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In the Style of Decadence

Jonathan Freiberger

Richard is already inviting two, pale, goth lovelies to join us...

Paul has loved Dostoevsky ever since I told him Hitchcock’s Rope was inspired by the existential peregrinations of Raskolnikov, and has hated Russians ever since his mother married one; a most unimposing, “neo-Bolshevik, not-strong-like-bull asshole named Alexei no less” fresh out of Kalinin, an old Soviet backwater coal town none of us had ever heard of. Three years, one Green Card (obtained with the help of what Alexei vaguely referred to as “business connections”) and two night-school classes later and he’s selling adjustable-rate, negative-amortization refinance products for B of A out of a Formica kiosk by the merry-go-round in Riverside Square Mall where he and Paul’s mother first met. “Just make the minimum payments, my love, and a porrrrtion of the interrrrest is deferrrred to the prrrrinciple.” Which was just a nice way of saying that every month you pay a little less, but owe a little more – an apparently necessary evil while subsisting for almost two years on SSI, child support, and the good graces of her dottering father who, stricken with renal failure, was frantically jettisoning money in anticipation of “death by dialysis.” No worries though: She’d never go underwater because, unlike her 401K, property values in Bergen County always go up; this maybe eighteen months before the real estate bubble-burst of the mid-80s followed by the Savings & Loan implosion, and Northern Valley Bank was accelerating mortgage repayments on 30-day defaults from the dilapidated 1950s Capes at the Bergenfield border all the way up to the 4,500 square-foot Spanish villa knockoffs, English manor knockoffs, and French-stucco leviathans of the East Hill and Englewood Cliffs. “Thank God,” I heard her say outside the courthouse the day Richard, Mike and I drove out to attend Paul’s hearing “we paid that house off.” Alexei, in what seemed a pointedly Communistic non-sequitur, had responded with Bunuel’s: “Thank God I’m an atheist,” and she’d laughed hysterically at what must have been a quasi-private joke. And Paul, muttering (as had become his habit by those days) bitterly reminded us that the cash involved had come from the inordinately crippling divorce settlement the Court, based largely on dubious evidence of an extramarital affair involving the family-accountant’s receptionist (Paul: “a twenty-something from New Hampshire with bangs and black pumps is hardly his type) had levied against his father, who’d ended up living — and as far as I know still does — in an $800 a month studio apartment in Fort Lee across from The Church of the Good Shepherd where “the chronically post-graduate, Marcusian sociologist and philosopher” attends AA Big Book meetings even though he hardly drinks.

Aside from her attraction to Mr. Kronski’s “adorable little barrel-chest” Paul’s mother had been reminded at sight of the word “REFINANCE” printed on the subliminally patriotic red, white and blue B of A placard, that she’d long-needed to consolidate the debt swelling at a prodigious 29.75% APR that’d accumulated over the two-year debacle Paul adoringly referred to as “The Great Schism,” but which was really just a horribly ordinary divorce: Mastercard paying off Visa paying off American Express, endless postponements and adjournments, fruitless mediation attempts, totally understandable but nevertheless unpaid sick days, kids dog-paddling in disillusionment and self-recrimination, and affable lawyers with deep, fatherly voices and shiny Rogained scalps who put their manicured hand on your shoulder as they showed you the door while rounding billable hours up to the nearest 15 minutes. It may have been his father’s fault, but it had been his mother’s decision to kick him out, and this was at the root of why Paul hated women or, more accurately, loved them fiercely. We’d thought he’d fallen asleep, as usual, sitting on the futon with a half-full (half-empty?) Genesee resting on his thigh but suddenly he looks up and suggests a purportedly cold-blooded murder in the style of Crime and Punishment “except better because we’re not Russian.” Incontrovertible evidence of impure motives: “We should kill him,” he mutters, then visibly flushes, his suggestion for an epistemologically immaculate murder having been exposed a bouillabaisse of the following trivial fare: 1. his perceived failure to protect his moderately histrionic mother 2. octopodal pity with regard to his mildly autistic father’s ability to sustain neither direct eye contact nor a pleasant conversation with his wife at the dinner table and, in a generally ubiquitous but thematically unrelated motif, 3. the frequently self-referenced diminutive quality of his own genitals. “When I make partner I’m going to start wearing black turtlenecks and buy a red Bugati and get a vanity plate that says ‘4 INCHES.’” That was an old standard, typically iterated upon sufficient drunkenness, and we loved it every time. The black turtleneck was, for reasons none of us could entirely grasp, absolutely critical.

We get lucky on the table situation and get there just as a couple of couples are leaving. Otherwise the bar is packed and Richard is already inviting two, pale, goth lovelies to join us in the sanctuary of our naugahide booth. Now we’re three on one side, two on the other, with Mike standing, arms folded. The prevailing conversation, something about romantic epistolary literature of the early nineteenth century, sustained almost entirely by Paul, seems to me, perhaps due to my ignorance of the subject, puerile. I keep saying “indeed, indeed,” over and over even though I know I sound like an idiot. Paul’s theme has generally been orbiting famous love-letters so after three Cuervo shots maybe the following interjection is not completely inaccurate: “All men have a love-hate relationship with women. We love them because they are beautiful and they unscramble our feelings, and we hate them because of the power they have over us which resides primarily in their Vagina; capital “V”; use of the singular intentional.”

She tells me childhood is dead when you’re no longer embarrassed to get undressed in front of the television. She tells me DH Lawrence is a flowery imbecile and her heels are wrinkled with calluses and shredded blisters from too-big men’s Doc Martens with no socks and she wonders in the night if there’s anything special in all this world. For all the world she is special to me now in god’s most negligent dream her futon stained with red wine spills or so she tells me. She likes her linguini with marinara and cold cottage cheese. She has a T-shirt that says “Post-Modern As Fuck.” She adores the feeling of one deliberate finger seeking her cervix. She claims she has a tilted pelvis that drives men crazy for the soft and unexpected pressure on their glans. Her face hides nothing, and she has no discernible reaction to Stephen Hawking or the apparent nonexistence of god. It’s 6am now and Emily is a frozen goddess in a tangle of white sheets beneath a grated window birthing a Hudson Street sun of lambent New York autumn and her ribs are white and heave gently.

Emily had an old-fashioned typewriter, a real throwback, solid steel, not even electric, and I’d mistaken it for a mere conversation piece no more elevated in hermeneutical significance than her retro-style medical shoes, black-and-white striped stockings, or vintage Ink Spots album cover stapled to the wall above an iron-bound, paint-chipped door, now serving as a makeshift desk, that might have once occupied the portal to an English duke’s 19th Century summer garden. But no: This typewriter was still alive, a breathing thing capable of tripping over its own feet, with lungs and a beating heart, almost a person; an artisan in itself noisily stamping ethereal glyphs into limestone columns. She tells me she’s working on a play called “Famous Men Who Drank Themselves To Death.” And she’d found on Murray Street wedged between a Seattle Coffee and a DKNY boutique, a place that still sold old typewriter ribbons; an anachronistic stationery shop — more than anachronistic: paleontological — whose utilitarian white-on-black sign (STATIONARY) that wasn’t even, appropriate to the prevailing zeitgeist, equivocal, looked as if it had begun the process of fading two centuries ago. The place was guarded by a twelve-year-old German Shepherd who occupied the role of adopted son to the store’s proprietor, Mr. Ghastly, a kindly Vietnam Vet who’d lost a thumb on one hand and a pinky on the other, and who still sold ribbons for it.

It was no surprise to me that Emily had been the only patron whom the dog, named Patsy after Mr. Ghastly’s paternal Grandfather, hadn’t tried to disembowel upon their first meeting. This is why Mr. Ghastly had been taken unawares by Emily’s entrance and had, innocently looking up from a first-edition Plexus which he had been rereading for the 7th time (it being riddled with paperclips and tattered bookmarks like a Baptist’s Bible) started at her sudden appearance as if at a dybbuk. And Mr. Ghastly had consequently wondered if perhaps he hadn’t met this furtive angel long before, maybe even in another life, and had merely at that point been on too base a karmic plane in the cycle of death and rebirth to have registered the aroma that signified her presence. The result was that Mr. Ghastly regarded Emily a potential saint, possibly even an important one, one worthy of her own Day; a notion empirically reinforced by her uncanny similarity to Oliver Twist whenever she wore her hair up in her Scots-tartaned “beggar’s cap”; yet another piquant salvage-job from the Village Consignment Center. I wonder what Mr. Ghastly’s reaction would have been to the sight of this future Saint hungrily and expertly gobbling my balls. Would her petition be disavowed? Or would the Angels in an unprecedented gesture of eschatological decency make this allowance, if only on practical grounds, in the same way the Supreme Court installed President Bush on purely practical grounds? Emily refused to call Bush “President” but rather referred to him as “SCIPpy”, short for “Supreme Court Installed Person.” For, in the manner in which we’ve seen Dostoevsky’s The Devils presented as Demons and Nietzsche’s The Dawn repackaged as Daybreak we have now seen Proust repackaged as In Search of Lost Time. Is this an indication of progress or disintegration? How long, I wondered, will this woman be fucking with my Qi? Why must I become the student of my soul? What is it that must become empty? Everything flows backward when you are in love. And then suddenly you realize it was everything else that was backward. Love hate. Hate love. There is nothing so compelling as a woman in tears.

“Ah: Mr. Ghastly” she dreamily intoned, unveiling for me her supply of fresh ribbons, and she explained to me that the very words “word processor” made her skin crawl, the paradigm evoked being one of rancid cowflesh passing through a meat grinder which, despite being 100 years old and reeking of a thousand superimpositions of death, never loses its utility. The art of manipulating words is meant to be dichotomous — both operose and spontaneous — where one wrestles with one’s typewriter and makes love to it holus-bolus, sometimes painfully, like a vestal virgin, the pleasure coming only with experience, when pleasure and pain are revealed to be sisters. Sins and omissions are meant to be rectified in the margins, evidence of the author’s penitence made perdurable, words scribbled out and rearrangements and amplifications made with carrots and arrows. A rough draft becomes a work of art, visually seductive and pell-mell, like a Jackson Pollack, like when Beethoven furiously scratched out the original appellation of his 3rd Symphony, The Napoleon and changed it to the Eroica. The world, then, did not suffer for a lack of Microsoft Word, and I will be dead before I own a Kindle. A moment in time is no longer more than a stepping stone to the next, perfunctory, its very being but an obligatory precursor to its obsolescence, devouring the future (which is its own tail) like a python in some hackneyed Escher only to provide the requisite calories for yet another blind step on the journey to hell-knows-what. To Godhead? Phah! We will be six billion gods and God will worship us. In the end He will crave a long but mortal life, persisting not one second beyond the life of the World. He will crave the finitude of the flesh and the boundlessness of the heart. He will yearn to love in the tragic way of Man. One cannot be one’s own God. One cannot be one’s own God.

Oh, but it only got better from there and one night she lay there complaining about the enervating chaos of the city – she was a rube from Wisconsin, you see, having been divorced by the fireman (who’d married her when she was 19) because she hadn’t the slightest intention of vacuuming the fucking rug or washing a single fucking dish even if she didn’t have a job and just sat on her ass eating Wheat Thins all day. She’d been little more than a farm girl really, deep in her soul, and she loved horses, although her mother, by that time deceased of lymphoma, had worked in a factory putting eyeglasses together, and her father was a retired plumber living on social security and a rapidly diminishing retirement account. At first I had believed her to be of little subtlety and took it upon myself to educate her, stuffing her with Hemingway, Bach, Foucault, Sartre, Kubrick and Scorsese; a Pygmalion metaphor beyond question (as she herself observed) to transmute her into the demure and stunning armpiece every man of culture desires, though in reality I had overlooked then her earnest intellectual curiosity, that went far beyond her two-year Associates in Communications, that had led her to Freire and The Rosy Crucifixion long before I discovered them myself.

We drove out once to visit her father and her sisters, Marylin and Jade, both of whom detested me, thought me an arrogant East Coast prick (I did nothing but complain about the shitty food at the family buffet to which Marylin had taken us) which I was. The father hated me too, because the feeling that I was above them was clearly noticeable in my countenance, in the practiced articulation of my utterance. We stopped in on one of her old high school friends who had, with her new husband recently inducted into the local Teamsters, bought a little home and squirted out an infant; a delightful, cooing package was he and he reminded me that birth is also a sort of abortion, and I held him at Emily’s behest. “You want one, don’t you?” And when she said that, she met her friend’s eyes in bemused collusion and I held him against my chest and hummed the Pastoral in his ear, imagining it to be the only bit of culture the child would be likely to get until he escaped this wasteland. Scuttlebutts. Perhaps it would affect his destiny. Perhaps he would one day find himself in Alice Tully Hall, conducting Beethoven’s 6th with the New York Philharmonic, when a sudden and inexplicable déjà vu sweeps over him. The brand new wall-to-wall carpet, still smelling of freshly coagulated rubber, depressed me particularly, as did mother’s apparent pride in her diminutive new abode built no more than six feet set back from the street.

So they stood there and gabbed for an hour; and we retired to the couch and they gabbed for another two. Coffee was produced and consumed. I took it black, and Beth glanced at Emily knowingly but I really didn’t care enough to ask what all that was fucking about; related to an old boyfriend, I assumed, or to some particularly historical moment of drunkenness, or both. Beth (I’m pretty sure that was her name) was a lovely hostess of delightful and endearing simplicity, with little wiggly, adorable and tragically vulnerable little buns and a little, adorable and tragically vulnerable little panty-line; and a feeling of shame that I’d condescended to her humble home swept over me, and I found myself gabbing away like a housewife too, giggling like a moron, refilling coffee cups, staying conscious of my posture, particularly the arch of my lower back, patting my lips with napkins, throwing in a cute anecdote here and there, projecting delighted surprise when some endearing element of Emily’s past was spontaneously revealed, and finally suggesting I duck out for crumb cakes. They giggled and Beth retreated to the kitchen to see what could be dug up and I sighed, satisfied that I’d been performing well. But in that span before Beth returned Emily did not look at me, and when I placed a hand on her knee she swatted it off. I was infecting her past, I was ruining it; she could feel it, I could feel it, but I was indignant: was not I only hastening the decay of something that was already dead? But I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop. I saw no choice but to let this apologetic, nattering persona continue its defense of whatever insecurity at which it happened, at that moment, to be posted, and carry me off into oblivion. Finally no more words seemed able to evacuate my mouth; I was beating dead meat, and the life just felt sucked out of me and I just shut my trap and retreated to the kitchen where Beth’s husband was slumped over in a chair, dead drunk. So I took the bottle from his hand, gently placed his dangling arm in his lap, and proceeded to finish half a 750ml of Jack Daniels then and there. And at that moment I realized that the bottle was indeed half-full as opposed to half-empty. “So I am an optimist after all.” At that exact moment, Joe (I’m pretty confident that was his name) tilts up his head and mutters “fucking cunts,” before closing again his eyes and slumping even further down in his chair.

So perhaps that night in Manhattan when Emily was clamoring for open spaces, she was in fact pining for the simplicity of her life back there. My purpose in the world at that time was nothing more than to make this woman feel pleasure and to remove every iota of pain, even as I became more and more aware of the immensity of that pain, and the consequent futility of my endeavors. Toward the middle of our run together, I caught on a page in her typewriter the first sentence of something she’d written (none of which she would ever allow me to read) before she tore it out and crumpled it into a ball: “Men are death.” I knew from that moment that I was fucked, but by that point there wasn’t a thing I could do to save myself.

And so I invited her to come out for the weekend to my parents’ house where she could be somewhat inoculated of the city with the non-reactive fluid of suburbia, this made possible because P&M had departed on a cruise to Bermuda and would not be home until the following Tuesday. How wonderful, how liberating, thought I, would it be to fuck her on their queen-size bed with its padded mattress and densely-threaded, 1,200 count linen sheets. How lovely to sleep with her there comfortably with no fear of being pushed off her twin-sized futon by an unconscious nocturnal adjustment, then fuck her in the morning, or whenever the hell we decided to get up, with Dead or Alive and Frankie Goes to Hollywood blasting from Dad’s $1,700 Bose stereo system. We danced on the pastel Afghan in the living room, and I fucked her in the foyer on the hardwood floor and left my cum there to wipe up later. She sucked me off in the powder room, in the attic, in the basement where I went, she clinging to my back like a jellyfish, to adjust the thermostat. I fucked her on the dehumidifier, the washing machine, on the hot-humming dryer (“exquisite vibrations” said she) while standing on a stepstool she with her legs pushed way back by her ears. I must have ejaculated 250 million spermatozoa, come thirty times, and she fifty, her chest matted with sweat and cum and scarlet gooseflesh, over the course of that long weekend. I shortly believed that our history, albeit a brief one, a history of fuck and only fuck, had been of sufficient intensity to qualify me as her boyfriend; and when she began to suspect that I’d made this assumption, an assumption I was ready to defend, she accepted it without resistance. We went out only once, for coffee for the French press, and stopped off at Angela’s for a slice of pizza. We needed no food; we were feeding on fuck. I was dry to the bone, every drop of fluid sucked out of me. So of course it was love, and I told her so. And she blinked at me, like a deer caught in the headlights, which was her perpetual and unendurable defense, and graciously returned the favor. We even discussed names for the children.

And we’d sit on the wall (what remained of the mansion that’d once stood there but that’d been willed to the municipality by the wealthy Johnson family to become Davis Johnson Park) and she’d listen, oh how she’d listen to my soliloquys, my panegyrics, my diatribes. It was so much vomit, but oh, how she listened. It made her wet, said she, listening to me talk smart. Why is there an acceleration in violence, no, in remorseless violence, no, in sincere violence, transpicuous murders; murders that come from the heart, the cerebral cortex, the thalamus, from the gods, Midgard, the Elysian Fields, veridical, immaculate, filthy, like diaphanous carbuncles festering on the suppurating integuments of cirrhotic spleens, murders mistaken for madness, but more leger de main than insane, from a pure and plunderbund gnostic verdigris delivered us the kleptocracy, circumscribed by Vin-Dieselesque laconicy, marquis gods scratching out reams of dialogue in favor of that “certain look” that “certain kiss”, frangipanic murders that can only be considered the natural consequence of excusable disgust; fuck love, love fuck; the only power now is money, no freedom, no Miranda, no gallant speeches, no romantic incarcerations, nothing is sacred, the scales of justice weigh gold, no execrable banishments, no indignant expatriates; we are enslaved as patriots and freed as martyrs, and our boys are entombed clean-shaven with their football trophies, and Blimpies announces a new deal on 6” subs, and my iPhone is on the fritz, and my therapist doesn’t take insurance, and where are my goddam tampons!? No marches turned riots, no one feels shame, nothing is unjust, the President likes blowjobs and so do I, so they kicked out Lech Walesa and voted the commies back in, God is Mylanta, Washington is run by syntheticos and $1500/hour hookers mating ass-to-ass like wolves, and now it’s murders in bunches, in oeuvres, bouquets of blood, fistfuls of hecatomb masterpieces like Giacometti walkers, a drugstore clerk’s magnum opus, a chumscrubber’s apotheosis, nondescript vans packed with C4 and fertilizer, snipers concealed in Chevy Impala car trunks and all of DC afraid to pump its own gas, trees planted in memorium, bereaved families alternately weeping, sneering, rending cloth, and spitting; anthrax spilling from anonymous manila envelopes, towers falling, journalists beheaded in their Izods, ivy-league dropouts living unshaven in particle-board sheds dreaming Plato’s dream of Polis crystallized by thought and thought only; thought, the clangor of pentatonic scales, clay-masked actors, men playing women, gods arriving by rope-and-pulley meting out hubris and ironic iambs in rings of fire to the rhythm of ethereal, goat-skinned drumbeats and muted copper gongs, the shoeless, clattering hoofbeats of entropic stallions, chimeras, griffins, basilisks, philosopher-kings and odiferous derelicts whacked on rum and rotgut and THC and mescaline, walking into walls, perceiving doors where none exist, relieving themselves into empty Budweiser 40s, stumbling through misshapen, unsigned and unnamed streets in Mott Haven, 8-mile, Inglewood, and Smallville, angry football dads whacking coaches over dime and 4-3 formations, over aniconic malentendus between petty gods, holding Glocks sideways like Jason Patric in Rush, heads cocked almost with percipience, with thinly-veiled homoerotic prurience, blitzed on Cialis and hydromorphone, counting off evacuated chambers while pursing their lips and in so doing achieving, at least for the moment, the status of temporal demiurge, like Clint Eastwood playing No-Name, like suicidal Ronin, like block-print bodhisattvas, Buddha with no peace, Osiris with no balls, Vajrasattva and Vishnu, like Yojimbo et. al turned Hollywood-style katana into guns, scenes beloved by Gaugin into Spaghetti Westerns with bad sound sync and reverbed bootsteps, with laconic dialogue but plenty of sneering, spitting, heel-grinding and phlegmatic, sunworn hands pulled meaningfully over grizzled jawbones to make up for it, Eli Wallach’s sun-bleached dichotomies spat rapid-fire from sun-scorched lips with that peculiar Yucatani je ne sais quoi that could never quite be duplicated even by authentic Latinos, the male polymorphous pervert, the disciples of Lacan, the jouissance of Being, and buckets and buckets of blood, Sam Peckinpaw’s Wet Dream, life imitating art, as if there were ever any difference, as if the Crucifixion by Hypercube had any less clout than that by which DaVinci and Michelangelo depicted the carnal transfiguration of that very same God, a fissure scored deep through the High Priests of Israel reducing Temple to Wall, mellisonant harbingers of darkness smeared like spattered sweetbreads across the pages of Julius Evola and Oswald Spengler, children of the prehistoric cultures, the ahistoric cultures, who were forgotten even by their grandchildren, who had no newspapers, no microchips, no internet, no history books, no iPods, no yesterday and no tomorrow, no outflows beyond death (when Nirvana was humbly nameless and humbly assumed) no AIDS or mysterious pubic carbuncles, and certainly no bibliographies, long before the time of the footnote and the academic citation, before immortal soybeans, before an idea could be owned (fuck love, love fuck) eleven Ages before the notion that land could be bought, before a palimpsest no thicker than a pentimento was placed between us and them, before Beckett and Sartre invented the absurd, before truth could be trademarked and absolution sold, when avant-garde was in the knucklebones, when sobriety was not yet measured in coins, when World was One People by the Sea, langorous limbs slung across primitive bamboo hammocks, living in an oubliette of Novalis, swaying under a cerulean sky of an exquisite and omnipresent transcendence, like The Shire or Munchkin Land but much, much bloodier, stupid with malaria, with man and wife and child cringing under the searing heat of uncontrollable abdominal infections and elongated earlobes, sons and daughters of James George Frazer, whose post-obitum prospects could be measured, scrutinized and judged only by the number of hearts torn that day still beating from the chests of its ritual sacrifice, the number of lime-painted warriors whose skulls, still slick with living flesh, they’d with their simple flint axes that day cloven.

One night it was me and Emily and Paul and Florence, and Emily took us to this little place in what remained of Little Italy which had by that time been pared down essentially and tragically to Hester Street. And this was the most unpretentious little bar I had ever seen really, little more than a storefront with a makeshift counter nailed to the floor and a couple of Formica/aluminum tables that looked like they’d been rescued from the 1950s. But somehow this bar had caught on, and everyone was going there, tons of kids, kids from NYU and Pace and FIT and even down from Columbia and Barnard and so on. It must have been a Mafia joint because there were always at least a couple of shady types in double-breasted suits and silk ties at the end of the bar eyeing us dubiously and even the bartender/owner seemed to be copping a resentment maybe thinking that this wasn’t at all what he intended when he opened the place but fuck him if he didn’t want a couple dozen Gen-Xers in there Fridays and Saturdays paying 6 dollars for a shot of Hennessey even if they did talk about obscure books they hadn’t read, constantly complained about the shitty jukebox, told each other how much they hated their mothers, and used five-dollar words they couldn’t really define.

We sat at the bar which was a rarity and in fact no one except the mafia types would usually sit up there, but Emily and I were already half-wacked and we didn’t give a fuck. We sat on the high stools our knees touching, pointing our fingers at different spots on our faces we wanted the other to kiss. I did a cheek, she did my nose. I did her ear and she my neck. And just as we got to the lips, a man who resembled Joe Pesci except with a stunningly wide nose with a crooked septum, started laughing convulsively, though I doubt even now that it had anything to do with Emily and me. But me on my fifth Jack says: “What the fuck are you laughing at?” The group of them turn around. In fact they had no intention of bothering with us. It had nothing to do with them if there were a couple of drunken assholes in their bar. So Joe Pesci throws some bills on the counter, shakes a couple of hands and walks toward the door, but as he’s passing Emily she smacks an empty bottle of St. Pauli Girl into the back of his head.

That starts a shitfit and general clamor. The bartender dips down beneath the bar and his toupee comes off and he comes back up with a Louisville Slugger. Joe Pesci has one hand on the back of his head and he’s stumbling out the door but he falls flat on his face. One of his buddies who’s got on a shiny silk suit and looks kind of like Danny Aiello except rather emaciated, grabs me by the throat and Emily kicks him in the nuts but he doesn’t let go. The third guy doesn’t seem to have the compunctions of the other two regarding hitting a woman and it seems a $500 crocodile shoe finds her twat from behind. She crumples to the floor holding herself and looks up at me beseechingly. Then I get thrown against the wall near the buffet they always have set up by late afternoon Saturday and I have the presence of mind to throw a bin of lasagna in the guy’s face and apparently it was pretty hot. Somehow the lasagna thing activated the whole crowd of 20-somethings, maybe two dozen of them, who’d been sitting there watching in disbelief.

Now I’m hearing shot glasses and beer mugs breaking. And the ironic thing is that it’s Dean Martin singing White Christmas on the jukebox. The bartender is clubbing people at random but the guy must have had a good heart because you could see he was really doing his best not to land the bat on any skulls. Limbs and shoulders, particularly shoulders, on the other hand, were fair game, and I know from the stories that emerged from this event the following day that at least one collar bone was shattered, not to mention more than a dozen monstrously impressive hematomas. Paul sees his moment and lands a metal water pitcher against the bartender’s head and he drops so fast everyone must have thought he was dead. And Paul runs out of the bar because he’s broken into tears and Florence is chasing after him, calling to him in her typical motherly way. Then some guy in a Fordham Football jacket throws Joe Pesci through the window and that was it. Everyone pours out of the bar and scrambles in all directions like a rack of billiard balls broke hard. Emily has recovered to maybe 80%, and we’re limping up toward Houston Street. She’s got a deep gash that isn’t bleeding except for some clear plasma leaking on her forefinger from the bottle she’d smashed. I suggest stitches but she insists she’d prefer a big scar. Then we slow down but we’re walking silently and breathing ‘til we make it to the West 4th Street A-train. I just couldn’t believe how in love with this woman I felt. Later that night, after I ejaculate on her stomach, she sweeps up a bit of semen with her pinky and asks me to taste it. I did. I had to.

My parents were away again, and the house was free for my exploitation. We were smoking in the kitchen and making pipes out of apples and beer cans and doing gravity bongs in the sink for a week. Mom’s valium bottle had seven pills left out of 30. The Percocet from her six-month-passed root canal was gone. We’d lost the little compact wherein Emily’d put the coke but thank god I found it (slid under the stove) before P&M returned. I had Emily over for another vacation from NYC and this time Paul was there with Florence for a couple of days which was a bit awkward because Richard, who was still engaged in his atypically lengthy tryst with Susan, was usually there with us and it was quite a rarity that Paul and I would be together at my parents’ house without this intermediary, and I’m not sure anymore exactly why or how I asked him to come out to Tenafly and he probably accepted the invitation only because he was momentarily stunned by it, but with the women there I suppose there was a point of connection around which we could relax: we were both getting laid so we were generally equivalent. And this was one of maybe three instances of when Paul and I spoke to one another deeply and sincerely. What I can remember of this conversation was Paul saying something like “When one has no control over ones destiny, is that a life?” And at that moment I was a bit taken aback because, being the solipsist that I was, and still am though more cautiously so, I thought the comment but a veiled reference to me, suggesting perhaps what I was beginning to suspect but still denying: that I had no control, that no control remained for me over the course my relationship with Emily was taking. And so I think I became a bit resentful, a bit defensive, and returned to Paul a few pointed observations concerning his own life, particularly the abandonment of his dream to be a professional guitarist; and this dream had not even been extravagant, really. It’d been duly tempered by reality, and the reality was he had enough talent to make a living at it if he wanted to; and he wanted nothing more than to be a studio guitarist, or even part of a wedding band, or a jazz combo. He had not pipe dreams of godhead, of signing autographs with felt-tip pens on groupies’ tits, of taking his penis out of his trousers in front of thirty thousand people, dating supermodels and getting sucked off by anonymous mouths in anonymous bathrooms in the back of anonymous buses. He wanted only to play, to have a mat to sleep on and a roof over his head. But his mother had applied logic to him relentlessly: Such a wonderful mind would be wasted in such a dreary existence. I mean why the fuck did you graduate Magna cum laude (and it “really shoulda been Summa”) from Harvard anyway, dummy? Med School, Paul! Med School!

So Paul and Florence flicked on the tv and got under the sheets in my parents’ bed and I knew the motherfuckers were going to smoke in there even after I told them to go in the fucking bathroom to do it, but I said fuck it, if the sheets get cigarette burns I’ll just throw them out and feign ignorance as to their location when the parental units return and they can go to their graves with the fate of those sheets a mystery, and I picked up Emily and locked my fingers under her ass and carried her to my bed. She didn’t want to show me her cunt just then because she hadn’t shaved it in two weeks, but there wasn’t any choice in the matter if she had any intention of letting me eat her, so she pulled off her panties and I hammed it up about the few straggly pubes that were growing here and there. “Damn, Em’” says I, “looks like you’re going for a full-on bush.” She grabbed a fistful of my hair and mashed my face into her. This was really the only position we could consistently agree upon anymore. At that time the woman wouldn’t even let me fuck her from behind which was a complete travesty considering the perfection that was her ass, but I was still within her magic so I didn’t even object, not even when she wouldn’t bother dealing with my ejaculation. On some occasions she’d fuck me like a thoroughbred, on others I ended up jerking off into the toilet while she watched, smoking bemusedly.

She was not a bitch, she was an asshole. She was not a slut, she was a stud. From the fourth week on she always wanted to be on top and this was a control-issue that had to do with a situation that happened at sleep-away camp when she was eleven and a fourteen-year-old boy coaxed her into his cabin. He fucked her there, her first fuck, through his zipper without even taking off his shorts, with the other boys watching, and there were nine of them. And when he was done, he spat on her and offered her to the others. He spat on her. He spat on her. At this point the details stop and she only says very vaguely that “they did what they wanted.” This was very bad for me (a solipsist as abovementioned) because I was still in that phase of my life where I wanted to fix every broken woman who crossed my path, and there were many, and Emily’d already been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder which is notoriously resistant to treatment. She’d been through five shrinks at least that she could remember, fucked two of them, even had a four-week stay on a locked ward (and the bill for that, which appeared in the mailbox every three months, goes directly in the garbage) and one just seemed to be passing her off to the next and washing his hands of it as best he could.

She told me of one doctor, a woman, Dr. Kennedy, a lovely woman with what Emily thought must have been, in an adorable gesture of disarming androgyny, a pince-nez, with whom she had felt a connection, a deep connection, as if she had been this woman’s favorite daughter a thousand lifetimes ago, and she felt herself opening, almost involuntarily, like a sunflower seed, until it came out one day that Dr. Kennedy had never been raped. Emily had thought, not thought but assumed, not assumed really, because in her conscious mind she understood that this wasn’t true: that all women had been raped, and that all women consequently lived within a shell of steel. When it bubbled to the surface that this erroneous, subconscious assumption was all that was holding her relationship with Dr. Kennedy together, she rolled up like a hedgehog. There was no hope after that. There was no connecting into her deeply. It was possible only to get a few inches down and you hit a solid wall, but I tried anyway. I believed that love is like water, and that eventually even stone must give way. But love is not water, it is air; just as hatred is earth, and not fire.

So with me on top she soon got bored and rolled off the mattress and announced she’d be going to the bathroom to take a dump. I laid back on the bed and thought about how I wasn’t going to come again this time either. Time passed and it just seemed to be taking too long. So I gets me up and goes to the bathroom door. “Em?” says I. “Just a minute” says she. And I hear her gasp. “Em! Open up the fucking door!” And I’m banging on it, feeling like her father almost. “Okay! Okay!” says she and she opens the door and holds out her arms and the forearms are covered with light cuts and she’s got a little blade she’s popped out from one of my razors in one hand. “God damn it!” says I, and return to the bedroom and slam the door. She comes in a few minutes later with droopy eyes and a conciliatory frown and she’s got a few Band-Aids on her arms and she’s wrapped them both with gauze and tape. She climbs in next to me and puts her head on my chest and starts to stroke my balls. What the hell, thinks I. And we do it again.

When I got home to Hell’s Kitchen that morning I found Richard on the phone in a tizzy. There were coffee cups and empty cigarette packs and crumpled Kleenex strewn about the living room. Susan was showering in the bath. Richard looked up at me with the eyes of a startled dog. “Paul’s been arrested!” he announced and I could not decide if the tone of his voice indicated anxiety, astonishment, or pride. Apparently Paul had gone to Tenafly, to his mother’s house, on the last bus out of the Port Authority and stabbed his stepfather with an aluminum nail file. “Was he drunk?” I asked. “What do you think?” he responded, and he was throwing on the plaid blazer he never wore except for on one of his purely symbolic job interviews. “Come on, put on your tie. We’re going to the hearing.” “Where’s Mike?” I asked. “He’s bringing the car from Staten Island.” Then he whips open the bathroom door. “Come on, Butterfingers! It’s time to go!” And Susan stands there naked, drying her ear, impecunious and not bashful in her unobtrusive nakedness. Her lack of modesty enlarged and complicated her and turned her dangerous and I knew I would never fuck her unless it were entirely her decision.

The Bridge was packed and we got to the courthouse only as Paul was emerging alongside his mother and stepfather. The Old Soviet Bull had only a superficial wound, little more than a scratch, but its location, just above the heart, seemed to indicate that Paul’s motivations had been sincere in a way that only the uncontaminated intentions of a completely fucked-up alcoholic can be. Mr. Kronski had dropped the charges, undoubtedly at his wife’s behest, and he looked none-too-happy about it, particularly for the court costs incurred, walking stridently several feet ahead of Paul and Mrs. Dirigible-Kronski, who was holding Paul from the side with both arms as they walked.

“Thank God I’m an atheist,” said Alexei.

Paul looked cowed but relieved. He had been inches away from County Jail, and if he had one half-buried fear in life it was that he should be involuntarily fucked in the ass. There was no question of him returning to Lawrence Parkway to stay for dinner even though his mother suggested it but even in suggesting it knew the offer would be refused. It was awkward but, at the same time, touching. Hadn’t the stabbing been, after all, a sympathetic and biologically inevitable act of protection? Wasn’t it, though hazardously augmented to be sure, an act derived from the entirely natural desire to protect one’s mother or rather, from the desire to be one’s mother’s protector to the exclusion of all others? And wasn’t that love? My God. Is there anything I can feel that has not already been felt? Is there anything I can want that has not already been set just out reach? Are we not truly as pitiful as Tantalus? Can I really be free while all or any one of my feelings is no more than a permutation of longing and loneliness? Hatred is longing. Fear is longing. Love is longing. Laughter is longing. Faith, pathos, grief are longing. Can Man be said to have truly overcome himself before his capacity to laugh has been irrevocably extinguished? It is wrong to be organic. It is wrong to think. Anyone with a soul is a dangerous criminal, like one of Nimzowitch’s runaway pawns. Anyone who reaches through infinite space to touch the fingertips of his lover is an irrepressible lunatic.

So Paul came in the car with us and was totally silent, averting his face, maybe more than a little embarrassed and definitely more than a little hung over so we awarded him shotgun. Richard was in the back now and I was between him and Susan, who had at this point emerged from her elective catatonia to scan our hometown with the eyes of a poet or burglar. But Paul wanted to drive past his old house again because his high school girlfriend Cheri had lived only a few doors down. She almost certainly was not there, having been accepted at Cornell Law. Cheri was the most focused individual I had ever met; she had the uncanny ability to place feelings, goals, people, relationships, and even identities into watertight compartments from which she could secure and extract relevant material efficiently and at will. If she were a lover at 3:00, she could be a student at 4:00 and a daughter again at 5:30 all with transitions as remarkable for their instantaneity as they were seamless. That is to say, Cheri might very well have been totally in love with Paul, but this drawer, as in Dali’s Anthropomorphic Cabinet was, out of necessity, closed, at least for the moment, while the more pertinent matters of her education and career were meticulously pursued. By contrast, Paul was, like me, a chest of broken drawers, with everything leaking and spilling upon everything else, and he liked it that way, or at least he could not comprehend another. And it was in this way that we were very much alike. It was the right way to live, and the only way to love, that is to say, recklessly. Can one be said to have truly lived unless his life ends in chaos? Can one be said to have truly loved before he has been crushed into dust?

So we did the rounds, up Lawrence Pkwy with Paul scrunching down just in case. He didn’t want any sightings of him reported to Cheri by her parents or by her slutty yet emotionally desolate little sister, Blanch (whom he had also fucked at least twice) even though they were all “protecting” Cheri from him and were therefore unlikely to mention anything for fear of provoking an inconvenient emotion. Then up the hill toward Smith School, onto Churchill for the steep climb through a land of faux-brick mcmansions with their perfectly manicured lawns and automatic underground sprinkler systems (burgeoning amidst a steadily thinning population of 1950s clapboard, ranch-style knockdown holdouts) their stone-paver driveways packed with an endless succession of Landrovers and Beemers, with the occasional Big Wheel left out by the curb to indicate that, unfortunately, the occupants had bred.

We cruised along Oxford Drive when who should we see but John McKeon, large as life, sitting on the curb outside his parents’ house, chugging what appeared to be a gallon of Ten High. Yes, he was drunk, and Joy Division (love, love will tear us apart… again) poured from the half-open door. We stopped and John struggled to his feet and acknowledged us with a middle finger then gravely intoned our names, pointing a wobbly finger at each of us in turn. Susan he hardly hesitated upon, calling her “baby-doll” as if he’d known her forever, which she seemed surprisingly (perhaps it was the plangent transparency with which he endowed her this moniker) to like. To all of us in general he demanded: “Get the fuck out of that piece of shit and get inside. Huge party. Huge.”

To get us started, we were each given a bong hit, a double shot of Jack and two ‘shroom caps, which John induced us to grind up in the Cuisinart and mix with grapefruit juice to accelerate the effects. Everyone was there, the whole gang already tripping, as if college and life had never broken us up, never aged us, never exposed us for who we truly were, never reproved us for who we were not; and so we regressed into one another pleasantly, comfortably, with the certain faith that no one in that house would touch our defenses, vanity, insecurity, uh huh, our identities as prescribed by John Sayles momentarily restored; a jock, a nerd, a princess, a burn-out, and a kook who is actually a hidden teen goddess throwing salami at board-approved plaster statues, Simple Minds sloshing with evanescent lassitude against heiroglyphed papyrus skulls, but with a new and alien worldliness in our eyes, the eyes of those who have fucked and been fucked, buggered, ripped off, ripped apart, beaten up, imprisoned in searsuckers, cheap polyester ties and pantsuits, stuffed into strait-jackets, blackmailed for our T-cells, pigeon-holed as organ donors, plied with Prozac, cajoled into murder, rape, pillage, prostitution, theft and prevarication, ridiculed for our knowledge, censured for our indifference, tossed out like cheap toys, stripped of our gods and sodomized as idolaters; sell-outs, rats nibbling shit caked between the spokes of vast industrial combines, vermin from the fifth level of oblivion dancing jigs as sideshow freaks for Sony Sports Walkmans and a weekly look at Luke Perry’s nonexistent ass; ratting out our friends, our lovers, our parents, our gods; shat out of amorphous, celestial assholes; festooned as faithless, hooked on oxycodone, benzodiazepines, café au laits and VH1; tarred and feathered for our innocence, then murdered for getting laid when we could; crammed into cubicles; spread like cholesterol-free butter-substitute over 10-hour days, high-deductible HMOs and imploding IRAs; peeled off the macadam by our cockrings, liprings, dreadlocks, and tie-dyes; spat on for the imbeciles that we were; shoved naked for the sake of our art before jaded spectators onto stages lit by frigid acetylene footlights; ground into polystyrene and cement and poured into concrete exit ramps so that mom and dad’s Audi could more easily reach Off 5th at the Bergen Mall, then admonished for not loving them dutifully and with all our heart.

And so there we are, the lords and ladies of Generation X in all our imagined glory, tripping our asses off into tempestuous oblivion, and now it’s Phil Collins lonely on the corner crooning in the background while some dumb bastard drowns and absolutely everyone is tripping on E and ‘shrooms and in cocaine apotheosis and in love. Jim & Sarah are in the parlor eating a stick of butter and Sandy has his own stick and he is dipping it into a porcelain sugar bowl. Sandy has two women from Vassar on speakerphone and he is threatening to “split them in two” with his titanium penis and alternately doing lines with Richard who is straightening them up meantime with a laminated playing card. Camille and Andrea, a buxom blonde who once asked me out to coffee, are crammed against each other on Mr. McKeon’s neo-Victorian wingchair tickling each other, wriggling, and Mike is already there drinking three raw eggs because he is now Rocky Balboa stripped down to his tank-top except with a shaven chest and he has a half-eaten banana rolled in nutmeg on a paper towel. A diminutive woman whom I do not know who looks like a gnome or a diminutive babushka in a flowing tie-dye skirt possibly John’s girl from Stanford whom nobody has officially met yet and Susan come through with a VHS cassette and they are pulling the tape out and wrapping Mike in it who goes into a rapture and simultaneously grabs each of them by the waist. Lilia who had been strictly Sandy’s girl, comes out of nowhere with a crucifix in her mouth, rosary hanging from either side of her lips like a mustachio, and takes my hair by the back of my head and presses her lips over mine and my brain floods with norepinephrine and warm honey and then we are in the bathroom knocking one out for 3 ½ minutes with she saying “breathe me, breathe me, breathe me” through teeth clenched on bakelite until she concludes she isn’t going to come any time in the immediate future and abruptly withdraws and declares “we had our moment,” and leaves me with a glistening boner and the uncanny feeling I’ve defiled a Picasso. Kari with a martini with a cocktail straw walks by in the faux-leather bustier that made her a legend at the senior prom and I grab her arm but I have forgotten that Mike told me she turned bull-dyke at Smith and she greets my nose expertly with the heel of her palm and you can see she really knows how to “put her hip into it” and exhale sharply with the effort and I squeal, wondering if she’s been taking fucking Tae Kwon Do or something, and start to bleed out of my right nostril. Then I’m washing off my face in the increasingly magenta sink and then Susan is there and she takes my hand and pulls me through the house out the back door to the pool and we sit facing one another on an iron bench. Our mouths are a match, and our wills fall into mutual abidance; when I expand, she contracts, and when it is her resolve that exerts dominance, I defer. Our tongues, our lips, play upon one another in exact comprehension. She bites gently my lip. She runs her tongue along my gums. I kiss her eyelids. I touch my knuckles to her face. When she moves me, gently, I move, and when I show gratitude for her compassion, brushing her throat with the tip of my nose, she receives it fragilely, without ego, without triumph. It is the power to move me that endows her the power to move me and it is a power she shares willingly. And when on occasion our wills clash, when we push one against the other, our lips are illuminated by smiles, and when I or she finally relents, the victor is humbled and showers the conquered with apologetic kisses. Only new lovers can kiss in such a way. And I know then why Richard is in love with her, and at that moment, there is no doubt in my mind that he is.

There is a tug at my shoulder. I am pulled off the bench onto the ground and thereupon see the grim faces of Richard and Mike as they pick me up and launch me into the pool. When I surface, screaming from the cold, Sandy is hurtling into the pool in cannonball position. Then comes Susan, giggling, and Patrick throws Sarah in and then himself, then Andrea and Camille holding hands, then John McKeon hooting, Lillia tearing off her tie-dye skirt, and everyone else, streaming out of the house, catapulting into the pool, in flips and cannonballs and cartwheels and dives. There must be thirty of us in there at least, and the laughter dies down and we are floating and bumping one another like silent buoys and we are listening to the living night and watching the skies for clouds lit by the city across the river and for falling stars. And the water is lapping quietly against the porcelain tile. Abruptly Kari stumbles out of the house shattering the quiet screaming “Help! Please! Help!” She is crying, holding her face with both hands; she falls on the grass to her knees. We begin to scramble uncertainly from the water. “Paul’s cut his wrists!”

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