Monday, September 24, 2012


The Billionaire

Once again, I’d been dumped. That wasn’t the hard part. I was getting used to being dumped, and had developed a routine involving a lot of sushi and frequent chair massages. Learned to see the advantages in not having a man in my hair all the time. No, what really smarted was that I’d been on the verge of dumping my dumper (Aha! For once it would be me in charge!) when he’d beaten me to it. Long distance, no less. And then, of course, I’d changed my mind: “No, wait!”

But it was too late. I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I had no appetite. I was pining away, getting skinny and sickly looking with all the playing and replaying in my head of much more acceptable breakup scenes, scenes that were kinder and more indulgent to my bruised and bewildered ego — oh, the things I could’ve triumphantly said, should’ve cavalierly done! — when it suddenly came to me: for goodness sakes, hadn’t I just spent a decade in Paris?  If I were in Paris, what would I do?

Of course. Silly me. I’d take a lover. 

Yes, if I were in Paris, everyone would know that was what I needed — they’d just know, even strangers would know, the cashier at the supermarché, the baker’s wife, don’t ask me how, but they would. The bartender where I had my espresso every morning on my way to work might wink at me as he passed me my buttered demi-baguette, maybe subtly jerk his head in the direction of some gentleman reading a Libération or Le Monde at a table, by way of a friendly suggestion…

The line-up of well-intentioned potentials would have heard I was available before my tears had dried. Some would even have felt it was their duty, if not to go out with me, then simply to make up for their fellow man’s failings by being nice to me, just to keep me from becoming dispirited. I’d often done the same for them.

But I was in New York now, in a world that suddenly really did feel like a “world made of steel … made of stone.” The “Flashdance” reference can be pardoned if you realize I left New York for Europe in the 1980s. It hadn’t seemed so unforgiving back when I’d left, but upon my return 10 years later, I’d been promptly “daunted” by New York men: the first guy I’d blithely tried to “take as a lover” had complained that I seemed to “just want to lie back and get laid.” I’d been, like, “Duh!”

It was irksome that he didn’t think that was funny, or even wryly chipper of me. Did men have no sense of humor here? Or was humor simply valueless in my (apparently) new role as a disposable female? What, they couldn’t afford to eke out a polite laugh when I made a joke in an awkward moment? They were that stingy? I’d left that guy’s Chinatown loft feeling like I’d failed a test I didn’t know I was taking. It gave me that weird, middle school feeling that I was being sent to the dean’s office or something.

Within the space of a few more such incidents (including one knight in shining armor who sped off in a cab after midnight without even waiting to make sure I was in the door of my building, which was located in a really bad neighborhood I’d since moved from, and which was known by muggers as "the ATM") it dawned on me that — guess what? A new kind of man had developed in New York while I was away. He was the kind of man who just wants to lie back and get laid, himself. I could have related to that, if it weren’t that this new man weren’t also quite so demanding, expecting me to deploy my entire sexual repertoire on him, as well.

What was I? The Singing Bush?

I considered myself pretty progressive, sexually. A few years back, I started skipping preliminaries and going straight for sex on first dates. Why waste time, I reasoned. Life is short. If I didn’t like sex with a guy, what would be the point in a long courtship? I was doing us both a favor.

Case in point, the middle-aged guy, with the long hair and shirt extravagantly unbuttoned, Bernard Henri-Levi style, who’d roared like the MGM lion, again and again, while climaxing, back in Paris. The final roar was a long one, accompanied by a protracted shaking of his long hair mane. It would’ve been a shame, wouldn’t it, if, after many earnest and costly dates, he’d pulled that during our first sexual tryst? Because as far as dealbreakers go, the roaring was unequivocal. Mainly because it was evident I was not allowed to burst into uncontrollable laughter at it. Do whatever crazy thing you want as long as I’m allowed to express my amusement, I always say.

Aside from my easy laughter, which is not the insecure kind of man’s cup of tea — but then, I’ve always avoided insecure men —  I really didn’t think men had anything to complain about, sexually, with me. And yet, I seemed to be leaving something to be desired. There had been complaints. “Sacré bleu!,” I pictured myself writing on a postcard to my Parisian friends, “over here the men even expect blow-jobs on the first date!

I realize that by now, meaning the year 2012 in which I’m writing these fond words, giving a blow-job to a fellow you don’t know very well may seem perfectly reasonable, and even preferable to the full Monty sometimes. But I came of age before Gen X made porn customary, and the blow job and Brazilian practically mandatory. Not by much, but by enough to be bewildered, at first, by the spectacle of a penis I don’t know very well constantly looming into the air space around the bottom of my face at the beginning of a sexual encounter.

Waving it out of the way as if it were a mosquito would fail to quash the owner’s insistence. The first time this happened to me I tried to fast forward past this awkward entr’acte by asking in a sultry voice, “Why don’t you put your condom on?” To which the reply was “We don’t need one yet.” To which my reply was a curt, “Well, if we don’t need one soon, we’re not going to need one at all.”

That first time, it was in Paris, and I’d thought it was a one-off. The under-30 “dude” was a Californian, a sort-of-famous chef in town for an apprenticeship with a really-famous French chef, and I’d concluded that an irrepressible, profession-related habit of putting things he imagined were delicious in people’s mouths simply extended to his penis.

It was rather endearing when I looked at it that way, but I still didn’t want to sleep with him after all that relentless one-eyed bandit in my face business. I suddenly felt exhausted and told him to go home. As I recall, he had the nerve to refuse to leave until he realized, with my help, that he was just kidding.

Further such experiences back home in New York showed me that by the year 2000, most available men under 30 were like this. Having always, during my twenties, dated men in their late thirties (because no one relishes a twenty-something female like a late-thirty-something male), I’d been unaware of this development. Now that I was the late thirty-something, I was a little too old for the older men I’d once dated (ironic, because I’d actually been a little too young for them when we first dated), and the current thirty-somethings were — surprise, surprise! — pretty much only interested in twenty-somethings. Now, in one of life’s little ironies (or favors, depending how you look at it), I’d been picked up as a blip on the “Mrs. Robinson” or “cougar” radar by younger men.

Well, I was only temporarily daunted. When you’ve had it good for so long, meaning, when you’re used to having more power in sexual matters, it’s not so easy to go back to the crappy old days. Or in this case: the crappy new days. I found myself reminiscing over how, 20 years previous, men had seemed much less selfish. Then it crossed my mind that maybe it was me who was more selfish now, not just the men: for example, I found that I failed to see why I should worry overmuch about sexually pleasing a man I was seeing just for sex. I mean, I didn’t mind if I pleased him, but why would I make that my main objective?

I was spoiled, is what I was. The older men of yore had been grateful for the tasty little morsel that I’d been, and they hadn’t offered much in return, mainly taking their pleasure from the pride of fucking an adoring young woman — and an adoring young woman who was all about learning as much about sex as she could from an experienced, self-assured older man, at that.

The problem was obvious: I’d picked up a bad attitude from these older men. Now, I, too, wanted to have uncommitted sex with an adoring and giving person without giving very much back in return (unless by fortuitous accidents that cost me nothing). It seemed an ideal way to run one’s sex life, between true loves. I had that “I’ll have what he’s having” sentiment, if you see what I mean. Only thing was that this meant that young men and I had conflicting interests in bed. But I justified my position this way: if there’s going to be a lazy sexual douchebag in the equation, why shouldn’t it, why couldn’t it, be me? All I needed was a change of tactics.

Putting to use for good instead of evil the researching skills I’d picked up at university (Structural Analysis in Literature is evil, as you may learn one day), I emailed a friend of a friend who, it was rumored, had either given or taken “female-empowering” masturbation lessons. I’d never bothered to ask, because anyway: given, taken — does it make any difference, really? I’d found a fuzzy old instructional video at her house once when I’d spent the night on her sofa in Hoboken after a party, searched and failed to find her among the participants.

Anyway, whatever. I had a hunch she wasn’t shy about sex, and that’s what counted. Also, she’d let me read, saying she couldn’t bring herself to, a number of unconsciously sickening, nearly amusing “perfect crime” screenplays her father had written and sent her over the years from prison (where he was doing life for killing her mother), and this had created a certain strange, random bond between us. She was a very cool lady — smart, beautiful, strong, older — and she seemed to have good taste in men. She might have just the man for me in her little black book, and be willing to share.

So, I asked her if she knew, by any chance, of a sexually cheerful, enthusiastic, well-mannered (and thus, probably older) man who’d like to take me out for a steak dinner and sex (though not necessarily in that order) every now and then, who would refrain from all the possessive rigmarole of dating in earnest, while not trying to place upon me the dreaded mantle of the “fuck buddy.”

“One thing, though,” I specified, “He has to come with references.” One lesson I’d learned from all those years abroad before I had a network of friends that included wise women like her yet was that men who had no connections to my circle of friends tended to think they could treat me shabbily with social impunity. (And they were right.)

This is how she responded: “I’ve always said, if you can’t get over someone, just get under someone else! Let me look around. I’ll get back to you.” Which she did, by the end of the week. “I’ve got the perfect guy,” she wrote, “I used to sleep with him myself, and he’s the nicest guy ever, a great lover, has a cock as big as a coke can. He’s in an open marriage, he’s a billionaire, and he’ll call you on Monday at six.”

And so, I was set up with my first New York billionaire. I hoped her appraisal of him as a genital mutant was an exaggeration; I’m just not that greedy. We spoke on the phone that Monday, and he asked me how I’d “like to do this.”

“Oh, you know, the regular way,” I joked.

“No, I mean, do you want to meet for dinner first, or …?” trailing off.

“Do you have any other ideas?” I ventured, taking my cue.

“Well, I do have this fantasy, but maybe it’s dumb.”

“Why not let me be the judge of that,” I said, which was a bit of a test, because for some reason a coy, “I’ll be the judge of that,” has always gone over well with men I’ve found fun in bed, or anywhere, for that matter.

“Okay, it goes like this,” he said (passing the test), “I book a hotel room in advance, and you arrive before me, put on whatever finery or lingerie it is you like to wear, and then wait for me. No lights on. Just the light from outside coming into the room through the window. I arrive, we have sex, and then we go to dinner.”

“Okay, I’ll tell you something that might sound dumb to you,” I said. “I’ve often found myself fancying a man, wanting only to go to bed with him, and getting myself asked out on a date. We go to dinner, but by the end of dinner, I’m exhausted from all the polite chit-chat and job interview style of the whole thing, and just want to go home and forget the whole thing. So …  I like your idea.”

“You are the coolest person I’ve ever met! I mean, will meet,” he said, sounding genuinely in awe.

Heck, even I was quite proud of myself.

He made the arrangements, booking a room at the Millennium Hotel in Times Square. I was broke and had no special “finery” to wear, so I went iconic: I dug up my least faded black panties and bra, wore them under my fitted black trench coat (a relic from flusher times), with a pair of expensive black stretch suede knee-high boots (also from flusher times). Although I didn’t have the full Brazilian, I’d waxed and trimmed to what I deemed a charming but not excessive degree. All this together, I figured, should be enough to get any healthy man’s engines fired up.

I fussed a bit over my makeup in the hotel bathroom, pocketed the complimentary shower cap, mini-shampoo, conditioner, hand cream. Then I checked the bed for evidence of bedbugs (you never know!), hid a condom under the pillow, checked my silhouette in the mirror a few more times, then sat down on the coverlet to wait.

After a few minutes I realized I was sitting in the pose of Edvard Munch’s “Puberty” painting and thought better of it. (Not sexy, except maybe to a child-molester.) I went for something a little more nonchalant, gazing casually out the window with the lights off (as per his request), the afternoon light reflecting off the building opposite the window, backlighting me.

He arrived, we performed our respective quick reads of each other to make sure nothing was seriously amiss, decided nothing was, and then … we did it. And we did it with a condom, just so you know I’m no fool. (If I recall correctly, he may also have kept his socks on.) As for his size, let’s just say he had nothing to complain about, but he wasn’t a mutant, thank goodness.

Afterwards, as we lay there, we murmured our greetings, “Hello, there!” “Nice meeting you!” Pleasant. We chatted and laughed together in the dark for a little while. Then he proposed we go have dinner at a place around the corner where he’d made reservations, and while we got dressed he did something that warmed my cockles: he pulled some stapled-together papers from his briefcase and handed them to me: “This is a photocopy of an article written about me in the Times. I thought you might like some references.”

At dinner, after letting me glance over his article and watching me grin at this or that amusing anecdote within, he asked me about myself. I told him about my time abroad, and — only when asked “what a great girl” like me was doing without a boyfriend — told him about my latest romantic disappointment. He pronounced me “an angel,” and reiterated his opinion that I was the coolest woman he’d ever met, which, along with the delicious red wine and steak dinner after sex on my agreed terms, I don’t mind saying made for a very agreeable way to spend an evening.

I turned the conversation toward him, and he told me he’d had his 50th birthday recently, and that his wife had arranged for all his exes to gather together with them for a dinner party. Not only that, but she’d arranged for each of his exes to “celebrate” his role in their lives with a little toast, one by one, going around the table. After dinner, he said, each of them had retired to the bedroom with him, some for sexual pleasures, and some for just talking and cuddling. (He was, he chuckled, no longer a young man, after all.)

(Who was this guy? Right? I don’t mean “who,” as in what was his name: I mean who was this guy! How’d he swing this life of his? And more importantly, how could I manage to get the same or similar deal for my 50th birthday dinner?)

I was thoroughly impressed. Almost impressed enough to not keep thinking that, amazing as this guy was, I wished he were a little more like my ex. But sex with a new man is sometimes a must for wiping the whiteboard of disappointed love clean. My heartache was definitely feeling a little dulled, the voices of self-recrimination slightly muted, both good signs. And there was a tarte tatin on the dessert menu, good news indeed.

As we nibbled our desserts, he continued to draw me out with questions. What kind of music did I like? Who were my favorite artists? All my answers were good, and everything was swell till he nonchalantly asked me one more little question that put the words “sex” and “pain,” and “tying down” and “whips” together.

Sighing within, and trying not to look crestfallen, because I could see where this was going now, I told him that over the years I’d pretty much tried everything, and come to the conclusion that I’m pretty content with a few conventional positions and a cheerful lover, and that I definitely preferred sex without pain. Just in case I hadn’t made myself clear enough (because in these matters there’s no value in beating around the bush, so to speak), I even evoked the sexual shorthand term, “vanilla sex.”

My billionaire didn’t bat an eye. Right there you could see he hadn’t become rich and powerful for nothing. Wow, I thought, this man could be Secretary of State. It’s not easy to face a woman who has just effectively told you that your most intimate predilections aren’t to her tastes, and vice versa, and still enjoy the rest of the evening as if nobody’s vulnerabilities had been exposed and shied away from. That took aplomb and (need I even say it?) compassion. I remembered an ex who had been partial to proclaiming that he was “a powerful and important man,” and chuckled to myself. My billionaire was the real thing.

He continued showering me with attention and earnest compliments through the rest of our evening, but I knew I’d never see him again. Deflated as I was by this development, I found myself counting my blessings as he paid the bill: imagine if he’d brought a whip and handcuffs to our encounter and surprised me instead? Imagine if he’d brought the subject up before my magnificent dessert, spoiling the enjoyment of my first perfect tarte tatin since leaving Paris? (I can taste it now, it was so delicious.) No, this guy was a gent, and I found myself gazing at him during one brief hazy moment of near-regret, wondering why I wasn’t more fond of getting whipped.

And then it was time to go home.

He insisted on walking me to a cab. “Honestly, the subway is right here,” I protested, pointing to the station entrance literally across the street from the restaurant, which we were passing, “It takes me straight to Astor Place, it’s practically door to door!” But pulling the “old-fashioned” card, he didn’t relent until he’d put me in a cab, whereupon he tried to hand me a twenty-dollar bill, which was too much, in more ways than one.

“This is too much!” I said, “To my house it won’t cost more than five dollars.” But he wouldn’t take the twenty back, claiming he had nothing smaller, and having arrived by subway with my trusty unlimited-use Metrocard, I had no cash to give him the difference. I realized that even a half a minute of arguing over it would perilously loosen the pretty bow we were both trying to tie the evening up with. So I did the expedient thing and pretended I’d give him the change “next time,” knowing full well neither of us were in the market for another date.  Fine. I’ll figure out what to do about my dignity while the meter runs, I thought.

Before the cab door even closed, visions of Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s began passing before my eyes, of how she basically lived on nothing but fifties handed to her by cynical rich men, ostensibly for tipping powder room attendants or paying for taxis, but really for placing bets on how quickly the erosion of her moral integrity would take place. It may have only been a twenty, but it was enough to make me feel all queasy and slimy inside. There was no way I could keep this money.

I peered at the taxi driver’s grumpy face in the rear view mirror and tried to picture myself saying, “Keep the change!” to him. Would I do it grandiloquently, with a flourish? Why not? How often does a girl on my income get the chance to play the Big Spender and leave a huge tip? Or would I mumble it as I grasped the door handle, rushing out, perhaps leaving my phone or wallet on the seat, which I’d never recover since I’d rushed out without a receipt? Disaster!

Whatever I decided, I must do it without losing my wits.

Okay, so if I do tell him to keep the change, what then? What if he’s a recovering alcoholic or gambler, finally on the wagon, and the twenty pushes him off the wagon, sends him straight to the liquor store or the OTB? I could ruin this guy’s life with my selfish need to feel sociologically cleansed. On the other hand, he might be a hardworking father of six, with a mother who needs a hip operation. How could I know?

Having been weaned on episodes of the original Star Trek, I grew up applying the Resolution of Non-Interference (signed by the United Federation of Planets) to my life as if it were gospel. Giving this guy an unexpected bonus could mess with his fate, couldn’t it? I might be dangerous! Should I just tell him to take me somewhere in Brooklyn, and take the subway home? That would probably use up the $20. But that was ridiculous, and it was late, and I was tired and sleepy and wanted to go home.

While I was frantically comparing these scenarios and weighing their butterfly effects, we’d pulled up to my stoop on Eighth Street.

The fare was $5.60.

I handed him the twenty. “Please,” I said, dying to get out of the cab, “keep the change.”  He took it, and as I quickly scooted over the backseat to reach for the door handle, I saw his eyes open wide in the rear-view mirror.

“No ... No, miss! Miss!” he said in a panicky voice, “This is a …”

“I know, I know,” I interrupted, my face hot as our eyes met for the first time during the whole ride home, “I know it’s a twenty. My date gave it to me for the cab ride home, but I just can’t keep it. I’m … I’m strictly non-profit!” 

And his face in the rear view mirror burst like a kaleidoscope into a childlike smile, maybe the first smile he’d cracked all night. It took thirty years off him, I swear.

“Thank you, miss! God bless you! You nice lady.”

And then I lived happily ever after, on and off, off and on, like most regular people do.


Previously: Apropos of Nada.

Carolita Johnson's cartoons appear in The New Yorker and at Oscarinaland.

113 Comments / Post A Comment


I think the obvious thing would have been to take a 20-something for a lover, unfortunately they REALLY like just sitting back and getting laid/blow jobs so that doesn't really work either. ALTHOUGH they may be more inclined to impress an older woman.


this was HILARIOUS!!!@m

Judith Slutler


Dirty Hands

@Emmanuelle Cunt I saw her name and thought "OH MY GOSH YESSS!" Now time to read the thing!


One of my favorite lovers was man where we laughed almost continuously in bed...he was a lovely contrast to the one frat boy I was considering bedding when I laughed about something (NOT HIM!) and he coldly told me that laughter had no place in the bedroom. What a sad, insecure life he must lead.

hahahaha, ja.

That last sentence was beautiful.


"...his face in the rear view mirror burst like a kaleidoscope into a childlike smile" is my favorite, I think. Though it was hard to narrow it down.


My god, you're fabulous, and I admire you.
Also, Thomas Keller maybe?


I love you carolita.

Veronica Mars is smarter than me

@redheaded&crazie Srsly! I'm only like 1/3 through but I had to come down and say how much I am loving this so far!


@redheaded&crazie CAROLITAAAAA!!!!


@plonk oops there was already someone expressing that sentiment in the same form above. but i think it's a pretty widespread sentiment in response to this piece?


@plonk yes CAROLITAAAA!!!!


@redheaded&crazie I'm just going to say "I love you" back to everyone above and below, in this comment, okay? Your comments are all so encouraging and heartwarming. You guys are great. Every time I write something, I wonder if it'll be taken "wrong" or fall flat, and you all keep me going. xox


I love this: “Well, if we don’t need one soon, we’re not going to need one at all.”


You draw a handsome rooster, CJ.


Seriously what is the DEAL with partners who cannot understand laughter during sex? I giggle out of sheer happiness while being cuddled and kissed! And more than once some guy has reared up and been like "Why are you laughing?" with that weirded out insecure look and I would know right then he probably wasn't gonna work out.


@martinipie speaking of Holly Golightly, I think there's a part in Breakfast at Tiffany's where she says she likes a guy who laughs in bed, don't trust men who can't laugh a little in bed, etc.


@martinipie My boyfriend hates shaving, so he only does it every couple of days. So sometimes when he kisses my face/neck/shoulders, it tickles so bad, and I giggle. Sometimes he does it on purpose to tickle me, and sometimes he's initiating sexytimes. He doesn't seem hurt when I'm laughing, he just says, "I'm trying to kiss you!" And gives me this, "It's not time to laugh, it's time to have sex" look. Then he goes back to accidentally tickling me, and I try, unsuccessfully, to suppress my giggles. I think maybe he just doesn't think I'm in the mood for sex if I'm giggling?


@Felicia best scene in dirty dancing: when they're practicing the dance move where he strokes her armpit all sexily and she can't stop cracking up.

Veronica Mars is smarter than me

@Felicia I'm all for the laughter, but I can tell you there is a point at which the giggling overtakes the sexing. I actually was unable to continue sexytimes once because I laughed so hard for so long. And then I was like "boyfriend I hate you" because he had finished but I hadn't and he was the one making me laugh!


@martinipie before i was dating my boyfriend, we were friends for a long time, and i would always complain to him about i ALWAYS laugh at dumb situations, and ALWAYS managed to offend every new boy i hooked up with because of it. it got to the point where i didn't mind their anger anymore because i knew i'd be repeating the scene and cracking up about it later.

i was about to go into detail about times since we've been dating when being able to laugh at each other in bed has totally saved what would be terrible situations otherwise, but then i realized there are too many and too embarassing instances to recount.


@martinipie if he can't laugh during sex, it makes the "suction sounds from sweaty chest cavities" moments particularly awkward.


My boyfriend giggles like a MANIC during sex, or at least during foreplay, which I think is probably a good thing, except that it's usually so goofy. Like, here I am in a sexy costume vamping around the room and "hehehe teehehehe! heh!" Also sometimes he giggles himself into ticklishness and I can no longer touch his junk and we have to let him cool off or he'll just giggle to death. Oddly, he's usually a pretty cranky dude when fully clothed.

Edited to note that this is re: the general discussion about sexual partners and laughing. I'm not, like, talking about my weird dude just because.

Porn Peddler

@AmandathePanda your boyfriend sounds so fucking charming, omg.


Every time you think Carolita couldn't possibly get any cooler, she's reached the theoretical limits of coolness, zero degrees Kelvin cool, another one of these pops up.


@Probs RIGHT. Carolita Johnson, you're great.


carolita teach me how to live

sudden but inevitable betrayal

This was wonderful.

Also, I died right here: The under-30 “dude” was a Californian, a sort-of-famous chef in town for an apprenticeship with a really-famous French chef, and I’d concluded that an irrepressible, profession-related habit of putting things he imagined were delicious in people’s mouths simply extended to his penis.


@sudden but inevitable betrayal It was "genital mutant" that did me in.


ahhhh! the beginning of this was bumming me out bc I am a newly single lady in (outer borough) NYC and it sounds awful. but you are an inspiration. teach me your ways! I'm assuming step 1 is to move to France? learn how to "take a lover"?


this was wonderful in all the ways that others have mentioned thus far (& then some), but can we also talk about the illustration? I have as dirty a mind as anyone, but the specificity of the Coca-Cola can threw me off the metaphorical equivalency being depicted, so I was like "wonder what that's about?" until that moment in the story, which then ended up feeling like a cinematic reveal. (I feel like I've had a similar experience with other Carolita stories/drawings, now that I'm thinking about it, because she is the BEST.)

the angry little raincloud

This truly the best thing ever published on the Hairpin. And the Hairpin has published many, many a fine thing. Absolute perfection. Thank you!

Stacy Worst

@the angry little raincloud Agree (because Negroni Season was The Awl).


@Sister Administrator --I have been enjoying Negronis all season, and I have been thanking these sister websites for reminding me of the Reason for the Season.

Porn Peddler

Burning everything. Will never be as good of a writer as Carolita. UGH HOW DID YOU ALWAYS HAVE THE PERFECT THING TO SAY RIGHT ON THE TIP OF YOUR TONGUE.

Nancy Sin

"As I recall, he had the nerve to refuse to leave until he realized, with my help, that he was just kidding."


Lush Life

Vive La Carolita!


Carolita, you have just brought to my attention my biggest problem with being happily monogamously married: now I will never be able to use the phrase "take a lover."


@SarahP I'm not one to wish I'd met my dude later in life, but I had that same thought. I had flings back in the day, but nothing so deliberate as taking a lover.


@SarahP Totally! I'm sitting here wondering if I'll have the finesse to do this taking-a-lover business if I'm one day an 80 year old widow.

The Frozen Head of Dorothy Zbornak


Channel your inner Sophia Petrillo, and you just might pull it off.


@The Frozen Head of Dorothy Zbornak True, and Sophia DID go out with Julio Iglesias!

runner in the garden

@SarahP A lifetime of TV & movies has taught me that you can always get your monogamous partner to put on a silly mustache and accent and play your exotic foreign lover...


"Do whatever crazy thing you want as long as I’m allowed to express my amusement, I always say" is just one of this article's dozens of moments of perfection.

Stacy Worst

Carolita, you are my favourite! This made my day.

Oh, squiggles

A Carolita piece is guaranteed greatness. I can't even with the whole thing, and the being so good, and those "whaa?" moments.

I'm very sleep deprived and not good with words right now, but ME LIKE THIS.


Carolita, this was wonderful. I also had a period of taking lovers, but I think my mistake was that I was not doing it to heal broken hearts, but instead to try and teach myself about men. The problem is, you only learn about the type of man prone to becoming a lover. A niche market, to say the least. And you know what? I also had the same issue about the cab money. There is a very fine line between "Make sure this lady gets home safe, sir" and "payment for services rendered." I was never comfortable with that.

Michelle LeBlanc@twitter

This is really great (but Flashdance is definitely set in Pittsburgh) maybe you were just trying to evoke a feeling though in which case sorry to nitpick.


OH GOD! THE MONEY WAS SUPPOSEDLY FOR THE ATTENDANTS! I couldn't understand why old timey men thought women deserved cash to pee and check their makeup. I am so stupid.

Miss Maszkerádi

@JessicaLovejoy I always assumed that the men were taking her into the powder room (it was a single-occupany one I suppose), having their way with her, and paying her for it.


@CountessMaritza This was also my understanding...


I can't not gush. I love love love love Carolita. This may be my new favorite of hers.

Bibo Designs@twitter

Every time I read a long form piece on the Hairpin without looking at the author first, get about 1/4 of the way through and think, "I absolutely LOVE this piece and whoever it's author is," and scroll up to see the author, I ALWAYS see the name "Carolita Johnson."


This is exactly what I needed. Thank you.


I always give the full post-date $20 to the cab driver. Just feels like the right thing to do. Good for you!


Ok so apparently my brain thought "unicorn" was the term that meant "person who you have amazing sex with at the perfect place/time" because this encounter kind of sounds like that. But I looked it up and it's not.


Can you please introduce me to your billionaire? He and I would be a perfect fit. Please. Inquire within.


WONDERFUL as always <3


I just want to say that I do not care for Carolita Johnson's writing. I find her authorial voice to be narcissistic and smug. HP commenters seem to react to her posts, which are all basically extended humblebrags, with awe. Everyone becomes an exaggerated version of Shoshana to Carolita's Jessa. "You are sooo cool and fascinating! I could never be as desirable and witty as you are. I adore you! Oh how I long to live vicariously through you!" Meanwhile, I'm just sitting here, rolling my eyes, thinking, "Are you fing kidding me with this even?" I was to say to the other commenters, "You don't need to live vicariously through this show-off! You are just as cool as she is!" I do not think that my reaction is jealousy, or girl-on-girl hate. I think that feminism involves being critical of other women.

I am truly happy that The Hairpin is a positive site where the commenters are not all total jerks constantly negging everything that's posted, but I do think that a little healthy critique is fine sometimes. I suppose I could just not read the posts by this author, and that is what I usually do, but I just felt move to say something. So there. I said it. Hiding behind a sockpuppet.

...Which leds me to make my main point: I wish it were a little bit more okay on The Hairpin for everything to not be a big lovefest all the time.


@eudora --I'm going to leave the tone of your comment alone, but I'd like to point out that this is a writer writing about her life, and if you think that she's lying about her experiences and the feelings that came up for her during them, then okay, fair enough. But the point for me here is that you can read Carolita's writings and admire her spirit, her resilience, and her inventiveness in creating such an interesting life for herself without being a slavering fangirl. I am not sure why you would perceive that to be what's going on. I think that people who post things about being jealous or living through Carolita or whatever are maybe kind of young and effusive; yeah, I'm not so crazy about people needing to debase themselves in the face of greatness or whatever. I'm older, and sometimes the flippancy and enthusiasm of some commenters gets to me, too. I'm (relatively) old and bitter, frankly. But I don't think it's very charitable to judge people so harshly--either the commenters or the author, who you say is a show-off. Some people are far more self-assured than others, yeah, and it can be hard to hear someone else's healthy ego (hard-won as it seems), but I think this is honesty and storytelling, not self-aggrandizement. Carolita Johnson has, literally, done things that I can only dream of, and I take my hat off to her. (As I did upthread.)


@Lu2 --I want to add, maybe I didn't say all that exactly the way I meant it; something about it doesn't seem right. But I'd also like to add that it might be better to remember that the author is a person who is probably reading the comments, and how it would feel to read this about yourself. I don't want to say we must be positive at all costs, but I'm generally unhappy at other sites where fights break out more frequently and everyone starts policing each other. I like the live-and-let-live vibe that usually obtains here.


@eudora What about, "Carolita, you are so cool and fascinating, I am inspired to someday be as desirable and witty as you?"

That's how I'm feeling.

Wouldn't it be weird to turn the comment section into a critique, even in a well-reasoned discussion? I'm not really qualified to critique writing anyway. I'll take the part of the writing that makes me stronger, ignore the rest. If I'm gonna read it, might as well enjoy it. That's my critical philosophy.

I dunno. All writing touches plenty of topics. Why discuss the quality of the piece we already read when we could discuss the aspects of real life it explores? (Preferably with liberal amounts of personal oversharing.)

I, for example, have a date with an older woman tonight.


@beerd please come back to the thread and share details. thq.



I dunno, that was hard enough for me to announce on the internet to begin with. Was debating including it when I literally accidentally pushed "reply." Hence the misspelling I just fixed.


@beerd ok, then don't (no sarcasm, only internet hugs). all the best tonight, i hope it goes well.





Thank you to Lu2 and Beerd. Your comments made me think of things I hadn't considered.

I do think I could be a bit more charitable to the author and the commenters. Age is an issue. I am old(er?) than many here but definitely not bitter. I suppose I just don't think we craft amazing lives so much as we craft an ability to find our lives amazing. This is a talent Carolita seems to have in excess. I assumed that her fans were content to admire Carolita, letting her be the interesting one, ultimately outsourcing amazingness to her and disempowering themselves. I see now that this is not necessarily the case, and even if it is, it's not so bad.

Nevertheless, in the same way that I wish Esther W (whose work I enjoy) would for once drop the self-deprecation and be a little bit nicer to herself, I'd be very interested in a Carolita story that isn't, like I said, largely a humblebrag. Each could take the same empirical reality and spin it in dramatically different ways, Esther to demonstrate how humoursly susceptible to humiliation she is, Carolita to demonstrate how idiosyncratically glamorous she is. Or maybe they can collaborate on something. A day in the life of Esther as told by Carolita-- or vice-versa-- could be very interesting and relevatory for everyone involved, readers included.

I think the point about thinking of authors as people who read (and write) comments is a good one. Funny how harsh commenters can be on anonymous LWs. I actually think of authors--unlike LWs-- as cultural producers. What they produce is fair game for critique. They have also made themselves public figures. In the same way that the Internet has democratized cultural production, it has also democratized criticism. I don't need michiko kakutani to tell me that Carolita's tone is smug. I can say so myself right here, reaching her exact audience. It's hard to know what to do with this. There are whole blogs now that just make fun of other blogs, and I find that sad. I don't want to be that person. Perhaps it worthwhile for me to examine the pleasures of just being a spectator and not worry about what someone's writing to "doing" to someone elsefans deciding I need to "do" something about it. Sigh.

like a rabid squirrel

@eudora I personally like Carolita's writing, but as someone who researches the collaborative/deliberative potential of online communities I do agree with you on your point about authors being cultural producers/open to critique.


@eudora I did not perceive this piece to be smug or humble-braggy. If you could point out the specific ways in which her writing style imparts smugness, this would be a more productive critique.

I sense that you perceive bragging in her writing because she is talking about aspects of her life (living abroad, sexual adventures) that might inspire jealousy in those not as privileged, and she is talking about them without feeling the need to be apologetic and self-deprecating.

Unfortunately, sometimes just speaking honestly about one's life can be perceived of as bragging if you don't include the requisite apologies.

However, (and I'm sure this will be perceived as a humble-brag) I have lived abroad enough and had enough sexual escapades in my life that I don't perceive the mere mention of these experiences as braggy. They are experiences which happen to be integral to this narrative, and thus are not added on in a gratuitous fashion just to point out how awesome her life is, which is what you seem to have perceived.

I am not impressed by Carolita's piece because of the adventures it describes. I am impressed by it because it is an entertaining, witty, well-written piece. I am impressed by her because she is a talented writer.


@zeytin --Seconded. This is the framework that was in my mind when I made my initial response. I haven't been able to have these kinds of escapades (because of personal limitations), but I have read enough of them, and have enough emotional experience myself, to recognize, without envy, what is going on here and what it takes to have them--and, not incidentally, to write about them as well as Carolita does. And that is what I admire.


@eudora In the general spirit of literary discussion and well-considered comments, I wanted to speak up in support of you and say that I certainly see your point. I enjoy Carolita's writing, but I don't find anything in her stories that is THAT remarkable on its face, as many commenters seem to, and as such, the lovefest does often feel excessive to me. It is not in the slightest bit surprising to me that someone who modeled in Paris (even as an "ugly" model, come on, really?) and then chose a career in art met some interesting people along the way. Carolita seems like a cool person who had some strange things happen to her over the course of her life, and who also went out of her way to make some strange things happen for her, which is admirable but definitely quite normal and something anyone reading here is capable of doing. So don't worry, you're not alone. I will say from personal experience, though, that it's hard to talk about ANYTHING you did in Paris without sounding like you're bragging, though. I did eminently normal things the entire time I was there and I could hear myself sounding like an asshole when I got back to New York and there was pretty much nothing to be done about it. But fucking an old billionaire can certainly be a less than glamorous experience, as I know all too well, and that's where a lot of Carolita's style comes in. I don't think I'd like her if I met her in person, but I can accept and enjoy her writing for what it is, which I think is the best you can do with a narrator to whom one is not that sympathetic.

la berry

@zeytin "I sense that you perceive bragging in her writing because she is talking about aspects of her life (living abroad, sexual adventures) that might inspire jealousy in those not as privileged, and she is talking about them without feeling the need to be apologetic and self-deprecating.

Unfortunately, sometimes just speaking honestly about one's life can be perceived of as bragging if you don't include the requisite apologies."

^this. 100%. Franklly I was a bit surprised by the overwhelming positive response but it for me was a pleasant surprise. As a wannabe writer and an avid reader I love Carolita's style. I appreciate how she is able to paint a picture while at the same time being incredibly succint. Not a single word is wasted, so often I find myself scanning through an authors narrative trying to get to the heart of what they are attempting to say but this is never the case with her. So in this regard she is an inspiration to me. I also have great respect for how open and honest she is about her experiences.

Eudora mentioned that she thinks feminism involves critique however I see Carolita as living her life without need for apology or justification and isn't that in itself feminist?


@la berry "I see Carolita as living her life without need for apology or justification and isn't that in itself feminist?"

Exactly this. I enjoy when people write about their lives in a self-deprecating manner but it is very refreshing to read someone who doesn't. I remember reading some comment of Carolita's about how she stopped dressing up for first dates and began just showing up exactly as she normally looked. I really admired that. In a society where women contort themselves into pretzels trying to be everything to everybody, I really enjoy reading about someone who doesn't engage in that bullshit.


Carolita, thank you. I just love the way you write, and am (to some extent, to somewhat more modest results) living this right now, so it's extra pertinent. I have had some condom-based adventures in the past couple weeks that this piece reminded me of, which make me think that, in my years of coupledness in between now and my prior singledom, men have simply stopped being willing to wear them? To which I say, ugh.


@candybeans dude. men (with limited exception) always seem surprised when I insist. wtf?


@candybeans To which I say, bravo to you! You tell 'em: no hanky, no panky! There is no man in the world worth risking what you risk without a condom. Don't back down. There's plenty of fish in the sea.


@carolita carolita, such sage advice. And can apply to so many juicebox-y behaviours.

Sea Ermine

@candybeans Do you bring your own or ask if they have them? I've found that making it clear there is no sex without a condom makes them agree to one fairly quickly, and so I'm just wondering if maybe presenting by pulling out a selection of condoms from your purse and saying "Which one do you want" would subtly make it clear that while he has a choice of which condom, whether or not he wears a condom is not a choice (if he wants to have sex with you). If they still protest there's always "no glove no love" and a pointed glance towards the door.


@Sea Ermine yeah, those are good suggestions. These two incidents caught me off-guard, and I handled everything wrong. But traveling with hankies would certainly be a good start.



I rarely discuss condom use with dudefriends, but forsaking one, especially early on, seems really weird. I do know a guy whose policy is a quick discussion before sex, along the lines of: "when were you tested, here's when I was, birth control? Okay wanna foresake?" But he seems to recognize unprotected sex as a risky activity, and as aberrant. Come to think of it, the dudes I live with all use condoms even with long-term girlfriends.

So, consider yourself normal when you insist.


@candybeans Hey, I learned to be ready during a period when I thought I was allergic to latex, so I'd have my trusty polyurethane ones ready. And then one day I did actually get a genital mutant, and was kind of annoyed that he hadn't brought his own Magnums (which I didn't know existed at that point, actually). A comical scene ensued as he tried to put the regular sized condom on. It was a disaster. But, after that, even though I always had condoms, I always thought the true test of character with guys was if they brought their own. And if they said they hadn't, or pretended they hadn't, I lost respect for them. It would be up to me to say, "oh, I have one," or, "well, that's a shame," and get rid of them. I've actually heard the "A condom? Oh, I guess I have one around here somewhere," with that tone of voice that says I'm supposed to say, "Oh, that's okay, forget it." Huh! No, the condom is your friend. I still remember my mother asking my little brothers someday when they had sex, what would they do? And they'd answer, "Wear a 'raincoat'!" They were still kids, but you know, I guess it's never too early.


@beerd I consider it weird if a dude just wants to have sex without a condom, unless you've been together a while and are monogamous and there's another form of birth control being used. I'm not a huge fan of shaming, but I think I'd give the guy a big side-eye, remind him that's really risky, and re-assess whether I even want to sleep with him.

While living abroad, I had a brief relationship with a guy who didn't like wearing condoms and would try to just have sex with me without wearing one, and I would ask him to stop and get one. I was so nervous about it. I told him he HAD to wear one with me. He still tried to sneak it past me in various ways (like doggy-style.) What the fuck was his fucking problem?! He always pulled out at the last minute, but WOW. And then when I called him out on it at the end of things, he gave me a sob story about being infertile because he tried to have a baby with his ex (red flag) and she never conceived. Speechless... and yes, I wish I'd broken things off more quickly and stood up to him more, but we learn a lot of harsh lessons at 23 when we're alone and vulnerable.

And shockingly, he didn't respect my wishes in bed in other ways, and I remain traumatized to this day. I'm not sure where I'm going with this, except to say that condoms are important and beware the man who doesn't agree.

Sea Ermine

With each article I read by Carolita I am more and more impressed by the way she has managed to craft a fascinating life for herself (and writes so well about it). I've often thought while reading her articles for the hairpin that much of what she describes is really not a life I'd want for myself or a life that would make me happy, but I'm still amazed at the number of interesting people and experiences she has had (even if they aren't for me) and hope to one day be able to have the same success at living my life to the fullest.


@Sea Ermine yeah, believe me, I went through moments when I thought I was just a great big loser, with nothing but a long string of emotional and professional failures behind me. But I began noticing that when people would say these kinds of things about themselves, I'd be like, well, look, this is what happened to me, and actually, it was kind of funny when you think about it, no? It was just to cheer people up, make them laugh at my crazy life. When I believed in God, I used to say he was constantly playing pranks on me, what a joker he was, looking back on stuff that happened to me. And at some point in my life, I began to actually feel that way DURING the things that were happening, which I think was a gift. Suddenly stuff that would have made me cringe or run away, stuff I'd be embarrassed to take part in, much less talk about later, became adventures worth living, or at least pursuing to see what the outcome might be, as long as it wasn't completely reckless, or detrimental to anyone. So, people who I might have closed my mind to when I was wet behind the ears and afraid of anything "not normal" began to step out of the shadows of my own ignorance, it seemed, and shine (like the lady with the dad who killed her mom -- she actually had a New Yorker cartoon on her fridge with a couple about to knock on a door, and the husband saying, "If conversation lags, just bring up that time your father killed your mother," or something like that). Details that would've been lost to me in my own youthful self-involvement and fear of getting cheated out of what I'd come for, would come out and surprise me. So, I kind of hope that when people read my stories, it's a little contagious, and I write them as if I'm writing for a friend, or niece, or dare I day, daughter. Hey, if someone refrains from doing anything I've done because they thought better of it after reading about my adventures, even that is something good! :) I've always said, learn from other people's mistakes, commit your own, more original ones! :) We all have the same feelings and experiences, though mine have been more outlandish in their circumstances. When you feel good about my experiences, I think you sort of automatically have to feel better about your own. I hope so, anyway!


Carolita! I loved this so much, the tone and humor were on point. And I found it a source of inspiration as I embark on my own journey of attempting to take a lover after moving back to the US - I have to remember to have fun with it, non?


carolita!!! marvelous. i lived in paris for nine months yet never managed to "take a lover." woe, woe, woe.
but managed a six day interlude in rome, with one of those older italians thrilled by the attentions of a twenty-something. the best.


@auxamandes I actually begin to fear that the golden age has passed even in France. Young men are losing that gallantry. But do not give up. I think most of the making of a good lover is in your own attitude with the fellow. I had a friend who slept her way through many Frenchmen in her quest for a mate, for example. She was really borderline too much, sometimes, and I used to get exhausted watching her life live that. I mean, I seriously couldn't do it, too much work. But she was going to find her man, and search she did. One night she took a guy home and got him into bed, and he exclaimed, "Wow, you American women sure give yourselves easily!" And she said right back at him, "Who's giving themselves here? You or me?" And this was the guy who fell in love with her, and they got married. Imagine if she'd just been insulted and turned him out? Sometimes life is like that Larson cartoon, with the poodle taking over the plane when the pilot dies: "Suddenly, amidst all the confusion, FiFi seized the controls and saved the day!" Sometimes you have to guide that plane to a good landing, because no one else will. xo


@carolita wise words, thank you for the response! haha, i have a similar friend who once just started touching my male friend's biceps. there was one perfect French boy i regret not chasing after...i sat across from him in that little park across from Shakespeare and Co. and fastidiously read my Voyage au bout de la nuit by Colette for class in order to prevent myself from gazing and gaping. and then he came over! and said that was his favorite book, and then the requisite "pity he was a nazi sympathizer!" and we chatted for 10-15 minutes, and i said i was leaving paris in two weeks (despite my best efforts to find a summer job, any job!) and he apologized for disturbing me and i stammered and he left.


"Who is giving themselves here? You or me?"
Excuse me while I swoon at this Feminist Wisdom.


@carolita All Far Sides about poodles are excellent.

loose lipped controller

Having the title "The Billionaire" and being cross-posted to The Billfold meant for the first half of this article, I kept waiting for the Financial Lesson. Oops.


Arrrrr thank you again Carolita! A fine read, as usual. As an ex-animator I want to say that I also love your linework - lovely!


@BS Ah, thank you! :)


I LOVE your comment to the taxi driver!

And though it is 2012 and I am in Melbourne I am also finding it hard to meet a 'sexually cheerful, enthusiastic, well-mannered man who’d like to take me out for a steak dinner and sex'.

runner in the garden

Angles I was sure would have become long comment threads by now:
A. Lion-headed man roars at the moment of climax! Other funny anecdotes about things people exclaim?
B. Difficulty of getting laid in different towns? I have an ex who doesn't have much luck connecting with guys in most places but every time she goes back to [major city where she grew up] they're lining up around the block.
C. References. Discuss.
C2. Setting your friend up with somebody you used to bone?
D. Boning billionaires: does it make you complicit in the capitalist exploitation of the lower classes?
E. Our old friend "sorry I'm not kinky enough for you"


I very much enjoyed reading this!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Carolita Johnson is the best writer on this site.

Nancy Sin

I just came back, one day post-read, to snicker at the illustration! Boing.


I like this piece a lot, but I can't help but feel sad for the wife of this billionaire. Does she also get to benefit so extravagantly from their open relationship? I guess we just have to assume that she is happy and secure


This is good, write a book please. What's the point of living in France for a decade and taking lovers if you don't write a memoir? Will be refreshing Amazon until it I see it. It will probably have a great cover, right? You'd draw it? You'd do that for us wouldn't you?


@Misselthwaite Yes, yes, and yes. Doing my best to live up to this. :)


This is great , but the first parts really resonated with me. As a late-30s woman who used to date older men in my twenties I often complain about the power shift in this stage in my life. No longer the 20 something morsel but certainly nowhere near cougar, I am annoyed when a man only a few years younger drops the c-word. and the early expectations for blowjobs! Good god. Where's a girl got to move to to find men in our peer group who realize the prizes we all are? No, Seriously, where?


She's undoubtedly a wonderful writer, but a niggle:

If he has paid dinner and the hotel room, what difference does $20 make? He's spent MUCH more than that already.


@Hammitt Ha, true! But I wasn't actually taking any money till then. I mean, the hotel scene was all about him getting his fantasy realized. I acquiesced. He ought to pay for it. Jeez, like I was gonna pay for a hotel room? I wouldn't even go halfsies on something as swanky as that with someone. I was looking for a lover, not a sugar daddy, and certainly not an extra financial burden. Special requests ought to be taken care of by the requester. I'd have happily had him come to my house and dine in my kitchen.

Cat named Virtute

Carolita! Finally got a chance to read this, days later, and it is lovely and evocative and thought-provoking as always.


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