Wednesday, June 29, 2011
They agreed that Barbara should wait at the restaurant. The heat – it was too much for her. The heat and the noise and the dust, and having to squeeze past crowds, past paper lanterns and beer t-shirts, past silk scarves and skewers of meat just to inch along the street – it was not for her. There was just today in Bangkok. Tomorrow they would go to the beach and her husband and daughter had promised her that she could have all the quiet she liked. Quiet was good for her. Or maybe it wasn’t good, but she liked it.
Barbara enjoyed fast food restaurants. The key was to eat as little as possible, so as to minimize the harm. She folded her hands on the little table in front of her and looked out through the glass wall to the street, to the crowd pushing past, smiling but not stopping for the big blonde girl who’d gotten her dangling earring caught on an awning.
Barbara felt safe. As if there was a guarantee that, in this air-conditioned box of nonsense, nothing meaningful could occur. She was protected. You clogged your heart of course – but that was only trouble for later.
Her husband said she had a lot of strange ideas. She said she believed in paying attention. Her daughter said she paid so much attention she completely missed the point.
Look at this giant chicken, with his cowboy hat and his outstretched arms. A chicken beaming among the red yellow orange balloons above the red yellow orange chairs. On the walls huge faces of white children were emblazoned among deep-fat fried giant chicken parts. Each white face was laughing, but very carefully, so as to show only the top set of teeth.
There were reasons for this, Barbara was certain. Probably bottom teeth had been found by some marketing research group to signify uncertainty or mortality or lust – and thus had no place in this, the haven of fried chicken and joy.
She enjoyed this restaurant very much. She could feel entirely safe here, almost. If only she hadn’t seen that horrible chicken documentary. Because, even if the human race were perfect in every other way, just for what we did to chickens we would never be forgiven.
Barbara often dreamed of Armageddon. She wondered if this was normal. Barbara was interested in being normal. Which turned out to be difficult because it wasn’t like there’s a list posted anywhere: Guidelines to Normal. You were told what your ideal weight and blood pressure – Barbara was too high in both – but as for the rest you had to figure it out. That is why Barbara wished she could give surveys.
She wanted to ask: How often do you dream of the end of the world? She dreamed of the end all the time. Just the night before she’d been up on the Twin Towers getting ready to climb down an external fire escape with no provisions other than a rotten head of lettuce.
“You think too much!” her husband said, several times each day. Her daughter said so, too. They said it as if they expected her to simply and obediently stop thinking, right there and then, the way a dog drops a bone.
Her husband was almost certainly, at this moment, getting a blowjob in a massage parlor. She supposed she ought to mind. The truth was that sex would make him feel guilty, guilt would make him kind, and kindness would drastically improve their vacation. That blowjob was service to the whole family, really.
Barbara hoped he was with one of the glamorous lady boys they’d seen bobbing down the street among high heels, ringlets, adam’s apple and acrylic nails. Her husband had stared at one, and then he shook his head, as if to say, “Can you believe that?” But Barbara wasn’t fooled for a minute. If I get breakfast in bed, she thought, I’ll know it was a boy.
Her daughter said that Barbara had absolutely no sense of humor. But she did. There was just so little she could say out loud.
She looked around the restaurant. It was two-thirds full, but almost silent except for the piped in music and a timer going bing in the kitchen. Everyone was looking at their phone. Even the baby in his stroller had his own play phone. When he was ready to talk, he’d call somebody up.
According to Barbara’s estimation, it had been about eighteen months since the world had fallen to second place. Now, for those who could, the screen came first and more people looked at it than at the world around them.
What a perfect word: screen. As in a play or lady’s dressing room. A screen, as in a shield. Some place to hide. And Barbara didn’t blame them, not at all. The world became more frightening each day, as our toys turned against us, as our idiocy bounced off the clouds and rained down upon us. Barbara would have hidden, too, if she could, but screens didn’t work for her. Perhaps she was too afraid.
“How’s Thailand doing?” she’d asked the elderly but energetic taxi driver on the way from the airport, after he’d explained that the way he kept up his stamina was by drinking the breast milk of his much younger wife.
Her daughter had rolled her eyes. Her husband was already asleep. “King die soon,” said the taxi driver. “Then civil war start. Same day king die. Not next day. Thailand no one country. Two, three countries.” He said this quickly and matter-of-factly, as if slicing up a fruit.
Barbara had been startled. She assumed she was visiting a stable country. Everything seemed all right. But the lady at the hotel said the same thing, when Barbara asked about it. Thailand was – only a temporary situation. The king was in 24 hour intensive care.
She tried to talk about it with her daughter, who’d said, “That man believed in the power of breast milk!”
“I breastfed you,” Barbara said. And was told, again, that she was incapable of understanding the simplest sentence.
Barbara was sitting very still. No one could say that was wrong. Her back was not touching the back of the seat. Her bottom was sore. The crowd continued to jostle past outside the glass wall. The chicken presided over her with outstretched arms.
The key, Barbara believed, was to remain at all times the same size. She shouldn’t become any bigger. She was already too big, as she learned every moment here, just trying to walk down the street. It was even more important that she not become smaller. She ought to remain at all times Barbara, age 54, five foot six, big in the hips. She should not become the size of a child or a cat or a kitten or a mouse or a roach. Above all, she should not be Alice-in-Wonderland all over the place, now the size of a matchbox, now the size of a house.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with Barbara, her doctor said. She was too sensitive and thought too much. A little vacation might be just the thing. When she came back – perhaps she could find herself a hobby? Of course she had her painting – her little pictures with their unusual colors and that was very nice and he was glad she could enjoy that – but maybe she could find a hobby that included other people. For example, she could join an art class and receive some instruction and paint, you know, actual things.
What she needed, her doctor explained, was a new role – her daughter was grown, her husband busy with work. A new role, a flexible one, of course. She’d still be there when her family needed her!
Someone’s phone was beeping. Was it the girl in the red hat? The boy with the headphones? Just beeping away. It was impossible to tell who because everyone, of course, was playing with his or her phone. Was that necessary? Of course not. Someone had their headphones in. It was completely inconsiderate. That’s how it was nowadays. People couldn’t hear themselves.
Barbara took a small card from her pocket. It read: I am a cultured and wise and yet, a humble person. Her doctor had given Barbara some affirmations and told her she must recite them each day. She should use them instead of her own thoughts. Affirmations like: I feel great about myself! Fear is only a feeling. All is well in my world!
Barbara had a problem with sounds. When she felt a little – ill at ease – she became very sensitive. Voices, footsteps, chewing, sniffling, bells. All kinds of sounds. Sounds that, when she complained about them, her daughter said, “Mom! People don’t even hear those things anymore!”
Not only did Barbara think too much, she felt too much as well. Thus the appointments with Dr. Dillman. To help her make progress toward thoughtlessness and senselessness. She also needed to love herself more, since the time others could spend loving her was very limited. Perhaps self-love would come naturally, when she was thinking less? Right now she was only talking to Dr. Dillman. Drugs were also “an option to explore”.
From overhead, help appeared. The music had changed to the theme from Dirty Dancing. Barbara would have liked to dance. But she was careful to sit still and not mouth the words – she didn’t want to look like a mad woman!
How she wished she could give surveys! She would love a job like that. But only if she could choose the questions herself. Otherwise she’d be stuck asking about race and age – two things widely rumored to not even exist. Whereas, Barbara wanted to ask about Armageddon and, lest that seem overwhelming, she also wanted to know if other people missed Patrick Swayze.
She missed Patrick Swayze so much. And not the same way she missed milk delivery and safe streets. Not even the way she missed, say, Katherine Hepburn. She missed him in a tender down-to-earth way, but not immoderately, as if he’d been the Hollywood equivalent of the check-out lady with the bandanna at Safeway, the one who smiled at you in a way that made the day 35 pounds lighter.
She was older than every person in this restaurant. Including the manager who was by no means young. She would be all right with aging except that the years were so incomplete. Nothing was ever properly finished. So much was not even started. Like notebooks with just a few pages scribbled in, and then so much torn out. If life was in any way reasonable, one would be allowed occasionally “time outs” to make changes to, say, the Spring of 1991.
Barbara had fallen behind, in other words, and, if ever there was any doubt, she had her husband and her daughter to tell her so.
She looked sadly around the restaurant. Thai people would eat at places like this from now on. They’d get fat like Americans and their hair would lose its luster. But what could she do? God help her if she tried to interfere with the global distribution of deep fat fried chicken. They’d lock her up for good.
What could she do? She could do nothing. Therefore, she shouldn’t think about it. That was the formula. So many things not to think about! Almost everything that mattered.
Barbara heard a sound like fireworks. And for Barbara fireworks were never all right, as if she were being reminded of another life, full of bombs. National holidays were awful for her – she also distrusted flags. “You’re like some kind of refugee,” her daughter told her once, and it was true, but – from where?
Barbara put her hands on both sides of the table. She frowned at herself. She was thinking the thoughts she was not supposed to be thinking. The table had gotten so big.
First there was only one siren. And it was a long way off. But then there was another and the first siren was closer.
What could she do? She could do nothing! Therefore, she shouldn’t think. Tomorrow they’d go to the beach. She could have as much quiet as she liked. All she had to do in the meantime was sit at this restaurant and not think and -- ? Love herself. She couldn’t do anything for the chickens or the atmosphere or the Thai people getting fat but she could love herself and think less.
I am special and wonderful! I am my own best friend and cheerleader.
There was another siren, or it was the same one, only closer now. The timer went off in the kitchen. Someone’s phone rang.
Barbara shouldn’t listen. Barbara shouldn’t think. If only she could learn to think, not hear, not feel, not speak – how much better it would be, how much healthier! So much easier for everyone!
Another phone rang. More sirens. Someone stepped outside to take a call and looked concerned. Was that the sound of police cars or ambulances?
I have many qualities, traits and talents that make me unique. I give myself permission to shine!
More sirens. Ambulances or police cars. Maybe fire trucks. Why did the music have to be so loud? Why couldn’t people stop talking on their phones? More fireworks. Or maybe they weren’t fireworks at all.
What if the war had started? Maybe the king was dead.
How about a survey? How fun it would be to give surveys if she could ask all the questions herself! She had a question wanted to ask everyone in this restaurant and also everyone all over the world: how often do you find yourself singing “Islands in the Stream”?
How do you do it exactly? Do you sing Dolly? Do you sing Kenny? Do you try somehow to belt out both parts at once?
Barbara found herself singing “Islands in the Stream” all the time. She couldn’t help herself.
That is what we are!
How can we be wrong?
Sail away with me!!
Having met by chance in the street, Barbara’s husband and daughter returned together to the restaurant together to find Barbara sobbing hysterically, her head on the small orange table.
Both of them felt absolutely terrible. It was just as they suspected. Even small, simple things were too much for Barbara.
Barbara’s daughter put her arms around her mother. Barbara’s husband didn’t know what to do. He was feeling so terribly guilty. He’d even bought a small gift for his wife: a styrofoam container of mango sticky rice.
Friday, June 10, 2011
I was surprised by how difficult I found this book, especially the famed Red Cavalry series. I’d read plenty of Russian literature and lots of modernism; I cockily assumed this book wouldn’t pose any difficulty.
Instead I found that, after the series of “Autobiographical Stories”, this was a book that consistently required (and rewarded) two cups of strong coffee and my full attention. Perhaps it was the density of language and detail -- or maybe I am just unaccustomed to battle stories, where the quality of one's horse may turn out to matter more than anything else.
I thought it might be helpful to offer a little advice to others like myself – earnest types of middling intelligence – who wish to make a serious attempt to read Babel.
I suggest buying both of the popular translations. Passages that seem opaque in one, may be perfectly understandable in the other.Peter Constantine’s translation is sometimes more readable and the imprimatur of Nathalie Babel cannot be ignored. However, when I got really bogged down, I appreciated David McDuff’s selection. His introduction to the stories was particularly helpful. (Unlike the notes, which were divided into two sections and drove me nuts.)
Whenever I thought the Constantine translation was better, there’d be a paragraph from McDuff that couldn’t be improved upon. (I have no clue as to the accuracy of the translations. I only mean that I found some passages so beautiful and funny I did not care if they were correct or not!)
“I felt sorry about that stallion. He was a little Bolshevik. Red as a copper coin, a tail like a bullet, legs like strings. I’d planned to take him to Lenin alive, but it didn’t work out. I liquidated that little horse. It tumbled down like a bride. . .”(157)
Or, my favorite, “God has given us, his lickspittles, the slip. Our destiny is a turkey, our life is a copeck, stop using those words and hear, if you will, a letter from Lenin”(148).
I was impressed by how much a three page story could contain. A downright exhausting amount, it turns out. The Red Cavalry stories are like a group of lurid paintings from which it is impossible to look away.
Unlike the Red Cavalry series, which I found difficult, most of the autobiographical and Odessa stories are told in the deceptively cozy style of the village storyteller and are immediately accessible -- and sometimes unforgettable. When I got frustrated, I’d reread “The King” an elegant and funny story as perfectly constructed as a mousetrap.
It took me three tries and several dozen hours to finally finish all these stories but I was glad that I persisted -- and grateful for the help I had along the way.
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
White walls. A single elegant object, thoughtfully chosen, arranged, and in the light just so – to be accompanied by something classical, by cappuccino with meaningful foam, by the most exquisite frosted biscuit.
Fine if that’s your thing.
Oh to be generous as a dive bar! Lit by strings of colored lights, some of which blink. Pin up girls beneath portraits of the King and Queen garlanded with exhausted marigolds with plastic irises.
Green walls with pink stripes. Pillars to match. An altar to the Buddha with a red electric candle. Large tropical fruit decals! Bar girls in halter tops and heavy makeup, their beauty undisguised though stranded here.
With everything: beer and cheesy music! Crescendos, Singha, and sing-along’s. With death always nearby, waiting to be shrugged at.
These goldfish clearly did not receive the memorandum that they were only to grow to fit the size of the tank. No larger.
Dedication and toil in a person without talent is a thing entirely pathetic. Another humpbacked basketball star. Still more wheelchair rugby. Casanova with a gumdrop in his trousers.
The shopkeeper’s son isn’t quite retarded – though it’s clear he’ll never live away from home. He tells everyone he’s going to be a doctor.
“A doctor is a fine profession!” coo the customers. His mother (what a fine long-suffering woman!) has even given him a toy stethoscope.
He sits beside the door with it and greets everyone who enters. “Hello, doctor!” say the customers. They are pleased his mother has found a place for him. It’s not as if he can count change.
Sunday, June 05, 2011
from the series What I Found When I Was Lost
When I was 24 I threw myself in front of a train. Naturally, my timing and my aim were off. Sissy boy. Couldn’t hit a baseball, couldn’t throw a punch, couldn’t hit a Light Rail train -- not even with myself.
The Light Rail was new in Denver -- and turned out to have excellent brakes. The conductor stopped the train and cussed me out. “What is it you are trying to do?” Frankly, it was more embarrassing than anything else. I stumbled back to my friend’s house and didn’t tell anyone. My clothes were soaked. I said I’d fallen in the snow. As suicides go, it wasn’t much, but, hey, it was an attempt.
The next day I decided that, since I was going to kill myself, I might as well go back to India first. I’d been going to India since I was 18, prostrating to swamis and lamas, reading novels, getting dysentery, and cruising the bamboo at Cubbon Park. I stumbled off to India and got hooked back into life. Whatever works, right?
More than a dozen years passed, several different lives and countries, but, despite setting records for sustained neuroses, I never seriously considered killing myself again – until about two weeks ago.
I live in Tokyo now, where the trains are very fast and doubtless would have done the trick, but thankfully I was trying to be modern, also painless, and so I googled ‘Ativan lethal dose’.
Do you know what you get when you do that? You get 15,000 online dealers trying to sell you Ativan. Which pretty much extinguishes any warm and fuzzy Ronald Reagan-type feelings I have toward capitalism.
On the plus side, there were so many budding capitalists that it was impossible to find the information I was looking for.
When I am lost to myself, when the demons have spirited me away, I sit in the corner drinking beer and scrawling notes to myself on scraps of paper. Two weeks ago, the morning after a hopeless night, while tidying up the cans and papers, I found a little note that read: I’m not going to kill myself because I want to eat breakfast again at the Mali Restaurant.
“Dude.” I said to myself. “Nice idea.”
I bought a one way ticket to Bangkok and here I am, eating rice porridge with pork, suspended in a humid cloud of fish sauce, green onions and monoxide, sitting outside at the Mali Restaurant in Bangkok.
Now that my insanity has been firmly established, I would like to tell you my mystic theory of restaurants. I believe in soul mates basically. Not for romance, but for dining out.
(It’s better if you pronounce this next part in your best Osho-faux guru accent.)
Each soul receives, at conception, the name of a restaurant and that restaurant is the soul’s destiny, where the soul and the stomach are perfectly satisfied.
For some souls it might be a sushi bar, for others a hot dog stand on a sunny corner. Some tragic souls never seek out their restaurant -- they keep going back to Panda Express at the Food Court.
I’ll leave it to Hollywood to work out all the dramatic implications.
Anyway, the Mali Restaurant in Bangkok is the restaurant of my soul -- for me, it is the best restaurant in the world. The food is excellent, of course, Thai and Western both, and all reasonably priced. Inside it’s dark and cozy with cushions and photos and bric-a-brac. Outside there’s an intricate wooden verandah that’s glorious if you don’t mind the street noise. The management and the waitstaff greet you tenderly, as if your mother had called ahead and asked that they be especially sweet to you.
However I suspect that the Mali Restaurant’s principal attraction for me is its strange and occult power, a bit of benevolent witchcraft. At the Mali Restaurant it is impossible to feel afraid or hopeless.
I have fled to the Mali in the thick of a panic attack, or after a day at the baths when I could have torn out my eyes from self-loathing. Demons can’t get inside the door. Mine can’t anyway. I can’t explain it otherwise.
Naturally I have my theories about this.
The Mali Restaurant is run by two men, a couple, one American and one Thai. Of course they are ordinary men, with complaints, with aches and pains. They are ordinary and at the same time I think it can also be said that they are beautiful experiments in human goodness. Experiments such as these – experiments in the cultivation of the good heart -- may have unforeseen peripheral effects.
The American was a soldier in Vietnam and, from what I’ve overheard, is some nights haunted still. I heard him say once that he keeps his room heavily fragrant “like a French whorehouse” so that he won’t smell corpses. It may be that, in creating a refuge from his own fear and suffering, he has created a safe haven that others may share as well.
The other man, the Thai, has a compulsion for preserving life. At the market he will buy frogs and even goats to save them from slaughter. Eavesdropping as I ladle up rice soup with pork, I note that he does not speak like someone who woke up and decided to be virtuous, but rather like a man who cannot help himself. He cares especially for dogs. He saves dogs the way other men drink.
The leftovers from the Mali -- the unfinished lunches of embassy staff, the leavings of sex tourists who overestimated their appetites -- all go to stray dogs. But his care extends much further than this.
Driving one night three years ago, he saw ahead of him a truck full of dogs. A not uncommon sight. He knew these dogs had been captured and were being taken up North where they would be slaughtered and served in a restaurant.
Upsetting, isn’t it? I would feel outraged if I saw such a thing. And I could be relied upon to not do a damn thing.
He forced the truck off the road, marched up to the driver’s window, and announced that he was an undercover policeman. He is not a tall man and certainly not a musclehead. He only has a big voice and episodes of total fearlessness.
After threatening to arrest the three men in the truck, he told them he’d let them go -- just this once -- as soon as they moved all the dogs from their truck to his.
A happy hijacking, in other words. Robin Hood for dogs.
He brought the dogs all home. Dozens and dozens of dogs. (“I was used to this sort of thing,” said his American husband. “But not more than three goats at a time.”) Luckily the owners of the Mali have land of their own. They now operate a dog shelter and work to stop dog trafficking.
Courage on such a scale is bound to have effects. Don’t you think? Unintended, peripheral effects. Medicines have side effects – and so do kindnesses.
By which I mean to say that I am just another of the dogs.
Another stray, or house pet that got lost. A lucky dog rescued at random on the way to its destruction, who winds up instead eating breakfast at the Mali Restaurant.
Friday, June 03, 2011
Starting this very day, he resolved to be sensible regarding beauty. And not just regarding clouds and birds and dawn -- about which it was difficult enough to maintain one’s composure -- but specifically regarding the beauty of men, which was after all extremely common, so that a heightened sensitivity to it turned out to be as nagging and inconvenient as an allergy to wheat or dust.
The beauty of men surrounded him, pursued him, fled from him – and then sneaked up again. Wasn’t it high time he learned to cope? Becoming terribly nervous, falling to pieces, staring like a loon was unnecessary and exhausting and often downright obnoxious.
The Buddha, seeking to combat lust, instructed his disciples to meditate upon the repulsiveness of the body by dissecting it into parts. In this, the Buddha was only partially successful. Because many men have handsome femurs and highly erotic scapula. It is more than possible to admire the gaping eye sockets of their adorable skulls. Poor unfortunate Buddha: some boys even have cute mucus.
Along with the downright perfect – who were more numerous than was conducive to productivity and good sense – there was an even more troublesome and pernicious breed: those men rendered imperfect in such a precise and cunning way that made them even more helplessly desirable, so that he was unable to even glance at their crooked noses and jug ears without being incapacitated by the ardent wish to sodomize and/or fellate them to very limit of his ordinary (yet extremely enthusiastic) capacity.
Certainly it was a surprise to no one that he had arrived at middle age with nothing remotely resembling a career.
It was neither pragmatic nor seemly to be a continuously swooning person. Not merely impractical, he was a source of embarrassment to himself and others. Perhaps even lost revenue. He had more than himself to consider – and therefore ought to free up some time to think of other people. He was the useless offshoot of a thriving family business: a multi-generational, multi-dimensional, transformational pumpkin farm. It was shocking really, what some wayward Bostonian might plunk down for a pumpkin. Why? Because they believed that pumpkin would change their lives. And would they buy that pumpkin from just anyone?
Of course not!
His brother’s wife, who had a fondness for impossible causes, tried to explain to him the importance of reputation. She herself maintained an excellent one. (She had only married into the family, the neighbors said, and thus could not be blamed. But, seriously, how far could this tolerance be stretched?)
An excellent reputation was like an enormous pedigreed dog: how glorious to take it for a walk on a sunny Sunday afternoon!
At the same time – how delicate it turned out to be. Despite its hearty appearance, the magnificent beast was downright fragile, subject to every stripe of illness and complaint, liable to keel over in the slightest ill breeze.
But oh to possess such a dog! It was worth no end of fuss. Days of grooming, nights of worry. Reputation: what a splendid and precarious dog!
His sister-in-law patiently and kindly explained the necessity of reputation. The overall point being that he had no right to go around shooting other people’s pets.
Be sensible, he told himself, and indeed he resolved to be so. Starting this very day!
He wondered if he might do better in some place where the men were not so beautiful. After all, he’d heard a thousand catty remarks about such places, full of men guaranteed not to stun.
He had traveled extensively in search of such a place, a plain-faced paradise of reliable ugliness. Not once but many times he spent vast sums traveling to remote and inhospitable regions, unpopular cities, muddy islands, only to discover, as soon as he disembarked, that the men there were beautiful too!
His despair at these moments is easily imagined. Utterly profound, it was. Also exceedingly brief. In less than a minute he was off chasing some soldier, heedless as a dog after a squirrel.
A few times he had become hopeful upon finding himself in a place where the men seemed dull or unpalatable. I could live here! he thought. I could work! I could think for extended periods!
Yet, within three days, he found that he had helplessly begun to admire the confident stomping of the bow-legged men. How astonishingly far they could spit! By then of course it was all over: he was swallowed up again by this vast encroaching beauty like a plague.
It is understandable, perhaps, that this man often felt beauty was out to get him. Because -- even if he succeeded in averting his eyes from the mountains, even if he made it past the little butterflies like glimmering bits of ash -- there’d be some dusty unshaven hippie boy adjusting himself in the street. No, god, please, no! Not a unshaven freeballing hippie boy! But it was too late. A whole day of being sensible shot in the head.
On these downtrodden occasions, he took heart thinking of all the people throughout history who had resolved to starve, suffocate, stamp out, and obliterate beauty – and indeed had very nearly succeeded in destroying it entirely, not only in their own lives but also in the lives of people around them.
These heroes cannot be blamed if beauty turned out to be freakishly durable. Like honey in the Pyramids. All things pass away. Except beauty. Beauty is not impermanent. Beauty goes on and on.
Firmly he resolved: Even though my faults are numberless, I must remove them. Even though beauty cannot be destroyed, still I must destroy it. At least curb, restrain and moderate it! The Japanese understood perfectly. Beauty had to be controlled --even tortured sometimes. Because beauty wasn’t something you could just live with, or leave lying around. Certainly not. Beauty was too terrifying.
Consider what happened the moment beauty was perceived. In particular the beauty of man – of all the kinds of beauty this was by far the worst and most incapacitating. The way it exploded in the mind like a bomb in a crowded café.
What happened exactly inside that single second – at the sight of a beautiful man?
First, shock. Actually a microscopic blackout. An abyss complete with a feverish dream. Upon awakening: sheer panic, which hardens into terror of imminent humiliation, such as one might feel arriving at an elegant party clothed only in wads of toilet paper and lice. A sharp desperate craving for invisibility is next, most preferably in the form of death. A plan to hide is hatched: to hide, most cunningly, within the body of the man. The strangling wish to become, oneself, that holy and radiant animal, followed by the wish to possess him, at least blow him. Then the agonized cringing famishment: the wish to receive from him some half-hearted token of recognition, not as an equal obviously, but simply as remotely satisfactory dirt.
This is a gross oversimplification, of course. What actually happened is more complicated and vastly more extreme.
Even though this process occurred within a single second, it still lasted long enough to contort the face, rendering his attempt at a harmless smile into a hideous grimace. This elicited in turn, from the beautiful man, that tidal wave, that blazing wall of fiery terror -- a shudder of distaste. Beauty rolled its eyes – weirdo!
The torrent of regrets and recriminations that followed such an event was likely to last four to six weeks. An entirely unnecessary period, it turned out, as the process was bound to be repeated several times within a single moment.
One marvels really that this gentleman managed to put together even the semblance of functionality. Certainly it was a struggle. He wanted to be reasonable, we wished to be rational. Even sporadic good sense was something he would really have appreciated. Therefore he resolved, starting this very day, to be sensible regarding beauty.
How does one go about it? he wondered. Particularly when one has – no rationality nack, no sense for sense? What is to be added, what avoided?
Anything provoking ecstatic trance must be cut right out: devotional singing, porno, coffee. Immoral and/or classic works of literature. Long walks. Nature. Memory.
He really ought to be supervised, he thought. Sense requires supervision, particularly in the wayward early stages. There ought to be lectures on the concerns of rational people: success, security, retirement planning. There ought to be a guard, to supervise the senses, above all the eyes – those traitors to the cause – someone to bark, “No staring! No sneaking glances! Eyes up! Not that far up!”
Would sunglasses help?
Ideally he would wear, in addition to a medical bracelet to caution cute doctors and nurses, a large pin emblazoned with the words: FAILS TO UNDERSTAND APPROPRIATE BOUNDARIES. PLEASE DO NOT CONFUSE.
Right now, for example. At the café he frequents, still in the gleam of early morning sun, the waiter greets him with a hug. He found this hug extremely pleasant and entirely welcome. In fact he was ready to shove his tongue in the waiter’s mouth and help him out of his stiff black pants right there and then. But apparently this response was considered inappropriate.
Appropriate responses! If they were so important to people, why couldn’t people just tell him what they were? Armed with knowledge of the correct response, he would then proceed to enact it, with both precision and feeling.
But no-o-o. No one was going to tell him the appropriate response. Of course not! He was expected to guess. And meanwhile it was trial and error in front of an entirely gorgeous waiter.
Apparently, when the waiter embraced him, his words and touch in response ought to be perfunctory and matter-of-fact, as if men with eyebrows and asses like these embraced him all the time. He was expected to simply order his coffee, as if coffee mattered at a moment like this, after embracing a waiter.
Would good sense ever come naturally to him, he wondered. Despair entirely overwhelmed him for three seconds. It was appalling, it was unnerving, it was shameful, it was humiliating really.
First he asked for coffee, but then he needed a glass of ice water, and then a little milk. The waiter walked back and forth. Which was cruel and unfair. Because if the waiter had had only one side – he might have managed. One-sided waiters would be well-suited to self-control.
But the waiter had at least two sides and likely several more besides. It was overwhelming. How did the waiter’s lovers ever manage? You couldn’t ever just choose a side. If you ever got him in bed you’d have to keep flipping him over.
Get a grip, mister! He ordered himself. Checking to make sure the waiter was out of sight, he pressed his glass of iced water against his forehead. Restrain, regulate, control, curb, moderate! He put down the water and picked up his coffee. He clutched the mug with both hands and let the steam sting his eyes. He resolved and pledged and swore to become, this very day, sensible regarding beauty!
When he looked up again the waiter had returned, smiling, with his little jug of fresh milk.
In which his resolution drowned.