[Love & Sex Issue]
Stranger in a red scarf
Wed, Feb 6, 2013 (10:55 p.m.)
Illustration: Ryan Olbrysh
For a moment, my British dreamboat was right beneath my feet.
My friend Laurel and I had set up a bird’s nest in the bay window of her ancient Glaswegian flat. This semicircle of heaven surveilled the pedestrian-heavy road from the lofty heights of the third floor. It was where we spent our Scottish afternoons: drinking, thinking, smoking, looking.
Each pasty, pale and crumpled face that walked that road had a home in our hearts and a place on the list of regular passersby, vulnerable to florid analysis or cutting critique. We made up elaborate stories about each, and they all had a name: The Anarchist, The Clock-twirler, The Skip.
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And then came the new guy. Who’s that guy? “Hey, who’s that guy? Yeah, him.” He’s new. “Have you seen him before?” Brand new. “He’s new.” He was new on the scene. He wore a long red scarf. I was riveted.
Is an Anglophile born or made? Does she arrive fully formed in the womb, or is she slow-cooked in a savory sauce of John Peel and Monty Python? My friend, I do not know. I will say only that Mr. Scarf embodied my perfect ’80s Oxford Blues fantasy, a heady mixture of Ferris Bueller, Harry Potter, Doctor Who and The Jam.
Over the next two weeks, Mr. Scarf was everywhere. His dark curly mop top haunted me at the library and the grocery store. Ahead of me on the road, red scarf trailing in the wind.
These endless coincidences were torture, but kismet intervened. There he stood in the noxious soft light of my favorite smoky bar, patiently greeting the unexpected arrival of his future love. Our eyes met. He walked up to me and the brief exchange was long enough to catch a name: Freddy Fulton the Third. He was upper class, Oxford-bred. Of course. Shall we meet up for drinks another time? “Of course.”
What ensued was two weeks of cat and mouse, the roles interchangeable but never banal. He would phone ... but I was out: Certainly his affection would only increase in the face of my unattainability. I would phone ... but he couldn’t talk long, always needing “a bit of kip.” I confused the British slang “kip” with “kippers”—a kind of fish. Put off by what I first perceived as an obscene appetite, I quickly equivocated this appetite for food with a voracious appetite for love. Then I discovered that “kip” meant “sleep”. Ha-ha! He was sleeping and dreaming of our future together, I imagined, or at least a nice roll in the hay.
Finally we connected, date secured. Sitting in front of a roaring fire, we talked for hours over whiskey. He spun tales of his exotic Chilean mother and raising horses in South America, and I waxed poetic about my exotic childhood in the Midwest and high school in a convent. We had absolutely nothing in common, but we mutually satisfied a cultural curiosity, mine with England and his with ... Missouri? It was The Best Date Ever, and we both knew exactly how it would end.
“Let’s swing ’round my flat.” Why, yes. A beautiful spare space, quite unlike my mustard-colored apartment full of ’70s fabrics and rising damp. Mr. Scarf put on Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” Things were Happening.
Then it got awkward. Kisses like kippers. Marvin Gaye was on repeat. I’m not sure if that was his only album or a favorite aphrodisiac, a Hitsville Cialis. Maybe his American Girl Fantasy had a Marvin Gaye soundtrack, while my British Guy Fantasy had a New Order soundtrack. Disappointing and transparent, the bubble had burst.
Don’t get me wrong—we totally did it. But what do you do when your British fantasy is a bust? You lay back, my friend, you lay back and think of England.
The next morning I watched the sun slide across the floor to a symphony of birds announcing the first day of spring. I slipped away, pensive and a little bit sad. The disappointment of a wish fulfilled amid the promise of the first day of spring. Mr. Scarf and I never spoke again, each with an item crossed off the old bucket list. Our days of coincidental encounters faded as quickly as they had begun.