“I would argue that the invention of Romantic Love was the great next step, after Religion, in the development of the group-psyche of the species. And, for all of its good (taking over from Religion as a comfort to souls, galvanizer of the will and impetus behind The Arts), can go just as wrong. It’s just a few short steps (and technological innovations), after all, from Idealization to Objectification (aka Porn), for example.”
Quoth he of the objectified eyebrows. Nobody says or writes “quoth” anymore.
We’re quoting Claudia’s young gynecologist, Dr. Heiko Effinkuhl, but not as audible speech. From an archival email. Not from an email to Claudia but from an email (bragging) about her. The late Dr. Heiko Effinkuhl, who died in a boating accident on the river twenty years ago (when email was still young), the love of Claudia Chang’s life. She’d instigated the affair with the pragmatic rationale that the handsome Dr. Effinkuhl touched her vagina several times a year anyway. And then he was gone.
Heiko had touched his publisher’s vagina, too, and also her anus. They had met in the 1980s in a radical Punk Waltz band. First she was the tour manager, which meant she owned a van.
Claudia sat in the waiting room of Heiko’s daughter’s OB/GYN practise, listening to instrumental versions of Beatles music. The Fool on the Hill. Would she and her generation ever be free of the Beatles? She’d walked by two dozen bright placards with the word BEATLES (in that same old font with its long-stemmed “T”) on them, plastered in a row on the plywood wall of a passage under a construction site’s scaffolding, on the way to her appointment this morning. Claudia resented the fact that she’d never had the chance, except during a fleeting and golden transition between the Beatles’ official breakup, c. 1970, and the ascension of Paul McCartney’s solo band, Wings, c. 1974, to say, wistfully, to a car full of colleagues or a room full of old friends at a dinner party, “Remember The Beatles?”
Heiko, by dint of having drowned in 1996, died innocent, a minor saint, simply because he died years before the Internet turned the planet Earth into a hairy, blue-green ball bound in space by interconnecting rhizomes of Porn. His use of the word “Porn”, in the passage (cited above) about Romantic Love, from an email to his publisher, was innocent.
He’d had in mind the promotional poster from the 1960s Swedish film “I am Curious Yellow” as he typed the word P-o-r-n.
In the abbreviation of the legal term he makes himself seem worldly, a man of the world who can deploy the word casually, without shame or stress. As if to say, with a shrug, “Sure, I’ve seen it,” and he had, from time to time, in magazine shops where the Girlie Mags were adjacent to the Photography Mags rather than in a backroom you had to pass through a beaded curtain to access. He’d never have been able to pass through those beaded curtains, which always looked like a third world portal to metaphorical rape, but he wasn’t above the quick occasional perusal of Penthouse when it was stocked close enough to Photography Today to access with half a discreet sidestep.
You get why photographs of human nudes can be aesthetically appealing but watching films of people fucking is exactly analogous to watching films of people eating. You get why voyeurs might like it, because there’s a kink in the voyeur’s psychology exactly analogous to the kink in the psychology of some poor devil who gets off, sexually, watching, say, house-fires or people eating. But how do the “normal” enjoy merely watching and hearing films of other people doing things that may or may not be fun? Including team sports! How does anyone enjoy that? The watching? Are there that many voyeurs out there? Are the vast majority of human males afflicted with voyeurism?
Heiko, born in California to German parents (mother Black German, father Aryan German) was no voyeur. He always wanted to be doing it, if it was worth doing, himself, in the center of things, perhaps watched by others but never himself a passive spectator. He’d starred in a dozen school plays before his parents whisked him away, out of The States, back to the ancestral home of Berlin, before his worldview could be distorted by American Racism, they hoped.
American Racism was getting unapologetically (to his parents’ eyes) virulent again, after Reagan’s election, in 1980. John Lennon’s obviously political assassination didn’t soften their anti-American opinions, later that year. Heiko, with fewer than thirty German words in his vocabulary, landed on German soil on Christmas Day, 1980, at the age of 15. Claudia, who wouldn’t meet Heiko for fifteen more years, was 28 that Christmas and monogamous as a goose. Or, no. Monogamous as a beaver. Beavers are seriously monogamous. Most of the time. And they look it.
Heiko’s publisher has maintained, crazily or not, feasibly or not, verifiably or not, since Heiko’s death in his canoe in The Spree, that Heiko was assassinated by the CIA (or some not dissimilar organ of well-funded intercontinental mischief) because his popular and influential anti-American essays and articles, in Stern and Der Spiegel and other prominent venues , on the touchy topic of the Bosnian war, were becoming a problem. A scheduled paperback of Heiko’s collected political writings was at the galley proofs stage when Heiko inexplicably decided to go canoeing at three a.m. in the Spree in the middle of the winter of ’96-’97, his body discovered a day later to be drifting at brisk-walking-speed amidst copious ice-chunks toward the North Sea. And then Heiko’s publisher’s indie imprint (CASSANDRA) was quickly purchased by JANUS (an imprint of Springer Verlag) and thirty thousand copies of Heiko’s posthumous paperback (with a great cover, a guaranteed bestseller) were summarily pulped before shipping to bookstores. And then came Kosovo.
Heiko’s publisher began the nails-biting wait for her own humble turn upon the stage of fatal accidents of convenience. There was a suspicious bike moment a few years after Heiko’s drowning but it was a shitty bike and she was sixty. Was the “CIA” really behind the accident or was her own cheapness (in concert with her stubborn refusal to act her age) the would-be assassin?
And what is Nazism but Shallowness taken to its genocidally logical conclusion?
The handlebars came right off in her hands at the bottom of a sharp curve on a steep hill in San Francisco and two broken elbows and a slight concussion later, after rolling under a graphic designer’s Miata, she fled the States when the elbows were almost healed, shaking all the way home on the plane, expecting to see a flash and blue sky and then nothing at all forever. The paranoid and/or clued-in custodian of all of the late Dr. Heiko Effinkuhl’s eloquent anti-American writing. She grew into a large woman with very long red hair who cherished the vivid sense-memory of Dr. Effinkuhl’s manicured finger in her then-immaculate anus. He never got far in because her anus was always so dry.
Whereas Claudia Chang never even knew that Heiko was a writer. She’d loved his eyebrows and his height. Yes and his smell. She had objectified the fuck out of him. For which she refused to feel guilty. And despite which (or owing to which) Heiko was the love of Claudia’s life.
Like the tragic swain of that famous story by James Joyce, which Claudia had read and loved as bookish young Iris Farahani. Sexy as Hell in death. Cheekbones never better.
And there they were, two out of three of Heiko’s most fetching features, resurrected in his tall and capable daughter, she (like he) of the intensely aquiline gaze.
Just like Heiko, Heiko’s daughter rarely blinked.
Her ambers fixed you in their beams and you felt warm and transparent and thoroughly comprehended, despite the fact that not only did Dr. Benazir Effinkuhl never blink but she never smiled, either. Her daddy had died in The Spree, after all, suspended in a sky-blue windbreaker and a knitted cap in a slow fall toward Hamburg among the jostling ice when she was barely eleven. And no pants on his body. Figure that one out. No, she would definitely never smile again. Not until her Daddy came back.
“There’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a perfectly healthy baby,” said the Doctor, unsmiling, shooting those wide amber beams across her desk over pictures of the Doctor’s wife and her triplets and various neat little pink or white stacks of paperwork while a synth version of Across the Universe, subliminally audible from the waiting room, eased them both through alpha-wave states of the First World’s default promise of good news. Fixing Claudia Chang in that gaze. We have the technology, the gaze seemed to say.
500 million sperm cells to every sperm cell that makes it. The Cosmic Rule is Waste. The other term for “Waste” is Super-Abundance.
We will definitely bring this fetus to term.
You’re only 62, after all.
Comparing brown Heiko, of mixed German parentage, raised in the US in the 1960s and 1970s, to brown Paul, raised in America by Black Americans, five or six years older than Heiko, yields interesting results. If you use Claudia Chang’s respective interests in the two men as the basis for comparison. The 31-year-old Heiko vs the 57-year-old Paul. Though they were born in roughly the same year.
First: Heiko, of the eyebrows.
The moment Claudia decided to instruct Heiko that he was permitted to seduce her in her stirrups.
She was in her early forties and flawless as a supermarket apple.
Hair, as ever, long, but still black, shiny and sleek as a limo, back then. There is a Persian compliment… You look like the Moon… but she looked like a slender apple and a limo, bound in a Surrealist contraption. Not like the Moon at all. Legs up to her shoulders and spread in those stirrups with her wide-shouldered Gyno on a low stool leaning in toward her half-Persian vagina with eyebrow’d intensity, the shoulders of his brows drawn up like hawk wings, those brows a vigilant hawk come to hover at the mouth of some wiggy and aromatic cave that Claudia had to keep reminding herself was hers. Her cave. His intensely professional staring thrilled her but also it alienated her from her own Kant, slightly. Made it feel like a crime scene?
Dr. Effinkuhl was peering into it with great interest. He was staring with übermenschlich concentration while touching and poking here and there with one long-fingered latex hand. Palpating. The perfect technique. All husbands, she was thinking, should be amateur gynecologists. Her lips in the spotlight and by chilly speculum parted. The hair there not unruly but not shaved baby-bald either. You have to be suspicious of any man who prefers bald pussy. Claudia Chang’s Venusian topiary was just long enough to be soft. Sorrel and soft to her own touch.
There is a good smell to a healthy male who smells two dozen pussies a day. A saturated maleness. Bathed in evocative pheromones. This immersion in pussy calls forth a thing exquisite in the testosterone, perhaps, thought Claudia. A compelling fragrance called Vaginal Superman.
And oh she was wet as an eel. Slightly drunk. He’d frowned at the blur of the alcohol smell she moved through when she first crept in to the examining room with that sheepishly naughty-girl smile but said nothing. A lot of the rich older women came in that way, too. Boozed out. Heiko called it French mouthwash.
“A little more to the left. And up,” she slurred. Maybe she was pretending to be drunker than she was.
“Excuse me, Frau Chang?”
“A little more to the left,” she said, squirming. “Touch me harder there.”
“I could lose my license,” he whispered.
She thought of her husband Tim, who had only, rather squeamishly (prissily, even) , licked her there once, on her last birthday, making it clear with that shrug and that grunting shift to his knees that he was merely doing this to prove, once and for all, that he wasn’t necessarily against the idea of this kind of thing as a concept, per se and that he was dutifully returning the favor, finally, for fifteen years of Claudia’s well-crafted blow jobs.
It would have been better if he’d never bothered to try. Her pussy was not abhorrent. Her pussy was not some kind of necessary evil. Or an elephant in the room. Fuck you, Tim. What had Claudia been thinking all these years? She realized that she hadn’t been thinking at all. She, who had planned everything! She had forgotten to plan to keep on thinking after getting married.
The realisation woke her out of her thankless trance of unthinking fidelity, finally. Fidelity as a commandment, right? As a tribal default. Be a dutiful possession, woman. She felt like a long-haired Uncle Tom with a pussy after Tim’s lame attempt at finally licking it. Because Tim had never earned her fidelity. Simple as that. Because it should require more than mere fidelity to earn fidelity… there should be love, passion, poetry, gratitude, respect in persuasive abundance. One shouldn’t cheat if one doesn’t need to cheat but the terms of that mitigating qualification must by all means be satisfied . There should be the bilateral quality of conjugal obsession and it should reach far beyond the territorial imperatives of ownership, in the end, felt Claudia.
And life was getting shorter every second, every breath, every waxing and waning Claudiacell. The microscopic Claudias that were constituent of the gargantuan, corporeally hologrammatic Her were dying off, as a species, on an extinction schedule. Every luscious unit of her Claudianess (formerly her Irisness) was shrivelling into specks of carbon trash in Time and sluicing away down the inner river (like her Heiko in the outer river). She was pissing and shitting husks of blood cells, brain cells, bone cells, skin cells like dying baklavas of millions of parallel milliseconds at a time and it was all adding up in a Temporal Dump as Extinction hurried toward her like a waving friend through the crowded concourse of Life’s Airport and what was she doing about it? Every lived Life, in the end, is an improvised version of the only conceivable response to the immanence and imminence of Death and what was her version turning out to be? It was time to get Fucking. But how does one go about making up for lost adulterous time? Personals Ads? Singles Bars? Swingers Clubs? Disgusting.
She was years out of practise, as the mother of young child Charlotte, who was, as Claudia hated to put it to herself, the symbol and trophy of a wife’s unthinking fidelity. It hit her right there in her handsome gynecologist’s Swedish-modern chrome and glass and leather chair with the singing force of the obvious.
She acted, semi-spontaneously, under the emollient influence of a half of a bottle of one of Tim’s Canadian wines (as though she’d sort of planned that morning to risk it) and told Doctor Heiko to kiss it and make it better and he did that and more. In the capable hands of a professional! Yes! Whose knowledge of her/the clitoris was moving in the professionalism of its commitment! Yes! This man had actually devoted his life to studying pussies! Just as almost every woman devotes herself to studying cock! Yes!
She came so hard in Doctor Effinkuhl’s stirrups that she was afraid she might lose control of her bowels there, taking his medium-sized penis (the penis was sort of inconsequential) in her mouth as both a thank you and an afterthought while she was still seeing lime-green stars.
(Because Life is Sex and it’s good that way. Fuck Lou Andreas Salome. Fuck Cantinflas. )
Doctor Effinkuhl’s practise was situated on the Ku’Damm, the grand shopping boulevard of the West, at the end, near Adenauerplatz, that seemed to be filling up with Russian Mafiosi and their hard-eyed, fashion-draped molls. The neighborhood called Charlottenburg or, as the joke went, Charlottengrad. Claudia and Tim’s place was a twenty-minute walk away from Heiko’s practise, near the Volkspark, and remained so after Heiko died and Heiko’s daughter Benazir grew up and re-opened Heiko’s practise, essentially, in the same space, which had been, during the interim, the seven-room luxury flat she shared with her mother, Heiko’s widow. Half of the flat was now Benazir’s OB/GYN and the other half was where the orphan lived with the reclusive widow.
An hour’s walk in another direction, toward the East, was Paul’s flat on the river near Jannowitzbrücke. Which felt like another era in another city. Claudia hopped on the train after her appointment with Heiko’s daughter and headed, for whatever reason, toward Paul’s flat, which she hadn’t been anywhere near to in at least month.
Comparing Paul to Heiko…
“My two Black lovers,” Claudia thought with a little thrill. The ultimate middleclass fantasy of a certain vintage. How many fleeting cockcunts had she formed with each? The ones with Paul had been bigger.
Just picture fucking the two of them at once in a Claudia sandwich, thought Claudia: Heiko in back, of course (because, of course, as the Law of Irony states, of course, a male Gynecologist shall overwhelmingly prefer anal, of course… why had she never called him on this? Though, since Heiko had died so soon after, she was glad she hadn’t). Neither of the two men was terribly Black. Both were Brown. Heiko had been perhaps a little lighter than Paul. Twenty years separated the two. Are the gradations of color meaningful? Are people really like coffee drinks?
As the subway rose above-ground toward Nollendorfplatz and sunlight strobed in brittle bars through the packed carriage, Claudia squinted and thought of Paul’s best book, the first one she’d read, the second one he’d written, A Day of Rain, written as his pseudonym Victor Kelling, the part in the book in which a side-character, known only as V., is sitting in a crowded U-Bahn carriage as the train rises above-ground toward Nollendorfplatz. V is thinking about his lover, Beatrice R.
A DAY OF RAIN (paraphrased excerpt)
V’s thoughts about Beatrice R. have nothing to do with her as a physical being. There’s nothing about her body in his thoughts about her. He doesn’t think of her shapely legs or large-ish, well-shaped breasts or her silky hair or her striking face, which resembles a Mona Lisa with bigger eyes and more angular features and a much fuller mouth. It’s established early in the book that Beatrice is unusually attractive (men always around like a cloud of mosquitoes)… but what V loves about Beatrice is the part of Beatrice that would continue to exist if she gained a catastrophic amount of weight or if her hair fell out or if her face got shattered in a helicopter crash. Or if she merely, inevitably, he hoped, got old. If she remained strong enough to remain herself without her beauty to hide behind: that was the part of Beatrice that V claimed to love and he always told her so.
Beatrice was extremely allergic to strawberries (which was ironic because her vagina had a very subtle flavor of berries to it). She’d never told V this. V was simply under the impression that Beatrice didn’t much care for fruit. Beatrice decided to test V’s professed (Elizabethan stress on the third syllable of the word) love for her ineffable beatricity one morning and to this end she ate a pint of strawberries about two hours before they were to meet for lunch at the trendiest bistro in town, Calf. V came to pick Beatrice up at her flat and when she swung the door open she was unrecognizable… her face was bright red and extremely swollen and covered in livid bumps.
“My God!” cried V, and he embraced Beatrice so hard that she could barely breathe. When he finally let go he held her at arm’s length and studied her deformed face. “We have to get you to a doctor!”
“I’ve already been to the doctor,” she said. “I never told you this before. It’s a condition. My mother has it, too. The older I get, the more frequently this will happen. It lasts for weeks at a time. It’s hideous, I know. I’m sorry.”
“Is it painful?”
“Not at all. But it’s hideous. I can’t go outside like this. I look like a freak.”
“Bea, are you kidding? We have a reservation at Calf! Do you know how hard those are to get, Darling? If we’re five minutes late we’ll never get a table at that restaurant again! Get your coat on!”
So out the door and across town to trendy Calf they went.
It was packed. All the trendy people stared the minute they walked in. Beatrice and V took their seats at a central table. The waiter averted his eyes when he came to take their order. But V. didn’t seem to care or notice. In fact, he seemed to be floating on a cloud. He was chatty and expansive during lunch. He’d ordered a sampler of exotic dishes and pressed Beatrice to try everything (spooning the delicacies into her mouth from across the table after asking her, each time, to close her eyes)… V had never seemed happier. He kissed her hand at the table and kissed her on the mouth as they stood to leave. That night, in bed, with the lights on, he was more passionate in his love-making than ever. He had passed the test. The admirable-but-unlikely thing that V had always claimed, regarding Beatrice’s outer beauty, vs V’s love for her inner self, was true. Wrapped in V’s arms after their lovemaking, Beatrice said,
“You were so relaxed and happy and unselfconscious at Calf, today, V. So openly affectionate. Normally you’re far more reticent. But look at me… I’m a monster now! Why weren’t you weirded out among the snobs at Calf with me looking like this?”
V laughed and kissed her wounded face. “It’s your beauty that usually makes me self-conscious in public, Bea,” and he kissed her again and, again, they made love, trying things they had never before tried.
V is remembering this night of passion and experimentation, several days later, on the U-Bahn, as the train rises above-ground, approaching the Nollendorfplatz station, where he’s set to meet Beatrice in the middle of the platform and from there to walk to their favorite little spot for a coffee. He’s never been so happy. The train pulls into the station and his heart sinks, a little, however, to see that Beatrice is somehow beautiful again, perhaps even more beautiful than ever, dressed wonderfully and made-up and so stunning in a cinematic way that V can see that passengers all around him at the door are staring at Beatrice intently through the glass. Some of the passengers are refugees. Some are even commenting on her astounding appearance with little jokes or wry observations, among themselves, as though a scene for a Hollywood movie is being filmed right there on the platform. V. steps off the train and they embrace as he hides his disappointment, and his embarrassment, as well as he possibly can. They chat and joke as he pulls Beatrice through the eyes of the nosy crowd. V ‘s heart is pounding but he makes it out of the station. And Beatrice? Beatrice has realized that the first test she put V to was a mistake, grounded in the most common misunderstanding of romantic love: we too often judge our lovers’ strengths and weaknesses by the standards of our own failings.
The last line of that chapter reads:
“Because V. loves Beatrice, he will make do with the situation. There’s nothing Beatrice can do about her face, after all, and the years will cure them both of everything.”
Claudia loved this part of the book. She loved, especially, the line “and the years will cure them both of everything,” which, she has decided, will appear on her tombstone.
“That is a serious tribute,” had said Paul. “Seriously? On your tombstone?”
“Yes. It’s in my will.”
“I love you more than ever, then.”
“This is the Week of Miracles, remember? Everything is allowed. Even love.”
Heiko had been articulate in his hypothetical Feminism, which he could dispense with quite quickly, in dinner conversation, with the socially-safe incantation “Equal pay for equal work” but, Claudia felt, to be a true Feminist, a man had to be a bit feminine. And not in a superficial way. The superficial femininity that most “new men” happily put on display is prowess in the kitchen, an ironic kind of pseudo-feminist ability in that only a chauvinist thinks of the fucking kitchen as the feminine part of the house. Most of Heiko’s “feminism” was merely sanitized (circumcized ?) Chauvinism and she had loved Heiko anyway and never bothered to point his internal contradictions out to him. And she was glad, because imagine pointing out someone’s internal contradictions and undermining the accretionally-developed super-structure of their sense of Self… and then they die. Claudia would never have been able to live with herself. At least Heiko died thinking he was a Feminist. Bless his macho, connected eyebrows. Paul’s eyebrows were unconnected, unspectacular but fine.
Paul was a genuine Feminist. Biologically so, even, maybe. Claudia sensed the presence of a pretty little virtual womb in Paul. Maybe it was only the size of a vestigial twin in a baby but the combination of Paul’s radiant little virtual womb and his large cock (she’d nicknamed it Cockzilla but never had the nerve, despite the fact that EWA ( Everything Was Allowed), during the Week of Miracles, to debut the nickname, because, don’t laugh, it just felt racist somehow to make too much of Paul’s size) was extremely attractive to her. She’d always been a sucker for Hermaphrodites. Tim was all womb and no cock and Heiko was (had been) all cock, though it hadn’t been a big one. Tim, Heiko and Paul were all intelligent men, but who would Claudia claim was the smartest? Heiko had been given to quoting the Nazi charlatan Heidegger. By cock size, in ascending order, the list started with Tim and ended with Paul. Tim, therefore, she decided, was the smartest.
“May I call you Iris?”
She hesitated then said, “Yes. Yes, Paul, even that’s allowed. And it’s strange but I think I like it.”
“I love you, Iris Farahani.”
“Now it’s my turn. I want to try another kind of transgression. Are you willing? Be honest.”
“Everything is allowed. This is the Week of Miracles.”
“Good. I want to do the unthinkable and talk about a former love. I want to compare him to you, as you listen. I want to discuss how you two are similar and how you’re different. Can you stand that?”
“Yes. Everything is allowed. But I hate him.”
“He’s dead. Long ago.”
“That’s a little better. But I still hate him.”
“I know, love. He would have hated you, too!” She laughed. “But he would have pretended to like you. He pretended to like Tim. He wanted to appear to be above it all, I think. Or sophisticated. A European intellectual. He loved French movies. In French movies, ex-husbands and ex-lovers are always friends of the family, close friends of the husband, and they commiserate over the wife, who is usually some kind of force of nature, irrational, tempestuous and so forth or in the process of taking on a new, much younger lover, a toy-boy, who both men, who are shown getting adorably drunk together, hate. Are the French really like this? I think he wanted to model his life on French romantic comedies of the ’70s. I’d come over and fuck him once a week in his office and, after we’d fuck, he’d light a cigarette, invariably, and ask about Tim. Not just in a superficial way, either. We’d have detailed conversations about Tim and whatever Tim was doing that week. I once mentioned that Tim was having some kind of arcane tax problem with a business he was setting up in Yemen and Heiko… his name was Heiko... offered his own tax lawyer’s services, free of charge, until Tim’s problems were sorted. I thanked Heiko but declined the offer.”
“What did this Heiko look like? Typical German?”
“Oh, No. No. He looked a bit like you.”
“But with hair.”
“He was only thirty.”
“Well, it was over twenty years ago, Baby. You had your hair then, too, remember. Also, I thought you didn’t care about your hair or lack thereof?”
“I didn’t until this Heiko character showed up.”
“He wouldn’t have looked as good without his hair as you look without yours.”
“That’s better.” He laughed. “Go on.”
“And his cock…”
“I’m not exaggerating. I think it was literally forty percent smaller than yours? Forty four…?”
“Okay. My cheeks aren’t numb anymore.”
“And his semen tasted not very good. Yours tastes like crushed roses.”
“Now I’m happy. Now I’m content.”
“Have you ever been with someone who looks like you, Paul? I’ve been meaning to ask.”
“What do I look like?”
“Black. You know: black-ish. The blacker side of mixed.”
“Do you mean dating or fucking?”
“I dated a Miss Black Minnesota in the 1980s.”
“Yes? And you fucked her?”
His phone rang… doo de doo…
“On the mouth? No. I tried to.”
“Have you ever fucked a Black woman?”
“That’s not possible.”
“It’s totally possible. It happens to be true. It’s probably more common than you think.”
“Should I be disappointed in you?”
“Have you ever slept with a half-German, half-Iranian man?”
Claudia laughed and made a sheepish “who knows?” gesture. Paul said,
“In the USA, right? Blacks… we Blacks… we’re something like 10% of the population. So, you know, if you’re Black in America, which is what I was, and you’re standing in any average American location, statistically speaking, there are going to be roughly nine or ten whites for every Black in the vicinity. So you’re ten times more likely to be served by a white or have a white colleague or a white lover… unless some kind of racist segregation effect is lumping an unnatural concentration of Blacks together. Otherwise known as a ‘ghetto’. And I grew up in a ghetto but I left the ghetto before I reached mating age. Never to return. A Black with another Black in America is as statistically unnatural as a Black with a White in Uganda, though most people are too casually racist to grasp that.”
“A completely logical and deeply unsatisfying explanation.”
“Okay, here’s my second attempt. Ready?”
“I’m all ears.”
“Ears? From where I’m standing you’re all arse. In the nicest possible way.”
“No stalling, Buster.”
“Okay, listen. I’m a Bohemian, Claudia. For half of my adult life, so far, being a Bohemian meant I had little or no money and no job prospects. Try finding a well-educated, great-looking Black woman who’ll settle for a guy who isn’t, at the very least, in law school. There just hasn’t been, historically, enough of a Black middle class… a Black middle class of adequate venerability… to generate Bohemian Black Babes in any serious number. It takes money to generate a generation of pretentious kids who seem wholly unconcerned with earning money. I’m just a fluke. I’m a freak. My Black friends and acquaintances are still, by far, the most materialistic people I know. Which is totally understandable! A hundred years ago we had nothing, most of us, we owned not even ourselves. We were still trying to get the feeling back in our wrists and ankles after being chained for so long. So, of course, of course, most of us Blacks would have been revering recent purchases of white Naugahyde sectional sofas while some white family on the nicer side of town was wonderfully spawning, instead, the Midwestern answer to Kiki of Montparnasse! I’m sure there must have been three or four incredible Black Bohemian Girls, bumping around the vast territory of the continental United States, back when I was around but, sadly, our paths never crossed. And, by the way, I love you, too.”
“That one felt a little truer. But, still…”
“Ha! ‘But still’, nothing! Do you know how happy I’d have been, at nineteen or twenty, when I was really diving into all that, for the first time… what an answer to my prayers it would have been if I’d met a girl who looked just like me and knew the books I loved and liked the same records and laughed at Monty Python, too? I’d still be with her! I never would have let her go! I never would have left the country! That’s all I ever wanted, a girl exactly like me… a girl whose hand I could clutch in public with the serene sense that no one could possibly, with any imaginable excuse, say anything against it. A girl I could lie beside in perfect Adam-and-Eve mode, my arm touching her arm, feeling neither especially light nor dark, oblivious to my color for the first time in history, my wavy hair touching her wavy hair, our fleshy mouths and sharp little freckled noses a perfect match? Don’t you think I fantasize about that girl… that woman, sometimes, still? My perfect incestuous non-racial fuck twin? The copper-colored, wise-cracking, Godard-digging, Al Green fan carrying a copy of First Love and Other Sorrows in her backpack? How do you know I’m not pretending that YOU are HER right… fucking… fucking…FUCKING… now…?!”
His phone rang… doo de doo…
And Claudia had giggled and closed her eyes and concentrated on what Paul was doing almost violently, now, with both his thumbs and she came. She came like hot klieg lights being smashed quite rapidly in a long descending row by a big black baseball bat. Making Paul sort of angry (finally) had really turned her on.
Angry but gentle.
My God, she thought, I was goading him! I loved it! I’m terrible!
Later, they had a conversation in which either Paul or Claudia, in the bathtub, said, while the other was scrubbing his or her back, It’s not as though the audience remains constant while the general level of the artists and writers decline! Mediocre audiences call forth and anoint mediocre Artists while the awards are still awarded and the blockbusters roll on.
The Cosmic Rule is Waste.
That night they went to a concert to see Geneva Salt.
A young act. Part of the new R&B&F movement. Everyone was raving about Geneva Salt, especially the thirty-something and twenty-something painters of Claudia’s acquaintance, so Claudia wanted to go.
There was a long line on a trendy sidewalk to get in. The line appeared to pour thickly out of the cafe on the corner and half-way up the street and right back into the open double doors of the TZAK THEATER. The line flashed and glowed with its own internal luminescence of little screens, overwhelmed every few minutes with the 20th-century clatter and light of a passing trolley. People hopping off of the trolley added themselves to the line. Paul and Claudia appeared to Claudia to be the only people in that line or even on that street or in that neighborhood who were older than forty. Everywhere you looked, there was a black and blue poster for INVOICE OF A GENERATION.
Paul, who had been a Poet when he was younger, was reciting short bits of poetry with his shiny brown head and fancy dark coat and Claudia wanted to suck Paul’s big bronze cock right there in line to reward him. Poetry as plumage: the day was coming when it would no longer work, probably. Why had it ever? How does Culture interact with DNA and DNA with culture? How and why had Claudia’s distant pre-human ancestors selected for a verbal/aesthetic trigger for vaginal moisture a million years before the advent of language? Especially since a Poet would be the very opposite of the archetype of caveman capable of hunting game and killing rivals. How had the lens and retina evolved, independently, into Eye when neither was useful until both were ready?
Paul recited Ezra Pound’s “The Evening of the Air Show over Midcentury Paris” (“A girl looked up”), the poem famous for being half as long as its title, and he recited an excerpt from Anne Sexton’s humorous “Milk Teeth” (“the nursing girl no longer /gamine, graceful, grateful / those aren’t a man’s chompers”) and he did, extra well, with expert pauses and a deepened voice, Ted Hughes’ wonderful “Muck’s Wolf”:
as though some boreal woods’
twilit compulsions rushed it
to presume to nose
the door in, prance-print flameshapes in thick
sump-ink, muck into the architect’s summering
up the stairs in sniffs and bounds after
culturescents leading its shitstink, meatbreath
mid-way cross the sleeping room’s
anterior library parquet, stopped fast
by uncanny’s decorum, the muckpaws now
dried thick alone mid-room as though
the beast just
dematerialized with boredom or rose
to the ghostly occasion of
A girl in a group of girls in the queue, ahead of them, turned and applauded. Claudia smiled and joined in the applause, rewarding the girl for being both friendly and plain. The girl was in her early twenties and slightly heavy, with shiny, over-rouged cheeks and an upturned nose that looked carved, her blonde hair in a pile of Bavarian braids on her head, and Claudia knew Paul wouldn’t have touched her with his worst enemy’s penis. Claudia like the fact that Paul’s libido was inseparable from his vanity. The girl was American and told them her name was Steph and that her friends were Germans who’d never seen Geneva Salt in concert before. Steph had been to quite a few of the Salt shows in the US (in Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois) and one in Paris. She said,
“I just love Ted Hughes. I recognized that poem from Mr. Crandal’s course. That was the only course I got an ‘A’ in. I love Ted and Sylvia. Most of my friends loved Sylvia and hated Ted. And you know what? I just never understood that. He didn’t force that woman’s head in that oven. That was her choice. Everybody is all about whatever their choices are, I think. Right? I mean, come on. Cut the poor guy some slack. That’s amazing that you memorized the whole poem like that. I wanted to be an actress but I just could not memorize a page of dialogue. I don’t know how people do it. Are you guys American? I’m Steph. This is my bestie Silke and her sister Tina and Tina’s best friend Katja. Where in The States are you from?”
“I’m American but my Wife is German,” said Paul.
“Cool,” said Steph. “So how long have you guys been married?”
“Forty two,” said Claudia. “Years.”
“That’s amazing,” said Steph. “You’ve been married longer than my Mom has been alive.”
Paul said, “She was a foreign exchange student. My family was the host family. I was seventeen and she was eighteen. We eloped to Vegas. And now, forty-two years later…”
“We’re going to have our first baby. I just got the news.”
“Oh my god,” said Steph. “That has got to be the most awesomely romantic story I have ever heard, no contest. Not gonna lie… I think I might cry!” Steph was staring at, and typing something entirely unrelated into, her little screen as she said this.
Tzak was a sumptuously red velveteen Czech puppet theater from the late 19th century, back when there were so few entertainments in the world that no form of it could afford to be devoted exclusively to the pleasure of children. The stone walls of Tzak’s cavernously-high-ceilinged auditorium were pocked in dense constellations of bullet holes, now considered charming, and hung with faded tapestries of a triple-headed eagle (headless snakes in its talons) and the name of Tzak’s founder (Mikhail Sabbati) along with those of its star attractions, now meaningless, and the risqué silhouettes of naked Belle Epoque coquettes with parasols and riding crops and pendulous bosoms. Each of the four moth-eaten, sepia tone tapestries was taller than a man and wider than two and a generation older than Claudia and Paul’s combined age, rippling on ancient breezes thirty feet above their heads.
“So I hear we’re married now?” whispered Claudia into Paul ear as the lights went down over the modest stage, which held no musical equipment on it; it was bare. The stage was half-ringed with jury-rigged cinema seating on various levels and all the seats were filled. To the rear of the stage was a single door painted fire engine red.
“And we’re having a baby too, don’t forget,” Paul whispered back.
People were applauding as Geneva Salt entered through the red door and took the stage.
“Now you’ve got me wishing that we really had eloped to Vegas at eighteen,” said Claudia, kissing the side of Paul’s neck.
“When you were eighteen I was thirteen,” said Paul, angling his cheek against her lips.
“Even more romantic,” whispered Claudia.
Cressida Babbitz was leading in the polls.