You and Me, Girlie

Travel Stories: In an excerpt from her book "Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven," Susan Jane Gilman recalls 1986 China -- and a swaggering, lascivious man named Trevor

03.12.10 | 10:19 AM ET

Trevor Fisk was a sailor from a small town near Perth. He had the wispy goatee of a young pirate and slate-blue eyes that pillaged everything they looked at. His shoulders were pinioned with muscle. He was so swaggering and lascivious, he was practically feral. So of course, I was instantly attracted to him. I slammed into him before I even saw him. After Claire abandoned me in the park, I’d headed back to the Pujiang. Rounding the corner in the lobby, I’d collided with him by the elevators.

“Oi, watch it, girlie. Those are some of my best body parts you’re charging over,” he laughed, grabbing my elbow.

Girlie. Only the Aussies could get away with that one.

Meeting like this could’ve been a groaning cliché—except that as soon as he introduced himself, Trevor began showing off his tattoos to me as if they were art installations in a gallery. This was still a good decade before tattoos became the trendy accessory for every high school kid in Dayton and Scarsdale; in 1986 they were still, for the most part, the markings of an outlaw.

“This here’s Leila,” he said, rolling up his right sleeve to show me a teal-colored, topless Polynesian woman with a bowl of fruit on her head. “Got her in Fiji. And this one here”—he turned and flexed his left triceps—“is Sofia. Got her in Bangkok.” Sofia the mermaid (also big-breasted, topless) gracefully swam up along his arm toward his shoulder.

“How very unsexist of you,” I said drily.

“Oi.” He grinned, rubbing his biceps with mock defensiveness. “It gets lonely out at sea. This way I always got me girls to talk to. But wait,” he said exuberantly. “You haven’t seen the pièce de résistance yet.”

Undoing his pants with lightning speed, he pulled down his underwear and mooned me right there in the lobby. “Check it out.” Following the curvature of his right buttock was the name Trevor in elaborate curlicue script that looped off after the last r, culminating in a little smiling black- and yellow bumblebee. It happened so quickly, I didn’t have time to register anything close to shock.

All I could think to say was, “You got your own name tattooed on your ass?”

“Oi. Could’ve been worse,” he laughed, yanking up his pants. “Could’ve had someone else’s name put there. Or could’ve had my own name misspelled.”

“I’m sorry, but can I ask you something?” I rubbed my temples, trying to understand the turn the afternoon had taken. “Why on earth would you do that?”

Trevor laughed again, a deep, happy, lecherous laugh. “Ah, who the fu*k knows? I was drunker than sh*t. Somewhere in the Philippines, one of me mates said to me, ‘Trevor, you are so drunk right now, I bet you wouldn’t remember your own fu*kin’ name if it was tattooed on your ass.’

And so I thought Why not? Bet him five bucks. And from what he tells me, I won, too! Of course,” he suddenly turned pensive, “I suppose if I’d been really smart, I would’ve had them tattoo it on backwards, so that way, when I looked in the mirror—”

“Okay,” I held up my hand. “Getting the picture.”

Sidling up to me, he snaked his arm protectively around my shoulder. His skin was warm and smelled of cloves. I could feel his biceps pressing against me, the tautness of his abdomen. “So how ‘bout it, girlie?” He gave me a squeeze. “You’ve seen me good, me bad, and me ugly. Think you can handle me taking you out to dinner?”

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Susan Jane Gilman is the author of "Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress" and "Kiss My Tiara." She has written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Ms. magazine, among others, and her fiction and essays have received several literary awards. She currently lives in Geneva, Switzerland, yet she remains, eternally, a child of New York City.

6 Comments for You and Me, Girlie

olaf 03.12.10 | 3:53 PM ET

Just Wonderful.. I’m buying the book right now.

rm 03.12.10 | 5:14 PM ET

Great book!

chillc 03.14.10 | 7:58 AM ET

cont meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Ella 03.20.10 | 2:33 AM ET

It is a great read and I totally recommend it.

Fleabell 03.25.10 | 7:16 PM ET

Great to see her again; “Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress” was flat-out hilarious.

Cecille Soriano 04.08.10 | 9:12 AM ET


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