The Story of the Backstreet Boy

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Once in awhile, I get a (worrisome) sign from God that I’m progressively becoming French. This time around it came in the form of the Backstreet Boy, a character who merited his nickname via his fly Mohawk and tight, cuffed Levis that took you straight back to the days when 5 man-children would croon “I want it that way” through your Discman headphones. Anyway, more on his formidable style later. Lets start with how we met.

It was a Sunday afternoon at the beginning of April, and I was in Saint-Germain, trying to figure out how to get home from the Odeon métro station, which happened to be closed. All of a sudden, two conspicuously non-French-looking guys approached me and began asking me for directions in English. I tried to help, but it seemed like they were more intent on asking me about myself, so I quickly excused myself and hopped onto an approaching bus. Right before the doors were about to close, the guys pushed through them and jumped in behind me. “We figured we would take our chance” the tall one declared, not quite explaining what kind of chance he was seeking. It was, by far, the boldest move I have ever encountered from a man in French territory, and I didn’t know whether to be scared or impressed. In the  fifteen minutes that it took us to get to Hotel de Ville, I found out that he was originally from Easter Europe, but had grown up in Chicago and was now living in Paris, playing basketball for a local team. Upon closer inspection, I realized that he was actually very good-looking, so, when he asked me for my number, I didn’t really hesitate and handed it over.

He texted me right away with all his personal information. Always the stalker, I immediately looked him up on Instagram and was slightly mortified to find a stream-of-consciousness-style page, busting with selfies from all walks of life. I’m talking flip-cam close-ups, fitness selfies, mini-videos of him working out, #foodporn shots of healthy dishes, with inspirational quotes and cringeworthy hashtags to accompany each one of them. Basically, the worst kind of self-absorbed nonsense, masquerading as ”lifestyle-coaching”. I could also tell that there was a serious sartorial dilemma happening, but decided to ignore that whole issue altogether. The only good thing that I discovered were his abdominals, an over-developed 10-pack, carved to perfection in a way that would make Adonis jealous and displayed for the whole world to see.

Driven by the vision of the aforementioned 10-pack, as well as the fact that he was quite persistent, I agreed to meet him the following Sunday afternoon. As I approached the yuppie hipster mecca of KB Cafeshop in the 9th, I noticed him from half a block away, not only because he was the tallest person there, but because he was wearing more colors on his body than most Parisians have in their closets. The t-shirt was coral, the Nikes were purple, the socks were a hallucinogenic fluo print , and the jeans were skintight Levis, triple-cuffed to look like capris. But he was cute and different and refreshingly excited to be alive, and, at this point, I was almost happy to be with somebody this out-of-place in Paris, if only to observe the slight discomfort of my fellow countrymen (not to mention the drooling stares of the teens and gays!)

Next, he took me on what felt like a walking tour of every New-Age coffee shop in the 18th Arrondissement, explaining that, although he currently lived in a village outside of Paris with his team, he regularly came “downtown” to “work on his projects” . You see, it turned out that Backstreet Boy wasn’t just a basketball player and curator of lifestyle inspiration shots, but also quite the budding entrepreneur, working simultaneously on about seven different startup ideas, ranging from fitness aps to health food bars to organic sex supplements… Apparently, they all fell under the “same umbrella” of teaching people how to live a better life. My inner Parisian wanted to smack him, but the girl starving for a bit of American meritocracy was quite smitten.

After sharing an organic key lime pie, Backstreet Boy announced that he was contemplating getting some life mantra tattooed on his Adonis bod, and wanted to check out a tattoo artist in Belleville, the Parisian equivalent of Bushwick. Five ghetto trains stops later we arrived, only to discover that the artist wasn’t present, and headed down to the 10th to eat at BB’s favorite restaurant, Le Bichat, a bio health bowl place taken to a whole new level by the fact that you had to take your own utensils out of a bin and sit in an alcove on pillows, at a table reserved for 5-year-olds. After a rather bonding dinner, during which we discussed our common Easter European roots, BB announced that it was time to smoke a J, which he proceeded to roll in public, right there on the Canals with the rest of em’ young urban folk. Suddenly, the world became a beautiful haze and I found myself connecting to BB on a whole other spiritual level, discovering that we actually had parallel life trajectories and other random things in common. At some point, I even remember staring at him, high as a kite, wondering if he was actually my soulmate. (And they are legalizing this sh*t in the US?) At the end of the evening, he walked me home and kissed me, definitely not the kiss of a soulmate, but more that of an awkward kid with no ability to grow facial hair. (I, by definition, am only attracted to men who resemble terrorists.)

He may have gotten the soulmate vibe, because he messaged the following morning, and then every single day that following week, to hang out. In my next life, I want to come back as a basketball player, because these guys have excellent schedules – BB had practice for exactly two hours a day, the rest of which he spent in cafes in “downtown Paris”, “networking”, i.e. harassing anybody who looked remotely friendly. He also seemed really into business and self-help books, citing them whenever I would complain about anything, and even sending me a self-written documents on meditation, which I think I tried once before going straight back to the Chablis bottle. Yes, I was suddenly becoming the French one! It didn’t help his case that he was pretty rhetorically challenged, speaking with a Basic Bro twang that made even intelligent things sound un peu stupide. My friends, who briefly met him, agreed that he wasn’t the brightest bulb and advised me to expedite the process and start meriting from his physical assets. Admitting that they had a point, I resolved to put Mission Sex underway.

On our next date, I arrived in an excellent lingerie set from Princesse Tam Tam. Backstreet Boy, bless him, arrived with a bag from Naturalia (weak Parisian take on Whole Foods) and announced that he was taking me on a picnic to his secret place. In a tiny courtyard near Chatelet (“downtown Paris” at its finest!), he popped open the bag and produced…wait for it…two bottles of Kambucha, a cucumber, and a pack of gum. That’s right, a cucumber. You see, my friends had been making fun of me for my passion for summer vegetables, and so he decided to seduce me by bringing a cucumber, which he fed to me in chunks, cutting each one off with a plastic knife. It was painfully awkward, made worse by the fact that he turned on some awful techno music on full blast in the middle of the French square. In between DJing, he would stare at me longingly and pout, which I understood was a manifestation of his desire to kiss. Indeed, that evening, he texted me that he wanted to “touch me with his lips, like that very first time.”

He went to Barcelona and I went to New York, regularly receiving #foodporn shots of his breakfast and selfie videos of him flexing his abs into the camera. His Instagram game had picked up as well, and my friends and I spent hours entertaining ourselves with all the content he was providing. And yet, they all confirmed that I had to sleep with him, because, apparently, otherwise I would l look back at this moment (and his abdominals) in twenty years and regret it.

And yet, this never happened. On our first – and last – date back in Paris, I came downstairs in a pair of jeans and a cool Dries jacket. Admiring my outfit, he asked me, all jokes aside, if I wanted an outfit pic. You see, it turns out that BB had met Chiara Ferragni in Barcelona, and thought I should model my career after hers. (I have no comment to this that won’t come across as mean, so I will just keep my mouth shut.) As I lamented against the selfie obsession of our generation, he stared at me blankly, incapable of comprehending anything I was trying to convey. At this moment, I suddenly longed for some French misery, some British self-deprecation – anything but this basic, animalistic go-getter stupidity that reflects the worst part of American popular culture. And so, after an inner apology to the 48-year-old me, not to mention a painful tapas dinner that he made me pay for, we parted ways, and Backstreet Boy headed back to his village, never to be heard from again. All I have left of him is many awkward memories, and his Instagram, account, which I am giving up to the highest bidder! (Trust me, this sh*t is worth it.)

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