ONE of my paintings, of one of My Lovers (acrylic on canvas, c, 3’x 2′) from when I was a Cheater
Reading through George Steiner’s “My Unwritten Books” (note the fine distinction between “reading” and “reading through”: I think it has something to do with resisting the author’s attempts at being charming), I was reminded of how revolting, as a young Bohemian, I had found the sexuality of older Bohemians: the emphasis on leering games and dirty talk I always associated with drooping dicks and foul breath. I felt that way thirty years ago and I still do, so I recoiled at this in the chapter called Tongues of Eros:
“V.’s grammar of lovemaking was that of Viennese. She mapped her own opulent physique and that of her lover(s) with place-names derived from the capital’s varied districts and suburbs. Thus “taking the street-car to Grinzig” signified a gentle, somewhat respectful anal access. Sipping the light, golden new wine in one of the suburban cafés on the way to Semmering referred to her readiness, only very occasionally granted, to imbibe her partner’s urine.”
The pathetic baby talk of aging libertines, or merely that of the tight-arsed European, unable to zip the lips up and feel? I’ve literally taken the actual street-car to Grinzig and there was nothing sexy about it; it happened nearly fifteen years ago. My Beloved was not yet pregnant, we were in Vienna on vacation, and the best part of every day was fucking in the hotel room every morning, before the day’s touristing, and then again every night. We didn’t and don’t talk while fucking. Talking while fucking is what you do when you don’t know what to say, right? Of course it is.
I can remember the wonderful turmoil of working at mastering Sex, through sheer repetition, at 21. Meat-and-potatoes Sex: I never got what’s in it for either partner when piss or shit or pain figures into the exchange. Ménage à trois: often. Dirty Sanchez: srsly? Gak. Let me tell you what Fun is.
When I was 21, I didn’t waste one minute of my life watching Television. I was fucking and writing and teaching myself to paint. A lot of what I was writing was Romantic Poetry (I found a handful of surviving examples, almost forty years old, last week: with a few snips here and there they’re presentable, still; not important but not, miraculously, embarrassing. Lesson: history proves that it’s so much safer to write as a Cynic). Fucking became a major discovery a few years after I first starting doing it, and it was a year after that that I pushed the sensation into the Reichian stratosphere by learning the Art of Exquisite Cheating.
You couldn’t get away with it, in its purest form, now. They lock you into the Outlaw-shaming, Best-Behavior Grid so early, so young, now. We were so lucky, I see now, to come into our Sex Lives decades before the all-seeing scolds of Instashame and Facetwit bloomed into hideous life! Before the New Puritanism kicked in.
Remember: the great terrors haunting Sex in the late ’70s and early ’80s were pregnancy and herpes, in that order, and herpes seemed like a terminal disease to us; not because it could kill you, but because you’d have it until the day you died. Equipped with diaphragms and family-sized-toothpaste-tube-like-torpedoes of spermicide, we kept an eye out for cold sores but boogied like Bonobo apes. I dodged that Herpes bullet with some saint, or devil’s, supernatural help.
I had three or four poem-worthy girlfriends at a time, sometimes. They each, in turn, had boyfriends and/or girlfriends. We painted, strummed guitars, read Henry Miller, ate spaghetti, fucked, had pregnancy scares, herpes scares, defied your narrative compulsion to imagine that some of us died or went blind. We’d go in a group to see the first run of Milos Forman’s Hair, or a campus showing of Cabaret, and stiff-leg-it back to some compound and go at it in little clusters. A room full of licking and gasps.
It only became Cheating when a particular woman liked me so much that she would renounce the fucking of others.
But I would not renounce. I would give my warning-disclaimer-speech about being too young to be tied down. But I would only give it once, at the beginning, this speech. Months into it, of course, the woman would mistake my discretion for monogamy, and it was this presumption of an unspoken change in the nature of our arrangement that afforded me the intense pleasure of illicit orgasms elsewhere.
For example. I was spending a lot of time with an Art School student… a rustic blond with a lifeguard’s muscled body (in fact she earned her summer pocket money as a lifeguard). What a mane she had and a long, long neck like the engravings of Alice by Tenniel. There was a lesbian she had an eye on; a lesbian who had modeled in Paris as the face for a cosmetics firm. Only 19, her lesbian hair was painted white in ethereal headshots because they had had her done up as an older woman with flawless skin in these shamelessly deceptive ads. It was a bad experience with a captain of the French fashion industry that sent her back to the U.S. with a new sexual orientation and an aversion to makeup of any kind.
All three of us would hang out sometimes and my Art Student girlfriend would give me giddy or poker-player looks meaning, “I think Virginia is flirting with me!” Let’s call her Virginia. She was a dead ringer for the actress Virginia Madsen, who was probably about the same age. She had short, very curly blond hair.
Virginia lived in the attic of a house in a borderline neighborhood. A physically powerful woman lived in the lower two-thirds of the house and Virginia and I would have to tip-toe across the creaking, antimaccassared gloom of the living room to make it to the door to the steep staircase which lead to the Bohemian kingdom of her attic loft. The thrill of the fear of waking the big snoring lesbian roommate Minotaur.
Fucking, and being fucked by, Virginia, up there on rainy nights under an old quilt on a futon with a period stain on its floor-facing side by the choked light of a fat red candle was a pleasure amplified by the fact that more than one person we knew would have been self-righteously shocked to know we were doing it. Well, to be fair, K, the Art student, as it turns out, was cheating on me with two fellow Art students from the sticks, which she informed me to my amusement (they had tiny pricks but were very good at licking, she cheerfully informed me, which stung, a bit, and which info urged me on to become much, much better at licking… I had been a tad perfunctory before that mild comeuppance: all’s well that ends well). I’m glad, now, to think back on those explicitly-described images of K being kissed to mad ecstasies by her yokels.
It’s only in transgression that we testify to freedom. The questions always remain (especially to the young): 1) how to choose a transgression? And, 2) is it really a transgression at all?
Drugs are a transgression, but asserting a freedom against a social norm only to enter into a physio-chemical prison seems counter-productive. Not to mention wear-and-tear on the machinery. Ie, are the kidneys/liver/nasal passages designed to endure these chemicals? And certain drugs (eg, white sugar, alcohol and money) aren’t even transgressions at all: society urges them upon the young consumer at every opportunity. Not that society always has a sinister master plan behind urging the young into all of these various degenerative traps: sometimes the catastrophic side-effects are merely a coincidence. (And: re: the normative notion of Sex as another Drug: if it is, the whole planet has desperately needed Rehab since shortly after the Big Bang).
Is porn a transgression? Don’t make us laugh. Porn is the insertion of cash into biology and consecrates every materialist trope they soak you in from birth. Further: Porn is the total subtraction of Pride from Sex. Which is why it’s so fucking ugly. No: Fuck Porn. It’s not a transgression. It’s a traducement.
My most Exquisite of Exquisite Cheatings
I lived in an attic bachelor pad over an antique shop run by an elderly lesbian couple. I’ll even name one of them (surely they’re both dead or blind and in any case not net-surfing by now): Fern. Fern in the wheelchair, with flaming red hair. Attics; lesbians; backstairs: certain recurrent motifs. Anyway. I was “dating” a new-wave hairdresser who very quickly moved in with me. This was ’83. For most of a summer, I’d lay in the (water)bed beside her each night after Sex (Sex in which I’d withhold my “essence,” as Sterling Hayden put it), wait for her to drift off, call her name in a conversational tone once or twice to make sure, roll off the bed in super-slo-mo, dress, creep down the back stairs, run four or five blocks down the alley, ring a door bell in a five-story apartment building, run up four flights of stairs, fuck a delicious undergrad with a Greek name for about forty minutes without coming, then make sure she’d come, dress chattily, run back home down the alley, crawl back into the (water)bed and… fuck my girlfriend… who would half-wake-up and groan with semi-conscious pleasure.
A beautiful or funny or locally famous woman chooses you to sleep with (switch gender pronouns as applies) because you’re a beautiful or funny or locally famous guy: the Pride-o-meter goes PING, you come like a race horse… all the more delicious if it’s your little secret… yours and hers alone… a corner of your mind that remains FREE. Free even from the long reach of the gentle fascism of a girlfriend’s jealous love, which considers any thought of anyone else’ beauty in your mind a Thought Crime. You find yourself having to answer questions such as Is she prettier than I am while she’s holding up a folded-back Vogue shoot of Christy Turlington. There is something Orwellian about saying “no” to that question (in most cases). Something terrible (in most cases).
Well, that’s how it starts, isn’t it? That’s how even the Artist is acculturated to the notion of the Forbidden Thought and the Wonderful Lie and the Functioning Schizotopia. Even if you don’t believe in Jeezis (as a Secular Christianist) or a nosy, always-monitoring Santa, there’s still that fragile girl, with moist brown Bambi-eyes, who would be crushed (and thereafter attempt suicide with a year’s supply of birth control pills) to discover that you sometimes masturbate to visions of Yvonne Furneaux on nights she said she couldn’t because of a job interview the next morning.
That was my break-through as an Artist. Cheating on Bambi.
If you can Cheat on Bambi, you can Cheat on Jeezis; your Bourgeois parents’ values; the Sanctity of the State. You can ignore the Holy Dictum that Our Troops, for example, aren’t a bunch of ignorant, mercenary, brown-baby-killers who’d be in prison if they weren’t busy terrifying large chunks of the global real estate in the spreading of Empire.
Now, I don’t Cheat any more: not on my Wife: I don’t need to. I was Free to Cheat, and now I’m Free to Not Cheat, which gives me more time to Cheat on your Normative Tropes and Memes. I got the Sex Cheating out of my system, as they say, and if my Wife’s sexuality were closer to a man’s and she hadn’t gotten it out of her system, all I can say is I wouldn’t want to know anything about it! Discretion is the key to Exquisite Transgression.
(I won’t go into the subtleties of the fact that my Wife is a popular and touring classical musician with a stage name, and that I call out this stage name, not her real name at all, during Sex with her: a kind of cheating, I suppose! The great habits don’t die but transubstantiate!)
I’ve seen the world, learned the lessons of Self, figured out my ideal version of A Foreign-Film-Type-Dream-Girl-In-Voice-Carriage-Soul-and-Smile, found her, wooed her, happily ever after. No guilt about the indiscretions of the past because, fuck: half those girls I Cheated on (back when I was a boy)… the ones who said they loved me… I haven’t thought of in 25 years. They are pleasantly faded memories, these Luvs, as common sense always hinted they would one day be.
Thank Gawd I rarely turned down the Exquisite Pleasure of Cheating over a Luv I would one day realize was a mere bio-poetic formality! If you are younger than 28 and in a relationship, look across the room (or at the photo on your desk, or whatever) and memorize that supposedly-archetypal face. It will be an interchangeable blur on your heart in less than twenty years.
I ate my cake and kept it, too (that’s how the old saying should read, in order to make sense, isn’t it?) and I shared it with others. I had a life and have a life and I am Free as you can be without growing wings or being Dead.
Young people: turn off the Television and Cheat. Guilt-free. Only idiots, or people who want to get caught, get caught at Cheating.
Youth is for Cheating!
(May I suggest mutual masturbation instead of using those alienating condoms, though?)