I still remember the first time I heard this – stayed in my head for days. Simply Evil.
Would to starry heaven that smiling at strangers had a purpose. And before last January there was no good reason to suffer such indignities; who wanted to look at my teeth, planted like Easter Island statues, solitude standing, each on its own plinth, proclaiming: “Ok, here’s my personal space. Y’all stay over there and we’ll get along fine”. Tragedy.
Nine brace-capped months later and once disjointed teeth are now chumming along like conjoined siblings. From this beaming vista I can finally appreciate why snakeoil sales men, with winning smiles, can sell oil to snakes but I fear that my orthodontist, well-meaning and stupendously recompensed I might add, has in fixing my teeth also unmasked me and stripped off the excuse that was my garb; and so here I laugh, frightfully naked. It’s not that I hate strangers (I’m not yet a misanthrope) but I just think strangers haven’t done anything to deserve my sunny breezy smile.
By god, it takes a lot of nerve and fakery to produce an “I’m-so-pleased-to-meet-you” smile. All of that energy and you’re repaid back with a smile that has the familiar U-shape at the bottom third of the face but has been manufactured in a North Korean death camp. Worse, you get back a grin or its cousin, the smirk. Both are what you give to someone you think is a jackass but polite society forbids you speaking without thinking. But there’s something even worse than a grin: being ignored.
It’s no accident then that new people are like boils: uninvited but demanding of careful and worrisome attention and frankly after a day outdoors being nice and smily to strangers I am so relieved to be back home. Home, where the only strangers I meet are the ones I create purposefully in daydreams or that my mind manufactures from the books I read. The strangers that I meet there couldn’t give a fuck if I smiled or farted.
They both were glad to walk out of the bar. The beer-fueled din, the clangorous eruptions from assorted hubbubs of revelers, the blast of forgettable pop music and the whoops and rumpus of excitable under-forties were all just too inimical to the business of man-to-woman conversation. But where is one to go on a Friday night? Especially as on such nights all the bars on Upper Street spill over, like muffin tops, with punters. She had never liked bars, full of drinking yobbos, preferring instead cosy haunts where girlfriends “catch up” on the latest gossip and news; so the fresh air and relative quiet were rather welcome. He needed a fag. She had started smoking again since they met, feeling rather religiously that couples who smoked together stuck (or more likely, stank) together. They both reached for their packs and matches. He: Marlboro. She: very much Benson and Hedges.
She was the first to speak: “So, come again, why won’t you commit?” The smoke left her mouth as she drew first blood. The ghostly weft of nicotine rose hesitantly above their heads and then upwards to the sky; an imploring sacrificial fragrance to the goddess of love.
He was silent for a moment, pausing deliberately; but not for effect but in deliberation of the best way to proceed. If you were a parent questioning a child you would be convinced that child was about to spin a magnificent and implausible yarn. But he was scheming no lie. Yet for a few moments more his right foot nervously played noughts and crosses with a disinterested pebble. He breathed deeply and began: “Well, I’m worried about the sex,” but then he caught her quizzical eye and the beginning upturn in her lips and quickly added,”But wait, don’t laugh. It is important. I used to be married.”
“Uh-oh”. This was news. They had been seeing each other for about six weeks.
“I was married. Her name’s Phoebe and she was from Durham.” He stopped and then corrected himself: “is from Durham.” After convincing himself that indeed his ex-wife was still alive and he hadn’t murdered her in a haze of amnesia he continued. “We were together for five years and at first we had sex all the time”. He pulled contentedly on his fag, emitting a satisfactory ahh. “All the time we fucked, I mean made love, oh fuck it, we fucked and the sex was exhilarating. Fresh and pickled. All over the place we did it and it didn’t matter what time of day or season. We even did it in church at her sister’s wedding pretending to check on the registry room down in the crypt … and can you believe it (she couldn’t, not really wanting to know why her lover was working to make her mad) – while hymns were being sung upstairs we were doing it down below? Oh boy, that was fun.”
He suddenly stopped, ostensibly to let the deafening police siren go by, but in reality he had started to sense that she didn’t like him telling her that he had liked fucking other women. So he resumed more solemnly.
“Slowly however the fire waned. Imperceptibly at first, you know, like when you’re putting on weight, I don’t mean you I mean like anyone, right, you don’t know it because you have a cake here and a Snickers there and you think it doesn’t matter because you’re playing football on Saturday or going to aerobics class on Tuesday and kaboom you’re thirteen stone and you think how did I get here? Well that’s how it was with our sex. it went from millennium fireworks and podium corkers to heart surgery routine precision. “Nurse, will you pass me the bone cutter?” “Here you are Dr Seuss” “How much time do I have Nurse before I cover him up?” “Exactly ten minutes Doctor”. He laughed showing pretty teeth. ‘You could time our sex: ten minutes and it was all over.”
He stopped to look at her. He couldn’t always tell if she was really listening to him or had drifted off into a far off world of nereids and unicorns.
But she was listening. “And?”
“Then she got pregnant. At first we still did it, you know, we called it “humping the hump” or at least I did ‘cause I thought it might bring back the excitement but then she got bigger and tired out and was definitely not in the mood for humping – either from the front or the back. But I was like cool, OK, you’re carrying our baby.”
A glass collector came round looking for empty bottles and they waited for him to go. As he opened the door Kate Perry was bruiting about kissing a girl. Two big black boys also went in chattering about the football derby the next day. ‘But I gotta get laid tonight” one of them emphatically maintained as they closed the door behind them.
“We had a boy and our time was spent getting used to this stranger and cleaning all his shit. I would, like, masturbate, obviously not with Phoebe or the baby around, but in private I watched porn and jerked off. It was like being fourteen again; furtive actions wondering if you’ll get caught. But then blink! and it was like two months and I had had no sex. Not good. Not good at all”. He’d almost finished his cigarette. She was only halfway through hers. “It became unbearable. I wanted a woman: her scent, her warmth, the softness of her skin; moaning my name and all the blah blah that goes with it and then … then we talked about it and for a few months she’d put out for all of ten minutes but I could tell that she wasn’t really there and that is no fun. I need to know that I’m giving pleasure not just receiving it. You know, I can gush as indiscriminately as the next man but if my woman is not putting in hundred percent then I’m not gushing a hundred percent. I’ve never been the wham bam kind of guy.”
“But even that stopped. She was too tired; you know there’s a a young baby and she had a full time job and house chores and it was just too much and she had no energy or inclination for sex.”
Silence; puff; silence; the dull glow of a cigarette being sucked of its last goodness was one of the lesser lights on Upper Street that night. Around the silent two, the young razzle-dazzlers of Islington were just getting started. Her upright silhouette against the brick wall showed off smooth round curves of a woman in her prime. And she was smart too. He’d better not fuck this up.
“I can tell you this one thing, though, a man is not a stone. If he isn’t getting it from you he’s getting it elsewhere. There’s no point saying “but if he loves me” blah blah. I don’t understand women who think if they don’t give sex for like, forever, the man is supposed to do nothing and remain faithful. That’s like ridiculous you know. A man is not a stone. He’s gotta cum or else he goes crazy. C-r-a-z-y. It’s the way we’re made. If a woman wants to keep her man she’s going to have to put out.” He tossed the stub on the pavement.
She put hers in the stub receptacle. “So does that mean we’re doing ok, at least for now?”
He smiled and then laughed. She loved it when he laughed and showed even teeth, stained brown by coffee but still very pretty. “Yeah, we’re doing very ok. And I’m hoping we stay that way.” He took her hand and they walked back into the bar, to the howls of Miley Cyrus and loud forgettable pop music. She couldn’t figure out whether he was telling her not to have a baby. How’s that going to work?
If you’re a Dream I am a dreamer
You’re magic and I the Magician
Romeo had Juliet I have Violet
Eyes that blush in Shadowland
Bittersweet, Vulcan’s beating
Lust forged in Mar’s blistering heat
In/Out pressure, the Sound of pleasure
If you’re a dream I am a Dreamer
I am intrigued by a sight I see more frequently now on the streets: a straight couple are walking side by side or with the woman in front and the man reaches out and pats his partner (usually twice) on the bum. What in the world is this to mean: to reassure her that he is hers/there or a boast to the rest of us: this fine ass is mine?
Summer comes once a year. Sweaty skins, hot breaths, short skirts and boys peeping down pumpkin cleavages. Girls waiting, wanting to be asked out; waiting for and wanting more. Skinny boy with the long black fingers and teenage white teeth. She: green eyes and mischievous white breasts. Young love. Hungry. Impatient. Burning. It may not last but it sure will be fun. There’s another boy watching from across the street. His heart is racing as Venus plays footloose with his manhood. He clutches his book and averts his eyes. If he doesn’t look, he won’t envy. He repeats over and over: one can chase skirt or one can chase learning. Which shall it be? Summer comes but once a year.
No human being, even the most passionately loved and passionately loving, is ever in our possession. On the pitiless earth where lovers are often separated in death and are always born divided, the total possession of another human being and absolute communion throughout an entire lifetime are impossible dreams. The desire for possession is insatiable, to such a point that it can survive even love itself. To love, therefore, is to sterilize the person one loves. The shamefaced suffering of the abandoned lover is not so much due to being no longer loved as to knowing that the other partner can and must love again. In the final analysis, every man devoured by the overpowering desire to endure and possess wishes that the people whom he has loved were either sterile or dead.
– Albert Camus, The Rebel