The story is set in Manhattan during a protracted war between the United States and the Soviet Union; midtown Manhattan has been rendered an uninhabitable wasteland by a Soviet "Hell Bomb," though the rest of the city is still occupied. The narrator is a British citizen named Wysten Turner, who is in New York to barter, in exchange for grain, electronic equipment that he suspects will be used in the construction of an American military base on the moon.
As the story begins, he pulls a young woman out of the way of a car; apparently it is a favorite gang activity to snag women's clothing with fishhooks welded to their cars' fenders, although this car came a bit too close. Turner involves the police, but they do not regard the incident as serious, and he ends up bribing them to go away. The wearing of masks, akin to the Muslim hijab but carrying no religious significance, has become all but mandatory for fashionable American women. Turner therefore cannot see the face of the woman he has helped, and he is intrigued.
" '...There's only trash behind the mask, so turn your head, stick to your task: Stay away, stay away - from - the - girls!'
This was the end of an anti-sex song being sung by some religionists half a block from the circle-and-cross insignia of a femalist temple. They reminded me only faintly of our small tribe of British monastics. Above their heads was a jumble of of billboards advertising predigested foods, wrestling instruction, radio handies and the like.
I stared at the hysterical slogans with disagreeable fascination. Since the female face and form have been banned on American signs, the very letters of the advertiser's alphabet have begun to crawl with sex - the fat bellied, big breasted capital B, the lascivious double O. However, I reminded myself, it is chiefly the mask that so strangely accents sex in America."
She arranges for him to meet her later, and they go to a nightclub. She begs him to help her escape America, explaining that her boyfriend, a professional wrestler, beats her when he loses a wrestling match. Turner's sense of chivalry is aroused, and a fight occurs when the boyfriend arrives. Turner, to his surprise, knocks the boyfriend down, but when he does, the girl turns on him rather than thanking him for defending her. Her quasi-seduction of Turner is a ploy she's used on other men in the past, as all those around her already know. She never intended to leave the wrestler, as she craves his abuse. Turner rips the mask from her face, but is repulsed by her lack of grooming and by her expression of hatred. He leaves, anxious to return to England.
Residents of the English town of Castleford in Yorkshire were probably delighted to hear that UK TV station Channel 4 was to film a documentary of the ongoing urban regeneration scheme, up until their local council decided to rename a local landmark ahead of filming. The popular local landmark had been known as “Tickle Cock Bridge” since Victorian times - probably due to its popularity as a trysting place according to one local historian – but prudish council members decided to put up signs for the more polite “Tittle Cott Bridge” for the cameras. However local objections have been so vocal that the officials have been forced to back down and restore the feature’s original “rude” name.