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

The Convoluted Real Life Romantic Adventures of a Bohemian Serf Abroad and at “Home” During Fewer Than Two Months of the Clinton AdministrationP1230643-smaller

preface

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

July 1995-A

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 dick 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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Official, Government-produced pamphlet found in all the cafes that year

July 1995-B

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. One watch was from Grace (London time) and one watch was from Sigourney (Berlin). Was he supposed to meet Sigourney for dinner after sleeping with M?

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-six 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 dick thirty six years after Crank’s constituent sperm triumphed against tremendous odds (like Beowulf and a million Breccas) to enter that 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 “ungh… ungh… ungh…”, with their unseeing eyes elevated to the same beatific angle,  at precisely the same time, one fucking a slut and the other a pillow…

The odds against those overlapping moments’ co- occurrence 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 paper 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-six 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

i-95
her father was a bona fide ss officer; how cool is that?
I had a wife (28), a mistress (18 or 19) and a girlfriend (20). The girlfriend  was the daughter of an Iranian dissident. It was great. I was (36). I was nuts. How and where would Ursula fit…?

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.

Ursula 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 Ursula’s 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.

Ursula 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 in his late 50s. 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 “Ursula”.

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

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

Ursula

Oh, Ursula 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’s so much more fun to make things up.

 

PART TWO in which I (attempt to) resolve to finish this tale

SS OFFICER'S DAUGHTER
Ursula before she hated me

I happened to walk by Ursula a few years ago, perhaps 2010, on Bergmannstrasse and she gave me a three-second microwave deathray stare with intent to kill. She still looked good.

It had been a twisted trip with her way back in 1995 and it hadn’t ended well. So there I was walking with an old friend and I happened to look up and a familiar Amazon was glaring at me and after we passed her I said, to my old friend, sotto voce,  “I had an affair with that woman fifteen years ago and it didn’t end well.” 

It started beautifully. Or it seemed to.

As mentioned in prior passages, Ursula and N and I were playing with our sushi that night at Mutter and I had that lightness of spirit one has when one has a plane ticket in one’s pocket (I carried it everywhere I went) and I was being so witty and charming and not-giving-a-shit that both women, the black and white Giants, seemed to be maneuvering to have me.  After about an hour of laughs and raw fish I announced that I was sleepy and ready to leave and hey, let’s all have a picnic next week! Give me your numbers! Ursula wrote down her number, and N’s as well, but the clever Ursula wrote N’s number incorrectly, so it was Ursula that I called a few days later to arrange for a picnic, “innocently” requesting that Ursula call N to invite her as well. I would do all the cooking and they would bring the drinks. We would have our picnic in the famous Tiergarten, Berlin’s version of New York’s Central Park.

At the time I was sharing a minimalist flat on Bismarckstrasse with my first Wife, who was planning to follow me back to the USA, later in the year, for her green card; I would signal her after I found a cozy little American flat of my own (I had arranged to stay with an ex, Jo, and her future-internet-mogul-husband Nerdy Jeff, in their lakeside house, while I got my bearings). In the flat on Bismarckstrasse the extent of the furnishings were 1) a futon in the bedroom 2) a headache-inducingly expensive Philip Starck table, with matching chairs, in the living room and a stainless steel clothes rack in what should have been the dining room, laden with my first Wife’s expensive clothing. I always felt her expensive tastes in things had to do with some lack, some void within, but I would have no idea how vast (or violent) that void was until she joined me in the US as winter hit and we flew to summery Southern California to make an attempt at a genuine marriage.

I knew my Wife wasn’t marriage material (that’s a sentence for you) but after what I’d been through with Ursula that summer, I wrongly assumed the Square Life would be some kind of solution. I had a talent in those days for jumping from frying pans to fires to pools of lava. But, there I go again: getting ahead of myself. Forget my First Wife for now and focus on Ursula.

I made the picnic foods while my first wife was out of the flat, on a date of her own, but I was relieved to avoid her questioning, open relationship or not. Sigourney had the uncanny ability to make everything sound pointless.

Needless to say, Ursula had no idea I was already married, but if things went “further” with her, I’d fill her in on the details, as I, scrupulously,  always had (well, except with Leila, who knew I had an open relationship with Sigourney but was too jealous to deal with the fact that Sigourney and I were legally married. Leila was so pathologically jealous that she once punched me in the stomach for complying when a stranger asked me to hold her purse on the way into the WC at a disco, knocking the wind out of me). When I finally told her I was married to S. she chased me down a street… which must have been hilarious to witness, as I’m a shade over 6 feet tall and Leila is a smidgen over 5…)

first wife SIGOURNEY (with a Wagnerian temper that didn’t reveal itself until So Cal)

I showed up at the Tiergarten S-Bahn station and there Ursula was, ready for our picnic. Locked and Loaded, as a gamer (or John Wayne) might put it. She “hadn’t been able to reach” N. and oh well; Ursula was about six foot two and N. was even taller… too tall, too flat, too much of a snob. She made too much of her African father being a well-read bishop, information I could understand her wanting to lay on Germans, relentlessly, but why did I need to hear it? I’m brown like N. and know that brown people can read. Ursula seemed more genuine, more down to earth, and she had, let’s be frank here, eye-popping breasts. She looked like a Bond Girl or an Übermensch Sex Bot and, as it turned out, her father had been an SS Officer in his mid-twenties, fifty-five years before our picnic.

Well, obviously I got a little thrill in imagining her father standing in the Tiergarten, fully decked out, “on top of the (Third Reich) world,” little knowing that cruel McFate would one day arrange a picnic date between his future Lebensborn Daughter and a big-dicked Darkie conversant in the Heideggerian Idiocies. Do you suppose he would’ve topped himself with a Luger to know it? Or cyanide.

Anyway, we unfurled our picnic blanket and I laid out the food.

I’d made baked barbecued chicken wings dipped in sesame seeds and bought potato salad and pastries and Ursula brought my favorite “organic” juices. Also a few cans of Coke (a guilty pleasure for me, in those days, that I wouldn’t drink, now, with a Luger to my head). We chatted, I joked, Ursula laughed. I was moved that she did any work, to make me like her, at all: I could imagine almost any man begging to fuck her. What helped me maintain my cool was my absolute phobia against being obvious; I’m profoundly allergic to fulfilling stereotypes. This mean that not only did I not want to appear to be obvious to Ursula, I found it uncomfortably “obvious” marching around in public with her, with everyone jumping to the conclusion that I was an appendage to her breasts. I wasn’t “proud” to be showing her off… I felt slightly humiliated. I remember thinking that if things got serious with her, I’d have to deal with that, warning myself in the same kind of inner voice some men or women must speak to themselves in, regarding falling in love with someone from Another Race, or with a Disability of some kind. And isn’t it awful that those two categories are synonymous with so many.

We were chatting and quipping by the lake in the Tiergarten’s idle heart when a wild-haired dog ran up out of the water and bounded between us looking for love. N., I’m sure, would have been horrified but Ursula was laughing and sweet with the beast and it finally ran along on its way after getting us both wet. Ursula then matter-of-factly told me a story about having nearly been killed by a boyfriend’s pit bull ten years before; one of her breasts had been severely bitten and the dog hadn’t let go until the boyfriend had smashed it over the head many times with a baseball bat. She’d been in the hospital for weeks. Against this kind of story from a pretty girl I was helpless. And considering how friendly she’d just been with the wild dog from the lake, I became, at that moment, smitten. We had less than two weeks together before I was scheduled to fly back to the U.S. for the first time in five years, “never to see Germany again” and her stratagems took hold and I thought I was falling in love.

The next ten days was a proper romance with no fucking. Lots of long walks, long talks, hand-holding and passionate kisses. Ursula knew to use the Old (chaste) Rules on me and so Ursula began to seem to be more perfect every day; that is, she was comforming admirably to my fantasy (at the age of 36) of a Dream Girl. She was 23 and already some kind of survivor but without any apparent baggage. What an irony, I was thinking, if, after five years in Berlin, I was just now finding my Berlin Dream Girl mere days before flying away? Woe is me.

There were brave goodbyes the day before my flight but come the day itself, when an old friend, Roderick (a Londoner with Nigerian parents), drove me to the airport with luggage containing all my worldly possessions (but none of my books: another abandoned library), I was with my girlfriend, Leila, the Persian girl I’d had an off-and-on affair with for three years. She was so petitely beautiful, cultured and effortlessly sexy that her two bad traits… 1) psychotic jealousy and 2) a compulsion to pick fights with rude Germans (yes, they could be rude as waiters/ waitresses or even just “sharing” public space on the U-Bahn but turning every instance of room temp rudeness into a stand-off was exhausting because it happened nearly every day, with Leila, and, fuck, it’s their country; rather leave them to themselves than endure an incident every goddamn day because life is too short) … had to have been pretty bad to keep me from thinking of her as The One.

The sex alone should have been worth three or four years of living through a mismatch. The nipples and lower apertures on her lushly beautiful copper body were black and her hair was black and shiny as vinyl while her teeth shone white as our hidden bones. Our favorite position was standing: her legs off the ground and wrapped around my waist as I walked her around a room or if she straddled me she’d suck one of her own breasts while cupping the other, her hair falling over her eyes. I remember being stretched out on a Persian rug in the life-giving rectangle of April sunlight from her open balcony listening to Jim Morrison drone this is the end while Leila’s face, floating in that heavy cloud of blue-black silk, bobbed over and around my belly until she forced my groans; she was 18 at the time.

Leila came along in Roderick’s company car to see me off at the airport and three things happened: 1) she sneaked a dangerous gift into my carry-on luggage and 2) we encountered a con man at the airport and 3) after I boarded my flight, and while Roderick drove her home, Leila happened to look in the crate on the back seat of Roderick’s car and find my library, which Roderick was inheriting, and in that donated library was a book she’d given to me, a book of sentimental significance (The Unbearable Lightness of Being), with a romantic inscription in it, and this didn’t go down well at all.

But first the story of the con man.

Soon after I arrived in Berlin for the first time, I lucked into a job at a trendy nightclub, making good money (in Deutschmarks, a now-historical currency). I had arrived in Berlin after living in London for six months with Grace, who had an appointment with Ford Models London right after we hit that town and she was told that if she’d only been a little taller… she was 5’6″; this was before the Kate Moss revolution… she’d have been able to “write her own ticket”.

This is getting convoluted but that’s because I’m trying to describe what actually happened instead of fictionalizing it.

Autobiography is a literary pain.

GRACE in MPLS
GRACE in Mpls 1989

I left London and Grace to live in Berlin because I wanted Wild Things to Happen and no matter how beautiful and mostly-sweet-natured Grace was, she was still a Suburban American at heart. I wanted experience… a romance… Myth; something more exotic. If Grace’s voice had had the timbre and heavily-accented English of Dominique Sanda’s in Steppenwolf, I never would have left her side. But she didn’t, she spoke in the manner of Midwestern Hairdresser, so you see I had to flee London and the Suburbs in her pretty mouth. I landed in Berlin, lucked into a good gig at a trendy nightclub streaming with the most beautiful girls and women in the city (when they could squeeze in; the door policy was genius: even the pretty girls had to wait in a block-long queue). I was working as a combination ashtray-cleaner/ WC patrol/ basic bartender, qualified to dispense dark beers into huge glasses and be a general flunky, doing whatever the polyglotally-illiterate boss barked at me to do.

Early every morning (my first night, a waitress asked me if I had sunglasses and she laughed cruelly; I didn’t get the joke until I later stepped out of the club, shift over, into the blinding 10am sunshine, helpless as a baby vampire) I went home with pockets full of cash and Models’ phone numbers. I was properly terrified of AIDS, however, and preferred dating/kissing/witty repartee to penetrative intercourse; I turned down three times as  much Sex as I had… and this has made for a glidingly unworried late middle-age. My penis had a door policy.

By early ’91 I was all set, sharing a flat on Eisenacher Strasse with a Gay German voice teacher, earning good money, going out six nights a week (five of those on the job) and dating a 19-year-old girl who’d appeared on the  cover of Marie Claire magazine, a model who had the most poetic name I’d ever heard (it’s a pity I can’t use it here, but her initials were/are JJDD).

JJDD

Well, one night, the Bombing of Baghdad commenced and Grace, still living in London, and by then dating a simple Italian bus boy at the Stringfellow’s Club she was making a fortune in tips at, called me in a panic. She thought the world was ending and felt that if the world was ending we should get married; we should leave Europe, stop our pointless adventuring, get married and face World War Three together… in America. “Oh Baby,” we sobbed, together, on the crackling international phone line between London and Berlin, “how could we have been so blind?”

So I quit my cool job, stopped seeing JJDD, gave four weeks notice on my room in the flat on Eisenacherstrasse. I was also seeing Sigourney (I hope these pseudonyms are lining up correctly across all the chapters of this memoir), a German near-twin of the young version of Sigourney Weaver, six foot tall, striking, part-time photographer’s model, crypto-psychotic and future Ex Wife. I met Sigourney the day after the dramatic call with Grace and told her the news: I’m going back to the US, marrying Grace but I hope we can still be friends. Sigourney, who was always cool as marble (until she revealed her murderous temper three years later, in Southern California), said no problem. Remember: this was ’91, long before I met the Daughter of the SS Officer and then really left Berlin.

Because what happened in the summer of ’91, when George Bush started raining bombs on former business partner Saddam Hussein and Grace called me from London that very night and compelled me, tearfully, to give up my Berlin job, my Berlin flat and all of my Berlin girlfriends, in order to live with her and be her love and house paint in Eden Prairie happily ever after, was: her fucking Italian bus boy got serious. No way was he going to give up without a dirty fight. Grace was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen, the only American girl he’d ever been close to, and though Fredo himself was only a bus boy, his Dad had middle class resources with which to aid his mediocre son.

Fredo begged Grace to come with him to his Papa’s a-village for one-a-last-a-time to-a-gether, as a proper way to say goodbye. She called and told me this. She said that Fredo had wept so hard she could barely make out a word he was saying and of course Fredo was nothing compared to me, me she loved with all her heart, but she felt sorry for Fredo: is it okay, Baby? I was the soul of magnanimity. I agreed with her: have mercy on the poor fuck. I didn’t feel threatened. I had no idea that when Grace accompanied Fredo to his picturesque village, his father would offer Grace and Fredo their own fucking house, for free, if Grace consented to remain in the Tuscan paradise with that greasy, gesticulating, sneaky little fussball-loving twat. I’ve never trusted Italians since. I’m only half-joking. Those oily, two-faced, Veni Vidi Vici motherfuckers.

Grace and I were supposed to meet, in Berlin, on a certain date in September. Weeks before that date, I couldn’t reach her, suddenly; she stopped answering my letters, my postcards, I had no number at which to call her. The date approached and it passed and I went from baffled to furious, skipping “hurt” altogether. She’d changed her mind, obviously, but only after having me quit my great job, give up my cool room and break up with all my girlfriends. About two weeks after the day we were to have met in Berlin and eloped together back to the U.S., I got a postcard from Grace and this is what it said:

“I need to do this for myself. Please forgive me.”

Ah, the oldest song in the Capitalo-Darwinian book.

GRACE-London-1990

So: I had no job, no flat and no girlfriends… sort of. I told Sigourney the whole story and she said: “Well, you still have me,” with uncharacteristic meekness and that was that.

We got a flat together on Kant Street, we got married/”married” (we didn’t take the social convention seriously but it stabilized my Immigration Status) and all I needed was some kind of job. Which is how this story loops back, now, many paragraphs later, to the moment I arrived at the airport with Leila and Roderick, my luggage in tow, and I was approached by a Con Man who’d forgotten that I knew who he was.

Looking for work in the autumn of ’91, after Grace cancelled our elopement out of Europe together in exchange for a house in Tuscany, I responded to an add in the Personals section of Tip Magazine.

“Wanted: Native English Speaker for Odd Jobs”

It sounded perfect. I took the subway to a far corner of Kreuzberg, bordering on Neukölln and found myself in a dark and dingy flat that bore many signs of being a Stoner’s, the most presentable of which was the Dali poster in the kitchen. The flat’s inhabitant was a lively, compact, chimp-faced fellow who called himself “English Dave” and after it transpired that I wasn’t particularly into the job he was offering, he let the curtain drop and told me hilarious tales of his main source of income, which involved stealing luggage at the airport, where he had once had an official job and still had the run of the place (and airport ID) after the job had ended.

And so this digression ends with me arriving at the airport with Roderick and Leila and my luggage, bracing for the next round of tearful goodbyes, when a chimp-faced man came careening at us, as if from a hidden door in the walls, with the biggest grin I’d ever seen,  saying, “Hi, I’m English Dave…!”

I laughed in poor Dave’s face and told him to fuck off. Dave then recognized me and saluted and fucked off. I shook Roderick’s hand and kissed Leila goodbye and got, with a premature sense of relief, in the Check In line. All was going smoothly until my carry-on set off a silent alarm as it passed through the X-Ray machine.

“Did anyone beside you pack your luggage, Sir?”

“Erm, no.”

“Did anyone else have access to your luggage, Sir?”

“Erm… (what I was thinking: Well, one of my many girlfriends, who’s actually Iranian)… my girlfriend?”

They showed me the X-Ray image that was causing so much concern: an opaque, roughly circle-shaped shadow, the size of a teacup’s saucer, with suspicious protuberances. They politely asked me to open the carry-on and remove the mystery object, which turned out to be a cast iron Turtle with a note taped to it: “May you return to Berlin quicker than this turtle”. The security screeners all laughed.

Try to imagine that happening now.

LEILA
LEILA on the beach

********

I was back in the USSA.

Staying with Jo and her husband in a house near Lake Calhoun.

Jo who I’d been with exactly ten years before, right before starting with Grace. The first time I saw Grace was at a fashion show at First Avenue (the nightclub where Purple Rain was set and partially filmed in): she was the star of the show, a platinum blonde with an immaculate bob in a mirror-faceted dress on the shoulders of two shirtless hunks who held her aloft, on a rotating platform, in a spotlight that spattered the big dark room with Grace’s reflected stars: a Jazz Age miracle. I stood in a trance beside Jo and thought, like every straight male or stylish lesbian present: I simply must lick that woman’s body. And so it came to pass. In fact, Jo and I both did it and Grace licked both of us, too, but I think I go into that in another chapter.

And “now”, in 1995, Jo was married to a Nerd who was about to make it semi-big (locally) in the Internet game and Grace had run off to Tuscany with her little Italian rooster (the insecure fucker still, after 25 years, bans all contact between Grace and the author) and I was on my own, for a breathing spell, for the first time since college. A single man. That lasted a few weeks. It felt like being filled with helium and set adrift a few feet above the Lake Calhoun area with nobody holding my string, with “string” being a metaphor for penis.

It was a fun few weeks in the Cultural Bermuda Triangle of Minneapolis in 1995: people who had worn plaid shirts and/or motorcycle jackets before I left for London/Berlin were still wearing them. They were still indulging in that well-read Minneapolitan Snark (heavily informed by David Letterman and tempered by Garrison Keillor’s fauxksy fly-over bon homie). They were still all listening to that mildly-amusing Hickster band called The Replacements because they were still all trying to be 22. Especially the Nerd husband (whose eyes popped out of his head when Ursula came to visit a few weeks later, but I’m getting ahead of myself, and who was so busy flirting with my Current Wife, twenty fucking years later, in 2005, while driving us down to Minneapolis from Duluth, where we’d flown to from Berlin for a wedding, that he crashed into another car, but I’m getting ahead of myself).

(Autobiography is a bear to write. Give me Fiction’s infinitely tidier math.)

Nice enough guy, this Nerdy Jeff husband, on several levels, but also a competitively insensitive wonder who had coveted Jo since years before (unknown to me, then) when I was still with Jo and who, having “gotten” her after I dumped her for Grace, began gaslighting her about the smallness of her breasts. That is, he never (appeared to) come right out and criticize those sweet little suckable welts of eros but we’d all be watching TV, for example, when I was staying with them those weeks, and some buxom Hollywood cipher would swing onto the giant screen and Nerdy Jeff would erupt, longingly, from his distant corner of the couch, “Man, will you look at those bazookas!” and Jo would die a little inside because I know the sound Jo makes when she dies a little inside. Jo who had her first orgasm ever with me (we worked on that project for weeks; have I mentioned the fact that her father was a Lutheran minister?) in the early 1980s. Jo who played synth in my various New Wave bands and who wrote poetry and emulated Joni Mitchell (I was wondering where my subconscious got her pseudonym from) and with whom I pioneered Missionary Position Anal.

JO in my Attic Flat in Mpls-1985

And this is as good a time as any to cite Milan Kundera, who writes, somewhere, in The Unbearable Lightness of Being that there are two kinds of “womanizers” (one of the strangest common words in the English language): the Epic and the Lyric. The former driven by compulsion to rack up impressive stats, the latter on a doomed Quest to find “The One”. Kundera also points out that women tend to be far more forgiving of the former… the Epic womanizers… because being fucked and dumped (and maybe even fucked again) by one of these is like being stung by a bee; a natural process; what can one do but shrug and blame Nature, especially if the bee sting felt good? Whereas the Lyric womanizer who dumps a lover has decided that lover isn’t The One and that was me, all those years, aged 18-45. I’d be wriggling out of relationship the same month or week I’d fallen backwards into them; only Grace dumped me and it didn’t count because she dumped me for a house. Until I found my Second (Final/ Definitive) Wife I never once felt that The Search was over.

I’ve had two lovers (rather girlishly, and proving they had misread the book) compare me to Tomáš of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, two lovers who were each in different triangles involving me, and, both times, the lovers comparing me to Tomáš compared themselves to Sabina when they were closer to Tereza in situation and temperament. I  once also had two lovers, independent of each other, go out and buy me the same poster, the same week, from an exhibition of photographer Bettina Rheims‘ work. And when each lover came to visit, she assumed she was seeing her gift on the wall over my bed, but it was neither: it was the copy that I had bought for myself. I was once walking down a street near Savignyplatz, headed toward a giant yellow double-phone booth, the booths back to back, when I noticed, just as each occupant of the double-phone booth looked up and noticed me, that each booth contained an Ex Girlfriend.

Back in 1995, staying with Jo and Nerdy Jeff near the lake and getting Trans-Atlantic phone calls from Ursula every single day (sometimes three times a day), I was as far from finding The One as I would ever be. Ursula had booked a flight to come out and join me in Minneapolis about three weeks after my arrival and a week into my stay, after the twentieth phone call from her, my passion for Ursula began to diffuse somewhat. At the same time, I received a call from Leila, who had flown to California to visit Iranian friends there and might swing through Minneapolis before returning to Berlin; I suddenly wanted very much to see Leila again. She was 20 that year (and so was my future Final Wife) and relatively baggageless. Ursula had baggage I hadn’t begun to guess at.

Then one day Jo’s phone rang and I heard her sing, after answering it, “Guess what? He’s right here!” and it was Grace on the line, Grace who had been getting secondhand news about me from Jo since leaving me for that garlic-scented charm-huckster in Tuscany. Grace cried to Jo that Fredo would never allow her to talk to me and hung up in a panic. Violin music.

GRACE-London
GRACE-London, 1990

I began looking for somewhere else to stay before Ursula’s arrival because Jo insinuated that Nerdy Jeff might be getting a little antsy about my extended visit (I later realized that the last thing Jo wanted was a girl with huge tits living under her roof for more than ten seconds). So for Ursula’s first day in Mpls/America I found a motel room.

And let me interject here that while I’ve always enjoyed being “popular” with Women (as weird as I am), I’ve never flinched from the fact that Men choose Women primarily for their Looks and Women choose Men primarily for the Advantages the union might confer: it’s never (or rarely) about qualities intrinsic to the “love object’s” being. That is, while it obviously never hurt that I can be witty and charming and unusually intelligent and was once pretty far above average in looks, I knew that the Black Girls who “loved me” when I was young loved me because I didn’t look very Black, and then loved me because I was associated with a prosperous family business in Philadelphia, and the White Upper Middle Class Girls of college loved me because I was exotic and the White Girls of Various Classes loved me, in the early-to-mid ’80s because I was a cool-looking singer with Bands, and the Girls of Europe loved me because I’m American, meaning: A) I was a lot more fun than German males and B) possible Green Card. And this is all lots more utilitarian than Poets want to admit. My (final, definitive) Wife turned out to be The One but I picked her because she was Stunning and also (also) Smart, Sweet and Well-Read. But I probably would have picked her (for a little while, anyway) if she’d only been Stunning. And she picked me because I struck her as being a potentially Great Husband and Father. My Talent as a Writer (the hardwired bit plus the self-taught bits) is absolutely intrinsic to my Essence and I would not be Me without it yet it featured not even a little in My Wife’s decision to spend eight hours with me, running around Berlin, on a  First Date that had started with coffee and clever conversation in a Starbucks.

What does it all mean? Should it bother us? I’m still not sure. But it’s hard not to suspect that Humans are irremediably Shallow, despite often heroic efforts to improve.

The Author 1990 Berlin
The Author in summer 1991 Berlin

I met Ursula at the airport and we took a taxi to the motel. We unpacked her bags and I tried to fuck her and I just couldn’t, at first. My penis was telling me what my subconscious already knew: this Übermensch wasn’t for me and she damn sure wasn’t The One. Though the motel decor was perfect: unironic 1970s deluxe (earth tone everything, orange curtains, garish plastic bubble lamps; they merely hadn’t changed the room in 20 years). I found I couldn’t properly fuck Ursula until she was on the motel bed on “all fours” and I stood braced on the carpet in a wide stance and entered her from behind while hefting her enormous breasts and watching the muscles in her back twist and her hair swish from side to side and I felt a little like James Bond, fighting my way to an orgasm in a strange city, an orgasm enormous and sad that felt as though it scooped out my heart. It didn’t feel like my orgasm at all. I felt embarrassed after it, an embarrassment shading to guilt and too robust to dissipate by going down on her after. She faked one quickly but it didn’t put a dent in her enthusiasm: this is what Sex was, for her. She told me a story while we dressed; maybe the story was subliminal revenge.

She used to go out dancing with a friend, a Turk who was familiar to me from the Hipper Clubs (90 Degrees, Orfeuo, where I had worked, and Dschungel), an unusually tall Turk who dressed well and wore his curly hair at shoulder length. All the regulars knew him. And Ursula and this guy often went dancing, just friends, and he would always joke about wanting to fuck her and she would always deflect the jokes and nothing ever happened. Until one Friday night Turgai came early to pick Ursula up to go dancing and he waited in the kitchen while she dressed and his begging started immediately and was relentless until she relented. She said: fine, if you promise never to ask again… let’s get it over with.

Which is not exactly what I wanted to hear.

Though why should I have cared?

Still, I was slightly dazed and more than a little revolted to picture her flopped matter-of-factly on the edge of the bed, legs spread, rolling her eyes at the ceiling while Turgai (who, I was, to my shame, not super devastated to hear had been paralyzed in a car accident years later) pumped five or six times before shuddering like a hog and rolling off. The nightclub I’d worked at had had a stricter door policy than Ursula’s vagina had.

We dressed (me: dazed; Ursula: kicking herself for talking too much) and we tried to walk to Jo and Nerdy Jeff’s house, a walk of a few miles. I’m a walking fanatic (Søren Kierkagaard and I can agree on something, at least) and needed a long one, during which History tapped us crudely on our shoulders.

What I hadn’t really noticed until that afternoon, walking along a road that, along many stretches, didn’t even have a sidewalk (that’s America)… walking along amidst busy traffic, accompanied by an Aryan Giant with a provocative figure… was the OJ Simpson trial, which was at its media-saturating height. This was late summer (the not-guilty verdict was announced in October).A nice Black lady pulled up alongside us in her car and rolled down her window and said, “Aren’t you two a little worried about walking around like this?”

“Walking around like what?”

Ursula laughed and said to the nice Black lady, “He doesn’t notice things like that.”

Well, I didn’t. I don’t.

We made it to Jo and Nerdy Jeff’s house near the lake without getting lynched and Nerdy Jeff’s eyes popped out of his head and he said, verbatim, “Why are you two staying in a motel, for god’s sake? Why aren’t you staying with uuuuusssssss?” Ursula stood most of a foot taller than Nerdy Jeff and her breasts were just about mouth/eye level. That was a fraught few days, most of all for Jo.

Ursula and I ended up moving to a house full of Lesbians about a fifteen minute walk from Jo and Nerdy Jeff’s place. The house was owned by an old friend who was the mutual friend of an old friend who happened to be a spectacular-looking woman I had only slept with once, since I was living with Grace at the time I’d slept with her. The Lesbian friend, Charlie, had her bedroom beside the room Ursula and I took and every night, without fail, we could hear Charlie and her mousy girlfriend chatting and joking one minute and then making the loudest sex noises we’d ever heard, bar none, the next. There’d be an interval of no more than half a second between the phrase (eg) “Yeah, there’s no breakfast menu,” and orgasmic moans that might also have been death screams.

I still can’t tell if they were putting on a show for the Hets (us) or their other GayGrrrl housemates or for themselves. Charlie I liked a lot (she looked like a bouncer at a slam poetry club) but her girlfriend, Emily (real name) was so relentless with her Gosh!, Golly!, Jeepers! routine that I can understand wanting to shut her up (or, that is, turn her into a pre-verbal mess) with constant orgasms. This Lezzy Commune was Charlie’s first bit of real estate, she was the homeowner, and I watched her kill a mouse with a sneaker in the basement, once… a cute little big-eared mouse… and thought: that’s what Capitalism will do to you. If she’d been merely renting, I’m sure the mouse would have lived.

 

 TO BE CONT’D when I scrape together the requisite residual fortitude

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