samedi, janvier 29, 2005

I just want to squeeze your cute little face!

I was off every single time. We went first to the sushi place my friends recommended and it was truly awful. She’d never had sushi before and I felt bad that the introduction was sub par. She was a good sport, though, trying to figure out the chopsticks, spilling her soy and wasabi and finally just using her fingers to rid every piece of its seaweed wrapping. (She didn’t like the taste of seaweed and everything she’d chosen from the menu was rolled.) I apologized and promised that next time we’d go to the restaurant her friends had recommended.

And I did go later. But not with her. Her friends’ favorite sushi place is now mine as well. (My friends with their taste for bad sushi are incomprehensible to me. I’m too polite to bring it up with them, however.) I don’t know if to this day she’s ever had good sushi. We are the kind of friends who call and e-mail and insist we soooooo want to get together and hang out and then never do. I think that’s a girl thing. I think.

After that little fiasco, we drove to a bar that had bands every night. And I mean good music. And as this is New Orleans, good music is really good even if it’s kind of messy. People are here to have fun. And nobody hangs onto the day’s problems late at night with standing room only, smoke everywhere and music blowing over the crowd. I don’t know what it is about this town but there are always a couple of girls at the front of every crowd who kick off their shoes and dance barefoot on the filthy floor. Nothing uptight about it.

Anyway, when we walked in, the place was empty save for a door man, bartender and two people drinking at the far end of the bar. I knew the place was supposed to fill up soon, so we ordered drinks and I showed her the around: dirty bathrooms with no doors, the long, narrow room where the bands played, another bar and a dingy pool table, and finally, out under the Louisiana sky, a little patio area with wobbly tables and chairs and a few benches thrown in for good measure. The patio scared her a little, I could tell. It was dark enough to do a lot of things in the corners, back behind the bit of lattice that was propped up over to one side. I had to admit it was a little creepy with nobody else there. But we had no use at all for that darkness so we wandered back inside.

As we walked past the pool table, though, a huge cockroach strode out and blocked our path. We tried to step around and the damn thing blocked us again. (Do cockroaches know that we’re more afraid of them than they are of us? Do they play games with us? Are cockroaches bullies? I guess that’s what I want to know.) Finally, squealing like the girls we are, we went the long way around the forlorn pool table and scurried back to the main bar. We hurried through our drinks and left as the band was arriving. The whole thing was a waste of time.

Third time’s a charm, right? I had the bright idea that we could salvage everything if we went to get coffee and dessert at Jacques-Imo’s Café two doors down. When we got there, though, they were full and pointed us toward the bar promising we could get anything on the menu there. I ordered chicory coffee and sweet potato pecan pie (did I never tell you that food is love? No joke and no lie. It was that delicious.) I can’t remember what she ordered- something different.

I thought I’d gotten it right, finally, because she loved the place. I pointed out the naked Barbie in the stuffed boar’s mouth over the bar and told her about the owner and chef. The place had a cozy noise level to it- still busy late at night. To her left sat a guy writing in a little book with a gorgeous pen. I had pen envy and simultaneously a paranoid thought that he’d come here to eavesdrop on conversations for a book he was writing. I squinted at the words as he talked quietly to the bartender- fiction? poetry? lyrics? I was distracted by the sight of brightly colored red silk walking out of the kitchen. No way in hell. I laughed and poked her arm, as thrilled as I was the first time I saw one of the big five on a game preserve in Africa. There he is, I said, talking to the hostess.

She turned subtly, glanced once and then turned wide eyed back to me. “He’s wearing boxers!” I nodded and grinned. The owner and chef of one of the city’s favorite restaurants stood seven feet away from us wearing a white chef’s jacket, clogs and red boxers covered in a print displaying hot peppers of every variety. I laughed and shook my head- thrilled that I’d seen proof of such eccentricity. I drank more coffee and felt giddy. I can die happy now, I mumbled. I’ve seen him running around in his boxers.

"He’s checking you out!" she whispered. I looked up into the glass over the bar and lo and behold, he appeared to be appraising my choice of garments as well. Fair’s fair, I guess. Now I really wanted to squeeze his cute face. Too adorable. The door opened then and 7 or 8 truly drunk young men walked in and talking loudly, they took over the end of the bar to my right. They ordered shots and one of them decided it was time to take this party to the next level.

I knew that one was behind me because her eyes lit up as she looked over my head. I turned to glance and felt like I’d been punched in the solar plexus. The feeling left immediately. And I found myself marveling at THAT and being completely underwhelmed by his eyes. In his defense, the man was terribly, terribly appealing. This one goes to eleven and that sort of thing. It became clear that I was his intended victim- a second shock. I mean those implants of hers were an investment which usually paid off and her gorgeous brown eyes and receptive manner- what didn’t he get about her appeal? Not to imply that I doubt my own attractiveness. I am obscenely confident physically and (usually) socially, but I hadn’t thought of myself as… as what? I just hadn’t thought of myself, I guess, in a long while.

He stared into my eyes while introducing himself, while asking my name, while putting his elbow on the bar and the other arm around my side- effectively closing me in. I had only two thoughts running through my head: I’ll bet those eyes almost always get you what you want and What has happened to me that leaves me completely unfazed by those eyes? The second thought was more fascinating than the first. I mean here was one of the hottest men I have ever been close to (now, hear me on this- the world is full of good looking men, people- but this one was outstanding.) He was begging me to drink shots with his buddies (one of them had just gotten engaged earlier that day) and drive with them to the next bar and the next and the next. And I was as amused and unaffected by his charm as I would have been if a thirteen year old boy had been hitting on me.

He leaned closer and closer and his hand moved until it rested on the side of my bra and still nothing. I did not care. “Do you go to LSU?”, he said finally. I smiled brilliantly, sympathetically, No honey, I don’t go to LSU. And I’m happy for your friend but I’m not in the mood to drink tonight. But you all have fun, okay? At this point one of his friends started to catch onto the conversation and began insisting that we drink with them. The bartender got in on the act. (Why not? He was the one selling the drinks.) I looked up and saw owner/chef/ eccentric boxer wearer was standing there- still behind me, still watching- and I smiled. Pleased by those eyes.

They left eventually and she told me she had wanted to go with them. I blinked at her and said, Why didn’t you say something? I didn’t feel like going but you should have felt free to go if you wanted to. I’d gotten it wrong again, apparently. Even the bartender hitting on her didn’t cheer her up. At that point I just gave up. I didn’t care anymore.

Red silk boxers, I tell you.

mercredi, janvier 12, 2005

It's a little too late...

So, I'm reading The Da Vinci Code finally. (I like to wait until the entire world has gotten over a bestseller and THEN pick it up. That way, my ability to discuss the damn thing is so timely.) Anyhoo, the book (as if you don't know) keeps rattling on about "the sacred feminine"- most specifically, the concept that Jesus was more mortal than the church has let on and was in fact in love with, married to and had a child with, Mary Magdalene. The book raises the spectre of misogyny throughout the church's history (umm, I'd argue if I could- and hey, anybody want an apple? It's yummy!) and suggests that women should have a much more important role in church leadership and in spiritual leadership in general.

So, I'm thinking about all of this and I ask myself: Self, would it be so bad if a person who was both human and deity, lived a very full human existence? I mean, if Jesus was tempted like we are and was no stranger to our suffering, doesn't participation in his culture by being married make sense? (And no, I'm not making some bad joke about marriage being suffering.) And does that get in the way of something in particular? I mean would my theology be rooooooned if Jesus had been making passionate love to the missus? Do we need Jesus to be a never-even-masturbating-virgin? Do these questions make you more comfortable or less? I'm just thinking about it.

This also reminds me that I am not a crazy ass feminist, HOWEVER I am keenly aware of gender biases wherever they occur and am also somewhat vocal about such disparities. I am not stupid about it- I adore men also, so I'm not willing to alienate them. I know women can be real jerks, too. Seen it with my own eyes, I tell you. But I am perfectly willing and able to discuss what's going on when things are pretty patently uneven.

One of my sisters took a class in college on some form of feminism or other and she brought home a book she was supposed to read. She read parts of it aloud to me (the oldest) and our other sister and we laughed so hard we almost pissed ourselves. Picture if you will, three young women cackling in absolute derision at the notion that all women are naturally lesbians but sometimes choose to "make a loving genital commitment" to a man. Okay. Whatever you say. (This book was not arguing, by the way, that all people are naturally bi- or pansexual.) I think the bond between women was called "gynaffection" which we changed to "gyninfection". Yes, we were terribly mature about the whole thing.

I can't help it- radical feminists want more than anything to stop RESPONDING to the masculine and yet they are engaged in playing a big huge game of ring around the phallus as far as I can see. Smack my paw- but I can't help it. Their position isn't really all that logically sustainable. I do realize, of course, that feminism is a reaction to men behaving badly (and frankly, to women reinforcing and sustaining a system of men behaving badly as well.) It is a necessary struggle at certain points. And I guess I do believe in a version of feminism- it's idiotic that women still make on average 70 cents for every dollar that men in the same jobs make, for example. I could go on and on...

A few years back a good friend of mine told me about a book he thought I'd want to read. It was on the subject of male chauvenism in language. And sure, it's there. But the book was advocating massive overhaul of my playthings (words) and I just wasn't that interested. This shocked him. Which in turn, shocked me. I didn't realize I'd been coming across as such a feminist. I mean we hung out in a group of friends who talked, ate, drank and went dancing together. (Okay, some people stood around watching the others dancing, but I'm a dancer, not a watcher. And I don't drink and dance, either. I don't need a confidence boost and I don't need something interfering with my rhythm, either. Drinks are for talking. Dancing demands rehydration- water and whatnot. And now you know.) But I was talking about books and feminism, wasn't I? Digression, thy name is bennyjo! Yes, well, whatever. I've given you some things to think about, haven't I.

mardi, janvier 11, 2005

La Lectrice, Part Three

Someone saw her coming up out of that culvert naked. Her arms raised in a foolish attempt to keep the blood in. Or maybe she was waving for help. I can’t remember now how she'd ended up in his van the night before. Was she a runaway looking for a ride or some money? Did he kidnap her? I can’t remember. But he raped her, beat her severely and then used an ax to chop off both of her arms above the elbows. And then threw her out to die.

I cannot even imagine how she looked in the brilliant light of morning to the driver who stopped to help her. Disheveled, tear and blood streaked, her entire being in shock, holding up those two horrific wounds. Those were the visible ones, of course. They were not the only ones she had. My God! There is a suffocating silence around that first moment before the relief of action kicks in. Speak calmly and kindly to her. Stop the flow of blood. Call 911. Get her to a hospital. NOW.

I was seven when I read about her and what he’d forced her to experience. I’m 32 and I still can’t forget. To this day, I pray for her every time I remember her. In my mind she is Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace rolled into one. Tell me she will never be whole again, and I will tell you that she breaks my heart with her strength and her beauty. All of the infinite value of her humanity insulted and savaged and yet… she is triumphant. She is alive. She is loved. She cannot be lost to that love.


I kept up with current events once I started reading. I watched the news with my father every night. Feeling concerned when he’d shout at Sam Donaldson or Peter Jennings. I read newspapers and magazines. Constantly. So, I knew who was up to what in the Middle East and what was happening in the Soviet Union, etc. And this is how I heard about her.

This is how I heard about children being molested, neglected, and abused. This is how I learned that lovers cheat. That men hit women on a regular basis, throwing in verbal and emotional abuse for good measure. This is how I learned that governments lie. That people in power- people with grave responsibilities- shirk their duty and gather to themselves resources which are desperately needed by those who rely on them. Nobody had to tell me as a 6 and 7 year old that communism was doomed to failure, for example. I would have laughed at your naiveté if you had insisted that it had ever been a well designed plan for human beings in the first place.

Eventually, keeping track of the news, I learned that her attacker was arrested. Was sentenced to prison. I also learned just a few years back that he’d been released and had moved into a neighborhood where nobody knew him. Nobody knew what he’d done. He tried to commit suicide in his car- carbon monoxide pouring in- and would have succeeded except that a young boy noticed and alerted his father to help. They dragged him out of the car. And saved his life.

A few days later, the man brutally killed a prostitute inside his house. I can’t remember whether he was arrested or killed when the police showed up. I felt sorry for the little boy and hoped he’d never decide that his good deed had cost another human being her life. How could he have known?

But I’m not sure what it’s done to me to be aware of the very worst aspects of humanity from such a tender age. Of course, I was reading about the strength and loveliness of human beings- the self-sacrifice and incredible achievements of humanity at the same time. The picture wasn’t all black. But for me- well my eyes were old when I looked out of my little girl face. Old when I reacted to social situations. And my heart was old- stopped already in its tracks by grief and shock. Shock that we do this- we do these things to each other. We are not safe. Not safe at all here together. We cannot be trusted.

Maybe people could tell. My eyes have a look at times- something about the inside corners- which make me look very tenderhearted, blinded almost, by kindness. I don’t know how else to describe it. Adults used to look into my eyes and confide in me. Things which adults should never confide to children. And I looked back- calm and comforting- and did not know that anything was out of the ordinary. Maybe this is why I have never encountered a conversation I could not have- a topic that intimidated me- or an aspect of human existence and choice which my mind refuses to consider.

Even as a child I already understood that we live a limited number of scenarios as human beings. We have only a tiny handful of emotions from which to choose. We are observable. We are knowable. We repeat our weaknesses. And repeat them again. Love is the only surprise.

I’m not sure I was able to put all of the things I read at age 6 and 7 and 8 and 9 into a framework which allowed me to feel insulated and invincible. Many people feel insulated, you know. And invincible. I don’t. I don’t feel separated at all. I don’t feel endlessly strong anymore, either. Except in a string theory kind of way which slyly and stubbornly knows that I have connections. Which knows that my will was always a trillion times bigger than my body. Which knows that this awareness of mine- this compassion of mine- is not freakish but functional. It has its place, its purpose. It’s good for something.

If I had a child though, I wonder- would I hide all of the books?

Weather Report

78 degrees and sunny today. Wore jeans and a t-shirt to the park to walk his doggedness and it was just too much. The weather gods want to see my legs. Me, however, I am virtuous and perspiring. No, really I just underestimated the heat. So silly of me. It is after all the 11th of January.

That Girl is Fast

That girl is fast
And she was made for joy.
She's gonna run until she breaks.

(Don't try to deny
I caught you lookin'.
A fairer phoenix never rose.)

Be quick now, child
And don't hold back.
Regrets will burn you where you stand.

Faint heart never won fucking-anything.
Faint heart never won at all.

H+P 10/08/04