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Exquisite Corpse
Issue 8A Journal of Letters and Life

Close Encounters
by Joe Maynard
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I knew her -- I mean knew her -- from a vague pain I had. A way of thinking that circled in and out of cavernous traps looking for meaning, yet unable to understand things simple and direct. So you somewhat enjoy your morning coffee, the vague urban noise, the sun rising over the building two blocks away, while your brain bores holes into itself, or chips through those crusty outer layers. Once free, for a split second it thinks it is pure spirit, but when it realizes it isn't, it tries to bore its way back in but gets lost. I like to call this love.
     We wonder about in search of our being, all the while arguing with whatever this consensus of thought is that we call the mind. But from the outside we contract all kinds of viruses. A faith healer just won't do, so we find false prophets who insist upon telling us who we are and which way to go out there and in there, and even if we're everything we want to be, we can't stop looking so we keep on looking, arguing with ourselves, hoping for the best -- whatever that is -- until we think we are loving and maybe we are, but by the time we realize it, it doesn't matter any more. It's just another vaguely painful sensation on the road to understanding nothing. But at least we have something to blame.
     And we'd had this conversation over and over, me and her. No one else really had it, so I'd like to think. Infact, we never had the conversation, just communicated the ideas.
     Sunday night a couple years back, we're all out drinking. We all know each other and are catching up, but I'm mostly talking to Susan. A squeak in her laugh, a twitch in her eye, some kind of cry within her tells me she wants out. I notice but don't say anything. Walking down the sidewalk with my girlfriend and Susan and her husband, and all the rest of our friends behind us, I imagine we are hitch-hiking through Texas on our way to start a new life smuggling Mexicans through the border or something. There's nothing attaching us to our lives and we seem to tell each other through gestures and glances, maybe even through pheromones it could happen, but it's just me wishing for meaning, and infact we all look for meaning, yet different icons live within each head. Meaning is darting around our minds, and out our eyes, and our meanings are smashing into each other like so many sub-atomic particles.
     In the bar I watch Susan's husband talk to my girlfriend -- probably about his career or how their marriage is deteriorating. They look very serious. We all know each other so well, we talk way past our words. I talk politics but Susan couldn't give a shit. Facts like how many people are in jail, how much money is spent on suburban public schools versus inner city just aren't important to her. She tells me about her crazy sister who likes to take her clothes off in the middle of winter and walk around their small town in Vermont asking people for a ride home. She misguides the poor do-gooders to the doorsteps of the town's wealthiest families, where she enthusiastically greets the dog, and upon entering the foyer, alerts the astounded maid that she'll take her tea in the drawing room, whether they have one or not, and would she please prepare extra settings for the "guests."
     Affection is an allusive angel, and no one is a hundred percent pro at aquiring it. But Susan's sister does OK. That is if you call the concern of family plus drugs, doctors, and notariety as well as a good amount of scorn from the upper-classes, affection. But Susan quite easily acquires mine with just stories.
     Hmm. I suppose I should reciprocate, but the half-baked jokes in my head aren't funny enough to verbalize. Elaborating on her sister's hidden motives, doesn't seem entertaining either. Especially in a bar. I don't say anything.
     Then, "Two more," I say to the bartender. It's noisy and the bartender has a hard time understanding me. I hold up two fingers. I'm reminded of my grandfather's soft voice, not meant to speak over stereos or laughing jocks with pints of Bass or stories about naked ladies in the snow or the din of my cacophanous interior monologue. He's from a farm in Sicily where there is no snow and his voice is calm and simple, like an echoing prayer in a medieval cloister. And it stands to reason that his interior monologue is also calm and simple and resonates beauty.
     Susan's voice is shrill, her R's prominent. She screams through those R's. She is the lonely farmer's daughter who awakens one day to find everyone around her is inbred and mildly retarded. She's been kicking herself for staying as long as she did, and in the last couple of years she screams for the city to take her away, or take away her memory, depending on how she sums up the progress of her journey, or how bad she wants to be urbane at any given moment.
     But here in the city, her yearning comes off as naiveté. After all, everyone is from everywhere else. A place like hers, and her screams are like the others from Sicily, Ireland, Jamaica trailing into cavernous outerborrough neighborhoods that have no idea who she is. Somewhere, perhaps in Sunset Park, it is her scream that causes a glass to fall from a cupboard and an Italian grandmother scolds a six year old for playing rough in the house.
     Um. I lied about Susan being a farmer's daughter. She is the daughter of an Episcopal missionary and has lived everywhere from Africa to China, but always an outsider somewhere and in the middle of no where. But her parents split up, she lived in Vermont, mostly, so let's say "culturally" she's a farmer's daughter.
     I sheepishly tell Susan my relatively mild stories. They flow once I get them out. I tell how my mother married her best friend's husband, who later ran off with the ex-wife of his ex-wife's present husband. I tell her my dad was so convinced of the devil, he used to have screaming tantrums yelling at the top of his lungs, "Damn you Satan! May you burn forever in a lake of fire!" I tell her about his "Armageddon room" where he keeps his doomsday literature. My tales are truth, but not the deepest truth. She laughs. I'm dissappointed that I couldn't at least muster some nudity for her. But then, "My mother always said," she tells me, "there's nothing like a devout Christian to put a smile on your face."
     That's funny, I think to myself. Does it mean we are getting closer or was distance created? I can't tell. A bond between people is a strange animal, seemingly independent of its dependents. And why do its dependents depend on it? And are we really meant to introduce our parents to each other, both in a manner of speaking, as well as the parent home "selves" that birth our bond, or do we carry them with us like yet another protestant burden? I'm looking for clues, but the only thing that comes up is a large head-shot of Daffy Duck, which is what my favorite astrologer suggested I conjure when the stars get too confusing.
     Perhaps, Susan thinks that colorful stories should be told in a certain understated way. Naturally, they're easy to lampoon, and I guess my story came across this way because she quietly watches the ashes smolder in the ashtray. I know: she's wondering whether or not I'm worth the trip outside her head. I am, Susan, I am! Sometimes I'm sick of swimming in the past, suffocating in my nostalgia, and talking to someone like me, ie -- you, is scary. See, our trips involve baggage. This I suppose is a weakness and why I can't let go to be truly "interesting" around you, but rather I imagine you need someone stronger. Someone who makes a lot of money and sues people to get his way, but will carry your baggage come hell or high water. All of our friends are laid back and groovy. Even your husband who seems to have the most worldly success is like us, a potential victim. Perhaps one day Susan, you will leave our circle all together and join the Titans.
     Oh, God! If my head would just shut up!
     But later that night I brush my teeth and ask myself in the mirror, what can I do to have sex with my girlfriend? Why is it that when I meet someone like Susan who stirs me it's impossible to pursue these impulses? Why is it I'm with someone beautiful and I can't muster the impulse to fuck? At what point did girlfriend and I retreat from our bond? Since when did I ever like living with my parents?
     Susan's laugh reverberates through my head as my toothbrush scrubs my cavernous jewelbox. She laughs easily, or should I say she is a willing laugher. She laughs at her lengthy marriage. She laughs at her life passing her by. She laughs because everyone likes her husband except her. She is jealous of his career, his good will, his forcing her into the position of selfishness. It's laugh or lie. So she laughs.
     My girlfriend is beautiful in our bed. I pull back the covers. Her skin is a hot orange color in the dim light. She is reading The Lost Father. "How is it?" I ask.150 pages and zilcho in the hooks department, she explains, but our neighbor, who took a class with the author, said to keep reading, it gets better around page 250. That is a long way to read, I tell her, without hooks. She turns out the light and we spoon. She is small and her torso is warm. However, it is the cold skin of her ass that is the last thing I remember before the alarm wakes me up. The weekend is over, and I have 2 hours to get to work.
     But the relationship with my girlfriend with the orange ass, warm torso and lovable reading habit doesn't last. She is depressed. She wants children. I am a marginally employed loser in a world of sharks. I don't want to inflict pain on a hapless child, then write stories about how hard it is raising them. No. Everything would change, and for the worse. Though it's hard to imagine, I can, and therefore I do.
     I imagine a bottomless well of despair and I'm working 2 jobs. My wife with the orange ass is happy powdering the baby. We have less and less sex, until I fall into the habit of masterbating next to her because of my resentment of our procreative endeavor. One night, my habit upsets her. She cries and I feel like shit when I cum, and I hate her for letting it go this far. For the first time in 8 or so years of our romance, I hit her. It's awful and I fall back on the memory of my father hitting my mother, and her bruised eyes are crying, "Jimmy! Jimmy! Don't leave me! Don't leave me alone! Jimmy!" But he's out the door and to the mistress, feeling dirty and ugly and all of Satans angels are in the car with him and tag along as he walks up the sidewalk to her apartment. Infact, there's a veritable parade of Satan's angels following the car through the streets of our small midwestern town. The snow doesn't bother them because they've lived in hellfire for so long it's like a refreshing swim after a long sauna. They are alive and happy and Dad is giving it to the mistress and she's saying, "Oh yes! Oh yes!" but she's faking it, no doubt, because women didn't have orgasms before Our Bodies, Ourselves, especially not mistresses with blonde boufant wigs, unmarried and hateful of other women. Maybe the mistress with the hippie pig-tails orgasmed. She did. I know. I can tell.
     I can tell from Art-girl, my girlfriend after orange-ass. Art-girl has a vibrator that looks like a jackhammer with a boxing glove on the end of it. Since she's from a rich family, she doesn't have to work, and often spends entire days in bed with the thing. She's usually spent afterwards, and we have a peaceful evening at home, retiring early for a full 8 hours. When she doesn't, we have lengthy sex at night. Some nights she has 4 or 5 orgasms, and often 2 "big ones" -- simultaneous -- and this feels good. There is an exchange of orgons, energy, a communion. And I recognize the look of a woman like her. One thing's for sure, she's not frigid. She may have a myriad of other problems but being frigid is not one of them, and the inability to spot a woman who enjoys sex is not one of my problems, although, as you can see, I have many others.
     We fucked and fucked for months after we broke up, but Art-girl would never admit we were having a relationship. Even during the fall after our "break-up" when we were spending 3 or 4 nights a week together, she insisted we were not, repeat, not having a relationship. Well, I couldn't handle someone who could turn it on and off like that claiming all this stuff about being "vulnerable" and thus our relationship, when she acknowledged it, made her feel like zero. It's just too painful to think that perhaps she's a lie inside of a lie, and worse, I would believe it.
     It's scary to talk about Art-girl though, because she dumped me. Somehow, I was a dismal future for her the way Orange-Ass was for me. Like, my being somewhat tired and cranky before shuffling off to work the morning after 5 orgasm nights was a bummer to Art-girl. I can't say with certainty what her image of me was, but I'm sure it had quite a bit to do with her father and brother. Beware, my friends. When someone tells you they've fucked their brother, sucked off a couple middle-aged strangers, and been date raped all before graduating high school, and none of those events affected them, however, they were traumatized by their lack of popularity in school, you can be sure you're entering a hall of mirrors and smoke-screens.
     Since she's rich, there's nothing in the world to say "no" to her, so she keeps saying "yes" to herself and her delusions. I mean, she's out there going "yes, yes, yes," and she's so very out there at this point in her life you can only fly with her so far before she shakes you loose. See, she's just moving at the speed of light. There are no stop signs. She can move before she sees her reflection. Of course she's been taking photos of herself for 15 years. That's what she does. Her thing. But she practices throwing her ego at the camera the way a ventriliquist throws his voice at the far wall. It's completely thespian in nature. A French newspaper commented on her "unique ego" which I thought was quite amazing coming from someone who's never met her. But you know art...people just know things. And I couldn't help but "know" things. And she couldn't help pretending they weren't there and that I was trying to kill her nature with concern.
     Oh, God. I just want someone to love.
     So Susan and I meet up after work. I'm pining and pining over my Art-girl who dumped me and we order another and another beer. It's been a couple years since the fore mentioned bar episode, and we've had a couple enjoyable drunken nights together, her and I, swaggering down the East Side trying every stinky dive we can find from 70th to Delancy. Susan and her husband since separated, although things are too murky to nurture a clear fact. I've always been attracted to her in this vague but unavoidable way, and we've always...you know, some people you don't talk to them socially, you just talk directly to each other's core, each other's "heart in French" or so it seems. I think she talks like that to many people, her husband, no doubt, who is a somewhat overly sensitive 90s man, or simply inside out, like me. He, like me, has given up on staying intact. Best go where your center is, and if it's in her core, it's dangerous but real. Frightening knowing you've drilled a way out of yourself and your survival instincts aren't as strong as your attraction to another.
     So Susan and I begin the evening's sweep of midtown bars. The downtown hipster crowd can sometimes get a bit too familiar, so uptown to the grumpy old men it is. I have to admit, romance was in the back of my mind, but not the front. After all, I've been vaguely but unavoidably attracted to her for years, as you know, but can you act on every impluse that surges through you? Well, nowdays people are more often saying yes, but you can't. And you'll see why.
     We were talking to this retired bartender at the Subway Inn. It's one of those dark and red bars with tons of little figurines and caricatures caked all around. My favorite bartender's on duty. He's like 70, built like an ox, vaguely maintains a close-cropped, squarish parted-on-the-side haircut, always cradles a red Rothman from his lower lip, unless of course it's simply smoldering in a forgotten ashtray while he's lit another. He pops those Buds within seconds of mere eye contact, as opposed to the hipster joints downtown where if your voice isn't cool enough you don't get served at all, no matter how many times you ask.
     So we're discussing olde worlde ethics, and the fact that some 30 years ago the guy next to us used to work with my favorite man on the other side of the counter, and they worked together right there, on the other side of the counter. The guy next to us actually got beat out for the job by my favorite guy, then worked down the street but maintained a friendship. So Susan and I talk to him about bartender ethics of yore, and Susan has this adorable wool cap that mimics the lines of a fedora with four points on top. The old man notices, not me. He says, "Would you look at that hat?"
     Old people are so right on. That old man knows I'll always remember him for drawing attention to Susan's hat. So, I start playing with her hat like I would a real fedora, poking this place in, turning this side of the "rim" up, and all of a sudden, this warm, fuzzy sensation takes over. God, it just washes over me like a tropical bath. Mmm. Give her a big, wet kiss on the spot.
     We meander down Lexington, kissing, hugging, talking about where we should eat, but mostly just sort of kissing, then she needs a bathroom, so we walk into that huge Virgin megastore on Times Square.
     This kid who works at the yuppie coffee stand next door to where I work is in the doorway handing out flyers. It turns out he's some kind of evangelical Christian -- but a nice one. He's got his flyers, he's inviting people to their alternative church in a classroom at a high school, and he says, "hey, I know you," and it has a double meaning to me because once my mom sent me to a Seventh-Day Adventist boarding school in northern Michigan. It was miserably cold and they made us hand out flyers and proselytize at college campuses even go door to door "witnessing" where we'd beg people to let us sit in their living room and watch TV so we wouldn't have to knock on another door. They'd feel so sorry for us because they knew the Adventists were kooks. "Sure," they'd say, and we'd watch Dukes of Hazard for an hour. Once, up there, I made out with this girl who convinced herself she was devil-possessed, and I thought, how strange that she articulates her "dark side" in such specific terms. And that is the story of these opposing icons meant to bring meaning to our little heads. The personification of characters simply varies from person to person and are simply more specific in Christianity than say, Buddhism, or Freudian psychology. Devils and angels fluttering about, possession, redemption. Such drama. Such science. But the long and short: I knew the kid at the Virgin Superstore better than he thought.
     Funny. He was so sure we weren't Christian. I think he thought I was Jewish. This happens a lot to me in New York. I've got a chip on my shoulder about it, actually, because I figured out that whenever someone meets a mediteranean who seems educated or middle-class they assume "Jewish" and uneducated or working-class "Italian" even though there are tons of middle-class college-educated Italians and tons of working-class Jews. I don't know why. I never experienced this until I moved to New York. But back to the "story"... He's so sure we aren't Christian that he's, like, appologizing for handing out flyers and that we don't have to take one if we don't want to, which of course makes me say, "please, give me one." Of course, perhaps he hesitated because we were stinking drunk and thus most likely, not "born again." Although Bob Dylan doesn't seem to have a problem with that -- or being a Jewish Christian.
     Nevertheless, I stuff his flyer in my back pocket and we walk into the night in search of this ellusive Brazillian restaurant. Somehow, what with Jesus, less than fuzzy childhood memories, the newly arranged Times Square, everything seems shuffled. We give up on finding food and go to another bar. We are nicely drunk and everything seems funny: The Christian, the old man who brought us together, and especially this bar. It's great. I haven't heard Pat Benetar in years. You get the feeling every "female" in the bar is a hooker and "she-male," all black latex mini-skirt over muscle-bound buttocks, except for Susan who has a slinky sexiness, however subtle, and I start thinking about fucking and about sleazy and slinky sexiness and about how 2 weeks earlier, I got severly drunk in another mid-town bar and wound up talking alternately with this pro-golfer and a bunch of writers and editors for The New Yorker that were all young and sexy and some even slinky and a couple even went to my college, though years after me. As a -- you know -- writer, I'm sure this was not a brilliant professional move. I am certain that if I ever in my life apply for a job at The New Yorker, someone in the office will say, "Isn't that the drunk guy from Rudy's?" Lit and lonely, after Rudy's I walked by Show World on my way to the train, and I remembered a previous conversation with Susan about the "booths" where you have one-on-one encounters with "girls." For $20 the window opens and you have a five minute peek at a young lady playing with her equipment behind a plexiglass window. Susan had told me last time we went drinking that she wanted to go to these places before they finally get closed down by Disney, which has been a court battle for months now, and at any moment, they will be closed down simply because Disney has more money for more lawyers to do more work than these relatively poor strip & porn shops, regardless of where "objective morality" might lie. So, I thought, what the hay. I went in, bought tokens, then went upstairs where I found my tokens and did nothing in the way of getting a "live" girl. I took the first one the hostess lead me to. She was lovely, plump in all the right places, a perfectly ripe fruit of a woman who was simply delicious to behold. It took two shows, $40 + every bit of small bills and change in my pocket, save a single token, to get home, but I shot my load against the plexiglass and stumbled into the subway a spent man.
     So I'm telling Susan this on the night of the hat in the funny bar while feeding quarters into the jukebox for Bruce, Patti and Eddie Money (no, not a hipster joint), and you of course can figure out what's next. "I wanna go," she says. Straight to Show World, but only to the lower level with the videos. Yes, a choice of 96 videos at any given moment. There's a little joy-stick in the booth to change channels, but we're not interested in the particulars of the screen. Rather we make out for hours on the grimy floor, our clothes in heaps no doubt sopping up other people's cum.
     Well, considering my heart is even now not fully detached from Art-girl, plus the fact that although Susan has been separated from my other friend for over a year now, her husband still holds a torch for her, the way I did with Art-Girl, and they were married for so long, and were basically each other's first and only serious relationship and the whole trip plus drinking crashes around me and I can't ... get it up. We do like lesbians rubbing pelvises. She goes down. She sits on my face. Soon her clothes are off and my thing is nestled in her moist labia. Nothing. A floppy anchovy of a member on a nicely dressed platter, perhaps, her finely seasoned sauces bubbling at peak temperature, but nothing -- bonewise. We make out and make out and make out. It's actually very nice. So nice. I can tell her things that Art-girl simply doesn't understand. It's not words, it's more subtile, as I've told you: the core thing, "heart in French."
     But no one person is everything, I've realized, which of course is part of the argument that libertines use against monogamy, and who knows? I guess the attraction to monogamy is getting the other person to open up to those territories that didn't occur to them before, and it is a challenge! A constant loss of virginity, which I suppose libertines experience in another way. Perhaps my particular uncharted territories didn't interest Art-girl, and although hers did interest me, I wasn't catching on at the speed she wanted me to. But then, you know, I've been flogging myself plenty on this.
     Susan and I have so many friends in common, including my lovely X-before-Artgirl with the orange ass, whom I now have the nicest relationship with any X ever. Susan is perhaps Orange X's favorite person, and it is precisely our similarities that draw us, all of us, to each other and makes us vulnerable -- to use Art-girl's words -- to each other's, uh, musings. It's very nice, yet I see everyone's pain as well, and I'm not sure what will happen if Susan and I pursue further. We are all such sticky, gooey friends, all of us, and I'm sure we will all go through menopause and old age together. But perhaps Satan's little angels know more.
     On the floor of the booth, we kept pausing and smiling and sort of laughing at the absurdity. She kept saying things like, "I guess I'm essentially amoral" which isn't quite true, if I must be truthful. (God bless puritanism and its many colorful perversions.) Actually, it's like this thing had been with us for so long, and although nothing more than thought, or spiritual/sexual urges, perhaps only a direction which we were turning, it was taking on a form, as if our child, at which point I'm now going to leap and simply state that both Orange X and Susan want children, and I didn't with X because I was poor and feared her bouts of depression, and Susan doesn't want to have one with her husband for some vague, inexplicable reason, even though he's the nicest guy in the world and even I love him, and that point of not procreating was the revealing force in their marriage, the ungluing of both our relationships, and it's like this relationship thing here and now in the booth has its own spirit and it's making me understand the nature of birth and destiny. Our future could be seen that instant on the floor of the booth over other people's cum, other people's fantasies manifested on the floor, redirected on the screen. But ours was in the here and now, unfolding before our eyes. The pain of Susan's husband at our marriage, the kid, our attraction to each other, the way we relate to ourselves and others. The abortion will not take place in a clinic, but on the floor of the peepshow booth. We will not nurture this relationship to maturity or maternity. We will fall asleep on each other, wake up to find my scarf, her bra and coat have been stolen through the 3 inch gap at the bottom of the booth. Luckily, the night will be warm. I'll walk her to the train. She'll go one way, I'll go another. We will linger kissing over the turnstyle. My heart will leap when we separate. We'll smile and wave one more time before I run back up the steps to the street. I'll go home, call in sick, watch the sun rise over my coffee and sleep off the day alone in my bed, without a girlfriend or an impressive vibrator.

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