Julio, a boyish thirty-one, has difficulty not smirking when admitting to having slept with over seventy-five females.
The majority were what Julio dubs “Barnard floozies”: white, rich undergraduates at Columbia University or Barnard College.
Julio can list most of their names on a napkin. Those whose names he can’t recall, he can usually remember something about them, like the one who listened to Liz Phair, the one who didn’t shave her legs, or the many who felt their parents didn’t love them. Details like these provide priceless fuel for the lurid tales of hookups which, whooping, Julio and his buddy Luis swap like war stories.
Julio knows the coeds from the bars on Broadway and Amsterdam in Morningside Heights, the increasingly gentrified New York City neighborhood where Ivy League meets West Harlem. He usually goes to the bars with Luis, who calls himself Julio’s sidekick.
Luis’s only twenty, not yet a legal drinker, but has been accompanying Julio to the Morningside bars, which are notoriously lenient on carding, for the last three years. Together, Julio and Luis have made a game of luring Barnard floozies to bed.
“In baseball, right,” says Julio, “if you hit three out of ten, you’re a superstar. It’s the same thing here. Out of two hundred phone numbers, you’re only gonna sleep with twenty. But you’re still a superstar.”
“When you see any Latin guy here with good looks, athleticism, tremendous body, great wit,” says Luis about the bar scene, “they’re there for only one thing. And that’s for the chocha. Translation: pussy.”
Barnard and Columbia girls, Julio discovered several years ago, make for easy chocha. For one, the college crowd is perennially young, which to Julio means naive and impressionable. And unlike the girls at other schools, like Manhattan College where Luis is a student, many Barnard and Columbia girls are from other states, which, Julio and Luis believe, makes them eager to mingle with their romanticized notions of genuine New York homeboys.
“We become what those drunk, naive, little Barnard chicks want,” says Luis. “We become the Latin boys their daddies told them to stay away from.”
During his six years in those bars, Julio has honed a strategy for getting with the college girls. It is one he’s quite proud of, and has passed along to Luis like a treasured family recipe. For instance, Julio says, it’s good to know one of the girl’s friends. You don’t need to know that friend well; any association makes her feel safer about going home with a virtual stranger. Also, it’s wise not to hit on a girl until late in the night, when she’s already wasted.
It’s best to go to the bars near the end of the week, when classes are letting up and the college girls are looking for an outlet. The worst time for hookups is during finals and midterms. “You would think that they’ve been studying all day long and need some aggression,” says Julio, “but they don’t.”
The most strategic time is the beginning and the end of the semester. “When they come back that first week of January they’re glad that they’re back from their parents’ houses, and the girls become very adventurous. They go for broke.”
All that strategy is mute if you don’t come prepared with picture ID, which is a necessity if you want to sleep as a guest in a Barnard or Columbia dorm. “I’ve slept in most the dorms,” Julio shrugs. “Yeah, I’ve been in all of them.”
Julio is a dark-skinned, first generation son of Puerto Rican parents. While drinking moodily at the bars, he wears a jean jacket decorated with politically-minded pins declaring things like “Another great mind ruined by higher education.” His speech is tinged with the grammar, slang, and cadences of what he calls “Latin and street,” and though he describes himself to look like a Latin Johnny Depp, the depiction isn’t all that accurate (except for his haircut).
Julio was raised in the projects of Spanish Harlem where, he says, “El barrio was everything.” It was where Julio’s mother worked in a sweatshop, and where Julio brought his father, at the paint factory, hot lunches in a metal container. It was where Julio and his childhood friends were escorted to school by members of the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican activist party, and where they played jacks, flew kites, and watched the sun set over the East River from their project rooftops. From those same roofs, Julio’s friend fell to his death, landing on a spiked gate below.
As a teenager, Julio joined a crew for protection, preached to a Spanish-speaking church of Jehovah’s witnesses, and encountered white teachers who told the minority kids they’d grow up to be drug dealers or whores. And although some of the wealthiest people in New York lived only a few blocks away, on Fifth Avenue, Julio, like most of the kids in his neighborhood, had little contact with them. He grew up associating money with white skin.
At the schools Julio attended, the minority kids were sequestered from the white ones through tracking and bilingual classes which were pushed by wealthy parents. In Julio’s junior high, the fifth floor was reserved for the Upper East Side students. Their classes, lunch time, and even dismissal bell was different from the kids of Harlem.
“The bottom line is they didn’t want us to mix or mingle,” says Julio.
Home was a different story. “If you brought home a white girl, it was like you were improving your house,” he says. “They believed that if you married a real American–an Anglo–it makes your life easier. Part of it is that your kids will be better off because they won’t be as discriminated against as we were.”
Years after leaving his parents’ home, when Julio first brought home a white girl, he says his mother “acted like I’d won the lottery or something.” But Julio didn’t start mixing with the world beyond East Harlem until well after high school. He’d had so little contact with it, and especially with white girls, that “I thought you had to be really smart to talk to them.”
Julio was smart, he just didn’t know it. He went to college almost by fluke, when Luis’s mother, a teacher, suggested it. He graduated from CUNY, and began an MFA program in creative writing. Though he never finished his MFA degree, his education helped him bridge the gap between marginalized innercity life and the mainstream masses. It also got him writing.
Today, Julio lives an existence fairly typical of most post-collegiate, upper-middle class Gen Xers. In the West Harlem apartment which he shares with three white, college-educated roommates, Julio drinks wine, discusses books, careers, and whose turn it is to clean the bathroom. During the day, he teaches middle school. At night, before he heads south to the bars, he usually writes. He has completed a memoir, which has been accepted by a major publishing house. Julio has sold the movie rights for the book, and periodically reads from this work at the KGB bar or Barnes and Noble.
He thinks that the women from his old neighborhood would “be a little afraid” by his lifestyle, and would find it too foreign for comfort. But in the white world outside his home and the Morningside bars, it’s Julio who says he still feels foreign.
It’s at the Morningside bars and in the company of white undergrads where Julio feels also most calculating and in control, and where his ambivalence about where he’s coming from and where he’s going comes to a head.
All the Barnard floozies want from him, says Julio, is “statistics and numbers so they can have their war stories,” though he could just as easily be talking about himself. “These floozies are gonna graduate,” he says, “and they’re gonna get a job and they’re gonna marry some upper middle class guy, and they’re gonna say, ‘Oh yeah, I was wild when I was in college, I used to read The Village Voice. I dated this guy named Heraldo. That’s where it’s at.”
The coeds at the next table roll their eyes at this notion. They say that they go to the Morningside bars lining Amsterdam and Broadway not to hook up with men from different backgrounds, but simply because the bars are close to their dorms, often don’t card, and provide a nonpretentious alternative to the frat scene where, one complained, “the girls are anorexic and spend hours getting dressed.”
One Columbia student from Georgia who has herself hooked up with Luis, says that during her freshman year she got together with a different guy nearly every weekend. It was the thrill of hooking up with a stranger that interested her, not who that stranger was.
Still, the girls don’t regret their time there. Hooking up with strangers, Beth, from Barnard, says, has been a “learning experience.” She explains, “I’ve learned how to do some things, like give a blow job.”
Well after midnight on a Tuesday evening, Julio slouches by a window at 1020, a bar on Amsterdam a few blocks south of Columbia and north of the Night Cafe. His black bangs fall heavy into his eyes, making it easy to mistake his discomfort for eye contact for philosophical brooding. He is drawing geometric shapes on a cardboard coaster and, every now and then, looks up and flicks hair from his face to see who’s watching.
A light-footed blonde girl catches his eye. Julio hurriedly looks back down. The girl approaches. “Hey there,” she says, sliding in the booth across from him. Julio mutters a greeting without looking up. Lighting a cigarette, she smiles and looks him dead on. “You don’t even remember what college I go to, do you?”
Julio continues drawing. “Uh,” he says, after a while, “Oberlin?”
“Close,” she says triumphantly, as if she’s won some game. “Kenyon. Same state.” Julio shrugs. She shrugs back and swaggers off. Julio’s pen pauses mid-air as he watches her retreat.
He looks suddenly confused, as though he’s forgotten why he’s there in the first place.