August 30, 1968, 5:00 PM
This week doesn’t start out so lucky. But it sure ends that way.
I meet CK.
Reviews, journalism, musings
After receiving some criticism, I wrote a new version of this story. To those who’ve read the previous one, what do you think of this new version?
August 30, 1968, 5:00 PM
This week doesn’t start out so lucky. But it sure ends that way.
I meet CK.
Yes, men sometimes get them. Here’s one reason why.
This week doesn’t start out so lucky. But it sure ends that way.
I meet CK.
I wake up after four hours sleep, but I still have to go to work or I can’t pay back my father. The kingpins on my VW are shot, so it’s in the shop, therefore I’m grabbing the bus. Good thing my summer job as tour guide at the Valmont Power Station is so easy, because I’m fogged up the whole day. I even make up a name when a visitor asks what some lime-green pipe attached to some meter is. “Oh, that’s the triculator. Very important, runs the whole show.”
At 5:00 Larry, my fellow tour guide, drops me off at the Boulder bus station and there’s this long line of passengers waiting. The doors aren’t even open, we’re going nowhere it seems. The bus’ back hood’s open, and a mechanic futzes around with the engine. I turn to a young woman next to me and say, “First thing that you learn is that you’ve always gotta wait.”
“Oh yeah! The Velvet Underground. I got that album too.”
She tilts her head and smiles at me, almost like we know each other – but we don’t – more likely it’s because she’s connected with someone who likes Lou Reed. She’s about my age with mixed-up hair, half straight at the part and half curly at the bottom like Da Vinci’s “Portrait of Ginevra de Benci.” Maybe it’s intentional and she knows Renaissance art. She’s wearing a long dress with an empire waist below her breasts, like they wore back then.
We introduce and start chatting in line. I tell her about how I took a cross country train to New York last summer with Mike to see the Velvet Underground at Andy Warhol’s Gymnasium. Brought blankets and slept on the train in the regular seats. She laughs and says she used to live there with her ex-husband, a guy named Murray.
“He was the kind of artist who painted his whole bedroom black. To make a statement, you know?” says CK.
“C’mon, black?” I say.
“Flat black and right above the headboard he paints this long squiggly dagger and under it these words: ‘Life. Consider the Alternative.’” Then she laughs and flips her magenta scarf behind her like Isadora Duncan must have done on that fateful day.
She says she lives in Windsor too, two stops beyond me, with her parents and “straight-arrow sister.”
“It’s only temporary. I gotta work through some stuff.” She’s been out of college for a year, and has been “busting my twat trying to find a job — illustrator, painter, something.” We talk about everything: music, politics, the scene in Windsor, “which,” she says, “doesn’t exist.” We moan about our terminally unhip parents, but not for long. We get interrupted. My stop comes up, we’re still chatting so she gets off with me and we plunk down under a tree close to the stop. She finds a roach in her pocket with two puffs left on it. She says she’s only been back for a month, having just split from Murray and I tell her the entire story about Candace. Including my problem getting condoms.
“Oh wow,” she says. “Sounds like you have a tiny contraceptive problem.”
I smirk. “Ya think?”
“I assume you’ve tried the diaphragm?”
“What’s that? Some kinda breathing technique? That supposed to help?”
She laughs again, kind of a chuckle, quick and high-pitched. “Here I go again, assuming. Never assume, they tell me. Do I listen?”
“C’mon, tell me. What is it?”
“It’s this thingy a woman sticks up her pussy before sex and it’s kind of a barrier to the semen. It’s incredibly flexible. Works like a charm for me. Every time so far.”
“What’s it look like?”
“Ever have ravioli? Not the square kind, the round ones?”
“Yeah, like once.”
“It looks like one of those, only twice as big.”
She must sense I’m having trouble visualizing, so she whips out a sketchpad from her bag. In less than a minute, she draws one. It’s completely accurate, I later find out.
“Where you get . . .Where do I get one?”
“Sigh, she says. There’re prescription only.”
“’Aye, there’s the rub,’” I say. “There’s always a rub.”
“A doctor’s gotta fit one to you. I mean to her.” She gets up. “Think I hear the bus. How about this? My parents and sister’re going to some dumb play tomorrow night. In Denver.”
“What play? I’m into theater.”
“You’re the Hamlet-type. I can tell. You’d hate this. Her First Roman. It’s a musical comedy about Caesar and Cleopatra. The only thing good about it is it’s long. They’ll be gone a long while.”
“All evening?” She nods and the bus comes into view.
“Time enough for you to come over and learn all about diaphragms.” She touches the tip of my nose with her finger.
“Yeah,” I say. “Sounds good. Sure like to see one.”
She smiled slyly. “Oh we’ll do one better than that. So. You up for that?” The bus pulls over to the curb. “Hold it!” she shouts and it obeys.
“Of course,” I said. “What time?”
“Whenever. How ‘bout after the sun sets? Kind of like now but in twenty-four hours.” I nod, she hugs, then runs to mount the bus steps.
I make my way over to CK’s house, a good mile and a half away. I could have taken the bus, but this time of night walking’s faster than waiting for it. She lives in a new development that abuts a ranch that when I was small seemed bigger than the Ponderosa. It features split-level houses that look pretty much alike except for slight color variations. The streets are named after Indian tribes like Algonquin and Iroquois and they’re lined with small maple trees, each plunked about twenty feet apart.
She’s so happy to see me.
“Hey you’re here! You passed the reliability test.” She hugs me, pressing me against a thin cotton shift that goes only halfway down her thighs. Her breasts slide freely against my chest. The shift has no sleeves and wafts back and forth like willow tree branches.
“’Beauty’s self she is,’” I say.
“Ha! Good one. Who said that?”
“Nobody knows. But I just did. Because it’s true. Definitely.”
“Thanks. I just threw it on.” We enter a bedroom. “So I can just throw it off.”
We sit on her twin bed. The room has a desk and chair but is otherwise unadorned except for a tacked-up drawing of Jim Morrison that looks demonic. Lots of bared teeth and squinty eyes.
“It’s from a photograph,” she says, “one that was way way too tame . . .” She smirks at me “so . . . I corrected it.”
“Yeah, I know. Damn, I’m good. So, you’re into quoting stuff. Which Morrison quote reminds you of me?”
“I . . . I don’t know. Maybe I’ll think up one later. How ‘bout I let you know?”
I’m not sure what’s about to happen here, but she has my complete attention: everything she does, everything I think from now on will be “unfix’d with baser matter.” How she moves in her bare feet. That swaying thing she does. How she looks at me sideways with her head slightly turned. All “will live within the book and volume of my brain.” Who knows for how long.
“First, let’s relax a little.” She lights up a joint and we drag on it a few times. I say “good stuff,” she takes off her shift and reveals her pale smooth body, no freckles, no scars, hardly even a crease. She’s as glorious to look at as a Botticelli painting. Only her breasts are beguilingly imperfect: one has a mole below the right nipple, at about eight o’clock. The other one is slightly smaller. I briefly touch its side, then drop my hand. I really wish I had a camera, even though I know so little about photography I’d probably fuck up any picture I took.
I want to do more than touch her just once. I want to do it over and over for hours, for the rest of the evening. Should I ask? Or just do it?
She takes the diaphragm from its white clamshell case and shows it to me. She squeezes it in and out. I touch its ridge in and it springs back. She’s right, it’s incredibly flexible.
“Not too much now, I just washed it.” Then she gets a tube from her drawer that’s slightly bigger than a toothpaste tube and squeezes jelly onto the diaphragm. “Spermicide,” she said. “Zaps those little buggers dead.” She moves it around slowly, like she’s fingerpainting in third grade.
“All of them?”
“Now that I have to assume. Okay, time to watch teacher. She’ll show you how it’s done.”
She leans back against the pillow and spreads her legs wide. In a matter of seconds she parts and inserts, and it disappears into her.
“Second to last step. You gotta make sure it’s in there right, sometimes it can slip a little. Those spermies are tricky devils, they’ll slither by they see a breach in the dam.”
“They can see?”
She tilts her head as if to say “very funny.”
I’m sitting there with my shoes off, gazing at her. Not knowing exactly what’s supposed to happen next. But hoping.
“Well go ahead. See if it’s in straight, and not tilted to the side.”
I gently part her lips and slowly insert my finger. I have no trouble locating the diaphragm.
She sighs. “Yes, that’s . . . that’s sort of like it. Two fingers would . . . you’d be able to tell better with two.”
I do so and she moans. “You got it, that’s right. A little further in. Move ‘em around a bit. That’s it. Ohhh. Can . . . can you feel if it’s in straight?”
“I think so,” I say. “It doesn’t feel slanted or anything.” I take my fingers out.
She puts her hands behind my neck and draws me close. “Kiss me.”
I do and she immediately opens her mouth and our tongues meet. We do the sliding-probing-poking thing I recently learned. She takes my hands and places them on her breasts.
“It’s even better when you help.” Wow. Lauren Bacall. Who else is she into? We kiss again, about eighteen more times. And our kisses are so long I’m glad my nose isn’t stopped up.
She places my fingers from one hand on her nipple and shows me how she likes it. “That’s it. You got it. That’s so it. You done this before.”
Unable to think of a better retort, I just keep on kissing. She pulls back suddenly.
“Unfortunately, there’s only one way of knowing for sure.” She’s not smiling anymore. She looks serious.
“Knowing what for sure?”
“Proper diaphragm placement. Knowing if you’re right on target. You use something more sensitive than fingers . . . You’d be able to tell if, well, you will, trust me. Know what I mean?”
I know exactly what she means and she smiles and was that a wink she gave me? “I . . . I don’t know.”
“That’s okay, I do. Think of it, just think of it as research. You’re conducting research, that’s all. We’re nowhere near done. We’ve still got two more steps to get through. At least.”
She doesn’t seem concerned her parents could leave the play early and come home and interrupt us. If she does, she doesn’t let on.
I wonder about Candace. She’s so insecure and, yes, even jealous at times. She can never learn about this evening with CK. And just what am I doing? Can this be cheating? Yes, but not exactly. Not really. I’m learning this for us. So the point CK is making about research is valid. So very very valid.
I quickly take off my clothes and slip into her. More kissing and caressing, much more intense this time. CK’s only the second girl I’ve ever done it with, and man is it different. So very different. It even inspires me to quote John Donne:
License my roving hands, and let them go
Behind, before, above, between, below!
That turns her on more. “Oh rove on my new friend! Rove wherever you want. The more you do, the better it gets.”
She puts her hands on my ass and we do it for a long time, at least for the next half hour.
“So what you think?” She says. “Was it in okay? Stayed in, right?”
“Yes, it did, that diaphragm works pretty good. I only felt it a couple of times.”
“Show you something else,” she says. She takes out this long plastic tube and attaches it to the top of the spermicide tube. Then she fills that, inserts it and pushes a plunger.
“Now we go a second time.”
My eyes widen.
“That is, only if you want to.”
“Yeah, sure I do.”
“You can’t forget, promise me you’ll never forget, you always use this second dose thingy if you’re going . . .” she laughs “. . . extra innings.”
And we go a second time and it’s more intense than the first. We cuddle in bed afterwards and according to the glowclock, at 10:30 I briefly consider a third go. But we hear the garage door opening. We quickly get dressed and she goes off to the attached bathroom and washes off the diaphragm.
“Question. Would you say her pussy’s about the same size as mine?”
“I . . . I don’t know. I guess.”
“Well only you would know. Doesn’t matter, it’s worth trying. Here, this is for you.”
“Oh no, I can’t.”
“No time to argue, they’ll be here in a minute.”
“Are you sure?”
“You need it more than I do. I can get another one, just have to tell the groinocologist it developed a tear due to . . . ” And then she does that impish smile again. “. . . vigorous coitus.”
The door opens and her sister and parents enter. I’m standing there, quite innocently dressed.
“Hello parents and sibling,” she says. “This is Paulie. I met him on the bus. Paulie, my parents and sister Jennifer. How was the play?”
June 7, 1968
I’d rather be in so many other places than here. In line to see the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Waiting for Jimi Hendrix to go on at some festival. Prowling through a used book barn in Wyoming. Instead, I’m standing at the counter of the only drugstore in Windsor, Colorado. I’m almost 21 and home from school for the summer. The store’s empty except for Mr. Mercer, who’s leaning on the counter reading a newspaper he’ll probably unload onto the next customer. Not me.
Because I’m not here for newspapers.
“A priest, a minister and a rabbi are discussing when life begins. The priests says, ‘It begins at conception’. The minister says, ‘Life begins at 24 weeks gestation’. The rabbi says, ‘You are both wrong, Life begins when the kids move out of the house and the dog dies.'”
Family friend Wally forks his last piece of tenderloin steak and washes it down with Chivas Regal from my father’s store. He guffaws at his own joke, like Red Skelton. Continue reading “The Night That Opera Saved My Ass”
Although hard to find, there are good movies sympathetic to abortion. Here are three.
YOUNG MAN. Wow! Look at that sunset!
YOUNG WOMAN. Yes, so pretty. I have something wonderful to tell you.
YOUNG MAN. Don’t keep me in suspense. What is it?
YOUNG WOMAN. You’re going to be a father!
YOUNG MAN. (surprised but smiles) Are you kidding?
YOUNG WOMAN. No. Even though I’m four months pregnant, I’ve saved telling you for the right moment. We’re going to be parents.
YOUNG MAN. Hurray! Even though we’re not married and still living in a tiny room at my grandparents’ house, this is the best news ever!
YOUNG WOMAN. Even though neither of us are working because of the town’s 15% unemployment rate, everything will work out fine.
YOUNG MAN. Even though I’m just eighteen and you’re seventeen and we’ll have only 80% of our brain synapses until our mid-twenties,1Bill Bryson, “The Brain,” The Body. we’ll have no problems making informed, adult decisions on matters affecting the rest of our lives.
YOUNG WOMAN. Even though I’m still in school, there’s always home schooling. People are so willing to help!
YOUNG MAN. Even though my grandparents can’t get around that well, they’ll be overjoyed to babysit for hours at a time.
YOUNG WOMAN. Even though the sonogram revealed problems with our child, we will give thanks for him every day.
YOUNG MAN. No way else to say this. It was meant to be.
What’s missing from this touching discussion? Continue reading “Three Excellent Films about Abortion”
Some poets never peak. Leonard Cohen never did. And unlike those who churned out clunkers late in life—William Wordsworth with Ecclesiastical Sonnets (at 52) or Bob Dylan with Together Through Life (at 68) —Wendy Drexler shows no sign of peaking. Through her latest volume, it’s clear she continues to improve her poetry in metaphoric complexity and thematic scope. Her first book, Drive-in, Gas Stations, the Bright Motels was a kind of poetic memoir of her childhood. It captured the quirkiness of her family through humor and poignancy. Before There Was Before delved into self-reflection, focused on guilt, and used experimental techniques like dramatic hard-hitting endings. An amateur photographer herself, she also began writing about photography, ruminating on its imagery and implications.
Continue reading “Book Review: Notes from the Column of Memory by Wendy Drexler”
A book with a new type of poetry. The poetry of the found list.
By Peter Bates
War. Pestilence. Global warming. Layoffs. Financial ruin. Lawsuits. Bad hookups. There are random forces poised to get you, most of the time when you least expect them. Some of us organize our lives in patterns that create a sort of balance. We forge schedules, we label stuff, we categorize, all to squeeze this mad mad world back in line.
Continue reading “Book Review: LIST FULL: List Poems of Necessary Orderliness. By bart plantenga”
Not exactly. I’m something else.
Where I live, the old men sit around the spa after workouts sipping coffee. Once in a while, they’ll gloat about their now-easier lives. One day one said, “You know Pete, we’re survivors.”
“Not me,” I replied, “I’m an escapee.”
Here’re some notable things I’ve escaped from: Continue reading “I am Not a Survivor”
Two months after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt authorized Executive Order 9066. It adopted a drastic policy toward Japanese-American residents, alien and citizen alike. Virtually all of them were forced to abandon their homes and property and live in camps for most of the war. Continue reading “Did Anyone Oppose Japanese Internment?”
“Don’t ever assume things,” my aunt used to say. Just because What the Camera Didn’t See is a behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood filming doesn’t mean it’s tawdry or sensationalistic. It’s not in the same category as say, Behind the Candelabra, Scott Thorson’s book about his years with Liberace. For one thing, it’s not ghostwritten. Cinematographer Alec Hirschfeld also happens to be a writer. A good one.
He operated a camera at many famous movies of the past fifty years like Taxi Driver, Goodbye Columbus, Diary of a Mad Housewife, and Terminator. He reveals intriguing anecdotes about those (and other) films and his working methods. He also talks about problems that some of these films raised, like how Taxi Driver was physically challenging for the staff, and also psychologically to Hirschfeld. He felt like an outsider with his long hair and alternative lifestyle. (I well remember the time in which such differences mattered.)
As every creative knows, sometimes you take what work you can get. Hirschfeld also filmed some B movies, like The Last American Virgin. He uses his experiences on that film to tell about the changing attitudes toward on-screen nudity. In A movies, such scenes were generally treated with “sensitivity” and only the essential cast and crew members were allowed on set. In B movies, nobody cared, and people freely walked about during the nude scenes, some just to gawk.
He also uses his experiences with the black-produced film Cotton Comes to Harlem to write about the racial attitudes he grew up with, those of a middle-class educated Jewish boy. “If I had ever had a black friend . . . I might have understood how significant it was, in the face of institutional racism, that this film was being made at all.”
Hirschfeld deals candidly with his life. While building a successful career, his past was close behind. One day he discovers that he’d fathered a child in a short-term relationship from long ago. While unintended pregnancy was common in those years, I would’ve liked to have read more about his relationship with this newly-found daughter.
There are flashes of humor in this book. Unlike Tina Fey’s jokey memoir Bossypants, What the Camera Didn’t See features occasional wry observations like this one: when filming Jaws 2, the crew was beset by flocks of interfering butterflies. “Like the shark, they could not be reasoned with. I’ll bet you didn’t know that a whole bunch of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope, or a swarm if you’re not crazy about butterflies. I’m sure the production report said ‘swarm’, since, ‘shooting delayed by kaleidoscope of Monarchs’ is less ominous.”
This book is more than an excellent summer read. You may actually learn something from it.