Justin Hardwick is almost too handsome. Tall, tanned, slim at the hips and broad at the shoulders. His teeth are so white they could guide ships through heavy fog. His eyes, as blue as a Hockney pool painting.
He’s certainly too metrosexually gorgeous for anyone to believe he’s into girls.
From the start I pegged the kid as gay. I mean, after my 2 o’clock class, he’d head over to haunt the pricey boutiques on McKinney and Knox streets, picking new outfits for his mom (who wears a size 2 and is young by college mom standards). Justin has superb taste in women’s fashion. He’d point to Stella McCartney suits and Proenza Schouler pencil skirts and get the salesgirls to Fed Ex them to his mom back home – charged to his black Amex card, of course. He has a queer eye so right for clothes he could be a stylist.
I also had to assume he was gay because, come on, he’s not a theater major and he’s seen every Broadway show that’s hit the boards in the past five years. Musicals, he loves. He said he wept at Light in the Piazza
and thought Spamalot
was overrated. He declared Wicked
“fabulous.” Quick, name a straight guy you know who says fabulous. Or likes going to Broadway shows.
From the day Justin sat down in my Writing I class, I was convinced I had a new young friend of Dorothy. Which is fine, of course. I love the gays. I live for the gays. As I used to tell the students during casual moments, I only date gay men these days because when you call them on a Saturday morning and say, “Wanna get mani-pedis, grab a salad and see the new Judi Dench film?,” they always say yes. Also, gay men say all the things you wish straight men would. Stuff like, “New haircut? Cuuuuute.” And “Whoever did your eyebrows this time is genius.”
So, OK, those first few classes I thought Justin was more oyster-lover than clam (see “Ben Hur
, deleted scene, Tony Curtis and Laurence Olivier”). It was the details that confused me. Instead of lugging a backpack, he carried a Fendi leather messenger bag in a buttery shade of brown. I spied him frequently applying and re-applying Kiehl’s lip balm #1. And if you look closely and at the right angle, the bronze streaks in his hair spell out “Fekkai.”
As much as I like gay guys, old or young, I didn’t think I’d like Justin at first. He had attitude, that air of entitlement that really gets up my nose. Ten or 15 minutes after class was under way, he’d shuffle in, often wearing man-Juicies and always blaming his tardiness on problems parking his Land Rover or the barista who took too long making his nonfat venti macchiato. We had to have a chat about the late thing. Interruptions bug the shit out of me. I’d rather students skip class than stumble in late and harsh the flow of whatever we’re doing.
He shaped up quickly, though, and long about midterm, Justin got friendlier, hanging around after class to chat about movies, musicals and girls. Turns out he’s way
into girls. Who’d a thunk that
? That semester, he was especially into the girls in the Writing I class. They all had big crushes on him and he complied by making the complete four-row circuit, starting with the blond Pi Phis against the back wall and working his way up to the glamorously freckled Irish twins, Moira and Meghan, who sat in front and made all A’s.
Gradually, details emerged of Justin’s conquests. The back row blondies were too born again Bush-loving for his liberal politics. He diagnosed them as screwed up emotionally by over-indulgent and yet meddlesome mommies who called them 40 times a day to ask if they’d eaten anything yet and were they taking their Adderall. He moved on to the Kappas who occupied the middle section, knocking off a bevy of Ashleys one by one. Then it was those pale twins—wow. Meghan was a semi-nympho who jumped Justin’s bones in the backseat of a friend’s Hummer on homecoming weekend. And at the time, Justin was dating Moira, the Ashley to the other’s Mary Kate. Moira was the brainier of the two but also the one who refused to compete with her sister to the point that she just rolled over and let Meghan take her boyfriend away.
That relationship lasted about two weeks, as Justin would tell me much later, when enough time had elapsed from our teacher-student relationship for him to start spilling the real dirt over many the long, gossipy lunch. I wouldn’t call him a womanizer. But he does seem to go through college girls the way women my age go through wrinkle creams. We both keep looking for the right one and when the latest doesn’t get the results we want, we push it to the back of the shelf and invest in a new one.
Justin has come the closest to a real relationship only once, as far as I know. That was with Melisande, a dance major from Southern Cal whose dad founded some Internet company from which he’d cashed out at 50 with about a billion smackeroos. When Melisande was a sophomore, her daddy dumped the mom and took up with a 19-year-old San Diego Chargers cheerleader, sending his 19-year-old daughter into a spiral of depression, bulimia and obsessive Vuitton acquisition.
“I couldn’t keep up with all the pills she was on,” Justin would tell me. “And the more she took, the more she shopped. She came back from Neiman’s one afternoon and handed me six Jhane Barnes cashmere sweaters.”
They dated for about seven months, a record for the young swain. She moved into his townhouse, the one his folks bought as an investment that he could occupy for his sophomore to senior years. He took her to New York to see the latest shows. At spring break, she took him to Hawaii, where her father has a 10,000 square foot shack near Gomer Pyle’s macadamia farm.
Eventually Melisande’s insecurities wore him down, Justin said. The tearful phone calls with her alcoholic mom in the middle of the night. The way she lied to him all the time about how much she was spending and how much she was binging and purging.
The vomiting was really no fun. “I’d take her out for dinner and spend, like, $300 on sushi or lobster and before we left the restaurant, she’d go to the ladies’ room and barf it up. I got tired of kissing a pretty girl who tasted like throw-up,” he said.
He finally told her to get some help and get out of his townhouse. For about a month he fooled around with a Panamanian law student he met while they were both waiting to get hot stone massages at the ZaSpa. But she was high maintenance for other reasons and it didn’t work out.
Do you ever run into Melisande on campus? I asked him the other day. We were enjoying a good pinot noir on the sidewalk patio at Café Toulouse as beautiful people strolled by, Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware shopping bags swinging at their sides. “I try not to,” he said, squinting those blue eyes into the low afternoon sun. “I’m afraid she’ll ask for those sweaters back.”