EXCERPTS FROM “THE VELVETEEN GULAG” [a memoir]: CHAPTER 27: GIANTS

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preface

I used to call myself Crank.  I don’t know why.

July 1995

There was a very confusing war in the Balkans and it had something to do with the break-up of Yugoslavia or the calculating evil of the Clintons or something.

M had a puppet on a perch on the wall that wouldn’t have been nearly as sinister if it hadn’t had its own perch, a little wooden shelf,  head slumped to the side bearing a mirthless white grin of a shoddy zigzag for teeth. The puppet looked Balkan to me but I’m sure it must have been Cuban.

M nodded. Tootly-tooting the blues.

I read M’s mind.  She was eighteen. Nodding yes yes yes.

To be eighteen and know you’re eighteen is a modern thing, I thought.

I was thinking how nice it was to have my ____  kissed. The word “sucked” is too graphic.

M was nodding, reading my mind and slurping and slobbering like a pretty adult with brain damage. She was on one knee.  Her hands on my hips so I wouldn’t blow away like a flapping balloon out the window. The balcony doors were open and the street sounds of a Friday night of a long-lost Berlin were filtering three flights up, through the massed wig of leaves, where two trees put their old heads together to stare into M’s bedroom.

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July 1995b

Crank kept two watches. One was a gift from one of the loves of his life and one was from his first wife and he wore them simultaneously, a watch on each arm. But he couldn’t see the one with the local time on it. The back of M’s head was cupped in his hand and blocked his view of the local time.  Crank could feel M’s thoughts tickling his palm.  What was she thinking? Crank was thinking of British biscuits. He felt that M looked like a flapper tooting St. James Infirmary on a low trombone in the twilight. The melody  tingled his toe-tips and trembled his shanks and hung his mouth open as if he were breathing for two.

Q: Why do we throw our heads back when we get our ____ kissed ? (“sucked” is too graphic)

A: Ever look straight up at the stars while walking?

Crank couldn’t remember if he  was supposed to meet his first wife for dinner.

Crank can remember not being able to remember that and also Crank remembers feeling an enormous affection for M. She was eighteen or nineteen that year and Crank was a youthful thirty-five and weeks away from making the second-biggest mistake of his life by repatriating.

Berlin was 758 years old that October.

Q: Why October? How could they possibly know the exact month it all began? Did some sheepskin-wearing barbarian stick a shovel in the sand and proclaim “I think I’ll call this Berlin!”?

Try to calculate the apparent odds against that moment: that moment of M on one knee in her 95-year-old bedroom on Regensburger Strasse, sucking Crank’s sturdy ____  thirty six years after Crank’s constituent sperm triumphed against tremendous odds (like Beowulf and a million Breccas) to enter his auditorium-sized egg, in a galaxy-sized bungalow in LA, in September of 1958 AND…

…nineteen years after M’s constituent sperm cell penetrated her own egg, on a beach in Miami in 1976, also in Autumn, the product of the impulsive union of a middle-class German “free spirit”  and a “curious” homosexual Cuban structuralist University professor, rutting in the disco surf under moonlit-clouds and a tremulous morning star, not far south from where Crank was, simultaneously, a High School student in his bed in Philadelphia most probably masturbating. Imagine that Crank’s orgasm and M’s father’s M-creating orgasm were synchronized;  imagine they both went “h…h….h…”, with their unseeing eyes elevated to the same angle,  at precisely the same time.

The odds against that moment are incalculable.

 

GIANTS

Picture a sweet moment fifteen minutes before midnight on a warm Friday roughly six years before the world went to total fucking shit when those buildings came down. I want to be clear about this. The world went to total shit in 2001.

Yet: look at me sitting at a glass table top, x-years after the world went to shit, typing this out, with one finger, at my leisure, with the soft music in the background of my beautiful (second) Wife rehearsing a piece by Satie. So how bad can things be? The duality of Imperial life. It’s really mostly the Arabs who are suffering, isn’t it?

The moment in The Delicate Prey, when the hashish-possessed killer razors an Arab teen’s cock right off at the root to marvel dully at the flush red circle, had dominated Crank’s thoughts from 1990 to 1995. The sheer cool craft, the gruesomely-Gay craft of Bowles’ literary imagination. Long after PB, Crank had come to Berlin to write and had borrowed Bowles’ book from a German his first week there when it hit him like a rake handle that he had no idea what writing was. Right between his eyes. He was a born writer who couldn’t write. His verbal facility had straitjacketed him and Bowles’ book of short stories had crushed all the dreams in his heart. The German had a small library of Bowles in paperback and Crank devoured it. With a sinking thrill Crank realized like a gift of fleeting clarity from the merciless gods that he didn’t know a fucking thing about the practice of literature after fifteen years of occasionally-laborious efforts.

Q: Now what?

M stood and touched her lips with the back of her free hand.

“Do you love your mother?” she asked.

Crank said, “My mother raised me to think that what we call love is a kind of sweet pity as a kind of long-range trick to guarantee I would love her the older and more burdensomely ridiculous she became. I now know that what we call ‘family’ is a Ponzi scheme.”

Crank hadn’t really said that.

Crank’s mother had been a great beauty famous for beating professors, at her college, at chess. Her first husband was a Gay college professor she often beat at chess.

Crank’s father (who worked at an Ad Agency in the ’60s) had beat him once (perfunctorily) with a belt from a sharkskin suit.

M laughed.

The balcony door was open and they could hear insects and night traffic and they could smell M’s Queer neighbor on the adjoining balcony with his cigarette.  Crank buttoned his shirt and went and leaned on the balcony rail and M. joined him as they chatted with the neighbor. The neighbor was fit and a little older than Crank with blonde hair and the aura of a good job that never required that he raise his voice or hurry and he smiled, appreciatively at Crank and guessed accurately at the size of Crank’s sturdy bronze ____  and smiled also at the luxury of the temperate breeze they all shared as citizens of that moment.

M’s queer neighbor blew smoke and asked Crank and M what they were doing tonight but Crank said he had to go. M and Crank and the Queer neighbor were smiling at the street below and Crank felt a menage-a-trois hoping to insinuate itself on the near-future but he had no taste for penis. Sorry.

They chatted with the Queer neighbor over the low barrier between the two balconies above the lights of a Friday night like a couple. They both needed intelligent warmth but not in a formalized setting.

Crank was a youthful thirty-five and weeks away from making the biggest mistake of his life. Crank skipped down the carpeted steps of the grand old stairwell of M’s pre-War building feeling free. Fucking is so good when the conditions are just right. Goldilocks-right.

It was so good with M before she turned into a pseudo-cosmic Hippie psychotic whore.

the-incredulity-of-saint-thomas-1602-caravaggio (1)

Pariser Strasse

Crank was walking down blah blah street, near the whatchamacallit, not far from Pariser Strasse. Maybe it was Pariser Strasse.

This was long before all the Sex in Berlin went East and the West filled up with Russians and geriatrics and designer-boutiques for geriatric Russian Mafiosi. There was a plane ticket like a paper talisman in Crank’s jacket that Crank was showing with aggressive glee to every German acquaintance he bumped into and he felt free, weightless, relieved of all self-consciousness and obligation.

Crank had decided to forgo the U-Bahn station he would normally have entered for the short ride home and instead he crossed the wide boulevard of Bundesallee. He strolled humming up a leafy curving street in the breezy dark towards the beautiful lights of all those café signs, branded on the blue of a Friday night above the muted chatter and silverware-tinkle and glass-clinking and music of middle-class German street life.

That night Berlin seemed like the exact opposite of the kind of place a beer-drenched bastard in a homburg hat might chase a Jew down the street with a bent pole to cheers from respectable ladies. That night Berlin seemed the essence of the enlightened frivolousness promised by secular humanism in its heyday.

Every twentieth person was a foreigner from Bolivia or Iran or the USA or the Balkans and all those interesting places.  Everything and everyone looked so innocent and eager in the dark including even the Balkan gym rats with gold medallions packed neatly in the greasy excelsior bursting from their open shirts.  Even the prostitutes. The prostitutes looked like movie stars. Berlin was a playground. The first warm days of the year would see nude sunbathing in all the parks and even on the median patches of grass down the middle of the shopper-jammed Ku’damm with big white boobs baking and blondes going platinum in the noontide like golden chickens on a spit. The Love Parade was still new. Rent, food, clubs and movies were cheap and meeting eye-popping model-types was easy as slipping on a wet marble floor in an earthquake.

Q: Did Crank really want to leave Berlin?

A: Humans can adapt to and overcome any extreme condition. Even Happiness. 

 

Pariser Strasse 2

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her father was a bona fide ss officer; how cool is that?

I had a wife (28), a mistress (20) and a girlfriend (19). The girlfriend  was the daughter of an Iranian dissident. It was great. I was (36). I was nuts.

The (first) wife was not really a wife but I really was fucking her, living with her, liking her…  sometimes.  Sometimes I hated her Harpy guts. But she had her own life. Who am I to say that she had mental problems? Maybe I was her mental problem.

M with her olive skin and sparkling golden hairs on the meaty little valentine of her bottom. I never noticed how bowlegged she was. It hit me in retrospect many years later.

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She spoke four languages with reasonable proficiency and bore an olive-skinned, freckled resemblance to Princess Leia. She was brainy and threw her brain away before she hit 30.

A very innocent, un-restrained, un-calculating smile, she had, before. Her body would totally give into the laughter.  When she laughed she danced a little. I once made her laugh so hard that she sank to one knee on the sidewalk. She was “lovable” but I didn’t love her. I didn’t need to!  And she didn’t love me! Which was beautiful.

German was almost an euphonious language in her mouth. Right next to my ____. Her cooed Spanish was a guitar in the dark room with the balcony door open and distant sounds of traffic floating up.

This was before M went to India, became an infuriatingly-illogical hippie, made a Guru cry, nearly died of malaria, got knocked up by another young German denizen of some filthy fucking Ashram who thought he knew everything, etc. She’d swallow me and smile with all her teeth and quip, “Salty” or “My Doctor says this will help me quit smoking.” She lived in a huge flat she shared with her half-sisters. Her mother was a beautiful slut of the 1970s. M’s mater was a ho like my grandmother was a ho but a generation or two later (ie,  no need to pretend that the children shared a father). M’s father was a Gay Cuban professor of Literature in Texas who had fucked M’s mother on a beach in an effort to sample the ethereal chamber of the vagina instead of the infernal catacomb of  dude-ass, for a change. He wrote a structuralist study of Rock Hudson and once wrote to M that I was a genuine poet.

But the poems of mine that he had read were bullshit. Glib, facile, coy, obscurantistly decorative bullshit.

I came to Berlin to write.

I hadn’t yet learned to write.

M was a smart, slightly-bowlegged, half-Cuban dancer of 19 on the night I went walking on Pariser Strasse and my face and hands  were still sticky and warm with her; my nerve-endings twanged to her song.  We weren’t friends or lovers or strangers and it was great.  She was leaving for India in a few days and I was leaving for the USA at the beginning of September.We fucked like it was the end of Berlin.

I had accomplished exactly nothing in Berlin.

I had gotten married, sat through two abortions (one with my wife and one with my mistress) but, otherwise: nothing.

I hadn’t written a thing. A few too-lyrical poems. I hadn’t even taken pictures. Only rich people and High School students were using video equipment back then. This was before laptops, i-pods, the common use of the Internet, mobile phones or digital cameras. Actually, I took one picture with a disposable chemical camera, a snapshot of the sign on a cafe in Kreuzberg called Cafe Anal but I can’t find it now. Once every two years I tear the place apart looking for it. That was my Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph.

Common experience was not commonly recorded, in those days. We were misinterpreting it, not archiving it.

Neither was it being broadcast: it was another century. We thought of ourselves as very modern at the time because we had VCRs and answering machines and had heard of ordinary people with Atari computers at home. We didn’t even have Voice Mail. I didn’t, definitely.

The Friday night I was then walking across with a sense of “anything goes” or “Do What Thou Wilt is the Whole of the Law” was closer to 1890 in spirit than it was to Now.

On Pariser Strasse I saw a giant female half-breed of my acquaintance named N.

This was a pivotal moment.

N was standing with a group of people outside a cafe with a pool table in it.

She said her girl friend was having a 23rd birthday. I told them I was leaving Berlin forever in a few weeks.  Get the fuck out and never come back, I bragged.  I detected stealthy glances from the birthday girl. I acted just a little more like a don’t-give-a-fuck-asshole accordingly. Leavened with the wit of my  native intelligence. The funniest comedians are really just smart people who are capable of controlling the audience. I could do it on a small, unspectacular, local basis. People always tell me how funny I am. I doubt that I could do it onstage. But I sometimes use a localized form of this super-power to my advantage.

Iris  was almost as tall as N but prettier and buxom and sort of astonishing. A Bond-girl type but one who’d try to kill Bond in a leotard in a gymnasium. Six foot two or three to my six foot plus.  N was somehow too prissy. This sometimes happens with German half-breeds of color, trying to out-German the Aryans.

The Giantesses said why don’t you come with us we’re going to drive over to Mutter.

Mutter was a trendy sushi bar. I climbed in the back seat of Iris’ car with the dreamily definite sensation that both of these Giantesses wanted to fuck me. They had competitive plans to do so.

I knew very well that my connection to the USA had something to do with that because they each (one 23, the other 28-ish) were ready to start a New Life and what a way to start a New Life if you could hook a guy, by fucking him two or three dozen times, until he took you back to the land they all knew from Blockbuster movies.

I was in a position to chose a Giantess to take back with me to my Motherland and get a job as a salesman with a crackerbox house in a rundown suburb for my alien Giantess to stride around, blowing minds on Sunday with all the shades up, flirting with the neighborhood boys, answering the door in a towel and a crooked smile, loathing me for how far I’d fallen in order to clothe and feed her and keep her in catalogue fashions.

I had my pick.

I liked N’s mahogany color but she had no lips or tits and let it be known more than once that her African Bishop of a father spoke Latin. Whoopy-ding. Phony. Snob.

Iris was the alabaster offspring of a real live  former SS Officer and probably one of the last attempts of a high-ranking, card-carrying Nazi to breed a master race.  Lebensborn and so forth.  She  was born when Daddy Dear (I have to laugh at Sylvia Plath on this one) was 65. She was a total nut with a terrifying temper but I didn’t find out until I brought her to the USA for a visit.

Call her “Iris”.

Forget about M until 2002 when she will come back in my life and nearly ruin it. This story is really about Iris.

iris and m

top: ss officer’s daughter bottom: half-cuban dancer M, incredibly adept at hiding her bowleggedness

Iris

Oh, Iris had plans for me. When she and N and I drove to Mutter and we all sat there being funny and playing with our sushi under the track lighting she was sitting just so and laughing at all my jokes and calling attention to the obvious.

Actually, fuck, no.

I’m bored with this now; it happened and that’s what counts

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