EXCERPT FROM “THE VELVETEEN GULAG” [a memoir]: Chapter 10: THE CHAMPAGNE RABBIT

mpot
mother with horse before my time on earth

They can only get away with the total falsification of the present if They can make us reject the past.

*

The present is the past wearing a latex mask. The structure of the skull determines the mask’s appearance.

*

The first girl who ever sucked my cock was a white girl.  Jewish. I was eighteen and we were on the sofa in the room outside her parents’ bedroom at about 11pm, watching the Johnny Carson show, my big brown cock stuck in her little white violet-rimmed mouth. I want to say my cock was the size and color of a Brazilian toddler’s forearm so imagine that in your mouth. Olive is a professor of English now at a top notch University and an Orthodox Jewess to boot and my first blowjob was a let-down for both of us because I snatched my cock out of her mouth and zipped my pants up and bolted down the stairs when her mother asked us something indistinctly through the door. I suddenly realize it was Olive’s mother I wanted to fuck all along. But I really liked her Father. They welcomed me into their bookish, Bohemian, secularly-Jewish, upper-middle class home.

*

That was in 1977. In 1977, I was so lithe I often sucked my own cock, so I had ideas about the proper way to do it.

*

I will not reject the past.

*

There was an integrated couple who lived in the house across from the three houses I lived in on Coulter Street. A white male, of about twenty five, with sandy blonde hair and a mustache and his Diana Ross-lookalike wife.  You’d see him shirtless mowing their lawn and wave. Seeing them together gave me vague notions of hope.

*

The total extent of my knowledge of cocksucking (defined as someone else sucking your cock), from age zero years to eighteen, came from the pornographic coloring book I found  in the alley behind my grandfather’s garage when I was nine. It was at the end of the alley that opened on the side-street my friend F. Small lived on (the alley-wide gap in the sidewalk I had once almost killed myself, on the hood of my grandfather’s Buick, at,  by launching on a bike from a home-made ramp at very nearly precisely the moment my grandfather roared down the alley with an unreadable facial expression, camera-flashed by my precociously death-resigned surprise) . That was all that I’d ever known about cocksucking.

I was born in Los Angeles, in 1959, the only (but for one other) child of a handsome radio DJ and an ex dancer of great (but fading) beauty. I fled LA with my family, at the age of three,  for reasons having to do with a deal gone terribly wrong (actually, here’s the story: my father arranged and promoted a very early Aretha Franklin concert and it was such a success he put on another, renting a bigger venue… and “lost his shirt” and the shirts of several others, who weren’t happy). We fled to Chicago. First stop, my grandmother’s house. I always called it “my grandmother’s house” but often referred to  “my grandfather’s garage”. I met F. Small when I was seven. In my memories F.  Small speaks like a grownup but that can’t be accurate.

I’m not sure if “friend” is the right term but F.  was a kid I played with and the way I’ve managed to remember his name, more than forty year later, is that F. was small. Fred had a built-in mnemonic attached to his name that I’ve never, until now, wondered if he outgrew. Which would segue nicely into a philosophical monologue on the subject of a question that has long fascinated me (do names, in some cases, determine the fates of their possessors?) if this chapter weren’t about cocksucking instead.

It’s not really, or exclusively, or more than tangentially, about cocksucking, this chapter.  It’s about friendship. It’s about people we lose in the gently-radioactive mists of modern Time (a Time that has no time for itself). And cocksucking.

But it’s mostly about B—. Who we’ll call Tadzio. Or, no: Encolpius.

When I found the pornographic coloring book it was a little like being punched in the stomach with my grandmother’s severed head. I’m trying to recapture the nauseated thrill, here.  Robin with Batman’s saber-shaped cock in his mouth. Someone left it there for a kid to find. I became that kid. Why?

Popeye on all fours (I’ve never noticed, before, how bizarre the phrase “on all fours” looks; all four what?),  sodomized by Bluto. I spun wildly to see if anyone  saw me seeing Robin with Batman’s cock in his mouth. I think I ran down the alley in tears (clutching the rolled-up coloring book).

That was the beginning and end of the subject for the next ten years. Which wasn’t just any ten years: it encompassed The Summer of Love, The Fall of Saigon, Watergate, The Birth of Punk, The Death of Elvis, my first wet dream and Studio 54.

 

mother young
mother young

2.

I was swaggering down Chestnut street in 1977 with coltish insouciance in the company of a gang of pseudo-intellectual friends.  We weren’t pretending to be smart; we really were very smart kids who’d just graduated from a venerable (founded in 1836) college-prep. It’s just that the aggregation of our worldly knowledge equaled totally fuckall. I had read thirty or forty pages of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

We were either coming from or going to Sam Goody’s, the record store.

I was supposed to be in Saint Paul, Minnesota, checking out prospective colleges after deliberately missing the deadlines for submitting applications to MIT, Amherst, Brown, Yale, Princeton, Harvard and so forth. I had been given an Amtrak rail pass (cash value: USD 165)  and something like two hundred bucks in traveler’s checks plus fifty in cash and ten in quarters (for phone calls) and I had somehow managed to cash in the rail pass and was liquidating the traveler’s checks left and right while holing up (I’ve never really looked at that phrase before: holing? up?) at Eddie Wilson’s mom’s place for the two weeks I was supposed to be gone. It was a ludicrously daring plot. It was also, I think, grand larceny and I wouldn’t be writing this if the (then) septuagenarians who had funded the trip weren’t long-since grinning in their bourgeois graves on the other side of the Atlantic. My great Aunt was a former teacher and the approximate size of a 9-year-old. A beautiful little jewel of a racially-ambiguous woman with back-length steel-gray hair she hid under curly expensive wigs during business hours.

(I was shocked, many years later, to be informed by an older relative that my tiny great Aunt, the one I lived with in Philly, at the Funeral Home, while attending the venerable college-prep school called CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL of PHILADELPHIA, had once advised, in reference to some marital difficulty this relative was having, verbatim, and with “great enthusiasm”:

“The tongue heals all!”

Once every few days I put a wet washcloth over the phone in Eddie Wilson’s bedroom and “phoned home” in the evening and reported on the hijinks of the fraternity boys at colleges that didn’t even ( as I hadn’t yet discovered) have fraternities.  While amassing one fuck of a collection of prog-rock vinyl. Jethro Tull, Yes, ELP, Steeleye Span, Gentle Giant.  I dressed up in a ridiculous disguise to meet my new girlfriend, Princess (half-Black/ half-Korean) on dates to buy records together. Later, she helped break the gender-barrier at West Point and went on to Wharton School of Business. The family compound I lived in on Coulter Street at our Funeral Home featured a showroom for high-end caskets that Princess pestered me to fuck her in. Encolpius didn’t like Princess. Encolpius didn’t like any girls who liked me. I thought it was funny.

The soundtrack at this point should be Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The magnificent Moog solo from  The Beginning

*

Encolpius drove the family ’69 Volkswagen minibus.

All of us… Eddie Wilson, Woody, Achilles, Tim Reid, Encolpius and I… piled in the minibus on Friday nights with the passionate belief that there was Sex in the world and we would unearth its location. I invented a psycho-Dadaist game. The psycho-Dadaist game that ended Encolpius’ parents’ marriage, possibly. I called it AUTOTHERAPY.

In AUTOTHERAPY the Volkswagen minibus drove you (THE SUBJECT) and the rest of the gang (THE AUDIENCE)  to wherever it was you most feared to go at that moment. For example, we picked Eddie Wilson and drove him, at about 2 in the morning, to the townhouse of this upper-class girl named Gwynneth (18) who lived with her parents and was surprised no doubt to hear the doorbell ring and find Eddie Wilson on the stoop reciting poetry for her (to the sonic backdrop of that minibus idling whine and our guffaws).

When my turn came we drove to pick up the girl I’d just been dumped by the previous week, Olive (she dumped me for a guy who later went to prison for insider trading; she dumped me because this guy was already a full bore dirty fucking poetry-free adult, whereas I was just a boy… she dumped me and it hurt most of all because in dumping me she went back to him, a future ex-con whose dick was even bigger than my famously big dick.  I know it was bigger because Olive’s inspired attempt at complimenting me the first time we fucked [in the master bedroom of my great Aunt and Uncle’s Funeral Home] was to purr, insidiously,   I like your penis, it’s just the right size, not too big… ) .

Olive drove around downtown Philly in the minibus with us for about an hour, laughing as hard as anyone else, just like one of the guys, and it just now occurred to me (what’s the word for an epiphany so minor it changes nothing?), as I write this, that Olive was in such a good mood that night,  was such a good sport, wasting time with a bunch of geeky Monty-Python-besotted goons when she could have been sucking the world’s biggest unwashed cock in front of a Television instead,  because I’d done her the valuable service of confirming the justice of going back to the horse-dicked asshole who would one day do seven years in Federal Prison. Actually, I have no idea how much time Kevin actually did. But Olive is now married to an Ambassador (a famously reptilian neocon), as recovered from her youthful flirtation with unambitious Bohemia (me) as she could possibly be. When she’s blinking through the interminable night beside her snoring Neocon and touching herself with Regret’s kitschy ardor, it is undoubtedly Kev’s felonius dick she conjures.

Encolpius’ father was a big deal chemist who was nominated for a Nobel prize. He was so fancy that he bought himself a car that almost nobody else in Philly owned: the Champagne Edition of the Volkswagen Rabbit (“The Champagne Edition was a sales campaign that Volkswagen did in 1977 and 1978. The first special sales campaign was to commemorate the production of the one-millionth VW Rabbit”). Encolpius’ dad’s Nobel-prize-winning laboratory featured a young assistant, a not-bad-looking girl, I think her name was Maggie. I think she was 24. Encolpius affected to have some kind of crush on Maggie… or maybe the crush was genuine and he was torn between two directions he felt he might have to choose between soon. Encolpius talked about Maggie the way my Aunt and Uncle (with whom I lived in Philly in order to attend the college prep school) talked about certain admirable neighbors.  It was hard to feel the passion there but Maggie became THE OBJECT of Encolpius’ session of AUTOTHERAPY.

We drove THE SUBJECT to Maggie’s apartment building (she had her own flat!) well after midnight one Friday. We were all dressed up in ridiculous outfits which included vests and dress shoes and homburg hats.  Eddie Wilson, Woody, Achilles, Tim Reid, Encolpius and I drove to Maggie’s place at an unreasonable hour.  All six of us stood on the stoop in front of the glass-paned door to the foyer of her building. Through the door you could see through the little foyer into the long hall on both sides of which the doors of the residents stood.

Just before Encolpius rang Maggie’s bell I said to Achilles, “Hey, isn’t that Encolpius’ dad’s car parked up the street, right there?” It was a distinctive auto.

Maggie stepped out of her door in an oversized blue bathrobe and said, quite audibly, “Oh shit,” and ran back into her apartment.

Writing is therapeutic.

3.

It was me, Eddie Wilson, Woody, Achilles, Tim Reid, Encolpius…

Woody the Jew, Eddie Wilson the half-Jew, Encolpius the Italian, Achilles the Mulatto and Tim Reid  the bona fide middle class clean-living Black boy. And me.

I was and am a messy Mutt of genes and signifiers freighted with a progressing phobia against fitting in. I was everyone’s friend in a complex arrangement of veiled antipathies. Achilles considered Eddie Wilson a sappy Hippie, Eddie Wilson considered Achilles a psychopath jock and poor Woody (who would soon be dead on a motorcycle) was jealous of my friendship with Encolpius, who hated all of my girlfriends.

the author in high school, looming behind two other figures from this recollection
the author in high school, looming behind two other figures from this recollection

Before the divorce, I’d be in Encolpius’ kitchen late at night eating half the Pasta Fazul his mother had made that afternoon, for their six-piece family, as though it had appeared in the refrigerator by magic, just cluelessly going to town. I can see Encolpius laughing so silent and hard, slit-eyed and breathless. I can see him in his paper hat in the Ice Cream shop called The Rocking Horse he worked in for his summer job. I can see myself walking there from the trolley stop one Saturday with the tingling faux-danger of having been told that this was the notorious little Gay part of town with all the foggy hot bars and pastel-flashing shoe-shops and clothes stores with changing rooms your High School friends might double-dare you on a five-buck bet to try on expensive khaki shorts in. How could I love Encolpius, my best friend, yet be so cheerfully oblivious to the particulars of his situation? But that’s how it was. Years later, after college, I phoned a number I’d gotten for Encolpius, from his mother, and an old man answered the phone.

Weeks after after High School graduation, we all swaggered down Chestnut street and my pockets were full of loot and our peppy sexual desperation expressed itself as the willingness to laugh at almost anything so hard that we couldn’t breathe. I had a god-given knack for saying things that would cause that to happen, a prodigious Smartass. Look at those loud teens cackling on Chestnut street, yucking it up on illegal drugs, people probably thought. But we never touched drugs or drink and rarely touched girls. We were innocents. Except for my grand larceny we were innocents.

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