STORY WITH CONTEXT (written in the Autumn of 2021)
No slavery, no rock ‘n roll.
How much Good has come from Bad?
HG Wells posited, allegorically, in his novel The Time Machine, that the future belongs to either Progress or Devolution. Wells did so without realizing (from his naive vantage) that Progress actually becomes Devolution when the technical ability of Humanity overtakes its Spiritual Evolution. And I don’t mean “spiritual” in terms of any fantastical metaphysical narrative; I mean “spiritual” in the sense of a capacity to love Life/ Earth/ and Humanity itself in an ongoing project of Understanding. A tribe of Cannibal Apes with laser weapons and gene-splicing technology is all you need to picture in order to get my meaning. Wells (and too many others) trumpeted a lopsided kind of progress that is now quite clearly killing us.
I can’t remember the name of the hypothesis (related to the Fermi Paradox) that the universe is bereft of “advanced civilizations” because of the logical inevitability that any civilization sufficiently advanced to be on the threshold of interstellar travel is also most likely to destroy itself. The tech, after it reaches a certain tipping point, inevitably evolves quicker than the species wielding it, since biological evolution cycles, painstakingly, on sequential units of generation-length (13-20 solar years?) whereas tech evolution is a parallel process with ever-shortening turn-around-times measured in months and weeks. Moore’s Law versus The Blind Watchmaker (to borrow from that idiot Dawkins). “We” (living things) never mature quickly enough to match the ramifying power of the tech. So imagine, all around the universe, dark and smoking husks where “advanced civilizations” nearly developed.
On Earth, at least, one of the problems may be inherent in the nature of the pyramidal structure of power: a pyramid is, in a way, a lens for focusing psychopathic traits at its very top. Every power pyramid inevitably features psychopaths at the top because psychopaths possess the ideal skill-set for reaching the top.
But what is the source, of all the psychopaths, in the first place?
Well, In-Groups, greedily hoarding power, tend to in-breed. Is Psychopathy a side-effect of In-Breeding in much the same way that haemophilia… and, say, the Hapsburg Jaw… was?
Stupidity is like having murkily-transparent eyelids and never bothering to open them entirely merely because you can easily get away without doing so. You may bump into things from time to time or miss all kinds of nuances but so what? You can find the kitchen or the toilet, watch Television and drive to work with your murkily-transparent eyelids closed and that’s what you intend to continue doing. The murky version of everything is cozier.
How often is Stupidity on purpose? How often is Stupidity the key to Belonging?
Stories that “make you cry” piss me off.
In order to make a reader (or audience member) cry, a writer has to manipulate them, which is not what’s being done when a writer makes a reader laugh or makes them think. The more brutal a culture gets, the more sentimentality creeps into the culture’s popular distractions. It’s funny how that works.
People want to cry but not about real things in their lives; not about current conditions; they want the psychological safety of crying about things happening to characters they don’t personally know or who (better yet) never existed. Dogs, children or young people, pretty women, heroic soldiers, grannies with cancer: writers know what to do, to which characters, to make tears happen. It isn’t art, it’s barely craft, it’s like getting a chuckle out of a knock-knock joke.
Don DeLillo and James Joyce and Harold Brodkey are three of the writers I enjoy reading most and not one sentence in all those writers’ words has evoked a single tear. Joyce’s Dubliners certainly has what many would consider set-pieces of some sentimentality, but it’s not tears that Joyce evokes (or wants, I’d argue) but reflection. All three writers have made me laugh, think, re-read and, as a consequence, attempt to do work of quality, the latter being how Artists reproduce (a meta-biological function that is, in many ways, nearly as sexy and sweaty a thing as biological intercourse itself).
This way that Art continues itself by impregnating the sensibilities of proto-Artists… call it Mimeogenesis… differs in several ways from the meat-based reproduction that serves to increase the numbers of a species in the Animal Kingdom, chief difference being that the number of parents involved in an act of Mimeogenesis is not bound by biological limits.
As an Artist I have many parents (from the aforementioned Brodkey (poor Harold: spellcheck wants to change him to Brodsky), DeLillo and Joyce to Amadeo Modigliani, Stanley Kubrick, Archie Schepp, Anne Sexton, Nina Simone, Ted Hughes, Kurt Vonnegut, Egon Schiele, et al) and these parents passed down a Creative Gene in me that blocks the impulse to indulge, without irony, in kitsch.
It’s kitsch that you need if you want a good cry about Tiny Tim, or poor Nancy (sorry, Chuck Dickens) or about Old Yeller or one-legged Gramps or The Fatherland. And speaking of Kubrick (mentioned above in the never-filed Artistic Paternity Suit this passage insinuates), who is often disparaged as “cold”: that’s why he’s disparaged as “cold”. Lots of bad things happen to lots of characters in Kubrick’s universe but none of it makes you want to cry.
It makes you want to think.
He wrote out a list: things I am grateful for.
The first item: “That flies don’t scream when I swat them.”
Then he had to think for a while.
To be addicted to anything is to grow an extra, parasitic mind that is made of the stuff to which you are addicted, causing certain subsequent thoughts and actions to make no sense in any sense other than in the context of that addiction.
Why did you eat that doughnut at 3am? Your Doughnut Brain told you to. Where is the Doughnut Brain immediately after one eats the doughnut? In remission.
When I was four or five years old I was standing in the backyard of my maternal grandparents’ house, watching my grandmother as she knelt in a flower bed. The property around this house was an intense and admirable micro-biome that my grandparents had worked for more than thirty years before I was conceived (far away, on the West Coast) and it produced enough fruit, vegetables, rhubarb, chicken eggs and peppery fryers, every year, to justify calling my grandparents self-sufficient. From two kinds of grapes, to tomatoes and sweet corn, and the peach, apple and cherry pies my grandmother baked from the fruit of the trees on their property, the food they produced, and the aromas thereof, is a substantial part of my childhood memories. The earliest smell of any resonance I can identify is the smell of the piles of leaves my grandfather burned every Autumn, his ritual sacrifice.
This particular memory I’m introducing is both sharp at its core and blurry around the edges because I’ve used this memory in my fiction, and autobiographical fiction has a tendency to degrade and hijack the original material. I think I see my grandmother bisected, diagonally, by the house’s shadow, in the early morning sun light, and I think I can see her breath or mine in little clouds, indicating it was probably Spring, but I can no longer remember if I’m remembering the original event or the way I first described it in a story. What I am sure of is that there were bees all around us and I was frightened of the bees and that my grandmother’s remark was either a response to a question of mine or an observation regarding my obvious fear, but it’s my grandmother’s remark I’m as certain of as I am that there were bees present when she made it:
“Bees were put on the Earth to punish the wicked.”
The instant I heard and “digested” this remark it made me angry, even at the age of five, because I understood that there was a Lie at the heart of it.
(Yet I also didn’t know that half the Lie, under the Lie, was a Lie of omission and it was my grandmother’s and not just the Christian God’s: that she had had an affair, in the 1930s and 1940s, with a Muslim from Bengal, who wasn’t her husband, my nominal grandfather, and that this affair had produced, among others, my mother, and, by extension, me: my grandmother was “wicked” so perhaps she feared the bees were after her).
(My cuckolded “grandfather”!)
I knew I had done nothing wicked enough to deserve a bee sting and if a bee were to sting me (a terrifying prospect that didn’t become real until the mid-’80s, the first time, and in quite a spectacular fashion: riding around Minneapolis’ Lake Calhoun on my vintage red 1965 Schwinn bike, in baggy shorts, as I did religiously that year, two Autumn-maddened bees flew up my shorts and stung my left thigh, triggering a comedically low-speed bike crash), the “punishment” would be unjust.
I wasn’t angry with my grandmother (who was the neutral channel of this information, after all) but I was angry at “God”. What concatenation of diverse genes (my background’s degree of diversity borders on being cartoonish: a poster child of Sweet Exogamy) hard-wired a sense of Truth in me so powerful that it overrode the culture’s saturation-programming of all that “God” nonsense? Considering it was c. 1964, the pro-“God” propaganda would have been at a saturation point but my Truth gene was impervious to that.
For that I have to be grateful in the abstract sense. Grateful not to “God” but to the luck of whatever sexual tosses of the dice had ended up creating me in this very particular configuration.
Over and over, I can’t help noticing, people are getting things so wrong, and so often, with such aplomb, it’s as though they’re getting paid to do it. It’s as though everyone is getting paid phenomenally well to get things incredibly wrong… all the time. Everywhere one turns, one sees the wrong answers gamely applied to the wrong questions; the wrong commentary on the wrong discourse; the wrong motives ascribed to the wrong actions; the wrong spelling, the wrong definitions, the wrong grammar, the wrong words.
The Mimeogenesis of Error.
Culture: the scented emollient on the gears of the Imperial bloodletting juggernaut, he thought.
After that snafu with the bees, more and more of the benignly-inaccurate nonsense I’d been fed, as a child new to language, fell away as I applied precocious knowledge and/or scant experience to the problem of analyzing it.
Santa, Jesus-as-Big-Brother and the Easter Bunny all fell under the purifying beam of my method; Santa I calculated as impossible, not least because we had no chimney, despite receiving presents every year, and the time required for squeezing down and back up one (how big was Santa supposed to be, again?) indicated that a couple of dozen kids would get presents every Christmas Eve at most. The Easter Bunny was merely silly and weird: why a bunny? What do bunnies have to do with eggs or chocolate…? Jesus-as-Big-Brother… all-seeing, all-judging… seemed, again, physically unlikely: how many kids could he possibly keep tabs on at once? And how were this Jesus and the clearly-fictional Santa connected, since both were using magical means toward the same end of separating the naughty and nice?
Relying on Logic while low on Experience, of course, only gets the Truth-seeker so far: the single most preposterous statement I have ever made in public got a justifiably uproarious response in the year 1970, sixth grade, during Sex Ed, when the teacher asked, “Do girls have penises?” and I said “Yes!” I thought “penis” was a generic term for the organ through which we humans urinate.
Coming from the one pupil who was always right about atoms and planets and sound waves and electricity, the perfect ignorance of my statement must have been hilarious indeed (and extremely reassuring to the pupils who couldn’t tell a neutron from a photon, while being sexually active already; the girls, largely).
What had happened in that case is obvious, in retrospect: my mother, who scrubbed our ghetto apartment all day, every day, felt disgust for the ghetto and (subliminally humiliated) contempt for its inhabitants and was terrified of the prospect of me getting involved with the biological realities of a girl from the area. I was living in a tightly-controlled Sexual Information Blackout I only detected by butting up against the Truth in a public setting. I didn’t lose any credibility as “The Brain” of the class (of the entire school, in fact; all my national standardized test results since I had turned ten were college-level); my Stupidity re: Sex actually confirmed this status.
By the time I left Chicago, for Las Vegas, with my father and his third (much-younger) wife, I was certifiably lethal in any debate on the handful of topics I was reasonably conversant with. I beat him, in debates at the dinner table, more than once, in front of his young wife. Soundly.
I was eventually asked to leave.
My father moved to Vegas for the climate (he suffered from Emphysema) and because, I suspect, he was frightened, as a radical, of the Chicago scene. My father’s associate, Fred Hampton, had been summarily executed by Richard Daley’s cops, who acted with absolute impunity. But my father had fallen afoul of the Black Panthers, as well; in fact he had to take a local chapter of the Panthers to court over a copyright issue.
My father was a phenotypically-ambiguous man (with straight reddish hair, sun-burnably light brown skin and far from West African facial features) who found himself with very few genuine political allies in the milieu of the Pan African Militants of the 1970s. To overcompensate for the social precariousness his appearance stuck him with, my father wore the gear (Jesus sandals, Dashiki, wood-carved mojo around his neck) and spouted the slogans and indulged in the gestures, some of which I found abhorrent.
I’m reminded of the time, right before we left Chicago, that my father, driving his ’68 Mercury Cougar, his revolutionary moll (slender, big titted and large of Afro but slightly Exopthalmic; deficient, perhaps, in dietary iodine) beside him, cruised along creepily to shadow and intimidate a couple walking on the sidewalk. The couple walking along, holding hands, blatantly violating a taboo held by the Militants and Klan alike, was interracial. I remember seething. It was bad enough that my father was committing this weak and bad act but he was forcing me, by dint of my presence, to participate. Not to mention his genetic hypocrisy as the least “black” person in the car that awful afternoon.
What’s now interesting to me is how that experience in my father’s car paralleled an experience I had almost exactly 20 years later, in 1991, around the time of the First Gulf War. I had gotten a job with a road crew in East Berlin and had to ride up front, in a vintage diesel, to the work site, every morning, with these tattooed and mulleted East Berliners. And one morning on the road the diesel started following a pretty girl, in cut-off denim shorts, the milk-white quarter moons of her ass, on a bicycle. The diesel stalked her slowly for kilometers, right behind her, with me jammed in my spot in the right corner of the bubble of the windshield. She kept scowling over her left shoulder at the ignoramuses in the truck as it followed her (honking) and I was the closest to her as I seethed, on display, in the bubble of the windshield, wanting to be anywhere else.
I agreed with some of my father’s sociopolitical stances and disagreed vehemently with others and as I grew through adolescence and lived with him and his wife in Vegas, for just two and a half years, we argued often. Many of the arguments were too subjective to “win” and I didn’t have the knowledge/ experience to dig into his misbegotten postulates, at the time, to dismantle his self-propagandizing spiel with satisfying elegance.
What bugged me most was the convenience (to him) of his Beliefs; it wasn’t as though he had struggled to arrive at a collection of individual Truths he then had to arrange in a coherent system of thought through honest intellectual effort, as I had: he had been given his “system” or POV intact, from others, delivered by charismatic mouthpieces and identified by him as a means to an end. The end, primarily, was social: belonging. Some (or most) people see Belonging as a default Good, irrespective of the sacrifices (of Truth and Reason) that belonging is made to require.
My father’s father had been a wealthy undertaker servicing (as determined by legal segregation) a wholly Black clientele whose community he belonged to as a member of an “elite”. He got rich off the Flu Pandemic of 1918. I exist as a result of the Flu Pandemic of 1918.
My father’s mother was roughly twenty when his father (50 at the time) married and impregnated her; she was at least 75% “white” (could easily “pass” for such) and my father was raised, in the vicinity of The Hood, in a four-story building that bore the family name, in stone, above its portico, as a privileged little mulatto in a sailor suit. He took up smoking at the age of 13, in order to seem “tough,” and somehow “blacker,” and the smoking killed him at the age of 56, his life having been bent into a very specific trajectory by his inability to both face and integrate (no pun intended) the Truth.
When I was ten or eleven, as we all still lived in Chicago, my father forced me to take weekly Arabic lessons until, three or four lessons into it, I rebelled in his ’68 Mercury Cougar at the end of the Nth lesson and ran up the stairs to my grandmother’s house, crying.
Most people will fail a test because they have no idea they’re taking one at the time they’re taking it.
We will never know how many tests we’ve failed this way.
Thinking this keeps me rooted in the Here and Now.
Is this a test? I often wonder.
It is unusually chilly. It’s been an unusually chilly Autumn.
Great walking weather.
I hurt my right knee and recovered. Then I hurt my left foot and recovered.
Perhaps these were tests.
My Wife and I like long walks. I have been rewarded, by Life, with a beautiful Wife who likes long walks. I had great sex in my youth and I have better sex now. I don’t look back with longing: I look forward to next week. I haven’t done anything, in particular, to deserve this generous reward. I don’t think I deserved most of the horripilating punishments I’ve been dealt, either. I doubt that many of us do.
Life is 3% skill, no?
Monday I finally replaced the burnt bulb in Wife’s little bathroom.
My phone is ringing. Number unknown.
It’s a little bathroom with a high ceiling and no convenient space in which to set up the large-ish ladder we use for everything else in our high-ceilinged flat. My Wife has been using a flashlight in that bathroom and otherwise using the larger bathroom, with its perfectly functional lighting, meant for Daughter and me.
We’ve got the big bathroom with a bathtub and Wife has the little bathroom with a shower but for who-knows-how-long the bulb in her bathroom was black and dead, so I finally replaced this black-and-dead bulb, with some difficulty, wedging the big ladder in the narrow room at a precarious angle and balancing precariously on it, and the next day (after enough of an interval that the two things could well be construed as unrelated) My Wife smiled and knelt on the floor beside the synthesizer in my office and steadied my bobbing penis in her mouth. She looked great doing it. She’s never in a hurry and often after I ejaculate she puts me, still hard, right back into her mouth again. I stroke her hair and kiss her perfect hand.
I call that an Animal Bargain.
Life: 3-5% or 5-10% skill.
The phone is ringing and the display identifies the number as unlisted.
Who’s this calling?
I answer the phone to discover that It’s a guy who knows that I won’t answer the phone if I know who’s calling.
He is by far the dumbest person I’ve ever known. We pretend to be old friends during the call, the point of which being, essentially, for him to inform me as to how well he’s doing. He thinks I’ll think he’s doing well. He thinks I’ll think, And to think, I wouldn’t take his calls: and now he’s a success! I should have been nicer to him!
Born a “Robert” he changed his named (not officially or anything) to “Roberto” and is enraged when anyone calls him “Bob”.
I told you my name is not no damn Bob!
America has done such a number on Blacks, hasn’t it?
Everything designed to keep Blacks ignorant and segregated is sold as a function of noble authenticity. Generations of all sides of my family, not “Black” enough to be “authentic,” in any case, escaped. I escaped. The chains on “Roberto” will always clank and rattle very loudly. His double-negatives are the least of his problems. He’s extremely fit but couldn’t maintain a career as a personal trainer because of the incredibly inane dietary theories he advocated while putting leotarded Germans through their paces; he should always keep his mouth shut. Dumb fucks good is a German saying. It is not career advice.
If “Roberto” had busied himself with books, as a teen, instead of cultivating his macho swagger, he’d have been ostracized. There are dark astronomical artifacts in the whites of his eyes from the various punches to the head he’s taken, over the decades. You shoulda seen the other guy, he’ll joke. He’s good-looking but slow: you can see his thoughts forming and crossing his face “slyly” when he’s hoping to dupe or impress you.
The last time “Roberto” used an unlisted number to trick me into answering the phone, he told me he was marrying a rich girl twenty-five years his junior. I hadn’t seen him in ten years, at that point, and I had been dodging his phone calls for the last five of those ten. That was four years ago.
I remember that as we spoke I had wandered out of my office into our kitchen in time to turn and catch Daughter attempting to sneak out the front door. I remember I pantomimed where are you going? and she pantomimed back, with silent over-enunciation and a finger gesture, gracefully executed as genuine sign language would have been, that she was on her way out for a walk with her little friend Lilly. I pointed at the watch-spot on my right wrist (phone pinched between my right shoulder and my jaw as Roberto blabbed away) and she held up all the fingers on her right hand and I thumbs-upped her and she waved and eased the front door open and left. She was eleven years old and my Wife and I felt safe in her apparent budding Lesbianism. Now, at 15, she has a long-distance (out of country) boyfriend: even better. I love overhearing Daughter laughing hysterically when they’re chatting.
Looks like I’m going to be a married man like you, said Roberto.
“Roberto” the Christian.
I was surprised, four years ago, that he admitted that his fiancée wasn’t attractive: how would I ever have known?
He told me about his future father-in-law’s properties. When the phone call was finished, I chuckled to myself for quite some time. What an idiot! Who brags about his future father-in-law’s properties?
How did “Roberto” come to Berlin, years before even I did?
“Roberto” was in the equal opportunity employment of the US Army.
Why did my father want me to take Arabic lessons?
So here “Roberto” was buttonholing me again, having used the unlisted number trick again, four years later: My little girl is four now. Her mom and me, we don’t get along so hot.
I glanced at the watch-spot on my right wrist as he babbled. There’s always a scintilla of menace in “Roberto’s” voice. As though it’s frustrating that he can’t really seem to get me to admire or envy him and it makes him want to kick my ass, the one thing he could very probably do. My joints are fine, though, and his, after decades of gym and macho sports, torment him. I was always afraid, as a teen, living in Chicago, after I’d been kicked out of Vegas, and before I’d moved to Philly; that summer in 1975 that I lived in Chicago; that someone like “Roberto,” a 20-year-old “Roberto,” would kill me.
“Roberto” told me he’s been in Berlin for a week. Today’s his last day… so….?
Oh, too bad, Roberto, I say: you should have given me more notice… next time, eh?
Then Beloved Wife and I are shopping.
My Wife performs baroque music professionally and we often discuss Purcell. We’ll chat about Purcell, Daughter, Fascist politics, The Mighty Boosh, etc, in the aisles of the shops.
Guess who called? I say.
I have always come alive during Autumn after the oppressive heats and stinks and unfortunate sunburned flesh on display plus idiotic car-window-music of summer.
I can remember snapping out of a particularly dense fug one year when I was probably nineteen or twenty, walking through a blue collar neighborhood, one morning, in the vicinity of the campus of the University of Minnesota. I guess I was twenty so it must have been 1979. Hit by a refreshing blast of noticeably cooler wind, the clouds very high and wispy, the sun shining from a reserved and myth-like distance. Also the hint of the very possibly imagined scent of burning leaves.
I felt so refreshed, so reborn, ready to do anything, ready to say anything to anyone, up for being Ulysses, I wanted to see other places, fuck beautiful girls with luscious accents and write. The university students were diverse enough to put diverse places in my mind as I crossed the campus on the first day (emotionally speaking) of Autumn in 1979. I can imagine there’s an evolutionary circuit connecting wanderlust and the libido. The call of fresh gene pools.
It’s been so chilly this year that Autumn arrived without much fanfare or relief.
So who called? asks Wife. A—–?
“Roberto” from Detroit, which I call Destroit.
What they call “genius,” in the Arts and Sciences, refers, in fact, to those with talent given time to develop their interests and polish the results of their experiments with little or no distraction. “Genius” = Talent X Time. Whether the Time is granted generously or stolen with monomaniacal selfishness of purpose, Time is the missing ingredient that dooms most Talents to wither on the vine and die at the desk job or loading dock. That’s why so few “geniuses” hail from the “lower classes”. This is all so obvious yet remains, somehow, obscure. Not for polite discussion. Certainly not fit for genteel modern Race Talk.
Jewish geniuses wherever you looked, when I was born, when I was young, when I had become a reader but you only found the Black ones among the heroin addicts, right?
Profiting from War is Bad and should be illegal. Any act of War should be funded entirely by a substantial War Tax to be paid into a pool, every year, by the so-called One Percent (who are, in fact, closer to being the .00001 %). The cost of mobilization, creating new armaments, feeding/ housing/ funding the troops and transporting these troops (along with the cost of medical aid for troops and civilians and any restitution that future tribunals mandate) would be paid out of this fund. Every year that no War is declared, a fair percentage (fair enough to be an incentive) of the War Tax paid by every member of the “One Percent,” during the previous year, would be reimbursed. In parallel to said tax: by monitoring financial markets and global banking records, and so forth, any possible profit, accruing to anyone, from any possible War being waged on any part of the globe, should be paid directly into such a fund as a non-reimbursable penalty. (Interest earned on the lump sum of the War Tax Pool would be used to fund Education, Healthcare and other Social Programs for the 99.999 %). Such taxes would, without a shadow of a doubt, turn War into a rare occurrence. Utterly logical and perfectly do-able and thoroughly impossible in our current system, under our current rulers.
Pedantry is a canoe passing the great ship of Erudition on a moonless light.
Crossing the street after doing some shopping with Wife I saw the mother of A—-, an Ex, crossing the same street, fifty meters further up the street , and I waved but she didn’t see me. She doesn’t see you, said Wife, and I waved again and she still didn’t see. I could see the afternoon sun on the little pools of her glasses and her still-largely-shiny black hair. What a strange coincidence that I said, just a few minutes before, Guess who called? And Wife said “A—-?” and now here was A—-‘s mother.
She was a great beauty, back in Iran in the 1970s, A—-‘s mother.
I’ve seen the pictures and she was exquisite. She’s still quite handsome. Maybe ten years older than me. A little like a Terra Cotta Sophia Loren. If I’d met her when I was a college freshman I’d have been beyond smitten and probably obsessed and ended up as my future-Ex’s ex-stepdad instead of her Ex. As it happens I met A—-‘s mother in the early ’90s, when I was thirty-two or thirty-three.
My future Beloved Wife was wandering around the same neighborhoods that year, even younger than Terra Cotta Sophia Loren’s daughter. I started seeing this girl around the time of the First Gulf War. I didn’t meet my Beloved Wife until the Second Gulf War. I didn’t notice this war-symmetry until now. Our age difference: perfect. Men and Women age at different rates, despite whatever it’s “appropriate” to say these days: Women mature far more quickly.
Couples of the same age, who marry young, are almost inevitably doomed to fail as the husband goes through his peak adolescence (c. 35-40). I’m almost 20 years older than Beloved Wife and we are both quite comfortably “settling down” at the same time. We still fuck, we like long walks, but neither feels particularly compelled to hit a nightclub.
I first saw A—- in a nightclub as I was hanging out in the DJ booth there. She was dressed in a pinstriped business suit and I took her for mid-20s. I think I even recall she was puffing languorously (naughtily) on a cigarette. She kept staring and smiling from a table full of friends directly under the window of the booth. With her striking black hair, cat eyes, brick-red lips, fetching bosom and conservative dress. I was hooked. I got her number and phoned her the next week.
We met in broad daylight in front of the landmark of the dormant night club’s padded door and she was dressed very differently, without make-up, without heels and I was shocked. We sat in a cafe in a then-new shopping mall on the Ku’Damm (Berlin’s Oxford Street or State Street), not far from the nightclub. It was an awkward hour. “How old are you?” I asked. She was 17. I paid for her milkshake and shook her hand, thanked her for the chat and didn’t call her again. The bewitching woman in the pinstriped business suit had vanished.
She called me from time to time and we chatted about books but I never called her. I had lots of chatting partners in those days: people would call and blab away; I give very good chat; I’m a sincere listener and tend to collect narratives. A—- would call and we’d chat and she’d invite me to go dancing and I always said no. No. When she was 18 (her birthday is in July, like my father’s) she called and asked me for a walk on the first temperate and beautiful and sunny fall day of the year. I said Yes. Yes. The 1990s were a cloudy period in Berlin, so sunny days were greedily-coveted jewels; even if you’d been clubbing until ten in the morning, you’d rush outside to get the sun, that very afternoon, if the gushing sun was on offer.
I remember quite vividly walking with her in the neighborhood of my favorite Falafel shop, across a broad plaza from a very old church, the trees all bald or rusting, a falafel shop which she informed me, with a twinkle, was staffed with Mujahedeen. She was wearing a suit again; in her heels. Pearls. I was walking beside her with my dripping sandwich, hunched over my sauced-up hand, and she announced, out of the blue, “If I asked you to sleep with me, you would.”
“No I wouldn’t,” I laughed.
Oh Yes you would she asserted. I smirked at her arrogance.
At the time I was having an affair with my Amazonian Valkyrie first wife and also with a science journalist who now writes for Stern and Der Spiegel. And there was a literary romance with a brown-haired Bridget Bardot look-a-like whom I was very studiously avoiding the fucking of (fear of STDs; fear also of her high-strung but fetchingly literate mind). I was already over-booked.
That Christmas I cooked dinner for A—- in my sublet flat on Kant Strasse and stuck my head under her short black dress, with its white polka dots, while she balanced a hot plate of chicken and rice on one knee. I slurped her vulva. Very large snowflakes were falling by the living room window and I could hear them hitting the sill like bits of cloth. The impromptu tent of her polka-dotted dress was a tabernacle. The muted lighting in there was crèche-like.
She whispered her nickname for me, the Persian word for Rabbit (phonetic spelling KRA-goosh), in my ear as I fucked her, every time I fucked her, which was, suddenly, quite often. Her nipples, vulva, straightened elbows, straightened knees and star-shaped fundament were black as her hair. We fucked most often in her baronial flat, in her Dakota-like building, owned by her imperious Aunt, with her two black (brother and sister) Siamese cats monitoring the biological gossip. The cats were a poetic demon visitation: if A— cranked the handle on a music box of ancient melodies, wherever the cats were at the time, they’d gallop into the middle of the living room and hump, in a frenzy, right there. She went down on a supine me, once, my interlocked hands cradling the back of my then-hairy head, every mammal in the room black-haired, as the cats nodded sympathetically, perfectly synchronized with A—-‘s head. I came laughing but it sounded like very loud sobs.
She took the time to read all of my short stories. She didn’t believe me when I told her I’d made all of them up.
One night about two years into the affair A—- told me she was sure she was pregnant. She wasn’t. So that was the night we got pregnant (using “pregnancy” as birth control). She deliberately got pregnant, I later realized, in order to experience a pregnancy; a “family”; with me: to bind us forever with a human sacrifice.
We lived out this “family” for about a week. I fantasized the black-haired baby. Why couldn’t we raise her?
A—- wanted to be a doctor; she had a career to consider. She would have to disappear into medical school as thoroughly as though she’d never existed. I was the vacation she took in advance of all that. A—- organized the abortion, without trepidation, despite my sheepish suggestions that we actually keep it, raise it, so I accompanied her and paid for the procedure at the desk, in cash, on a very early Thursday morning, under chilling fluorescents. It was Autumn shading to Winter, I was the only male in the crowded waiting room.
I read a Vogue during the procedure. The nurse came out into the waiting room and called my name twice while I read Vogue’s horoscope in German. I had A—-‘s purse in my lap but laid it on the chair as I left the room in a misguided gesture of good will. It’s all coming back to me as I write this.
I followed this nurse down a long corridor to a high-ceilinged room, rather gloomy, uneven with muted light, divided into perhaps a half a dozen provisional stalls of hospital gurneys each surrounded by three movable walls of cloth. Here, pointed the nurse, but it was the wrong stall. A tall blonde, Uni-age, wearing a ski sweater, everything below the sweater naked, flax-colored pussy exposed, was drooling unconscious upon a time-yellowed pillow. I turned and found A—- across the aisle. She was still half-under; winter sweater on top, legs and genitals exposed. One eye popped open comically when I took her hand and whispered. We said I love you into each other’s open mouths and kissed very sexually. I don’t think she knew where she was. Or maybe I was the disoriented one. Why did it feel like a beginning?
Do you ever have an orgasm when I lick you? I once asked.
What do you think? she asked.
I lost my virginity when I was 18, in 1977, to a woman of 18 or 19 who later became an academic at a respected University; her father (a very nice man) was Jewish and she converted to that faith years later. 42 years after taking my virginity this woman published a book about racist notions of the Medieval (or somesuch) and she wrote this on the book’s acknowledgments page:
“The product of a Christian- Jewish marriage, I grew up in a predominately African American neighborhood of Philadelphia at an experiential intersection of blacks and Jews, adjacent to but outside of either identity. While each group seemed obviously distinct from the other, there was nevertheless for me an inexplicable space of overlap between the two. This imagined coincidence emerged not simply from the ways in which I noticed blacks and Jews relating to and sometimes identifying with each other, but also the ways in which they were perceived by white Christian US culture. Years later, after I converted to Judaism, I began to explore in my scholarly work representations of Jews and Jewish law in early modernity. I was surprised to find moments of overlap between blacks and Jews in this period as well. Influenced by the formative scholarship of Kim Hall and James Shapiro, I started investigating how early modern formulations of race that shaped views of Africans might also be considered in relation to Jews. Since discourses about black people in this period included Muslims and Africans, as well as, occasionally, Jews, it appeared that both somatic and religious conceptions produced race. This realization raised rather than resolved questions: how, exactly, did religion relate to race; what role did color play in religious identity; and what were the filiations that seemed to connect Jews to Muslims and to Africans in early modern discourses?”
There’s something irritatingly disingenuous in this passage, for me. It’s not as though, when she writes “the ways in which I noticed blacks and Jews relating” I expect her to mention the size and color of my cock, or how much she liked to have it in her mouth (or how disappointing my first inexperienced attempt at fucking her was); it’s how she places herself as an incidental observer, curiosity dispassionately piqued, at a cleanly scientific distance from the observed (and lurid) milieu. When she took my virginity, her Ex was Black, and it was to this Ex she returned (however briefly) when I proved to be a disappointing (insufficiently Black?) lay. The “inexplicable space of overlap,” in her case, was genital, no?
To swerve around mentioning the fact that this fascinating interracial milieu she describes is one in which she actually participated, on an intimate level, might also be construed, ironically, if indirectly, as racist, in a Medieval way.
I waved a third time and the Terra Cotta Sophia Loren saw me and waved back and she, Wife and I converged on the corner a few blocks up the street from the stores in which Wife and I had been shopping.
Usually when we meet she gets a bear hug (the top of her head under my chin) and I will lower my face and kiss her cheek in the embrace. A discreet little hint of the sexual, despite the fact that she is now in her 70s. She always loved me. This time as we approach the corner to talk I stop myself short before bear-hugging her because I can guess the question she’ll ask as we’re hugging and I know what my answer will be to her question and her reaction to that could be awkward.
I get it: they’re middle class immigrants. They fled when the Shah was deposed, mother and her kindergarten-aged daughter. They want to belong, they want to do what’s “right”. I just pray the injections don’t kill them.
Though Death, I know, is the easiest kind of belonging.