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Mar. 29th, 2009

Chapter Two (part three) - Goodbye Thomas Farewell

III.


Back at our apartment, I still could not rouse myself to join in.  Instead I curled into an angry ball on the couch and pathetically wished that Sellars would comfort me. The six men in our kitchen had no idea what to make of me, nor I of them.  I recoiled further into a state of paralysis, inventing ways of humiliating them.

Listening to Thomas stumble badly through the banter was excruciating.  They laughed like idiots at his dull wit.

(Christian had left. Frequently in tears over a recent break-up he had decided to run off for yet another attempt at a reconciliation that would never come to pass.) 

Thomas later said I had made an asshole of myself for not being friendly. 

Sellars treats me as if I don't even exist.  What the fuck does it matter? I said, resenting Thomas' fatherly tone.

We should break up, Thomas said.  This isn't working anymore.

I thought anymore was ridiculous. 

There was a very long silence and not at all as awkward as I had imagined it would be.   After enduring six years of Thomas' frequent and violent temper tantrums, his howling terrors, his explosions of boozy rage, it simply stopped with a few well-put words at the end of a wasted Sunday afternoon.

You are right, I saidsurprised by the sound of my voice.

Thomas didn't have much to take with him other than his precious maps and a crooked futon frame in need of a new bolt.  He handed me his keys and we hugged.  His small body felt too delicate against my chest as I gave him a squeeze, as if I his bones might collapse.

He found a room for rent and lived with a 45 year old man who had recovered from four bouts of pneumonia, could no longer work but was convinced he would live at least 5 more years.  Because the dying man was almost always on the phone with his doctors and the insurance companies, Thomas was only allowed to use the telephone in the evenings after 8:00 and on weekends.

I thought it might be good for Thomas to live with someone with whom he could discuss treatment options but then I remembered that he wasn't much for talking.  I imagined the two of them as accidental room-mates eroded by the same disease, nearly unable to comprehend one another.

The following two weeks were spent alone in my apartment watching tapes of Twin Peaks, Sunset Boulevard and re-runs of Cheers, grieving for David Lynch's artistic low points, the death of Gloria Swanson and my chronic lack of regular guy friends to have beers with.

One Saturday night I drank gin at the kitchen table; I was gathering the courage to phone Jeremy to ask him out.  Jeremy was a recovering heroin addict who cut hair for a living.  I walked into his salon one day and he put me in his chair as if he had been waiting for me his entire life. I walked out smelling of lemon grass, believing my life had changed forever.

Call me anytime, Jeremy said, winking.

As far as I knew, winking was a precursor to romance.

Jeremy didn't answer his phone so I got in my car and drove to the ATM. Waiting at an intersection I watched a well-known porn star, alone and sobbing hysterically under a street light. 

After parking my car I got in line behind a long stream of Saturday night drunks looking for a good time on 50 bucks of wages before I heard  yelling from half a block away. I craned my neck to see my car rolling down Market Street with no driver at the wheel.  As it crossed the center line, four young men leaped from a red Nissan truck and heroically muscled my rogue vehicle to a stop.  A few more yards and it would have crashed through the front of a health food store.

Embarrassed and drunk, I apologized and thanked them. 

You forgot your parking brake, one said.
 
I thought maybe the five of us might make a great story out of it but before I could say another word they piled into their truck, slammed the doors and fled, like handsome young cowboys in search of promising adventures that did not include me.

[To be continued]
 

Mar. 12th, 2009

Chapter Two (part two) - Goodbye Thomas Farewell

II.

On a reliable September day in The City of San Francisco, the sun shines more than usual, arouses thoughts of self-congratulation and provides a brief interlude from harrowing self-doubt, like the moment in a movie theater when you find yourself extraordinarily comfortable, neither too hot nor too cold. No one is talking and you believe the story flickering before you, every single frame of it.

Then comes the ugly squeak of shoes on the filthy floor or the harsh jerk of the bus angling a tight corner and you return to your regrets, nostrils filled with the greasy cooking odors steaming off an old Chinese man as he fingers the fleshy lump of goiter beneath his chin.

Riding the bus in San Francisco filled me with loneliness. I had a destination but never a purpose, other than to watch strangers whose lives I'd never know. Why were so many people here in this damp foggy place prone to earthquakes and speculative real estate and homelessness? I found it impossible to believe that The City possessed any true natives.

I've never been good at reading maps. I find them colorful and distracting. People who are given the unfortunate job of designing maps are prone to making a mess out of things and then expect everyone to follow their orders. City maps would be better served under the direction of abstract painters.

Map reading was always the domain of Thomas.  Whenever he left the apartment he stuffed his bag with them; folded, stapled, spiral bound. He kept maps even when he no longer needed them, filling his book case. He became anxious when the shelves overflowed.

I find my way about the world by things that catch my eye; a sickly green sign that reads "Big Drugs", a tree with plastic flowers tied to its trunk, a shop that sells fashions made only from pastel colored silk, a corner in Nob Hill where I helplessly watched a teenage boy ride his bicycle into a parked car, slashing his ripe cheek on the metal arm of the windshield wiper. These things will never be discovered on a map, and without them I would not be able to find my way around.

Christian met us at Shotwell Street. He unlocked his old Honda and made us wait while he excavated food wrappers from the seats and shoveled them into a pink plastic grocery bag.

I'm trying to quit smoking
, he said, dumping heaps of ashes.

Thomas remarked that he hoped to go swimming in the ocean. He showed his optimism by wearing ugly bicycle shorts.

The Presidio was cool and windy. We caught up with Sellars and Hiram and three other men and from there we hiked down to the shore to Baker Beach, beneath the Golden Gate bridge.

The clammy fog hung heavy in the late morning, the wind stiffened and threw sand in our faces. Sellars and Thomas ran ahead while I eyed them suspiciously.

Christian kept to himself and I could only assume that I would soon become properly acquainted with the three strangers, all of whom were chasing after Sellars in a familiar way. Hiram appeared to be putting on his best face and I took some comfort in this. He laughed honestly when I said that these cliffs would be a perfect place for me to fall to my death without anyone taking notice.

It was obvious that Sellars's unspoken mandate was for us to have bonafide homosexual freedom that afternoon. We were brought there to play, as described by Sellars in his many published papers on the topic of gay culture.

Sellars had only recently convinced the university to create its own department for Gay and Lesbian Studies, where for years the field had been "minimized" under the Sociology Department. Sellars argued, beautifully, that as long as we did not have our own department we continued to be victimized and decapitated from the healthy "sexualized" body of academics.

I propped myself against a coarsely riven boulder and tried to read. Everyone except Christian was now in a huddle, or perhaps a pile, rubbing and touching.They seemed instantly adaptable to forming newer, compound shapes.

I wanted Sellars to notice me, to single me out, to ignore everyone else. I was convinced that if he would only spend time alone with me he would truly desire me. He would understand that I was not to blame for anything, despite what Thomas had led him to believe.

 When I fell in love with Thomas he spoke incessantly of his tyrannical father, a man who sounded afraid, angry and irrational. I was there for Thomas, of course, I would heal his pain. I would be the one.

What are you reading? Christian asked, tearing apart a flower he had picked from the slope.

I showed it to him:  Human Immunodeficiency Virus Pathology, Genetic Variants and DNA Amplifications.

I don't even know what these words mean. He admitted this without a trace of shame. It's about AIDS, though, right?

Yes. I can't understand most of the medical jargon. This isn't even an abstract. It's the whole fucking publication from the CDC. I can only make sense out of bits and pieces and get the gist.

What do you mean abstract? Christian asked, flicking the last piece of broken flower into the wind.

In this case it means a watered-down version of the whole thing. An abstract is shortened. It's brief.

OK...

I could see that Christian was losing interest. He was searching his pockets for a cigarette. I wondered why he wasn't off with the huddle, rubbing dicks or whatever they were doing now.

You're the smart one, Christian said. Thomas is the slutty one.

It had never been put so plainly to me by anyone. Coming from Christian it was surreal. He meant it as a compliment (to both of us, I believe) but I still managed to be offended by it.

I guess. I'm smart in some ways, I replied, but not like Sellars. Sellars is brilliant. Smart smart.

He's an asshole, Christian replied, giving up on the cigarette.  I'm going back to the car.  It's too fucking cold out here.

Because I could easily pronounce ribonucleic acid did not make me an expert!

How much goddamn longer was I going to sit here, reading about cytopathic effects and reverse transcription while everyone else ignored me?

I climbed the slope after Christian.  The parking lot was pleasantly warm.  Whatever was taking place down at the beach, at least it was gone from my line of vision.

I'm not into this shit, Christian said.

Me, neither, I said, watching the famous red bridge disappear into cold white fog.


[to be continued]






Mar. 7th, 2009

Chapter Two, Part One: Goodbye Thomas Farewell

 I.

I asked Thomas if he was sleeping with Sellars. 

No, he said.

I put down my book, a biography of Diane Arbus.

Are you lying?  This was painful to ask.  I searched his eyes and to my surprise he did not attempt to look away.

What?  I'm not.  I've wanted to, but I'm not.

Thomas was less defensive than usual, which left me hanging.  I was used to childish petulance. Feeling uncertain, I returned to my book.

He was reading flight schedules and breathing through his mouth.  From the age of 9, the year that his parents hysterically divorced, Thomas had developed a peculiar and boring obsession with air travel.  It wasn't the pilots in their uniforms or the confounding engineering of commercial jets that fascinated him, it was the flight schedules.  He read them and even memorized them like a naive soothsayer.  If there were oracles to be uncovered, Thomas was determined to tease them out of departures and arrivals.  

When Thomas and I first met I assumed this preoccupation of his was at least confined to an actual flight he was taking but I quickly learned otherwise.  If he caught a glimpse of an airplane on television or even heard one soaring above the house he went into a peripatetic state of excitement and rapid fire speech about where it was going, when it had left and when it was due to arrive.

I don't think Sellars likes me too much, I said.

What?  He likes you.

At the Passover dinner table I had refused to join in.  It was my turn to read aloud from the passage and I said that I had forgotten my glasses.  This much was true but in fact I could read fairly well without them. Boycotting the Torah was my insipid way of sitting out the evening.  I was just being childish.  I had practiced this move for years, thanks to the enforced waste of time known in public education as gym class.  

I lied about not being able to read, I said.  When we were there for Passover.

I figured, Thomas replied.  He began to cough and reached for his inhaler.  The cough lasted five minutes, possibly more, despite three draws from the bottle.  I caressed the back of his head.

O.K. now?

Thomas was very pale.  The circles beneath his eyes recently had begun to look like bluish bruises around a puncture wound.

I'm so tired.

He took frequent naps and this reminded me of my father, always sneaking away for more and more sleep. I claimed it was avoidance, that was my bullshit theory. After the diagnosis I grew indifferent to theory.  Thomas was dying and maybe the same thing would happen to me.  That he might be a preview was not a thought I could dismiss.

We were both seeing an accupucturist.  Yes, more bullshit.  Beth was spoken of highly by her clients; they had more energy.

Energy, Beth told us during our "consultation",  flows around and through everything.  The universe* is made up of energy, energy that can be manipulated.

In a small way I appreciate the Chinese for being good story tellers.

Beth stuck her tiny needles in us and on my skin she burned resin and sealed it off with vials resembling those old glass insulators they used to put on power lines.  

A water sign, Beth explained to me, as if she actually possessed information worth explaining.  You need more fire.  She was sure of this because of my assigned zodiacal symbol, the scorpion. **

With her frequent trips to mainland China, Beth was sometimes unreliable.  She cared about her clients but she had no choice.  There was so much important work to be done, and things were aligned in a very special way.

With Beth out of town, Thomas excused his worsening fatigue. When Beth gets back we can figure out what's going on, Thomas said.

His friends at group all encouraged him.  Yes, she'll make some adjustments in your Chi.  You'll get your strength back.  She has helped me so much.

The phone rang.  It was Sellars, inviting us to the beach with some friends. Thomas breezily accepted.  I did not protest.

What friends?  I asked Thomas after he said goodbye.  Thomas shrugged.

My secret impulse was to demand an immediate dossier on Sellars's friends. Instead I called Christian, the bartender with whom we sometimes fucked.

Christian was adorable and hopelessly stupid but he was a very lively and affectionate lover who taught me the good side of group sex.  He favored neither of us and if he did we would never know it.  

His hearing ruined at the age of 26 - he'd been tending bar for late night dance clubs since the age of 18 - Christian shouted on the telephone.  This made Thomas and I laugh, covering our mouths. 

We're going to the beach on Sunday with some other guys.  Would you like to come along?

Yeah.

It was settled.  Sunday was three days away.



*Discussion on the topic of the universe is plentiful in San Francisco.  Everyone there has astronomical expertise. It is conceivable that from the moment the chatter began it has never known a moment of silence. Consequently I wished myself the good fortune of meeting an astronomer in a bar some night. I began to dream of fictional astronomers, PhD candidates with curly hair who might have the courage to ask me to share a bottle of wine on the steps of their book cramped apartment in Berkely.  I would accept in an instant and at last, with our knees romantically touching, my heart could beat safely, meaninglessly.  After a lengthy kiss he would put his mouth against my ear and whisper, "You're the only guy I've met in this town who doesn't talk about the universe.  I think I'm in love."

** Scorpions in fact do not spend time in water but do prefer darkness to light. Scorpions predate by night.  Endowed with fast-acting venom they stun their victims and siphon away the liquified innards in the very same manner as their noble cousins, the arachnids.

 [to be continued]

 

 


Feb. 28th, 2009

(no subject)

X.

Pudding vs. Cake

by Sara Sharpe, Cardboard Magazine

Take the blood of him, and grease of himself, and oatmeal, and salt, and pepper, and ginger, and mix these together well, and then put this in the gut of the porpoise, and then let it seethe easily, and not hard, a good while; and take him up, and broil him a little, and then serve forth.

How to Make Black Pudding
2 litres blood
Casings, beef runners of large hog casings (optional)
3 onions, finely chopped
1 kg of suet or diced pork fat (back fat or bacon fat)
500ml double cream
500g oatmeal, soaked overnight in water)
500g barley, boiled in water for 30 minutes
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon mixed herbs or ground coriander
1 teaspoon black pepper or cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground mace

The states of fashion as we now know it can be better explained when one understands the disjuncture concerning opposite sides of the Atlantic.

European fashion trends continue to be influenced by an era which predates Jean-Jacques Rousseau - without whom the world would not have birthed Coco Chanel - a time when bored Ladies conspired to quietly murder their husbands with poison in hopes of securing better prospects. 

To achieve successful homicide these murderesses staged the scenery of their crime with as much intelligence and originality as they could afford to muster. The infamous Lady Cooper-Ward is believed to have secured employment of a popular figure painter to "sketch out" the death tableaux in advance. 

Much to Lady Cooper-Ward's delight the papers later noted that the police discovered her weeping over her husband's cold body  "as if the spectral confluence of deathly beauty and the color of her fine gown had seized upon a fleeting moment of her luminous spirit departing from its earthy plane."

This kind of attention served Lady Cooper-Ward exceedingly well.  With scarcely a full day of her public grieving period behind her she found herself betrothed to Lord Samuel Farringsworth, the wealthiest banker in Scotland.  Lord Farringsworth was so profoundly taken with Lady Cooper-Ward that he purchased a virgin sailing ship from the King's Royal Navy just to deliver his opal and amethyst engagement ring to her.

When the original Lady Farringsworth's body washed up in Dover several months later Lord Farringsworth was quoted as saying, "The poor dear was not overly fond of water."

The second Lady Farringsworth (Cooper-Ward) went on to become one of the most influential forces in English couture, venturing to create the prestigious Jura Institute.  What she left behind remains to this day the very foundation of equal parts concept fashion and a frighteningly modern miscegenation that only Mary Shelly could have imagined. After all, what a human body wears is as much as what a body is made of.

A great empire, like cake, is most easily diminished at the edges.

- Benjamin Franklin


In America, real fashion exists under the fear of disintegration but thrives by the possibility of regeneration.  American designers naively imagine their uniqueness almost as much as a birthright, however dubious the right to be born may be.

A legitimate man in the U.S. is self-made.  This is what he believes of himself and what he is expected to believe.  But what, in fact, is he made from?

On any given television news program you will easily find a stable of billionaire egoists sartorially clad in Brooks Brothers predictability. Garroted by the knot of Windsor, their tumid heads express magniloquent noises while their arteries pulse with derived fluids.

The truly modern American is an ameliorated construct, much improved by his perspicacious strength and willingness to see what few are able to see.  

In a recent Prada campaign the models are assembled from crumbling Greek antiquity, part flesh, part king-god and as excoriated as the future embalmed.  One beautiful, blanched boy is perfectly cut apart by cubic volume.  He shows no concern for his life blood as he knows well enough to believe in this exclusive industry's powers of amalgamation.

The U.S. fashion scene will continue to lead and inspired us to salvation; of this I am quite certain.  The discretion of clothes, skin, organs and embellishments continue to plait.  We owe now our debt to those contumacious American fashion designers who for so long have remained in the shadowed margins of aesthetics, risking their lives for a better doctrine.

Pudding, when putrified, gives birth to maggots. Cake neglected begins scurrilously, yet ends unsullied by the grace of an ant.

Together, they will disentangle and transcend our ephemerality.



[Next:  Chapter Two, part one]










 


Feb. 15th, 2009

Paris Two Feet Below (part nine)

IX.

In New York I found my apartment door ajar. I panicked. There was no sign of forced entry, nothing out of place. I ran to my office. The desk was locked. I heard footsteps.

Who is there? I shouted threateningly.

Hello? Mr. Riversmith? I'm just running some new cable. Sorry.

Fucking apartment managers,
I thought, never give me notice on this shit.

My head ached now. I sat exhaustedly and let my skull fall heavily on the cold ebony wood of the desktop. Sellars and I once had awkward sex on this desktop. I asked myself if I kept it for this memory alone. Certainly it was not a well-designed desk; it reminded me of a construction site.

After the accident Sellars came around on and off. Sometimes he talked to me exactly like the doctors, telling me this or that but never truly listening. If I had a question about my prognosis he would only shake his head slightly and say, You'll have to ask the doctor.

Why did he come around? I wanted to know but I never mentioned my curiosity. A BMW would not kill me but Sellars had the power to destroy me with a single word. I convinced myself it was the painkillers that kept me from asking.

When Sellars first began showing up at the hospital the nurses embarrassed themselves with their ridiculous laughing. They fired up their furnaces hot enough to melt steel but they were so stupidly blinded by their own vanity that they failed to see the obvious disaster in front of them.

The first day my head was clear I thought it only merciful to break the news to them. I picked Jennifer because I had seen her express some unrestrained anger over her divorce. She came unraveled late one night after her youngest daughter had threatened to move in with her father because her mother was such bitch and didn't make as much money as her father. You're just a stupid, crappy nurse, Mother!

Jennifer changed my IV as she wept. My kids don't know how much I've sacrificed. Goddamn my ex-husband for trying to ruin my whole fucking life!

I wondered what fucking difference sacrifice makes to kids but I smiled and said I was sorry that times were rough.

After Jennifer had let it out, cursed and cried and then apologized to me she said that Sellars was a good friend to her and that she had never met anyone quite like him. He listens, he really gets it, you know?

She believed that she was giving us both a compliment we could be proud of. I let her think it, too. Everyone falls in love with Sellars at first. This is beyond my control. But I can help a sad, lonely woman by putting an ice cube down her back when her time is due.

Jennifer withdrew her kindness from me for several days after I told her that Sellars is gay and in fact he had been my lover. She entered my room without explanation and did only what was required of her. Towards Sellars her affections remained constant if not strengthened, as if she could prove a point.

(There is no point to be proven when a woman loves a homosexual, just the groaning truth that love does in fact not conquer).

In my opinion Sellars barely noticed a woman's love for him. It happened so frequently in his life, always had, that he came to mistake it for something else. Sometimes he was bitterly disappointed in women for their selfishness in their easy declarations of love. I would get angry at him for not seeing it sooner but he always claimed he did not realize that these women had fallen in love with him.

Jennifer came to tell me that she had asked Sellars to dinner and that somewhere in the middle of pear crepes he told her. I took a moment to visualize the shock on her face, with a fork clenched between her teeth.

It was not very nice of him to keep that bit of information from me, she said. I actually thought he was flirting with me.

Jennifer was on my side once more now that Sellars had betrayed her with the cruelty of his sexual orientation. Within less than 24 hours all the nurses on staff knew about Sellars. The preposterous laughing stopped immediately and all those furnaces were stoked down to near refrigerator temperatures.

One day a man came by to replace my horrid pillows with new horrid pillows. His name was John Brody and he had a cheap haircut. He came every day after that for reasons that were not entirely clear to me. He was annoyingly quiet and nervous but he seemed unusually focused in everything he did.

I've never seen anyone here fold a sheet so brilliantly, I told him.

John smiled. No, he blushed.

Do you have a boyfriend? I asked.

He reacted by explaining that he had forgotten something and then abruptly left.

The next day John brought me bottled water and said that no, he did not have a boyfriend.

I learned that John was working towards his PhD in botany and plant genetics. When he talked about his studies he almost became sexy enough for me to want to kiss him. Whatever passion smoldered in his heart it was not particularly intimidating. John was odd, he was an honest nerd and did not possess an ounce of strength in anything other than his brilliant mind, which was to me a snapshot of another galaxy. I could see its clusters of burning stars and mysterious gases through a telescope but the understanding, the comprehension of it was not available for me to grasp.

When Sara came to take me home from the hospital I whispered in her ear that John and I seemed to be hitting it off.   He has a clever brain, I explained.

Sweetie, she said, once you get out of here and all the drugs wear off, you'll change your mind, believe me.

I waved my hand dismissively.  This was the new me, the One Lucky Bastard, the death-defying magician, the man with a New Lease on Life!

He  needs a little renovation that's all.

John was not on duty when my doctor released me. I left a note for him at the nurses' station, asking him to call me. It took him three weeks to get up the courage.




Feb. 1st, 2009

Paris Two Feet Below (part seven)

VII.


I decided this time to keep away from my usual hotel and stay somewhere grander than usual. I chose hotel Sofitel Trocadero Dokhan's primarily because it was close by foot. As I passed a brightly lit row of galleries I spotted Sara Sharpe.

"Julian?"

I felt woozy. Sara was an abstraction, a woman built from Picasso's spare shapes.

"Did you just arrive in town? I had no idea you were coming to Paris. You should have called me you bad boy."

"Last minute. A little business. Leaving in the AM. You know I'd call if I were staying longer."

Sara studied me. She was ruthless in her observations of others.

"Have you had dinner yet?"

"I'm afraid I have."

"Too bad, then. How about a drink?"

I refused to waver.

"Absolutely. Where shall we go?"

"Sous-marin."

"New?'

"Apparently: you don't know about it. It will be ruined by the end of the month."

I laughed. Sara had no need for scissors; she had her mouth.

At the club we ordered gin and talked of pudding or cake, which one?

Sara was doing a piece for my style magazine, Cardboard. We desired to make a statement about opposite sides of the Atlantic and how current trends in fashion could be linked to provincialism.

The bar was metal blue, subaquatic. The pianist played Oscar Peterson with murderous intent.

"You seem tired, Jules." she said.

"Long day, that's all."

"Tell me how you've been. Honestly, tell me."

Sara knew me. After the accident she stayed close while everyone else quietly removed themselves.

"Just tired, Sara. I promise."

I loved Sara for her ruthless devotion to me but sometimes it was just too much. Her presence always confounded me with equal parts terror and worship. Because of her I walked the long road back from the land of the dead and along the way, I confessed: I revealed my obsession with Sellars, how it came crashing down and finally, my poisonous declaration of revenge.

The accident was like any other meaningless coincidence in life. I had left my office at the end of the day, crossed the street when the sign said 'walk' and was struck down by a woman applying lipstick in her overhead mirror. She drove a black Lexus. My head put a plate-size dent in the hood.

The coma lasted 11 weeks. When I awoke I remembered nothing for six days but on the seventh day Sellars came to see me at the hospital and through a thick haze of painkillers the memories began to trickle through fissures in my compressed and blackened psyche.
 


Jan. 11th, 2009

Paris Two Feet Below (part six)

 VI.

 

I've always loved the sound of new Gucci on pavement.  Somehow it encourages me to revise my negative feelings.  After I got myself free from that real estate misstep in Sydney (Rushcutters Bay) I found myself happiest when I put on the black Gucci moccasins and went for a stroll around the block.

 

The evening air clarified my head.  There was a crispness present that made me yearn for a stopover in St. Moritz but I decided it impractical.  I had to get to the shops before closing time.

 

My mother had no need for the new Orobianco champagne cooler but never mind, I wanted her to have it.  There might be a party next June.  Wouldn't it be fantastic to pull red alligator skin from the closet and fill it with a chilly bottle of Clos du Mesnil?

 

The shop clerk was a handsome woman of fifty, her white hair loose and chic.  

 

Rouge de tulipe, combien beau! Ah, votre épouse sera heureuse! She licked her fingers to pinch the creamy tissue paper.  Tulips red, very beautiful!  Oh, your wife will be happy!

 

I smiled politely. Ma mère.  

 

Encore meilleur, she said, even better. This time she added a wink, as if she knew something I did not.

 

If a mother is to have a luxury bag she scarcely needs then she ought to discover something exciting inside when she receives it.  I purchased a bottle of Clive Christian No. 1.  I would suggest that she wear it around the house.  This struck me as inventive; clever on my end.

 

Merci beaucoup I told the shopkeeper. She was already on to other things.

 

What would I do now?  Sleep?  It was too early for that but I was tired despite my immunity to jet lag. The National Horticulture Society of France was holding a lecture on Cypripedium but my mind was still too bleary from the specimen to concentrate on orchids.  Furthermore I risked bumping into an acquaintance.  

 

I could lie.  I was certainly good at that.  No.  I needed sleep. I would pick a hotel, take a hot bath.

 

In Paris I avoid everything that reminds me of Sellars.  Fortunately we had not spent much time here as it was never too convenient for our schedules.

 

We did have Christmas together in Paris one December but it was not much fun.  I had a cold, could not taste my food.  

 

Sellars was exhausted from work and we had just heard from his mother in Nova Scotia that Lisanne, his beautiful sister - the single muse of Lacroix - was suffering from adenomyoepithelioma.

 

Then, on Christmas Eve, Sellars and I were robbed at gunpoint by a teenage boy who burst into tears when I laughed at him.  He claimed he wanted my watch.  I gave it to him.  A scratched Vacheron Constantin that kept perfect time.

 

When the pathetic boy nervously demanded that I hand over my Rolex, Donnez mon votre Rolex, I slapped him across the face like an impatient parent.

 

Sellars was horrified.  

 

[to be continued]

 

­­­

Jan. 4th, 2009

Paris Two Feet Below (part five)

 V.  

 

I could think of nothing better to do than sulk.  Thomas and I attending a Passover dinner at Sellars’ apartment made me feel puny and drab.  I was supposed to fulfill Sellars’ grand plan:  introduce Julian to Hiram and take a leave of absence. 

 

They had a nice place for San Francisco, almost like a real home. Sellars opened the door and obliterated me with his beauty.  He was even wearing white pearls. The irony claws at you in that town.

 

Damned Sellars if he wasn’t thoroughly nice to me.  He shook my hand, he smiled.  I gave him no credit for it.  On a day as sunny as this one I liked to think I could actually pull it off, as if my depression could somehow be re-branded as fascinatingly alluring.

 

After a phone conversation between Thomas and Sellars (Thomas of few words) it was decided that Julian and Hiram would be well suited for each other, that’s what Thomas said.

I flew into a tirade of self-pity, executed with my usual aggrandized delivery.

I was infuriated by Sellars’ ego, I proclaimed.  The more bitterly I expressed my thoughts the smaller I shrank, until adjectives became farce and I ran out of steam.  In silence I lay on the tiny sagging sofa, which was nothing more than a thin cushion loosely tied to a black tubular frame.  Thomas greedily ate ice cream in the kitchen and would soon be on the toilet, crying and cursing his digestive intolerance of lactose.

 

Hiram gave us the tour.  I was truly exhausted by fading Victorian facades and elaborately carved egg and dart.  The last thing I wanted was to be forced into another conversation on the topic of the craftsmanship of the ebony woodwork, or the "character" of the fireplace with its fluted pilasters.

 

Thank god they were not an especially fancy couple, filling up their rooms with Phillippe Stark chairs or Empire antiques or Tiffany lamps.  Instead they collected books and held onto a few small family heirlooms (a plain silver menorah, Hiram’s grandmother’s jewelry, including a blood-red Bakelite bracelet once worn by Heddy Lamar). 


I was especially intrigued by two things.

 

First, a photo on the wall: Sellars visiting Israel, perhaps five years earlier, with a group of twelve others.  His beauty cast those around him as bit players, insignificant props.  It was almost downright irritating to look at a photo of Sellars surrounded by the merely average.  Thomas whispered something in my ear.  I searched his eyes and wanted sex.

 

The second was the bedroom shared by Sellars and Hiram.  I found it quaint.  Their bed was covered with an Amish quilt.  I asked Hiram about it and pretended to listen.  He was proportioned like a great migratory bird and spoke with rehearsed enthusiasm.  I guessed that for too long now Hiram had been playing the good husband to his other worldly Sellars and that perhaps the infrastructure of thorns he had constructed was threatening to draw blood.

[to be continued]


Dec. 31st, 2008

Paris Two Feet Below (part four)

Sellars Conroy intimidated me.  This is why I fell for him.  Sellars met Thomas at Synagogue and invited him to his apartment for sex.  Thomas was always free with his body; he understood limits only when the money (or the hot water, or the food) was gone.  When we moved to San Francisco he told me that he felt like a kid in a candy shop but the expression was meaningless to me.  Candy and sex?

I could not resent Thomas by then.  I was waking to my isolation.  What I loathed was how Sellars treated me as the Mean Boyfriend:  poor Thomas!  Julian is cold!

Much has been written on the power of a woman's beauty, as if that is the complete story of sex.  When men love other men the violence is far less poetic.  There is no Helen of Troy, no wine dark sea.

Thomas was beautiful.  I loved him but he bored me and I hated him for that.  When he spoke he came off dull and grating, unable to finish a thought.  He sat with his mouth open (a problem with adenoids).  This gave him the look of an idiot and because he was so inept at simply walking gracefully through a room I kept fragile objects where he could not ruin them.  A visitor once mistook him as blind.

The Synagogue was to be Thomas' return to Judaism.  We had been making more frequent trips to the clinics, twice to the hospital.  Just as six years earlier I was to show him limits, his religion would now commute disease.  

Sellars Conroy.  Like Thomas he had dark brown hair and eyes made for mass destruction.
Unlike Thomas, Sellars was physically lyrical and his mind intricately layered, full of ideas and words.  Both explorer and conqueror, Sellars charted his life as reaching the summit of Mt. Everest could be compared to drinking water.  Thirst.

When Thomas said that he had met a guy at Temple I pretended to be interested only because by then I was currently infected by the native virus of open-mindedness.

He amazing, Thomas explained.  I think you'll really like him.  He has a genius IQ.

And how does one's IQ score come up with someone you've met for the first time?

Thomas had an answer, a stupid one, but that was just Thomas.  Somewhere between his optic nerves and his cortex the data simply vanished.

 

Dec. 27th, 2008

Paris Two Feet Below (part three)

The place smelled of oranges, ambergris and warm garlic.  Sir, the man asked, would you enjoy your usual table?  Yes, I said.  And would you care to freshen, Sir, in the men's private lounge?  

 

Thank you, oui, I said.

 

I stripped and folded my clothes into tight rectangles.  I would have them burned. The Hermes cotton caressed my skin and caused a shiver.  A crisp new shirt brings forth a calm mind. 

 

This room seemed a fortress against the cruelties of time, so artfully arranged with Parisian essentials that it causes a man like me to believe in destiny, as if the collection of these objects in this space were all placed here for my desires alone.  

 

Before I replaced my shoes I curled up on an ebony lounge and inhaled.  Dust motes quivered in the light.  For the first time in twelve hours I remembered my hunger, like noticing a recent wound after forgetting it briefly.

 

I wrapped a towel around my neck and combed my hair, scraping the silver teeth along my scalp.  I look much better now with my hair combed out, not so feral; less likely to commit crimes.

 

Veuillez avoir ces derniers brûlés immédiatement, I told the man, Please have these burned right away.

 

My table was prepared to satisfaction, the wine glass half filled with Chateauneuf De Pape 1980. 

 

Eating was pleasurable.  I even had a small dessert of almond cake, a peculiar indulgence for me as I sometimes found the flavor of almonds reminiscent of sickness.  Perhaps in childhood I had eaten almonds just before coming down with the flu but I could not be so sure of such memories because I was prone to so much self-invention. 

 

I paid my check and left, re-entering the cool slip of night and snow and the dark streets of Paris.  My footsteps sounded foreign to my ears yet I found this amusing and nearly musical. 

 

Such an accomplishment I thought.  How long has it been?  Ten years?  Oh, certainly more.  I felt the bitter knot in my stomach.  After the work, after the work.  I despised what was to come:  the wait.  The work had produced satisfaction but for now the work ended and I could not know how long I would have to wait.

 

In my exhaustive studies the subject had responded somewhat predictably, not to say that I was not without surprises.  Shocks may be more fitting.  But now that it was in the ground I had to find myself a diversion and if I did not succeed I would poison myself with fear.

[to be continued] 


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