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The Ballad of Davy and Nicole
October 8, 2012 10:42 PM   Subscribe

Davy Rothbart, perhaps best known for the Found magazine and series of books, got a random drunken phone call in a motel room from a breathy woman wanting phone sex. He somewhat cheekily "obliged," and continued to take her calls, less cheekily. It turned out to be quite a journey, and a destination. What Are You Wearing?

Originally published in GQ, August 2006. via
posted by mreleganza (49 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
That was a good read.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:46 PM on October 8, 2012


Can't decide if it is sad or not,but I enjoyed reading it.
posted by Isadorady at 10:53 PM on October 8, 2012


I wonder.

What kept "Nicole" doing this? Pretending to be a woman via the anonymity of the phone? For years, I pretended to be a woman in the even more minimal medium of text, until I decided that I would be a lot happier being one in real life, too.

It's a complicated thing, gender. And the detachment of the message from the body lets us experiment with it.
posted by egypturnash at 11:08 PM on October 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


At least the guy wasn't phoning around suicide hotlines. I've had the latter happen to me. Quite a lot, actually, because it's a regular problem. Calling around looking for cheap phone sex is pretty common: it allows more control over the scenario and costs less than a sex line. People do it to scam the phone sex equivalent of a 'girlfriend experience.'

So the fact that 'Nicole' was lying ... No big shock. It's a scammy thing to do in its whole foundation. Not that women never do it - it happens, but it's much less common - but the whole set-up is about hustling something you couldn't get for the asking. Not surprised at the wackier scenarios either; control is a big part of the game.
posted by Kit W at 11:43 PM on October 8, 2012


Not to spoil things (you were warned, okay?) but his description of meeting "Nicole" in the restaurant was pretty goddamned funny, starting with the 89-year-old women and progressing (hopefully) to the curvy Latino woman, and then ending up (sadly) with who he actually met.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:06 AM on October 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


I thought it was interesting that the author suspected all along that the caller could be male, but he was able to suspend that reality enough for the sake of the fantasy.
posted by availablelight at 12:10 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


(continued spoiler) - this was the part that got an actual laugh-out-loud from me:

He had dated—by phone—cops, businessmen, students, even a butcher and a baker (truly, but no candlestick maker). "I always want to be able to reach someone when I'm in the mood," he said. "So I like to have two or three things going at any one time."

"You mean all that time you were cheating on me?" I said in mock horror. "Whispering to other guys?"


Yeah, all-round great read. I didn't find it sad so much as ... melancholy is the best I can think of, but even that's not right.
posted by mannequito at 12:10 AM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wasn't this a plot point in a Murakami novel? The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle? I didn't read to the end, does it have a similar reveal?
posted by subdee at 12:11 AM on October 9, 2012


I used to LOVE Found Magazine- is it still around?

I really liked this piece. Davy Rothbart sounds like an unusually kind man and I love how he humanizes "Nicole".
posted by bearette at 12:38 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good stuff.
posted by XMLicious at 12:40 AM on October 9, 2012


This time I went Shakespeare: "Oh baby, wherefore art thy labia?"

Hnnnnnngh WHEREFORE MEANS "WHY", DAMN IT.

Did you think you meant country matters?
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 12:43 AM on October 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


so it actually makes more sense, in this case.
posted by mannequito at 1:11 AM on October 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


Very enjoyable article. As bearette says, the way Davy Rothbart humanises Nicole is refreshing. There's nothing about them remaining friends, though, and that seems kind of sad, since it sounds like they had some conversations that were meaningful to both of them in between the phone sex.

I guess Davy's trust in Nicole was ruined, but still.
posted by Georgina at 1:27 AM on October 9, 2012


Possibly I'm bitter because I've heard so many phone sex pests, but I'm a little sceptical of the conclusion. Yes, trying to humanise 'Nicole' is fair enough, but Rothbart only met him the one time, which isn't much to go on - and the one thing he definitely knew about the guy was that he was an accomplished liar - or if we want to be charitable, a committed fantasist - who made a habit out of pretending to be somebody he wasn't. Based on that, exactly how sure should Rothbart be that 'Aaron' was the complete picture either? It makes for a neater story, of course, but for precisely that reason I think a grain of salt is in order.
posted by Kit W at 1:45 AM on October 9, 2012


This entire "phone sex pest" phenomenon is entirely and abstract thing to me.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:14 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


The writer seems defensive of his own sexuality. Consider the depiction of himself as watching and playing sports.
posted by humanfont at 2:54 AM on October 9, 2012


Wasn't this a plot point in a Murakami novel? The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle? I didn't read to the end, does it have a similar reveal?

[NON-SPOILER ALERT]
Almost nothing is revealed by the ending. It was incredibly frustrating.
posted by solotoro at 2:58 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


He was obviously attracted to the person "Nicole" was, I mean, except for gender and a few white lies, he still seemed to see "Nicole" in this guy.

So.. why not "try a guy"? He was able to lie to himself when he knew it was probably a guy and do it anyway.
posted by Malice at 3:19 AM on October 9, 2012


I used to LOVE Found Magazine- is it still around?
Magazine #8 was announced the other day, nearly 3 years after the release of #7.
posted by knile at 3:29 AM on October 9, 2012


I have a few questions:

How long was his brother out wandering the service drive on a "cold wet November night" at 3 am while he engaged in that first encounter that took long enough that the basketball game was "long over"?

He mentioned that Nicole always called him, blocking her number "Private Caller", he even set a ring tone. Later he said that her number was out of service, and eventually he called Nicole from the side of I-94.

If, because Nicole blocked it, he didn't have the number, how did he call Nicole? Or, if Nicole DID give him the number, why would she call as "private caller"?

And, when she called during the rest of the trip did he just say to his brother, "you have to leave now"...or, did his brother just sit through these conversations and pretend he was watching TV or something?

This is a well written, sweet, and somewhat melancholy story, but my cynical self has a few nagging doubts about it.
posted by HuronBob at 3:46 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm ostensibly straight but I think I have just enough bi-curious that I might have went ahead and slept with him.
posted by double block and bleed at 4:12 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


So.. why not "try a guy"? He was able to lie to himself when he knew it was probably a guy and do it anyway.

Er - because he didn't want to? Which is a complete and sufficient reason not to have sex with someone?


This entire "phone sex pest" phenomenon is entirely and abstract thing to me.

Well, volunteer on a counselling line and you'll get plenty of it, especially if you have the voice of a young woman. 'Nicole/Aaron' was better than all the guys I encountered because he was at least doing it with people who could hang up on him any time they felt like it. If you're counselling people, what you get is men and women (but mostly men) who make up stories about how they need 'support' for what are, in fact, sexual fantasies.

Some are cleverer about it than others: if the story is obviously ridiculous or you can hear porn in the background you can spot it pretty fast, but others have a lot of practice walking the line between 'doubtful' and 'believable', and they can scam five, ten, fifteen minutes of fantasy time out of you before you're sure enough that this is a wanker trying it on rather than a person you're committed to helping.

But because you're committed to supporting any honest caller and some people do call with sexual problems, you have to give them the benefit of the doubt until you're reasonably sure. The result is that, especially with inexperienced volunteers, they get a long enough session, often enough, that it's worth their while to keep doing it. So they do, regularly, sometimes for years.

All of which makes me think that if this story is accurate, 'Nicole/Aaron' was actually far from unusual. He was less scummy than the ones I encountered because he wasn't seeking out a captive audience or tying up a crisis line, but tricking or manipulating strangers into phone sex is far from unusual. It's like 'Aaron' says: you just have to persist until you find a person with a voice you like who doesn't hang up on you; all it takes is patience and shamelessness. (Though not courage; many of the guys I got were huge cowards who'd hang up the moment they suspected they were rumbled.)

All of which makes me suspicious of:

1. The accuracy of 'Aaron's' reported sexual history. Guy was a fantasist and a serial sex caller; he could well have been describing more or more exotic encounters than he'd actually had because it excited him to do so, and/or because he thought it'd help him seduce Rothbart. (Note the planting of the idea that other supposedly straight men had succumbed to curiosity.)

2. The accuracy of anything 'Aaron' said about his personal and family life. He contradicted himself in the meeting, and there's no reason to believe that the second thing he said was the truthful one: he could have just been lying twice. (Note the deflective answer Aaron gave about his mother: no coming-out story, no rejection story: relationship was fine, nothing to see here, let's move on to what I really want to talk about.) Was his mother even dead? Rothbart only had 'Aaron's' word for that, and 'Aaron' had good reason to lie: how better to defuse the anger of a man he'd manipulated than by bidding for his pity?

3. Rothbart's read of the entire meeting. Leave aside 'Aaron's' self-presentation, and look at what he actually did. He had a long phone-sex relationship under false pretences. He kept that pretence alive while setting up the meeting with Rothbart, only revealing the truth when he absolutely had to and when Rothbart, having made the effort to meet him, would hopefully be too invested to just turn on his heel. He made sure to mention during that meeting that he was bereaved (to be pitied, not feared), that he wasn't heartless really (he couldn't find anyone who wanted a 'serious' relationship and that was why he did this - yeah, right), that he wasn't affiliated with the 'gay community' (so a man shagging him didn't have to join the club), and that he'd had casual sex with self-identified straight men who were just curious.

And then, after setting this all up, he propositioned Rothbart. From a safe distance, so Rothbart couldn't yell or hit him, maximising his own comfort just as he had on the phone.

To me, the whole meeting reads like an attempted seduction: most of what he told Rothbart fed in some way into the message, 'You can have sex with no serious consequences to your life or identity.'

The guys who'd try to manipulate me into phone sex were often like that. Sometimes I could get them to admit that yes, they were making this story up and they just called because they wanted a wank. So I'd do what I was supposed to and try to talk to them about why they did it (usual answer: either 'Because I'm lonely' or 'Because the sex lines are rubbish, aren't they?' - note the 'aren't they?', trying to get me discussing sex lines) and what the rest of their lives were like. And they'd talk about it for a bit, and then, inevitably, they'd turn the conversation back to sex, and often enough ask me straight-out if they couldn't just have a wank now we were talking anyway.

Phone sex pests, in my experience, are persistent and single-minded. You don't get any success with it unless you persist. 'Yes, you've caught me in a lie but now I'm telling you the truth' is an old con trick, and from what I've found, if some guy calls you because he wants to get off, then that's what he wants from you, and that - whatever else he'll talk about - is what he's trying to get.

Maybe 'Aaro'n told Rothbart the truth; I don't know. But if he wanted to make a point of his insight, Rothbart missed a trick very seriously when he didn't consider the possibility that this wasn't an honest interview, but one of 'Aaron's' routine seduction attempts that ended with 'Aaron' (if that was his name, and it probably wasn't) shrugging to himself and thinking, 'Well, struck out there. Who else can I call tonight?'
posted by Kit W at 4:47 AM on October 9, 2012 [15 favorites]


For a long time, I was very close to someone who went to high school and college with Rothbart, and if what she told me is accurate (which is, I freely admit, not necessarily the case), it might be unwise to trust a single word of anything he says as being true.
posted by kyrademon at 5:16 AM on October 9, 2012


So this is an unreliable account of a deception about a fantasy?
posted by Segundus at 5:23 AM on October 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


At least now I partially understand all that spam - apparently either insane or blithely insulting - which offers to help me meet real women.
posted by Segundus at 5:26 AM on October 9, 2012


So this is an unreliable account of a deception about a fantasy?

Everybody's getting what they need behind some make-believe!

(yes I can connect The Wire to anything)
posted by palidor at 5:27 AM on October 9, 2012


How long was his brother out wandering the service drive on a "cold wet November night" at 3 am while he engaged in that first encounter that took long enough that the basketball game was "long over"?

He mentioned that Nicole always called him, blocking her number "Private Caller", he even set a ring tone. Later he said that her number was out of service, and eventually he called Nicole from the side of I-94.

If, because Nicole blocked it, he didn't have the number, how did he call Nicole? Or, if Nicole DID give him the number, why would she call as "private caller"?

And, when she called during the rest of the trip did he just say to his brother, "you have to leave now"...or, did his brother just sit through these conversations and pretend he was watching TV or something?


I didn't assume his brother was staying in the same room as him, just the same hotel. And I think some phones can be set to always display as Private Caller, even when the number is saved in the receiver's phone.
posted by Peevish at 5:46 AM on October 9, 2012


So this is an unreliable account of a deception about a fantasy?

on the internet, where nobody knows if you are a dog (in a canine way).
posted by HuronBob at 6:08 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


>>For a long time, I was very close to someone who went to high school and college with Rothbart, and if what she told me is accurate (which is, I freely admit, not necessarily the case), it might be unwise to trust a single word of anything he says as being true.

Unless you unleash some juicy details to us, folks'll be saying the same about kyrademon.
posted by item at 6:45 AM on October 9, 2012


Wow, what a surprising voyage of discovery. The ending was a plot twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan!

(said nobody ever.)
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:45 AM on October 9, 2012


Link to the movie.
posted by Beardman at 6:59 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I got through about half the article somehow confusing Found with Post Secret and wanting to slug the guy before I figured out my mistake.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:06 AM on October 9, 2012


For a long time, I was very close to someone who went to high school and college with Rothbart, and if what she told me is accurate (which is, I freely admit, not necessarily the case), it might be unwise to trust a single word of anything he says as being true.

Although Davy would never say that Veracity is his middle name, he really is someone who has a real skill at finding himself in strange situations. Just a quick datapoint: a friend of mine was sure that his Naked in New York essay was a complete fabrication. Now, it might have been, I don't know, I didn't see him naked on the park bench. BUT, I have seen him naked outside my apartment at 7am in Brooklyn after he took the wrong door out of my basement and accidentally locked himself out and was forced to buzz for a few minutes just to wake me up. So, a story about him finding himself naked on a park bench really isn't far fetched. Like, at all! W/r/t this story, it might seem wholly unbelievable until you realize that Davy is actually the kind of person who'd just go along with something out of sheer curiosity.

For our FOUND show in Brooklyn last month, he read "What Are You Wearing" (which is collected in his new book of essays My Heart Is an Idiot) for only the 2nd time in public I think. You could probably do quite a bit of literary nitpicking on the piece and his writing style on whole, but I've rarely seen a NYC audience respond to an essay like that. He's a real-deal storyteller, and I think his social curiosity / ability to find himself in strange situations is what makes him so fantastic at it. He really has lived a ton of "Did I ever tell you about the time [crazy thing]?" situations, and these stories sound 10X as interesting when he's telling them live, since so many of them have that informal, at-the-bar-telling-stories feel to them. Heh, plus I'm pretty sure FSG did quite a bit of fact-checking for this essay collection, so Davy's embellishing-leash was pretty short I think :)

[And fwiw I'm the managing ed. of FOUND and why yes we DO have a new issue of the magazine, FOUND #8, ready for order! Plus, Davy will be on FOUND tour through Dec., remaining dates here!]
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 7:57 AM on October 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


I probably just shouldn't have said anything. The person I heard things from was not exactly the Queen of Veracity herself. I don't know the truth of the matter. Never mind.
posted by kyrademon at 8:26 AM on October 9, 2012


So this is an unreliable account of a deception about a fantasy?

INCEPDECEPTION

BWOOOOOOMMMMMMMMM...
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 9:19 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Consider the depiction of himself as watching and playing sports."

To be fair, Davy's really into sports. He was an NBA scout for a little bit.

(I was really good friends with Peter from middle school through high school.)
posted by klangklangston at 10:02 AM on October 9, 2012


I sold my copy of The Lone Surfer of Montana Kansas on Amazon and the buyer's name was Davy Rothbart. I like to think it was the real Davy.
posted by stltony at 10:12 AM on October 9, 2012


it might be unwise to trust a single word of anything he says as being true.

I don't even think it's necessary to know the author for this to be the case. (I have no idea who he is.) But that's part of what's interesting to me about stories like this one: the reactions they provoke.

Take this thread. HuronBob is struck by some apparent logical holes. Kit W expresses a much more complicated skepticism that's based on accepting the whole thing as having actually happened. Malice seems to have no skepticism whatsoever and merely wonders why the author didn't have sex with Aaron. That's a fascinating range of reactions from what is, if you think about it, a relatively narrow selection of personality types (ie, people who paid five bucks for MetaFilter).

I think that's interesting. I don't really care if the story is true or not, and I don't find that question terribly interesting because we'll never, ever know. But how people view it and react to it, is.
posted by cribcage at 10:31 AM on October 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Kit W expresses a much more complicated skepticism that's based on accepting the whole thing as having actually happened.

Well, postulating that it actually happened - 'if this story is accurate' is what I said, which is conditional - rather than definitely accepting it. I don't know anything about the author so I'm in no position to judge his truthfulness or otherwise; the story was the only piece of information I had to go on, so that's what I went with. Under different circumstances, I would probably have reacted differently.

Which isn't just nitpicking: if we're going to draw conclusions about how different people react to it, I think it's only right to factor in different circumstances as well.
posted by Kit W at 12:21 PM on October 9, 2012


What conclusions do you think can be drawn?
posted by cribcage at 12:23 PM on October 9, 2012


From the article or from the thread?
posted by Kit W at 12:31 PM on October 9, 2012


He didn't have sex with Aaron because Aaron, as it turns out, was a bog-standard Beagle. I don't know why he left that fact out, but there it is.

And I can totally imagine this being a great spoken word thing.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:35 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Last week's interview with Davy Rothbart on TBTL.
posted by LURK at 12:48 PM on October 9, 2012


So a movie was made of this story. It is the source of the 2009 Indie hit "Easier with Practice" the tale first appeared in 2006 GQ.

Now I need to get the movie... I believe the movie had Nicole as an actual woman.
posted by pdxpogo at 1:10 PM on October 9, 2012


Even if Nicole/Aaron was just playing Rothbart all the way through, it still gave me a sense of melancholy and sadness for both of them that they couldn't form lasting relationships.
posted by arcticseal at 1:35 PM on October 9, 2012


Now I need to get the movie... I believe the movie had Nicole as an actual woman.





I just watched the movie. It was quite good. As to whether Nicole was an actual woman in the movie....

------------------------------------------------
SPOILER ALERT!
------------------------------------------------








the voice, yes, was by a a female voice actress. For the meeting, it was indeed a guy. I was glad I read pdxpogo's post before I watched it, created a surprise where there would otherwise be none.



---------------------------------------------
END SPOILER
--------------------------------------------
posted by mreleganza at 9:40 PM on October 9, 2012


I went to high school with Davy and I do not recall him being a serial liar, or having a reputation as such. And it was a small school, too, so word would've got around. That said, we had creative writing classes together, and I do remember him being a talented writer.

Ann Arborites unite! Commie High 4evah!
posted by Andrhia at 6:18 AM on October 10, 2012


"That said, we had creative writing classes together, and I do remember him being a talented writer."

With Judith?
posted by klangklangston at 8:18 AM on October 10, 2012


With Judith, yes. ^_^
posted by Andrhia at 6:35 PM on October 10, 2012


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