"Lauren!" a voice upstairs said. "Is it all right if we don't go skateboarding? It's just so cold out!" Clad in a bust-hugging glittery Fleetwood Mac t-shirt and lavender mascara, 5-foot-1 Emma popped out of her apartment door. There was a cat with a bow tie tattooed on her left shoulder. With shaggy brown hair, spiderleg-long eyelashes and a figure that could fit inside a teacup, she looked like a cross between Harmony Korine and Winona Ryder.
London emigre Emma Forrest was born in 1978, the same year as most college seniors. Emma never went to college, though. Or finished high school. Early this summer, when the members of the class of 2000 are recovering from their last-chance-dance hangovers, Emma will be at a book party. Her own book party. Her novel Namedropper is due out in August from Scribners. School wasn't for Emma, so at age 16 she dropped out and started writing columns for English newspapers?first The Evening Standard, then the Sunday Times, where, she said, other staffers were "really resentful" of her.
Fed up, Emma moved to Brighton, the saltwater taffy capital of England. From there she wrote for the left-wing Guardian. She interviewed thrift-shopper extraordinaire Chloe Sevigny, who became a close friend. When Emma told Chloe she was moving to New York, Chloe put her raffish friend in touch with her brother, Paul Sevigny, a 27-year-old investment banker who lives on the Lower East Side. Emma ended up finding her own place, but that was beside the point. Namedropper is dedicated to Paul.
"It was totally Robert Redford?Barbra Streisand: left-wing intellectual pretentious Jewish girl with an athletic WASP ubergod. It was amazing. We were the couple all throughout the summer fighting and screaming and crying on E. 7th. You know what? Scratch the Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand idea?he was the Richard Burton to my Liz Taylor."
But all good things must come to an end.
"He was working so fucking hard and I was just sitting in my house with my records, tapping on my computer when I needed to, driving myself fucking crazy because when you have the free time you just think and dwell and obsess in a way that people who work in real jobs can't. Also he wanted to go to Lot 61 and Moomba and I wanted to go to Anthology Film Archives."
Emma's British father (whose surname was not Forrest when he was born) is of Turkish-Jewish descent. Her mother was raised in a Jewish household in Flatbush. Growing up, Emma spent summers in her grandparents' Brooklyn house. They had a lot of cats.
"When I moved to New York I had no bearings whatsoever," she said. "I still don't really. I don't really go anywhere I cannot walk. I never get past Gramercy."
Emma looked out her window at the contented Sunday bourgeoisie below.
"East Village, West Village, conceivably Chelsea if I need to go to Krispy Kreme. We'll have to get fucked up and go there at like 1 in the morning! It's amazing!"
Until last month another English girl was sleeping on Emma's living room couch. The apartment looked not unlike a teenager's room on a television screen?supposedly a mess, the sweet kind of mess that could be packed up in a treasure chest with five minutes' notice. In one corner was Emma's work station: an old computer on a clear desk surrounded above and below by heaps of CDs and magazines and books. A trail of vitamin B-12 bottles, photographs and Altoids tins led to the counter-cum-kitchen. Two different versions of the Namedropper cover art dangled from the mantel.
An autographed Leonard Cohen poster was tacked to the wall. "I tried to lose my virginity to Leonard Cohen. I was sitting next to Leonard Cohen backstage and he was like, 'Come and sit with me, my little chickadee.' I was 16 and my dad dragged me away."
"George Plimpton's Capote was my favorite book for years and years," she said. "And Truman Capote is a favorite, of course, and Graham Greene. I just read the new Douglas Coupland book. It made me much more confident. I was like, 'You know what, God, this is like a bad Emma Forrest book.'"
Two things have happened to Emma since she finished Namedropper. Number one: she was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder this year. Now that she's equipped with a prescription for "the right stuff," she finds writing much easier.
And something else happened: "I discovered sex. My new book is so full of great sex." In England Emma never had a boyfriend. Instead she had "strange Lolitaesque things with older men. I'm so obsesso anyway, I'm so all about stalking."
But she's also all about dumping. Apart from her shrink, whom she sees once a week, Emma doesn't have to answer to anyone on a regular basis. "I just broke up with my best friend," she said forlornly. She perked back up. "That's my pop sensibility for you."
We went out. On the street Emma spotted a familiar rear end. "Oscar!" she shouted, "Oscar!"
A stick of a boy twirled around. "This is Oscar," she told me. "He works at the Magnolia bakery."
"Fagnolia," he said. He had little silver studs embedded into either side of the bridge of his nose. "Come see my apartment. I'm in such a rush. My birthday party's tonight at my wife's and her boyfriend's place in Brooklyn."
"Oscar's married," Emma explained.
"For reasons," he purred. "We'll leave it at that."
Oscar fumbled with his keys and let us into his first-floor apartment. "Holy fucking shit," Emma's jaw dropped. We were in a bordello for vampires. The space had been flooded with gauze, vermilion velvet, antique trousseaus and blood-red tulips.
"Shhh," he said, "my roommate's asleep. But come here, it's the best part." We followed him into another room. "This is your bedroom?" Emma asked knowingly. "Mmm-hmm," Oscar boasted. "Oh my God! This is a total fuck palace!"
The bedroom made the rest of the apartment look as sexy as a paramecium. Curtains swirled about. A loft bed that could host a 10-person orgy was suspended over our heads. And a circular mirror was affixed to the wall by the bed. Oscar took off his hat. His hair was a faded blue. We all kicked off our shoes and climbed the ladder onto the bed.
"You come up here, smoke some pot, a little ecstasy," Oscar trailed off.
"Why didn't you put a mirror up there?" Emma pointed to the ceiling.
"I don't want to see a guy's back. I want to see him from behind. I'll show you." Oscar got on all fours and looked behind himself, at the reflection of his rump.
"Oh," Emma said.
"I spent two months making this," he told us. "The whole time, I was like, 'Fuck my ass! Fuck my ass!' Now that I have it I never have sex anymore. Except last night. Big black guy. Big black cock."
He looked over at Emma for her approval. She chortled.
"But usually," he continued, "I don't even sleep in here. I stay out on the living room couch. It just feels weird in here."
Emma seemed to agree. "Yeah, it's way too hot up here," she said, fanning herself.
Outside we found a taxi. The car swerved and galumphed. Emma sat regally, framed by a furry hood, looking straight ahead.
"To the Chelsea Hotel," she told the driver. "That's right?" she asked me. When we reached Chelsea, Emma pulled out her little white wallet.
"You'll get the donuts," she said. Inside Krispy Kreme Emma pulled a camera out of her purse and took a picture of me in front of the donuts. Done with that, she pushed my arm. "Let me order for us," she said.
She ordered five donuts.
"I haven't slept with anybody else but Paul since I've been here. I'm really masochistic about that. I like to be really dramatic that way. Look!" She pointed at my hands. "Is that donut?"
There was dried sugar all over my fingers. It had turned gray. Emma smiled impishly.
"Imagine eating Krispy Kreme on Oscar's bed," she taunted. "It would be too much."