DEBAUCHERY or BUST
I did not call this book “Depravity or Bust” for a very good reason. And that is because I didn’t want to be depraved. I just wanted to find myself in the middle of an orgy and not be too embarrassed or self-righteous or courteous to have an unforgettable good time.
“Debauchery” means different things to different people in different cultural settings. Yet there are fairly-well tested limits on what the human condition can take in a given 24-hour period, and most true devotees of the many arts of dissipation have tried pressing those limits, to many of the same ends. When I began, I had no inclination to do any testing of this sort. But as I worked my way into the subject, I had strong cravings for total self-abandonment… not in the name of fun or good times, but merely as an involved and humanly forgivable way of self-annihilation, which is to say, committing cultural, mental, and eventual physical suicide. I’ve told a good bit of this story in my novel The Middle-Aged Strategic Self-Indulgence Initiative. I have stolen a few stories from that book to put into this one, which is not disguised as a novel. The present book is not about my drive to Debauchery, USA, but only about a few of the incidents on the trip, as well as the thoughts I had as they were occurring. I don’t believe I ever got there. You will see this is not all that debauched, believe me. Reality TV is the real thing.
Let me say right here, that my kids routinely get more debauched, and know infinitely more about debauchery, than me. In fact, my son is a camera man for reality TV. I had no idea that flaunting debauchery was such a hot ticket item. Of course, they don’t call it debauchery anymore. It is just what today’s generation expects of a good time. The artfulness and games of debauchery that the Romans developed don’t have much up on what they invent for “Temptation Island” or “Paradise Hotel.” You read Satyricon and you will find few people as blissfully self-engrossed in good times as the contestants you can find on any channel, being taught to extend the expectations and delightfulness of their eventual orgasms, every day over the airways. The extravagance and waste which the Romans could put into food orgies probably compares to the production costs of mounting a national TV show for 10 year olds and nursing home residents to devour, vomit, and come up for more. Like I said, “debauchery” is probably a very relative term.
In any case, this is not meant to be a “How to” book. These are not stories so much as anecdotes, which I meant to use the way a preacher starts a sermon. Luckily, I prefer the anecdote to the idea attached to it….the raw story usually has more reality than its interpretation. So, after several years of failing to sell my phenomenological writing, I decided to put together all the spicy stories into a single book and try to peddle that.
August 28, 2003
SUICIDE SQUEEZE, or THE HAPPY LITTLE FLOPHOUSE... 7
A Whore by Any Other Name................................................ 9
Axiom of the Ass'ole in Us All........................................ 12
The Most Effective Alternative Purpose to Life. 12
JUST ONE MORE DRINK............................................................ 28
TRASHING THE ARTS................................................................. 30
AN EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCE.............................................. 14
IN SEARCH OF THE TAWDRY.................................................... 14
OF UNSPOKEN PORES & CREVICES...................................... 31
The Moebius Stripper.......................................................... 34
What Do You Do With The Gushers?.............................. 35
WOOD in the WATER................................................................. 37
The Electric Spot................................................................. 40
LOSING YOUR MEMORY............................................................ 47
JUST TELLING STORIES........................................................... 48
WAITING FOR THE RAPTURE.................................................... 49
In the back-street behind a town square in every other small industrial city you can still find a wall of windows above a boarded-up hotel entrance. Alongside, there'll be a black door with a red flourescent sign that says B A R.
I go into this place occasionally. Why do I go in? You think I'm looking for a whore or dope? You don't have to believe me, but I took a panhandler into this place for a beer once instead of giving him change. It was a pretty amazing place then, and so I've taken to stopping back whenever I pass through that town.
Any time of day you walk in the beer signs will still be glowing on the red-lacquered walls. There are thirty-year-old posters of the great names of Detroit music all around, and rhythm & blues is playing on the jukebox. I'm not saying every one of these industrial town flophouse bars is like this, although this place was jamming, and you deserve to know what an evening at a flop-house bar at the end of the Twentieth Century might have been like. They may never be like this again. They might be like this forever. Like the jazz-club on Tetouan where Luke Skywalker hooks up with Chewy. Except this place was lit like a kitchen and wouldn't get sinister even when its patrons were as hot and greasy as a frying pan, and the emotional pace was the speed of an ice hockey game.
I was standing between a bearded mechanic and two hefty black girls in matching striped banlon racing suits. The barmaid was short with unkempt hair. I couldn't see any eyes through the lenses of her glasses - just jello-like blurs and a toothless smile when she served my mug and took my dollar. The dollar included the tip.
Across from me there was a cross-eyed woman as thin as a cigarette in a red tank-top, a balding glass-eyed lady in a summer house dress, and a grizzled sunburnt old girl smoking a cigarillo. Their beers were sitting together on the bar and they kept coming back to them, but they were in and out gabbing and hugging some muscle-bound black guys and a few white mechanic-types in t-shirts. A guy in painter's whites and painter's hat was playing pool with a striking brunette wearing no bra, skin-tight jeans, and heels. The automechanics were trading insults with the old alcoholics. Everyone was talking to everyone.
Two little kids - 3 or 4 year olds - were running around people's legs and playing hide and seek between bar stools and the pool tables. The place was owned by a family of Lebanese. The manager was a guy in his mid-thirties leaning on two thick canes at the cash register. He was filling a pipe and chatting. Grandmother was sitting at the corner of the bar next to a wispy-haired drunk. Every now and then the bouncer, a massive Arab, would catch the kids up under his arms and carry them out the side door. Then they'd bolt back into the bar and hide under great-granma's stool.
That’s how it was when the manager got his pipe lit and gamely dragging his legs, hobbled across the inside of the bar towards the sad bug-eyed guy sitting next to Granma.
"Don, it's time you got to bed, Don,” he said pleasantly. “No more for you. Go on!!
When the drunk didn’t bat an eye, the manager got forceful. “Get to your room and get some sleep. Go on ,now."
Don had this wry and weary smile and didn't move, staring right through the speaker. The manager turned half around, then repeated himself sternly,
“Get to your ROOM and get some SLEEP. NOW!!"
But then he shrugged, turned the rest of the way around, and focused on getting himself back to the cash register.
Suddenly, out of the clutch of the three craggy women, this black guy, built like a basketball player, tank-top and a backwards ball-cap on was yelling across the bar.
"Cut it out!!" He was laughing. "Lay off, man!" . His arm outstretched over the bar, muscles rippling, he was pointing at Don, the bulge-eyed drunk. Don still had on his wry smile, and was staring at the spot the manager had just left.
"I said CUT IT OUT or I'm gonna MAKE you cut it out!!" The basketball player's hands were in the air now. He punctuated what he said by laughing. Nobody seemed to pay attention, and the bouncer was nowhere to be seen.
"Alright! YOU gonna see!" The guy sways his arms, drops his wrists and pointed both index fingers at Don like he's getting a dance step on, pushed his seat back and swaggered around to the bug-eyed drunk
"I TOLD you to CUT it out, Man, an' you wouldn't listen! So I'm gonna SHUT your mouth!"
He walked behind the old drunk and put his big hands around his neck. It was almost "tenderly," or "brotherly," like they were fraternity brothers goofing. And as he laughed his fingers closed around the bulging adam's apple and windpipe.
Everyone's conversation stopped. The place was silent, and he was still squeezing.
"See! I MADE you stop!"
The manager flung himself on his walker half-way across the bar.
"Clyde! Clyde! Get a-hold of yourself!!"
Don's eyes were popping out of his head and his tongue was stuck out. He was white and greyish blue as his skull stood out beneath paper-thin skin . Clyde was still squeezing.
Now imagine counting to thirty as fast as you can in a hushed silence. Only then did Clyde snap out of it and let Don go, yelling, "He wouldn't stop! HE WOULDn't STOP!".
Don's head fell on the bar like a bowling ball. He slumped and began sliding off the chair when some guy nearby caught him and held him onto his stool. Clyde was laughing, nervously.
"He wouldn't stop! He wouldn't lay off me! That's the only way I can stop him! He doesn't know when to stop!!"
Everyone was screaming simultaneously from around the bar. In my own surprise I was yelling, too. "an for THAT you'd go to the chair? Thirty people were watching!!"
Suddenly the big Arab bouncer appeared.
He stood Don up. "You should've gone to bed like we told you", and two guys dragged the near-corpse out of the bar.
Then the arab turned to Clyde. "Now you want to try that with ME? Or maybe I should try it with you?"
Clyde shrivelled up and looked away.... right at ME, in fact.
"I was only trying to get him to stop calling me a faggot," he said to me as if I was the impartial observer here.
The arab turned Clyde around to face him "So what? I'LL call you a faggot, FAGGOT!"
"But I'm NOT, and he wouldn't lay off?"
"So what, FAGGOT!! WHat does it matter? FAGGOT! You want to cause more trouble with me?" And the arab walked off. Grandmother was sitting in the middle, unperturbed.
Then Clyde walked over to me to explain himself. I was the stranger. He started to repeat himself a couple times, and I cut him off, "Look, man. Another second and you coulda ended in the slammer. For what?"
"I really had'm didn't I? RIGHT on his windpipe! In another couple seconds HE woulda been GONE!!"
Clyde didn't take long to process reality. He became sober, recalcitrant, humble.
"Sometimes a few seconds can seem like a whole hour, you know. Sometimes I can't always feel time going by. I'm gonna mess up, ain't I?"
Then a bunch of Clyde's friends dragged him back to their seats to yell at him, and I finished up my beer and left. "He just wouldn't lay off me!" I heard one last time as the door closed behind me. On the way up the street I saw Don slumped inside the building's cellar steps drinking a can of Sprite.
"Are you OK?" I asked, relieved to see him still alive.
"Yeh. I been choked before. ... about every other night..."
Last night I knew I was in for a long one at work, and so hit the local pub for happy hour before returning to work. I was so caught up in work, however, that after scarfing down a few quesadillas I ran back up to the office and left half a pint of lager on the counter. About 11 PM I finished up and drove home, with a fresh print of my latest literary effort under my arm (for needless to say, while I do not partake of my literary pastimes in the office, I don't hesitate to partake of the office laser printer for my literary pastimes). I figured I'd run through a quick edit at my favorite watering hole for an hour or two, as it was the end of the week and who needs sleep. But my watering hole was closed when I got there, and so were all the others in town, it being a small town and if there's no one around at midnite the bartender doesn't stick around to buff the lacquer.
So I headed across the river to the next town, a pretty well-to-do place that I like avoiding, and went to a fancy old hotel bar that I thought might be on last call. To my surprise there were over a dozen people in there, not the regular town tavern type, mind you, but storekeepers and some college matronly older maids around a table. No jukebox on, Howard Stern was on, but the sound was turned off. There was just good chatter allaround. So I found me a big empty spot in the middle of the bar, ordered my pint, and started editing. That's when I noticed this elderly gentleman two seats to my left. I call him elderly because he was about 10 years older than me and looked 61 or thereabouts, as opposed to me who looks 35 and not a day younger. He was getting very tipsy and was busy fondling a blond immediately to his right, which is to say immediately to my left. She, in the meantime was chattering on, and letting him. For some very odd reason I had failed to notice her when I took my seat. Upon walking in and glancing around, I had made some quick assumptions about the drinking inhabitants of rich little commercial towns, and that was that. However, I took a second look at her and noticed that she had on a white cotton dress shirt, hanging out, and black silk stockings up to her thighs. But when she leaned over towards the older man it became very clear that she had nothing else on! There was an otherwise naked bottom sitting on the barstool.
As I checked this out, rather unbelieving, she happened to turn around and make eye contact. I turned to my beer. A few minutes later I looked back over to check this situation out again. She also happened to look over, smile, and extricating herself from the elderly arms, she reached over to my ashtray to flick an ash.
"What's your name?" she asked.
"HOW did you get that name?"
Many people ask me this, so I am not surprised by the question. However, she immediately followed the question with this ----
"That's MY name!!! Do you want to hear how I got it?"
To which I naturally said, "Yes, I would, thank you."
This provided her a reason to slide her seat over to mine and begin leaning into me and rubbing her stockings against my thighs, as she had previously been engaged with the elderly gentleman. Her shirt was very long, so when she stood up to move, it discreetly came down to her knees. And it turned out she really had a story of how she became known as Sparky... and it's not just that she told every guy she met that her name was Jim, Marvin, Harold, or Sancho. She got it when she was 12 and got nearly electrocuted during a rainstorm while trying to save her spaniel named … I don’t remember the name. Anyway I believed her, and suddenly the elderly gentleman woke up and realized he was missing his fondling and pulled her back.
It wasn't long after that I came on a great line in my manuscript to reintroduce myself with. I had made a thoroughly rash and unresearched statement about the bipolar, scalar nature of pleasure in climaxes. I hadn't exactly made the point that way, but that was the essence of the point, and so I leaned over and said,
"You know, I just wanted to ask you both whether you have very different kinds of orgasms at different times?"
She was very quick to speak up.
"That's JUST what we were talking about, wasn't it Mike?"
"What?" said Mike.
"That you have big orgasms and little orgasms."
"Oh" said Mike.
"So it's true then? I'd never bothered asking anyone, but figured it had to be, since mine are."
She threw her arms on my shoulder, and pulled me towards her.
"We've can't let this one get away, can we Mike?!" she said as she planted a long luscious french kiss into my upward orifice.
"Well, I guess you shouldn't" said I, nonplussed.
Why are you writing this?" and she grabbed the manuscript from me.
I tried vainly to explain, but didn't get far when Mike pulled her away from me.
Several minutes later she was back, apologizing for her friend's behavior.
"Oh, that's hardly necessary," I said in a most genteel way.
"Tell me," she asked again, "Why are you writing this? What is it really ABOUT?"
I tried vainly to explain, but didn't get far when Mike pulled her away from me.
Several minutes later she was back, again apologizing for her friend's behavior.
"Oh, that's hardly necessary," I said in a most genteel way.
"Tell me," she asked again, "Why are you writing this? What is it really ABOUT?"
People tend to repeat themselves in bars, and you can find yourself having the exact same conversation eight or nine times if you are not on your toes. I didn't really want to be on my toes, since a few repeats of the line "We can't let this one get away" followed by that luscious french kiss could have been considered appropriate many times during the night. Unfortunately, the auto-repeat function seemed to skip and she went on.
"What do you DO for a living, that makes you want to write this?"
"I'm a technical writer," I answered. "What do YOU do that makes you so curious?"
"I'm an MSNE."
"A WHAT?" I asked.
"An MSNE. Microsoft Network Engineer."
"Oh," I said. "That explains it all."
And despite her association with Microsoft I found her to be a very interesting person, and we swapped email addresses and she convinced me to give her the hardcopy of the manuscript to read.
Her feedback will be greatly appreciated.
We’re all philosophers. Nearly everybody has well-stated answers and opinions with half an hour of stories behind them. They’re a quarter a peep. Good philosophy gives us questions – new questions. Questions worth getting curious about, giving you an appetite to look, think, and maybe engage in things, experiencing them. Of course, it is in nature of questions to expect answers. If we re-discover old answers to new questions it is sometimes as good as getting new answers to old questions. We have, in fact, added some more coherence to what is around us – what we see, hear, and think. And in this is the consolation of good philosophy, for it can help us appreciate why the hell things are as screwed up as they are. Of course there are fools who think they can give us the same stale answers to any and all questions – and how they think they can get away with it is a good question in itself. But then I think I have some interesting new answers to why many types of fools exist and thrive in this world. I don’t classify this with philosophy, however, rather with metaphysics.
In any case, I like listening to people with sincere questions. They wake me up, and remind me what it was to be young and curious again. I once was face-to-face with one of the most existential and intimate of human questions in a go-go bar in Louisville. It was not an essentially new question, but it was stated with a rather new and unique perspective in a place that had a painted tin ceiling from Mark Twain’s days.
Breaking from an extended tongue-to-tongue texture test, the dancer (that is, this girl who was hustling me) took my head in her hands and pressed us cheek-to-cheek, to face a wall-to-wall mirror. 
"Do you ever see yourself like this and not recognize your face at all? And you look at those eyes and your nose and mouth and ears, and they just look funny and out of place? Do you?" she asked. "I do, all the time" she continued not waiting for an answer, "We're so weird, put together like this. Why are we so mixed up? Why is it all, I mean everything, put together the way it is?"
And all this time she was holding our heads together, not two inches from that wavy mirror in the grungy old club with a painted tin ceiling. Then she let go, hugged me again and started singing with the jukebox. As she went on to the next guy I was thinking "Geez, I haven't hit that level of curiosity since I was about seven years old - but damn, I think I have the same feelings all the time...."
And so she had hit on the level of questioning we shall have to maintain through this book, since the game of squeezing in more experience – and more pleasure into our experience, the game I call “Squeezeplay,” is almost as familiar to us as looking at ourselves the mirror. We’re involved it in all the time, and are hardly aware of it.
Every few months or so I stop by this little bar at the corner of a neighborhood shopping center that has free hot roast beef sandwiches for lunch - and if you ask, the barmaid will give you a giant jar of horseradish along with your beer. And the beer is only a buck. And the barmaid Mary is a gem. If anyone ever pictured a wifty blond, happy and loud and bouncing from one side of the bar to the other, it might be her. She's a little heftier and older and tougher than the St. Pauli girl, but just a little. And everything you say is the occasion for a happy crack, and a flouncing gesture as she thinks of something else she has to do. Never long enough here, never there, just everywhere serving and wiping, and dishing, and ringing up, and drawing a tap, and laughing. A laugh with every other word.
I stopped in last week and was immediately throttled by a very drunk fellow, about 28 or so, with a ball cap on and a few teeth missing who demanded to know if I was a Jew or an Italian. It's not the greatest of neighborhoods. Mary greeted me with "So what'll it be, your regular?" and let it be known I was a regular rather than a Jew or Italian. I'd only been in maybe 4 times, but Mary's a gem. So I turned around from the guy and paid for my beer with no incident. And right away an old geezer with an older undershirt falling over his shoulder sits down next to me. He too is very drunk, and introduces himself.
"I'm wondering if you could do me a favor" he asks. "I'll give you one of these twenties to give me a ride home." He pulls out a wad of bills and peels off a grubby Jackson.
"I would if I didn't have a meeting to get to at one," I said, "I'd be happy to drive you wherever. But that twenty'll get you a cab. Why can't you get home that way?" I asked.
"No cabbies `ll pick me up here anymore," he says. "When I'm like this I give'm too much lip."
Then to illustrate, he calls over to Mary, the barmaid. "HEY YOU!!! You f'((#n dizzy B I TCH!!!!
Wher's MY f((##N shot!! You DIZZY f(*@@#N BITCH! Get your overstuffed ass over here, BITCH!! I want a BEER too!"
"Oh, I see. No wonder they want to kick you out" I said. "But she's too happy to talk to like that! Can't you watch your mouth?"
"No," he said, "I can't.
I'm always telling them they can't fuckn drive, or they missed a turn, or they see like a blind old lady. I just can't help it. By the way, my name's Bill."
"My name's Spark Eye, and like I said I'd be glad to drive you to your place, but you'd probably yell at me the same way, and besides, I've got a meeting to go to right after I finish this roast beef."
"It's turkey, you ass hole!"
"Well, so it is !!. But anything with this much horseradish tastes like roast beef."
"I used to grow horseradish years ago." He said calmly. And just as calmly, turned to Mary, "You dizzy BITCH!! I'M WAITING FOR MY beer.!! AND the SHOT!!? You fuckn' fat DIZZY BITCH!" And then he looked at me with an elfin smile and winked.
Mary hadn't laughed since the last lashing. She was vacantly wiping the bar, and arranging glassware.
"You don't get another beer. You're too drunk, Bill, and you're going to have to go home."
"You're right." Said Bill. And he stumbled over to the drunk with the ballcap on, and two of them stumbled over to me and shook my hand and started to leave with some other guy who had agreed to drive them both home for the twenty. And as Bill left he began his tirade at Mary all over again.
He was very convincing. When he was yelling at her there was not even the slightest hint of the game he was playing. There was only the immense power of a deep-seated anger; and it was backed up with a razor-sharp bitterness that was meant to leave scars.
After he left she tried to manage a bit of a laugh once or twice, and I'm sure in a little bit she bounced back to normal. Because Bill was a regular, and was clear he really had a soft spot for Mary (and probably for cabbies, too), but he just couldn't get these feelings down right. Bitching was too gratifying.
We all know of types who seem to sustain themselves on complaints. Your mother or step-father may show it in different ways, but I am led to believe that the ease with which we can fall to bitching is just a very standard dashboard component that many of us steer by as we drive through our little worlds.
Those people on our respective blocks who can only complain about things don't do it because their senses are dulled, or because they are dowdy and old and have nothing left to live for, but because they have sidestepped the dilemma of desire and hope. This is why it works so well. They must come up with a complaint quickly so as not to appreciate anything that comes their way.
If you thought I was making a mountain out of a mole-hill to start my list of lemons with the proclivity to complain, you had better take it back. Because you know very well that we want things, and are driven to all distraction to have things, but are rarely satisfied for long. And this is a lemon of the first order.
It represents a basic constraint to our behavior - it doesn't keep us from doing things, but it sure does call the lie to our justifications for doing them. And this is the dilemma of desire and hope that grumbling groaning whining and moaning stand up to, making this the most effective alternative purpose to life. For putting things down, effectively trashing them before they ever have a chance to affect you does away with all kinds of life stresses. To this is added the fact that our senses are constructed to filter things out: and so bitching is a primitive behavior masquerading as critical acumen.
So when my friends and family and co-workers and teachers routinely trash my ideas I remind myself that it is because it makes them feel like their filtering faculties are up to snuff, and says nothing at all about my ideas. For these are excellent.
Thus, complainers have accidentally stumbled on a common denominator underlying action, and have solved it in a personal, if seemingly perverse way.
It is well-known and quite obvious that appetites are tied to a whole set of sensory mechanisms that keep us driving, and keep driving us. They are very natural hungers beyond the lowest rung on the Maslow hierarchy, e.g. food and shelter - which include:
craving (of the senses), curiosity (of the mind); hope (of the spirit), and less frequently, wonder (of the whole full-bodied soul).
And these human hungers demand a food of their own, which is not easy to come by. But by complaining you put them all aside and take control!
Remembering that we equilibriate the moment our craving, curiosity, hope, and wonder are satisfied - you will understand how complaining helps relieve these natural hungers very efficiently:
You may doubt the truth of this lemon if you wish, just as I began to, when someone else in the bar added as Bill walked out: "That guy would be a whole lot better off if he didn't still live with his mother."
In any case, the bitterness in this lemon is the fact that by the afternoon we are bored with what was exciting in the morning. No matter how much we pack in, we will very soon treat whatever we have as if we always had it. Therefore, it is most beneficial not to let any of this disillusionment take place, and is much closer to the truth of this world to look forward to finding new things to complain about from the start:
"The most effective alternative appetite for life is to complain."
The lemonade to be drawn from this lemon is that the unceasing reshuffling of our innards towards equilibrium is also the root dynamics of balance, without which we could not very well walk. And our natural proclivity for balance provides a most fascinating component of creativity: which is the ability to throw ourselves off-balance in stimulating and relatively safe situations, in order to topple back up with a creative flourish. Quite like tap-dancing, or playing be-bop on a show-tune. It is how the best story-tellers embellish the telling as they pause and stumble over a word or an image, it is also perhaps one of the central moves in affecting a successful squeezeplay. It is, after all, essential to play. But you are free to ignore this odd association of complaining with balancing, for it is difficult on the nerve-ends.
Of Bars and Animal Displays.
Ming is a grizzled electronics technician from the coaltown of Shamoken Penna, who got work in the military industrial complex after learning his trade in the military. Before that he was a motorcycle technician who made a game of riding over slagfields faster than the time it would take him to be exphyxiated from the smouldering coal below. I've never asked how he got his name and supposed it was from the old comic strip "Terry and the Pirates." But he was hardly Chinese and always wore a Phillies’ ballcap.
I had been drinking with Ming for several years now at the local wateringhole. He only drinks on week-ends, but drinks then like he did when he was riding cycles.
I sip my beer. In order to keep up with me, Ming puts down a six-pack or two before showing up. So here we were sipping our beers - no micro-brewed stuff, but the real all-American piss intended for bars along the secondary highways of this land.
Across the bar was this girl who was displaying her overwhelming love for her boyfriend, to his embarrassment. They were making out as if they were in a car, and there was a line of guys on this side of the bar busy holding up score cards on napkins grading her performance. The guy was mostly rolling his eyes to show his embarrassment, and the scores were ranging between the 4's and 7's.
"Human societies have this strange urge to demonstrate their potency and enlarge their influence and power." I said.
"Well," says Ming, "there ain't no simple thing you can call 'society' unless you're talking about one the size of this crowd we're in right here, and I’ll agree that some of them got a strong urge to demonstrate their potency.”
"I mean, like the 'bodies politic' kind of society, Ming. Lions Clubs and School Boards and the British Empire…."
Ming took a swig and turned to me. "Did I ever tell you about this invention of mine? Greatest thing since the pencil sharpener!"
"Yes, you did. Let me finish!" I said,
"Think of all the groups and subcultures and even littler groups, like rival departments at work ... they treat each other like territorial animals…show off, display their feathers, growl at each other with operating procedures…."
"So what's your point?"
I thought a second, "no point, I guess...."
"No, I mean WHY would you even say anything as stupid as that?"
Ming put down two bucks for another bottle. "Come on..you don't say things for no reason, even if they’re stupid."
"OK, I was thinking that creativity and procreativity have something in common with power and showing off. I have this theory about pulling off confirmations to define ourselves. Showing off could have something to do with all the sensory stuff that can't be really confirmed. And it goes on driving us, or at least some of us..."
"You're way beyond me, dude-"
"It’s what I said that was stupid. I was trying to pack more into it than I should have. The REAL point was, I think, that groups are always trying to define and confirm themselves....., and some of it is through their displays."
"No, man… I work with engineers in the military industrial complex. I like things demonstrated scientifically. You can’t throw out crude comparisons like that. But if you would listen here, I could tell you about this invention of mine, greatest thing since the pencil!"
"It's not a crude comparison...." I was ogling a pair of legs that had just walked in the door, “what do you think education is?"
"WHAaah!?" Ming was looking the same direction, only a little higher. It was clear I’d have to get him to refocus.
"Education is an immensely costly structure to turn our kids into useful members of society. Most of education is a display, though. The indoctrination that all kids recognize and hate –that’s the stuff of potency and power. And everyone pretends that education gives them all the tools and rules of society..but it doesn’t. What makes the kids what they are? Think of all the informal stuff - the media, the malls, the streets and playgrounds… and yet, where do they pick up what they need?? Education is mostly just one more animal display. "
Our bar was very crowded as it often gets on a Friday night.
“Do you mind if I took half your seat?” asked the pair of legs that had just walked in, and worked their way half way round the bar to where Ming and I were sitting.
“Of course not,” I replied, only half-missing the phenomenal structure of what was coming down (i.e. taking place. Nothing was coming down… to the contrary).
Ming’s eyes bugged out rather wide. “Now,” he smirked, “if you want to talk about educational opportunity, I think the time has come!”
But, fool that I am, knew that the only reason I was being paid this manifest complement, being allowed to partake of this beauty’s back and soft blonde hair for the back of my chair - was that I had looked intense and manly throughout my discussion with Ming the Electrician. Unlike the rest of the men at the bar who must have rubbernecked half around, my quick and intense glance at the legs indicated that here was a man, talking like men sometimes do about very important things; but it was clear this man was imminently convertible to talk of other things. I posed a sexual challenge only so long as I maintained an intense composure. I was intent on maintaining that composure.
Ming beat me to it. "OK, OK. So if you're saying the education system is fucking us, you KNOW I'll have to agree!" Ming always knew how to strip a point to bare wire and make the connection. This is why I like talking to him. I can take my most weighty concepts to this grizzled veteran, and like a 6-pack of beer, he'll empty ‘em in 15 minutes. I can return home free of any internal weight whatsoever.
"No, man.” I tried again, “I'm saying that we assume that education has to be there and teach subjects... but it should prepare us to live, to take out a mortgage, to get insurance, to figure out what we might do with our lives and how we can put them together to have a good time and still make ends meet and still do our thing for the economy or science or society or whatever... THAT's what I'm saying education is, and we forget about all that other stuff and just teach "subjects.” Those subjects are no more than displays of all the self-perpetuating societies – language arts teachers, math teachers, history teachers… you know."
I was definitely maintaining, I mean my masculine was maintaining my definite composure. Her back was rubbing against mine and I was talking about school-systems. The couple across the way had started getting a few 10’s, dropping to a four when his eyes drifted to the Nascar highlights.
"Now listen, guy,” said Ming, ”education won't ever do more than that because it's got to teach the fundamentals. You can't do shit without the fundamentals."
I stopped to think a minute. Suddenly, the back of my stool was empty wood again. The legs had gotten up and left. I hadn’t even seen her face.
Ming was comforting.
“She was really beautiful, dude. Nicest thing I’ve seen in here for a few weeks.”
Worse than a boor, I was a bore. I somehow always manage to mis-dis-play my manliness as creativity rather than procreativity at the most crucial moments. I always get it wrong.
Meanwhile, across the way, the girl suddenly stopped her demonstration, picked up her bag and worked around the bar to the lady's room. The napkin scorecards were all balled up and thrown at the guy, who was doing his best to act like he was really only there for the Nascar. When the girl came back, she was oblivious to the commotion she’d caused and truly looked as if she had no idea of what was happening. We couldn’t believe it when she started in all over again, to a chorus of snickers and boos.
Some of us never learn.
Tawdry - a portmanteau of St.Audrey, derived from ASt. Audrey's lace@, a cheap and gaudy jewelry for sale at mediaeval fairs.
I had just got the finishing touches on a portrait of Charles the pianist in soy sauce when this girl peeks around my shoulder to see how it looks. Well, I finally figgur'd it looked just fine, and I told her so. And she agreed and we started up dancin' to Charlie's music.
Soy sauce works a lot bettern' steak sauce for drawing since you can layer it. I never tried barbecue sauce. Someone told me ketchup works OK but I imagine it molds over to green after a year. Soy sauce portraits are robust - stay fresh under glass for 30 years and counting by my experience.
Well, to get back to the story of how I ended up love counselor to a sweet petite ex-stripper I will return the story to the dance floor, where I was dancin' happiern' hell on a hot day because that portrait there'd needed about 20 layers of soy sauce in some places to come up right. And it came up right.
So I figured I was due to dance just about then. After I get hot and heavy to my rendition of rock clogging or what looks a bit like the funky chicken, and even smaller little girl - I mean like about 4'5" in cowboy boots joins in and we're a threesome for a while til the first girl drops out and me an that funny little shortstuff just wail it away with our bodies playin' harmonics on one another.
I must say my funky chicken looked more like doin' the knee-bends - but it was a powerful tasty dance and when it was done these 2 other girls come over and ask me to do both of 'em in a single portrait. They were sisters - and mighty nice to look at - and seeun' as I couldn't get any closer to that teeny girl without excommunicating myself from my present married condition - because I'd talked to her at the bar and knew she was the kind of person you could love the stuffin out of and make a happy home - and because I'd already got a happy home and couldn’t get much closer without breakin' up whatever I had goin' for me just because I got a hankerin' for somethin else - I accepted the invitation from the two sisters and sat down with them. That is, I agreed to do their portraits.
Now I didn't know it but the sultry long black hair chick was with the drummer, and her younger sister, the All-American small-town girl was going with the bass player who was the lead singer in the band. She had shoulder length hair in a kind of bob, powder blue blouse and long sleeves with ruffled cuffs, and didn?t look the type to be going with the lead singer - a rugged looking long-haired western-dressed fellow with square jaws and dark glasses. But I didn?t find out this was her guy til the next night.
To make a long story short just wouldn't do as this is a story that began long before and I don't think it'll ever finish. There's lots of us who are seeking after something without putting our finger on it. It isn?t much of a story, except how I came to see how easy it is to end up with tawdry dreams for an undefinable life. And how our lives can become tawdry too.
Well, I did a passable soy sauce rendition of the two girls and we talked a bit and they talked to one another and gave me their telephone number and names on a note to call them whenever I was coming back down to Georgia.
No girl had ever given me their phone number in my whole 50 year life, and I inwardly exulted. Growing long hair and a big scruffy mustache seemed to work for something, since this wasn?t just one girl, but two girls. Unfortunately I couldn't figure out how to get back down to Georgia next week.
I did accidentally miss my flight home the next day and rescheduled for Sunday, leaving my Saturday night free.
Now you probably won’t believe me, but it was an accident, because I went to visit an old friend who runs a back-country corner store art gallery -and she'd been real sick and recovering from death. And I hadn?t seen her for 2 years and we were jawing about all sorts of deep folly and magic - and she pulled out some bedroom slippers with Princess Diane and Prince Charles? heads on the toes that she had been given just before Diane died, and an original photo she had in the shop of Mother Theresa just before she died, and they were both from the same doctor who used to work in India. And with it was a photo of the mantra, or saying, that Mother Theresa had on her door. And the mantra was this:
[help us to know see through all the emotional garbage....]
By the time we heard the whole story of the triple bypass and saw all the new pieces in the gallery and she got around to asking when my flight was, I only had 2 hours to drive a 2 hour trip and no time to drop off my car and run 2.5 miles through the Atlanta Airport. So I thought better of the whole thing and decided to reschedule to Sunday and call up them girls and have them bring back the portrait for finishing touches.
So after taking an extra-strength spinach dinner I checked into a motel behind the bar with a heated outdoor cabana and pool, and got myself all ready to meet them two sisters again. Around about when I sauntered into my favorite North Georgia bar I found out the younger sister was with the lead singer. She told me so, just to prepare me for my let-down rather easy.
So I sat myself down and added the older sister’s 17 yr old daughter - who came along for the family soy sauce portrait.
It became pretty clear right after the first set that things weren't going exactly right for the younger sister when the bass player came over, pecked her on the forehead and went and sat down with two powerfully flashy blondes in the corner. It seemed like she was expecting something more than a kiss, and stormed over to him and then back to her seat. He seemed to be blowing her off.
Then she started talking bitter and angry like anyone who is in the act of being jilted, and I calmed her down and offered solace and a shoulder to cry on. And that is how I heard her life's dreams and her past loves, and her dreams for her two children to have a home with a father. And it was a very very common story, and only sad because it seems so common and inescapable for so many. And what was this moment in her life that I was a part of? The kind of moment lots of songs are built around right out of soap opera.
She always picked the wrong kind of man, cause she was pretty enough to pick whom she pleased in the good husband category. But she went after the lead singer types, with egos to match their voices. And as the talk got around to what she should do next, she told me she dreamt of her routine every night as she went to sleep - and what she really wanted to do was to start back at the strip clubs and titty bars. It's what she did well, she said - she could turn dance to nearly any kind of music into a joyful yet sensual experience for everyone. And when we danced during the third set - right in front of her man singing lead - I could tell she was telling the truth. I could also see how and why she always went after the lead singer types. But I suggested that she couldn?t count on dancing all her life, and it might not be a bad time to reconcile what she was with what she wanted. But lead singers is what she wanted, as well as being at the center of attention on a stripper stage.
And naturally I was being played as the foil, and she?d cry about how much she wanted something else? meaning to say some good guy like me?. And all night I tried to convince her that a happy home and dancing at strip clubs was not compatible. But there was no convincing her that the highs she got on stage weren't worth going back to. I had to agree with her.
And when the bar closed, I left her talking to a bunch of her guy’s friends to try to work things out, and then speeding off in her truck with his equipment in the back.. with him taking off after her in a friend?s car. It?s a story that gets re-enacted every night in and around hundreds of bars across our fat land.
But what I heard through the night of the life and ambitions of an ex-stripper was revealing, if not a bit upsetting. For I often felt that many of the girls I?d briefly lust over were often very nice people worth loving. But I saw that their lives were perhaps as empty, cheap, and gaudy as the environment that employed them. Even if they never crossed over the fine line and into a life of sleaze. But the gravitational pull of the environment, pulling them towards it, was not too different from the one pulling me towards it.
And it had caught us both.
For some odd reason she believed that the only thing worth living for was to have people pay attention to you.
What an odd and infantile view, I thought when she first said it. And yet it upset me for many days and even weeks after; for I saw that this was her reduction of what "self-confirmation" had always been for me. I had seen long ago that self-confirmation was the central goal on the surface of day-to-day experience, I realized it was hardly enduring. I had long assumed that everyone knew that hope and faith were needed to hold together the emotional highs and lows of life...the stuff of Mother Theresa's mantra.
But this isn’t so. My little ex-stripper didn't see that music and dance could be fulfilling even when no-one was looking at her. But childhood had conditioned her, and TV and film magazines had conditioned her, along with most of our contemporary culture. It was not so much "people paying attention to her" but the excitement of being the center of a larger group consciousness - of men in a men?s world - as well as being the central value underlying the economic forces of the world of strip clubs. The names and politics of the world of Carolina and Georgia clubs were central to her stories and her self-concept.
Now, I am no different than Victor Hugo in this pecadillo of adoring show-girls, only Victor (being rich and famous) would try them out as lovers before writing teary-eyed about the shameful plight of poor working women. But having finally heard one of the girls I so frequently adored open up and talk shop about the tawdry existence that beckoned her was revealing. I had often guessed what held certain girls in this trade.
It is not the power of holding someone?s eyes under your spell. It is not being at the center of attention, for like many an old ham actor, the stripper?s audience may not even do them the courtesy of paying attention. No, it wasn?t the sexuality itself, or any of the myriad peripherals involved - it was the nature of the tawdry which held them. And it was just this which kept me hanging around these places. I decided it was the world of ?carni?? a world where the cheap and tawdry values worked? It was a fairly sober simulation of a world where the highs and lows of living were well-defined. Sexuality represented the gaudy jewelry hung on a life of quick decisions, promises and the broken promises brought on by perpetual complex triangles, jealousies, and lusts. All primal stuff, mind you.
The play of light on spangles and tinsel is hardly the play of sunlight on a mountain brook. Nor are the incandescent pinks and purples anything to do with a sunset over the mesa - but they are cheap and reproduceable over and over and over. Neither is walking into a wall of perfumes anything like walking into an evening summer garden - but sometimes it’ll do. None of these offer the same spiritual stimulus, but certainly are moderately good at stimulating the same nerves.
Even worse, all these cheaper modes of sensation work about as well as metaphors work in language to represent something else.
How orgasms too easily substitute for happiness, and the energies behind our erections substitute for something with far greater meaning.
The physical and mental excitement of the sexual world is in the bridging of so many sensory levels, of very local energies slyly expanding their range until that leap into a totality of feeling. It is extremely ?cheap,? in that there is no great prerequisite knowledge, skill, or preparations necessary. It is extremely unstable, in that the juxtaposition of so many basic and foundational meanings on something which is only a metaphor is fragile, the value and reality of the metaphor is as easy to throw over, dismiss, disrespect - as it is to believe in and take on in the first place
And all this is why the world of “carnie”, of cheap amusements can be alluring - a world of excitement, emptiness, pathos, and extremely violent.
It's the end of summer and the end of a night. I'm hot - physically and emotionally. The go-go bar is filled with men. The dancer is a pleasant-looking girl with a reasonably built body. She doesn't seem entirely comfortable with her sexuality, for she doesn't exude it. Neither is she just going through the motions. She is clearly competent at this pastime the way some belly-dancers are extremely good musicians with their hands and necks and bodies - it is the music, not the woman, which is the turn-on. In this way she was a thoroughly competent go-go dancer.
So I am watching her, trying to picture her "other" life, and whether she is concentrating on her law boards, when accidentally her top came off and amid the hoots of the men. Unfortunately, in the confusion this has added to the dance, she can't seem to reach around to get it hooked. So one of the other girls comes over to do it. In jest she begins rubbing her breasts first - and the cheers of the bar keeps her at it. Soon the two are playing around, tickling, laughing and partly serious. When it's over and the dancer's top is finally on, the dancer has become suddenly hot and creative.
She jumps to the top of the ubiquitous chrome pole, necessary to every go-go stage, and is about to flip over for the standard slide down the pole when her feet are suddenly against the beams in the ceiling and she realizes she can reach over to some exposed piping. She tests it quickly and swings out over the bar. Suddenly she is crawling across the ceiling, moving to the dance, doing acrobatics above everyone on the maze of old water-pipes. Everyone, barmaids, other dancers, men are in hysterics laughing and hooting. It has become quite a wild show....Batwomen, the gogo dancer.
She finally works her way back over the stage and descends the way she came. She continues her dance on stage for a moment, and one of the girls from an earlier shift who has been drinking with her boyfriend, a fully dressed blond college type, is so turned on she jumps up and begins hugging her.
In turn she is playfully molested. They are suddenly down in full-blown foreplay. A scantily dressed go-go dancer and a fully-dressed passer-by.
The bar is in an instantaneous sheer hoot. They are into it for what seems a long time. It is probably all of 120 long, half-shocked seconds.
Then it ends as quickly as it began. The second girl seemed to realize how long it had gone on. She got up, they hugged each other embarrassed, laughed and went back to normal as if nothing had happened at all... one to her boyfriend and the other to finish her time on stage.
Everything's cool. As erotic as all this sounds, mired in some hidden parallel world of porn - the invigorating spontaneity of the moment broke it somehow free of its underlying sexuality. It was a moment of people being people - where the sexual was only an expressive foil.
Which is why I choose this story for a discussion of the erotic, for it can be a foil as well. This is not the first time I've observed the world of explicit sexuality take back seat to purer human communications and expressiveness. In fact it is often only in the world of the explicitly erotic, that one can wholly transcend and escape any hidden undercurrents of its influence.
And undercurrents they certainly are. The life of our sexuality - of human-to-human physical intercourse is full of undertows and turbulence - wading, jumping and surfing undercurrents of stuff that's often not allowed on the surface. And I'd guess we all know what the sexual undertow is about, and how we have felt it swirling about our feet as we went about earning, and chewing our daily bread.
Now sexuality is quite a big subject to dance around, and on a very teeny stage with boots, to boot. But our neurotic erotic natures are not as large a stage as one might think, and I should prefer to leap up above the stage and begin gyrating from the piping to see things from a different angle.
There is the business of control, for one thing. Control over one another is a piece of the neurotic erotic… for many animals do battle in order to continue the species. Being swallowed up and out of control is another part of the many impulses underpinning the neurotic erotic.... an ecstasy of self-annihilation.
Believe it or not, medieval philosophers compared the ecstasy of self-annihilation to an ecstasy of being absorbed into the entirety of God. And ancient philosophers saw all the creative arts tied to the acts of love, so that creative and pro-creative were part of a single thread.
But I find it difficult to imagine the ecstasy of the man- spider who is eaten for the nuptial supper, transferring the entirety of his cells to his lover in a religious sacrifice which continues the species. This is some erotic neurotic’s sado-masochistic delight: a one-night stand that gives his mistress his sperm and his entire body to consume! What a turn-on! TO THROW ONE”S WHOLE LIFE ONTO THE MARTYR’S STAKE FOR THE DELECTATION AND BARBECUE OF A MOMENT.: exactly that aspect of our neurotic erotic nature which is feared by logic and abhorred from every pulpit of decency.
Must it be our nature to go against our nature?
How is it that a shared glance, a moment of knowing eye-contact between two people can become such powerful dynamite? Turning to a turn-on with no turning back, all-consuming as the spider's supper?
I'll tell you why. A quick glimpse can take over one's entire world. And the most all-absorbing eroticism can dissipate into thin air.
It is simply because our entire life is mirrored in our perceptual life.
We’ll soon be hanging in the rafters, if you didn't realize it.
At the smallest and most insignificant level, for our senses to interpret what they are sensing they are running thousands of pattern checks, which, to be independent enough, are run all through our bodies all the time.
And it is unfortunate that for our senses to know something for sure, and give us an “OK” they must go through the exact same gyrations as our emotions and our thinking processes in order for them to register an “OK.”
Taken the other way around, this is to say I firmly believe that the emotions and feelings of our entire life behave - in large - much like the rules which govern our parts.
The greatest frustrations of one's existence can hang on the balance of solving very small irrelevant frustrations - the riddles and intrigue of a simple glance can become adequate to stand for very important life matters. That is, they come to represent one's ability to guess, to act, and to be.
To play at our simplest boundaries becomes experimentation with the greatest of life's games – And this is how one may be willing to throw one's whole life onto the martyr's stake for the delectation and barbecue of a moment.
Just as quickly, when a deal has been confirmed and classified and put in its place, its use at the larger game falls away like a cigar ash at the blackjack table.
Sex can seem so much about control and loss of control - confirmation games hooking the neural level to the perceptual and the emotional.
And yet, it is crude to call these "games;" for confirmation, and the rules on which confirmation is based are nothing less than the laws on which faith and all things spiritual are based. The ecstasies of music and prayer and garden walks are no less confirmations of our personal universe than love. To conclude that confirmation is a mechanical game which, if played according to the rules will always pay back - is a mistake which, bless my soul, is at the root of evil! And this is why love will always be about glowing universals.
And so we will never stop making a big deal about sex and love, and we will probably never stop putting them at opposite ends of a moral spectrum.
Our thoroughly modern culture is trying to put sex and love on the same side of the moral spectrum (being pragmatic, it is only evil if you get AIDS)… but I don’t think it will work.
For confirmation games -- the stuff of the neurotic erotic -- will ratchet themselves up into quite amazing perversions of what they once intended to be.
For some this go-go bar is truly an evil place which could easily take over and destroy all the equilibrium someone has ever known.
For others, you can also understand how it is a simple place to participate in the business of society and make a living, where the erotic can become the creative. How it also may be quite human and affirming even within the frame of sexuality.
It is more difficult to understand, or believe that all of this thought about sex could be packed into 15 minutes, and a few passing otherwise forgotten moments at a go-go bar one night during the dog-days of summer.
It is sad to relate that this establishment, which played host to such wonderful eroticism, is now quite remodeled, and renamed. What used to be the old “Riviera,” is now the “Café Erotica” and has many nude girls doing very short and uninspired on-stage modeling so that they can come and sell you a lap-dance for twenty bucks. Ah, the old days of simple erotic go-go and dollar tips!!!.
I was sitting in my local trucker’s bar, a rather dark wooden place up a little incline from the old highway. You know these places by their parking lots which are mostly potholes and gravel so you can announce your arrival and departure with a quick burst to the gas pedal.
Some guy in a tank-top and a ten-gallon hat had come in for a six-pack, and a minor altercation took place over his right to wear a particular rodeo buckle on the hat. The altercation almost got taken out onto the gravel in the parking lot, but someone held back the man who knew his rodeo gear from the man who just liked to show off. Polite words were exchanged and everybody sat back as Mr. Cowboy Hat left with his six-pack.
"That guy's an ass-hole. It isn't worth wasting your time on him !" were the calming words of one of the two friends holding back the real rodeo man.
"He has NO RIGHT to wear that buckle in front of ME !! I'd like to tear his ass all the way up to that pretty hat o' his !!
Well, all that wasn't much of a surprise. The surprise came after everyone settled down. Because some burly guy with a beard in a leather jacket in the corner said with a big grin loud enough for the rodeo man to hear -
"Every one of us is an ass hole some time or other."
The barmaid was putting an upside-down jello cup (free drink) on the bar in front of the rodeo man, and nodded towards the bearded guy.
"it's on him."
The burly guy was looking at the rodeo man... who caught his drift and shook his head.
A couple people around the bar threw in their consensus, and then all these guys start throwing around stories about times they'd been the ass-holes.
And that's when I started looking for a reason behind the ass-hole-in-us-all. A few weeks later it hit me when I really felt good behind the wheel on the interstate, quite completely in control, and cut someone off just a wheeh beet close. Not close for me of course, since I was in control. But I knew it was close for him because his horn was saying "YOU ASS-HOLE!!" for several minutes and several miles behind me.
It hit me as I saw just when and where I was often the ass-hole. When I acted like (not necessarily felt like) a world revolved around me. When, indeed, I was self-confident and basically pretty comfortable with things. As if I am often faced with the Sphincter's question, hypnotized, squeezed, and then let go, happily thinking I gnow quite a bit.
LECTOR: Do you remember the old story about the limp-necked goose and the butcher? Or even better, haha, the one about the German housewife and the butcher!!
AUCTOR: Why are you interrupting at this most important point? This axiom is the unfortunate flipside to happiness and fulfillment!!. It is the most destructive weapon in my philosophic arsenal. It is the oddest odd against us!
LECTOR: "Odd" is not correct here. "Odds" are always plural. It is fundamental to statistics. There are no odds with a sample size of ONE.
AUCTOR: I love a helpful editor. You realize you have completely derailed my train of thought, jumped the engine from the tracks, spilled my load prematurely and killed many a passenger that was sitting happily reading my book and enjoying the ride?
LECTOR: And do you realize you have mixed your metaphors? Please stop, and return to the philosophic agenda. I only want a 10% cut for waking up your readers before the most important sections. Are you sure you don't want to hear the one about the butcher and the limp-necked goose?
The core to the problem of why there are so many ass-holes walking the streets is the simple universal fact that "within you lies the answer to life."
This would be fine if it was kept to a small crowd of patricians in white cloaks who went about sniffing myrtle all day. Unfortunately, this deep and disturbing truth resides in us all, including motorcycle gangs, the German housewife, the butcher, the limp-necked goose and the one-legged deer that just hopped by my window.
The one-legged deer unfortunately has other more precarious things on her mind and is in little danger of becoming an ass-hole like the guys I described at the bar. She is, as one might expect, "stressed out" much of the time, except when she is asleep and dreaming she has two legs and can simply walk like the rest of us. When she is happy, all the leaves are within reach, the path doesn't have too many rocks for hopping, and the breeze is cool - everything is hunky-dory - that's when, for several instants, the deer feels like nature was made for her. It feels wonderful, and she knows instinctively that "within her lies the answer to life." If one could get inside anything walking around on two feet like we do, like trees and buttercups, you would still find the maxim "within you lies the answer to life."
And this is the problem. Because, once such a deep and universal fact is squeezed through the emotional cloaca of our mind, we interpret it as a local fact, and then re-interpret it as a global statement, and it comes out in the following fashion:
"You have the answers."
or in its worst incarnation:
"You are the answer to life."
How well do I remember my youth, when the chemistry of my body was so inebriated with growing itself that I got to be an ass-hole all the time. Boy, those were exhiliarating years! What I didn't realize was how intoxicated I was with the sweet smell of unstoppable, ineluctable life squeezing through me. Physical metamorphosis, causing very natural, 100 Proof, emotional and mental shots of the very same opinion: "Joshua, my boy, you have all the answers. In fact, you are the answer to life! Go blow your horn and all the walls will tumble down!"
Ah, the budding chemistry of a teenager --- that feeling of invincibility, virtue and unlimited credit ... a smugness and conceit which is not their fault. There is no way to talk the chemistry out of them, whether they are about to perform some audacious act of daring-do, or are holding you at arms length with a pistol attached to their wrist.
I have decided, just this once (but once and for all), that this is the source of quite a bit of the world's shit. It is undeniably simple. It is a flip-flop of grotesque consequence, a paradox with far-reaching impacts, it is...
LECTOR: Please desist. I've had it 'up to here' with philosophy.
AUCTOR: You realize you're pointing below the waist? If you allow me to continue, I will exercise my creative verbosity...
There seems to be an instinctual characteristic to feel some answers within us before we can ever check them out. I know a number of kids over the age of 8 who trust that feeling and say - "I already know that!" before you are finished telling them anything. In fact, for every kid over the age of 8 you'd better give them a couple chances to hear you out so you don't bust a few bubbles and damage their pride. In fact I am over the age of 50 and still you must give me several chances to listen to you. My pride is full of bubbles to bust.
It also happens that this inherent, misleading feeling of "wisdom" is related to the actual source of wisdom in its best and truest forms. For wise men - whether they be from the oral traditions of Greece, Africa, the Vedas, or China, have told us that "The world is the answer, to which one must continually pose challenges, and ask questions. The closest your questions are, the better you will see the answer. Thou shalt strive to see, ask questions and become wise."
But by the holy roller in us all, this is just the natural approach turned upside down !! For by the axiom we have just explained, nature has bestowed on every creature the answer through its own eyes, and each creature is led to explore the answer by letting the world challenge them.
The purpose closest to "instinct" is to confirm that our life meets the challenge, and that what we know and who we are is good enough.
And this is where the guys around the bar had plenty of stories, for every one of us has acted like a know-it-all in one moment, only to realize we were full of crap the next moment....looking right out through our ass-holes. When we are wrong, we will often fight the change every step of the way. And after we change everything returns to normal... and we won't admit that a change ever occurred in us. Because that's our nature. We seem to have been created to know it all.
When we are happy and content we have this odd feeling inside of being wise as well. A little dose of that wonderful teenage chemistry. And we want to give other people advice. Even worse, when we are bitter and morose, we feel we must give people advice as well. Because it fulfills our natural instinct to have the answers..., to be acting out the answer. It's natural as hell.
As I alluded to above, the very same ideal is found in science and all types of learning. The scholar's instinct is the flip-side of the very same instinct which is found in every child and which does such great damage. "I will look for the questions that confirm the answer I believe in... "
Not to challenge all scholarship and learning, but only the instinct underlying it. The instinct to prove something. And when you blend the instincts of the child with that of the scientist/scholar you nearly always breed righteous monsters. But no one usually says it that way. It's one of the things we seem to tolerate as a given about universities and geeks in general.
So it happens that what is instinctual in all of us as the source of wisdom is also the source of the grossest stupidity, and perhaps all stupidity and insolence there ever was.
It also comes down to a fact that we are built to rarely get along - since we all are born with all the answers. We change only when we must - when we are forced to. And Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau can be expected to fight forever. Which is why the use of force (and its many ugly attributes) always accompany a good argument... Except in a red-neck bar - where a couple truckers can hold back a rodeo man from ripping up a suburban cowboy because they know there is an ass-hole in us all.
You've probably already realized that I tend to stop talking in mid-sentence.
That poor guy I'm talking to has to figure out what has just happened as he waits for something else to come out of my mouth. When it's clear that I'm not paying attention to anything and will never finish the sentence, he'll shake it off and leave me to stand here at the urinal.
And it is not because I am drunk. I hardly have the money to get very drunk. It is the loss of a sense of a sense of time that has done it.
I have been drained of hope, which has hung my sense of time out to air. And this isn't a metaphor for pissing against the wind either. With no sense of time, you can't really remember much of what you were or are, except with a bunch of old stories you can tell pied-eyed. If you’ve spent much time in these sort of places, and you encourage the guy next to you to strike up a conversation, well then you've heard a hundred variations on my story.
“I lost control of a world-class chemical company because of a drug habit I picked up in the Vietnam era. You notice I emphasized Vietnam and slurred over era cause I wasn’t really ever in Vietnam. Anyway, I got myself together again, and invested everything I had in this ship and a cargo of dried fish. I coulda made millions on the fish trade up and down West Africa. Got crippled in a storm, and pirated off the Ghanaan coast by Russian customs officials. Lost everything. I even went up to Gorky St. in Moscow to try to get it back, but they claimed the ship for the cost of the tow! After that I served 10 years for a murder over a pool game. The guy was about to stab me. I pulled out my rod and shot him. Not that it takes a gun to equalize a pool cue. I lucked out and only got ten years since pool cues were classed as deadly weapons back around the Spanish American War and the law still held.”
You think I’ve gotta be done, but last-call comes and I start on another one. “Me and this good friend salvaged several millions in mercury from old 19th century mines. We came out under the machine-guns of Mexican mobsters. Well, we escaped. The mobsters got the mercury. My friend was a genius. Damn shame, he never made more of himself either. He figured out about all that left-over mercury and I staked him for our equipment and the copter rental. If we'd had a pilot instead of piloting the copter ourselves, I would've been sipping a cool one in Tahiti now instead of giving you the opportunity to hear what life is really about!”
You can experience quite a feeling of disassociation to be at your corner bar in Anywhere, USA. You only feel quite real when you are slightly drunk. THEN you feel you have a future and a past. Your most recent past was standing at this bar and watching many similar people saying similar things and always acting the same way.SAYING SIMILAR THINGS AND ALWAYS ACTING SIMILAR WAYS.... >a bar scene with the author bending someone's ear who may be very bored (it could be in some very romantic place... like RICK'S bar in Casablanca, or Bogart in the Carribean in TO HAVE OR HAVE NOT.. And the future is clearly palpable in the form of another dollar in your pocket for one more beer.
Now I can't get too drunk on three dollars, and even that's rather hard to scrape together from the scrapings of a day's change...which tends to give a man little hope. So I only make it into my perennial past present and future about twice a week. How in the world could anybody get like this?
Don’t tell me it’s just a matter of genes, either. It is because I want to build things that get up and become something on their own. I am a man and I am procreatively anxious, needing to make babies that can turn a profit. I can put together a new idea in the time it takes to check your coat, and figure out the people to finance me before we're done a platter of wings.
And lots of time my friends come through just like I'd come through for them. But somehow a lot of the babies have died. And I die slowly, with each new hope I'm saddened by the memories of all my old hopes. The frivolous ones, the deep ones - and a couple roller-coaster ones I sank my teeth and bones into and fueled with risks and sweat and excitement. They're gone, all gone except in these stories.
Oh, yeh. Here’s a good one I forgot about. I invented this bronze plaque-making machine to sell to towns to raise money selling sidewalk memorial spaces. Like it would cost you a thousand bucks to give your parents a plaque in front of their old house to make them feel like they was the Rockefellers, or the guys that dedicated City Hall. I figured out that every little house has space for 8, 9, 10 plaques, and it only costs the town three hundred smacks to put in - countin’ setup and overhead and rippin out the old concrete. Put three people to work year round and every little town can make a cool half million a year for schools and sewage treatment. I spent 7 grand on my prototype. Got it out in my garage. I should show it to you sometime. But the towns don’t have many brains and weren’t even interested. I just came up with a different angle. The city fathers can sell licenses to bars to put my plaques in the floor and the sides of the bar. For 500 bucks I book a space under my seat. Cheaper than a coffin! All I need is a video jukebox and a CD video of me tellin all my stories and my old friends can put me on while we’re drinkin. I’d be drinkin on the tape, see. And they’d be sittin on top of my ashes. Even maybe my enemies’ll get lonesome. They were all friends once anyway. I don’t give a shit. And so like the bars make money, and the town sells’m double licenses to sell liquor and memorial ashboxes and we all win. Even us drunk losers. Cause I know I’ll be home. Like I said… it’s a winner. Only I gotta figure out howto make my bundle off it before they bury me here. I mean it,.. bury me here. Not exactly here. .…My luck they’ll put my box under this here urinal!!
Sorry. I didn’t realize you was waitin’ for it.
I'd been working at a manufacturing company which was bought out. It was getting ready to close up and transfer its products to other subsidiaries of the parent. Well, three engineers came over from Great Britain to pick up drawings and study the manufacturing methods.
It turned out that one of them was a famous rock singer - top of the charts, TV interviews, world tours and everything.
I'm talking with him at lunch and as soon as he gets back to England he's off on tour with the band half way around the world. He happens to be Pakistani, and he sings all his music in Punjabi -- but what the heck, to several hundreds of thousands of fans he is the greatest thing since curried vegetables. As this long-haired young man was having his debriefing meeting with the Chief Engineer - discussing test parameters, inspection specifications, transfer of jigs and brazing compounds I thought of what the American media would do if LaToya Jackson or Tom Petty spent their daytimes solving linear equations, or designing valve housings for a quieter pump?
Later that night, after composing a letter to the Mayor of Camden NJ (mostly about life in general and a parking ticket), I went to my local workingman's bar. It's the kind of place where the whole Class of '78 tends to show up wearing cowboy hats, and the bouncer still has 6 horsepower and 450 lbs (including boots and metal) when he's off his Harley Davidson. Well, on this night in particular I happened to walk right into this bouncer, and he turns and scowls: "wouldn't you know - We were just talking about school curriculum reform and YOU show up!"
And that was true. I had shown up, and it was after my bed-time, besides. Here I was, confronted with a 370 pound tattooed biker and a squinting electronics technician with a bit of a ponytail, grey growth on his chin, and a Phillies' hat on named "Ming" - and they were telling ME that our schools were all messed up and what would I like to do about it?! (I'm obviously the intellectual of this particular hole) So I suggested introducing rhetoric into the Jr. High Curriculum which didn't go over too well with the technician, but the bouncer had taken Dale Carnegie so he knew all about rhetoric.
Then I told them about this Punjabi British rock star I'd met over the week and the conversation quickly turned to the arts. "Yeh," said Ming " the reason the music in the Reagan years wasn't so good was all the rock stars that were engineers went back to work in defense where the money was. They were the ones making the good music."
"You mean you think there are American rock singers who could've been doing engineering?" I asked.
"Sure," he said, "back in the 60's and 70's guys were doing everything, taking up all kinds of things. When there weren't a lot of good jobs out there people did what they could. I know lots of engineers who have done just about everything."
The idea of a rock star being highly productive in this society apart from the arts was new to me - but not to Ming. Then I was harangued for 3 beers at the worthlessness of the arts and all artists that think that they can live on the arts. Ming thought that school should ban all art instruction, and what was wrong with this country was that it was run by people in the arts - the "liberal" arts in particular, and that we'd better teach our kids math and science and that's it if we were to get strong again!
Baseball hat (who is really great to talk with about the modern history of factory management, corporate take-overs and labor relations) even went so far to start telling me that Michelangelo's art was just as worthless as the crap they're trying to sell us today. And I thought I'd never heard an argument carried out to such lengths of consistency, and quite admired him for this attempt. I was reduced to arguing for the validity of industrial arts in his life - the design of his car, the aesthetics of beer-mugs, the layout and color choice of the ads on TV. The bouncer had just gotten a hot piece of graphics software that let him transmogrify a lady's face into a frog, so he was pretty hip to the arts of advertising.
"Industrial Arts," exclaimed the baseball hat, "I haven't heard that term in 20 years." I got him off the track of the National Endowment of the Arts funding the Gay Liberation, and suggested that perhaps if Michelangelo wasn't commissioned to do a painting he probably would have been a jeweler or a silversmith, like Benvenuto Cellini during his many off-years - doing reliefs on city coinage, making belt-buckles and whatever. So I almost had him agreeing that maybe Michelangelo was just exercising a craft, sort of like the advertising agent for the church. "Come to church and see the story of St. Peter in blazing color!" "Support your local cardinal who brings you a big nude with a club and a muscled monster in the town square!"
I'm not sure I had the guy convinced. The bouncer had to mosey on over the other side where a storm was a-brewing. But in the course of it, I began to wonder if I wasn't convinced. Where did I ever get the crazy idea that an artist could support him or herself with their work? Why should we assume that a national teen-age singing idol should be entitled to grow as wealthy as a star quarterback or pitcher? Who told us that if we had a great voice or pair of legs we needn't really learn to use any of our other resources - like our brains, memory, patience and attention?
Frankly, though I am in awe of the Engineer/Singer for his abilities to live two productive lives - it may not be all that special for many societies -- whose role models maintain their place as regular citizens, producing social artifacts of everyday value, and personal art representing a unique addition to their culture. My baseball-hatted electronics technician, for all his love of juke box music and sports preferred to keep a separation of church and state as well as art, sports and state-sponsored education.
I tried many deeper arguments on him - and over Stone Temple Pilots and Metallica, both of them listened to Ruskin's theory of the artist and social perception, and how Wagner made it into a hero theory of the artist - taking Carlisle's hero theory, and Spencer's evolutionary theory of history. Well, they were actually all ears .... but I just couldn't convince the technician.
Whatever I am doing I try considering the possible universals involved. Well, I was cleaning around the toilet the other day and decided there must be something important in this common, lowly act.
I began to muse about sponges. Sponges and water and sopping and squeezing - thoughts about moving liquids, and the means by which we sop and squeeze.
Pores are important. Especially if you don't have the right ones...if they're not big enough, or somehow misaligned. Ever take a look inside your femur? This was an important business after Chernobyl. So important are the right pores, in fact, that the makers of the Strategic Defense Initiative brought us new pores - reticulated carbon foam with rhenium - for better batteries, rocket nozzles, helicopter blades, and bathroom sponges. They might have dropped the bathroom sponge altogether and invented a more versatile toilet brush, I thought.
Pores, and the winding converging surfaces surrounding them are at the crossroads of biotechnology, superconductors, space research and riddles for the greatest of our real and artificial intelligences.. In fact, this is topology which is the sexiest of sciences - a very mathematical study of knots, pores, donuts, and topless dancing.
This better be a good transition.
Sitting at a North Jersey bar a few years ago when I was a typical North Jersey salesman, watching a girl who attacked her go-go job with zest and humor - I suddenly saw life as an un-knotting, a denouement of paths, goals and complex energies.
My life had become a topology of knots, cutting straight paths over strange surfaces.
For the same way that science studies pores, twists, knots, and complex surfaces for better fabrics, and stronger more durable materials for engineering - us artists study the topology of society, and the strange routes we create to navigate through it. Especially us artists who are down-and-out salesmen in go‑go bars.
As I was rheuminating over this quite philosophical figure of hers, I came to realize that I had for a very long time been sitting on my foot. a businessman's wing-tip shoe sticking out sideways with pins and knitting needles stuck in all the little holes (which are in ornamental spirals on a wingtip shoe). Now the feeling of pins and needles - the high and empty feeling in your limb as the numbness slowly recedes - overtaking you quite inescapably, is quite like nothing else. Except maybe an orgasm. But there's no way you can make pins and needles erotic - even with the desire for eroticism staring in your face.
But come to think of it, since orgasms and everything that leads up to orgasms have merited manifolds of song and story, how come pins and needles have gotten such a bad shaft? So far, only Sonny Bono has written a song of needles and pins. In fact, I wondered at my seat in the bar, why are they so prosaic, and never described? Nobody writes poems about sitting on your feet.
Numbness slowly tingling out - vibrating of your nerves, senses coursing up your spine - a nervous excitement you revel in, yet can't wait to come to an end. And why, I also asked, is the sexual climax alluded to but rarely carefully, objectively described?
Face it, pins and needles are to orgasms what hiccups are to sneezing. But there are no blessings to be said for pins and needles. Or for coughs and yawns.
To get back to my story, everyone knows that ticklish spots are erotic spots - which flip from one meaning to another as the Rubik's cube of intention changes. And visa versa. Clearly I was in a ticklish spot.
Here I was, nursing a beer and watching a girl who I readily saw as a person - a little girl with uncles and brothers, grown up. She was probably fighting to support a 2-yr old, going to community college for an Associates Degree, and dancing as a way to assert her individual free will against mediocre and listless circumstances of life in North Jersey. Yet at the same time I am saying this, I am toying with her definition as an object; for I'm a salesman trying to objectify frustrations with many worthless weary roads in a go-go economy coming to an end. A wasted day of sales calls and rejections isn't the problem: she is my frustration now, this kitten smiling and strumming my senses til they're as taut and vibrating as her.
In a way there is a handy tacit agreement of both our definitions. Both of us were trying to be somewhere else, but using an unacceptable cultural loop to get there. I should add that one doesn't play this topological game without great risks. For topologically as well as psychologically you can define any two-edged path as having only one edge, if the manifold is given the proper twist.
In point of fact, nature makes leaps of this sort constantly and with ease. Yet I dare say, to play with nature this way may get knottier, and you may not be able to untangle yourself from complex and worthless dynamics. Knots which only stop a simpler, more natural circulation, and end in pins and needles of empty unpleasurable pleasures.
Yes, by contemplating how to clean the toilets of this world, one may be led to some unexpected conclusions.
There are still people who don't know what a moebius strip is, and it is probably because of the "oe" in the name of the man who invented them. Foreign names are not worth pronouncing unless they are the name of a goalie for the Pittsburgh Penguins and the announcer can get you past the phonics.
I don't know if he ever played ice hockey, but Mr. Moebius did bring us a long strip of paper with a half twist scotch-taped into a loop. By doing this the outside and inside of the loop are connected. There is now only one side: the-inside-that-is-connected-to-the-outside.
But this means that "globally" (taking the whole loop together) there is only ONE side, while "Locally," (taken at any single point) there are ALWAYS TWO sides. Wherever you hold the strip, there are always two sides opposing one another.
This is like a lot of people and countries I know.... even though with a little extended demonstration you can prove they're on the same side.
Smart kids and science teachers like to bet their friends or students that they cannot cut the strip lengthwise in half, or similar such conundrums. But I have decided that it is the coexistence of local and global definition that is at the root of the Riddle of the Sphincter, and the real importance of the Moebius Strip. For the coexistence of two truths simultaneously would put a lot of riddles away, and allow lots of arguments at the bar to come together with a joint in the parking lot instead of a bloody fist and some teeth on the paving.
Mr. Moebius should be very important for this reason, but he is not, and might have done better playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Perhaps if someone opened up a string of old-time burlesque houses called "Moebius Strip Clubs" we would get the name around to the male segment of the population, insinuating that moebius strips are fundamental to social sanity. These could not be ordinary 'titty bars' but honest burlesque houses with real comedians who sell popcorn on the side and a live two-piece band plus a trombone player. The trombone player does not have to actually play the trombone, but would just slide the slide at appropriate times making the sound of a very sad goose. He could also be the house comedian and the fellow who sold popcorn on the side, allowing you to staff on the cheap. For you see, in the old burlesque houses everyone played every part; the stripper would flip-flop between kitchen banter with the popcorn salesman and her sexuality, starting out un-presumptuous then switching gears to be suddenly sumptuous. The tease was a quick flip between states of normalcy and arousal, leaving you in a single heightened state of thinking she was just great people that you wanted to know better. It was a good illusion, that is, theatre.
In doing research for the betterment of society I have found few titty bars maintaining this healthy comedy tradition, even slightly, and know of only one girl in all the clubs I've visited who warrants the title of "Moebius Stripper." This is not because of her big tits and smile, but because she banters with the guys about shooting squirrels and pigeons off her roof, and dances to songs from the thirties and forties with a trombone part.
I must tell you about a girl I knew. She owned a pet store full of animals, with a few employees taking care of them. Well, around Chrismas it burnt down, just three weeks after she let the insurance run out. It made the evening news. All the animals died, including the pet macaw named Rufus that she had raised from an egg.
She was devastated, and had "Rufus" tatooed on her leg. Then she filed for bankruptcy and got it into her head to ask me to help her get into her next business.
Now at the time I was still quite married, and she knew it. But she persisted in telling me that she needed me, and eventually, that she loved me.
I said I guess I looked like I could bankroll something, but she denied this and said I was just a wonderful sweet guy and she wanted me for a friend. She would give me a hug and nuzzle into my neck, pressing my body close to hers ... as I protested all the while that I was not her type and that I didn't understand her interest in me. For she was rather the kind of chick you'd see on the back of a Harley... and practically twist your head off in the process.
I must add that nothing like of this sort had ever happened to me before, whether I was being taken for a chump or not. So you can see that while I may be bragging about it ... I knew all along that perhaps I was being taken as a chump.
Of course this all took place in a "gentleman's club," which is otherwise a place full of strippers. Shannon was the lead stripper. Had it all taken place at my local bar, that is, in a real life situation instead of a fake life situation, I would have been much more taken aback. Not only that but this girl would have easily taken me for everything I had.
But since we were at a gentleman’s club and I was a gentleman, it was somehow different. Not only did she refuse to let me spend money on her, but she would buy me drinks, begging, "Believe me and don't ever leave me!" And I would show up the following night so she could reconfirm her commitment. Who wouldn't ? That is, assuming they were a man, and old enough to go into such clubs as this.
Well, as you can guess this woman turned out to not be very committed. But not for the reasons you may think - that is, to develop a customer and to eventually milk a John for whatever he had. She didn’t seem to be after me for my money, for she knew I was struggling along on a mediocre income. She refused my tips, but perhaps this was a come on ¾ rather like a pool shark has to carefully losing games before reeling you and everyone else in.
Rather, she needed me to believe in herself. She needed to see herself and hear herself make these daily protestations of sincerity, because she wanted to believe in something like commitment and permanence. And I was the kind of guy that fit that picture, clipped right out of an old 40’s film.
What was odd was that when she held me and spoke I could almost believe her. She begged me with weepy eyes that spoke of the welling feelings of one's true insides. It was like she was drowning. Her fingers pressed to my back, her hands searching my shoulders, as she stared into my eyes, tears welling -
"You have NO idea how much I NEED you,! I'm dying here. You mean SO MUCH to me. DON'T ever leave me! "
And I would be left wondering which soap opera she was living in. It seemed so un-genuine, and yet there was no denying these were authentic words and feelings.... At the moment she was saying them.... But only at that moment.
There was a very strong urge in me to believe her. I should have believed myself, but in this case, being as she was so sexy, and I so curious, I wanted to be proved wrong. IN this case I really wanted to be the ass-hole. You can't expect philosophy to work like calculus.
She needed to hear herself say these things, and to feel herself feel the truth of what she was saying. In fact, this was as much of a "fix" as any drug fix.... Only it was a little fix of truth and hope and belief in a world she once believed in. I represented that world. I think she knew all along it wasn't possible to reclaim this world. She never said she wanted me as a lover, but as a partner and friend. And I'm quite sure I would've wanted to be her lover.
She would ask me to meet her after work, to help her build some new dream that might fit the other image of herself. But she would never show up. Always with a good excuse, too. In fact, the last excuse was that she pulled a tendon and couldn't walk.... Which was quite true, since after being carried to the stage for a few days she had to stop work, and I never saw her again.
But I am not concerned with any of this. What concerns me is that I don't believe she was willfully lying to me. Rather, she had devised a very effective way of lying to herself, and in this, she was a consummate and effective fibber.... In fact, in the final analysis, she was not lying when she said how much she needed me to affect her fix. For I had become the object of an incantation, a set of words - words which had meaning only by being spoken out loud.
I'm reminded of those people who gush over all sorts of things. You want to ask them to get real, or quiet down. And yet they are quite tuned into what they are looking at, and every sensation brings on new exclamations of joy and excitement. Even worse, they will often notice things you had overlooked, and assist in your own appreciation of the moment. But do these people ever stop? Do they gush forever? Is their heightened sense of seeing, perceiving, and feeling have any truth to it ?? Why can't they just keep it to themselves?
For the same reason my sexy bankrupt friend needed me as her vocal mirror. They need to have the mirror of someone else in order to feel anything.
Most simply put, our words are signals to others about something we intend.... But we are paying as much attention to the signals (if not more) than anyone else. For many of us have a rather difficult time figuring out what we intend. And so, our signals are to ourselves, and we listen to them the way we would listen to someone else.
The very first thing we say when we fall out of the car which has just tumbled down an embankment is, "I'm O.K., don't worry!" though our shoulder is broken and our jaw unhinged. We say it because we want to hear it. Everyone knows this.
When you say "I will only speak for a moment" it is a signal that you will go on for an hour. Everyone knows this too, and yet we still say it. WHY? Picture yourself as that poor pompous fellow at the podium. You say it, a bit nervously, to identify with your audience. Whenever someone says this they are disorganized and want to comfort themself, to hear in a sentence what they are hoping. "This will be a short speech" means "If each of the twelve notecards I have here takes me a minute, this will be a fairly short speech. But since each point is worth at least five minutes, you had better hope for the best!"
And I say "I love you" when I want to be told (by someone in the know) that I love you. I will say it twice as often if I have any doubts. And so when my friend told me over and over that she loved me and needed me, it was to hear herself described as needing and loving someone... and that's all I should've believed. For this was a tough chick who acted like she didn't need anyone to get through her act. Which was her act.
The speaker believes that what they say is what they are hearing from others, and that what they are thinking is being mirrored in the words of the outside world. Those people who verbally gush over everything they have seen or heard need you as an audience, and seem to need you in order to have any feelings at all.
This is a normal state of affairs for meaningful talk - that what you hear someone say is what they themselves would like to hear. It makes lying very easy once they get the hang of it.
Thus, listening to oneself speak becomes very satisfying indeed. It doesn't make for good communication, but it often makes for good friendships. Those of us with similar conditions can be very understanding.
It was just before I was to turn 50 that I decided to make a pilgrimage to my birthplace. I knew from the start it was to be a turning point in my life, which is what pilgrimages are often meant for. But I must tell you first what set me on the road to my birthplace in the first place, and then I can tell you how much frivolity and wonderment I packed into three days by merely looking for trouble.
Earlier in the year, the head dancer at my local club asked me to start up a new business with her. I was thrilled and flattered, but I didn't know this woman any better than you'd expect any customer to know a girl in a strip club, just hello-how-are-ya and a hug. I knew it was a nutty idea. But I promised I would help her think of a good business and that I'd do what I could to help her get it started.
This got me to thinking that I should start a business for myself. For like many of us, I have had many million-dollar ideas over the years, and they were all for businesses which had to succeed. It only took a little lightly-clad prodding, and I became hot to get this going. I found a more suitable partner, and we went about doing drawings and making phone-calls. All of which got me an invitation from a very well-marketed little factory in Illinois to come out and talk.
Which is how I got to deciding that this summer would be the occasion of my pilgrimage to my birthplace - which I'd never seen since I was born. Besides the fact that this dancer named Daisy who I’d fallen in love with earlier that year was majoring in Library Science in that very same town. There was also a priest who lived in Ohio, who I’d met in the bar-car on the train the year before, who’d asked me to stop by if I came through town. This was a real pilgrimage.
Naturally, before I left on my pilgrimage I stopped to see Shannon, the one who wanted to start the business. It had been nearly six months since she'd started this thing with me. Tonite she was bursting with a new revelation. We went to a couch to talk in private. She even offered to pay but I refused. She had discovered what she wanted to do with her life, and how she wanted me to help her. It wasn't to start a business this time. Would I help her write childrens' books!!
I was flubbered. I told her it was not as easy as some would make it out to be. I had tried it myself and had not done well. But I would be glad to help, and promised that when I came back from my trip I would have several new ideas ready just for her.
I was in a dither. She had shown me a piece of herself, a lost piece of herself, that hinted of a hidden identification with lost childhood and innocence. A belief in her memories of life when all you hoped for was sweet and bright, jumping in leaf piles, a squealing game of tag and rippling breezes of little changes all day long. A life which wasn't just a searchlight to be caught in the gaze of another searchlight, a life of feeding and stunning and feeding. Explaining why she might really be after my innocent ass.
In any case, on the drive out I had met the retired priest and helped him clean his kitchen, and we talked about philosophy and he told me about St. Theresa of Avila, who had once been a woman of the world, and then, for some reason recounted the story of Sodom and Gomorra. I believe it had to do with how far God's patience and forgiveness could be stretched, and what incredible sexual degradation it took to convince Lot to leave the city. Then he started on the story of Jonah and pointed out something I hadn't particularly heard before, and that is, that when anyone wants to avoid the word of God their first thought is to go to sleep. I didn't think much of this at the time, except that it was kind of curious point in the story. Then I told him about another one of my humorous essays all about prayer, and he told me about St. Thomas Aquinas and read from the Book of John... because he wanted to understand the word "participation in the spirit." And then he gave me three roses from his garden and I left for the rest of my pilgrimage.
As I drove on, I kept day-dreaming of Shannon, wondering how I could help her find the right package for her children's books, whether it was to be a gimmick or a new theme, and how I wanted to team with her. And St. Theresa of Avila and Mary Magdalene and God's patience with us sinners kept coming to mind. And it even seemed that if everything worked out right, I wouldn't ever have to even compromise my marriage and family for the sake of a love for this other woman and the work I longed to share with her. And the C&W songs kept pumping me full of sentimentality, and I got deeper and deeper into it all.
One of the products I was trying to market was a nickel bud-vase that attached to your computer. The roses had been a perfect gift from the priest. I put one of them in a boutoniere and gave it to the front-desk secretary at Office Max corporate headquarters, and got an introduction to the right buyer. And one I stuck onto my dashboard, and the last one I pressed into a loveletter I was writing to my sweetheart, Shannon, that mean and tough-looking chick who said she had a soft heart for me. Right out of an old trucker song.
The pilgrimage was fulfilling.
Now it happens that when you are on a pilgrimage, you take anything for a magical sign of either blessing or malediction.
My dancer had asked me to say hello to Goshen, Indiana for her, since that was where SHE was born. And there were tornadoes and heavy storms passing through Indiana, so that when I passed Goshen there was the bottom of a big double-rainbow sticking up like a shower-curtain on the black horizon over Goshen. A suitable sign if I ever saw one. But if it was a sign, I have no idea of what, because nothing ever came of this relationship. However, I wouldn't have believed it if you'd told me at the time, since I was falling very deeply into a trance about this very perfect, if convoluted, dream.
As I said before, the pilgrimage was fulfilling. I had good weather and a good meeting at the factory I'd set out for, and met old relatives, and when I arrived at my birthplace, the first person I asked for directions was an old man who had actually lived there 51 years before when I was conceived. And though he didn't know my parents he remembered the names of the walkways they had mentioned, and pointed out where they had walked me at just about this time, fifty years before. I meandered around and spent time remembering them. It was about as fulfilling a first visit to your birthplace could be after your parents had passed away.
So many things seemed to be opening up. So many pieces of life fitting together in new interesting ways. I was practically bursting with life as I got in the car and started home. And I was in love in a new and interesting way as well. But I hadn't yet thought of the theme and technique this girl could apply to her stories. I had a long drive back east to work that out.
The night came on, and the far-side of the Illinois state line took a longer time coming than I'd expected. So by the time I was approaching Indianapolis my eyelids were down to my chin, and I pulled off the road and down onto a state highway to see if I could find something to eat or wake me up. And sure enough a Go-Go bar soon popped up on my left, and I figured a cigarette in there would do the trick.
Well, this bar was a really down-and-out place, with some real mean, tired and stretched-out looking women. Picturesque to say the least. But there was one very rounded and voluptuous girl with an angelic face and a whole head of blond curls sort of dancing on-stage when I walked in.
There were probably four guys in there and five women. A tough lady full of tatoos came and sat on my lap, asked for a light and a buck. I obliged and made myself a cigarette. Another chick missing a tooth came by and asked for a dollar. I gave her a dollar and lit my cigarette, showing I was not interested in doing any other business. But when the buxom blond got down from the stage I went over and bought her a drink, and got to talking. She reminded me of someone I'd once loved quite a bit. I told her so.
She liked my stories, and kept sitting with me. There wasn't anyone else to sit with. We kept talking over one beer and a ginger ale. I went and got some paper and did her portrait. We were staring in each other's eyes for long energy-filled moments, moments that stretched out over an hour. And when I finally finished her portrait I didn't want to stop looking in her eyes, and told her so. She said, "so don't stop. Please, don't stop." And we sat and stared at each other and mumbled inconsequential nothings. She was only 19. I didn't know where I was anymore. I could have been anywhere in the world. I was in Paris, I was in Miami, I was in a fancy club in New York... I was only in her eyes. Then the bar closed. I asked her if we could stay together...get something to eat, and she said yes, she'd call her babysitter and tell her she'd be late. I felt I could never let this girl go, or leave without becoming part of her world. I was completely overcome. I had forgotten everything about my pilgrimage. I had forgotten Shannon and her childrens' books. I had forgotten my family. I was ready to stay in Indianapolis with this girl and her child if she'd have me. I knew this, and yet I knew it made no difference anymore. It felt like romance out of songs and movies. It was exciting, romantic, unexpected. Everything a novelist might have ever dreamed up.
As luck would have it, the club owner kicked me out of the parking lot, and told the sweet blond that she'd be fired if she left with me. And so she came to my car and told me somewhat tearfully that she couldn't afford to be fired and that I better be on my way. I had her address and could write. And so I drove off, and as I passed through the city and got back on the interstate I realized how narrow an escape I just had.
I began to think about the story of Jonah, and the priest's point about sleep and forgetfulness. It also began to dawn on me just what "participation" might mean when it came to carrying out one's responsibilities to oneself and others. For I am one who believes that integration of self to oneself does not come easily, and that momentary disengagement may be stimulating and increase the drive to re-engage, but it may also serve to assist your disintegration.
So when the sun appeared over the mist drifting across the PA Turnpike, it also dawned on me what the theme of the childrens' stories might be. Like the stories of Ratty and Moley, these would be stories of birds. Birds of all types. Good ones and bad ones. Every type of bird could make it in there..robins, hawks, egrets, crows, starlings, sparrows, gulls, eagles, finches, cowbirds and catbirds. Real characters who were true to themselves and their little bird dreams, and other ones who let a gulf break them from themselves and their past, desiccated souls who had lost their integrity and were constantly messing up the world around them.
It would really be about disengagement without re-engagement. It would be about what it takes to break the spirit, and replace it with an adult imitation.
Forgetfulness vs. participation would be the theme.
Fittingly, when I got back home I went to see this little witch of a woman who'd made my trip much of what it was. She was on-stage when I got into the club. I gave her the little epistle with the rose in it. She didn't open it, but got down on her knees and pulled me up close, pleading,
"Spark Eye, I need your help. Tina and I've got a very important Bondage & Domination show tonite on the Internet. I need some good ideas! I KNOW you'll come up with something!!"
This gave me the impression that, although I had learned a lot, and seen many signs, things were not exactly as they'd seemed.
There are many experiments one might carry out to illustrate the confusion of symptoms for cause. For example, I devised a clever demonstration of this phenomenon once, entirely by accident.
I had just sat down with my glass of seltzer water at the bar in front of me, the one up at the go-go stage. Being the club I have described above, I should mention, it was an all-nude place where they didn’t serve alcohol. I knew the dancer quite well and she came over to me to say hello and get a hug. So I stood up, gave her the regular dollar, hugged her between the tits, and we began jawing about all sorts of trivia… how her grandma liked her Christmas present, and her nephew’s birthday party the week before. The kind of thing that macho guys talk to naked girls about, you know.
After a few minutes of this I begin to feel like I’m getting turned on. I’m thinking, “Gee, I’m enjoying her tits more than I thought, cause this girl is startn’ to get me wet !” Which started to turn me on, aggravating the situation since now there was at least three inches more of my pants to soak up seltzer from my glass. Suddenly I realized what might be wrong. I looked down, she let out a shriek and broke up. “You never seen a piece of wood in the water?” I said.
But after that, she could never look at me without giggling. For my part, I never forgot the fact that you can often confuse the symptoms of something with its cause. That is, I believed I was getting extremely horny because I felt so very very wet.
Our local news has for some time been jossled by the story of a local lawyer who killed his wife for the insurance to support an overwhelming obsession to spend his time and money with an erotic dancer. I feel quite bad for his wife and parents and family, because all this could've been avoided if I had run into him. I know very well what it is to be obsessed with an erotic dancer, whether she is erotic, or just ticklish. And there are probably very few who have nursed their obsession with erotic dancers for so long and for so little cash as me. Of course, if I had had that lawyer's cash to start with it might have been differen, with similar explosive results - horrible results which are hardly to be brushed off with a casual word - but I will brush it off and get on with my story.
I've found after long years of practice that the only way to rid yourself of an obsession is to replace it with another which is either too absurd to take seriously or too expensive to seriously maintain - but sensorially diverting enough to derail one's mind from the original obsession.
I would have told that lawyer to do like I've done - become an erotic dancer yourself... or at least play at being one. This suggestion has indeed taken me by surprise, and is admittedly too absurd to be taken seriously. But it has indeed happened to me - and has been quite a successful remedy for getting my mind off the erotic. I still think about the dancers - but you see, now I’m considered part of the family. This all happened when three films about men dancing had just come out ("Shall We Dance", "The Full Monty", and "Raindance"). Perhaps it doesn’t seem such a creative solution to you, but to me it is creative as hell to be living out my Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Ray Bolger fantasies on a stripper stage. Anyway, when I went to explain my current situation to the city's Director of the Office on Aging, she near as broke a vertibrae laughing at me.
"But I'm serious" I was saying, "Whenever I walk in there they announce my name "AND our NEXT sexy cyberdancer has just walked in... Let's have big round of applause for SPARKEYE!!"
It's definitely a rung up in my ladder of accomplishments.
"That's why I had to talk to YOU," I went on. I'm absurdly proud of it,... and being up there in their place has done wonders for my obsessions with these girls.”
I'm turning 50 and my wife and daughter make fun of me as a nerdy bookish bumble. They must always point out that I have a big vacuum cleaner brush under my nose. And though they only mean my mustache, they are always telling me there is garbage hanging from under my nostrils. And I must always run to a mirror just to find my mustache. I needlessly feel very stupid and nerdy at home.
It was this dilemma which sent me right to the Director of the Mayor's Office on Aging. I was so proud of myself I wanted to tell my wife and daughter. Of course she thinks I’m spending my time and dollars at the bar obsessed with all my failures in life, talking to other losers like myself. But at my “Gentleman’s Club” I am truly a success – where girls pay the establishment themselves for time to sit and talk with me. They ask me about my wife and family - and I want my wife and family to know all about them too!
So I had to tell someone that I could identify with my wife's perspective - for she is several years over 50 by now - and this particular Director was someone who could identify with my wife.
She laughed so hard I was forced to admit that I had finally achieved the epitome of the TV nerd. I could see myself as The Pink Panther trying to sneak into a strip club, unseen by friend or foe, and then to be announced on the loud-speaker the minute he gets in. A meek Woody Allen or Robin Williams transformed; the man beneath the mouse leaping to the fore to do a studly rendition of the male animal…… before the bullets begin flying. But just in the movie.
And so by telling my wife's old friend, who happened to be the Director I have been alluding to, and having her laugh so heartily, confirmed that it WAS an accomplishment of an odd sort.
"But please," she added, "try to let go of the obsession. For these aren't the greatest of places to be hanging around, given that you have a family, and are considered a respectable parent by other parents."
Well, she was right. And it made me feel like a writer who still had energy to get into slightly risky and ridiculous sitiuations. And if Robin Williams or Peter Sellers could do it, perhaps my family would one day excuse me too. The Director said she would….”But please be careful.”
The real truth is, one never knows about obsessions. It is easy enough to tell when you have become obsessed with something, because your thoughts continually return to it when your mind knows it should be focussing on something else. You soon begin to feel the stresses built up between what you are thinking and what you should be thinking. The stress when you stop seeing or feeling anything else but the need to gratify , realize, and make real, a single thought. This kind of stress isn't worth anything at all and is life-destructive. It is what is called "morbid." And when it keeps repeating itself it is time to shoot it in the foot ‘cause it is going to do you evil.
In my case, I had gotten rid of an obsession with a particular erotic dancer by dancing. Now I was becoming obsessed with my alter-life down at the strip club. My substitute obsessions were themselves becoming too obsessive. I had to talk to someone.
“I’ve been going to the strip clubs. I fell in love….But that’s not the worst of it……” (long pregnant pause as she is thinking about the recent publicity of the lawyer and the murder) “I’m DANCING there!” And it brought on a flood of laughter. I was released. I suddenly became obsessed with writing down all these stories.
And so I am sitting here sneaking in my tales of woe and waughter when I should be writing test scripts for computer code.
For one obsession I might lose a wife and family. For another I might lose a job…. then a wife and family! So which is worse?
The upshot is that I am now obsessed with success. I’m quite positive I’ll finally make a success of myself. I’m sure of it. The girls at the club are sure of it. And if they call me up on stage I even dance like I’m sure of it. But once a success, ‘rolling in dough’ so to speak - what obsession will take its place? This is a scary thought that I might have nothing to tell that demented lawyer except: “Manage your obsessions well, or whatever the outcome, you will forever dig yourself deeper in.” And I’d better be careful myself.
(a short segment from The Middle-Aged Strategic Self-Indulgence Initiative)
I always say that turning fifty is a once in a lifetime chance. So every time I've turned 50 I've thrown myself a big party. I'm on my third now, and since people say I don't look more than 42, I’ve got a couple yet to go.
Everybody needs a rite of passage, too. Never having had a big celebration for anything, I never felt that I'd gotten anyplace. Nearing the end of my forties, I decided that at 50 I'd better not consider myself a kid anymore. My patient apprenticeship was over. I was now a journeyman. Even if I still hadn't yet done anything that I set out to do, and never felt grown up, I could fake it. So I rented tents and a band in the back yard, and high school kids catering all 100 people I invited. It worked.
And now after three “Big 50” bashes (for it took three years to really feel fifty), now it seems at least thirty years since I felt I was an apprentice…. And in truth, until I threw that first party, I was still waiting for life to take me by the hand and start happening.
Shannon, the girl who lost the macaw named Rufus never came to the Big Five-O bash. She said she was going to sneak in the back, but little did I know, she got paid back in spades for pulling my leg all those months. The night before the party she pulled a tendon in her leg and had to quit dancing. I saw her after the party and, since she didn't want to break up my marriage and be stuck with me, she didn't call and that was that. At least I didn't have to worry about leaving my wife for her.
Very soon, however - after squabbles about the party and several disagreements over the company I was trying to start with a few grand I’d inherited from my dad, I left home anyway. It wasn’t Shannon, or Alanna, or Daisy, or any of the girls I’d been falling in love with... it was just me trying to write a book, start a company and give myself a birthday party.
Besides, I had just started a horrible long term affair with a mainframe computer that couldn't count to the year 2000. For some of us, fears of the Year 2000 stopped all life in 1999. That was the year of “Y2K.”
I ended up living in a motel next to a factory. My dream of the company had to get scrapped anyway, at this point, with no fault of my wife. Life was becoming work. The latticelike complexity of the Y2K job sucked every ounce of energy, and I had no current love to keep old hopes warm, nor time for new hopes.
There were the few books of essays I’d finished for Alanna, but after a few rejections from publishers I put them aside. Half-heartedly, I took one of them called "The Riddle of the Sphincter" and began turning it into a book called Squeezing more Life into Life after Squeezing the Life out of it.
That fall I left a family that laughed at my ambitions, and made me feel like Walter Mitty. I left a sweet simple wife who preferred me walking out at midnite to drink - so that I'd forget about writing books and pursuing inventions. I left a wife who didn’t tell me that dinner was on the table because she assumed I’d prefer sitting in the cellar writing my stupid books.
Now that I’d left, I could finally overcome my creative devils, and become the self I believed in -- that is, in-between 70 hour weeks in the mainframe room.
So now I was experiencing what hundreds of thousands of everyday people do year in and year out, and I appreciated more fully why the lottery may be the only meaningful act in a day. Certainly someone who just has enough time to squeeze in laundry and a Chinese buffet before going back to work can't have the gall to write a book on squeezing more life into life. The most feeling I could squeeze into life was my morning shower.
A few months went by. Work schedules were extremely demanding. Year of the fear of millenial chaos. At midnite, January 1, 2000, all system chips would change back to pumpkins, and all the benefits of modern technology would turn to mush!
At the stroke of midnite! No one knew exactly what would happen. People were stocking up on canned goods for the days of anarchy ahead.
It made for a lot of work, and I was bored, fatigued, and disgusted with everything. Living in a motel near the corporate business park where I worked, I got home to see my family once a month, and up to the mountains once a week
At work all day, I would take 4AM dance-breaks with Shania Twain and her fiddle player in the old mainframe computer room - clogging across the raised floors and leaping between high-speed printers. Nobody knew I'd already lost it.
For "life and refreshment" outside of the shower I found a bleak old corner bar in a town nearby. It was ground-floor of a rooming house that had been around since 1911. The place had a wrap-around wooden bar - scratched and smoothed since the 40's when Jimmy Cagney movies were made of places just like that. In my younger days I’d look for a place like this to make me feel like an old-timer. But now I was an old-timer, so I could sit with a small crowd of comicbook afficionados who hung out a few nights a week. A couple big kids in their thirties. They would blow the wrappers off of straws at each other, break open Guinness cans and throw the plastic balls at the owner, or sit with darts stuck into the front of their ballcaps. They had a bit more aplomb than Beevis and Butthead. I fell right in with them, because that was MY crowd back in junior high school 35 years back, before I moved up a notch on the ladder of the high school hip.
Dean sold fantasy computer games at the local mall. Be-speckled, tousle-haired, with a bit of a beer-belly, he was the energetic leader who called the shots. Scotch and Arlo were the other half of the high school threesome - proud of their position as perpetual outcasts of the high school in-crowd. Still living on that energy fifteen years later.
Scotch was the one who gave them instant credibility. Tall and given to easy laughter, built for the gridiron. Square-jawed with a big Adam's apple and a burr-cut; too sensitive to be a marine like his dad, but No. 1 in that year's rounds of the NYPD entrance tests, if you can picture L’il Abner as a New York City cop.
Arlo was the shy philosopher who got the name Arlo because he looked like a sensitive folk singer. They always told me his sister was gorgeous but I never met his sister. I met them all one evening when Dean and me were both doing portraits of Crazy Willy. After sharing portraits of Crazy Willy anybody would become friends.
Crazy Willy spent every evening hunched over the bar scratching a big pile of Lucky Six and Bingo cards. He worked at Walmart stocking shelves and spent his earnings in anticipation of being a winner one day. Scratching off the silver ink, Willy'd have this smile so big you could hang his jacket on it. Bigger than his shoulders, that's how broad his smile was. And after each card Willy would look around the bar for anyone he knew as if to make you think he'd just won. Because every night he did win something. And when he won he was the King, and would call Tommy the bartender over, show him the winner, and order Tommy to pay him his winnings in more Instant Winner cards.
Willy loved showing you his secret spot where he sat. Somebody back in the thirties had put a finishing nail next to the wire that hooked to the sink-light under the bar, and an old guy from the rooming house upstairs let Willy in on the secret when he was a little boy. Touch that spot and you got a shock. He'd never forgotten it. And the bar had worn half way down on that finishing nail and it still gave a tingle when you put your hand on it. Willy was about 64, and lived upstairs himself now. A child at heart, he wanted to pass on that childhood thrill he got when he first felt that tingle.
So this was where my game had taken me. Back to junior high. Back to Willy’s lucky tingle. I had no idea what the Squeezeplay story meant, or why I was writing it. Anyway, I was too exhausted. This place seemed to suit me. Watching Crazy Willy try to win, and playing darts with the guys was an hour to relax before hitting the sack late and going back to work early. You might say life was bleak. Luckily for me, writers don’t tend to see it that way. You are now at the low–point of the book, but I bet this is where you first looked when you picked it up at the book-store.
The real goal that sustained me each week was getting to my place in the mountains, building a fire, smoking my pipe and working on my book and my self-esteem.
But one night I took a different route home, and stumbled on a discount porn superstore not 10 miles away from my secluded cabin. I succumbed to the temptation of checking it out, and walked to my car with several $3 videos. Over the next weeks, for nearly nothing I assembled a library of sexual representation which talked and moaned and cavorted and licked and pumped. And so I had decided to trash the self-esteem and the book to be spellbound for hours in total self-effacing ecstatic oblivion. Now I got through the week waiting to get to my hole in the mountains to be mesmerized - to forget everything around me.
We already know why this is degrading despicable behavior. For my newly-discovered disengagement knew no limits of time and energy. Time and energy that I didn't have. Longings which broke me from every bit of my past. Mind you, there is the simple animal behavior -- I can cover that. No, it was the forgetfulness that was abhorrent.
I could be sitting by the fire listening to old albums and watching the deer watch me through the window. But if there was porn by the TV set I had no choice in the matter. I was no longer free.
Here was the perfect illustration of the fact that the strength of a feeling has nothing to do with its richness, its inherent wealth, or some final value and validity. To get it together to cart all the videos to the dumpster (though I had truly become very attached to them), I reminded myself of the richness of other emotions. I remembered the times I’ve known pure joy, and reminded myself that these times in front of the video were not among them.
From the age of adolescence, boys learn to have orgasms like sneezes, and many more of them too. From what I’ve gathered, this is not necessarily true for girls. So if you are a girl, you may not appreciate this sneezing metaphor…. except as it pertains to the big boys you have to deal with who like to have their sneeze and then go out and play ball.
Snuff was the stuff for the sneezing. It was pure nicotine absorbed through nasal membranes (instead of through the inner lip, like chaw). The theory was that that pinch of snuff would clear your head, and you could get on with more important things.
This is the macho view of sex, too… something a real man takes for granted and leaves in its place. Porn is simply pure nicotine, meant to tickle the sneeze out of you. Once I got married, sneezing was no longer the simple and perfunctory operation it once had been… it became a medical condition requiring a small innocuous box of snuff in the medicine cabinet under the bed, and it worked like a pinch of snuff whenever I needed it.
Well, after so many years of magazines and films and peepshows and intercourse over the internet, I believe I have figured out what the distinguishing characteristics of porn really are. It is pretty simple, and I should tell you as much, since this is doubtlessly the section you turned to after reading the Table of Contents. I would like you to realize that this is a book of the deepest philosophical variety, and not just a sleezy autobiography relying on cheap tricks to get a sale.
What distinguishes porn from other types of communication is not what anyone would take as the obvious and simple answer, because we all know that if a cereal box cover was adorned with two naked women sharing a large tubular device up their respective georgettes – or a naked man and woman playing with something approximately tubular - that this would be porn, and not a cerealbox cover meant to advertise cereal.
What we need to understand are the methods by which porn achieves its communicative purpose – as opposed to the methods by which other forms of communication achieve their respective purposes. And this is what I felt I had to figure out. For if a communication achieves its purpose by the same method as porn (no matter what it’s actual content is) – then I will say that it is pornographic in its style and method, and that’s that.
I happen to think that supermarkets overflowing with colorful mounds of perishables like vegetables and fish and sugary bonbons are perveying pornographic displays – even if the vegetables are not intended to be interpreted as sexual objects, nor the smell of fish intended to remind me of Pantagruelian fantasies. For the majority of it will be thrown to the dumpster and charged to the Advertising and Display Department – for it is still cheaper than a mass mailing. Whether it is real food or not which could feed whole villages for weeks. I consider this pornographic, and I will tell you why by discussing orgasms.
It turned out that once I found happiness and completion in my life I discovered that an orgasm is actually only a representation for something else – and believe it or not, it is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional feeling. You understand that dimensions are only a metaphor of what I mean --- but if you were to picture the wildest most imaginative and exciting picture and realize that it is only two-dimensional… it certainly might be much more exciting and amazing than a three-dimensional coffeecup which you might be holding in your hands right now. So the talk of dimensions can be misleading. Even so, most two-dimensional orgasms are much more exciting and vivifying than even the most well-balanced golf club…. But 150 photographs and paintings of glorious sunsets aren’t the same as actually being there in the middle of one of them. Besides that, even the largest orgasm only lasts several seconds – 30 seconds would probably kill you, and the feeling of lovemaking with your real true love lasts just as long as you want. And the sun never seems to set.
An orgasm is best described as when several disassociated sensory bundles of sense all seem to induce each other to an explosive, single message. Boom. Well, this is a two-dimensional representation of a quite amazing and wonderful feeling of when all the more positive and fulfilling emotions bundle themselves into an almost overwhelming mega-emotion in which they pass memories and hopes and passionate excitement and colors and sounds and cosiness around to each other and the sum total of all this activity is serenity and peace…. Something like watching a fantastic sunset from a luge at 120 mph down an unending mountain as you are curling up in front of a fireplace… home and safe and content. With no orgasm necessary whatsoever. This is the promise of true love that made any orgasm pale in significance for me, and finally put sexuality in its place.
And so pure sexuality– in its tawdry tug at various buttons in your sensory system – holds out a promise of lovemaking between true lovers - something more than sex can ever deliver. The luge and the sunset disappear into the thin ice of emptiness and exhaustion at the bottom of the hill, leaving you only with the thought of going back up for another run before the sun finally sets. And even if the sun is down, for the thrill you’ll do the slope anyway. And anything that tugs at the buttons in your sensory system – making you aware of a reality that you cannot have – is a pornographic lie, and a seduction to a promise that it can never keep. It may even obsess you because of its nearness to the real thing – its 2-dimension representation of something which is nevertheless very real and discoverable.
But I have forgotten to mention one thing. There are other ways in which we can watch a fantastic sunset endlessly from a luge as we are curled up at the hearth of our hearts – and that is with art. The highest potential for any of the arts is to tug at our senses, and bundle multiple emotions simultaneously, passing memories and hopes and passionate excitement around at a speed that turns it into a mega-emotion. Not all art, by any means, and no art that anyone can tell you to like, for sure. But any art that does all this to you has reached its potential, because this is what art intends to do. And art that doesn’t achieve its potential is simply decoration, to stimulate your taste buds…. Perhaps even to a sensory or emotional ‘orgasm’. But for my part, art has rarely done to me what my real true love can do to me any day of the week.
Now I will tell you how I met the Sphincteress – the snake-woman. It happened one Thursday night in January, I was leaving the computer room real early and the midnight shift operator asked, "Have you ever been to Frank's Chicken House?"
"No," I said, "Never ran across the place."
So he gave me directions to this local club, and I went to the Chicken House, famous for its totally nude chicks. After about 45 minutes of taking in the dynamics of the place (for every club is its own subculture, with different rules and moral standards), a real Marlene Dietrich-type came on stage. She moved like a vamp in the old movies. The kind of vamp who would throw herself over the piano, take a cigarette out of the musician's mouth, take a drag, put it back, and then start a seductive song to him. After that she'd walk out with another guy, usually the manager or the local mafia boss.
This was a real woman, pure Garbo (or did I say Dietrich?). Anyway, she was definitely not one of the everyday 19 to 30 year olds who all look 25. I left my table in the back and went up the stage, thinking, if those eyes look into mine I'm a goner... which of course is what I was hoping to be.
But she never looked at me once, even when I put up a few "hello" dollars for a "seduce me" look.
She never looked because she already knew she had me. That's how vamps work, it seems.
When she came down from the stage she walked right up to me and took my hand and led me to the back.
"Well, does she have a surprise coming," I thought, "I'm going to give her my double whammy of wit and my master manoevres of macho! She wouldn't even look at me on-stage! Is she in for it, the bitch!" I said to myself as I swooned in her arms. With a few deft moves, she turned me into a tremble as my eyes went glassy and my nostrils began to pulsate. In moments I was making sounds like a puppy begging for milk. And then our time ran out.
"Do you want to stay longer?" she said in that strong accent that wicked foreign vamps use when they are waiting to destroy the enemy. She was obviously a spy after every inner secret I had locked in my brain. How clever she was to know I worked in national security four years before!
"I'll wait," I gasped, "I need to relax. But I promise I'll let you lead me back here."
My years of practice with this kind of thing was paying off. My manly pride intact, I stood up, straightened my shoulders, and bumped into the wall. She had cleverly removed my glasses prior to her attack.
My mind was working furiously.
"She's definitely worth spending some time with. I deserve this for all the work I've been doing lately. I'll space three more twenties out til they close the place."
Which is what I did. And because I was fated to meet this woman I ended up with her telephone number and a tentative date at a jazz club in Manhattan the following Sunday.
When I got to her apartment that weekend it was pretty high class and professional. She definitely lived up to her looks. There were professional ad shots of her modeling in Europe and oil paintings over all the walls. Surreal canvases of nudes walking through walls, half-nudes in armor, nudes in a nun's habit beneath a gothic church, nudes on bicycles. All the nudes had stylized versions of a single face, her face. There were art books of Russian iconography on her coffee table, and she had bookcases with Russian poetry. Her brother was a painter, and her step-sister a famous icon painter in Russia. She had been a speech pathologist and audiologist before she came to the U.S., and had run a clinic for children. She was a professional.
I stared at all the images of her and it suddenly struck home - this was the face I had described as the beautiful half-woman, half-girl... the enchanting hypnotic face of the Sphincteress!!
What I didn't notice were the paintings on either side of her bed - her torso emerging from a snakeskin, with the cobra's hood arched behind her head! ! And the painting directly opposite – of her emerging from the Great Sphinx of Egypt, its stones crashing to the ground around her. I didn’t see them til after we’d made love – but that wasn’t until the following week. That’s when I knew I had met her.
But what did it all mean? It was clear I was being provided with an end for my book. An ending? Was I supposed to escape alive - an ass-hole--or learn the truth and die?
You doubt every word of this, for no scriptwriter would have made it up, and it is obvious I am no novelist.
LECTOR: Will you please shut up and get on with the story. How the hell did you get her number in the first place?
AUCTOR: I reminded her of her dead husband. Actually, there were two dead husbands, and I don't know whether I was like the concert pianist or the one from the travelling puppet theatre.
LECTOR: The puppet theatre, I'm sure. But how did it happen? Did she lean over you, and with that gravelly sexy vamp voice whisper "you remind me of my dead husband!! Come to my room tonite and share my bed!"
AUCTOR: Get real. It was my macho manoevres that reminded her of her husband.
To begin with, when she came back around in my direction and motioned to me for another little seduction session with her I was already primed. My wit was not going to work -for my wit in Russian is next to nothing and her English was limited to talking - she didn't understand so good. But my sly Machiavellian macho was in tiptop shape.
Instead of letting her dance over and onto me, I danced under and around her. Like I said, my pump had been primed. All those weeks in the computer room had left me in a highly susceptible state, but she couldn't have known my circumstances, and neither did I know hers, nor that my reaction to her was like that first love of hers back in her homeland and her youth.
I just wanted to make love. And when I get like this my body does not want to sit still - but the artistic animal in me is let loose. I long to be a painter, where every stroke of my brush is a caress of a tongue working feverishly to capture each curve of her shoulder, her chin, her wrist. Or to become a sculptor against her skin, playing the soft clay through my palms and fingers.
And when I cannot touch - for this was taking place in a Gentleman's Club where only the woman may choose to touch - my hands and neck and body and legs were suddenly moving around hers, sculpting and painting my caresses. She pushed me down and said, "Stop Stop. You are not supposed to do this here!" I fixed my eyes in hers and they told her simply - "NO, I am the object of seductive play no longer. It is YOU who are. And I am serious."
Then she joked that they should let me dance with her on stage, and why not? It would make for good real entertainment. And I told her she should get to know me, for I was more interesting than my couch dancing. And she said we should dance at a dance club sometime together. And I told her about the wonderful time I had in Palm Beach, and that I'd love to do the same in Manhattan. And she agreed.
LECTOR: You didn't tell her the girl in Palm Beach was giving her number to all the guys in the bar, and that's why everybody was buying you drinks and cigars?
AUCTOR: Of course not! And that's how I got her number.
Afterwards she told me about her husbands and daughter who was still in Russia. She slipped me her phone number before she went back on-stage. Then she danced with the guy in the shadows - the guy at my table who was also dancing. We pulled each others' strings and moved each other's moves.
After she danced another Russian girl, very sweet and demure -Marlena's opposite - came and asked me if I wanted a "dance" in the back. But I replied, "No - I've got my net out for your friend Marlena over there."
"No, I don't think so." She said, "She’s already got her hook in you. I see the point sticking out your cheek. Just feel it!"
She reached over and touched my cheek, laughing, "You'd better watch out!!"
There was a hook in my cheek.
I knew a fellow named Snorre from Iceland. We called him "Snore" for short. Icelanders are famous drinkers. Even before they became Catholics in 1000 AD they were famous this way. Anyway, Snore worked in the Icelandic merchant marine for a while, and would drink quite heavily on the ship and even more heavily when he got to shore. Sometimes he missed his ship, having blacked out and forgotten who exactly he was and that he was an Icelandic merchant mariner in the first place. When he woke up he would try to remember that he was a rock musician on tour, but it never worked. Eventually he'd come to, and find another ship that was just about as good as the first. When he came back to live in Iceland, he stayed in Reykjavik instead of his village. Now Reykjavik is not such a big city but more of a town the size of Wheeling, West Virginia, and he soon became very surprised when people he didn't know rushed across the street and shook him vigorously by the hand and knew his name. He was even more surprized that they never came up and knocked his teeth out. That is, he soon happily realized that when he blacked out during a heavy drunk he was still a very nice fellow and never insulted anyone or tried to steal their wife. Or if he did steal their wife he had gotten their permission first, because Iceland is a Skandinavian country where they are said to be very permissive.
And I tell this story because I know many people who have black-outs when they drink and you would never know when their memory shuts off because they are acting like the very same people they were when their memory was turned on. They don't think they are anyone any different, and nor would you or I. Only they don't remember a bit of what happened last night -- where they were, or what you all did, or how much fun they had. And this is a shame.
Many years ago I also knew an old lady who related bizarre and interesting experiences which had happened to her and her best friend over her 60+ years. She blamed this best friend for selling her best song lyrics to a Country Western label, and then blowing all the money on trip to New Orleans. She told of her best friend miraculously showing up and pulling her out of a car accident and getting her to the hospital. And she told of her best friend suffocating her own baby in a fit of frustration and claiming it was crib death. She told me every detail of the infanticide, her friend's distress and her psychological unbalance, and the fact that her best friend was afflicted with multi-personality disorder - and she was full of emotion and loathing for her best friend. And I knew that she, too, had cut off memories of herself and her very own actions, and that "best friend" had been created to explain those memories away, putting them in the 3rd person... as easily obliterated as memories of a murder mystery in a movie.
One midnite on the railroad tracks by the docks, my friend Tiny and I were visiting Meechy, an ex-jewel thief who ran the hot-dog stand down there. The brother of the city bail-bondsman was hanging out telling stories and playing bigshot. We were his audience. He was holding a couple thousand in bills, like he was getting ready to do a big deal; and had a gun sticking out of his belt, like he was waiting for an excuse to pull it out and point it somewhere.
I didn't want to be there, but his stories and his style were too close to a classic Bogart movie to miss. So I got up the courage to open my mouth.
"I don't mind you waving around all that money, and your stories are like the movies. But why's your rod sticking out? It's asking for trouble."
My voice quavered and cracked as I finished this carefully prepared communication. He looked at me, took me in for exactly what I was - a scared college shnook with guts -- then took the gun out and put it in his jacket pocket. He went on bragging. When we were leaving he took me aside and said,
"Listen kid. Any time you want a free haircut and manicure you can come by my shop."
It didn't matter much, because two weeks later he was gunned down with a double-barrelled shotgun in front of Meechy’s hotdog stand. They left the cash in his hand.
After this I knew I had met the real thing. He wasn't all hot air, but a real mobster who just couldn't keep his mouth shut. Just a little fish who didn't have much self-confidence and discovered himself by telling his stories. Which was fine, but he told too many stories.
I am sitting here at my local chapter of the AHBA (American Honkytonk Bar Association), permeated with cigarette smoke and laughter - where they play the jukebox loud and the girls’ navels are pierced. I’m thinking what a lucky time we live in, where reality and media and sports and fantasy are on a continuum, and we’re told that unemployment is 4.6%, and the Budweiser frogs are as talked about as the President. Frankly, it would be great if it could go on forever, but I’m a hanger-on from another generation, and remember an old lyric “Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end….”
That’s one of the problems with living – joys or agonies, we think they will never end.
In the early days of the nuclear age my generation was brought up to air raid drills when we would be taken into the halls of the elementary school with our heads between our knees, and long quiet periods to concentrate on the real possibility of mushroom clouds decimating the closest city - with our greatest consolation in the thought that the bombs would not be targeting our town. Of course I didn’t know it at the time, but 20 miles away was the strategic center of the US power grid and the underground computer centers full of the biggest Univacs in existence. Right next to the Univac factory. My elementary school was probably right on the enemy’s sites.
“Comrade, you have that missile for Glenside Weldon Elementary ready yet? Good. Prepare to Fire!”
But I knew there was no missiles aimed at my town, I grew up ready for annihilation in the blast of hot air and radiation. People talked seriously about survival in bomb shelters; there were pictures of these capsules in the photo magazines, suggesting you could soon order them at Sears and Montgomery Wards. I peeked around my knees and counted all the kids in the 4th grade and calculated quickly that there were no bomb shelters big enough for us. This realization colored my perspective on life. I trained myself then and there, in elementary school in the 1950’s, to be ready at any time to face a relatively immediate end… a readiness which I carried with me for several decades.
So here I was at the end of the century, listening to the jukebox loud and noticing that there just aren’t enough pierced navels around tonite to take my mind off of the reality of today’s bioweapons. For I have just been reading about the Ebola and Marburg viruses mixed with smallpox.
When you figure that the last time someone was quarantined in a hospital with smallpox, 14 people in the floor above got it ---- and when someone gets a little Marburg-infected blood on their skin they are pretty certain to have their cells decompose in to a bloody mush themselves in a week or so.
Well, I made what I considered a pretty reasonable appraisal of the situation, and realized that I should probably want to purchase a handgun while the going is good. At least some cyanide capsules. It would be better to kill ourselves rather than wait out the horror film - watching ourselves and our loved ones decompose before our eyes in a few days of inhuman suffering. The stress would be unbearable, once we know the virus spores are out amongst us and our cell structures are beginning to decompose into a uniform gruel.
Humankind has long considered that we were battling nature - and that among the greatest demonstrations of science is to prove our understanding of nature by taking her apart. And Marburg and Ebola take us apart, they do. This is, in the grand scheme of things a rather insignificant point about the workings of biological and physical systems. But they have been very pragmatic about it.
They (these are the un-named conspirators, evil scientists in their little underfunded laboratories, of course) have been hard at work building enough reserves of virus dust to wipe out most of humanity on earth. Virus dust which they make so small that alongside regular dust it just looks like a speck of dust next to a big ball of candy cotton. Inhale one of them specks and life with AIDS looks good and long and worth living with no complaints. Forget I ever said that.
We are not talking of old-time ideological controversies. We are not talking religious controversies, or inter-fraternal bloodshed. We are talking of simply destruction for the sake of curiosity, to prove that a few non-social brains may be “superior,” having evolved to the state of the gods if they can control the fate of humankind.
There do exist a number of bellybuttons who haven’t figured out that their own control of the human condition is not the same as the human condition.
The only conspiracy here is to prove a mistaken point –not really a “conspiracy” at all but the delirium of independently mad people. It is a horribly sick scenario – directly from the 80’s film “13 Monkeys.” We can easily identify with that “ultimate game” of playing Nature - creating a microbe which could checkmate several thousand years of human history.
Here is the final conspiracy of the human brain – playing out the myth of human potential – to play at taking apart what we cannot put back together. The truths of comic books - of single humans accidentally given the power over the fate of an entire race… at least for a pretty reasonable period… until the few stragglers work up a newly-immunized strain of human life and expectations.
It is easy to poo-poo an apocalypse, the end of humanity as we know it. It is the eminently possible outcome of a very global event – like the impact of a comet with the globe. It is not so likely with a local event, no matter how severe.
When the plague hit Europe between 10% and 30% of the population were wiped out, up to 100% of some towns. These are still local disasters; I shouldn’t have to say more. They will SEEM like the apocalypse, but they are not. There are plenty of stragglers – maybe even yourself – to make it through to the next day.
There are no comic book heroes who can save us from the certainty of biological holocaust. Huxley’s Brave New World was about a future that came about after the invention of Anthrax bombs in World War III.
For sure, in America we will invent ever more circuitous blinders to let us live and drink in peace. It’s an easy prediction that wherever fear can be used, new-time opportunists will push for old-time tyrannies in new clothes; and they will have us subscribe to new modes of human containment. Eventually, fear will drive the research budgets to find medical solutions. But for the short run, and even long-run, these solutions cannot altogether work.
My drinking buddy Mike the Ming is a man of strong faith, which is clear to anyone who notices he never takes off his Phillies baseball cap. He just walked in after I finished writing the previous paragraphs. So I read it to him. He liked the essay but he didn’t like my conclusion.
He says that God always finds a way to throw us a curve-ball. And frankly, that’s the closest I can come to hope as well.
This was the end of the essay as I read it to him:
“After all, it is in our nature to die. It would be a shame to have to do it this way, but hell - that’s what this book is about. Things DON’T work out with some conventional justice we’ve been taught to believe in.
And if you have as much faith in the human condition as I do, then put your head between your knees for a few moments --- and consider the option of a quick bullet vs the grim ooze and boils and burning of the latest and most efficient viral engineering.
Of course, if you’re waiting for the rapture, then you will welcome such universal annihilation, especially since it will only kill living things, send you to heaven, and leave all the automobiles, VCRs, swimming pools and sports stadiums standing. Your latest CDs will be untouched.
So if your faith is so strong in the ultimate justice of things there is little reason to worry. But, on the other hand - if you don’t have this absolute faith, then I would suggest that you substitute it with another kind of faith and just learn to pray. “
This is where I left off reading to Ming. His answer puts a little more structure to it…. “God always finds a way to throw us a curve-ball.” And as I said, it’s about all I can go on for now.
 Surgeon General’s Warning: French kissing strangers poses dangers to your short-term and long-term health. It is a high-risk activity which the author was not fully aware of at the time, due to the lack of insurance industry warning posters in public meeting areas (subway platforms, elevators, office corridors) and low-budget day-rate motels.