Wednesday, January 6, 2010
"… My day began with a sign from above this morning when an iguanita lost its grip on the ceiling and dropped on my face in the dark while I was sleeping. This has happened once before.
I was startled awake by the tiny boned feet that skittered like cold ghost kisses across my eyelids and vanished into the sheet next to my slumbering wife. I thought I saw for an instant the fading form of a person in the door, seen sideways just as it vanished. I had awakened with a terrible feeling of sadness and longing to be a boy again. I never remember my dreams or their enigmas at all. But when I wake up this way I know that I have been making love in my dream to Doña Soledad Maria del Torribio y Ibañez, my great lost teacher…"
Opening paragraph of "El Pimientero" a work in progress.
So anyway, that’s how it starts this week. I keep changing it. That’s the story I’m working on right now. I first wrote this story a little over three years ago when I was starting out, not that four years later I’m not still starting out. I’ve gotten a little better, but that’s all. It’s just that it took me this long to understand what that story is really all about. Its sounds dumb, but that’s how I work. "El Pimientero" (Spanish for "the pepper mill". You’d have to read it to make sense.) is a long elaborate love song for my lost teacher DeEtta. I’ve written about her here before. She was the woman who single handedly initiated me into the life of the mind, of books, of complex ideas. I knew her for only a couple of years and we were separated by our different destinies beyond reconciliation. That young man and older woman have since perished and been reincarnated as myself and a certain grandmother now living on the west coast, who are only strangers with common memories and a kind of shared karma from that previous life.
Unlike Chacho and Doña Soledad, we never touched each other. Never saw each other in the nude or sexually aroused. A motherly kiss or a hug when meeting each other at the greyhound station was about it. It is one of the regrets of my life that I never made a run at her when I had a chance. I did secretly desire her. I confess it freely, now that it doesn’t matter anymore. If she had given me the invitation at any time I would have followed her instantly to her lumpy bed trembling like a kitten. I was her hound dog. I don’t know how my short story will turn out except that Chacho will be luckier than I was on this one point. I insist on that. And less lucky also.
She was not a beauty in the usual sense. That was not the source of her great hold over me. In that time when I had the privilege to inhabit the same time and space as my great teacher, she was more than ten years older than me, a single mother coming off of a bad divorce. I think, as is often the case with divorced women, her self esteem was down and she had let herself go. She was chunky, almost fat, but with startling and magnificent breasts. I had not seen those breasts outside my fevered imagination but I was well acquainted with something which had, and that was her brassiere.
I had borrowed it from her during a period when I had taken up the hobby of macramé and decided I would begin by macraméing her a bikini. I swear I am not making this up. The bra of this older woman, capable of accommodating a pair of large seedless Texas pink grapefruits with room left over for cookies (yes, I did) hung over my bedpost while I was still living with my mother and brother. I took it down in the evenings and used it as the pattern for my endless knot tying. I can’t imagine what they must have been thinking of us and I have never asked. Like Penelope in "The Odyssey" (Ahh! DeEtta! My Athena! If only you could see the most excellent autodidact your callow young man has become . . . ) I would knot it and sometimes unknot it all and begin again just for the excuse to keep it with me a bit longer to snuggle with in private moments, inhaling the smell of her most secret skin.
At the time I knew her DeEtta wasn't much to look at in her dowdy brown Shoney’s ("Home of the Big Boy!") waitress uniform, with her apron and order pad and sensible shoes, barking orders into the kitchen and carrying plates and menus. But how I desired her. How I loved to watch her as she worked. As I cleaned the tables I loved to glance over and watch her face as she laughed and chatted with the customers, imagining that face hovering close to me on a pillow in the dark. She had something unique and past physical beauty – she had a sensuous mind.
I had never met a woman with a sensuous mind before. Though I can’t testify to it myself, I know DeEtta was a natural born fucker, the kind of woman men dream about and rarely find. A woman who loved riotous sex the way a man does. A Goddess. A sensuous body without innate sensuality is a tease, a fraud. I think many men of privilege acquire such a woman as a trophy wife when they have made their fortune, only to find themselves inhabiting a dull bed. There is no physical substitute for the sensuous mind and the sensuous imagination. DeEtta and I had these conversations, titillating and wonderfully intimate for a young man of eighteen who didn’t know anything about women, where she would explain in some detail what she liked in a man. Over tea in the kitchen, she detailed what she liked to do to a man in bed. What she liked to have done to her. She loved my shocked face. She adored my innocence, and laid seige to my ignorance. It was, now that I think of it at this moment, my first exposure to erotic story telling. She told me about lovers she had known, her first experience with sex, consoled me over my disastrous first time. She loved big ideas. She loved good stories. She loved writing stories, which she showed to me. She loved rough common people. She hated snobs of any kind. She hated critics. She hated elites. She loved beautiful words. She loved conversation. She loved bawdiness. She loved Italians. She loved masturbation. She loved spirituality. She introduced me to philosophy, to mysticism, to poetry. She loved books about passionate ideas. She loved spicy food. She loved cold beer on a hot day.
When we sat together at the bus stop she enjoyed watching the men as they passed, assessing them as lovers, making up stories about them, which I never knew until then that women do. There are women who love the exchange of ideas. There are women who love the exchange of bodily fluids. There are women who hate stiff minds and love stiff dicks. There are women who wallow equally in the physical caress of a well crafted piece of cheese cake or the pleasure of a well crafted poem. But when you find them all in one woman – that woman is a Goddess. Though I spent my entire young adult life as a lonely celibate searching for God and failed, I may yet say I have at least walked and conversed on equal terms with goddesses. That is a gift.
I read once, I think it was in Plutarch’s "Lives of the Noble Romans" from which Shakespeare took the material for his play "Anthony and Cleopatra", that the real Cleopatra was no beauty at all. She had a rather plain grecian face, nothing you'd want to look at twice. But what she did have was a natural courtesan’s skill for compelling conversation, for the tease, the artful rejection, the intelligence that attracted the attention of intelligent and powerful men. The historical Cleopatra reputedly spoke, read and wrote six languages fluently, was well educated and well read and had a cruel tactician’s instinct for politics. When she met Marc Anthony it was the collision not of bodies but of sensuous minds. Think this through with me. It isn't sex. A powerful and wealthy Roman like Marc Anthony, hell - he can buy better pussy than Cleopatra. Literally buy it like a side of beef, in a market place of Rome where hapless human beings were imported and sold like cattle from all over the Roman Empire and beyond. Anthony could easily relieve his desire by commanding and mounting a household slave of any given age or gender in any act he pleased as often as nature and convenience allowed. It would be as ordinary as riding a horse. Beauty alone doesn’t carry any weight with men like this.
In Plutarch and in Shakespeare, Anthony and Cleopatra ultimately destroyed each other through the raw intensity of their passion. It was a very different love from Romeo and Juliet. The latter was about virginal, other-worldly love, kid’s love, but romaticized in a way most of us never get to experience. Anthony and Cleopatra was an adult love between people of experience, carnal, violently consuming, mutually destructive, and yet when Anthony is dying, betrayed and broken he still sends her his kisses. He has no regrets. And when Cleopatra dies it is willingly and with a kind of eagerness, free from despair. Her only thought is to be with Anthony again at any price.
Some people, well, we’re just never meant to be together for very long, and that’s just how it is. You get to have the Goddess all for yourself for a little while and later you cherish the time you had. Some people are meant to be together forever peacefully like mandarin ducks. And then there’s the really damnned ones who have no business ever being together even on the same planet, like matter and anti-matter; who alternately nourish and poison each other, giving each other wings and then clipping them, horribly cursed and yet deeply enviable, heaven and hell colliding furiously together forever. Because if you're that kind of person when you meet that other you have no choice either way anymore than you have a choice of breathing; burning each other out and being reborn in each other again, rising and falling in an infinite Phoenix cycle from the ashes of lust and love.
Those are the great love stories that give love a bad name. Those are the people you will write stories about someday if and when you're ever good enough to know how.