[Ed. note: this article was originally published on June 3, 1996.]
Every five minutes during the Jitney ride out to the Hamptons on Memorial Day weekend, Janey Wilcox wanted to stand up and scream, “I’m Janey Wilcox, the model, and I’m spending the weekend with Zack Manners, the English billionaire record producer. So fuck you. All of you.” Just to make herself feel better.
She was wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, trying to read The Sheltering Sky. But a thought kept inserting itself into her brain, like a pencil point being pushed into Silly Putty: Zack Manners was not exactly there. He was not, as Janey liked to say, completely in. His invitation had been vague—he had left instructions with his secretary that they should meet at “6-ish” for drinks at the Palm in East Hampton. Janey wasn’t sure if the invitation extended to the whole weekend or just Friday night, and the uncertainty made her more excited about Zack than she had been about any man in a long time.
Janey arrived at the Palm at 6:15 P.M. She expected Zack to be at the bar. He wasn’t. She ordered a margarita. At 6:45 P.M. there was a commotion outside. A green 1956 250 G.T. Boano/Ellena Ferrari pulled into the circular driveway. The car had right-hand drive. Zack got out. He wore old tennis shoes and walked with his hands in his front pockets of his khaki trousers. Janey became very animated, talking to two men next to her. Zack came up behind her and whispered, “Hullo there,” in the ear.
“Oh. Hi,” she said, a little coldly, and looked at her watch. “I should scold you for being late, but the car makes up for it.”
“That sounds promising.”
“It is. If you play your cards right.” He leaned towards her. “Do you have a dark side, Janey? You look like a girl who has a dark side.”
Janey laughed and so did Zack. She flipped her hair over her shoulder. Jack lit a cigarette. Filterless. In the daylight, he was not quite as attractive as she remembered. He had bad English teeth, ranging in color from a sickly yellow to a light gray. His nails were dirty. But there was the car. And the money. And the whole summer. “Let’s take things one step at a time, O.K.?” she said.
“I guess that means you want to see my house before you decide whether or not to fuck me,” Zack said.
“Come on,” Janey said. “I’m interested in you. Everyone says you’re fascinating.”
“Everyone,” Zack said, “is a fool.” And then: “You’re going to love the house.” He stood up and pulled her off the barstool. “I got the house just for you,” he said.
“Of course you did,” Janey said. She believed him, not thinking for a moment that it was unusual for a complete stranger to rent a house in the Hamptons in the hope that she would be with him.
She nodded at the valet, who held open the car door. She slid into the front seat. The car was in perfect condition. She shook out her hair. “It’s beautiful,” she said, feeling generous.
“Ah yes,” Zack said, “I suppose this is where I’m supposed to say, ‘No—you’re beautiful, Janey.’” He looked at her. “You’re a very silly girl. Don’t you know that it’s dangerous to be silly?”
“Maybe I’m not silly,” Janey said. “Maybe it’s just an act.”
“Maybe it’s all just an act,” Zack said. “But then, where does that leave you?”
He turned onto Further Lane. “I told the rental agent I wanted a house on the best road in the best town in the Hamptons. I hope she hasn’t done me wrong, Janey.” He growled a bit on the word “wrong” and Janey thought he was adorable all over again. They turned into a long gravel driveway. “I know the house,” Janey said. “It’s one of my favorites. A friend of mine rented it five years ago. Pool, tennis court.”
“Did you play tennis without your knickers on?”
“Oh, please, Zack.”
“That’s how I imagine you, all in white, without your knickers…”
The house was fronted by a long green lawn that was always set up for croquet. It was a classic shingled manse, built in 1920’s for a rich family with a pack of kids and servants. Zack pulled up to the front. “Come along, come along my lovely, and we shall see,” he said, jumping out of the car and taking her hand. There was a wide porch and a balcony that ran around the second floor. “A veritable fun house,” he said, turning around. “Now, I expect you to play lot of naughty games.”
Zack rustled through a paper sack. “Provisions,” he said, holding up a bottle of vodka and a plastic container of tonic water.
Janey laughed nervously.
Zack went to the kitchen and returned with two cocktails. “Chin-chin," he said, holding up his glass.
“Cheers,” Janey said. “To a great summer.”
Zack came up behind her. He put his am around her waist and pressed her to him. “I’ve never heard of anyone so obsessed with summer,” he said. “I spent my summer working in a factory. What’s your excuse?”
“I don’t need an excuse," Janey said pulling away.
He shook his finger at her. “You have to answer my questions. That’s one of the rules. I get bored very easily. Right now I’m interested. Do you take coke?”
“Cocaine,” Zack said with mock patience. “You’re not very bright, are you? When I first met you, I didn’t think you were, but then I thought perhaps I’d made a mistake.” He sat down on the couch in the front of a coffee table, looked up at her and smiled. “But then, one doesn’t really need intelligence in these situations. Just a sense of adventure.”
“I don’t do cocaine,” Janey said coldly.
“What a shame,” Zack said. “Figured you for a player.” He tapped some cocaine out on the coffee table, rolled up a bill, and snorted it up. He tipped his head back, inhaling deeply, the bill still sticking out of his nostril. He caught her eye. “Stop playing the good little American girl, will you?” he said.
“How do you know I’m not?”
“Oh, come off it,” Zack said. He stood up and walked to her. He touched her hair. “I didn’t invite you here to be my girlfriend,’ he said.
“Then why did you invite me?”
“I didn’t. You invited yourself. Remember?”
“Fuck off,” Janey said softly.
“Come here,” he said. “Sit down. My dear, you’re as transparent as that shirt you’re wearing. Everyone knows what your game is. You’re available. For the summer. Providing the man is rich enough. At least I want to know why.”
“I just want to have a good summer," Janey said, getting angry. “Is there anything wrong with that?”
“But you don’t do anything,” Zack said. He snorted some more cocaine.
“I don’t do anything because I don’t want to. I don’t have to.”
“You don’t feel much of anything, do you?”
“No,” she said. She shrugged. “Guys don’t stick around. So why not beat men at their own game? Use them. I’m a feminist, Zack,” she said, which somehow made her feel better.
“Oh, the modern woman speaks,” Zack said. “How old are you?”
“You look older,” he said, and laughed. “You use men, but you yourself are totally useless. You think your views are revolutionary, but they’re not. They’re just immature.”
“As a matter of fact, they’re not,” Zack said. I’m what you Yanks call a self-made man. Everything I have, I got myself.” He lit a cigarette. “But along the way, I lost my emotions, my ability to feel. From having to fuck people over all the time, to get what you want.’ He smiled. Those teeth. “You and I are really quite alike.
“I have my reasons,” Janey said.
“No doubt you do. But they’re probably very mundane,” he said. Janey reached across the couch and slapped him. He grabbed her wrist. “You’re getting the idea,” he said.
“I’m not mundane,” Jayne hissed.
“Oh, but you are,” he said. He pushed her back against the couch. She didn’t struggle too much. “Degradation,” he said into her face, so she could smell his breath. “That’s all that’s left for people like us. Degradation. It’s the only way we can feel.”
“You’re nuts,” Janey said.
“Come upstairs!” he said. He grabbed her hand. He hopped up the stairs two at a time. He pulled her into the bedroom. “I’ve been looking forward to this all week.” He pulled off his shirt and pants. Underneath, he was wearing tatty stained briefs that were frayed in the leg holes. He turned around and pulled down his underpants. His bottom was splattered with pimples.
“Hit me, Mum!” he shouted.
“I’m not your mum,” Janey said.
“Hit me, Mum! Please!”
Janey backed toward the window, then onto the balcony. She ran to the edge and jumped onto the roof. She scrambled across that and jumped to the ground. “Owwww,” she screamed.
Harold to the Rescue
She just lay there. The front door banged open. Zack, naked and smoking a cigarette, walked towards her. “Get up, you silly cow. You’re not hurt.”
“Fuck off,” Janey said.
“I’d appreciate it if you’d leave the premises as quickly and expediently as possible,” Zack said. Then he went back in the house and snorted more cocaine.
Janey limped into the house, Zack didn’t look up. She went to the phone and dialed. “Please, please be home,” she said. Then: “Thank God.” She started sobbing into the phone. “It’s me. Something terrible has happened. I was with this English guy and he went crazy.” She gave the address. Then she limped out onto the porch.
Twenty minutes later, a Range Rover came roaring up Further Lane. The driver drove across the lawn, scattering croquet balls, mashing the wickets. Harold got out. "Your ride is here,” he said.
Zack ran out of the house with a towel around his waist. “You really fucked it up.” He said to Janey. “You had a chance. We could have spent the whole summer together. We were falling in love. You blew it.”
“Get away from her,” Harold said.
Zack followed Janey as she limped to the car. “Go back to your little old baldies. Where you feel safe.”
Harold looked at him silently, as if he were considering breaking his jaw. Then he said, “When my lawyer gets finished with you, you won’t be out of court for years.” He helped Janey into the car.
“Yeah, yeah, bugger off,” Zack shouted. “You Yanks. Take all the fun out of everything with your damn lawyers.” He dropped his towel and shook his privates at Harold. “Here’s what I think of your fuckin’ lawyers, mate!” Then he walked back into the house.
Harold backed the car across the lawn. “Jesus Christ, Janey,” he said.
“Harold,” Janey said. She put her hands over her eyes. “I can’t take any lectures right now, O.K.?”
“Who is that creep?”
“Zack Manners,” Janey said. “The English record producer.”
“Goddamn Brits,” Harold said. “Don’t worry. I’ll see to it that he’s persona non grata on the East End. He won’t be able to get a reservation anywhere.”
“You’re wonderful, Harold. You really are," Janey said.
“I know,” Harold said.
“I just wanted to have a good summer,” Janey said, an hour later, lying in a bed in a private room in Southampton Hospital. “Like when I was 16.”
“Shhhh,” said the nurse. “Everyone wants to be 16 again.”
That was the summer when Janey had gone from ugly to beautiful. She’d been the pudgy, funny-faced kid in a family of beauties. Her father was 6 feet 2 inches tall, all American, the town doctor. Her mother was French and perfect. While the rest of the family ate veal with a mushroom cream sauce, Janey’s mother served her half a head of iceberg lettuce. “If you don’t lose weight, you won’t find a man. Then you’ll have to work. There is nothing more unattractive than a woman who works.”
“I want to be a vet,” Janey said.
Every summer spent at the country club was agony. Janey’s mother, thin, tanned, in a Pucci bathing suit, drank iced tea and flirted with the lifeguards. Janey had a fat belly and fat thighs. At 14, when she got her period, her mother said, "Janey, boys like to take advantage of girls who are not pretty because the boys know the girl is desperate."
Then Janey turned 16. She grew four inches. When she walked into the country club, no one recognized her. She wore her mother’s Pucci bathing suits. She stole her lipstick. She smoked. Her mother caught her kissing a boy behind the clubhouse. She slapped Janey across the face. That was when Janey knew she’d won.
About Last Night
The next Saturday, after the scene with Zack, Janey showed up at media beach in Sagaponic with Capote Duncan. Her foot was in a cast, and Capote helped her, limping, across the sand. He settled her on a beach towel, then went to take a swim. Alison came running over. “Is it true?” she asked breathlessly.
“Which part?” Janey asked. She leaned back on her elbows.
“About last night.”
The night before, Janey and Capote had stopped at the club M-80 on their way out to the Hamptons. Zack was there. He walked by Capote and said, "Another sucker born every minute,” and Capote had taken a swing at him.
Since then, Capote had been telling everyone that Zack had been deeply in love with Janey, but she’d left him for Capote, and that’s why Zack was flipping out.
It was a small misperception that Janey had no intention of ever correcting.
Candace Bushnell began Sex and the City as a column in The New York Observer in 1994; it subsequently became a book and a series on HBO. She is also the author of Four Blondes, Trading Up and Lipstick Jungle, which is being filmed as a pilot for NBC starring Brooke Shields. Ms. Bushnell is also the host of Sex, Success and Sensibility, a live weekly talk show on Sirius Satellite Radio. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, New York City Ballet principal dancer Charles Askegard.