Lunch again. 1:30 pm martinis. For her. My work day doesn’t end until the last word typed before my eyes close. A bit dramatic, yet still, lavender double shot espresso blended iced latte for me. Yeah, I’m needing something lavender. From decay grows the lotus.
“My fantasies were filled with faceless men. No, actually the same man, I think. He never had a face, like any man of your fantasy fill-in. He was the kind of addictive cruel, one part sadist, one part devourer–obsessive and possessive. You know?”
“Any way, I always used him to start me off…like my go-to Playboy centerfold. A pre-pubescent boy’s wrinkled up centerfold he hides under his mattress to jerk off to when the folks are gone. I embarrassed myself with such a cliche fantasy: the cruel lover who made me do things. You know?”
I didn’t want to know. Not on an iced latte. I’d have to switch to martinis. I nodded.
“A writer should be able to masturbate to something less classic, more creative than a faceless fantasy fascist.”
“In your defense, you write feature stories not erotica.”
“Yeah, well…Johnny Depp, even as jackass pirate shows a little more imagination–and taste…
But then after a few years with Vincent, it hit me. The faceless fascist disappeared. And you know what an obsessive-possessive nut job he turned out to be.”
“So, you’re saying you manifested Vincent? What’s the moral of the story here? Was he really that demanding? Or commanding? Or I should say, commandant. Did he totally control your mind and body, violently, if necessary? Maybe just a little bdsm?”
“Yes, all of it. He wasn’t violent. I wouldn’t have stayed. He just…just…I don’t know…owned me. Subtlety. In inches. He crept up on me, and before I knew it, I was not going out with friends, and cutting down my hours at my job, and worrying if someone stopped by to visit and stayed too long, when Vincent would come home and wince at the sight of anyone ‘intruding.’ Well, you know. You called it my ‘leave of absence from myself.’ And it was. But he’s gone, and so are the faceless fascist fantasies. Now I slap a face on my imaginary friends. Like that checker at the food mart. He’s adorable.”
I reflected a second in between chuckles. Some fantasies are fantasies so long as there’s little possibility that they become real. In fact, the more far-fetched, the sexier, more enticing. But when fantasy becomes reality, the thrill is gone. At least I doubt women (or men) slapped faces of Stalin, Mussolini, or Hitler on their fantasy men. But I can’t be sure.
We decided our favorite coffee is wine on this sweaty hot summer late afternoon. The temps rose to about 88 degrees even here at the beach. So we met at a wine bar by the water instead of our usual siesta hour coffee place. I enjoyed a Patson Hall Chardonnay, chilled, and she a Central Valley Pinot Noir, whose name I forgot. Cheers, clink, and she was off. First the job, politics, and then her current “person of interest.”
Her: I like a guy who talks me up dirty. Just gets me going, like when D***** says, “Gonna pump sum jiz in you” right before he cums. I want to scream, “Go, go, go for it, fucker!!” And her voice does get loud.
I wince, probably visibly. I mused how I’m more of a Nike kind of girl. Don’t announce. Just do it.
Her: I must have some sort of oral fixation that I get off on sex talk like that, his mouth clenched in urgency, coughing out, “Here it cums, baby.” Makes the finale all the more spectacular. I should have been an actress, not a business major. It all seems so meta sexual, you know, like acting out sex inside the sex act. You know what I mean?
I nod. Honestly I did. Like sex in front of a mirror. The self-consciousness of the act as act. The wine buzz would not let me fall into the full possibilities of sex, mirrors, and performance. I shook it off, silently.
Her: I mean when T** and I were seeing each other, he was the quiet church mouse type. He performed all right, but I never could gauge the decibels of his pleasure like I can with D*****. I can coordinate my own orgasm much easier with the verbal cues.
The church mouse visual stuck in my mind, I just then remembered the guy who shushed me during sex. We had been dating for a few months; it wasn’t the first time we were going at it. But he all of the sudden unquestionably shushed me, like I was making too much noise. The only thing missing was the hand covering my mouth.
We were at a hotel. He had kids, a divorce, too soon, all of that. And what? He didn’t want to disturb other hotel guests? I wasn’t screaming, that’s for sure. He was a serviceable lover but not scream-worthy. I was stunned, totally thrown off. I didn’t even question why or how or what. But afterward, I became hyper aware of the sounds I would have made had I not stifled them before they came out. I couldn’t cum.
It wasn’t long after that we broke up. I’m not sure if it was because of that. We just didn’t have enough gelling to get over the breach.
The server came by just then. “Yes, I’ll have another. Same.”
Image: the Purple Passport
“I adore looking down at his face, his mouth and chin wet with my pussy,” she sighs.
An unmistakeable internal wince triggers the 20-second rapid-fire movie reel of analysis playing before my mind’s eye:
“Why the discomfort at glimpsing a peek into her fucking? It’s not like I’m intruding. Certainly I have outgrown my culturally infused hang-ups about nudity and pleasure long characterized as pornographic guilt sources. And the word “pussy” ceased to make me bristle decades ago, ” I muse.
She and I confess daily details hidden from the public in the corners and crevices of our lives each week for years now. “From whence does this auto-shame come?” I hear a feigned British accent ask inside my head.
I watch her circle her hollow straw round the inside of the half empty mocha blended drink she seemingly speaks into. Her fingers are long, delicate and deceptively thin for how strong they are. I have seen them finger guitar frets and forcefully rip out knotted laces of a five year old’s shoes with ease. And her lips belong to a much younger woman, half her age, the way they remain stained pink-naked like the color of her fingertips after strumming that guitar.
The rolling analysis halts at the sound of her voice.
“But he still can’t make me cum.”
Shaking my head, “After all these years…?”
“I know, right? You would think he could figure it out. Of course I don’t give him much help finding his way. I give hints like it’s some sort of treasure hunt or game of you’re-getting-warmer…put your finger here, circle like this, now move here… but I lose interest when the whole lesson becomes teachy and disruptive to the flow. I prefer to masturbate for cumming and leave the loving to him.”
“Hmmm…” I intone. Funny how we parcel the sides of ourselves out like that, almost a division of labor delegation to those who specialize according to training and capability. Who is more trained at knowing a body than its long-exploring owner? And it’s far greater, multiply abundant, to love physically with another than alone.
“How ’bout dem Ducks,” she mocks, and we’re off to more surface ground.
“I was going to make you a cake, but I had no eggs,” she cried and then crumpled to the floor. No consoling her. She was crushed, fragile as the empty space where the egg carton used to be–a shadow of a former delicate, susceptible embryo container.
She too had been plucked from her mother’s warmth too soon, arresting her world in a devil’s playground of tears and fearful misfortunes always on the verge, always.
“It’s okay, really okay. It was their time to fly. You couldn’t have known. It’s not your fault. I love cake, but I love you more. Come up and sit beside me this time, just now.”
She wiped her nose in the plaid flannel folds of her elbow and rose. It was over.
“I finally convinced my students that writers are like magicians. They make something out of nothing. Turning a blank sheet of paper into an essay is like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, changing the properties of one thing to transform it into another.”
“And they bought that?”
“Because you hold their future, namely their grades, in your hands, you think?
“Maybe. Whatever it takes.”
“Sounds like teaching is a lot like extortion.”
“There’s a lot of ‘or else’ in life, not just in teaching. Everything is a matter of dangling carrots or dodging sticks: Pay your bills on time or pay penalties, finance charges or lose your electricity. Pay your bills on time and build good credit, so you can have more credit. Sticks and carrots.”
“Speaking of which, I’ll get the check this time. You paid last time.”
“Carrot. You want me to show up next week to reciprocate–or retaliate, right?”
“9:07. No actually it’s 9:55. Gates open at 9:10”
“And you land at 11 something?”
“Short flight. I like short flights.”
“And long sex?”
“I wish I still smoked cigarettes. Seems like the perfect moment, the perfect accessory. I would take a long, sultry drag of a cigarette and with half lids and pouty mouth, slowly exhale smoke and say in my best Marlene Dietrich, ‘Yes, my dahling. And long sex.’ And then wink.”
Turning the key, I hear the wheels scratching the tar and asphalt, metal struts hitting cement. The skateboarders like the open space–and the night. This corner of the strip mall is recessed, secreted at night far from the beaming boulevard with auto showcases and fast food restaurants.
Tonight’s boarder seems older, maybe mid-thirties even. He is lean and has a beard, and he looks like he is in the zone, grooving with sways and swivels. And jumps. Fluid like an eel.
But then I thought about my sweater I left at Gina’s last night. I don’t know when I’ll get it back, and I like it so much.
The door needs to be jiggled after it’s locked to check that it really is locked. Or maybe it doesn’t, but I need to check anyhow. The locking click of metal into slot and resulting tightness in the door’s mobility are pretty good testament to the door being locked. But I must jiggle nevertheless. It’s a compulsion.
The skateboarder makes another round to my corner. I sit in my car for a few minutes before driving off, taking inventory of all of the cords and usb plugs and devices. I charge and read, sometimes play games to wile away the time, chip at it with distraction; they are long shifts.
How free inside the gut and soul to skateboard when it’s right, when the sync is on. I remember snowboarding and those clicked moments: it feels so natural, so inborn–and joyful. The same joy as symmetry or coincidence, synchronicity, except fuller and rounder.
There is no snow boot big enough now. I won’t be boarding in a long while, I imagine. Still thinking about tattooing that bracelet silhouette on my ankle after it’s gone. It will be gone.
Though dinner last night was elegant and lovely, the guests lively, the hosts gracious and welcoming beyond measure–as always–I needed to be alone and felt awkward. Old friends should not make me uncomfortable. I’ve known Gina and Richard for decades. Perhaps because I just sermonized on introverts and declared myself one, I needed to prove it to myself. Since no one else cares. But I did feel sick, dizzy, like I was going to pass out from being too drunk, only I had had only one beer and a good amount of food with it. Could it have been stress?
My social anxiety is not that extreme. I don’t know what happened to me. But I suspect the pot everyone was smoking–and the over stimulation. F and C, new to the usual guest list, talk a lot, quick-talk about intriguing topics only remotely known to me, like Photoshop and cellular biology, so I have to concentrate. I can’t tell if they are smart or silly, self-inventors or mere drunks and stoners. Maybe all of them, and who cares? I suppose I have to label them so I can figure out if I like them or had a good time. Did I have a good time?
Their space–an oasis in urbanity–is mind-freeing, open to nature’s chaos mixed with their own, overlaid with nourishing touches, finishes and tucks of warmth. The night had that last bit of summer air, only a hint of cool. Unusually thick for a Southern California September night. Usually, the desert cold of night sets in around this time. So dinner outside was perfect, candles and overhanging white lights, festival lights without color, decorating trees and wood trellises. The fire pit flames cast shadows on the brick walls low like baseboard trim to the relentless hay, weeds and succulents strewn through the unrolling backyard.
It was a potentially too-long drive past Manhattan Beach, not in the maddening sense too long, but past the point of acceptability for a one and a half hour dinner. How many hours should one drive round trip proportional to the time spent at the dinner? Had I spent four hours, which I could have had I not freaked out, and drove two hours, which I did, then it would not have been a bad return on my driving time investment. The ratio seems reasonable.
Mopping the store floor when buzzed is the only way to get the full enjoyment of mopping. It’s like seeing Forbidden Zone on acid. Everything makes sense when you do.
Turning the lights on, cruising in my jalopy, a champagne 1998 Nissan Maxima, the first three-point turn to get on track gets me up close to the skateboarder, who dovetails just at the left side front end of the car.
His eyes meet mine, and I want to peer into them hard to see what it feels like to be free inside, to know joy at the core so fleeting, yet practiced in stealth, climbing the degrees of duration until the skill to ride fearlessly and flawlessly was always there. Only my windshield is too dirty. I swoop past in a wide arc and catch the flash glance each of us share, acknowledging our existences seconds deep; then I hit the bright boulevard headed for home.
She nods, not lifting her eyes from the words on the screen, and mumbles a “hmmm…”
“But the worst part is that I get so angry about it, cursing out loud, speeding up, trying to make eye contact to give the person the stink eye and stab them with my utter disgust. Why would I even care? Why would I make myself so worked up?”
Still bathed in the glow of the screen and not looking up, she responds distractedly, “I don’t know.”
“And I immediately check myself and wonder how I could lose my cool like that, let someone just take me out of myself into the hate zone. My thoughts get ripped from wherever they were to this horrid place some stupid stranger took me to–with my permission. It frustrates me that I cannot resist…cannot NOT react.”
She looks up from the computer, and turns all the way around in her chair, 180 degrees, and faces her now–she with her back turned who rummages through the refrigerator as her complaints dissolve into questions that perplex the vegetables she picks up one by one–broccoli rabes, Japanese eggplant, and summer squash–examines and then shuffles to the far side of the shelf.
“Then my reaction to having reacted like an ass, an overly angry ass, is even worse, just berating myself for being out of control and habitually reactive. I mean I just want to let these things pass without getting my adrenaline pumping—just once. But the whole thing is just one big ugly pattern that I can’t change….ingrained, like….a disease…Have you seen the…? I think I put it…
Oh! I didn’t hear you sneak up behind me. Aw baby, that’s so nice…you’re so toasty warm. Just what the doctor ordered mmmm…”
“We toggle the gas pedal of politics between zealotry and apathy,” she complained. “One day we parade in protest for rights, wrongs and indifferences of some group, some perp, some activist, some governmental faction that failed or should not even exist, and the next day we go home and order up Chinese, bitching about how long the delivery service takes to go two city blocks.”
Her dilated pupils betrayed the calm cynical shellac of her words.
I wanted to reply with something equally poised and stunning, but my mind was stuck on crystals. Sometimes I get like that, in a mental tic. I read that quote by Stendhal earlier.
What did Stendhal know about the process of crystallization, of solutes and nuclei, when he teased out the strands of love, a taxonomy of four–the usual suspects like passion, ego, appearance, and lust? Something like that.
“I call ‘crystallization’ that action of the mind that discovers fresh perfections in its beloved at every turn of events.”
We submerge others in the playground of our projections, our imagined lovelies that just get lovelier–because we want it so.
Sylvia Plath wrote plainer (“I think I made you up inside my head”).
“I believe you,” I replied to fill the lull of exhaustion her statement left. “So what are we going to do to change the world? Order lunch?”
She stared through me, and my thoughts squinted, wondering what lay behind me.
A man with a short face, not from chin to forehead but tip of the beaky nose to upper lip–not enough distance. The topography of his face is flat as if the effort of blooming a nose and plumping some lips was abandoned half way to finished. The eyes are photoshopped Cancun ridge of the sea blue, but paler, far too brilliant for his age in a hand’s decades, no dullness to the liquid gaze, like polished museum or Madison Avenue marble flooring–a splendorous richesse of gloss. The face is proportionate to the rest of him, distant soccer player traces of a cut angle just below the scapula, a rounded sternum suggesting the brim of a broad chest but for the expansion below that arcs convexly far more than it should beyond the belt. But the semblance of a prime physique resides, the residuals of fitness imports a belated youth to his figure. His name is Beagleman.
A recent return from the edge of a self-inflicted, imploding dual-minded fury left him enervated and his tawny fatigued suitcase paupered.