Wednesday, November 6, 2013

AN ODD TALE

An Odd Tale

She took the stage like a great solo violinist, striding on long, well-toned legs, her open white smock flowing behind her like a cape. She was high-stung, taut as a bow, holding a pointer to match, long neck, long nose, wavy blond hair that just reached her shoulders, big eyes shaped like teardrops giving her the appearance of constantly being preoccupied with weighty matters for which there were no moral solutions. She had the bearing of one descended from royalty. Her beauty was deep and arresting, but it was not warm. She gave off an impression of someone in complete control who was utterly lost.
She commanded the stage, indicating to the projection on the screen with her pointer.
“We can see in this early footage....I should say we can hear in this footage....he started out as a football announcer, even though he knew nothing about football. Notice the familiar nasal quality to his voice, which was recognizable even then, combined with what sounds like an affectation, can you hear it? It’s as though he’s trying to imitate his idea of what an announcer should sound like....and as if he’s mocking it just a little. No doubt we all recognize that voice. And that’s him, obviously, sitting at a folding table on the sidelines. You can see the women selling sweaters it looks like at other tables. The game going on in the background. This was obviously very early in his career. From football he went on to host a morning show. Then he began inviting women to his studio and forcing them to strip on his radio show, making them perform lewd and lascivious acts on one another, on random individuals, humiliating these women in front of a vast radio audience, women who lacked not only self-respect but intelligence, and consequently were unable to grasp the full ramifications of what they were doing.
“When I opened his head and removed his brain – which turned out to be quite small, I could hold it in the palm of my hand – I discovered that it was made of that sticky translucent pinkish-purple rubber often associated with various children’s toys, such as those octopi that you fling at a wall and watch it tumble down grasping the wall. My son used to have one. But the real discovery was the little frogs made of play dough that I found wedged in the sulci of his brains. They were in an array of bright play dough colors – yellow, red, green, blue, purple, etc. – wedged in the sulci or fissures throughout his brain. The frogs were about the size of one phalange of a pinky finger. But despite being wedged in there, fortunately for us, and for him, the play dough frogs were all perfectly intact; they were not squished or otherwise deformed by the pressure of the rubber as one might expect. For this reason I was able to carefully pluck them out with chopsticks. There was a surprising number of them, as even when I thought I’d removed all of them from the bottom of his brain, after which I turned the brain over and removed all the ones from the top, when I then checked the bottom once more I found still more of them there. I don’t know if I’d missed them the first time around or if new ones had appeared, which I thought would have been strange in that short a time span. We did not know why this was happening but eventually I did manage to pluck out all the frogs and reinsert his brain into his head. Now he’s back to being a very successful radio personality, and he has not exhibited any disturbing symptoms. In laymen’s terms he’s cured, he’s normal.”

She was pretty but plain, and poor; good people but poor, as they say. She had only one dress – gray and formless and made of rough cotton – and she kept to herself, the way gentle, poor girls sometimes do. She was smart but her intelligence wasn’t useful; she was not at all cunning. She had games that she played with herself and she shared them with make-believe friends. She had straight black hair to her neck and an old pair of sandals. And she had a kind heart, a big heart, but she was quiet and did not imagine she was entitled to joy.
            She was afraid of him when he called to her from the mound by the railroad tracks, but now she was in love. The young man was unlike anyone she knew. Although she was not acquainted with too many people, she knew that he was unique. Had she had access to society she would have found him all the more so. He was odd but not on purpose. Everything he did, every glance, every gesture, was electric, explosive, like a small work of art. When he sat he would sit in a ball. He would leap, hop and climb instead of walking; but when he walked he moved like a dancer. Not that he was completely at the mercy of his eccentricities, he could behave conventionally if need be; his bearing suggested he could make small talk with beggars and kings with equal ease. He seemed to have mastered this skill long ago, as a child, perhaps even before – there was nobility to him. But all that stuff bored him now and he had as much interest in being charming as a virtuoso violinist has in teaching the instrument to tone-deaf six-year-olds.
His straight black hair he wore like a helmet. He was dashing and sexy, like a magnificent, mythical bird. And she felt like an ant on the earth. Yet he chose her. He would see her all day, every day, and would paint her in the abandoned old hangar (in fact she did not know what he was painting, he never showed her, but she stood where he told her to stand, stood there many hours at a time in her sandals and coarse cotton dress). The dark, dirty hangar filled with color as soon as he’d enter. But he also brought darkness, from his black eyes and his black leather jacket. She wasn’t afraid of being physically harmed; if he’d wanted to hurt her she’d let him. She was afraid of the door to him closing, of him walking away, of him not coming back. His painting notwithstanding, he was an artist in everything he did; whatever he touched he made beautiful, and this was so far from her world. She knew that what she saw of him was a tiny fragment, that beyond it was a vast, swirling universe she could not understand, a labyrinth, beautiful and frightening, before which she was a speck in the wind. Perhaps he was playing with her. She didn’t know what he wanted from her. But these meetings were all that she had. They became her whole life. She expected that for him they were trifles. But she did not care. As for being with him, being his, she did not dare even to fantasize about such a thing. And when such reveries would scrape at the door of her mind she would chase them away.
The painting was done and he showed it to her. It was a portrait of a girl rendered with rich, brilliant colors, her face luminescent with transportive joy, her glorious smile lighting up the whole hangar. It was clearly supposed to be her, thought the girl, though it looked nothing like her. But the painting’s astonishing beauty and her love for the boy made her smile, made her glow. And at that moment she caught her reflection in a mirror shard on the ground and she suddenly saw that the girl in the painting was her!
She looked at him and saw he was pleased, more than that, he was happy, not smirking like always. He looked open, like a little boy. Her lungs swelled with joy. No, he was truly happy as he looked at her, and for the first time she felt free to be with him. And she knew, she still knew he would probably leave, maybe even quite soon, maybe after one night. She knew he did not love her the way she loved him, she knew they were not nearly equal. But she felt at that moment, unlike ever before, that she now had the right to be with him, the right to accept what he offered – not demand, she did not have the right to do that – but accept. Nobody had the right to demand anything from him. He was not of this world. He was an event, a miracle, he was an ecstatic moment. And now, seeing her portrait, she turned into that girl in the painting, that girl in a colorful dress, filled with infinite joy. He gave her his hand and she took it and they skated like light beams through caverns and forests and white marble ballrooms and clear emerald seas.
            “This is not going to work,” his mother told him. “It’s unacceptable. Her essence is different from ours. She is plain. You are unwell. I need to look at your brain. She is downstairs or somewhere, who knows, she is waiting. I’ll have someone escort her out. She’s from a dull, unremarkable world.”
            He must have come out to see her, to tell her to go, to tell her he’d see her at home, to tell her he needed to speak with his mother. For how long did he say? For an hour? Or maybe a day? It’s not clear if he knew what would happen. He knew and he did not know, she thought later on when she remembered his face in those moments. She saw him through the half-open doorway, he was deep in the grand oaken hall, listening to his mother – she could hear the words echo but couldn’t make out what they were. She could not see his mother, her view blocked by the door. He turned in her direction and he had a vague smile. Was his smile resignation? Or longing? Was it sadness? Or pity? What was clear was that regardless of what, if anything, he truly wanted, or, let’s say, regardless of what he wanted more, he could not resist what was happening to him. She saw he was only a boy and in his smile was inevitability.
            She was taken to the street, passing a man whose pompous, nasally voice seemed familiar. “My time isn’t free,” he was saying. She was taken to the street but she found her way back. She entered the operating theater just as the boy’s mother removed the top of his head and took out his brain.
            “You see,” she showed the girl, undisturbed by her presence, “you see that?”
            The colorful frogs were all smooshed in the crevices of his brain. One could barely tell they had ever been frogs at all. They just looked like squashed colorful patches of play dough.
            “You see,” his mother said, showing the girl his brain, “I can’t save it. It’s all stuck together, I can’t pick out the frogs. I can’t cut them out, I’d be cutting good parts of his brain with the frogs. They’ve meshed into his brain.”
            The girl’s dress was gray once again and she sat on a bench by the wall and she quietly watched knowing she no longer had a right to his world. And she watched, or not so much watched as just sat there, as his mother cut out what little uncontaminated pieces she could of his brain and integrated them into the brain of the radio announcer. Then she took the announcer’s brain, now with parts of her son’s brains attached, and put it into her son’s head.
            The girl stood on the street as the cars pulled away.
The young man, he went on to be very successful. He still had the power of effortless charm and charisma, and rooms of beautiful people gravitated towards him at cocktail parties and at work he elicited great admiration and a good deal of envy from even his most serious colleagues. His mother was pleased, or as pleased as she could be. The announcer, well, nobody missed him.
            The girl made her way through the trees, and down roads in the dusk light. She felt terrible anguish, for a long time it tore her to pieces. But it passed. And she was still poor, with only one dress and one old pair of sandals, but she was no longer embarrassed to smile.

November 2013

Sunday, August 4, 2013

My Internet Dating Profile REDUX

It is not without some vexation that I announce my retirement from the world of internet dating, at least until I can radiate something other than midlife-crisis desperation, or whatever it is I seem to be radiating at these meetings, which appears to be making women react to me as they would to, say, a DMV clerk, who, after a pleasant enough exchange about the nuances of inspection stickers, then asks them if they wouldn't like to teabag him in his cubicle. Whatever the reason for my recent lack of success, I’m off to Siberia (figuratively speaking of course) to chop wood and pull oxcarts and run around with railroad ties and shit. But for posterity and with a tear shed for one or two....closer to one....fond recollections, I publish here my second, latest, and last (at least for a while) internet dating profile:

My self-summary

Do you feel compelled to write in your profile how much you love New York City, how much you love bourbon, how much you love to travel and/or wander around the city discovering great new places, how you want a guy who's really passionate about something, maybe a little geeky but confident, how your favorite movies include two or three of the following: "The Princess Bride," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," and "This is Spinal Tap," how your job is saving the poor, the children, the planet? You sound lovely but I'm probably not for you. If you think Michael Moore (does anyone even remember who he is?) is anything but a big, fat turd, you should pass. If you find "Schindler's List" to be a valuable film, ditto. If you put down that your favorite book is the last one you've read, I can't help you. If you have lots of tattoos or if you use the phrase "I create" a lot in your profile, you needn't even consider me. Read comic books? Play video games? Love "Doctor Who?" Obsessed with sci-fi and/or whodunit novels? Wear funny/quirky/kitschy hats? God bless you, but you'll hate me. Want drama-free? Not if I really like you. Have a problem with Woody Allen movies because he fucked his daughter? Go tell Oprah. Need to drink cocktails with cucumbers in them? I'm sure they're delicious. Enjoy. I don't mean to sound negative or all anti-something-or-other, but there it is. If you find something attractive behind any of this I'd like to hear from you.

What I’m doing with my life
Catching up.

I’m really good at
Criticizing. Telling stories. Drinking. Kissing. Cooking. Making your mom/dad/grandparents/dogs/kids like me.

Favorite books, movies, shows, music, and food
dostoyevsky, lolita and other nabokov, bukowski, borges, naked lunch, fitzgerald, celine, liked hemingway until i read what he said about dostoyevsky and now i can't take him seriously, kafka, the new yorker, rome, breaking bad, louie, robot chicken, tarkovsky, fellini, pasolini, bergman, bunuel, greenaway, kusturica, jodorovski, woody allen, coen brothers, anderson, solondz, old scorsese (though i really enjoy the departed), almadovar, casavetes, verhoven, lynch (too many to list), gogol bordello, tom waits, nyman, glass, nina simone, vysotsky, bach, miles davis

I spend a lot of time thinking about
Sex. How I appear to others.

On a typical Friday night I am
Drinking.

The most private thing I’m willing to admit
I had sex with your dad.

You should message me if

You'd like to get drunk and go to a museum; for you art goes down better with booze. You laugh easily and sincerely. You find the overabundance of kitsch and "irony" in self-expression irritating. You'd like to go see a play (don't get excited, I write theatrical criticism so I get my tickets for free). You'd like to watch both seasons of Rome with me in one sitting. You think we might like one another sober. Also, you probably should be a little desperate. I don't mean romantically, I mean in general - in life, in this city. Because if you're all happy and well-adjusted and just can't wait to get up every morning and smile and talk to strangers, I'm kind of a hard pill to swallow.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

New Jersey Man Finds NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Soul in a Matchbox at Garage Sale in Passaic.

According to a redacted article in the now defunct Birdseed Gazette of Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ, a number of years ago the future mayor of New York met with a surgeon in order to have an infected cyst removed from an undisclosed location. After an examination the doctor informed Mr. Bloomberg that the cyst was in fact that precious, indefinable, ethereal thing, a mixture of tangible and intangible human qualities that differentiate people from sophisticated calculators and some insects. The doctor conceded however that he did not know why the billionaire’s soul was oozing pus, but suggested that his patient make an effort to keep it clean and use an ointment. The doctor also confessed, after the billionaire pressed him further, that this indefinable thing had actually no practical uses whatsoever, and if anything was only a hindrance to the forward-thinking, pragmatic mind. The financial wizard promptly ordered it removed, which his doctor did, filling in the crater with fat from Mr. Bloomberg’s ass to avoid a scar. What happened to the soul afterwards or how the petrified little black thing wound up in a box of chipped nick-nacks in a Passaic garage nobody knows. But the find has ignited a fever of excitement among Bloomberg fans, who are out in force searching through every dusty attic and musty basement, through every trash bin and every sewer and gutter for the two warts that were the Mayor’s senses of irony and humor.


Friday, February 1, 2013

THE MIDDLEMAN

Too much thinking I do
too much philosophizing
idolizing
theorizing
I'm not the man whose poetry
            is his life
I'm not the man whose poetry
            is his poetry
If any genius I have
            it is in my dreams
But I forget them as soon as I
            wake up 

 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

WITH APOLOGIES TO REED BIRNEY




About six months ago I reviewed a production of Uncle Vanya
(http://www.stageandcinema.com/2012/06/18/uncle-vanya-soho-rep/), which featured Reed Birney in the title role. The show had its problems but I gave Mr. Birney a mostly positive review:

“Also excellent (for the most part), was Reed Birney as Vanya....Mr. Birney captures beautifully Vanya’s sarcasm, cynicism, desperation, and self-loathing. He seemed less believable as someone who’s worked with his hands on a country estate all his life. And his feelings of love and resentment towards Yelena (Maria Dizzia), the professor’s young wife, seem a bit unconvincing (though this last issue could well have been due, at least in part, to Ms. Dizzia’s uninspired performance).”

I remember one problem I had with Mr. Birney was his hands, his fingers specifically. They seemed thin and always pointing outward like delicate fins. They looked brittle, weak, sharp and awkward, the kind of fingers that have never done manual labor and would only be good for handling paper, fine fabrics, or poking you in the eye accidentally. The way he moved his hands and his arms – his gestures abrupt and clumsy – how he moved his neck and his head, all looked like the movements of a frustrated, middle-aged boy (which was appropriate for his character). But they also made him look somewhat effeminate. Not exactly in the way certain gay men look effeminate, he looked more like one of those guys who are "sexually ambiguous," the ones you can’t imagine having sex with anybody, who look like they'd be frightened of any exposed sex organ, male or female. For a while, as I watched the play, I thought that he might indeed be trying to play Vanya as gay. But that didn't quite fit his performance or the other actors' reactions to his character, or frankly how I remember his character as written. Perhaps in part my consternation was due to an uncontious prejudice I had, having grown up not thinking there were gays in Russia, certainly not in the 19th century. Still, if one were to play Vanya as a homosexual it seems to me Uncle Vanya would require some serious reinterpretation, of which I saw no evidence in the production in question. So why was he playing this older Russian man who lives in the country in this unusual way? I asked myself. There seemed to be no rationale behind it. The brilliant conclusion I came up with was that Mr. Birney was in fact one of those men - asexual, maybe leaning towards gay, but trying to play Vanya straight. And I felt that his performance was unduly affected by this, by how he was in real life.

When I saw him in Picnic (http://www.stageandcinema.com/2013/01/19/picnic/) last week I realized I'd been an idiot. There he plays a small-town Kansas heterosexual, a drinker and store owner whose strong hands carry suitcases and probably crates of inventory, and who lusts after young and old females alike. And when I saw him I realized that all that stuff he was doing in Uncle Vanya with his fingers, his elbows, his head, how he spoke, that wasn’t really him, he was acting. And I realized that I'd failed to appreciate just how full of nuance and insight his performance had really been. Mr. Birney was playing exactly what I saw but refused to see - a sexless, effeminate man-boy. His subtle infusion of Vanya with an undertone of ambiguous sexuality beautifully complemented that character’s confusion about who he is, his place in the world and his feelings for Yelena. Mr. Birney’s choices and their execution were in fact sublime. So I apologize for misinterpreting them and take back any reservations I had about his performance.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

FUN WITH SLAVERY


Except for one blatant mistake and maybe one moment of silliness, Django Unchained is a very entertaining film. Christoph Waltz is sublime, every word he says sounds like it just came to him. And Sam Jackson is mesmerizing. The two of them make the movie. Jamie Foxx is very good. And DiCaprio is good too; at moments one almost forgets he’s DiCaprio. The film is a wish-fulfillment fantasy, an American hero movie, a western modeled on westerns that were modeled on westerns; there is no attempt at “realism.” And it works very well. Same is true for the characters, they are archetypes reinvented but they are delightful. On the one hand that’s pretty much all that needs to be said. Tarantino wasn’t trying to create a truthful work of art, he was trying to make entertainment, and he succeeded; Django Unchained is a fun, clever ride.
            On the other hand I do have a few questions: Why can’t Django be a real former field slave, with the bad habits, the nastiness, the brutality? We get symbolic, Hollywood versions of these qualities, but why can’t we see them for real? And I don’t mean make it completely realistic, that would disgust and offend a modern audience beyond dramatic necessity. But isn't there a middle ground, where there is a sense of human reality but where it’s not so real that modern sensibilities would make his character unrelatable? Couldn't he be in love with his wife and fuck a whore, for example? Or be gentle at times and at times a brute without reservations? Couldn't he be human in other words, or is it necessary to make him out of titanium? The studios believe that the general viewing public is too stupid to accept a hero with real flaws and the real characteristics of a former field nigger. And for the most part they're right. But couldn’t someone like Tarantino, who has both the popular and the artsy crowd following him, do something like that? I was hoping he would. He does not.
Also, typical of Tarantino, the movie is sexless. With his previous films this wasn’t an issue (I'm referring to Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, the other ones I don’t care about; their problems are much bigger than a lack of sexuality). But with a movie about slavery and cowboys it seems sex would be an essential element. And if you’re really making a blacksploitation film you should probably throw at least one scene of rape or lust in there, as an homage if nothing else.    
But the biggest question seems to me this: Is American slavery morally appropriate fodder for light entertainment? The tempting answer is: “Stop nitpicking and don’t be so goddamn uptight!” We know going in more or less what this movie will be like. By agreeing to watch it we enter into an unspoken contract of sorts, which states that we will suspend not only our temporal but also our moral and spiritual disbelief and accept the world on the screen and its laws in order that we may be entertained. Still, I wonder if I would have liked this movie as much if, say, Django was a Jew who escaped a Nazi concentration camp and was now, with his superhuman gunplay, singlehandedly defeating if not the Reich then, let’s say, all the German soldiers stationed at Auschwitz? I’m not sure I would have been able to go along with a premise like that. Having this Jew-Django destroy the Nazis all by himself would rob of their dignity not only the victims of concentration camps, many of whom were strong and capable individuals, but all the people who fought, sacrificed, suffered and died fighting the Germans in WWII. Tarantino made a movie that was something like this, Inglourious Bastards, which, dramatic flaws aside, I found morally reprehensible. In that movie, if I remember correctly, a few American Special Forces troops, with the help of a beautiful blond Jewess theater owner (spoiler!), blow up Hitler and his minions. I suspect Tarantino thought a Jew watching such a thing would enjoy it, this fantasy of Hitler being blown up, as well as of Germans being scalped and beaten to death with baseball bats. But I’m not certain he was correct. For instance, I’m not certain that the girl in the concentration camp (a real person) – who had to keep shitting out and swallowing the diamond earrings her mother gave her, before her mother was stripped and gassed along with millions of others – I’m not certain this girl would find much satisfaction in Tarantino’s ridiculous fantasy. Nor am I certain that American soldiers who fought in WWII, or British or Russian soldiers or the French resistance, or anyone who participated on the side of the Allies, would find very amusing the idea that all that was needed to kill Hitler was a handful of well-trained soldiers and a good plan. I doubt I'd be amused in their place.
And so it is with Django. By making him a successful superhero it trivializes the realities of slavery. It trivializes the suffering of enslaved human beings, the tragedy of the strong and proud who were broken, the helplessness of blacks in the south and the hopelessness of their situation, the insurmountable obstacles between them and anything resembling freedom. It also trivializes whatever sacrifices or acts of bravery individual slaves might have committed. Watching this film I couldn’t help but try and imagine the reality of a black man, strong of body and spirit, intelligent, brave, who is a slave on a Mississippi plantation. What is he supposed to do? If he runs he’ll get caught. If he fights, he’ll get tortured or killed. What can he do against two overseers? Or three? Or one with a gun or a dog? What can he do when all the public and private forces of that state and of all the states surrounding it are against him? Just the question of “Why doesn’t he do something?” presupposes that slavery is some sort of choice. That being born a slave and raised like a slave surrounded by slaves one can somehow, with a little guidance, transcend that mentality and emerge unscathed. This is similar to saying that one can come through torture undamaged, which this movie does say by the way, and which is equally flippant. True, Tarantino goes out of his way to put in verbal explanations for why we should believe what we are seeing, trying to convince us through bits of dialogue here and there why certain incredible things about Django and the world of the film are in fact dramatically sound. But the spectacle we are watching is undeniable and all the little speeches feel like expedient excuses made so that we don’t lose our suspension of disbelief and continue enjoying the show.
So where do we draw the line as to what is or is not appropriate to fictionalize? Is it a question of how much time has passed since the events at issue? Will there ever be a time when it is no longer laughably stupid and disgusting to portray Lincoln as a vampire hunter? Kathryn Bigelow evidently thinks there’s nothing wrong with telling us that torture was instrumental in extracting information that led to Bin Laden, even though it’s pretty much an established fact that it was not. Spielberg makes a movie prostituting the Holocaust, in which the tragedy of the event is obscured by style, sentimentality, and clever but superficial direction. To me it seems the question is for the filmmaker’s conscience to answer. I see nothing wrong with reinventing history – nobody knows what really happened anyway – as long as your creation is truthful (or at least if your intention is to create something truthful). And I’m not talking about getting some facts right or having accurate costumes or being faithful to the book you’re adapting. I’m talking about artistic truth. Are you creating something more profound than the historical facts around which you are weaving your creation? (This is why it’s almost impossible to make a good fictional movie about the Holocaust – there’s very little one can say artistically that will carry more weight than the subject matter.) The question is this: Is the raw material, whether it be historical or another piece of fiction, essential for you to express some vital and deeply personal truth?
With Django the answer is no. However, whereas Zero Dark Thirty and Schindler’s List are entertainments disguised as serious films, Django does not pretend. It comes out and says: This is blacksploitation reinvented, enjoy! But then what is a socially and artistically responsible individual supposed to do? My personal attitude about this sort of thing is similar to the attitude I have about giving money to bums. If I feel like giving money to a bum, I do, and if I don’t, I don’t. And if I don’t give and happen to feel guilty about it a few steps down the street, maybe I’ll walk back and pay him. Or maybe not. It seems disingenuous to deny yourself a good rape scene or a revenge-murder-torture scene if that’s what you feel like watching; it is just a movie after all, isn’t it? With Django, while its artistic and moral shortcomings do bother me on an intellectual level, I was not turned off by the film as I watched it. And when it comes out on Netflix I will probably watch it again. Still, it would be nice if not so many filmmakers were so completely proud of making such frivolous films.    

Friday, December 14, 2012

LIFE IN THE TIME OF HURRICANES


LIFE IN THE TIME OF HURRICANES
by Dmitry Zvonkov


Four months before Hurricane Sandy laid waste to much of the Mid-Atlantic coastline I deactivated my internet dating profile. I’d been wasting enough time on line with the porn and the Facebook, I didn’t need another site to obsess over. And I was tired of spending money on dates, especially when they didn’t lead to sex, and even when they did, I was tired of talking, of meeting new people, I was tired of sex. I found I had a much better time getting drunk by myself, at home, watching movies, and jacking off. As for that hope of finding someone special for a “long-term” relationship, I figured drinking at home alone only improved my chances. I had very little to offer a New York City bachelorette; at 41 I had no career, no marketable skills, no money, and very few prospects.
            So I deactivated my account. Then about three weeks ago I reactivated it, for reasons unrelated to dating, and I got a reply from this girl I messaged about five months earlier. “Sorry about the tardy reply,” she wrote.
She was in her early thirties, pretty, trim, blond, educated, lived in the West Village and liked “cheesy” movies. “You should contact me,” she wrote in her profile, “if you are awesome and have your shit together.”  Why such a woman would respond to me I had no idea.
We messaged each other a few times, she seemed to want to get together, but then hurricane Sandy hit, streets around her flooded, her neighborhood lost power, and our plans were postponed. This was just as well. Judging by her profile, photos and messages, I was pretty sure when she met me she would see I was not what she wanted. And except for being young, pretty, trim, blond, and living in the West Village, she was not really what I wanted either. But, after her water and power situation normalized, we made a date to meet at some trendy bar she suggested. Thankfully, at the last minute she offered instead to go to an exhibit opening at the MoMA, Tokyo, New Avant-garde I believe it was called. She had tickets to this invitation-only affair, and she promised free booze.
I imagined people gussied up to attend such affairs so my idea was to dress like an irreverent proletariat. But then I discovered that the hole in the crotch of my only pair of jeans had gotten a bit too irreverent, so instead I put on the nice pair of slacks and striped button-down I bought when I’d started this whole internet dating business. In the mirror I looked quite nice, almost like a normal person, a hip, educated Manhattanite with a job, or something like that. There were some nuances that gave me away: My Banana Republic sweater wasn’t expensive enough to neutralize my second-trimester gut, my hair was too long and inappropriately neglected, and my pea coat had a button missing, was peppered with lint and had dried dog-drool accents.   
We met in the MoMA lobby. She was dressed in black, office-stylish, fresh and dry-cleaned, legs in dark stockings, big gold thing on her blouse.
“Wow, you’re tall!” I exclaimed.
“Is that a problem?”
I had pictured her smaller, more supple, a filly, but here was a full-grown mare. Not that her height was a problem, but looking the way she did, like those hip, carefree yuppies you see in commercials, the fact that she was also taller made me feel like I lacked the physical presence for her to take me seriously. But then maybe I could break some hotshot’s arm before the night was over and even things out.
 “No, it’s fine,” I said, “it’s good. I just didn’t expect it,” and I took off my coat and held it folded in front of my belly.
“Well, I’m 5-7, three-inch heels, that’s 5-10,” she stated somewhat defensively.
Her defensiveness was cute and a better strategist might have been able to use it to his advantage. Not I of course. My only strategy for attracting a women was to get her drunk.
“Shall we check in our coats?” I suggested.
“Do they have a coat check here? Ok, sure, why not.”  
We got on line at the coat check. I regrouped, made her smile with some humorous tales, we were having a fine conversation, until I steered it into the rocks and asked what she did for a living. She was a lawyer, the worst possible thing.
“And what do you do?” she asked.
If I drove a cab I would tell her, if I tended bar or dug ditches. But my job was servicing lawyers, they were my clients and I was their boy. I scrambled for something to say, a witty reply, a manicured truth, anything, but my mind seized up and went blank. She was too tall and she made too much money. My face heated up, turning red. “I’m not going to tell you,” I said.
“No, really.”
“Nope!” I insisted, like a coy little girl, “You’re a lawyer, I’m not going to tell you what I do.”
“Why, are you a criminal?”
Answer yes goddamn it! Show her some damn joie de vivre! “No,” I said, “nothing like that. What I do is very boring.”
“Can’t be more boring than being a lawyer.”
Then I remembered! “Wait a minute,” I said, “here’s something I do: I’m a theater critic.”
“Yes, I know, I looked you up on the internet.”
“Did you read any of my reviews?”
“I browsed through them, not really. What kinds of shows do you review?”
“Plays mostly.”
“Broadway plays?”
“Sometimes.”
“I go to plays. The last one I saw was....I don’t remember. What’s a show you’ve reviewed?”
“Well, let’s see, I reviewed Annie Baker’s version of Uncle Vanya at the Soho Rep. That was a very talked-about production.”
“That’s on Broadway?”
“No, that was in Soho.”
“And what was it called, Uncle what?”
“Uncle Vanya.”
“By Annie....what was her name?”
“Annie Baker. No, the play is by Chekhov. Anton Chekhov?”
“I think I’ve heard of him.”
“Really? Well, yes, he’s this kind-of obscure Russian writer.”
“What else? Anything I might have seen?”
“Lots of off-Broadway stuff. Do you see off-Broadway plays?”
“I don’t think so.”
“We do Broadway as well...” I said. And continued, “But usually it’s the publicists who invite us and they need us more for the smaller stuff, for the Broadway shows they don’t need us. We’re not like the Village Voice or the Times. Our website hardly makes any money. I don’t get paid or anything, I just get tickets to shows.” I felt like a frightened teenager in a police interrogation room confessing to everything, I couldn’t help it. I was the type of criminal who was more frightened of getting caught than of going to jail.
“Oh,” she said, evidently unimpressed by my candor.
“But, I mean, we’re just getting started. And my editor insists that we’re the most read review-only site in the country.”
“That sounds like bullshit,” she said with a friendly chuckle.
“Maybe. But ‘review-only,’ that’s, you know, how many of those are there?”
We came up to the coat check window and I handed in my pea coat, careful not to let my date see the white stuffing coming out from the tears in the lining. I should have just worn my sweatpants, the ones stained with dog slobber, candle wax and come – I no longer could tell which was which. At least the ensemble would match, and I wouldn’t feel like I’d just shit myself in a rented tuxedo.
“Fuck!” I remembered, “I forgot to bring cash.”
“For what, it’s all free.”
“Tips.”
“Tips?”
“Yeah, for the coat check, the bartenders.”
“I don’t think they care.”
“Sure they do.”
“Well, I have a couple of dollars.”
“No, I couldn’t do that. I’ll be back in a minute,” I said, and went out into the night to search of an ATM. What an unnecessary gesture, I thought as I got outside. But having brought up the subject I had to follow through. I didn’t want her to think of me as one of those guys who comes to a birthday party empty-handed and then tells the host, “I was going to buy you a gift but I did not have time, so I didn’t.” How would she perceive my deed, I wondered. Would she say to herself, Wow, what a generous, noble man Dmitry is, he can’t afford a haircut or a new coat yet he still goes out of his way to tip the poor service staff. Or would she figure me out? Would she see my motivations for what they were – guilt, shame and vanity – which grow not from nobility but are the ignoble fruits of my peasant mentality. The mentality that says, You do not deserve to be waited upon, they are doing you a favor, because you are lower than them; you are lower than all. The mentality that turns every little insignificant interaction into a battle to justify one’s right to exist.
When I returned she was finishing her first drink and I tried to discern which of the two interpretations she had of my action. She had none. She didn’t care. She hadn’t noticed. We got on line at the bar and when our turn came and we got our drinks I proudly handed the barman a twenty. He did not have any change. Brilliant! I almost let him keep the twenty but even my vanity had its limits. My date gave him a dollar. Evidently she did not suffer from a peasant mentality and did not feel guilty tipping a barman a buck for two ten-dollar drinks she was getting for free.
We maneuvered through the crowd to a corner. There was a sculpture there and I recalled something I’d heard about it twenty or so years ago.
“Do you know that sculpture?” I asked her.
“I mean, sure, I’ve seen it.”
“When it was first displayed it caused a big scandal.”
“Really? Why’s that?”
“Come,” I said, and took her around to the back of the statue. “You see the shape, how he’s standing? Critics said Rodin made Balzac look like an erect penis. It was a huge scandal. You see, there’s the head, that’s the foreskin pulled back.”
“Yeah, ok, I guess,” she said, canting her head, “I don’t know, I don’t see it. Is that true? How do you know? Are you into art history? Where did you hear that?”
“It’s part of my general erudition,” I told her.
“Yeah, I don’t know. Are you sure? I mean, when I look at that, ‘Penis!’ isn’t the first thought that comes to my mind, you know?”
“It’s not supposed to be literal, it’s just supposed to suggest a penis.”
“Ok, but still, who cares? I mean I don’t see why this would cause a scandal.”
“It was a different time. Rodin couldn’t just come out and say ‘Balzac is a dick!’ for example (which I don’t think he’s saying by the way). Everything was communicated with subtleties. And the people back then, or anyway, the critics, they knew what he meant. Balzac was like a national treasure in France, so this was very scandalous.”
“Hum, that’s interesting.”
“Is it? Is it really?”
“Sure. I mean, I don’t know,” she giggled.
“You know, it’s funny,” I said, “I’m telling you this story with authority, like I know what I’m talking about. But when I first heard it I didn’t see what the big deal was either.”
She laughed.
“What’s his name, Ball-zack? He was a sculptor?”
“No, he was a writer. Rodin was the sculptor.”
“What did he write?”
“Novels. A lot of novels. He was very prolific.”
“Like which ones?”
“Oh, you know, about France and shit. I don’t know, I’ve never read him.”
That got a chuckle.
Paula, that was her name, was from Toronto. She worked for a big, high-end law firm that got tickets to these types of events for making charitable contributions, then distributed these tickets to employees who were interested. Paula took tickets to everything, though she didn’t always use them. Still, she went to a lot of these shindigs, openings, dinners, premieres. She did a lot of cultural things in New York, as a result of working for her firm and on her own, but I got the sense that to her these meant little more than entertainment. When she’d said in her message, as an incentive, that the exhibit opening would have free booze, I assumed she was being ironically irreverent, that it was her way of inviting a date to a museum without seeming too sentimental or arty. But now I realized she was being straightforward. Paula wasn’t interested in art as an aesthetic or spiritual experience, she didn’t care about artistic nuance. I don’t think it would have made a difference to her if the opening was of a da Vinci exhibit or a new nightclub, as long as the place looked nice, attracted a nice-looking crowd and offered alcohol. She bought $150 tickets to Broadway plays not because she cared about the plays but because it was something appropriate to do for someone in her demographic. And I’m sure she enjoyed these experiences but thoughtlessly, to her they were interchangeable. Not that she was an airhead, just certain details weren’t important to her.
“You know, it pisses me off that these museums, like this one and the Guggenheim, charge like $25 admission,” I said.
“Is that....You think that’s a lot?”
It was an off-handed comment on my part, designed to exhibit my rebellious and humanistic side. Anyway, I’d expected a different response, “Yes, me too,” or “I know.” But she was not of that breed. I tried to wiggle out of it, to disguise my pauper’s attitude – Twenty-five isn’t too much for me, no, no, no, but for some, those poor, destitute New York aesthetes, blah blah blah. “Accessibility to art should be determined by the need to experience it, not by the ability to pay!” Paula was not impressed.
More pathetic was that my words were just words. I hadn’t been to the MoMA in at least fifteen years. I thought of myself as someone who went to museums, read great books, watched great films. In fact I’d mostly stopped doing that a long time ago. I still did it on occasion but the instances had become far between and the experience now was very seldom religious. Maybe I stopped getting the satisfaction from great art that I used to. Maybe somewhere along the line I just became too lazy to bother trying to access that higher state. Whatever happened all my talk of needing great art was just remnants of how I’d imagined myself long ago. Over the last few years I found myself shying away from greatness, choosing instead to waste my time on the mediocre, until it became a routine: get drunk, get high, watch a stupid new movie or a good one I’d seen twenty times, some TV, the same episodes over and over, rub a few out in between, then pass out. Maybe if I had other things to be passionate about, career, family, a child, but art was all that I had and I hardly had that anymore. “Kill the day!” That should have been my mantra.  I was stuck in a quicksand of my own making. Something needed to change. That was why I started internet dating, to meet people, to get out of the house. But I also thought, maybe, if I got a girl, not one of these half-artsy introverted basket cases I tended to attract, but a real girl with some get-up-and-go, who didn’t spend her days wallowing in misery and picking spiders out of her attic, but who lived life in sunlight, who travelled, who did things, real, human social things, like they do in commercials, and who believed in me just enough, just to give me some time, just a push, something to work for, something to look forward to, that my life might just change. No woman can save a man, I know that, and if one tries it will usually lead to destruction. I didn’t want to be saved. I just wanted some help, just to get on my feet, just a breath, some fresh air, just a little bit of faith and affection from a beautiful girl, with beautiful being the operative word. That was the problem – she had to be beautiful. Not necessarily Charlize Theron but beautiful enough to where I knew she was with me because she wanted to be – because she saw my beauty, my potential, my wonderful qualities – and not because I was the best she could do.    
“You know what you can do,” suggested Paula, “is become a member here, at the MoMA. I think it’s something like $85 a year and then you can come here whenever you want for free.”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea. I’ll look into it,” I said thoughtfully.
“Do you want to go up to the galleries?” she asked.
“Sure.”
“I don’t think we can take drinks up there though.”
“Then I must get fortified first.”
We went down to the bar and I asked for a double vodka. The bartender gave it to me on the rocks. “Can I get it neat.” He looked annoyed, took an oversized bucket glass, and tipped a bottle of Ketel One into it. He filled that thing with a vengeance, emptied nearly a third of a bottle in there.
“Jesus Christ!”
Paula suggested I didn’t have to drink all of it.
“Yeah, I don’t think I can do that. The idea of wasting something like this....It’s not that I’m greedy, I just hate to waste things, I think waste is wrong, like spiritually wrong. Also, I got that thing: I was raised to always finish my plate because children in China or wherever the fuck were starving. So, you know.”
“I understand. But you realize that’s not how it works, right?”
“Yes, I realize that’s not how it works.”
“And that’s not even food.”
“Yes. It’s vodka! Do you know how many people in the world are sitting around sober and miserable because they don’t have vodka?!”
Paula chuckled. I made my first pass at the vodka. It was room-temperature, too much to shoot, so I drank it like water. Gulped down half of what was in the glass, smelled a lemon rind – like in the old country – then chewed it up. We chatted a bit, then I did it again. It took six or seven big swallows to empty the glass, fourteen total. For a moment I thought I might throw up. I imagined a geyser of vomit shooting out from my mouth, spraying her and the rest of these attractive, well-dressed Manhattanites with bits of lemon rind and the buckwheat kasha I’d had for breakfast. That would have been funny. But the sensation subsided and we made our way towards the escalators.
As we rode, up, up, up from the crowd, from the noise, from the earth, towards the art, the drunk hit me. It came on so fast it felt more like a high than a drunk, like I’d just smoked a big ball of hash. It was an odd sensation, my mind hadn’t realized yet I was inebriated, and I felt like a sober rider atop a very drunk horse.
We got off at the top floor.
 “Oh my god, this is awesome!” I exclaimed when I saw Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World. “This is fucking genius!” I was very excited; I hadn’t felt a connection this powerful to a painting in a long time, not since seeing Bruegel’s The Harvest a day after dropping acid. I took a picture of the label so as not to forget the artist’s name.    
“Drunk is the best way to look at art, don’t you think?” I said as we proceeded towards the Tokyo exhibit. “You can see so much more, everything’s so much more interesting, so much more full.”
“It’s just like with people, the more you drink the more interesting people get.”
“Yes. That’s right. Up to a point. People don’t get more interesting, I get more interested in them.”
“That’s the same thing isn’t it? I mean we’re talking about the same thing.”
“Well....No. With people it’s an illusion. But great art is great whether you’re drunk or not, it’s just when you’re drunk the connection is stronger, you can really feel it when you’re drunk. Or anyway it’s easier to feel it. That’s what these puritanical fuckers don’t understand about alcohol and drugs and all that. They’re so concerned with being productive, they wind up missing everything.”
“Maybe it’s the same with people though, it takes a few drinks to appreciate their good qualities.”
“No, it’s not. Oh, this is excellent!” I exclaimed as we entered the galleries and I stopped to look intently at some photographs, captivated by their power and beauty. My reaction was sincere but as I studied the photos I can’t say I wasn’t conscious of hoping to garner some respect from her for my eccentric and passionate reaction, as well as perhaps some confidence points for ignoring her.
When I disengaged from the pictures she was no longer next to me. I looked around, she was not in the room. I hurried to the next gallery and was relieved when I found her there slowly walking past the exhibits. I came up to her. If she was in any way affected by my lack of attention she did not show it.
“Wow, I forgot how tall you are,” I said.
“That’s the second time you mentioned my height. Is this something that bothers you?”
“No, not at all.”
“Then why do you keep bringing it up?”
By this point my body was swaying involuntarily just a little bit here and there, like a high rise in the wind, and my limbs felt like they were being operated by a maladroit puppeteer. I felt my mind on the brink of sliding into saccharine sentimentality. I was on the precipice of becoming romantic – heavy eyelids, adoring smile. And the energy I was putting out was defeatist. Get a grip fucker! And exude some confidence, I thought to myself, and focused on her flaws: She had a mole on her jaw, and her hips were a bit on the broad side. And she didn’t know Chekhov! What the hell was I nervous about? Really, I wasn’t even nervous. It was some sort of affect, as if this was the way I imagined it should be. She wasn’t my match, spiritually speaking. I told myself I wasn’t interested in her. To fuck, yes, sure, why not? To flatter myself by getting her into bed with just my bare hands so to speak, even more so (bedding an attractive, successful, New York attorney would have been almost as flattering as getting a stripper to fuck me for free). And she was attractive. Pretty face, fit, nice legs, flat belly, golden hair, glowing skin, an apartment in the West Village. And she liked to drink, that was good. And she did things, she lived in the sunlight.
“I don’t know why I brought up your height,” I said, “it just came out,” which was true. I had no idea why I’d said it again, I knew she didn’t like it the first time. “But it’s complimentary,” I continued, “really. I like your height, it’s nice. I mean, like, if you were fat I wouldn’t say to you, Wow, you’re so fat! But being tall is nice.”
“Ok.”
We strolled casually by the exhibits, making comments. She was a sweet girl this Paula, had nice arms and strong hands, which I liked. And she laughed at my jokes, at least smiled. When I’d say “cock” or “cunt” it did not put her off. And I don’t think she’d slumped when she saw me. Our back and forth now was easy and light. She wasn’t trying to be too smart or clever, didn’t try to make a spectacle of herself. I found her lack of pretense relaxing. She didn’t labor to understand what the artists were trying to say, didn’t try and analyze how the works made her feel, and the more abstract pieces to her were mere curiosities, often silly or comical. Walking with her past exhibits was like walking by displays in department store windows. It wasn’t a struggle or contest but a light, pleasant outing. And it was charming in its way how she didn’t pay attention to things, how she didn’t know the museum had a coat check, for instance, despite having been here a number of times, how she didn’t know the names of the movies she liked, how she didn’t know Rodin or Balzac, how she did not know Chekhov. Who the hell needs a girl who knows Chekhov? I was sick of the girls who knew Chekhov, who knew Maya Deren, John Cage. Fuck all that. Fuck the dive bars, the no-cover jazz clubs. I was sick of picking through the leftovers in the discounted bin, trying to find a shirt I could live with. I wanted a tailored brand name.
As we strolled sometimes, usually when we were making fun of a piece, we talked quietly, our faces close together, and I started sensing a vibe as we spoke, as she spoke. I listened and my facial muscles softened, my gaze intensified, looking into her eyes,  a discernible smile lit up my eyes and traced itself on my face. I wanted to kiss her, to get in between those long legs in black stockings. At one point she was whispering to me and I started leaning in, but then stopped and leaned back, pretending I’d just been lost in my thoughts. It was too soon, I would wait until we got to a bar.
It was nearing 8:00pm., closing time.
Paula asked, “Should we go?”
“Vamonos!” I exclaimed.
We got on the escalator, she was standing behind me.
“Ok, well, this was fun, but I have to meet some friends at 8:30, so...”
I turned my head to look at her, “You have to meet some friends at 8:30?”
“Yeah, I made plans with them earlier, I can’t break them.”
“Alright, sounds good,” I said and turned my head back, looking down at the mass of people rising towards us. A sheet of heat washed over my face and down my back, the heat of rejection and embarrassment, as we descended into the stifling din of the crowd. I wanted to turn around and punch her. Not her, a guy, and not for rejecting me but for talking shit about my mother or about how the Jews had it coming. Instead I gathered what mental powers I had left and focused them on appearing sober and nonchalant.
We got to the coat check, got back our coats. The girl at the window had change for a twenty and I tipped her two dollars. When I turned to go I found Paula talking to a group of five girls. I drew a mental straight line from myself to the group and tried to steer my drunk horse along that line as best as I could. The group had two black girls, two white girls, and another girl I don’t remember what she was. One of the black girls caught my attention especially. She was a little shorter than me, had very short hair, nearly shaved, and a sporty figure. She was more striking than beautiful and there was power behind her eyes, humanistic intelligence, sophistication, the aura of a confident artist. And she was wearing this interesting pea coat patterned in black and white leopard-type spots.
“That’s a fabulous coat!” I said to her.
“Thank you. It’s from South Africa.”
My horse was about to make some black and white joke about South Africa but I managed to restrain it. Then Paula introduced me and I shook all their hands. When I shook the hand of the girl in the black and white coat – she had a firm, tomboy’s grip – we looked into each other’s eyes and I felt another powerful wave of heat wash over me. Only this one was pleasant. My heart fluttered and I felt something transpire between us, like a big glob of soft, glowing energy, I could almost see it, it looked like a blue manatee, translucent and shimmering. I was taken aback. I wished I’d remembered her name.
We all chatted a bit, then I led everyone outside for a smoke. There was more conversation. I mostly busied myself with trying to keep my drunken horse steady and making sure it didn’t blurt out something racist or sexist. I did make a few funny comments, made the little girls laugh; they were young, it was easy. But the whole time my insides were churning and all I could think of was her. We exchanged a few glances but mostly I avoided her gaze, so as not to appear like a sleaze. What could I do? Paula’s introduction of me was ambiguous but the girls assumed I was her date, or her boyfriend; I could tell by the way they were smiling at me. What a stupid situation, made all the more vexing by the fact that in a few minutes Paula and I would part and never ever see each other again. Ever. And here was this black girl and it was love at first sight, and I couldn’t do a damn thing about it! And maybe it wasn’t love but it was something, something big and important, and something I desperately needed. It was right there and yet I couldn’t touch it. How pathetic was this? There was not one good reason for me not to approach her, certainly not a reason that outweighed what happened between us back there by the coat check. But even if I did break this awful taboo and make a move (an act tantamount to me getting naked, which actually would probably have garnered more understanding), I was too drunk and nervous to do it right. And was there a right way to do it? Was there some magical combination of words and gestures and facial expressions to make her receptive to me? “Listen, listen, just listen to me for a minute, don’t go, wait, just listen. Back there, when I shook your hand, I felt like a glowing porpoise of energy was flowing between us. I think you felt it too. Did you feel it? The blue porpoise or walrus or whatever it was? It doesn’t matter. The point is, something vital happened between us. I see you. You know what I’m saying? I-see-you. There’s something about you. You’re like this noble black leopard. There’s vastness behind your eyes, as vast as the African plain. How many times in life does something like that happen, when you feel that connection to someone? Never! Twice maybe. You can’t pass this by. We have to see where it goes. Get a drink with me. Let’s get drunk. Let’s get fucked up. Forget that it’s Tuesday. You don’t have to go home. You do have to go? Ok, fine, then take me home with you. Fold me up and put me in your purse. Bring me into your apartment, wash my hair and tuck me in a blanket, in your bed in the corner. Light your incense and put on your music whose beat echoes in the dark distant night like a candle. Take your clothes off and press your body against me. Let me smell your moisturizer and feel your nipples poke at my ribs, feel you pubic hair scratching my cock. Put your arms around me and be quietly joyful to tears from how much you adore me. Let me hear your breath in my year and feel your legs, smooth and muscular, wrapped around mine. And I won’t move, I promise. Not even when it gets way too hot. I’ll lie in your arms like a puppy and listen to you as you sleep.”
It was time to depart. I’d said nothing to the black girl of course. Then an idea occurred to me, like a revelation – I’ll just wait a couple of days then ask Paula to put me in touch with the black girl! That’s perfect! It’s brilliant! Why wouldn’t she? She doesn’t want me, and if we part on good terms – she seems like a decent person – there’d be no reason for her to say no. Why hadn’t I thought of this sooner? It was such a relief. I felt great. I felt free!  
Paula and I said our goodbyes to the group and like a gentleman I walked her west, towards her train or her cab or whatever it was she was taking. We crossed 6th Avenue.
“Do you mind waiting for a minute,” I asked her outside the Hilton, “I need to go in there and take a piss?”
“I kind of have to go anyway, so, I mean...”
“Ok! No problem. I had a great time. Thank you. It was a pleasure. Have a good night,” I said and went inside.
It was such a nice toilet I regretted not having to shit. But the piss hit the spot, what a lovely relief. It even sobered me up a little. Now it was 8pm on a brisk autumn night in midtown Manhattan, I was drunk and had not spent a dime. Ten years ago I’d have stayed out all night in search of adventures, which usually meant getting drunk in bars, talking to people and trying to get laid. But these adventures required a lot of commitment and the payoff was usually pitiful. By 41 I’d come to the conclusion that there were no diamonds in the rough (at least I couldn’t find them) and that bars were stupid, bar conversations were stupid, bar people were stupid, bartenders were assholes and stupid, and the chances of me picking up a girl in a bar in midtown Manhattan or anywhere in the city were negligible.
So I walked west down 53rd, towards my side of town. I made it a block and a half, crossed the street and went into a bar. It was some Irish bar that was now a douchebag bar, the way so many of them had become in Manhattan, with $7 pints of Guinness that were 12 ounces, 30 TVs, and monogrammed t-shirts for sale. I ordered a Guinness. I seldom drank Guinness anymore. After I found out it only had 4% alcohol I felt betrayed – all that hoopla, the two-step pour, the heaviness, the bitterness, the higher price – for a lousy four per cent? It was like buying a Porsche with a top speed of 90.
The bar had the after-work midtown stragglers, nobody I wanted to talk to, more importantly nobody who looked like they wanted to talk to me. There was a guy sitting next to me who looked out of place: missing teeth, dirty work clothes, a little guy, not too bright, maybe Irish. I imagined he drank here way back, when this was a real bar serving real drinkers, and was now returning to it like a homing pigeon to a coop that has long since burned down. Turned out he worked cleaning something around here and stopped in for a beer before going to his little basement room in the South Bronx, where he said it was still plenty dangerous.
I finished my beer and left. Walked a block and a half, turned into another Irish bar. Same damn nonsense, no one to talk to, $7 for 12 ounces of Guinness. I got a Guinness, paid, left the barman a dollar.
“I understand charging $7 a beer, but why such a small glass?” I said to him, “it’s the rent that’s expensive, not the beer.”
He pretended he didn’t understand what I was talking about. Another asshole. I went out for a cigarette.
“Excuse me, chief, could you spare a few dollars,” said a young man as he came up to me, “I’m a victim of hurricane Sandy?”
He was tall, wiry, early-thirties, eyes of a predator. He did not look to me like a victim of hurricane Sandy. He looked more like a looter supplementing his income.
“No,” I told him.
He noticed something across the street and yelled to some guy there, pointing to a group of tourists who were walking in that guy’s direction, “Yo! Yo! Axe them! Them, those people, axe them!” Then he turned back to me, “Come on, you can help me out, just a dollar or two.”
“No man,” I said, “I’ll give you a cigarette if you want but that’s it.”
For a moment he seemed to be gauging if I was drunk enough to where he could punch me, snatch my money and run away. I got ready to grab him. I was half-hoping he’d do it. At least that would be something. Like with Hurricane Sandy. When it hit I was half-hoping it would drown all of Manhattan, bury it under four feet of sewage, to where Upper West Siders would float to their Starbucks in dinghies, vexed over having picked up all that dog poop for nothing. Sandy caused devastation of course, but just not where I lived; my existence went uninterrupted. A sapling fell down on my street, that was it.
The looter relaxed. Or maybe his intention had been all in my mind.
“Alright, give me a cigarette,” he said.
“You want one for your friend?”
“Yeah, give me two.”
I gave him two cigarettes. He made to go join his friend across the street, but then I guess maybe he was overcome with indignation because he threw the cigarettes down on the sidewalk before strutting across. I picked up the cigarettes and went back inside.
I had a few sips of my Guinness, then I went to the men’s room, just to get my eight dollars’ worth from this bar. They too had a nice men’s room, though not as nice as the one at the Hilton. I peed in the stall, why not? Came out of the men’s room, took a seat at an empty table, looked through my phone, found Paula, and wrote her a text:

Hi! This might sound weird but it’s not. Could you put me in touch with that black girl in the black and white coat? I felt we had a powerful connection and I want to see if it’s true.

Within seconds I got a reply:

Are you serious?

Me:

Yes. I was going to wait till tomorrow to ask you but since you are uninterested in me I figured it wouldn’t be a problem.

Paula:

That’s kind of inappropriate, no?

Me:

It might look that way but it’s not. If what I felt was real I have a spiritual obligation to follow it up, and I think you should help me. :)

Paula:

That is crazy.

Me:

It’s not crazy. These connections don’t happen often, when they do we have an obligation to explore them. It’s the Universe speaking to us. Appropriate means nothing in that context.

Paula:

I don’t have her number and even if I did I couldn’t give it out.

Me:

Give her mine.

I returned to the bar. My Guinness was gone.
“I had half a beer here,” I said to the bartender.
He was a tall, young, athletic, good-looking guy with an Irish accent, who had the expression on his face of an immigrant knucklehead dissatisfied with America and his place in it.
“People saw you walking all over, staggering...” he said, shaking his head.
“You know, that’s just....You know, you see me, you know, that’s not right.” I was going to say more but I knew he’d be sure not to see it my way. “It’s on you, on your conscience,” I told him and left.
I caught a cab. It whisked me across town, right on 8th, up, up, up. What a pleasure it was to ride drunk in a cab through Manhattan. Whooshing by people and places, bars, restaurants, theaters, the whole city lit up, festive and bustling, made it seem like a cauldron of life, a Byzantine fantasy. At that speed I could forget that this place had nothing for me. That it was all hungry sports fans and twelve-dollar cucumber cocktails. All the back doors were padlocked, the alleys fenced in and the tunnels bricked up. Everything was accounted for and nothing was just left to be. There were no bargains left in New York, no surprises, unless you were prepared to go deep down, and I was too soft to do that. Even the periphery dwellers were just wearing costumes. It was all a big game of dress-up, except I was the one in the pharmacy cape, my mother’s mascara, fifty-cent plastic teeth. The eternal immigrant who never got it. Prince of Darkness. Yeah, right.   
My heart jumped as I felt my phone wiggle and purr with a text in my pocket.

Hi there! I’m working tomorrow night at the bar, wanted to see if you’d like to come by.

Wait, what? Working? What bar? Oh... It was not the black girl, not the one with the black-and-white coat. It was another black girl, the black-Jewish girl, Ebony.
I met Ebony about two years earlier on the same dating site where I met Paula. Ebony was only about one quarter black, very light-skinned, and she grew up Jewish, which was how she thought of herself. She had an adorable face, giant breasts, and a lovely smooth little pussy. She was a bit heavy but that was alright, she carried it well. We started having sex on occasion, which I enjoyed, but it quickly became apparent that she wanted more from me. For some reason she really liked me. Unfortunately our energies did not match up at all, on any level. I explained this to her but by then she was deep under the Dmitry spell and could not resign herself to occasional casual sex. She demanded attention, took some liberties, insisted I’d punched her after I gave her a light smack in the face during sex. Some mild insanity followed. But our lives weren’t enmeshed, we had nothing to divide, and my building had a doorman, so it soon petered out. But a year later she texted me again (that was how she communicated, text, text, text). We got together. She’d lost some weight and looked great. We went to a play, didn’t have sex, which was fine. But a week later we did. That was four months ago. We’d gotten together two or three times after that. And now there she was, on my phone.
I called her. She picked up.
“Tonight,” I said, “meet me tonight at the Hi-Life.”
It was a Tuesday and the bar was nearly empty. They had music playing from the ‘80’s and 90’s, not too loud, silly songs from my youth but I liked them. The bartender was a little Indian fellow, not at all confrontational. I ordered a Stella – big glass, 16 ounces, 5.2% alcohol, 6 bucks. Then I ordered a basket of fried calamari, dumped too much Tabasco in the dipping sauce. Fuck it, it still tasted good. I chatted with the guy next to me, interesting-looking guy, looked like someone, an actor? (When I was drunk and alone a lot of people looked interesting to me, like they were actors or writers.) He told me his wife had left him, or he had left her, I don’t remember. Who cares!? We toasted to that. Now this was a party! I was back in New York. Still couldn’t smoke but I didn’t even want to, I was too drunk to smoke.
Then the door opened and Ebony entered. What a beautiful, beautiful face, lovely smile, sparkling eyes. She always looked so immaculate, not a hair or a stitch out of place. She was glowing.
Yeah, that’s right, I said in my mind to the guys, she’s for me, she’s for me motherfuckers! A beautiful black girl. How many white guys you know can get that with no job, no money, no nothing? A beautiful black girl from the Upper West Side, ten years younger than I, whom I called at Midnight on a Tuesday, has come in here for me, sees me here falling-down drunk and she’s happy to see me. Do you see the delight in her eyes? Do you see how I put my hand on her cheek, cold from the wind, and she squints her eyes with joy like a baby? Do you see me kissing her soft lips. Do you see how she sits next to me and orders a drink? You probably thought I’m some poor, lonely drunk. Ha-ha-ha!
“I want you to come over,” I said to Ebony.
“Ok.”
See that fuckers?! “Ok!” Ha-Ha-Ha!
In my bedroom she took off her clothes, pulled off mine. We did not bother with condoms. I licked her until she came. “I want you to fuck me,” she said, and I fucked her. I was hard but too drunk and exhausted to come. After thirty minutes I gave up and we fell asleep.
My erection awoke me at daybreak and I slipped it inside, from behind. I held her waist firmly watching my cock work away like a piston, watching my belly smack against her luxurious ass as it wiggled and jiggled, my gaze sliding up her back to her shoulders, where she had a tattoo of a hammer and sickle. It was that early-morning hangover-drunk fuck when the world feels all warm, wet and cozy. And I felt vulnerable and willing, like the succulent overripe bulb of a poppy a hair’s breadth from bursting, spilling milky seeds of orgasmic euphoria, seeds of love. I felt like a bulb ripe with love, just a touch, just a graze and I’d pop. And I thought, so what if she does get pregnant, would that be so bad? So she has a tattoo of a hammer and sickle on her back, big deal? I’m 41 and I have done nothing with my life, what the hell am I waiting for? A child would be nice. Maybe something would change, it would have to. I would have a purpose, a passion, an excuse to take myself seriously, to take my life seriously. I could leave something here on this earth for Christ’s sake. I know she’d like a child. And we wouldn’t necessarily have to be together, she could be like my baby’s mama. It wouldn’t be perfect but nothing is perfect. There’d be problems but I’d have a child. And I thought, this is why alcohol is important, half the babies out there probably wouldn’t have been born if it wasn’t for hungover sex.
“Can I come inside you?”
“Um-hum.”
I came inside her.
Then I ran to the bathroom and threw up yesterday’s vodka.
Jesus Christ what the fuck did I do?! I thought to myself as I did this. I’m dead. She’s going to kill me. That whole entitlement “Pay attention to me!” bullshit she gave me a year ago when we had nothing between us would be like a light summer breeze compared to the hurricane she would unleash if she ever gave birth to my baby; Sandy’s devastation would be nothing compared to the destruction Ebony would visit upon me. She would suck out my guts with a straw and turn my balls into sundried tomatoes. There would be no escape; I couldn’t run out on my baby, I’d be sucked in with love. And my whole family would be sucked in there too. And what if the baby has that kinky black hair? How am I going to relate to it? It’s going to look black, be raised Jewish – that’s Upper-West-Side no-pork-products Jewish – and resemble me. What the hell am I going to do with that thing?  
By the time I got back to my bedroom she was dressed. I walked her out of the apartment and went back to bed. And I dreamed I had murdered a half-dozen innocent people, hidden them badly, and now it was only a matter of time before the police and my family found out.
I was awakened by an incoming text:

Soooo... I’m feeling a little bit nervous about this AM so I think I’m going to take the morning after pill... FYI in case you were concerned.

            Me:

Ok.

I was afraid she might lie to me about taking it, but then she sent this:

Took it. That’s the last time. If we do this again I’m not taking it.

I got on my computer, did my business, then wrote Paula a message:

Hey Beautiful,

I’m sorry about asking you for that girl’s info when I did, I was wrong to do that. In my own defense I can only say that it was like the perfect storm: As soon as you told me you were meeting friends at 8:30 I knew you wanted nothing to do with me, the bucket of vodka I drank put me in a certain state, and I did get very excited about that girl, something about her moved me.

That aside, I had a very good time. Thank you for taking me.

D.

She replied:

Thanks for the apology, and I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. I did have a nice time, you’re very entertaining; I just don’t think we have potential as a couple.

Me:

You’re probably right. I was actually very surprised you agreed to go out with me in the first place. :)

Two days later, as the victims of Sandy sifted through the wreckage of their lives, I asked Paula again to put me in touch with the black girl. By then most of my excitement had dissipated but I wanted to follow through just in case. Also, I didn’t want Paula to think I had been disingenuous, or serve to affirm the notion that miracles, such as love at first sight, did not happen. “I did ask her,” Paula replied, “she’s not into giving you her number.”
A week later Ebony texted me an ultimatum – either be her boyfriend or no more sex. We haven’t spoken since. I did go to the MoMA website and purchase a membership.


November 29, 2012