of a chant at a football game, “You are our favorite, by far,” as if she were a Quentin Tarantino movie, not a person with a job.
Ana was by the front door, chatting with somebody else, petting their dog, coffee in hand and smiling. Martin stopped. He was already justifying retreat. I don’t need a coffee, anyways. But, no. Not in The Belvedere.
“Good morning, Ana.” Martin’s mind was rehearsing the touch-screen clicks to successfully get a cappuccino.
She looked up. It was so nice.
“Who needs a Chemex when we have this,” he had reached the coffee machine.
“Do you have a Chemex?”
“I did at my last place, and it survived the move. But I am afraid it might not get out of the box because of this baby.” He roughhoused the machine.
“I had a French Press.” She said and playfully stroked the machine, poking fun.
“Ahhh – trés gentile.”
“Oui, pour le café Francophone et vrai.” Whoa. She was comfortable with a silly fist pump too.
“Got any big plans this weekend?”
“Sort of, here and there. How bout you?”
Martin wondered what her plans were with a journalistic fervor but did not press:
“Low-key for me.”
“Well, maybe I’ll see you at the pool. Who knows, it may lead to another night on the town.”
“It’s a slippery slope.” She was turning to leave so he thrusted: “Have a good one!”
The latte machine gurgled.
The second time he saw her was in the productivity hub. He was already there, working on a short story about an executive having an anxiety attack before a panel presentation. It was not good. She needed to print. And came in, laptop in hand, wearing a bathing suit and lacey cover-up and faced the printer. Martin had not envied a printer so much in recent memory.
Without her noticing him, he had a moment for observation. Sure, she was beautiful. But it was, he was now noticing, her transitions that were so stunning. Determined to frustrated to giggling, each beat with the presence of a still-life.
“Did you connect through the guest WiFi bluetooth? That’s the trick.” Martin was already up and walking towards her. She smiled, deeply, a new iteration of her canvas, and without saying much sort-of handed the computer Martin’s way. More intimacy than servitude.
“Woe is technology,” she said.
“The evil through which Russia knows our secrets.”
“Sorry, Vladimir. I know I shouldn’t have a Blue Apron membership on my salary, but buying the individual ingredients is just too hard.”
“Do you like to cook?” Martin holds the laptop with one arm and clicks with the other.
“When the ingredients come in pre-packaged measurements and the instructions are clear and pithy.”
“You know I actually write some of those menus. Not for Blue Apron, but some of their competitors are our clients.”
“Oh, that’s fancy. Any perks? Unlimited 2 oz packages of turmeric?”
“And the ability to differentiate between sexy monosyllabic verbs like mince, grate and zest.”
“I don’t zest on the first date.” They laughed. Definitely not just being polite.
“What do you do?”
“I guess we’ve made it this long in our relationship without asking.” Martin loved that she said ‘relationship.’
“It’s rare in this city.”
“I work for D.C. Public Libraries.”
“Oh my gosh, the libraries here are amazing. I love them.”
“I like parts of my job, and feel lucky for it. But don’t know how long I’ll be there.”
Martin hoped that wasn’t because she was moving. “I take it you don’t have to print much in that role…” Martin handed her the laptop, screen swirling with an icon that said ‘Printing.’
“It was listed in the job description, right next to Google Suite, but I took its nuance for granted.”
“So, if that’s not your strong suite, what is?”
“Assembling IKEA shit.” No hesitation.
“That is a valuable skill.”
The printer finished. It was a resume. She swooped it up and said, “I’ll put that on here.”
The next time he saw her was on the elevator. He was taking it down to leave for work, and she was with a dog. He started worrying she was a dog person and that his dog-play would seem forced and inadequate.
“Good morning, Ana.”
“Martin, hiiii.” He was getting used to her saying his name.
“Is this little guy yours?”
“No, I am dog-sitting for my sister. But this is Roo. She’s a cutie.” She changed to baby-voice a bit on “cutie.”
Uh-oh. Martin knew he had to do it. “Who’s a good girl?” Martin bent down and extended his hand. B+.
“Do you like dogs?” Ana asked as Martin pet Roo.
“Oh yeah.” Hyperbole. Nay, a lie.
“My family always had dogs.”
“Do you ever want to get one yourself?”
“Maybe when I don’t live alone or have more space.”
“So, you live alone? Are you in a studio?”
“Oooohhhh sixth floor. Sky Lounge adjacent.”
“Yeah, but it closes at 11pm. Last night I wanted to go out and just sit there. It would have been from like 11:15 to 11:45. The Belvedere feels like it has rules ya know?”
Martin generally likes rules. There should be more rules at the pool regarding volume. “Totally.”
“It feels like if I smoke weed, an RA might tell on me.”
“But weed is decriminalized…”
“Not here. I read it in the lease. They follow federal laws or something dumb.”
“That’s annoying.” They were walking in the lobby now. “But hey, at least the art is nice.” The art was nice. Martin said this as he gestured towards a gray and white photograph of a street in Paris, with a sleek golden molding and one of those fancy art lights above it. The table beneath, elegant wood with an ornament made specifically for holding a single, fake plant, had a “Street Art” book whose cover cities were Tokyo, Zurich, Capetown and Seattle.
“Can I tell you something odd?” She said this with unusual verve. They were outside the building now, on the street. He had to go left and she right, Martin could tell from body language, but they both squared up to talk for longer. Martin could be late, who cares?
“Last night, after not being able to go to the sky lounge (air quotes), I got a little high in my bathroom (she put a single finger to her lips like DON’T TELL ON ME) and walked around the whole building. Looking at the art. There’s a great one of the Washington Monument… I feel like every apartment building in this city has to have one… but this one, it’s just the top. In the bottom right hand corner. And the sky is so vivid. Like, this is what the Washington Monument is really like, candid, unguarded, at home. Thousands of feet in the sky.”
“That sounds like so much fun.”
“Wandering keeps me grounded.”
“No, your art tour.”
“Oh, well registration, is, opennn.”
“I’d love to do that with you.” Martin surprised himself.
“What’s your number?” So casual and confident.
She handed him her phone and he input his number.
“I’ll text you, so you have mine,” she said.
“Great, now I have a resource for an art tour and IKEA assembly.”
“And I will be able to print whenever I want.”
Her text: Call Me By My Name.
His text back: Annnnnaaa and a Timothée Chalumet gif.
On the metro, Martin imagined sharing a one bedroom plus den with Ana. It would be filled with fancy ornaments for house plants and art they’d choose together. And of course—how could he forget? —a cute dog. Maybe, no, definitely, named Timothée Chalumet.
“Hey Martin, can you help me print a more fulfilling career? K Thanx Bai.”
“Careers are not printed. Much like a MALM dresser, they are assembled (and are dark and heavy).”
They had been texting on and off.
“So do you really want to smoke weed in my bathroom and look at art in the building?”
“I would love to. Friday?”
Friday could not get there soon enough. Anticipating a date that will take place in your own apartment complex can be distracting. The Thursday before, he went down to the grill with two tuna steaks, a huge tub of orzo pasta, and a large kale salad. Because what if he saw Ana out there and the date started early? Instead:
“MARTIIIIIIIN, MY FUCKING MAN. Do you play pool?”
Andy. There was a wooden — elegant even to Martin — pool table in the “club,” the indoor portion of the lounge adjacent to the pool. That night, the sliding doors were all opened, summer could touch anybody it wanted. Martin glanced around for a second, hopping to see Ana.
He sighed, “Hey Andy. Hey guys.”
“Hey Martin,” said Jeremy, smiling and holding a cue.
“Sup?” cracked Mark right before he cracked a shot.
Martin braced himself to talk about sports.
“We’re discussing the Mueller investigation,” oriented Andy. Oh.
“There’s no way he testifies. He doesn’t operate like that,” said Jeremy.
“Did y’all read that reporters staked out Mueller’s team’s office building in Waterfront from a Starbuck’s every day for three months? They memorized the counsel staff’s commute patterns. One lawyer scootered to work. I didn’t know lawyers scootered.”
“Don’t YOU scooter to work?” Jeremy had a point.
“I’m not a lawyer.” So did Mark.
“Do y’all want to play doubles?” asked Andy with a smile.
“Sure,” said Jeremy.
“Martin, wanna be on my team?” asked Andy.
“Ok.” Martin was nervous because he didn’t know pool’s social norms.
“Shirts v. skins!” joked Mark as he started to take off his shirt. He settled for an intense swig of scotch instead.
“Martin, do you want any scotch?” asked Jeremy.
“It’s nice, he got it from a work thing for free,” urged Andy with a push of the Macallan.
“Ah, the nectar of Rudy Giuliani,” said Martin as he held up the bottle and poured himself a fraction of a drink. They laughed.
“What Cigar Bar does he go to again?” asked Jeremy.
“Shelly’s Back Room, by Old Ebbit,” Martin knew stuff like this.
“What would you do if you saw him in person? Would you say something?” asked Andy.
Martin knew he was too scared of confrontation to do that. “I would definitely take a photo and submit it to a local blog.”
Mark offered: “I’d kick him in the dickhead.”
Say what you will, but their politics were in the right place.
“Martin, you want to break?” Just what Martin was afraid of. He broke like a limp handshake. Triangle unscathed.
Andy carried the conversation, and their team. Once they started playing, Martin could see why Jeremy and Mark kind of followed Andy around. He was the best at pool, so handsome, and by far the funniest. Andy would pull his cue back, “Shabbat…,” then strike with accuracy and force “Shalom!” It was so random it was hilarious. Laughter every time. Martin made six balls and the 8 ball. But Martin made one, and as it sunk, Andy gave him a hug.
“Here, let’s have some more Scotch. A celebratory beverage.”
It was a work night and Martin had a demi bottle of Vino Verdhe in his cooler with the tuna steaks. “I think I’m ok…”
Andy did not hear anything un-fun. “What did you call it? A Giuliani Julep or something?”
“I had no branded name. Giuliani just likes the stuff.”
Andy poured him some. “Fuck Giuliani.”
Now Martin had to. “Fuck Giuliani.” Clink.
Martin drank half and grimaced while Andy took the whole thing smoothly and started to say bye to Jeremy and Mark. They were going to a Sylvan Esso concert at 9:30 Club.
“Let’s watch the British Open this weekend?”
“Sounds good, Andy,” said Jeremy.
“My head, my shoulders, knees and toes.” Mentally, Mark was already at the concert.
“And maybe play a round on Friday if we get off work in time.”
“Bye y’all!” Jeremy and Mark leave.
“Of course, you’re welcome to join for any and all of that,” said Andy as he turned to Martin.
“Thanks, golf is not really my thing.”
“I feel that. The polo shirts and mental uncertainty. Don’t love that either. But I do enjoy being outside and hitting a ball towards a hole. It’s an ephemeral ecstasy.”
“That could be a brand name.”
Andy smiled and looked at Martin. “You’d be great at improv.”
Despite his efforts, Martin was flattered. “Thanks.”
“What are you up to now?” Andy looked eager.
Martin was looking forward to listening to the Swan Lake soundtrack as he grilled his tuna and fantasized about his date tomorrow. But there was a deep innocence to Andy’s eyes, as they were fixed on Martin now, their fate in his hands.
“I actually do have two tuna steaks and a bottle of Vino Verdhe in that cooler. If you wanna hang for a bit?”
“Really? That’d be amazing. But only if I get to cook for you next week. I am perfecting the demi-glaze.”
And just like that, Martin was hanging with the Prom King of The Belvedere Pool.
“I love Vino Verdhe. I was just in Portugal in May, actually. You would not believe this Air BnB in Lisbon…”
The millennial American workplace adopting a more casual dress code was, overall, a good thing. There was one downside to Martin—it was extremely hard to pick the right shirt for a date. With all shirt options on the table for work, how do you differentiate for romance?
Martin stood outside Ana’s door, wearing a simple, navy blue short sleeve button down that had no unique qualities but cost ninety-five dollars. He was holding a bottle of Pinot and hadn’t knocked—or should he call? —yet because he was early. It took him thirty seconds to get there. And now he was starting to worry that the collar on this shirt made him look like a priest struggling to relax on an off night. Oh well, knock knock.
“Oh Martin, hiii.” Ana seemed surprised to see him. We agreed to Friday, right?
“So prompt. Come on in, I am just puttering about.”
Ok. Ana—in flowing pants and spaghetti straps—had not dressed for the occasion, in turn causing Martin to worry if this even was an occasion.
“Sorry if I am a bit early, the Uber was faster than I expected.” Ana looked at him as he realized he could have been taking an Uber from anywhere. “That was a joke, I took the elevator.”
“I suppose that’s a less capitalist mode of transportation.”
“I don’t know, I don’t trust the Belvedere so much.”
Her apartment was less decorated than his. More tapestry than custom framing. But the exact same $2,100, 500 square foot lay-out.
“Where’d you get this?” He was looking at a painting with no frame, hung cheaply but well on the wall. It was of a woman on a boat, shooting a bow and arrow.
“Oh, I made that in a class.”
“You made this?” Suddenly much more impressive.
“I usually throw my assignments away, but this one is a placeholder until I decide what I want to do with the space.”
Martin designated all of his wall space before he moved in. There was a Google Sheet and sticky notes he placed on walls during the walk-through.
“That’s beautiful.” Martin was looking at her.
“Anyways, are you ready for a night of immersive art?” Ana asked as she took the wine from Martin, reached for a corkscrew, then realized it was a twist-off.
“Good.” She was so cute behind a big glass of red. She handed Martin his. Clink!
She swished the wine in her mouth as Martin thought about teeth-staining then said: “Tunes?”
Ana grabbed a nondescript vinyl from the hanging shelves on her wall. Martin surveyed her taste. LCD Soundsystem, Daft Punk, Rubber Soul. She put the needle on the record, and it revealed “Warm Foothills” by Alt-J.
“I love this song,” said Martin.
“Me too.” Harmony.
Ana broke the silence: “How much New Yorker have you consumed this week?”
“Like, an appetizer’s worth. I chewed on some Shouts and Murmurs on the metro, some, and fit in an Anthony Lane review or two.”
“Do you like Anthony Lane?”
“I don’t always agree with the reviews, and have mixed feelings about the “Two Movies, One Essay” format. Also, he draws on a lot of movies I’ve never seen or heard of. I don’t know if that’s my fault or his. But he is an excellent writer.”
“He’s not always my cup of tea. I wish the New Yorker had more women write about movies.”
“There’s Emily Nussbaum…”
“But that’s just TV. And one woman.”
“TV is important!”
“I don’t know, I feel like writing about this week’s algorithmic binge-i-ness is a rookie assignment compared to a film.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Perhaps I am biased. I was a film major.”
“Wow, that’s cool.”
“Please don’t immediately mention Tarkovsky.”
“I wasn’t going to.” He was going to.
“A bygone era…”
“Have you made or done anything recently?”
“Not really. I think I might submit something to the forty-eight-hour film festival. But I moved here from New York and have paused those grander pursuits.”
“That’s a bit of a reverse commute, is it not? Most people I know are moving to New York.”
“Well, my parents live here. Or in Bethesda, rather.”
“They said they’d help on the rent if I got a real job.”
So that’s how somebody working at D.C. public libraries affords this place. But, unlike most people whose parents pay their rent, Ana had a distinguishing feature. She admitted it.
“There’s nothing wrong with real jobs.”
They took some slow slips standing in the kitchen.
“Enough with the subject of washing up. Let’s get high.”
“Right, ok.” Martin had not smoked in years.
“I hope you don’t mind if we smoke in the bathroom. I do it to hide the smell from the Belvedere gestapo.”
“No, that’s fine.” The thought of being close to her was nice.
Ana moved the party to the bathroom with a comfort in physical proximity Martin will never have. Candle lit, tunes lightly flowing in, they were squared up, standing so close.
“Here,” she said and handed him the pipe.
He took a solid but cautious inhale. His mind started swimming.
She inhaled through her smoke through her nose and looked a little sad in that moment, like the long silences in French new wave cinema. Martin thought that for a film major, that simile would be stale.
“What are you thinking about?” She danced lightly in the glow of the bathroom candle.
Determined not to share the simile, Martin did the next best thing. He kissed her. It was soft but altering. Like being told you’ve won the lottery, but not yet spending the money. They kissed again and again, softly, for short, lovely moments, two adults in a studio apartment’s bathroom, a little high and very happy.
They forgot about the art tour.
“MARTIIIIIIN. FINISH YOUR BOOK BRO AND HANGGGGG!”
Martin was floating. Not in The Belvedere Pool, but as aftermath from the night before. After he and Ana kissed and held each other in her bathroom, they went up on the Sky Lounge, pointing out past memories— “I used to bike down 11th everyday to get to work in Dupont” — and sneaking hits from a one hitter.
They ended with a kiss by the door, a vow to actually do the art tour, and rough plans to hang out by the pool the next day. Martin was so eager he got there at 11am in his normal uniform—Threshold towel, water bottle with an “NPR” sticker, and a New Yorker. The problem was on Thursday night, after he and Andy grilled tuna steaks and stayed in the courtyard talking till midnight, Martin told Andy he’d hang by the pool on Saturday, too. Suddenly, Martin’s social life was gaining color. And the bronze of his Conde Nest shield was fading. Andy’s plea to “finish your book,” this time, was much more than a vapid frat-holler across the pool.
Andy stood motionless, watching Martin, like a dog ready for his ball. Martin put down Jeffrey Toobin’s cultural takedown of the Mueller report and prepared for the possibility of another intense heart to heart.
Andy told Martin everything on Thursday night. About a clandestine same sex affair at Lawrenceville, how he hates his parents’ money but won’t stop accepting it, about wanting people to take his work seriously, instead of just thinking he’s fun.
“Martin, my fucking man.” They embraced. “I am so glad you came.”
It’s a public space, but, “Me too.”
“What’d you do last night? Anything fun?”
“Not really,” lied Martin.
“Word, saving your steam for Saturday. Saturday is for the steam.”
“What’d you do?”
“Jeremy, Mark and I played nine at Hains Point then had too much sauce at Ivy and Coney. Perfect Friday.”
“Just what the doctor ordered.” Martin winked.
“Oh, because I’m a doctor? Hilarious.” Andy surveyed the pool. His blue eyes matched its crystal hue. “We’d love it if you came next time, man. I know golf isn’t your jam, but I could teach you. We wouldn’t even have to bet. Mark likes to bet, but I’d prefer it if we agreed to donate to a nonprofit of the winner’s choice.”
“That’s noble. I need to donate more. I feel guilty about gentrification.”
“Have you read “Between the World and Me?”
The question surprised Martin. “I have.”
“I read that on the Sky Lounge. I was drinking Rose and smoking a cigarette, overlooking Howard’s campus. Overlooking Mecca. Talk about fucked up.”
“I went to a book tour event for him at the Lincoln Theater. I think he’s the realest.”
“We should go to a lecture together sometime. That’d be dank.”
“I think so too,” said Martin and meant it.
“But today, we party.” Andy handed Martin a mimosa.
Andy’s gang of Poolfluencers was gaining momentum. There was a game of mimosa flip cup forming on the wooden table, every other surface was slowly accumulating solo cups and seltzer cans. Each human addition to the party brought washboard abs or sexy legs, inching The Belvedere Pool’s hotness median away from Martin and towards the “Discover” page on Instagram. But people were noticing him.
“Martin! What’s up man?!” Kirby gave him a hug.
“Martin, how’s it going? Next time we golf, you should come.” Jeremy extended some daps.
“Sup bro.” Even Mark said hi.
The soundtrack was a steady stream of Drake, T-Swift and Chainsmokers. The selfie stick was out. And Martin’s New Yorker was occupying a lounge chair he was not using because he was partying. Martin was in It, and It was something he used to watch with squinty eyes through his window. But he had a reason. When Ana came down at 1:15, Martin was drinking by the grill. She walked up to him first and put her arms around his waist from behind.
“Goooood morninnnnng,” she hugged. It was firmly the afternoon.
Martin wanted to kiss her badly. “Ana!”
They hugged properly. As they were exiting their embrace, hands on each other’s shoulders, squared up and searching for the next words, Andy wrapped the two of them in a bear hug. “My two favorite people.”
“Hi Andy,” Ana said and leaned into his pec.
“Let’s have an amazing day,” said Andy.
Laying in bed last night, Martin rehearsed his future pool-side interactions with Ana over and over. The instant they parted ways, he wanted to be near her. But today was not going as planned. They exchanged some glances and touches, but Martin longed for one on one attention. Andy, meanwhile, seemed to be everywhere and one-on-one with Martin simultaneously.
“Martin, maybe we should read ‘The Case for Reparations’ and start a little long form discussion group.”
“TO ANYBODY WHO IS INTERESTED—we have an elaborate British Open drinking game called ‘Bingo Bango Beer-Bongo.’”
“I would love it if you came to one of my shows and gave your honest feedback. I long for more creative friends.”
By now it was 4:00pm, the British Open was on all the poolside TVs, and Martin was drunk. He was listening to Kirby complain about her boss when Andy and Ana come up, arm in arm, also drunk.
“Martin, we need you,” said Andy.
Martin searched Ana’s face for any subliminal messaging. “For what?”
“Something special,” said Andy.
“We’re gonna smoke weed in Andy’s apartment,” explained Ana.
“Something special,” Andy elaborated.
“Y’all have fun,” said Kirby. She finished her drink.
Andy and Ana maintained their embrace all the way to the elevator. As they stood waiting for it, Ana pulled Martin in, making it a hexapod. Once they got on, Andy left the embrace, put his hands on both of their shoulders, bracing them for something serious.
“Elevator party.” The instant the words were out of his mouth he was “boots in cats in boots in cats in” beatboxing and the three of them were dancing.
They get to Andy’s on the sixth floor. It’s one of the big apartments with a balcony overlooking Sherman Avenue, twice the size of their studios. It was filled with masculine, wood frames of sports memorabilia and diplomas.
“British Open? I have surround sound.”
“Let’s play music,” said Ana.
“Good call. British Open on mute.” Andy clicked the remote. “Alexa, play Flume!’”
The Australian techno blasted through the expensive apartment. Andy retrieved a pipe and grinder from a compartment in the table that appeared after he pressed down with his fist. Martin was leaning against the back of the wrap-around couch. Ana walked over to him and nuzzled into the crook of his arm.
Andy stopped gyrating to the music and looked at them seriously. “You two are so cute together.”
“We went on a date last night,” said Ana. Unexpected.
Andy took a moment before speaking. “That’s incredible. You’re both incredible.” He seemed genuine. This candidness was Martin’s nightmare. Why was everybody at The Belvedere so casual?
“It was so fun.” Martin spoke without realizing it. Ana looked up at him and their eyes met. She kissed him. It was soft like the night before. Martin’s heart pounded as his pores opened up like airplane vents during landing.
Andy stood at their affection’s edge like the playful dog that he was. Ana unhooked from Martin, took two confident steps, then kissed Andy with the same sensual grace.
“We should have a threesome.”
Excuse me? Martin checked Ana’s face to see if she was joking. She wasn’t. But no way. Wait, was she actually serious?
As you definitely know, Martin had never been in a threesome. The moment Ana suggested it, his sexual insecurities launched from the bottom of his stomach to the top of his throat. Searching for more guiding direction, Martin looked into Andy’s eyes. They were steady, the same glimmering pools of earnestness shining bright like The Belvedere Pool.
Martin swallowed. Where was his New Yorker now?
Andy was waiting for Martin to reply first. He was being polite. When it became clear this was never going to happen, he took a contemplative hit from the pipe, looked up with those eyes, then said, “I’m down, but can we leave the British Open on? I want to see if I win Bingo Bango Beer Bongo.”
About the Author:
Robin Doody is a writer and performer in Washington DC. His work has appeared in Isele Magazine, Rice Magazine, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and others. He teaches and performs with Washington Improv Theater. See more of his work here: https://www.doodyism.com.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay