Summer Lovin'?

Cole Porter and I disagree about love. He's always too darn hot. Me? I'm like a lizard: the weather heats me up. Take last weekend. I sat on a beach, salt-flecked from skinny- dipping, and praying for one of those ice-beer, the-world-is-a-very-cool-place low fronts to come through. My love was in Argentina; I was on Martha's Vineyard. Not a good setup for a girl whose lust follows the thermometer. To chill off, I tried watching my watch (11:12 a.m. to 11:17 a.m.), watching my watch and worrying the fringe of my towel (11:18 a.m. to 11:24 a.m.), and watching my watch and recalling the fantasy guidelines from the Topics in Human Sexuality class I took in college. Was it unqualified? ("All fantasizing is okay.") Or was it a pseudo-endorsement? ("Most fantasizing is normal.") I spent 46 minutes on that. These semantics, of course, were just a comfy distraction. But given the circumstances -- or, to be precise, the temperature -- a no-strings license to dream seemed crucial. My thoughts were not steamy, like, say, brown rice. They were uncomfortably hot, a la Chernobyl. So, to avoid sinking into a deep, deep guilt, I scrapped the analysis and latched on to a new rationalization. Writers need to experience the world. Okay, okay. This oft-quoted line is a tad precious, not to mention annoying, pompous, and smug. But, technically, it was true. I had this assignment: to write about summer. I had planned to spend the weekend sweating it out at my computer. And the story would have gone very tamely -- no temptations -- had Michelle, my roommate, not woken me up with an ice cube on my neck. "Shane?" I'd mumbled. "No honey, Michelle," she'd said. "Forget about that boy for just a few days, will you? We're going to the Vineyard." Then she tossed me a cotton dress. I shaved my legs. We went. For the ferry ride, we practiced twirling straws in drinks (roll tube between fingers) and tying knots in maraschino-cherry stems with our tongues (secure one end with the teeth). Then, at the dock, we went our separate ways. Michelle, in her new Wonderbra push-up suit, took to South Beach. I, understated in my three-year-old two-piece, bushwhacked to a deserted beach. But lying out there alone, listening to that embarrassingly New Age swoosh of surf, I thought this getaway seemed like equal parts gift and dare. The wind felt as personal as bikini wax. Shane was so far away. He'd been gone one month, and for each of my 31 single-girl days I'd felt shockingly sensitized, craving touch. Granted, I never sleep easily alone. Especially in the summer. Especially on vacation. But after just one hour and 23 minutes on that island, everything -- coconut oil, dead fish, beach bathroom, sand in my butt -- was conspiring against fidelity. Summer is not a little bit sultry. It's so blatantly seductive, so over- the-top, that it's goofy. Kids sneaking into shady woods, swimming topless, licking cones, stealing fruit, squishing cherry tomatoes in their mouths. And grown-ups eating loose-limbed at midnight, drinking on roofs, tossing one another into sprinklers. C'mon. You have to giggle. Summer doesn't melt in place. It overflows. The air is wet! The fresh-cut grass, always enticing, now smells -- and this is no secret to lawn crews -- exactly like sex. The ceiling fans tingle like Noxema. At home, though, it's hands-off. Tomorrow matters. I mean, how many exes do you want to see at the Star? We develop safe habits -- say, not going home with kick boxers -- to get us through. But out of town, policies change. You slide on your really, really dark sunglasses and -- poof -- there are no consequences, no hang-ups, no co-workers, no chores, no neighbors who say annoying things like, "Is that your boyfriend? Isn't your boyfriend shorter?" You can adopt a Thelma & Louise mentality. Slam the car door. Eat with your fingers. Go out without underwear. Wink at cute guys in retail situations. Afternoon. I quit caring if fantasizing is okay or normal or freaky or what. The next rationalization: if you're going to act like a lizard, you might as well tap into your lizard brain. Instead of sitting around, replaying my folded-armed, pouty, lovelorn girlfriend routine again, I opted for one of the oldest pastimes: voyeurism. I walked toward Moshup Beach. Halfway there, it was perfectly clear that it wasn't just me. The whole island must have thought old Cole was out of his tree. Eighty-four, humid, and sunny. Human sexuality was busting out like Drew Barrymore's tongue on the cover of Rolling Stone. Near the water, a yuppie couple was analyzing their latest baby-making attempt. Back by the dunes, two fresh-faced lovers were testing the kissing techniques outlined in Seventeen. In a draw between two dunes, a sleepy-eyed pair -- he with Elvis hair, she in a flowered choker -- was caressing the insides of each others' elbows as though that spot held the biggest secret on earth. Their backpacks were spilling with Pop Rocks and Sly Stone tapes and matching if it's tourist season, why can't we shoot them? hats. Their faces looked giddy from wee-hour take-out, vending-machine potions, and too-expensive hotel rooms with really high beds. I almost tiptoed over and nuzzled into the sand beside them, having carried that backpack and looked that way before. But instead, sensing an imminent roll down to the surf for a From Here to Eternity kiss, I cleared some scratchy, black wrack out of the way and moved on. Further down the shore, I peeped on a prematurely middle-aged couple flattened out with all the trimmings -- paddleball, portable backgammon, and suntan lotion in 4, 6, 12, and 25 SPF. They looked dead serious about this vacation thing, like it could actually save them from some chronic rut. At one point, I saw her press her ring finger into his bicep and say, "Ooooo, you look pink." All I could think was, "Ooooo, wrong thing to say." Once, I'd convinced a soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend to go hiking through the Grand Canyon for a week. On day two, I said, "Ooooo, sweetie, you look pink." Sweetie then sang Guns N' Roses -- "I used to love her, but I had to kill her" -- for the rest of the trip. Up by the lifeguard's chair, I scoped a guy tanning commando (no towel) next to a girl with a Dalmatian. They were sneaking looks at each other -- the guy and the girl, that is (from a voyeur's standpoint, this is textbook foreplay). It all seemed so tingly and tense and new that -- I can't believe I'm admitting this -- I found myself devising a plan to lure the dog, find some cute pecs, plant a kiss on the pec-owner's zincy lips, and lie down beside him -- commando, of course -- for a tension-filled foreplayesque tan. But just as I was trolling for scraps of roast beef, a gray-haired couple came over, holding hands in the surf. They looked so improbably romantic, like The Bridges of Madison County, everyone's dream of the future. So, remembering my future -- which, depressingly enough, featured a certain boy still in Argentina -- I passed on the zinc and the pecs and took an icy swim instead. Nightfall. I left the salt in my hair. I liked that Blue Lagoon feel. I didn't feel very hungry -- the heat does things to appetite -- but, like my friend Alison, the Allure hair columnist, always says, "You've got to put something more interesting in your mouth than salad." Following her advice (she's done wonders for my split ends), I went down to the wharf and bought a dozen oysters from a muscly fisherman. I watched him cut them open with a rough, stocky knife. And, when he finished, I took my catch, along with a lemon, down to the edge of the pier. One slurp and weeeee. Pecs, who needs pecs? Those twitchy gym built squirrels? What are you, crazy? My dozen rich little slithery bodies oozed such sexiness I had to tip back on the slats and laugh. Fidelity, I was thinking, no problem. I sucked juice out of the shells. I tasted lemon on my fingers. Everything was great -- just me and my mollusks. No more fights over stubble in the sink. Then -- wouldn't you know it? -- Michelle came skipping down the pier. She was leading a very tall, very French man by the hand, and all the way down to the water she kept looking from him to me to him to me, like it actually mattered what the hell the French guy and I thought of each other. At the pier's end, Michelle grabbed an oyster and whispered, "This is Luc." Then Luc treated me to one of those Euro, two-cheek kisses. . . . And, just like that, they were off -- Michelle pulling on Luc's hand, Luc fumbling for a cigarette, and Michelle giggling away. Well. That pretty much blew my date with the bivalves. For one thing, I couldn't get back into the moment, having eaten them all. And for another, sex -- involving two humans -- suddenly seemed like such a natural thing to do. I weighed my prospects: 1) find the muscly oysterman, 2) call up the gravelly-voiced boy in Cambridge who makes me mix tapes, or 3) go for the dirty weekend and snag a random guy. Hmmm. I soon realized that options one and two were seriously flawed. (The oysterman was so smelly! The tape boy lacked proximity!) So I threw my shells into the ocean, primped my sticky hair, and skipped off to town. At the AC Bar, I picked out an olive-skinned bartender with beautiful lips and ordered from him one delicious Knob Creek bourbon, please. Just like Michelle taught me, I put a 10-dollar bill on the counter and held onto it with two fingers for a coy 1.5 seconds before I let the cute man pull it away. Then, once he delivered my drink, I rolled with my straw, licked my lips, and made my eyes wide. All the things girls do. But before my last ice cube melted, the bartender was on his break and some cretin was tossing off lines such as, "Hey babe, come here often?" from the stool on my right. Needless to say, tres gross. Gross, gross, gross. So, in an attempt to salvage my evening, if not my self-respect, I tossed my ice cube at the cretin, tracked down the bartender, said something very intelligent ("Hey, you're a bartender, aren't you?"), and promptly ran away. Late at night, back in the hotel. Michelle was off with her Frenchman. I was tossing on the sheets. This was the perfect Harlequin setup for jealousy. She had her man; I had nothing, not even my shells. But I didn't feel like a cat fight. I felt like a victory lap. Like I'd spent the evening with my ex without having a fight or having sex. Like I'd made it out of Betsey Johnson with my credit still in tact. It's a question of temptation. I'd expected to spend the weekend in front of my computer, unloading all the lovely cliched summer hooha I'd stashed in my brain. Instead, I wound up entangled in summer's sultry ways. But lying beneath the ceiling fan alone, I felt giddy with triumph. I'd faced summer head on and won. Or that's what I thought as I drifted off to sleep, failing to consider that it's only June and that Shane's gone until September and that lizards, being cold-blooded creatures, easily overheat in the August sun.

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