Crazy B – Installment 3

Carlos made a move with his hand like he was tipping an imaginary hat, then walked on with a big cheese-eating grin.

When I got online later and started researching martial arts studios, I still hadn’t quite committed to be being a freak.  I rationalized it to myself as being a defensive measure; I needn’t run screaming to any man’s magenta house if I had the powers of crouching tiger, hidden dragon up my sleeve.

There turned out to be three karate studios in the area – one in town and two in towns next-door.  I went first with the furthest of the out-of-towners.  Just in case anything untoward happened, I reasoned, it’d be easier to avoid a reputation.

The Crimson Orchid karate-do was tucked under a couple of offices in a kitchy downtown.  When I got inside the first thing that hit was the smell of wood.  The walls and floor were oak, and there were boards along the walls that some of the students were pounding against with their bare hands and feet.   At one end of the dojo, a jumble of interesting-looking equipment was set up that looked like a more dangerous and metallic version of a kid’s jungle gym.  At the other end there were a good number of chairs set up, and a writing desk with some neatly-piled notebooks.  No one was sitting in the chairs, except a small dog with a white coat.  I stared at the dog, unsure of whether I’d misinterpreted something I’d read online.  Eventually, an encouragingly buff old man came up and introduced himself as the dojo’s Sensei.  I shook his hand, then started talking about his dog.  It turned out the dog belonged to one of the brown-belts on the floor.  She spent so much time at the dojo she didn’t feel right leaving her dog by himself.

“So you allow some people to bring their dogs?”

“Well-behaved dogs, yes,” said Sensei.  “Do you have a dog?”

I said yes.  I said bringing her along would make things much easier, that she was very well-behaved and mature and would probably sit there on a chair looking straight ahead just like the other perfect little dog.  Then I asked about the jungle-gym at the other end of the dojo.  Sensei smiled.  That stuff, he explained, was for sparring.  This dojo, he was proud to say, consistently entered and emerged with honor from local and regional sparring tournaments.  Some years they even achieved victory at the national and even international levels.  This dojo placed a great emphasis on practical combat.

“But,” he said, “It all starts with the kata.”

I followed the Sensei’s instructions, partnering with a lithe redheaded woman who helped me stretch out my legs, putting bare feet on the inside of my ankles and pushing them out.  If I was a freak I bet that would have bothered me – having her crotch pointed at mine, separated only by the rusty tension of my inner thighs.  The redhead was chatty and her name was Karen.

The class started after we’d been stretching awhile, and Sensei put me in a group with two other beginners to learn a kata, which meant basically we had to do the same three moves over and over for the next half-hour.  He seemed to think there was something important I should have been learning – some body compressing technique that would have made my moves stronger and faster – but I couldn’t get over how bored I felt.  It wasn’t even a workout as far as I was concerned – my lungs weren’t burning by the end, and I couldn’t have seeped into a tantric bog if I’d wanted to, and felt my body.

It was more interesting after that.  We broke into pairs first to use each other for body conditioning.  Sensei had me partner with a broad-shouldered guy who had a black-belt and thin glasses.  Thom, his name was.  We stood at odd angles to each other and began by rubbing our arms together, stepping back and forth and hitting each other with our other hands.

It was really more graceful than it sounds; there was a pattern to our movements that required us to move in synch, like a dance, only much more strict.  If I made the wrong move, the dance stopped, until I figured out how to fix it.  If my mind started to wander, Thom told me to look him in the eye and not look away.  If I didn’t hit hard enough, the black-belt would take my arm and force me to re-do the move, teaching me to push through initial contact, so the sound was a denser thunk than the surface smacking it had made.  I got to feeling very intense, very intense, as I stared into Thom’s eyes, hitting him deeply and moving in instinctual response to every flicker of his limbs.  His eyes were wells of experience, seeing my every incongruity, his body was hard beyond my ability to harm.  He was better than me – we both knew it, there was no tension over that.  He was responsible for keeping me safe and drawing me into the sphere of greatness with him. Don’t look away, I felt myself sweating, I felt my pulse ratcheting inside of me, felt the nerves trampoline-ing in my gut and knew for certain I would soon explode – from one end or the other.  Thom stopped.  I stopped too, looking at the floor and feeling blood gush into my cheeks.  How could I escape those expert eyes, now, that surely knew I was this close to getting off and judged it safest to break off our interlude?

“Any questions?”

I breathed, finally catching on that the Sensei had been giving new instructions.  I looked up.  This was the reason Thom had stopped – to listen to him.  He wasn’t looking at me and hadn’t noticed what had been building up inside of me.  Sinsei caught my eye.

“You, new girl – how is everything sinking in?  Need a break?”

I nodded, relieved, and got myself a drink from the washroom.  When I came back, two other students were sparring in the middle of the floor, and the rest of the dojo sat at the edges of the room, watching, as the Sensei critiqued their battle tactics.  They were both green belts, one a blue-eyed fellow with immaculate skin and the other a gorgeous Indian chick who moved like a scythe and seemed to have the upper hand.

“Stop, stop, stop,” Sensei breathed impatiently.  “David.  It’s not going to end the way you think it will.  You know what it is you’re missing out there, right?  You know why it is you’re losing?”

David shook his head, embarrassed.

“You don’t know where she’s hitting you.  How is she beating you this badly, David?  Listen up, all of you, because  this is a terrible, terrible thing to miss.  When someone puts his hands on you, what do you know?”  Sensei waited.  When no answer came, he leaned forward and answered himself.  “You know where his hands are!  I don’t want to see you missing this anymore, David – no more!  You pay attention to where she is.  When she hits you, you use it.  You learn about her.  You make her react to you.  You’ve spent this whole time running away.  How is this a fight?”  David looked ashamed.  Sensei sighed.  “Go sit down,” he said, and by his tone I guessed this was an act of mercy more than reprimand.  Sensei turned to where I had taken a seat on the floor.

“How about we put the new girl in there and see what she’s made of.”

Instantly, I felt my heart pop up in my throat.  “Sensei?”  I gasped.  I just watched the girl in the green whallop the greenbelt boy black and blue.  I did not want to be out there with her.

“Go,” he said – and said it in such a way that I found myself obeying as though there wasn’t any other option.  I stepped into the center of the ring.  Blackbelts standing at attention thrust a safety vest over my head and lassoed it behind me.

“That girl there is named Sam,” said Sensei.  “New girl,” he continued, as they finished strapping me in.  “There’s something I need you to know before you start.  What you’ve seen, and what you’re going to see – this isn’t violence.  Violence means violating someone or something.  You come here, we will make you into an absolute pacifist.  What do I mean by that?”

I shifted feebly.  “You only hurt people in self-defense?”

“We don’t hurt people,” Sensei corrected. “Even when we fight them, even when we have to.  Even if a man attacks you in the middle of the night and you break eleven of his ribs.  You’re still not hurting him.  You have a spirit – this is something real, something you need to accept and believe in.  The man who attacks you also has a spirit.  The man who tries to crush your spirit will be hurting his own on the way.  So we do not let them crush us.  We use our bodies here to serve the spirit.  Where you see a violent person, you see a spirit that’s bursting from its body, leaving its animal writhing in agony.  You hit the man who tries to get inside you, and that force of yours reels his spirit right back in.  You put him in his rightful place, set him on a better path.  Do you understand?”

I nodded, slowly.  Sam wasn’t looking at me.  I could tell by the ease of her shoulders that she was not even the littlest bit worried.  She hadn’t noticed I was even there yet.  I wasn’t sure whether I was really hearing words beyond my heartbeat or just imagining.

“Ok,” said Sensei.  “Go.”

I stared wide-eyed at the Sam, waiting for attack.  She held my gaze steadily, not making a move.  I started forward clumsily, but I saw her watching my body and seeing where I was going, so I stopped short and turned, going at her from another direction.  She didn’t get surprised, just kept watching until I’d nearly closed the distance between us.  She popped backward into a comfortable horse-stance before I could get her and watched again as though on a sofa.  When I got close enough this time, I was sure she’d use those crouching legs as springs and kick me in the chin, so I launched a kick at her middle.  She swatted my calf aside, then reached for my belt and tried to pull me in.  I kicked her with my other leg and jerked away.  I couldn’t get to her.

“Enough,” said Sensei.  “I see where you are, now.  Very good.”

I wanted to ask him what he saw, but I had the sense that would be embarrassingly novice of me.  I guess that was his business model, or something.  He knew something about me right away, but he wouldn’t let me know what.  He’d make me keep coming and keep paying for lessons and let out what he knew about me bit by bit.  But he got me as a whole, in a glance.  I was sure.  I could feel it.  I signed up anyway for lessons there, committing to four hours a day on condition that my dog could be there.  If she couldn’t, I’d probably just take the hour-a-week class.

I brought Martha by the next day to see what she’d do; she gave the little dog a judgmental sniff, then settled herself down on the dog bed I’d brought and watched the humans beating each other for the next four hours with faint amusement.

*          *          *

I felt great after the long workout.  I was ready and most likely had just been waiting for an obsession like this to come along.  I didn’t have a boss or any time commitments at all, really, and all of a sudden the whole concept of fighting and working out was exciting to me.  Working out made me feel good, in the moment, and then again afterward when the shower was over and the endorphins tickled my veins.  It was like drugs, except that instead of getting smelly and weak I’d be getting sexier and stronger every day.  Thank God I’d ended up fighting the bag lady, instead of making friends.  If things had gone the other way I’d probably have gotten into heroin or some such.

I took Martha home and wrote and watched TV, and that was how every day went after that.  Sparring and working out all the time made me into a cocky, able fighter pretty quickly.  Sensei liked that while I was there it was all I did; I noted a small glint of relish in his eyes when he spoke to me and watched me spar.  After class one day he pulled out a number of applications and had me sign up for four or five weekend tournaments.  At this rate he predicted I’d have a brown belt inside three months.

The next day I looked at the clock and felt a block pop up in my mind when I considered going to the dojo.  I didn’t have to go.  I could, if I wanted, just go for half the class today, spend the extra hours facebook-liking the typical pictures of owls and beaches that sprawled across my newsfeed.  Or I could watch a movie.  It had been forever since I’d watched a movie.  But Martha kept standing by the door and looking at me like I was crazy, so I couldn’t watch the stupid movie in peace or relaxfully keep my feet up.  I grabbed her leash, muttering things.  Maybe if we just walked around the block, she’d get it that our old routine was changing.

It was dark out and rainy, but I didn’t notice this to be unpleasant.  I’d kicked the heads off three dandelions growing out of sidewalk cracks before it occurred to me that I might not want to go to karate anymore.  I completed the walk with Martha, then unleashed her in the house and went out again looking for a bar.

I settled on a hole-in-the-wall looking joint with one motorcycle out front and another pulling in just as I was parking.  All the rain and dark outside gave a blustery expression to the red strobe lights and fries-smell leaking into the lot, like the place meant to be strange and exhilarating but instead had the look of a red-hearthed cottage by the winter sea with its door swinging open and closed.  The guy getting off of his motorcycle moved fast until he got just ahead of me, and then he turned his head and smiled, reaching for the door.  I stopped, feeling my coat for my phone, and pretended to be delayed with an important text exchange until the biker gave up being friendly and went in by himself.  I kept outside pretending to text another minute; this wasn’t going to be like the dog park, when I had to get myself an indigenous escort to vouch for my belonging there.

The biker from the parking lot had already settled into a barstool next to a crew of obvious regulars and had a cold mug in hand by the time I’d ended my exchange with the bouncer by the door – a smile of mine with the flash of my ID returned by his dark nod.  It was early, and the place was relatively deserted, but the music bantered on and the bloody-lips smell of liquor had me senselessly delighted.  The bartender raised a skeptical eyebrow to ask me what I wanted, so I shrugged.  I was thinking, you want my money more than I want your crappy watered-down alcohol, it’s sure as fuck not on me to initiate the verbiage.  I also thought, maybe he thinks it’s not his job, since he’s the dude and I’m the chick – like, maybe during nights and weekends he has a bubbly expressive waitress to actually sell his shit and he just has to stand there stoically pouring and maintaining an impression of stern control that all the regulars reinforce for him to curry his favor and garner free refreshments.  Maybe now that it’s the early part of his shift and in the absence of a smiling yeswoman he just expects all of his customers to demand his attention like mens men or charmingly engage him, playing yeswoman to themselves.  If I don’t say anything at all, he’ll have to break face and eviscerate the whole charade that says he’s in charge, proving that, in fact, the money’s in charge, and I have the money so, actually, I’m in charge.

I was looking at the bartender while I thought this, and I could see by a tic in his throat that he was becoming uncomfortable with my failing to help him.  It was daytime – there was no one here but regulars and a random girl.  How was he going to keep up the impression of having a scary exotic place to work at now?  He cleared his throat, and I breathed, excited for him to drop a solicitous word to see what would happen to the bar and to his weak mirages.

“Pretty lady, let me buy you a drink?”

It was one of the regulars – bearded, too old for me – interrupting and ruining what was going on between myself and the stoic custodian of booze.  The regular sidled over and made a wall with his arm where the bartender was standing so I couldn’t see him anymore.

“What’s your name, darlin’?”

He spoke as though with standard-issue politeness, but I could tell it was the bartender he was acting to rescue.  No man with that amount of lazy in his drawl would have bothered leaving his beer to initiate something romantic.

“In answer to your first question – no.”  I said, then swiveled in my stool so I was again staring at the bartender, through a hole in his regular’s arm.  “I want a bloody Mary,” I said to him.

The regular stood for a second, shocked, then re-oriented himself around me on the other side, maybe to hide his failure from his buddies down the bar.

“That’ll be eight ninety-five,” said the bartender authoritatively, with a dead fix on my eyes, as though I didn’t already have my card in my hand and my hand extended.  I shook the card a little, and he snatched it, not breaking his dead stare.

“That’s mine, Bill.  Put it on me,” said the regular.

Bill glanced his way and gave a grunt, which I took to mean agreement when he tossed my card back without having swiped it anywhere.  I watched him mix and pour my bloody Mary, garnish it with a sprig of celery and hand it to me.  I removed the celery, then threw the drink into the regular’s face and watched with interest as he gasped and stomped and craned his head backwards, making it all dribble harder down his neck and onto the fringe of his nice black t-shirt.

“Now pour one for me, and put it on my card,” I said, shoving the celery into the empty glass before giving it a push that would have sent it sailing back to its caretaker if the bar was polished and nice.  Instead it went five inches forward and stopped.  Bill was gonna have to reach for it.

“What!!!”  The regular roared, having stomped halfway across the room rubbing at his eyes as though his inability to see through bloody-Mary-mix also somehow necessitated his flailing around this much.  “You stupid bitch!!”

I grinned, beside myself, as the regular man lumbered, howling, toward me again.  I was ready for it.  I’d seen already that what worked in their world of small imaginings to keep the gruff façade a symptom of heroism instead of barbarism worked because of network.  Push on one, another across the room would respond, as though attached.  Peer pressure kept them all in check, like teenagers, and that meant any one of them could be shamed; peel that one away, the structure of the system would collapse.

“Walt,” Bill grunted in alarm, as the bearded regular grabbed with hammy hands for the scruff of my neck.

I laughed a bit.  I knew all about Walt now.  I knew his boundaries were beyond his own control, and that all it would take was a small push to send him toppling over the precipice of honor or reality.  “You know,” I remarked, imitating Sensei’s condescending tone.  “When you put your hands on someone else, they know where your hands are.”  I erased the girly smiles from both my eyes when I said that, and made my eyebrows low, so he’d think he had to stand his ground because of all the people who were supposed to have his back.  He was slow, but eventually he was coming to the conclusion that he couldn’t fight with me and be a hero, and he’d have to act too big to take me on.  I watched his wheels working, snagging, working, and then at the very last second when he could possibly change his mind, I cracked my head back and down, whipping my hair at eyes face and flashing him back to our drink-in-the-face shame and shock of a moment.

Today I wouldn’t know karate, wouldn’t fight him like I’d been trained and groomed to do.  It was Greg wielding all the force of meat and rage versus me and just my superior sense of direction, and I was sure I’d win; his hands went from my collar to my throat and he gripped and shook me once to clear the hair out of his way.  I waited for his face to be open to mine, waited for a moment like I’d had with the woman outside of the store, where there was no fear between us and our yings and yangs went snapping at each other, cleaving out each force but power, rolling me back to laugh through egregious ecstasy.

But no – there was the biker who’d tried to walk me in, now intruding on my plans to make the patriarchy crumble in incident to masturbation.  Biker-guy was throwing Walt off and standing between us, filling up the hero-vacuum that existed because of Walt’s burst cowboy vision of himself.  Walt looked to the regulars for support, and they looked by instinct at the bartender, who averted his eyes right away to the bouncer who was already crossing the room to the obvious relief of everyone but me, making loud and tough and general demands to all of us to settle down.

“Why don’t you get out of here,” said the bouncer to the biker, after considering the three of us for a couple of seconds.  The biker nodded, and put an arm around my back, guiding me alongside him.  I let him, giving myself as far as the parking lot to decide whether I’d continue to foster his hero-gets-the-girl presumption.  He was a young guy, about as old as me, and I could feel him bouncing beside me, high on endorphins and pleased at the upgrade to his self-image.  That was my buzz he was enjoying.

We reached the parking-lot, and we reached his bike, and he looked at my car across the way.  “Listen,” he said.  “I’d hate to leave that here with everyone inside so worked up.  Can we meet for dinner in an hour?”

“Sure,” I said, without thinking too much after all.  His giddiness was catchy.

His name, he said, was Greg.  Greg suggested a place I’d have figured to be way out of his price range.  I went home and dressed again, nicely but not in my nicest, and way less slutty than my sluttiest.  I found Greg sitting at a candlelit table, looking conspicuously nice and equally slutty, standing to greet me as I arrived.  I wondered whether, if I was him, it would have bothered me to remember that my date had recently and for no reason tossed a bloody Mary in someone else’s face.  Greg didn’t mention it at all.  He still seemed buzzed from his part in the drama; he practically giggled as he explained in boring detail all about his life as a law-firm lackey.  I managed to convince him all of me was there by mirroring expressions and enthusiastically re-stating opinions, leaving most of my neurons free for re-investment in bigger, fancier thoughts.  Like, figuring out how long it would take for my strange new source of lust to burn itself away.  I still had no idea, for example, when or why I’d decided to get into a bar fight, but I was sure the fight was the only thing that drew me to the bar.  I’d noticed the guys there in a way that wasn’t useful except for fighting – noticed their connections, putting pressure at the faults to see what held.  They were lame and old – tribe was all they’d had to defend them.  It wouldn’t have mattered if I hadn’t been out to start some kind of war.

And here in the restaurant, I could see it still, the force of tribe – acting as some tangible agent against us all.  The waiters moved like bees through their secret language.  The diners crowded around their tables, their arms opened to each other and closed to those outside their little spheres.  When one moved, the rest followed, keeping each other attached with waiting looks and matching pace.  There was one guy across the room, with his back to me.  By the angle of his table against a projection of brick, I couldn’t tell whether he was there with someone else.  I watched the movements of his head, trying to see his motions as those of a single man, then trying to see them as the motions of someone in a conversation, to see which way made sense.  I watched the ripples by the back of his jaw, and at first they looked like the slack motions of someone speaking, but they also, at times, looked like the elastic decisions of someone chomping food.

“I should really send her a thank-you card,” Greg said, and waited for me to laugh.  He was talking about an ex-wife, I recalled with a bit of effort.  It was due to her vindictive lawsuit and the loss of his beloved pet, Cowboy, that he’d begun to study law.  He figured this path was leading directly to his future as a rich-and-powerful guy with one of those filthy-sexy-slutty secretaries everybody wanted.

I wanted to ask what kind of animal Cowboy was, again, but that would have made it too obvious I hadn’t been paying attention, so I stopped being interested.  The man at the strangely angled table had his face turned sideways, toward the brick wall, so I could see a little of his mouth curving down.  His shoulders were relaxed; he hadn’t any intention of moving.  Either he was alone, or his partner had said something so terribly underwhelming as to make him forget she was there.

I liked the idea of him either way – eating alone.  That was proof of a man who couldn’t be shamed – someone, if I met in a bar in the middle of the day, I couldn’t lead astray.  The only way I’d get his hands around my throat would be to convince him I really needed it for the good of my health.

“Any man ever disrespects a woman in my presences, he’s gonna have to answer for it,” Greg announced, looking at me.  For a second I thought he was reading my mind and reprimanding me for having daydreams about ditching him to lure strangers into street-fights; I prepared some off-the-cuff stabbing insults to return for his antagonism, then remembered Greg had no superpowers and was just finally angling to talk about his heroic intervention earlier.

“I really appreciate what you did for me,” I told him, lowering my eyes in observance of his sense of honor as the waiter arrived bearing entrees.  The world has to go on working the way we expect it to most of the time.  Otherwise all our time would be wasted with getting to know each other instead of just doing things that feel great.

“It’s the way I was raised,” Greg said, loudly, chuckling, drunk.  “I grew up in all the rough parts of town, so I got to be really good at fighting.”  Greg followed this with a soothing laugh to assure me that I was in no danger.  I giggled while doing the wide-eyed glimmering thing you’re supposed to do to make a man feel nice who’s been of service to you.  That set him on talking about all the ways he was a defender of innocents in his day-to-day life.  I liked it at first when he was talking about breaking peoples’ faces, but his story-telling was vague and I had an idea he was lying much of the time.  I wouldn’t have minded if his imagination wasn’t so dull – I knew that plastering over his fantasies with my own would be a far better use of time.  I toyed around with ideas for making something sexy and gloryful of his wreaking-vengeance-against-the-man-at-the-circus-who-mocked-a-child-for-crying-in-fear-of-the-lions yarn, but before I could land on anything solid he expanded it to include his law-firm, so that the vengeance he was wreaking was as boringly litigious as it was glaringly fabricated.

I gave up on including Greg in my fantasies then, and looked back at the stranger against the wall who had gone out to eat by himself.  Maybe there would be a chance, someday, to get him alone and onto the field of battle against me.  Bodies aside and doomed as I might be to lose to him, we’d be driven by sheer force of fervor to engage, to join not mere lust to lust but urge to urge for combat.  My eyelids had a heaviness all of a sudden – the good kind of heaviness that comes when your eyes roll back in your head and you’re still awake.

“Uh-huh,” I murmured smoothly, smiling at my date without making my eyes focus on him.  The silhouette of a lonely stranger took up my mind’s vision, weighing on my faculties like a pillow pressing down.  I felt my fingertips tremble from the effort of seeing it as I reached for my water glass.  Taking too long to drink, I let unsteady breaths fog up the shining facets inside.  I noted offhand that Greg had gone quiet and sent a loose stream of chatter into the air above our caviar.

“Yes.  That’s the way to do it.  You’re right.  Good things come to those who assert themselves.”

“Yeah?”  Greg breathed.

“Hells yes,” I said, then forgot about Greg because, all of a sudden, the mystery man with his back to me was standing – leaving his crumpled napkin on his plate.  This would be it, then – the culmination of his meal, our moment of truth and triumph.  He would turn, his eyes would meet mine.  It might be curiosity that bonded us.  It might be hate.  It wouldn’t be any weak or dense, condescending pretense – we’d know each other with a brutish, banal, incurable honesty where we stood and sat, the better to exist thereafter.

“Yes,” My hiss escaped me as I leaned forward, ready to catch that man’s face with my eyes.

“You like that?”

I started; Greg’s hands had taken mine under the table, jerking me forward even more so the insides of my elbows crushed into the table’s cloth-draped edge.  His voice had gone sly and low, his tongue going over his teeth as though he thought we shared some context.  I remembered vaguely now what the conversation had turned to after he’d started talking about his job – how he’d offered me a position at his imaginary future law firm and then begun explaining my secretarial duties in suggestive bad grammar.  I smiled at him, like my mind was all completely his.  Our table was too wide for us to be holding hands between our knees; he had to lean so far forward to pull it off that his shoulders were touching the tablecloth, and now his eyes were grazing the blouse I’d worn over a lacy non-push-up bra – the kind that draws attention to nipples sticking out. Which mine were, still, and my arms pulling forward pushed my breasts together even more.  There were goosebumps on me, from my daydreams and I had at some point in my deep contemplation pressed my hand to my mouth and begun biting down on my own lips.

All that good feeling was gone along with chance of catching the eyes of one interesting man; he was heading to the restroom, with his back to me again.  When he came out if I wasn’t paying attention at the right moment he’d pass by me and leave.  And he’d be facing my table, one single man among a stream of single men leaving to return to their tables or exit the establishment.  How would I know him?  I’d spent all this time staring at the back of his head.

This was better for my dreaming, I told myself.  Our meeting would be like the one with my bag lady, uncrafted and original.  More intimate than marriage would be the meeting of our eyes across the public bathroom’s threshold now – it would be our deaths, and not our lives, that we’d have spoken for.  We’d vow right there to kill each other, someday, then watch our lives passing from each other’s shadows, always ready for the moment when our perfect storm should brew.  If it came when there was no spark left to light each other’s passing, too late for either of us to claim the forfeit, it would be sad.

I imagined the one that died too soon would be me.  It would be a different type of glory, to be wasted on the pavement for just no reason, but I would make it worth it.  It would be a mugger, likely, or a gang of mugger’s, spattering my blood into the gutter.  So I would hold onto the head thug before he got away, laughing and making him peer in to the gulf of death in my eyes so that he couldn’t help but see himself for who he was and shattered by it.

Greg’s entre and mine were gone when I realized we’d stopped talking.  I’d answered a question of his and he was waiting now for me to tell him more – so it seemed we had come to the part of the night where he wanted to know about me.

“Oh, I write a lot of very different things,” I said.  “But mostly, at the moment, what I tend to write is androgynous erotica.”

“Oh…really?”  He leaned forward in his seat, intrigued.

Just at that moment, our waiter came around with a fabulous array of desserts on a cart, and as I was admiring the miniature cherries’ jubilee I happened to glimpse the stranger man passing by.  I gasped – not out of fire-hearted vows-of-death euphoria, but in genuine disappointment.  Because that man was just disappointing to look at in every regard.  He was old, but old in the sallow, shaky way of bankers and not the good weather-beaten crusty-language way of anyone I ever wanted to meet.  His eyes held water and sheltered contentment, and by his side, there strode, a lady.  Plump and with bouncy curly hair, she looked as if she’d leached every morsel of vitality out of him.  I didn’t know it was him until he was passing, and I saw the line of his jaw and turning saw the back of his head.  It was him – I’d missed his wife around the angle of the wall, and taken his stillness for stoicism rather than rheumatism.

“Wow,” Greg said, nodding as though we were on the same page.  “Those look good.  What do you think?”

He was talking about desserts.  I indicated the chocolate lava cake and Greg ordered two.  He waited for the waiter to serve them and wheel the cart away before he started talking about me again.

“So what is androgynous erotica, exactly?”

“It’s erotica that happens with or without other people’s bodies being involved.  Survivalist porn, for example.”

“Survivalist, porn?  Like, stranded on a dessert island and figuring out different things to masturbate to?”  Greg laughed.

It wasn’t quite an easy-going laugh – I could tell he was getting nervous, on the inside, perhaps wondering for the first time whether some part of me would be deal-breakingly different from who he imagined I was.  I smiled and kept talking.  “It’s not so subtle as that.  There’s a piece I’m thinking of doing now, about ancient warriors.  It may be a gay thing – I haven’t decided yet.  There could be a peaceful tribe, overlooked, misunderstood, but one among them had a warrior heart.  His enemies would hate him compulsively, by virtue of his tribe, until he engages a master warrior out alone in the wilderness.  They’d be fighting over rains.  They’d be fighting over wells.  The guy from the peaceful tribe would find a new path for rain, and stand guard at it, waiting for his village to find him.  They’ve got to claim it.  The great man from another tribe would see him guarding it and laugh at him for thinking he could hold it all alone.”

“Fascinating,” said Greg, and I knew he didn’t mean it, because I’d seen his face pinch up when I’d said the story might be gay.  He looked around quickly, obviously preparing to change the subject, and so I leaned forward and began to speak again, louder and faster.  “Or the man from the other tribe might not be a great man in spirit – he might be a shameful, cowardly man who only had a big body, and he couldn’t comprehend the little man’s conviction, and he’d say to him, ‘Why guard it, only because you’ve found it?’  Only great men dare to take new wells, the weak men try to hide them so they can take them back when the great men have passed by.  But the small gay hero stands alone, unarmed, guarding it like great men would.  The great man’s tribe would begin to arrive, scout by scout, and look at him strangely, and laugh about it.  They’d recognize him from the pacifist tribe and not make a move to kill him, because great men don’t fight small men, and you can see it in a glance when you’re from a warrior tribe, and there is no honor in downing someone smaller than yourself.  The warrior group would arrive and laugh over the small man’s presence, but not do anything to kill him and assume he was delusional and that the well belonged to all of them by virtue of their strength.  But then the tribe’s elders would arrive, and the chief elder, looking at the small man, would not laugh, and would not pass on, assuming that his mark on the well would suffice anymore to keep it.  ‘We camp here,’ he’d say, as though the little man were great, and waiting for his tribe to catch up would have evened things out and made this a fair fight.  Then the little man might begin to shudder.  What if his kin did catch up?  What if he’d changed their way of life forever?  He’d never thought of fighting as an option, but what if there was no other now?  And the whole course of history was changed by his being there too soon.”

Greg had tried to interrupt once, then politely backed away and resigned himself to listening.  His lips smiled, and the corners of his eyes were pinching painfully.  “That’s it?” He asked, when I stopped talking.  “I thought you said it was erotica,” he said, and chuckled.

I stopped talking.  I’d forgotten that some people were expecting sex right away when they heard the word “erotica.”  “Yeah,” I said vaguely, digging into my lava cake.

I looked up at a silence after a few more minutes’ absent banter, and Greg was staring.  I could tell that he was waiting for a hint from me as to where I wanted the evening to go – whether we’d both be going to one place or separating.  Really, not much at all phased him in my regard.  I wondered if he’d be the same way for a whole relationship or if this not even caring how psycho or strange I could be was his introductory offer in light of not yet having been laid.

“Ok,” I said to Greg.  “I would like you to order me a wonderful expensive cordial.  Then I would prefer it if you’d follow me to my house and take off all my clothes, slowly and sensuously.  Feel free to throw them on the floor; they’re not my nicest clothes.  You may then have sex with me, only if you promise to do a good job.  If you do not do a good job, you may take me out to dinner again, but not have sex with me afterward.  I will probably not tell you whether I approved until after we’ve had the dinner.”

“Well,” said Greg, startled.  “Yeah, ok.  That’s ok.  Yeah.  Thanks.  I mean…”  Greg blushed and tried to cover up the fact that he’d said thank-you, but I ignored all his excuses.

“You’re welcome,” I said.

Crazy Bitch – Installment # 2

On the way home, I fought a bag lady.

I’m still not entirely clear how this came about. I remember that I’d been driving with Martha in the passenger seat and had stopped at a Qwickie Mart for some extra deodorant. Then when I got out of the store, the bag lady was pestering me for change. I probably told her no because I suspected she’d use the money for drugs and I didn’t want to be a party to her self-destruction. I remember the scent of her body as runny and used, with the old musk of pot emerging from the folds of her clothes, or skin. And there was something weird about her movement – tic-like and severe. I think I must have been afraid, and turned from her as fast as I could to seek the shelter of the store, but something happened to her then, and she lunged. I could feel her yank me back by my pant legs, toward the parking lot, and I was astounded by her ferocity. Then her hands were raking my pockets and something happened to me that made me turn into another thing than a worried person with a rescue dog waiting in my passenger seat.

I don’t remember how I got the bag lady into the space behind my car. I don’t remember, either, when I realized that she wasn’t old. I’d thought she was, but her rage was forcing spirit up out of her depths and flooding her face and I could clearly see for the first time she was only in her thirties, maybe even younger. She wasn’t even frail, like I expected – she was sinewy, and her arms and legs when they moved were as fast as though they were propelled by springs. Her knuckles were conspicuous barbs hooking over her skinny fists. I don’t know why she was a bag lady.

She ended up knocking me down once more when I tried to stand and wrapping her hands around my throat; that’s when I noticed how sinewy she was, and that Martha had her head through the half-open window and was growling – not in the way of anger, or even warning, but in the way you’d route for a favorite boxer knocked down. That’s how it sounded to me. Then it was the growl of my own blood in my ears blocking all the other sounds and I had to break free, I just didn’t know how to get my hands out of the way of her crowding torso with her pinched-up shoulders over me, or how to get my eyes out of her eyes, suddenly, quietly deft, as she watched the struggle of my life clogging up my face. My vision pulled itself backward and I let my eyes roll up, fooling her. Then when her hands shook, for a second believing me dead and regretting it (that’s what it felt like), I bashed my forehead right into her nose.

I saw stars, then sucked in brand-new air and for a second, we both were reeling and struggling to right ourselves.   Then our eyes, groping for anchors, met suddenly and clung together. I was reading her the way she’d been reading me, seeing the angry confusion up at the surface and behind it depths of numbness serving as buffer to something exquisitely boiling. There was a breathless understanding there between us – an intimate knowledge of an animal struggle, not flesh to flesh but flesh to soul. All of this between us, and then we both knew the moment had lasted too long. When we tried to extricate our visions it was with a sense of physical unbalance; I felt my body give and crumple. With a final, inexplicable rush the animal in me gave up its juice, and the smell of my toasty undoing couldn’t be evaded, no matter where we turned.

The bag-lady wobbled back against the wall, then slapped my face. It had to have been the best that she could do, but the pulse between my legs had barely stopped, and before I could reason out the why’s I lunged again, and bit her breast. It was a mouthful of greasy clothing, actually, and she slammed me so swiftly back into the alley wall I wasn’t sure she’d recognized it as a violation. I hadn’t intended it, but I knew it happened, and the knowledge weighed something and kept me stumbling, until she’d pressed the side of my face against the cold cobbled building and my nostrils were filled with smell of old pennies and I could feel the senseless surging of creature in me screaming and then washing itself right out, in glorious torrents.

I spun against the wall, clammy and ashamed, but wanting to keep moving though I could feel the motion driving me toward other shattering crests. I couldn’t get on the offense for feeling so good and even if I’d planned to, I couldn’t lay a hand on this woman for how fast she was; blocking her blows only worked about half the time but my body wove around hers in an insane awareness I’ve never felt before, where nothing could happen except what was happening. I knew what she would do in the next second and what drove her and where the brink of her extinction lay, a boundary we noted but stepped over as nimbly as though it were the crack in a sidewalk. I wasn’t quick enough to close the distance between us once; still, I saw every opening of her body’s defenses, every flash of her eyes with a surreal exhilaration that couldn’t be contained. I knew it was going to happen and couldn’t help it – I was fighting in an unsupervised alley with a crazy bitch after blood, I couldn’t afford to think away from the intensity of the moment, blocking and rushing and ducking and lunging but it happened again and again that ecstasies bubbled up out of me, drenching my panties and staining the air.

I would have gone on all night, fighting and coming, endlessly messy and exhilarated, but at some point the bag lady must have realized she was getting me off because we stopped. She just wandered away in the middle of the action, as simply as if excusing herself from a game of dominoes. It was the graceful option, and I let her go jealously, feeling as if I’d re-animated a Velociraptor to have a battle and had the Velociraptor remember halfway through that it wanted to be a flamingo.

I stumbled back to my car, sticky and wet with the milk of my body’s rapture. Martha’s nose started twitching delicately but she fixed her great head toward the road and I knew when I started to drive that she wasn’t looking at me at all. I noted her silent judgment, making no attempt to convince her that normal humans did such things. I must have been in shock. I’d circled the block two or three times before it registered that I wasn’t going anywhere and headed back home, trying to work out what had just happened.

All I remembered of my feelings at this point were about that crazy lady; somehow, we’d reached a point beyond fear. Something primal, like a lust, but not the same – a drive to hurt, to maim, to kill, that brought with it accidental understandings of who each other were. This wasn’t a thing that people did, in the real world. Fighting was a thing from high school and ghettos – places with magical bubbles attached, that worked by different sets of rules. Was this an indication of my commitment to begin behaving strangely, or was it a singular event, there and gone, like being drunk, or dreaming?

And then, my bag-lady ran away. Did that mean I won?

 

I began as I drove to imagine my future differently, setting up times like this over and over in a neat and logical sequence. Maybe I could start walking more, alone at night and looking frightened, which would be a trick to lure out the bad guys, and then I could fight them like a superhero. Only it would be a creepy superhero, who was only using justice as a means of achieving sexual gratification. Real bad guys couldn’t walk off in the middle of the fight, since they’d be after rapesex instead of pocket-change and not in a position to judge me for having combat-related orgasm. I imagined assailants growing more envious and ornery the harder that I came while beating them up, having hurt feelings from being left out and unable to complain due to irony. I’d have to think carefully and find a safe word that Martha would remember; in case I got too tired from coming to fight, that’s when she’d swoop in and save me by being a giant dog with lots of teeth.

I got Martha home and fed and walked her. On the walk I tried to teach her how to growl on command, but I couldn’t make up my mind what codeword to use, and when I thought I did I still got mixed up and kept using reject codewords.   She gave me that skeptical look three times, but one time she showed me her teeth. I gave her a treat for that, although I didn’t know positively she was doing it in obedience.

I wasn’t planning on becoming a freak; I want to make this clear. I was just following up my shocking one-time street affair with some idle daydreams, and using a dog as a prop to make the fantasy more lifelike. When I paused to look at my expression in passing storefronts, intent on mastering the irresistible-to-foes frightened look of my imagination, my torso started twitching with pleasure.   When my reflection was joined by that of a burly man, I nearly lost it right there, but fortunately I kept all my pleasures in long enough to spin on my heels in anticipation of doing battle. The burly man had dark curly hair and brown, sensitive eyes. He didn’t look lecherous – only alarmed.

“Hi,” I said, to cover my strangeness in wildly spinning to face him like that.

“Hey,” he said, slowly, feeling me out. “What’s new?”

“Well, I just met you,” I snorted. “You’re new. And that’s it.”

“You’re not from around here,” my stranger observed. “You moved in recently.”

“How did you know that?” My fingers were coiling reflexively. How did he know that about me? Was he a stalker? Maybe this would turn into a fight, after all. I gave Martha’s leash a tug to put her on alert; she looked over her shoulder lazily then went back to sniffing the sidewalk. She clearly didn’t care about my safety. Either she was a terrible dog, or she had ruled out the curly-haired stranger as being any threat. Or, she had been paying attention to what I was trying to teach her even though she hadn’t seemed to, and now she was just pretending not to care, to let me play out my superhero fantasies. The inside of my palms were sweaty now. What stupid fantasies. Why had I attempted to teach my dog to wait till the last moment possible to ward off aggressors? Fighting wasn’t sexy and I didn’t want to do it.

“What?” I asked. The curly-haired man had said something, but I wasn’t listening, and now he was looking at me strangely.

“It was your accent,” he said. “I can tell you’re not from here. People don’t walk dogs down the sidewalk who are just passing through. Plus, the fact that I live right around the corner and I’ve never seen you or your dog before. She’s fully-grown, so you must have had her a long time, and if you’d lived around here before recently I’d have seen you walking her. So you must have moved in around here sometime recently, with your dog.”

“Where around the corner?” I asked. “Which corner?”

“That corner.” He pointed.

“Hum,” I said. That was the corner my house was around. “How far around the corner?”

“I don’t know – the middle of the street, practically. It’s a pink house. It’s magenta. It’s the only one that shade.”

“Huh,” I said. That house was two down from mine.

“You gonna tell me which one is yours, or you just gonna leave me feeling insecure about the fact that you know exactly where I live and we still don’t know each other’s names?”

“Knowing my name or home can hardly protect you, in the event that I should try to take advantage of my knowledge of your whereabouts.” I sniffed. “Any disclosure of mine would have a placebo effect only on your feelings. Seems to me a pretty flimsy basis for any kind of relationship, be it friendship or enmity.”

“Shouldn’t enmity be based on lies and deceit, though?”

“No!” I said sharply. Not the good kind of enmity, anyway. “People who lie aren’t scary. The people who are openly evil are the ones with the powers. That’s why the bond villains always spill their devious plans before walking away; they’re not stupid, they’re like cats playing with mice. When you’ve already won the game and no one is as powerful as you, isn’t it always somewhat sucky – don’t you just wish you could be equals with your enemy long enough to have a run for your money? Don’t you just wish someone could match you, for once? The bad guys are always the stronger, smarter, better people. They have to go way out of their way to even get the good guys’ attention, then they have to find ways to handicap themselves to make it an even fight. I feel sorry for them.”

“You’ve thought about this a lot.”

“Not really. You just now made me realize how unfair the world is for bad guys. Good bad guys, anyway. They’ve reached the absolute pinnacle of the evolutionary ladder and found there’s no one to match them or sharpen their claws against. It’s a Darwinian tragedy – they can’t find mates and socialize normally without diluting their perfect genes. Without normal stressors they’re facing the agonizing waste of talent to decay. If they didn’t turn to evil they’d go stir-crazy. I guess what I’m saying is, bad guys are better than good guys, overall. Now given what you know of how able I am to come to rational conclusions in the blink of an eye, and the fact that I have a big dog as an accomplice and have declared my allegiance to evil – aren’t you nervous that I know just exactly where you live? Doesn’t it disturb you that I refuse to coddle your insecurity with lies and deception, or level the playing field for you by offering for free any personal information of mine at all?”

“I’m not scared of you, or your lazy dog. Even if I weren’t super-strong and agile like a cat, I study karate. I have a brown belt. I could protect you and your dog, by myself, with one foot tied behind my back. If you’re ever having an emergency, you go right to my bright magenta house and seek the shelter of my manly strength.”

“Is that sexism you’re doing?”

“Yes.” The curly-haired fellow flashed a wink at me. “See, I know to be politically correct I should just admit that you terrify me and walk away. But I also prefer the supervillains to the heroes, and I also prefer the truth to lies. And the unspoken truth behind a pair of powerful, healthy young people who insist on being enemies is that neither of them want to be. From a Darwinian standpoint, it’s best if the supervillain tries to procreate – even if the efforts are not successful in re-creating or out-matching the glory of the present. But a cat-woman versus a batman – there’s no contest. Regardless of who has the stronger fighting skills, we know the woman lacks the biological incentive to commit to having a powerful man as a full-blown nemesis. She can produce offspring but one at a time, and only for a short window in her life – and producing offspring requires that she cease and desist with her enmity. Her body knows she’s not fully committed to having children, and it torments her increasingly, relentlessly. Batman does not have to pursue her – in time, her biology will drive her to him. The seed of the truce is hardwired into her.”

“That explanation ignores that there are lesbians.”

“Are you a lesbian?”

“That’s more personal information you don’t deserve to have.”

“Because knowledge is power, and you’re not willing to be less powerful for the sake of my comfort?” I nodded.

“I suppose, if you were as powerful as I am, you wouldn’t have to hesitate. I’m Carlos, by the way. You already know where I live. I will also share with you that I am not a lesbian. Also, that I happen to be single – that’s just to make you remember your biological struggle to resist procreation. And, I mean it about having the ability to protect you with my manly strength. I can even prove it – see?” The curly-haired bastard then tucked one leg behind his back, like he said he would, and started flexing his pecs and stretching out his arms on either side and also flexed his biceps and forearms, and it was funny and lame and I came a little bit. Martha was sniffing at a puddle, looking bored.

“You…have a good day,” I told him, and tugged Martha back toward the corner where I lived.

Crazy B*** – Installment #1

 

On the week I almost got a dog, it had been two or three months since I’d moved to town and I hadn’t started working out again. I look like I’m in shape, but I almost never am. The dog thought came to me because I’m not, overall, a big fan of the gym. I was new in town and the park looked promising when I passed it in my car. It has this luscious sprawling green you can see from the road, dotted with trees enough to look nicely shady. Plus you can see four or five trails that dip privately into the woods behind it. I thought it would make the perfect running spot, if it wasn’t the creepy kind of park that mothers warned their nice daughters to keep out of.   I couldn’t tell from looking. And I live alone and work from home, writing, so it wasn’t the easiest thing for me to find out.

I’m not much of a fan of people at all, in fact. The dog thought was: if I had a good, big dog with teeth, I could go and fit in no matter what kind of park it was. Maybe that seems selfish as a reason for adopting a live animal, but consider the fact that I don’t care. I’m not lonely. I don’t have kids to vicariously enchant me with their wide-eyed observation of canine virtue. So earning the respect of potential perverts would be my reason for rescuing a shelter dog, and I would be able to go to places after that without bothering to ask if it was safe or nice or frowned upon.

It turned out when I had a look at the animal shelter that the dogs were sub-par for my purposes. The ones that weren’t puppies showed no signs of being dedicated to my health and safety exclusively. There were some who looked mean in general, and some who looked friendly in general, but no happy mediums in there who were well-trained already and only wanted me for a friend. I caught one of the smart ones snorting at me skeptically, and couldn’t keep myself convinced after that I had grown mature enough to keep a pet. Embarrassed to share this with the shelter assistant who obviously secretes responsibility for a living, I feigned an emergency phone call and left with some over-acted cries of alarm.

I’m so glad the world isn’t like ancient Greece, anymore, when Spartan ladies couldn’t exercise without being sexual deviants. And I’m glad these aren’t the Victorian days when you didn’t take off your clothes in the bath or people said the same kinds of things about you. Now everybody talks about how good for you it is to exercise, and you can walk into any gym with the subtlest of smirks, letting everyone know you’re doing this just for you – making your body feel uncomfortable without its being mandatory – and that it’s all a part of your routine since you’re a real, normal grown-up making all the right decisions. Maybe you stop feeling that way when you actually do do it every day; I haven’t kept up a routine long enough to know.

The one gym in town was nice, facilities-wise. Not as private as a dog park, but if I brought the right kind of music I hoped the rest of the people would be less noticeable. On the Monday after I didn’t get the dog I went in, expecting that in the middle of the afternoon most of the townsfolk would be away at jobs. I found something appropriately spunky and pop to feed through my earphones, and settled into stride on an elliptical machine.   It was hard to think about anything in particular around the excitement of the music and the fast-building searing in my lungs. I pictured tendons in my throat, taut strings against a sword of too much air. That made the pain more interesting. The tightness in my chest felt like a corset –some jealous god had bound up my innards to keep track of the gusts going in and out, daring me to take a bigger breath. When I did, it burned. I held it tight in savage rebellion against my flesh and its slow-plotting creator, slamming leg after leg ahead, rising and thrusting again, snorting futile sprays till I couldn’t hear the music over pounding heartbeats in each ear.

When my vision started swimming, I gave up and allowed my legs to eat up their momentum while the elliptical steps carried me on in waning cycles. Now the pain that pinned my mind down so neatly replaced itself with rushing, unstoppable sensation. I felt the blood in every part of me lap and recoil, filling me with pressure in a second and deflating, scraping back away from naked nerves, making my whole body pulse between its own gasping embrace crowding out the world and the tingle of a helpless, raw perception. My legs hadn’t completely stopped cycling yet, and the machine’s dull resistance kept a fuzzy strain moving up my thighs. Somewhere in that slow-and-steady motion, the last embers of my motivation flared – not enough to reach my mind, but enough to make my body pay attention. I didn’t have it in me to brace; the thrill went rippling into my tissue, collecting untapped sparks, growing as a force like a snowball down a hill. My body recognized this momentum before I did; I startled myself when a little, plainly sexual moan rose from the back of my throat and flung itself out through my nose.

I stumbled a moment, then righted myself. This energy was something new, and exhausted as my ego was I couldn’t find it in me to break from the tension that pushed itself beyond the force of pain toward some great, miraculous pleasure.   I could feel all the gunky of my old self sizzle against a poker of piercing air inside me, dissolve in the smoldering, salty smog I’d created, peeling back spaces that let a being more tender and frail begin to shiver, and stir –

“Hey!”

I stopped, eyes snapping angry circles at the man who had come to break my regimen.

“Hey, there, take it easy! Looked like you were gonna pass out, for a second – you ok?”

There was a buff blonde guy next to my elliptical machine, his body weeping with acrid-warm man sweat and his voice cutting over my private ipod selection. Apparently he’d decided his concern for my safety took precedence over my personal alone time.

I took a second to convince myself I didn’t really want to jam my thumbs into this gentleman’s eyesockets, then removed my headphones with as winning a smile as I could muster. “Yes, I’m fine.” If I’d had a dog, this never would have happened. The gym guy squinted like he needed more convincing, but I didn’t have it in me to play that game today. I widened my smile in conclusion, grabbed my bag and hopped off the machine, shower-room-bound.

Some minutes later I was arching my back in the shower, my pores open to receive their vapors of brooding vanilla. I’d felt better after a pee, but I still was thinking of that interrupted promise – a visceral saving grace, snatched painfully away. I felt cheated on, and looking at my sudsy skin considered my masturbatory options. Should I make a bid for my thwarted desires here, claiming graceful release soon washed away under waves of steamy almond? But that wasn’t quite the same idea, with everything so soft and nice and the heat coming at me from the outside. Besides, I never was very good at masturbating – having to stand so still in one place made it too easy to get distracted with daydreams, or to imagine what my face must look like and wind up feeling silly. I can never take myself seriously enough. So I grimly admitted to myself that the moment that happened on the elliptical was gone, and nothing would bring it back, unless it was another trip on the elliptical.

I took some time to admire myself in the mirror before I put my clothes back on, tracing the beginnings of a slender groove down the middle of my abdomen. My endorphin rush was tricking good smells out of the air, and I imagined it wouldn’t be long before my body looked just the way I wanted it to. Fuck the gym, however. I waited another day to go back to the animal shelter and continue on with my original dog-involving plans. The skeptical one I had noted on the first trip stood as I neared her kennel; she seemed to have been expecting me. I didn’t have the heart to look away; she clearly was the most experienced candidate, and as she seemed to have little patience with bullshit I resigned myself to her being the one. So it was that I found myself signing for my very own Great Dane, full-grown, with a dark coat. When I said I wanted her the shelter-keeper got all misty-eyed and told me that her name was Martha.

I had never taken to a dog before – my family’s succession of Labradors had always got on best with my sister. For a time I had parakeets, but that was over now. After filling out the paperwork and waiting a few days to be approved, I got my dog home, and not long after I took the time to bring her to the park.

Martha was exactly what I needed; from the instant her paws touched dirt, she made it very clear that this was her park, now, and that my presence at her side was so appropriate it ought to be taken for granted. It was a surprise and a relief to me, because there just happened to be a lot of very attractive, muscle-bound young men going about the park today, some with their shirts off and their cardboard-picture abs gleaming in the sun. I’d feared – I don’t know what – some probing glances demanding the origin of my ethnicity, tagging me as out-of-town or out-of-date and stoutly directing me towards the exit. Instead Martha’s force of presence seemed to insulate me from all notice; no one even glanced our way as she sniffed at the wind with the knowing conviction of a snob over wine, and started a trot straight down one of the twisty trails leading into the back-woods. I bounced along behind her with a red leash in one hand, feeling a nice contrast start to build on my cheeks from the autumn cold and the clouds of my shuddering breath. Martha was quiet and sensible enough that after a time I hardly noticed she was leading me, and was able to use the spare mental energy to imagine that I was alone and the steady pull against my hands was some primal sense of direction rooted in my soul and in the ancient, secret powers of the trees.

I felt Martha growl before I heard her; the slack of the line in my hands caught me off-guard. She was stopping short in front of a patch of mountain laurel that dashed itself against an old tree. A man leaned back against it, his mouth opened and eyes closed. On his knees in front of the tree, a second man with a ponytail made a choking sound. I could tell by the motions of the back of his head that he was engaging in fellatio. Martha gave a short, indignant bark, and the man leaning against the tree opened up his eyes. He looked at me briefly with disapproval, despite my dog. Then his eyes rolled back into his head and I tugged Martha backwards up the trail.

“Don’t you start,” I hissed, as she began a harassed wine. “You should never take me by muscular fellating men, ever!”

The dog park must have changed since her day. As far as I was concerned now her credibility was shot, and as I was in no mood to discover more surprises along the hiking paths, I made the executive decision to take us home. On the way, I fought a bag lady.

Bye Bye Baby

Bye, baby Bunting,

Daddy’s gone a-hunting,

Gone to get a rabbit skin

To wrap the baby Bunting in.

The perturbing thing that should immediately strike this song’s every listener is the tone of unapologetic child abandonment. Daddy’s already gone a-hunting by the time the first word breaks, and we realize the singer of the song, whoever she or he may be, is also leaving now.

The narrator doesn’t tell the baby where or why she or he is going, but makes a point of filling the tot in on Daddy’s objectives; a defensive gesture, surely, and smacking of guilt. It isn’t clear whether the baby will be in the charge of someone else, or left entirely alone. Either way, something about the hasty departures are coming across as sinister.

The facts as we have them regarding Daddy don’t make much sense, either. This doesn’t sound like any successful hunting trip I’ve ever heard described. Father’s agenda’s set in stone –– he’s committed to bringing home a rabbit, with no line of exception. We also have it plainly that Daddy’s interested in the rabbit’s skin exclusively, with no consideration for the meat or paws. Considering “Bunting” is a term of endearment implying fat, perhaps these folks are well-off enough to not have to factor in sustainability or logistical surprise.

But that only makes the abruptness of Daddy’s sojourn more bizarre. Daddy left before the babe knew that he was gone. Daddy left without saying goodbye. Daddy left as though realizing suddenly for the first time that his infant needed wrapping, as though there was not a scrap of cloth about that could suffice, as though there would never be another chance to slay a rabbit–

Wait. Daddy…never said that he was hunting rabbits.

He’s getting a rabbit skin. Two animals keep rabbit skins in their possession: rabbits, and men.

It’s suddenly very clear to us why Daddy is so certain of what he will be bringing home, and why he left in such a hurry.  It is apparent now that Daddy has impulsively taken his weapon of choice after whichever miserable wretch happened by garbed in furry finery.  Our narrator has, apparently, made a very respectable judgment call, and taken leave of the baby belonging to a devoted, if deranged, hunter.

A Tisket, A Tasket – a Basketful of Pain

A-tisket, a-tasket

A green and yellow basket

I wrote a letter to my love

And on the way I dropped it

I dropped it

I dropped it

Yes, on the way I dropped it

A little boy he picked it up and put it in his pocket.

 

Most of us having heard these lyrics have reasonably assumed that the author here is no Casanova. He – most of us probably figured this was a dude – repeats himself four times in nine lines, opens with nonsense words and random basket imagery and goes on to stutteringly convey the bumbling sequence of events in which his letter was lost.

In a recent re-examination of this classic, however, some bits of this poem appear strikingly out of place. Even taking into account the author’s apparent flakiness, some things in his tale just don’t add up.

How, for example, does our narrator know that a little boy picked the letter up and put it in his pocket?

It’s conceivable that the writer doubled back on his trail once he realized he’d dropped his letter, arriving at the exact place where he happened to have let it go just as a little boy was picking it up. But then, why wouldn’t he have just notified the lad that the letter belonged to him and simply corrected the situation?   What the author describes is a rather more enigmatic scene – he drops a letter and watches in silence until a random boy finds it and puts it in his pocket.

It cannot be said that the letter’s author intended this course of events at the outset – he clearly states that it was on his way to delivering the letter when things began to fall apart. He did not intend to drop his letter. He did not intend for the little boy to pick it up. But something happened on the way to his destination – something that caused him to drop his dispatch and watch in apparent stupefaction, as a stranger picked it up and walked away.

Having been left no other clue, we must finally call into question the significance of that opening, nonsense image of a brightly-colored basket.

If at first we imagined the basket tucked under the arm of the poem’s narrator, we must now reconsider; if that had been the case, the devoted lover surely would have tucked the letter safely inside, where it would not have been dropped in the first place.

No – this basket belonged to someone else. Someone blocking our narrator’s way – someone our narrator was never able to pass. The tenor of the rhyme – stuttering, fraught with repetition and a fixation on the key sensory images including the colors of the stranger’s basket, and the whereabouts of his dropped letter – are most appropriately taken not as the chronic indicators of a foolish personality, but the situational response of a person under trauma.

What could have caused such intense duress in a writer delivering a love-letter? What could have caused him to drop that letter in the first place? What could have left him stunned and helpless to observe as a child came along and later pocketed his precious correspondence?

What was in that stranger’s basket?

The only thing a vibrantly colored basket can contain and still be seen as horrifying. The same thing kept today in brightly-colored coolers and thermal bags in medical units the world over.

Human.  Innards.

Tragically, it seems this dear ditty’s narrator stumbled into the hands of a black-market organ trafficker, who promptly attacked, ripped out his most marketable bits, and slung him into whatever shallow ditch or dale afforded him a view of his letter laying in the road. It is with helpless horror that he later observes the young child pick up the letter and carry it obliviously off, presumably into the same hands that finished off our narrator.

These lyrics can only be seen as the gasping last words of a lover struggling without being able to make sense of what has happened, to warn whoever it is that finally finds him – go back the way you came. There are merchants of death ahead.

Case regretfully closed.

So You Want to Be A Stripper…

Stripping isn’t something I’ve always wanted to do. But it’s something I’ve wanted to do since high-school, when an acquaintance of mine took up the trade and I learned there was a way to make a thousand dollars per night without committing to a full-time career.

I knew, you see, that I could never live as anything but a full-time writer. But I also knew, with painful certainty, that I could not abide the traditional writers’ existence in my parents’ basement, despite it’s being spacious and filled with inspiring creatures. Stripping, I knew, would have solved the issue of a livelihood in the near future.

To imagine actually doing it, though, I’d have to picture myself in an alternate lifeline where my parents, boyfriend of several years, and social privilege didn’t exist, and I was free to live the life of a Desperate Woman without shame or guilt. I was brought up to know better.

Ten years later, my mid-twenties found me strangely single, living an hour-and-a-half removed from my parents, and under some degree of financial duress. I found myself in a situation I hadn’t expected – in a perfect position to explore the occupation that had seemed such a godsend in my fantasies.
Getting started turned out to be a bit trickier than I had anticipated. For any of my illustrious readers who may eventually find themselves in this situation, the first tip I would like to offer is:

1. Don’t Shop for Stripper Clothes at Macy’s.

Don’t look at me like that. I had a gift card.
But really, don’t. Macy’s, if you have an ulterior motive of tearing off your clothes on a stage for the very first time and slapping folks with stacks of ones, is kind of terrifying.
I don’t know if it was the fluorescent lights’ glare, the critical grimace of each matronly shopper inspecting racks of flowery knit apparel, or the pleasant inquiries of sales mavens as to how they might assist me, but I was impressed with the immediate conviction that everyone and everything in the store was colluding to pry my secret purpose from me and cast me promptly out again. The lingerie section was not sexy. Or…perhaps some of it was, but those things were next to other things that appeared to be girdles, and probably anything compared with a girdle looks sexy, and would any of it look the same under ultra-violet lighting anyway? I began to feel queasy, examining my stipperwear options in a store that is not, most emphatically NOT, designed with visceral sex in mind.
I made my way to the shoe department last of all. I had been told the shoes were the most important part. I knew I needed stiletto heels of six inches or higher, and I’d read in CandyGirl that stripper shoes should be white. I didn’t have a ruler, and because I had exclusively worn sneakers until this point I couldn’t tell from looking which of the pumps were six inches. Also, I couldn’t tell from looking which of them would stay on my feet or hurt to wear. I had read, many years earlier, all about the disadvantages of thin heels on one’s spine, and so I chose the pair with the longest heels I could find and asked the attendant whether they came in white. “Sorry, we’ve just gotten rid of most of our summer colors,” she told me, after a look through the back.
“What color is your dress, dear?” A middle-aged fellow-shopper smiled encouragingly.
“Um,” I coughed, panic rising at the sudden, benevolent interrogation. “I always get my dress last, after the shoes. The shoes have to come first.”
“Every girl is different,” she laughed.
I laughed, too, nervously. I couldn’t tell whether she was on to me.

2. Don’t Wear Schoolgirl Braids when you Audition at a New Club.

I made this mistake twice.
The first time I went to a club it was with my hair in braids. Having already gotten the OK from the club’s owners, I was pointed to the dressing room. I dawned my Macy’s clothes, which consisted of a bright pink set of lingerie, a pair of tights and strap-on pumps, and a pair of frillie pink booty shorts, and proceeded to onto the club’s floor where I strutted around the perimeter of the room, hissing “What am I supposed to be doing?” at passing bartenders, dancers, and security staff. A veteran dancer eventually took pity on me and took me back to the dressing room, where she had me shake out my braids, ditch the granny-panty-booty-shorts, and don a slinky black dress of hers. When I re-emerged, the bartender acknowledged my existence. It would be seven or eight months before a waitress asked me casually what it was like to be Amish, and I learned those first-day braids had resulted in a rumor, sincerely believed by all but the two who started it, that I was an Amish girl on a quest for self-discovery.
The second time, I was trying out a different club in Hartford. Having learned nothing from the first scenario, I gave the sexy braids another try, and was snarkily interrogated by the doorman for twenty minutes without being allowed to see the manager. “You do realize what kind of dancing this is?” He demanded. “It’s not, like, ballet, or anything.” I assured him that I was perfectly informed of the situation and was, in fact, prepared to seduce any number of fine gentlemen, but all to no avail. In retrospect, I’m sure it was the braids that prejudiced him against me.

3. Have a Playlist

I didn’t, my first night on the job, and was completely unprepared when the veteran stripper showing me the ropes sat me down in front of the computer that serves as an electronic dj and instructed me to pick out my stripper name and 15 songs to go with it.
I could only think of a handful that I really liked, and for the rest of my playlist I chose random suggested songs with sexy-sounding titles. So it was that, an hour later, I was called to stage to the endearing backdrop of a song whose chorus rang out, “Pussy, money, weed!!”
I still cannot edit this playlist.

4. Don’t Wear Tights

I realized the technical error I had made with my wardrobe when I began to disrobe. I got the dress off fine. Then the bra. Then came the striking realization. I was in a nude club. And I could not access my panties.
They were buried, under my tights (not thigh-highs – actual waist-high tights), which were locked in place by my strapped heels.
I offered an apologetic ‘wait just a minute’ finger to the two bros sitting stageside, plopped down on the stage, and took off my shoes. Then the tights. Per club policy, I had to put the shoes back on before I could take the friggen thong off.

5. Don’t Ask the Manager Whether Your Club is Nude. Ask the Internet.

You will find, if you enter this profession, that strip-club owners and managers know what is going on in their own clubs very rarely. This is even more true of management in charge of several clubs.
I learned this one the hard way, after an audition at the Cadillac Lounge in Providence.
“You’re very beautiful,” the house-mom encouraged me. “But your moves are still a little lacking in confidence, so I’m going to start you off downtown at our sister lounge.”
When asked, the house-mom said this sister lounge was topless, but not fully nude.
Downtown I went, and was informed by the doormen of this sister-lounge that the house-mom at Cadillac had nothing to do with their hiring decisions, and that they would tell the DJ to put me onstage for one set as an audition. There were customers there, so this had a trial-by-fire feeling, but I decided this was a thrilling adventure and that I would have fun.
The DJ started playing “Living Dead Girl”, and I lost my cocktail dress as gracefully as I could. Then I whipped out a tit. I heard an outraged “Hey!” somewhere in the distance of the room, and tried to ignore the mystery angry man as I continued to dance, whipping my bra off completely and twirling it over my head.
“Hey!” The cry came again, and then some words I couldn’t decipher, something-something-something, “…topless, right?” I grinned and flashed thumbs-up at the shadowy depths of the club in acknowledgement of the astute observation. I was, indeed, topless.
“No!” Then I saw him – the doorman – as he ran up to the side of the stage, still shouting. “I said, we’re NOT topless!”
“Oh,” I said, retrieving my bra. “…Sorry.”
“What did you think, we’d have a topless bar in downtown Providence?”
“I guess I was misinformed.”
“You didn’t see any of the other dancers taking off THEIR bras, did you?”
“Maybe they were playing hard to get?” It was early in the night, and I knew from my month’s worth of experience dancing at that point that sometimes dancers don’t take their lingerie off when it’s still early. The doorman just shook his head, groaning stressfully.
I had to let a month pass before I could think of dancing again after this. There’s something kind of traumatizing about having someone scream in horror at the sight of your bare boob.

Pop Goes the Weasel

You may have heard the song involving a too-rambunctious monkey and the weasel who goes “pop” around pointy shoe-maker’s tools and imagined a scenario where a rodent pricks his toe and bursts like a balloon. A closer inspection of these lyrics, however, reveals a much more harrowing narrative – this is the timeless tale of a weasel’s acquisition of his very first handgun.

Round and round the cobbler’s bench
The monkey chased the weasel
The monkey thought it was all in good fun
Pop! goes the weasel

The juicy drama unfolds, like most juicy dramas, around a cobbler’s bench. The monkey, easily two to four times the weasel’s size, thought it was hilarious to chase the skinny bastard around a bench littered with picks, nails and other terribly dangerous items. I think it’s fair to assume that damn monkey had been terrifying the weasel for years for his own cruel amusement. Clearly, this monkey lacks the moral fiber to have been perturbed by a case of spontaneous weasel combustion. So the weasel takes the only logical course of action available, and fires off his handgun.

The word “cobbler” lends the tale an added layer of sketchiness. Most commonly, it’s interpreted to mean a shoe-maker. But the other kind of cobbler may be more relevant – the kind of illegal professional who creates false passports, visas, diplomas, and other documents. So we have an innocuous shoe-repair shop fronting a darker, more lucrative side-trade. No wonder the monkey’s such a brute; he’s not just some ill-trained pet. He’s the cobbler’s enforcer.

Giddy with exhilaration after firing his first gun and cowing his bully co-worker into submission, the strapped rodent goes on a mad terror spree through the streets.

A penny for a spool of thread
A penny for a needle
That’s the way the money goes
Pop! goes the weasel

From forgery, the weasel has quickly progressed to penny-thieving and shaking down hard-taxed merchants. Where will his depravity take him next?

Every night when I get home
The monkey’s on the table
Take a stick and knock it off
Pop! goes the weasel.

The relationship between the narrator and the weasel finally becomes clear; the monkey, who had spared no qualm in bullying the poor scrawny weasel, is held in check by the narrator only with nightly beatings-by-stick. It seems the narrator was supposed to be in charge all along. Unfortunately, the weasel’s had enough of that monkey’s sass – if before the gunblast was enough to frighten the monkey in submission, now it is enough to finish him. There is a clear message to the narrator in this as well: the weasel will now be calling the shots.

If you’re skeptical that the song is meant to tell the tale of a seedy criminal underworld inhabited by deutshbag animals, just listen to this lesser-known alternate verse:

Jimmy’s got the whooping cough
And Timmy’s got the measles
That’s the way the story goes
Pop! goes the weasel.

Case regretfully closed.