Elizabeth Gilbert—the best-selling writer, matron saint of divorced women, modern symbol of follow-your-bliss wisdom, believer in magic, and Oprah-approved contemporary guru—has decided to go back in time. In her new book, City of Girls, we find ourselves in the year 1940 with a 19-year-old troublemaker named Vivian Morris. Her parents send her to live with her aunt in an NYC theater, where she gets into way more (ahem: sexier) trouble, as you see in the excerpt here. Ultimately, Gilbert wants us to question all the judgment society tosses at women like Vivian—and to question the nagging voice inside every girl telling her to be good. Get your hands on a copy June 4.
I fell in love with Anthony Roccella, and I’m not going to dillydally around, pretending that I didn’t. And he fell in love with me too—in his own way and for a little while at least. Best of all, I managed to fall in love with him within the space of just a few hours, which is a model of efficiency. (The young can do that kind of thing, as you must know, without difficulty. In fact, passionate love, executed in short bursts, is the natural condition of the young. The only surprising thing was that it hadn’t happened to me sooner.)
The secret to falling in love so fast, of course, is not to know the person at all. You just need to identify one exciting feature about them, and then you hurl your heart at that one feature, with full force, trusting that this will be enough of a foundation for lasting devotion. And for me, the exciting thing about Anthony was his arrogance. I wasn’t the only one who noticed it, of course—that cockiness was how he got cast in our play, after all—but I was the one who fell in love with it.
Now, I’d been around plenty of arrogant young men since arriving in town a few months earlier (it was New York City; we breed them here), but Anthony’s arrogance had a special twist to it: he genuinely didn’t seem to care. All the cocky boys I’d met thus far liked to play at nonchalance, but they still had an air about them of wanting something, even if it was only sex. But Anthony had no apparent hunger or longing about him. He was fine with whatever transpired. He could win, he could lose, it didn’t shake him up. If he didn’t get what he wanted out of a situation, he would just stroll away with his hands in his pockets, unfazed, and try again somewhere else. Whatever life offered, he could take it or leave it.
He could even take it or leave it when it came to me—so, as you can imagine, I had no choice but to become completely smitten with him.
Anthony lived in a fourth-floor walk-up on West Forty-Ninth Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. He lived with his older brother, Lorenzo, who was the head chef at the Latin Quarter restaurant where Anthony worked waiting tables when he didn’t have an acting job. His mom and pop used to live in that apartment too, he told me, but they were both dead now—a fact that Anthony relayed to me with no evident sense of loss or sorrow. (Parents: another thing he could take or leave.)
Anthony was Hell’s Kitchen born and raised. He was pure Forty-Ninth Street, right to the core. Grew up playing stickball on that very street, and learned how to sing just a few blocks away at the Church of the Holy Cross. I came to know that street awfully well in the next few months. I certainly came to know that apartment awfully well, and I remember it with warm fondness because it was in his brother Lorenzo’s bed that I experienced my first climax. (Anthony didn’t have a bed of his own—he slept on the couch in the living room—but we helped ourselves to his brother’s room when Lorenzo was at work. Thankfully, Lorenzo worked long hours, giving me ample time to receive pleasure from young Anthony.)
I’ve mentioned before that a woman needs time and patience and an attentive lover in order to get good at sex. Falling for Anthony Roccella finally gave me access to all three of those necessary features. Anthony and I found our way to Lorenzo’s bed on the first night of our acquaintance. After the auditions were over, he’d come upstairs to sign a contract and to get a copy of the script from Billy. The adults all conducted their business, and then Anthony left. But only a few minutes after he’d walked out, Peg instructed me to run after him and speak to the young man about costumes. I snapped right to duty, yes ma’am. I’d never flown down the Lily’s stairwell faster.
I caught up with Anthony on the sidewalk, grabbed him by the arm, and breathlessly introduced myself.
In truth, there wasn’t much I needed to discuss with him. The suit he had worn to his audition would be perfect for his costume. Yes, it was a bit modern for our play, but with the right suspenders and a wide, garish tie, it would do the trick. It looked just cheap enough, and just cute enough, to suit Lucky Bobby. And while it might not have been the most politic thing for me to say, I told Anthony that his existing suit would be perfect for the role, precisely because it was so cheap and so cute.
“You callin’ me cheap and cute?” he asked, his eyes crinkling in amusement.
He had highly pleasant eyes—dark brown and lively. He looked like he spent most of his life amused. Examining him this closely, I could see he was older than he’d looked onstage—less of a rangy kid and more of a lean young man. He was more like 29 than 19. It’s just that
his skinniness and his carefree step made him seem a lot younger.
“I might be,” I said. “But there’s nothing wrong with cheap and cute.”
“You on the other hand—you look expensive,” he said, and gave me a slow appraisal.
“But cute?” I asked.
We stared at each other for a while. There was a good deal of information conveyed across the silence—a whole conversation, you might say. This is what flirtation is in its purest form—a conversation held without words. Flirtation is a series of silent questions that one person asks another person with their eyes.And the answer to those questions is always the same word:
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