KOOTCHIE TOWERS, PART THREE, CHAPTER FOUR: an Excerpt

KOOTCHIE TOWERS

PART THREE/ CHAPTER FOUR: QUASAR (excerpt)

[from c. 250 pages into my Epic Comi-Tragic Conspiracy Bildungsroman]

All the really grandiose classical music, the stuff for cavernous auditoriums and cathedrals and opera houses, the music performed by and for crowds of roughly the same social class, always sounds like collapsing architecture to me. Magnificent buildings crashing to earth, around your head, your ears,  at a stately and balletic tempo. Every minuscule sliver, chunk, pane, loop, shard or crystal of glass, brick, timber, brass, iron, marble and wire as it hits is a single note inseparable from the sustained torrent of parallel and subsequent notes sounding out as they smash the ground during the aesthetic demolition of what might as well be a virtual or platonic copy of the building the music itself is performed in. I never know the names or composers of the music but quite a few of the pieces are familiar to me as they back-drop trivial or watershed moments in my life.

All the really grandiose classical music, the stuff for cavernous auditoriums and cathedrals and opera houses, the music performed by and for crowds of roughly the same social class, always sounds like collapsing architecture to me. Magnificent buildings crashing to earth, around your head, your ears,  at a stately and balletic tempo. Every minuscule sliver, chunk, pane, loop, shard or crystal of glass, brick, timber, brass, iron, marble and wire as it hits is a single note inseparable from the sustained torrent of parallel and subsequent notes sounding out as they smash the ground during the aesthetic demolition of what might as well be a virtual or platonic copy of the building the music itself is performed in. I never know the names or composers of the music but quite a few of the pieces are familiar to me as they back-drop trivial or watershed moments in my life.

This one, this collapse, this music I very much recognized and would guess, if forced to, that it was made by the German with the irresponsibly large family, Bach, because Bach, or maybe it’s the Germans in general, is always good  (or at least very well-rehearsed) on the topic of Death.  Having proved a thoroughly inoculated  pagan, at heart,  from the moment my parents attempted to infect me with Christianity, I carry no internalized image of a Christ but I could quite easily picture this son of God weeping, in a dignified but movingly empathetic way, regarding his own death or the death of the dedicatee of the ceremony, on one knee, head down, posed prettily with the knuckles of his clasped hands touched lightly to his lips in prayer, center-parted mane lustrously impervious at the center of the vast collapse of the virtual copy of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City around him.  Around me.

I sat straight-spined and clear-eyed, chin up, at my father’s funeral that Sunday, thinking how proud of me, possibly, father would have been that I was so calm and collected  and also that it was a humdinger of an irony that of all the people that I knew, my father would have been the only one with a genuinely scientific interest in the bizarre twist that I had intuited his death,  on the day of his death, without being told,  as well as predicting the exact day of his funeral while believing that I was merely pretending all of it. Annie Druise wasn’t the only half-orphan in the car the day that we drove to Chicopee. How could I have known it? But I had, somehow.

Perhaps father would have ascribed the precognition to some agency of Johnson’s, since Johnson (to whom I had innocently assumed I was lying about my father’s death),  being a Negro, belonged to the people my father considered both socially, intellectually and morally inferior to us… and deeply magical in a way that sometimes made their company worth it. Then I noticed, glancing around, discreetly, from my middle position in the front row of the family’s front five rows of the service, that no one else was crying, either. There was not a wet eye in the house. Perhaps my father would have been more proud of me if I’d showed emotion?  But I couldn’t. And the semi-comical catchphrase kept creeping back, reasserting, reinsinuating, itself until I almost felt compelled to whisper it blasphemously into the death-scented air of the Cathedral: one down, one to go. The awful truth of the situation seemed to be that I was mildly exhilarated by the loss.

My mother, seated next to me, to my right,  still wasn’t speaking to me.

She’d telephoned and had co-eds write notes, for me, to phone home, “urgent,” regarding an  “emergency,” for two and a half days during which she heard back from me nothing. Mother’s breeding prevented her from sharing,  with the co-eds who answered the phone at the end of my hall (or even with school administrators), anything as intimate as news of the death of our patriarch. And mother was still too thrifty to send a telegram (and too humorless to make it a singing telegram),  so I only knew what was happening,  at home,  when I happened to be near the hall phone when it rang on the third day of her attempts and I uncharacteristically,  on impulse, answered it myself.  My father’s death temporarily deflected me from the trajectory that Fate intended (one Fate interfering with another: why do we always speak of Fate as though it’s just one monolithic Agency?) but a hair-raising coincidence put me back, within weeks, on the path toward which Jillene had nudged me like the fat little assistant to my Fate Jillene was.

In the middle of that year, ’57,  in June or July,  in an issue of the New Yorker magazine, a copy of which we always managed  to have a semi-current example, back then, because it was pretty good, like half of everything else, and represented a standard to bear in mind if you were intellectually ambitious (though not right wing), there was a story by a man named “Harold Brodkey”. The name struck me immediately as some kind of pseudonym and some of us, as the magazine was passed around during the course of a week, jumped to the conclusion that “Harold” was a female writing as a man.  Something about the prissy equivocations of his literary style? I was the most vociferous proponent of this theory until a friend of a friend claimed to know Harold (a Harvard man) and I decided to meet him.

That was before I was so completely absorbed in the folds and nooks of the womb-like distraction of my controversial hobby horse regarding the Mary Shelley authorship of “Frankenstein” in  the late summer, early Autumn of the year.  I realize now, from the lofty vantage of the Now-as-I-write-this, the interesting symmetry that even as I was defending Ms. Shelley’s literary reputation against the chauvinists who longed to award the prize of “Frankenstein’s” authorship to her husband, a man, I was awarding the prize of Brodkey’s authorship, of everything he’d written, at that point, to an imaginary female. Some imaginary creature with breasts, a vulva and a womb, hiding behind the vaudevillian pen name Harold Brodkey.

The friend of a friend claiming to know Brodkey claimed also that he was handsome and that I should meet him, which finally happened, in a roundabout and coincidental way, a few weeks after the death of my father, during a blizzard, long after I’d forgotten about the name “Harold Brodkey”.  I was lounging on a zebra skin sofa in a very smart apartment off Rittenhouse Square, in downtown Philadelphia, of all places. Someone (not even the original friend of a friend) said, “Oh, here’s Harold now” and then I understood that being handsome, for Harold, was really about being tall and having a very good body and a stunt man’s  “vaguely reminiscent” face. Harold looked face-handsome from across a mutedly-lit room and seemed less so as he crossed the room to kiss you on the cheek (an affectation in American men that I could not abide and upon which Harold heaped insult on injury by kissing me on both cheeks, as if we were in a chalet), but then that very good body loomed and you didn’t so much mind about the diminished expectations regarding everything higher than his neck, though you could tell that Harold thought he looked smashing.

For years I’ve misremembered my first line to Harold Brodkey.  Now that he’s genuinely famous, I’d better get it right.

I know that my recollection  of that first line is an anachronism because the particular “short” story,  of Harold’s, to which my droll remark referred,  didn’t make Harold a little more famous, than the little bit famous he already was, until the early ’70s. What I remember saying (but couldn’t have said, yet) was “How’s it feel to be the Anne Frank of the female orgasm?” I’m sure I actually said something just as calculatedly droll and that Harold took it well, without a comeback, because he assumed I was being flirtatious, which I was,  in an unserious way, staking my claim in case I decided to be interested later.

Drollness is how we all talked in the 1950s. Everybody was trying to out-droll everybody else, like middleclass eighth-graders who see their parents come to physical blows, on a regular schedule, and become “worldly” as a defense mechanism. As a form of communication, the epigrammatic drollery we practised was fatally limiting: does anyone know, for example, how Oscar Wilde really felt about anything?  But “communication,” and then “feelings,” weren’t to become trendy for at least another decade.  

What mattered was the height of your parapets and Harold’s were very high, considering the fact that Harold was always the poorest boy in the circles he sauntered through. He had the physically drollest voice of anyone I’d ever met. When he circled back to my Grace-Kelly-ish presentation on the zebra skin sofa an hour later and presumptuously handed me a mixed drink and asked, “So what’s a nice girl like you doing in Philadelphia?” and I responded “I’ve come by train to have a look at some property my father left me,” I could see Harold’s interest ramp up:  All this and inherited property, too? Would I have bothered to even mention the property if the property weren’t of a magnitude worth mentioning? Harold’s nostrils even appeared to flare.

“I see it’s time to introduce you to the Icelandic joys of a Hollywood sleigh-ride,” he said, improvising mightily, and he tugged me off the sofa and out of the apartment, my drink still in hand, both our coats under his arm, all eyes on us as we made our exit,  Harold singing a show tune along the long soft corridor to the elevator, my facial expression the soul of drollery as we waited to ride that elevator ten flights down into the private parking garage. The private parking garage was very cold and not large and made mostly of pillars and shadows interleaved with the curving gleams of upper class automobiles and I quipped, “The ideal location for a crime of passion” and Harold quipped “Don’t give me any ideas” and I quipped, right back, “You’re a writer, Harold. Ideas don’t make you do anything,” and he put up his hands in a gesture of surrender and walked into the shadows and fetched the car while I waited under the parking garage’s solitary cone of gold light.

There came the sound of a tugboat. A winningly vulgar Cadillac convertible of Valentine’s red  pulled up in a swaggering curve and Harold hopped out, his coat collar up,  and put the top down. It occurred to me that he was working awfully hard for what he probably would have gotten in exchange for nothing more strenuous than the perfect quip (his quips were getting better as the night wore on: triangulation) but then boys like working for it, don’t they, just as women prefer paying more for an item of clothing because the higher price tag makes the clothing more exclusive; more valuable;  more have-worthy. Choosing between an ordinary glass of water and a near-identical glass with a five dollar price tag on it, who among us, boy or lady,  would opt for the plainer glass?

We drove through the blizzard with the top down and I sipped my sloshing cocktail with snowflakes dancing and dying selflessly into its blue, street-lights-lit surface and it was magic, I had to admit, a sophomore’s idea of magic and Harold was proud of himself for coming up with the tableau on such short notice. The interior of the car, along with my fur,  was probably ruined but we were each probably worth it. We were practically the only ones out at that time of night, under those conditions, driving at that speed in a blizzard around downtown Philadelphia and when we saw occasional snowmen (abominable or otherwise) slogging through the drifts we honked and whooped and waved. We shouted through a glittering conversation that led to a moment that sent literal chills down a spine that was already as chilled, in my light wet fur, as I thought it could get. “My God,” I shouted, “What did you just say?”

And Harold shouted “I said Your sevens and eights are the problem, basically.”

Shortly before one in the morning we sat sobering up over cups of coffee black as our modernist hearts. It was an all-night diner in a run-down neighborhood de rigueur for any post-Harvard swain like Harold to take his first-date coffee in.  I was every bit as nervous as Harold wanted me to be. Even our waitress, whose hair was so closely-cropped that one could almost consider her head shaved,  looked capable of mugging Harold and selling me to white-slavers from the loading dock.  She was tall as Harold and quite fit, I noticed, with long legs and a narrow waist and muscular arms in a sleeveless, tight-fitting leotard ensemble such as one might expect to find on every participant in some “modern dance”  atrocity set to Oriental gongs and bongos. Her face was a striking African mask.

I’d given her a smiling but catty, I confess, once-over,  after Harold ordered for us, before noticing, to my astonishment, that a waitress at the far end of the cafe, leaning on the counter as the cook piled plates on her tray, was our waitress’ twin:  same height and build and ensemble. Same close-cropped, abstract, painted-on-looking hair; same striking features. Then I noticed the music that had been playing in the background since before we sloshed into the joint (everyone so sanguine; so cool;  about our entrance as the only Caucasians present): the same eerily primordial stuff I’d heard in Johnson Jack’s jitney weeks before. Harold watched me listening to this music with my widening eyes (or dilating pupils)  and commented, without lowering his voice sufficiently, I felt:

“We’re in forbidden territory, Sierra. Beyond the pale, so to speak…”

“Why does everyone here look so…”

“Magnificent?”

“I suppose.”

“Even the cook rather resembles a revolutionary general in exile, doesn’t he?”

I  peered over my shoulder to confirm Harold’s observation. “You’re beginning to frighten me, Harold. Well done.”

Turn about is fair play, Sierra. Isn’t that so? I for one think that being enslaved might be invigorating for… “

“Oh do hush with that undergraduate talk,  Harold. It’s embarrassing.”

Harold laughed and saluted and begged me not to be cross. I said I wasn’t cross but that I wanted to be taken seriously. I said,

“When you said the thing about the ‘sevens and eights’ in the car…”

“Did I?”

“Yes. And that wasn’t the first time I’d heard it, you see.”

“Where did you hear it first, Sierra?”

“A Negro taxi driver.”

“Makes sense.”

“I’m glad something does.”

“There is another world,  Sierra, a world that is utterly different, very much better than the world we know… the ‘normal’ reality we know…  and we can access this better world by thinking, acting and talking in ways other than what we ‘normally’ do. I firmly believe this.”

Harold produced a hip-flask from somewhere and tipped a swallow-or two into his coffee. With the tacit assent of my one raised eyebrow he did likewise with my own.

“You talk a very good game, Harold. But please please tell me where you picked up that  ‘seven and eights’  line before I pull my hair right out of my head.”

“Gorgeous hair it is, Sierra. Movie star stuff.  When Marilyn…”

“Harold…”

“Okay, okay. Did your ‘Negro taxi driver’ happen to mention the name ‘Quasar’? Or ‘The Barn’?”

“Beg pardon?”

“Quasar. The Barn. Did he mention.”

I shook my head.

Harold frowned and cracked his knuckles. “I feel it’s important to get my descriptions right. Quasar is a Princely Spade or even a King, but a King with a Merlin-ness about him, the dominant ‘King’ thing with unexpected grace notes of erudition and scientific thought, to condense my thoughts on the topic, somewhat, Sierra. Imagine a jazz band featuring Enrico Fermi on the drums. Do you follow jazz? Or nuclear physics? Sorry, I promised to be coherent. By the way, being relatively incoherent is my way of taking you seriously but I don’t suppose I can expect you to know that.”

The waitresses (there were three: triplets) were going around the room with flaming wicks, lighting the hurricane lamps on all the tables, and then the overhead lights went down and the curtains in all the big picture windows were drawn shut and the front door was locked. Harold saw me flinch at the sound of the dead-bolt and broke off his disquisition to assure me that we weren’t about to be slaughtered. The all-night diner didn’t have a proper license to operate all night, in Philadelphia,  he explained, so it took on the outward appearance of being closed after one o’clock in the morning. We could exit from the rear of the building whenever we pleased. With or without apples in our mouths.

“And this Quasar… what’s his real name? Is Quasar his real name?”

“I never asked. Asking would seem awfully bourgeois, wouldn’t it, Sierra? Not a great way to make a good first impression on one’s prospective guru. In any case, I’ve only met him that once. I’ve been meaning to visit his studio out at The Barn… he’s a painter, you know… marvellous figurative stuff, I hear… perhaps you and I can drive out together, sometime.”

“How did you meet him?”

“Peggy Guggenheim’s third or fourth going away party for Bowles. Bowles has had more going away parties than hot meals, I suspect. Frank rather wickedly calls him Bowels…”

“And Quasar is the one who thought up this sevens and eights and nines and tens business?”

“I suspect. It’s got a tinge of Nietzsche to it, hasn’t it? Nietzsche-cum-Dale Carnegie…”

“The Barn.

“The Barn.” Harold lifted his coffee cup in a mock toast and we clinked our cups together. “To The Barn.” I was still confused.

A few tables and chairs from the center of the room had been moved and replaced with several mats, arranged in a grid large enough for two or three couples to do a little swing-dancing on. Was some sort of show about to begin?

I thought of Jillene, Johnson Jack, my father’s unexpected death, the diner we were speaking quietly in and now this Quasar business and said, “It’s funny. It’s as though Fate has been moving me inexorably toward some sort of Negro direction lately.”

“Oh, it’s moving all of us, Sierra. It’s not just you.  Can’t you feel that? Cubism?  The Beats?  The Negro Zeitgeist? One  always suspected,  you  know, from evidence too delicate to go into with any explicitness now, that one’s most intimate dimensions only make sense if… somewhere in the mists of time… on the mistiest branch of one’s family tree…  “

I laughed and sipped my cold coffee (with its added jolt)  and closed my eyes in the dark and jungly diner, soaking up the prehistoric music, the muted Negro conversations and sizzling kitchen effects surrounding us; the light-but-sturdy panther-tread of the Amazon waitress’s ballet-slippered feet on the linoleum. I was finally relaxed (yet jolted)  enough to inhabit the persona of the legendary Sierra and give Harold, who was entirely too pleased with himself, the playful rhetorical cuffing he needed to keep him on his toes.

“I like you, Harold. I do. You’re all seduction and no screw. The opposite of my usual experience with men.”

“Hey.”

 “What you lack is sexual persistence. You feint and fall back. I sense ambivalence. But if I weren’t the prettiest girl at Scotty’s droll soiree, you wouldn’t have bothered to kidnap me from it. So what gives? Did you masturbate before coming out tonight?”

“Oh, you’re cheating now.”

“How so?”

“There were certain implicit ground rules we laid down as a pre-condition of this friendly contest, Sierra, and Totally Modern Frankness was not in the contract. Give a guy a moment to catch up, willya.” He sipped from his cup and I thought, for a wild moment,  that he would toss its contents on me. Instead he smiled into the cup as though he’d just received invaluable instruction from it and said,  slowly, thinkingly, chin down but eyes up: “The dilemma is this. I’m in two minds about what it is, exactly, that  I want out of tonight. “

“Why don’t we try both?”

“You have a surprisingly Oriental mind, Sierra,” he said, playing bongos on the table-top.  Was he insinuating that he suspected I am secretly a Jewess? Hadn’t Johnson insinuated that he suspected I am a crypto-Mulattress? I hadn’t often come within speaking distance of “ethnic types,” other than maids and nannies,  in my youth, and began wondering if that was what they did if they liked you: project themselves retroactively into your gene pool.  Because otherwise you are taboo?

“Have you dried out?”

“Fur’s a little damp, still,  but I’ll live.”

A shirtless, white-haired black man with  gleaming pectorals and a soft belly had set up a tall, booming, animal-skin  drum of some kind at a corner of the mats and begun to beat a mesmerizing tattoo, stepping to and fro behind his drum with sinuous movements of the torso, his caravan pants billowing, his chin very high. And then two dancers, identical in stature and dress to the waitresses,  walked from the kitchen to the center of the arrangement of the mats and began their ritualistic dance, mirroring one another with very strange, obviously symbolic and eerily bird-like movements  of their hands, pecking at the void between them as they circled one another.

“What does it mean?”

Harold was enjoying himself. “Can’t you tell?”

“No, I can’t, Harold. That’s why I asked.”

“Look. Look without thinking. Look.

I looked.

Harold got a wicked gleam in his eyes and stage-whispered, “They’re typing, Sierra. Do you see it now?”

“I’ll be damned.”

“The next time one of the waitresses comes by…  any one of them… have a good look at her right biceps.

The show lasted another hour and people snapped their fingers, instead of applauding, to demonstrate approval.  There were a dozen well-dressed couples seated at as many round tables ringing the dance-mats and all, but Harold and I, were apparent Negroes.  The climax of the act involved twirling lit torches and this left looping after-images, infinity symbols,  in my eyes. Unfazed, Harold asked me about the property I’d inherited, then told me about his St. Louis childhood. I caught a glimpse,  of the right-biceps curiosity Harold had indicated, as Harold tipped our waitress with a ten dollar bill and we headed for the alley door. It hadn’t been easy to see in the dark room, in the dark ink, on the dark flesh, but I had.

A slightly-raised uppercase “Q”.

*******

It was hard to tell if I was ignoring Harold after that or if he was independently scarce. There was something about Harold that got under a girl’s skin, admittedly, but whatever it was, in my case, it wasn’t large or electric enough to inspire me to beg for a tumble from him, which was obviously what Harold expected me to do. Any idle thoughts I had of Harold came in bed,  as the immense weight of a cloth-bound book fell from my relaxing fingers and I was pulled under, each night, by the undertow responsible for delivering me to the puzzle-pieces-strewn ocean floor of my dreams. In the daylight, especially when February’s sun was bright and high, thoughts of Harold had no purchase. To lay, or not to lay, with Harold Brodkey, would have been, with the sun on the fluttering eyelids of my upturned face, the last possible soliloquy on my mind.

I was sunning myself for a breezy pause on Green street, enjoying the teasing tug of the young year’s wind on my hair, my hair an unravelling bundle of pale metal in the light and Biblically overdue for a trim. My hair was long past Veronica Lake long and reaching closer to Eve, or Tarzan’s Jane long,  every day,  the uncut hair of savage youth.  I was so young and unaware of being young and I was still back then immortal, too,  which is all that I needed to know, that I would always be as I was, which was eternally true until it wasn’t, Eternity being not a number but a sensation (a thought I was incapable of back then when I was perfect). I continued on my way to Hurdl’s Bakery on a mission for the cookies I would use to thank, or bribe, the girls on my floor for being my trusty switchboard, answering and transcribing so many calls, playing along so perfectly with my instructions that no matter who was to call, and whether or not I was in, I was “out”. They were fielding half a dozen urgent inquiries a day. The sap was rising and the plimsolled stags were poised to go mad as the intercollegiate rites of spring loomed:  the cruder stags wanted to call dibs on me before the season really hit. No self-respecting stag wants to be fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth in the season’s sequence.

Hurdl’s was a quaint little pseudo-Viennese castle of gingerbread stone on the corner of the part of Green street I also visited to have my ball gowns pressed, and the semen steamed out of my mohair sweaters, and where, also, across the street, matrons queued for bloody steaks and chops and organs folded up in nice white paper grisly gifts. But Hurdl’s had been there first, before any of the businesses that were there when I was there in 1957; its antiquity (faux when it was built in the 1880s) was now nearly real. Hurdl’s looked more like a building belonging to Smith college proper than half of Smith college proper did and I liked my occasional visits to buy treats that could never be eats for skinny me. The old woman who ran the place always clucked with admiration.

I didn’t want my overworked switchboard of vestal virgins turning on their queen before Easter,  so first a pound of expiatory cookies (flower-shaped; a Hurdl’s specialty) in a pretty pink tin and later, when things got hairy, a big bottle or two of champagne from Macy’s.  Walking that fine line between Haughty-Enough-to-Deserve-Admiration and Who-Does-She-Think-She-Is? was one of my talents at that minor age. Now, of course,  I’m haughty as a de-clawed cat, but that’s one of Time’s duties, which is to teach us manners, with cruel patience,  on a cellular level, until we can’t take it anymore. Until,  I mean, we’ve achieved the nirvana of learning (in an instant) the impeccable diffidence of the Dead.

Imagine my surprise when I made the little interior bell over Hurdl’s gingerbread door ting-a-ling and I saw,  placed before me,  as if on some godling’s dollhouse  whim, looking fatter and more shiny than ever:  Jillene. Behind the glass counter, one of Hurdl’s embroidered aprons stretched tight across her irrepressible belly. Ineffably adult, too, in some horrible way I couldn’t put my finger on. The last faint decorative whiffs of student, and promise, gone.

“I was just thinking of you, Sierra.”

“And I,” I faltered, “was wondering…  just the other day… how things… you know… how things…”

“It’s okay, Sierra. We’re all alone here. I open the shop by myself on Tuesdays. The old biddy isn’t due in until after lunch. We can talk. And we need to talk. I have wonderful news. Such wonderful, wonderful news.”

I couldn’t remember if I was supposed to know that Jillene had always worked at Hurdl’s, or had started during the Christmas break, or if the job was entirely new,  a job she was taking after losing another little job of hers I’d had no clue about, so I skipped any references to any of that, and I had no stomach for going over the lurid developments in Jillene’s poor life, not there, in the shop, while on my feet,  because all I had come into the place to do was buy cookies and curtsy while the great-granddaughter of the original Mr. Hurdl made admiring noises at me. So I asked, in order to buy a little time,  what Jillene was up to that very evening, at suppertime,  perhaps?  And I inquired after the several tins of cookies I had come for.  

And Jillene told me that only a few stale examples of that kind of cookie were available just then but that there’d be fresh hot baking trays of them soon and that she’d have four tins of the coveted cookies waiting for me when I came at suppertime to visit. We could have a high tea (Jillene’s pretentious wording) and a good old chat during which she would tell me all about her wonderful news and I could tell her all about mine. But could I? My wonderful news was simply that I still wasn’t fat, still not plain and never poor.

Jillene said “Please do wait just a moment, Sierra!” and she stepped into a back room and came out with a neatly-wrapped package… it felt like a little cake… and a rolled-up paper, tied with a blue ribbon like a sham diploma. We hugged beside the counter and I waved and said “Too da-loo!”, immensely relieved to be free to go.  I’d face the monotony later, at our “high tea”.  In any case, I was cured of the fleeting madness of the Negromania Jillene had managed to infect me with the previous Christmas. Any lingering curiosity I felt about her adventures as a Negro’s consolation prize would be definitively satisfied at this evening’s high tea. And then I would put a distance between us.

I walked down Green Street with the little cake Jillene had given me, and the ribbon-wrapped certificate, or proclamation, or whatever it was. When I was a good distance gone I found myself looking for somewhere to dispose of both.  I thought it might be amusing to leave them neatly on someone’s front porch, or stuff them into the nearest letterbox.  My curiosity got the better of me and I undid the blue ribbon and saw the following typed neatly on an ordinary sheet of paper with a greasy thumbprint on it:

THE SIX-POINT CO-OPITALIST MANIFESTO as dictated to trusted officers of the movement     by Q

1. Communism can only exist in relation (and reaction) to Patriarchal Capitalism; true Communists must come from Capitalist households, where they are formed in Oedipal Opposition to the default Unfairness/ Destructiveness of Patriarchal Relations (as centered on the Patriarchal Relative, aka Chieftain).

2. Patriarchal Relations are rooted in the prehistoric tradition of Violence as a Necessary (ie Natural) Means and Survival as Product delivered by Chieftain. Patriarchal Relations are a prehistoric tradition, extended beyond its Natural Era and poorly disguised with transparent and semi-transparent masks of Modernity; beneath the masks the system remains blatantly Polygamous, Filicidal, Oecocidal, Rape-centered, Incestuous, Mystical and Warmongering… in the absence of the balance that being once situated within the Foodchain provided, wherein Violence was Natural (ie Necessary). Patriarchal Relations situated external to the Foodchain no longer feature a Natural Violence nor delivers Survival as its ultimate Product, but, rather, it delivers Destruction (which will not be defined as a value-free process but, specifically, as the Destruction-of-What-is-Good. The Destruction-of-What-is-Bad shall be defined as Cure).

3. Without Patriarchal Capitalism to oppose, there is no Fun (aka Internal Motivation) to drive the populations constituent of a Communist State. Communism would no longer shine as an option among Noble Vocations but would loom, rather, as Existential Punishment (ie, Punishment decoupled from Transgression; Punishment as Default).

4. Without the Fun of being Oedipal Opposition to Patriarchal Capitalism to power it, Communism’s raison d’etre collapses to its meanest Philosophical Alibi: “Fairness”. But what can be Fair about a system promising the same rewards for all, distributed Equally, irrespective of Talent or Effort? The Great must be free to gather naturally to the High; the Meager must be free to gather naturally to the Mean. The Basic Requirements of Life can be granted as the Floor while the Possible Ceiling is allowed to remain High: this is Fair to the extent that both Beggar and Billionaire become obsolete while the Millionaire remains a Possible, with Possible defined as the Direction in which Society’s Movement is generally organized along the Natural Distribution of Accomplishment. To Each as He Earns, from Each as He Owes.

5. To the extent that Communism already exists, in actual practise rather than as an Oedipal Daydream of Opposition to the default Unfairness of Patriarchal Capitalism among Patriarchal Capitalism’s hostages, Communism is a Parasitic Utopia, depending, for its existence, on a dominant Host (Patriarchal Capitalism).

5a An example of a Parasitic Utopia writ small would be Bohemia, which is not a state or even a commune but a mode of reacting to, and feeding off of, the dominant Host of Patriarchal Capitalism. Bohemia is the stripping of Duty (in the framework of Patriarchal Capitalism) from Privilege in order to distill Privilege into its purest form, which is Decadence framed not as Regulated Reward for Duty but Privilege framed as Reality (which is not possible without the Supervening Reality of the dominant Host; to this extent, Bohemia is Convincing Fantasy enacted with such dedication that it is barely distinguishable from a Real Reality until a Revelatory Crisis… eg, the loss of a private income or the intervention of a constabulary… foregrounds its Contradictions).

5b The Parasitic Utopia that exists as the mirror-opposite of Bohemia is Communism, which is Duty as Duty-and-the-Reward-for-Duty both, ie, in which Privilege is Duty wearing a mask: an Existential Punishment.

6. The Cure for Patriarchal Capitalism cannot be either aforementioned Parasitic Utopia, in that neither can exist without Patriarchal Capitalism as the dominant host. The Cure for Patriarchal Capitalism can only be Cooperative Capitalism, aka, CO-OPITALISM, ie, Capitalism with the prehistoric figure of the Patriarch removed and restored exclusively to the safe confines of its proper (pre) historical Era.

“What’s that you’re reading, Catnip?”

I looked up. It was Rodney Van Durden, all dressed up like his daddy, the stockbroker,  in a pale grey top hat and a striped cravat,  and Rodney was with what’s her name, the heiress,  painfully petite Arlene and another female I failed to recognize. I liked Rodney well enough in merciful doses but Arlene was the last person I felt like tolerating at that moment, I’m not sure why. Rodney snatched the manifesto from me and read the first two or three sentences.

“What the hell?”

“I got it from Jillene over in Hurdl’s just now.” I held up the cake with blasé eyebrows.

“Jillene? That husky wench? With the moon face? The charity case, right? Figures. She write this?”

He handed the manifesto back to me and I rolled it up carefully, and slipped the ribbon around it again, to assert quite clearly that Rodney’s opinion was of no consequence. “Well I do like to keep an open mind. I find it amusing.”

“Har har harrrr de har har,” said Rodney.

“She’s a nigger lover, isn’t she?” said tiny Arlene,  in her helium voice, addressing only Rodney as she squeezed his arm as if to prompt him. I suddenly remembered the rumor I’d heard that Arlene farts when she laughs, when she’s drunk on hops,  and also that she was suffering from hair loss.  Which explained the camelhair beret.

“Well I don’t know about all that,” said Rodney, “but I wouldn’t put it past her. She certainly looks like a well-used Coon-Pump to me.”

The second female giggled at this. She looked like a taller, thinner, baby-faced Judy Garland (with the flaws fixed) type in a chocolate-brown pageboy and wearing some sort of red velvet couture parody of a conductor’s tuxedo and tails and very smart pearly mules.

“Sierra, this is D’Ora Baker-Sargent, of the Monmouth Sargents. She’s thinking of attending Smith next semester. Certified genius IQ. Isn’t that right, D’Ora? ” Rodney rocked on the heels of his wingtips. “D’Ora is fifteen years old. Can you believe it? Makes you feel kinda old, doesn’t she, Catnip?”

“Rodney,” chided Arlene, who was even older than I.

“You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to my retirement,” I quipped, and everyone laughed.

It was if by magic that all four of us ended up in The Crow’s Nest private supper club having afternoon cocktails a goodly ways off-campus. I didn’t care for Arlene, I wasn’t nuts about Rodney and I had no interest whatsoever in D’Ora. Yet there we were. Swept along together in the random current. To be bored, sometimes… very bored… is to be a loose leaf easily dislodged from the tree and at the mercy of the whims of the wind. Especially in springtime. The wind in the springtime can be a sort of muse.

While Rodney played the boorish gallant and ordered for us in Pig Latin, D’Ora looked at the scroll I’d laid down beside the silly cake, still wrapped, like a present no one would ever unwrap before disposing of it, on the table in front of me. She unrolled the scroll as though planning to read from it like the Town Crier. But then, instead, she flattened it on the table between her elbows, chewing her juicy lower lip.

“Well, well, well,” muttered D’Ora, “We meet again.  How perfectly queer. I read the rough draft of this not seven days ago. My good old drinking buddy Harold showed it to me postcoitally…”

My stomach lurched. “Harold?”

“Harold Brodkey. He’s an up and coming…”

“You know Harold?”

“Well enough to call him by his real name. Which drives him deliciously up the wall. If you ever want to get a rise out of him…”

“Why would I ever want to do that?”

“… call him ‘Aaron’. Or ‘Weintraub’. ‘Weintraub’  he really hates. I tried calling him The Grape but it didn’t stick.”

“And how did you come to read this manifesto of Harold’s? Feel free skip the coitus part. Unless something unnatural happened that we’d all like to hear about.”

“Oh, he didn’t write it. He was the editor. It originally featured eight points instead of six, by the way. It’s a droll tale worth telling. Harold and I go back a few years…”

“But you’re fifteen,” I blurted, before I could stop myself.

“Oh, now, come on Catnip. Don’t go petite Bourgeois on us…” cracked Rodney, and it stung. The first false move I’d made, socially, in four or five years.

D’Ora blew Rodney a kiss (Arlene was stony-faced for the duration until it came time to explode) and continued, “Harold had been trying to know me Biblically for weeks. To his credit, he didn’t declare his intentions until I turned fifteen. He said that before that milestone, he’d considered himself my Intellectual Uncle, but now that I was fifteen, all bets were off. The funny thing being that Harold, from the moment we first met, through a friend of my mother’s, at some recital or other, when I was twelve, he’d try these learned apothegms and citations on me, for a effect, you see, but they were usually a little off, and I always corrected him. One I remember in particular was Harold’s quotation of Samuel Johnson: ‘Sir, a female’s preaching is like a dog walking on its hind legs. It is not done well but you are surprised it’s done at all,’ only Harold had misquoted it as a ‘talking dog,’ which wouldn’t work as an analogy, obviously, and so I corrected Harold every time he got his High Dome Quotations act wrong. After a while he learned to stop trying and he became much better company and I began to like him in a new way. Not quite romantically because he was neither dumb nor cruel enough to feel that way about him but there was the je ne sais quoi of that very good body under that goofy-handsome face. I don’t know. It’s like Harold’s head… don’t tell him I said this… is like the custodian of that body and you find yourself deviously showing interest in spending time with the head in order to get a crack at the body.”

I had to nod at this observation despite myself.

“To prove that he was modern and in touch with the fashions of people my age Harold took me to a show of the boogie-woogie singer Charlie Gracie last weekend, a performance in the gymnasium of a Negro vocational High School in Philadelphia, it was quite an adventure. Harold got me a little high on a very expensive bottle of wine and we drove all the way to Philly with the top down in the long and chilly twilight. The show itself was what you’d expect except we were among the few white dots seated on folding chairs in a little lake of Negro spectators, the sound was ear-splitting but Charlie could really sing, he wasn’t just a talentless pretty face and Harold was enjoying himself, enjoying how the Negro people around us were staring and seemed to enjoy us enjoying the Italian who was doing a thorough job of singing their music back to them, especially because Harold and I were properly snapping our fingers in syncopated time to the music instead of clapping to it as the white Bourgeoisie would do.  As I’ll bet you tend to do, Rodney.”

“You’re such a precociously filthy little class-traitor,” winked Rodney, after a bracing slug of his julep, but I could tell he wanted to say much more but couldn’t because Arlene (in an Oscar-winning performance as Lot’s Wife)  was still rather punishingly present.

The lighting of the supper club was mellow and silver-trimmed golden with candles (despite the fact that it couldn’t have been later than noon) and most of the diners round us, in pairs or solo at the white-clothed tables orbiting a grand piano it was far too early in the day for the piano to be manned, were drinking rather than dining, though some had ceremonial bowls of soup in front of them as well. The waiters were so discreet that it was easy to imagine that all transactions were wordless.

“There was no raised stage and I could barely see most of what was going on over the ruckus but when we were all milling around the gymnasium after the show Gracie walked straight through the crowd like he’d been planning to do it all day and grabbed my hand and tugged me along behind him out of the gymnasium and down a dark corridor lined with lockers just exactly like the lockers of any Caucasian High School. Harold was too afraid of being considered a square to protest or follow us.”

“Gracie took me into a classroom without saying a word, closed the door quietly behind us and began to work me rather methodically over.  I’ll never forget the smell of his pomade. I wasn’t a virgin so I understood I was being treated to a world-class version of the dinky local fumblings I was used to in the sex department. At the point he had yanked my panties and pulled them down over my mary-janes, the door of the classroom opened again and a shiny black handful of Negro boys entered the room and Gracie whispered, “mind if they watch?” and I answered by biting his nose, playfully, then biting his neck and practically roaring as he hiked my skinny little legs up around his waist and entered me standing with the largest, hardest, reddest penis I had until that moment ever known.”

“The whole thing took less than a minute, which is how I had come to expect lovemaking to be. How would I have known otherwise? While helping me look around between the desks for the French silk panties he’d tossed so cavalierly to the side before entering me, Gracie explained that the Negro boys had supplied him with reefer in exchange for a little backroom performance and I had been the star of the show. The boys had filed out of the room without a word as soon as Gracie came, shouting Hot damn!,  and eased me back down on my feet. He tucked himself in and asked my name and I said Persephone. It was one of the most exciting and frustrating things that had ever happened to me, but I was totally unaware of the fact, at that point in my life, that a female has the equipment to produce her own intimate ecstasies, too.  The little death isn’t only a male’s prerogative. I always quaintly assumed my button was a cute deformity, unique to me.  It was my perverse little thrill to reveal it to people, as though they’d never seen one before, half hoping they’d be repelled by it or filled with pity for me and I was always surprised that nobody who’d actually spent time down there bothered to comment on it. I’m talking about the me of approximately a week ago, for context, remember. I suppose that’s why I’m so chatty about it. If you’d met me in February I’d have seemed a very different person.  Which is perfectly queer. I hope I’m not boring you.”

“Impossible,” doted Rodney. D’Ora winked at me.

“Oh good. I think you accidentally took my drink,  by the way.  I’ll just take yours.  Rodney ordered the same drink for us, didn’t he?  Goody.  Oh do stop giggling, Rodney. You’re like a school boy. Where was I? So Harold was standing where I’d left him,  you see, chatting with two very tall Negro boys,  Joe Louis types,  he was playing it cool when I returned. Oh hello, he said, with a blasé air.”

“Harold wasn’t furious, he let me know,  on the drive back, after a worrying silence,  but he was hurt, he was stung by the injustice, as he put it, and I saw his point but I explained to him that intercourse was out of the question because, you see, if I found myself pregnant, I wanted to know, definitively,  whose it was. Harold conceded the point but pressed his moral advantage, and also the advantage of having, for the first time, superior knowledge on a topic between us. He said, with a voice like butter on a warm baguette being shoved in one’s face by Maurice Chevalier,  vaginal intercourse isn’t even in the top ten of the things I could do to you, D’Ora; I’m assuming you aren’t familiar with the works of Wilhelm Reich? They probably aren’t in translation yet.  Well, that intrigued me.”

I had to admit that D’Ora doing Harold as a lecherous Frenchman was mildly amusing. I played a private game with myself, a game my father had taught me,  while D’Ora droned on. I’d look at her and think, she thinks she’s so hot, she thinks she’s so smart, it’s easy to be beautiful when you’re fifteen, who isn’t beautiful when they’re only fifteen? Rodney is just her stage mother, that’s all, puffing her up, encouraging her pretensions, it’s nothing but a dime-a-dozen folie à deux. And then I’d visualize a light switch, and flick it in my mind, and see her from the opposite point of view: she really is everything I wanted to think I was at that age. She’s got a gamine grace wedded incongruously to Mansfield’s knockers and to top it all Van Doren’s IQ and if I’m hostile toward her, or if I affect to be bored with her performance, it’s simply that I’m threatened and envious like any old fishwife. Think of all the times you’ve studied Judy Garland’s face, wondering why she isn’t beautiful, wondering what it was about her face that was just enough off to miss the beauty bullseye and irritate your need to see beauty there, but this was the satisfying version of that face, the beauty strong and clear, the huge eyes and button nose and sensuous mouth, a superior Judy Garland or even perhaps let’s call it a fuckable Bambi. And I’d go back and forth that way, flicking the mental switch, lights off, lights on, in order to get to the bottom of the truth of the situation and my place in it. My father taught me this trick but he never named it. I’d forgotten about the trick when I outgrew my father’s influence, I guess, but it was a good trick. It had come back to me.

I remember very clearly refusing to consider Harold more attractive while listening to D’Ora’s story about him.  If this is the next generation, I am hoping to get a rocket to Mars before they can legally drive: SWITCH:  on the other hand, the obvious hatred twisting Arlene’s ordinary features can’t help but push me in the opposite direction.  To be with Arlene on the matter of D’Ora was to cast your lot with the biddies. But the story did sort of drone on and on.

By the time it got to the part about Harold’s detailed instruction in the French and Latin lingua of modern Sex Education, my mind was far away. The pathetic little cake Jillene had given me was on the table,  as I say, beside my Tom Collins, and it began to represent my body, or the sexual favors I handed out in my calculated approach to lovemaking, every intimate act a dull transaction with a social advantage, or tactical connection, in mind. Why couldn’t I be as free with my animal endowments as this girl, who seemed to treat screwing on a level with playing badminton, or eating chocolates?

I found myself making noises of consent when Rodney suggested, spontaneously, that we all “catch a matinee or something,” at which point Arlene put her foot down and followed through with the motion at the heart of that figurative gesture by stomping out of The Crow’s Nest while Rodney, playing it a little drunk, half-heartedly beseeched Arlene to reconsider. Rodney said “Aw, nuts to you,” when Arlene slammed the supper club’s big padded leather door and he made a “who cares?” gesture at her ghost and sobered up very quickly, with a satisfied or relieved look on his face,  as he squired us to his sky-blue Buick where it was parked among equally reliable-looking automobiles under the wise old arms of an oak bearing a plaque claiming it was three-quarters of the age of the country.  I recalled that my father always referred to automobiles as “flivvers” when he wanted to make me laugh.

“An hour ago our hero was on his way to a late breakfast with his grimly betrothed Arlene. Now he finds himself on the verge of a wondrous adventure with two unearthly sirens of sparkle and pep,” said Rodney,  with a radio voice, as he opened his automobile to us. “Ain’t life a caution?”

I was sprawled out on the back seat of the taciturn Buick, knees up, using the wrapped and crushed cake as my pillow, listening to a church choir carried across some godforsaken radio station’s wavering signal, while Rodney and D’Ora gossiped, when Rodney abruptly pulled into a filling station to filler-up. He excused himself and left the car with a salute,  for reasons unknown, as the attendant jammed the nozzle in the hungry gas-hole and went about squeegeeing the windshield. As soon as Rodney had closed the driver’s door behind himself, D’Ora looked down over the back of the passenger-side seat at me and said, out of the side of her mouth, like George Raft, “So I take it  The Magnificent Weintraub is one of your conquests?”

“Who?

“Harold.”

“Oh, ach, Harold. No. Although I came this close to being one of his. Moment of weakness. Won’t happen again.”

The attendant, with his quasi-military cap, and the quasi-classical insignia of the filling station’s Greek logo on his concave chest, was stretching his smudgy sleeve across the windshield and peering straight through the half-wet,  half-squeegee’d glass at the jutty prow of D’Ora’s Aphrodite bust as she twisted to chat with me. Over and over,  the gasoline corporal stood rooted to that spot and squirted the curved glass and scraped it to dry streaks with a deranged grimace before squirting again.

“Are things between you and Harold serious?” I still had my Queenly wits about me, of course,  so I sing-songed this query as a joke. We both tittered.

“Harold told me a secret that he said could get him killed if I didn’t keep it a secret.  Shall I tell it before Rodney comes back from jerking off in the filling station out-house?”

“Sure. What’s one male life between two girls?”

We tittered together again.

“Right after the European part of the big war, Adolf Hitler was relocated to Brooklyn.  It was a part of Brooklyn called Red Hook. I have no idea why Red Hook but that’s where they relocated him. Because, I guess, the reasoning was that Argentina was too obvious. They’d be looking for him there. He lived in a two-bedroom, cold water flat in Red Hook, Brooklyn from 1940 until 1942 and then somewhere else, maybe two or three other places in the South,  or out West, until they got him to South America in the 1950s. But for two years, Adolf Hitler lived in a lousy two-bedroom, cold water walk-up in Red Hook, Brooklyn. And all the neighbors called him Adolf Hitler, sometimes right to his face, you know, to break the ice jovially or what have you,  because Adolf Hitler looked so much like Adolf Hitler. Here comes Rodney. Please note the pronouncedly more relaxed demeanour. It’s an old Harvard trick.  They excuse themselves in the middle of a  date to…”

“So,” said Rodney, easing himself back into the driver’s seat after he’d shoo’d the attendant away with a dollar tip,  and smoothing back his hair and trying to get his hat back on in the car,  forgetting it was a top hat,  so placing it instead in his lap, “Where to, again?”

He did seem tired. In fact it seemed as though he might be relieved to hear me ask for a ride home and let that be the end of it. It was D’Ora he had designs on, after all. Maybe both of us. “There’s the most splendid little movie house in Chicopee,” I heard myself saying.

“I know it well, Catnip. A splendid place to catch a matinee. We’ll be there in a trice.”

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