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The Renegades
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by Mike Zetteler
          From M'waukee Stories
                       Life in the 1960s
            Dive deep, leap clear . . .
                    --Paul Verlaine
           Teach us to care and not to care . . .
                   --T.S. Eliot
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 [Return to Part I]

     With little to lose in the way of seniority, though I could have been canned for pilfering, I did occasionally score such items as ill-fitting Italian sandals, bottles of sake and some used clothes from huge bales wrapped in scratchy burlap, shipped by Catholic agencies to overseas charities.
Hooks Collected at Port of Milwaukee     This was one of the few times we could use the traditional cargo hooks of the movies, usually seen wielded in fights, generally intended for use on rough wood crates in the old days when they were sorted on the docks and netted in or moved on pallets.  Today they would puncture paper or cloth bags of grain or powdered milk products, or hides, or even cardboard cartons, the most common commodities not transported in shipping containers.  So they lay rusting in the warehouse, but it was satisfying and powerful to whip them around when we remembered they could be useful.
     Since there were few longshoremen in Milwaukee, while the Port, south of Downtown, didn't get noticed much at all, a lot of people were surprised to learn what I did.  It seemed fascinating to some, and I didn't mind the romanticized appeal we had, especially when I was talking to women, and went so far as to hang one of the hooks from my rear view mirror.  But Marlene on our first date quickly told me its sinister shape dangling on our side of the windshield made her nervous and I tossed it in the back.
     So much for my borrowed machismo, and we continued on our way to the Oriental Theatre and the showing of Jimi Hendrix's Rainbow Bridge, a YouTube Selection Icon .JPGfilm with a dreary opening but some decent music.
     But we were getting along fine, and after we moved in together I could be domestic the way I really wanted -- maybe both of us deciding to go out at the last minute, but otherwise I could read while watching TV.  After the bleak horror of waking up and drinking to get back to sleep and dragging through a work morning I had developed the resolve never to drink the night before work again, even if it meant no sleep.
     My rule was that if I dozed off at all -- judged by whether I became aware that the images and fantasies, momentarily so logical, that captivated my brain, were in fact dreams -- I would get up when the clock radio played.  Otherwise, with no trace of sleep I would stay in bed -- reasonably, I thought, since I could be facing a demanding 12-hour stint.
     Sometimes that meant that the first couple days of a work week I would only get an hour or so, but at least I wasn't hung over, and then as a longshoreman I could sometimes take off after problematic mornings with few repercussions.
     Once in the hold and finding myself on a bag gang or something else grueling I could hope to get a replacement and go home at noon if someone was in the hall looking to get on.  Soup and a sandwich at Zonyx Tiny Celestial Logo .GIFMarino's was next, in either case.  Beers starting at noon, but only if I didn't plan on getting hired the next day.
     Occasionally I would get chided for abusing the checkout system, maybe in a letter from Meehan Seaway, but I was following the union contract.  Work came there in spurts, so after a few days I could make up for my abstinence by relaxing with some quarts of beer -- outside on the grass in front of the apartment building, if it was a warm night -- muscles sore from hours of repetitive exertion, and swollen, stiffening finger joints.
     Sometimes I would have to enlist Mar to unbutton my shirt cuffs.
     Marlene herself enjoyed her glasses of chilled jug rosé, decanted when possible, but it didn't interfere with her journalism courses and women's studies -- financed by her work as a clerical temp and some grants and loans.  At the same time I did my best to keep up with my running and yoga, and using longer stretches of time while she basically supported us to write for the Bugle.
At least that got me out of the house sometimes, though apart from the in-and-out appearances of the small staff, contributors -- like myself -- generally worked from home and it was rare to run into someone there like Mike Zetteler, who covered some of the same ground with articles on Zonyx Celestial Logo: View Selectioncensorship, sex and the alternative scene since leaving Kaleidoscope -- even his adventures as a Zonyx Celestial Tiny Logo: View Selectioncab driver fending off inquiries into his indulgence in oral sex while remaining tipworthy.
     Myself, I was adventurous enough once to poke canned peach slices into her pussy and suck them out -- she said pieces were coming out even the next day -- but I was generally more conventional while it wasn't unusual for her to see I was absorbed in reading and come over to the easy chair and unzip my jeans.
     "Got to let 'em breathe once in a while," she would say, lifting out the cock and balls while I watched with bemusement.  It wasn't as comfortable after a while as one might have thought, and after continuing for a while with my magazine I would have to cover up -- but it could lead to sex.
     As the night manager I had gotten us into the best apartment in the building, on the ground floor in the front opposite the office.  The bedroom was spacious, and we could find ourselves there in the middle of the day or at night with the lights on -- across from the windows looking out of the L-shaped projection -- belatedly wondering if our sexual positionings had been on display for anyone over there.

     But over time, as with the others, the intensity of my first fondness for Marlene dwindled.  The main problem was with me, I thought when I mulled it over, as I often did.  Somewhere within me I had an idealized picture of the perfect woman for me -- actually, it was amorphous and varied when I saw an actual candidate.  Whether a film actress or singer or TV character -- Mouseketeer Annette Funicello was one of the first, and the tigerish Eartha Kitt -- she wasEartha Kitt dark, generally lush and often oriental, or at least exotic:  Deenah, an Indian girl up north, one of the many Dekorahs, had me at age 16 to her 17 filled with shy, inchoate longing.
     Independent enough to drive without a license, like many country girls, she first picked me up as I walked the road to my grandfather's home in Adams, Wis.  She was too experienced for my schoolboy ways, though I thought I personified big city cool, and I could only admire her as her crowd let me run with them.  I eventually wrote a poem about that vacation, remembering her in the part about . . .

                . . .  the first summer that
               I didn't get poison ivy there
               I was hardly able, after drinking
               muscatel with two Oneida girls
               and a sailor with a broken arm
               home on leave, in a Ford by the
               Petenwell dam, to walk
               the road to the cottage that was
               to be attached by the county
               for medical bills when he died.

     Even one of the colored girls at school would be great for me -- and a daring choice -- if we could connect despite my caution, though Italian was a good compromise, but it was a round, sensual face -- baby-faced, actually -- that was the main attraction.

     Where this vision came from, I don't know, though one of my first crushes, Bobbie Firley -- Feely Firley to some of us raunchy boys -- combined at 11 years a Kewpie-doll face and full lips with a woman's swelling chest and an already tall and well-padded frame.  I would go to sleep consciously holding her image in my mind, though the most I could really do about it was call her up with my buddy as a prank.
     But though in real life I could still be overcome even with longings for cute blondes with sharp faces, or rail-thin brunettes, and dated and became half of a couple with all sorts over the years, the draw of strange pussy always came back.  Then I would fantasize that I wasn't with my dusky dream girl prototype, and if I could only settle down with her I would decide I couldn't do better at satisfying my inner longings.  By default, I would not want to wander.  But in the meantime how could I pass up the random liaison with a willing, seducible female?  The first whiff of possible fresh sex was wonderful, and the relationship could last for several years.  Until the boredom set in.
     Not so with women, I thought; they knew they could get laid just about any time and didn't obsess about novelty as a prize in itself.  But then a partner like Jenny could be masculine in her promiscuity, maybe proving me wrong, but I attributed it more to her fundamental sexual appetite and a need to feel wanted -- especially when she believed herself denigrated for intellectual failings.  And she was right that though I had been completely taken by her dark winsomeness and compliant nature as a teenager, I was disappointed by her lack of academic progress.  Coupled with that was my antipathy to her disorganized domestic habits, that forced me to recognize that I was glad we proved incompatible -- cute and sexy as she had been with the lure of a rounded belly and a dark, deep groin -- leaving me free to find her body now commonplace and boring.  True companionship lay ahead.
     As with Marlene, whom I first noticed at the bar for a mass of long, luxuriant auburn hair and ample body, though by the time we got friendly she had dropped some weight.  A short depression and a lot of pizza because of a recent breakup had been to blame, but she was one to take charge and move on.
     She was smart, even interested in journalism, with striking good looks, set off by white, even teeth.  She was quick with a quip or pointed observation, and sometimes liked to act in the spirit of the times and introduce herself at parties as an urban guerilla -- though in truth her activities were along the lines of canvassing for Ralph Nader's public interest groups or staying home to bake banana bread after classes, its aroma suffusing the air.  But she was au courant enough to recognize the name of an Iranian politician at a party when someone mentioned Ghotbzadeh to interject:
      "Goats b' day -- and men by night!"
     At any rate, I could cook adequately enough, but usually relegated myself to washing the dishes when she was home to take over.  And I always volunteered to make the instant coffee afterwards, though when it came to actual housework beyond my natural tidiness I knew I could always outwait her.
     Luckily, her body, despite her weight loss, was satisfying to grab by her butt when I got behind it, and she mostly kept toned with yoga on a towel on the floor.  Once when she noticed me observing her in an ungainly position she struck a pose elevating her abundant tits under the thin top with her palms, announcing with mock pride:
     "My body's a symphony."
     "Hmmm, maybe a Looney Tune."
     But I appreciated her curves, ever since the first days when I had licked the wine from her glass off her stiffened nipples.  Even when she moved out in one of her fits of independence -- to teach me a lesson for my coolness, I assumed -- we would end up in her bed after her shift as a cocktail waitress.  In one early evening Marlene In Hat Posing on Couchsession when she called me to come over with my Polaroid camera I took nude pictures of her -- sporting a floppy, wide-brimmed hat and striped stockings -- and eventually I propped the camera on a cushion so I could photograph her sucking my cock.

     The session was erotic enough to propel us into a spontaneous encounter where we rolled around on her bed briefly until I slipped it in, so overcome with the sensations of the moment that I didn't want her to stop and get some foam -- her method of contraception at the time, though she had tried just about everything.  But by not living with a man she felt it was excessive to take the Pill every day.
     I finished after slowing down the deep thrusts as much as possible so that my final paroxysm even seemed to please her, leaving her to rest for the moment in the satiated sprawl I found captivating.
     But of course, she got pregnant, and though she Marlene on Bedarranged a legal abortion we somehow drifted back to the old arrangement.  This happened several times when she would scout out a flat for us almost without my input and then we would be living together again.
     This quest for domesticity sometimes puzzled me -- though it was in my nature to settle down for a long run -- since Marl, like several others, would somehow work into the conversation that she could never marry me.  Even though I never brought up the idea or indicated that I thought about it.  My instinctive interpretation was that these women wanted me to react by feeling slighted and be moved to talk them into it.  But I always remained studiously silent, and in fact my feelings went the other way:  I always felt that after a year or two and sliding into diffidence -- ennui, a frustrated Marlene once called it -- I owed it to both of us to move on.
     Only the December pregnancy and abortion -- which I couldn't pay for, bad as I felt -- led me to think I should at least be a source of stability for a while.  And splitting the rent, with me getting Unemployment checks, was a comfortable life.  So I kept my thoughts to myself, but planned that in the spring I would hustle by showing up at the hiring hall whenever there was just a possibility of work and use the money to get my own apartment -- and connect with the women I had been running into at Barney's or were still hanging around the East Side scene.  Some I had been in touch with, even had a few surreptitious dates with, like the elusive Christy -- always more available when I was taken.
     But as with Jenny before our divorce I could feel righteous about technically not being unfaithful, since I figured that once having made the decision to split up I was morally free to dabble again.  So it was a shock when Marlene came home from classes at UWM to announce she was leaving.  We had been bickering, falling into a pattern of mutual sniping, though at the same time she was active in local social causes and knowledgeable about politics, with a radical bent and presumably as atheistic as I was -- though we never felt the need to talk about it much.  Everything I should be happy with, and even if the sex was perfunctory on my part it hadn't tapered off much.
     But I supposed she sensed that my interest, though not the remaining residue of lust, was wandering afield, though she didn't know the specifics.  The slacking-off only served to promote the barbed banter that I passed off as affectionate but led to her adopting the style as a natural counterpoint, to the extent where it could trouble others.
      "Aren't you two getting along?" my generally circumspect mother asked me on a visit to her West Allis flat, suddenly bringing home that my earlier romantic tenderness had evaporated, and Marlene was suffering for it even as she adopted my sarcasm.  And justifiably deciding to move out.
     She didn't have any trouble rounding up a few of our male friends from Barney's to help her tote her furniture, with me impassively pitching in, though it meant I was left with only layers of blankets on the bedroom floor to sleep on -- and found myself in a barren apartment, tears welling up.  To my surprise.
     I rested uncomfortably on the improvised padding, waking after a dream of crawling in mud while a bitter taste filled my mouth as an unseen narrator intoned:  It's the marls . . .  I vaguely recognized the term as some sort of clay or mineral used as fertilizer, certainly not something I should be eating.
     Whatever the future, at that moment as I shook my head to banish sleep the lingering vision compounded my aloneness and the emptiness of the apartment.  I found a small consolation in the fact that I wouldn't be smelling the vagrant plumes of her noxious cigarets, considerate though she tried to be.  But it had been comfortable to share a life with someone, even though I was scouting around.  So I missed her, and felt bad about being a disappointment despite the mutual effort that had gone into building an existence together.
     Even though she was the one who, when I was still in the thrall of infatuation came home after fucking her English instructor Victor Portman on a walk in the
Downer Woods at UWM because she thought I had been unreasonable about something and we wouldn't last.  All I had done was get mad because she had removed a paper-cup fixture -- she called it clutter -- from the bathroom wall in our new place without consulting me, driving me to kick a Japanese lantern type of lampshade that was on the floor to pieces in lieu of hitting her.  And I certainly wasn't contemplating being with anyone else.
     As she said much later when we were confiding at the Magic Pan over crepes and drinks some of our outside attractions and affairs -- mostly mine, I had to admit:
     "I was afraid you'd see the leaves fall . . . out of my ass, in a way, when I took my skirt off when I got home, but you weren't watching."
     But I recovered quickly enough from her confession, as she sipped wine, since I had already been fucking Christy when I could, and had some phone numbers from an East Side party we had gone to.  One belonged to a music teacher named Betsy Mierow, who Marlene immediately dubbed The Whale after she saw us dancing a fast dance to Mark Shurilla and the Electric Assholes band.  They had been hired for the occasion and were overpowering in the storefront, with Buddy Holly covers and originals like Blitzkrieg Over KenoshaPlay Mark Shurilla's Blackholes, while the rather large and zaftig Betsy and I looked warmly in each other's direction and occasionally accepted a passing joint.
I had stayed with her most of the night a few times even before Marlene left me, early enough in the affair to think I could make it permanent, noting she read the New York Times and had traveled a lot.  But right before one of her spring trips, just after an encounter when she tentatively went down on me for the first time and I was pondering whether I should reciprocate -- I didn't know her well enough to easily bring it up, and I had the lingering reservation that some women didn't think it was manly -- she told me about her newly diagnosed condition and the possible Ping-Pong effect.
     She gave me my supply of pills to treat the trichomoniasis she could have infected me with.  I hadn't been seeing anybody else -- though apparently she was -- but I was expected to abstain from sex and alcohol for 10 days, the course of the treatment.
     Not drinking for 10 days was hard -- it meant isolation -- but everything really went bad when she came back and told me over the phone that she had no desire to see me again.  No special reason, it seemed, just no real spark.  And I had thought a well-read teacher who knew who Keith Jarrett was -- she played the piano herself -- was just what I wanted.
     For me the sex had been good enough, yet another fresh revealing of vistas of smooth flesh and soft mounds with their nubs and a sparsely covered slit.  I had found that Marlene could be eager and open for anything, though I doubted she ever had a real orgasm, reticent as she was to talk about coming or go beyond hints that she would like receiving oral sex.  But I could be indifferent, since I knew she loved it any time I still found her desirable.
     So I didn't care much either that Betsy didn't seem to be able to get off easily, and often was happier to stay out with her friends at Rieder's than go back to her apartment and fuck.  One night at an otherwise empty table there, surfeited with the ubiquitous popcorn, I suggested we make the move to her place and she rather petulantly demurred.  Not in the mood.  By then the clay steins of Hacker-Pschorr Braü -- owner Frank Rieder insisted the glassware couldn't be called by a word that meant stone -- under the overlooking panels of stained glass set in dark wood had me becalmed and ready for new sensations.
     I couldn't imagine Jenny or Marlene not being primed for sex almost any time, but to demonstrate my understanding nature I suggested eating at Conejito's.  A supply of Dos Equis and some enchiladas would comfort me, I figured, though it turned out that we didn't have a lot of time.  We realized they closed early on Sundays when they started emptying the remaining jackets from the little coatroom.  Betsy, seeming happy enough to be with me, noticed first and asked, "What's going on?"
     I pondered for a second as they laid the clothing on tables and told her, "Maybe they're going to do the Mexican coat dance."
     So we hurried to finish and she drove herself home from Rieder's without having sex.  Leaving me baffled about her true desires.
     Still, I reasoned that like Marlene she cared enough about me to plan a future while I was willing to take a long time, months, to perfect the nuances.  Even the basics, like getting her off -- I knew it was a problem when she guided my hand from where I had been dutifully fingering her to her clit.  Even at my age I was about as learned as an average schoolboy in really knowing what to do.  But I had to mount her after what I thought was a reasonable time, even turning her over when I decided I wasn't as vigorous as I could have been, a tactic that usually worked when I had the recurring effects of earlier, humiliating failures.
     I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised after my coming with her ass in the air and glad to relax, the tension spent, that she announced in her singsong schoolteacher voice -- she was used to dealing with grade-schoolers, after all:  "Now I ah . . . require to be masturbated."
     Reflexively, I dismissed this.  "I don't have the energy."
     Thinking languidly that of course I would be willing to do anything reasonable, even eat her pussy, but before I came myself.  Afterwards, I would only want to relax, a typical male I suppose, and it would be something we could deal with in the hazily pleasant future.  After all, like finding out that yet another naked photo of a woman could be as compelling as the first view as an adolescent, after a lifetime of sightings desire always came flooding back.
     The other side of the coin was that though deprivation encouraged thoughts of creative eroticism like eating pussy or anal sex, I found the power of reality more rewarding, with its own  urge to get off fast.  Even fantasies, as ephemeral as mine were, seemed to be products of a general desire to get laid, vanishing with the resurgence of the real thing.  So I never confronted whether I seriously itched for a threesome or to see my wife get fucked.
     Especially since I could always make things right with Marlene -- and our trysts often resumed when we both found ourselves adrift and horny, though Betsy's sudden cruelty stunned me with its permanence.
      From that break-up on I showed her my best stone face when I encountered her around the East Side, and I was on my own.  
I actually nodded coolly at her at yet another party and was pleased that I called her -- purely a mental lapse -- by the wrong name, though she didn't seem to notice or care.  I still crumbled inside, of course, and when she showed up at Jammer's, a rare event, and flounced cheerily over next to my stool and announced, "I've got to say Hi to Don Groeling," I perversely froze her with the most sarcastic Hi I could muster.
     "Oh," she said, a sudden serious realization after a moment, and moved away.  Looking as if she were honor-bound to respect my hostility, even as I began years of regret for not hearing her out.  But I had trapped myself.  Years later, when I spotted her in the pleasant back yard of a River Hills home where we were gathered for a memorial for Tim Reichhardt from those long-ago times at Barney's, I wished I could slide through the crowd at the food tables and approach her in her slick sheath dress, much thinner than in the old days, holding her drink.  But I was powerless.
     It was around that time, after I had been at the docks for a while, that I realized that it was far from being the ideal combination of high-paying job and no requirement for putting in fulltime hours that would let me try my hand at the lengthy magazine articles I saw as my future.  Instead, I found that if I wanted to enjoy whatever working-class brute cachet I had as a longshoreman -- and the physical lifestyle with occasional bouts of super-prosperity -- I would have to subsidize myself with menial, minimum-wage work.
     Though I had friends who made jewelry or crafted leather or threw pottery, I was without such skills and had by now lost out on any dependable writing positions.  Anyway, the two dailies required a master's degree, I was informed, except for an already-established hire.  And though I sporadically summoned the energy to send a resume to other regions, based on ads in Editor & Publisher, no one offered to pay any expenses for a trip and interview.
     Of course, all but the lowliest of local jobs were for employers rightly wary of whether I meant to stay long.  Those on the lowest rung accepted a huge turnover as a way to function with desperate workers.
     This meant binderies and other temporary-help jobs, with only a limited time between assignments to spend the hours needed on alternative press articles or as a stringer for the suburban papers -- traveling the miles to Oak Creek or Brookfield in a car always on the verge of breaking down -- for the few bucks it would bring in.  But at least it was immediate income, and I could be sure of publication, though at meager column-inch rates.
     Nevertheless, these marginal sheets could also draw upon student reporters building their folios and housewives who had taken some journalism courses to fill the more desirable assignments close to home in the nearer suburbs.  So I felt my professionalism was underutilized and unappreciated.
     It was only a momentary jolt, then, concerned as I was with survival, to be filling in at Wisconsin Cuneo Press, that had the contract for much of the soft-core porn in the Midwest, surrounded by dewy girls just out of high school and sweet grandmothers in worn shop clothes collating and stacking magazines splashed with photographs of every sort of spread-eagle male and female nudity short of actual penetration staring them in the face.  And it quickly became commonplace, until the next assignment, just like their production runs of mainstream magazines like Time.
     Occasionally, especially in the hot summer months, I would try for an office job, filing or other low-level clerical work, where I could enjoy the air-conditioning and wearing business attire, though my only real office skills were proof-reading and copy editing -- and those were hard slots to come by.  They were usually done by female word processors, and in any event I couldn't build the long-term, faithful relationships required of a Kelly Girl or Olsten Boy, as I sardonically called myself.  Middle-aged males with only passable typing skills were not in great demand, and I couldn't commit to calling in for possible hiring on the dutiful timetable they rewarded their aspirants for.
     Let an employment lag develop because of a recent stint or success at stretching your funds and it was back to taking the childish tests again, since that same churning meant that records weren't kept for long and didn't count for much.
     I always felt an enlightened entrepreneur could provide dignity to idled inner city youth and reduce crime by creating a permanent work card and locations where those at loose ends could pitch in with their various certified physical skills for as long as needed to tide them over without demanding a longer commitment.  Even if it were running on treadmills to produce electricity for storage or loading and unloading storehouses and trucks, as long as it seemed manly -- much like longshoring, which attracted applicants in droves when word of openings got around -- if only for a few hours to earn enough to avoid the latest crisis and walk away.
     So I was mostly a Manpower kind of guy, though I did walk off one location when they gave me a little cart with some buckets and brushes and pointed me in the direction of the toilets.  Thus it was fortunate that one August I was employed checking information on mailed-in insurance forms at the Marshall Building and a fellow temp caught my attention as she bustled around, plump knees showing as her dress rode up when she squatted next to the bottom filing-cabinet drawers.  Karen's casual attitude and the fact that she looked like she enjoyed eating made her seem awfully sensual to me, and on the last day of my stay there I suggested we meet for drinks at nearby Barney's -- or John Hawks Pub, as it was then called -- to commemorate my leaving.
     I knew that she was quite a bit younger than I, though 13 years didn't seem like something I should concern myself with, but I never dreamed she was still a virgin at 26.  Sensuality notwithstanding.  But she was, and I found out she had stayed that way by supplying blowjobs at critical moments.
     I first encountered that when we were having a session fully clothed on my bed and I was rebuffed even from getting a hand below her waist under her dress.
     "Let's see what we're dealing with here," she said as her hand landed lightly but unmistakably to unzip me, with me being quick to help.
     "It's enormous," she ventured after a moment, beginning a firm grip.  Though Jenny had once observed that it looked like a mushroom, I thought of the purple head of a tulip in her fist.
     I figured she'd had a sheltered life -- two high school boyfriends that she had sucked off, I learned -- though I wasn't about to argue with her impression.  I was at least average, after all.
     But when I moved my hand, as seemed reasonable, to cup a small but rock-hard breast, she pushed it away and pushed back on my chest to where I was again lying flat.
     "Oh, so you can touch me but I can't touch you?"
     "That's right."
     The blowjob was all the more satisfying for being my first from her, though I had that moment -- as could sometimes happen in a pulse of self-consciousness -- when I wondered if I was indeed going to come before she began to doubt it herself.
     But it concluded with her observing while I wilted slowly in her hand:
      "I don't know if I can swallow it."
     "It's optional," was all I could think of, though I realized later I could have offered her a sip of my ever-present beer.  But after a moment she managed anyway and smiled sweetly.
     She fell asleep and I basked for a while in my easy chair downstairs, satisfied that a follow-up full penetration was inevitable now.  So it took a few more times when she went for that way out until I realized she was dedicated to maintaining her virginity.
     The ease of it all may have been enough for the boys she dealt with, I thought, but I wasn't going to put up with it -- though it took me several months of a series of ultimatums and tentative insertions between those splayed, rounded thighs that followed my farewells and her calling me up to start the process over.  But my rule was that we wouldn't go backwards, and though I had to exert a lot of restraint -- birth control was too much for her to deal with -- my campaign was over by December.  The second time she bought a box of Emko foam she kept it and learned to use it instead of throwing it away in a panic over the step she was taking at 27.  Even though I had told her that she could theoretically get pregnant when I didn't actually come inside her.
     If I had been somewhat cavalier with Mary, drinking and getting off as quickly as my usual soggy state would allow, not worrying much about her orgasms -- indeed, I doubted she had any, though I figured it would work out in time -- my second virgin learned fast.  Without any special effort on my part she began to come easily, even more than once every session.
     As a result of her manifest enjoyment I figured I didn't have to worry about eating her pussy, though she still loved to suck on my dick, and -- awkward as the conversation was -- I suggested that at least she could douche if she wanted oral attention.  For some reason she was obdurate about it, and there matters rested, though she once remarked she decided she might like my tongue too much.  And she did seem reluctant about getting too much involved with me.
     But we quickly became very domestic, staying at each other's houses -- she moved from an apartment near North Avenue to a flat almost directly across the street from my building, a two-story townhouse on Franklin Place -- and spent time when we could be alone at her parent's pig farm to the north in Sheboygan County.  I successfully controlled any impulse to mention her father's obvious success at raising pigs -- though with her chunky body and round, pug-nosed face, cute as it was to me, I couldn't help thinking of the porcine comparison.
     Which made all the more remarkable her self-confidence, dumpy and plain as I surmised many saw her -- and not experiencing as I did the capacity for fucking she soon developed.  An embrace standing in her living room or sitting on a couch might quickly lead to a hand on my crotch; no subtlety there.
     Still, it did seem a bit strange when after a while, when we had been socializing with my friends and hers -- mostly hers, those she had met in Milwaukee -- and especially at the office Downtown she had settled in at for lack of a real career -- that she asked that I not mention to anybody that I had been her first actual lover.  Definitely not to anybody from the office, where she seemed to be settled in  after a variety of courses at UWM.
     From interior design to social welfare, nothing claimed her attention for long.
     "But you said you told everybody whenever it came up, Keith and that other guy when they were after you, even your girlfriends, that you were a virgin.  You didn't mess around.  So now you . . ."
     "Yeah, but nobody believed me anyway.  They just laughed.  I just want them to forget that part."
     But whatever her parents had believed about her sex life -- and even they must have wondered about a virginal 26-year-old farm girl -- they had to know we were soon spending some nights together in the city and even at the farm when they were gone, where even the strangeness of someone else's shower with rose-patterned curtains and being served in an unfamiliar breakfast nook added to the new contentment I felt.
     And after the perhaps ritual dinner in Milwaukee at Kalt's where they could check me out we learned her dad would let us use an old Buick he had fixed up to sell to take a trip together to San Diego that Karen had been planning, to visit a friend on a vacation.  Karen hadn't been driving since she moved to the city, and my old car was about done for.  But he had a mechanic okay the Buick for the trip.
     She hadn't given up her fondness for fellatio, and the long boring stretches when I took on the majority of the driving would frequently find her head in my lap as I surreptitiously adjusted the rear view mirror to its best viewing angle for the encounter -- though of course she figured it out and didn't care, any more than she minded the mirror on the wall above her couch where I could watch myself fucking her from behind.  Just as on our rare drives back from Chicago's Old Town when I would feel obligated to warn her of an approaching toll booth, letting her decide whether to finish me off or pause to get past any likely observer peering down, she would shrug -- a rather comical gesture, considering her position -- and keep on going.
     So we passed many a lonely mile, though I was surprised only the first time, a mere few hundred miles after a late evening start -- due to my erratic sleeping habits -- while we left Illinois.  As I told my friend Wade between lifts in our longshore gang one day:  "When Karen said she wanted to head west, she meant she wanted to head west."
     It was a great time for me, who had only been to the Upper Peninsula and Canada:  Spending a sun-drenched winter week in her friend's cottage in Ocean Beach, venturing to La Jolla and Tijuana, drinking at the One Night Stand on Voltaire Street, grabbing quick, cheap tacos to be washed down on the sandy beach with cans of Buckhorn beer from Litticker's deli -- which we called Titlicker's, but known by the perhaps less constrained locals as Clitlicker's.
     It was those locals, at bars or wherever, that had me careful to say I was from Milwaukee, not M'waukee, as we learned they had come to expect -- but I had long ago expunged the quaint dialect I grew up hearing.
     Luckily there was still time on the first afternoon of our arrival to break out celebratory cans of Pabst in the car as the sun disappeared into the Pacific Ocean at the first beach we found, and I realized I had been betrayed by the circumstances of my birth in Wisconsin, where the picturesque sunrises were to the East over Lake Michigan but unlikely to be viewed by me -- unless I had stayed up all night -- while in California I was much more likely to see the glory of the sunset in the western sky on a regular basis.  A logic I couldn't argue with, sadly enough.
     But I had to come home again, where I would sometimes sit alone at my own kitchen table and reflect that I was content to go on with Karen only being available across the street if need be, carrying on her own busy life -- constant office parties and get-togethers after work and drinks with friends.  She liked to give frequent parties herself, and with me now in the picture her work friends no doubt assumed she wasn't virginal, if she ever had been.
     Added to her cheerful nature and usual enthusiasm for just about every social activity, her new sensuality got her even more attention from the men in her circles.  Despite being unabashedly chubby -- and presumably not caring -- with frizzled hair and ordinary looks that left just a quick, cherubic smile as her only real attraction, she carried herself with such confidence that I couldn't doubt that they were drawn to her.  After all, I found her appealing myself, as well as thoroughly sexual.
     By that time in our relationship, though it began as always with me taking care to plan dates so that I got laid every weekend, I began realizing that she was also scheduling outings for us and assuming I would want to fuck her then as well.  Flattering, at first, but eventually I figured that I could give up planning events and rely on her to keep me satiated.  And reclaim some time for myself.
     But her immersion in all her projects and socializing grew irritating, and she was often hard to reach unless I called her at the office.  Finally, she stopped over one night to pick up some books, but when I suggested sex, she demurred:
     "I'd have to take my clothes off and everything."
     "Of course we'd have to get undressed.  We usually do . . ."
     But by that time she was going out the door.
     "Don't worry, I'll suck you off the next time." 
     It was the unself-conscious way she usually talked, but the incident came back to me when she didn't show up to meet me at the Coffee Trader where I waited at the bar after weightlifting.  It was a tentative date, but she never cancelled, and I couldn't phone her -- complaining the calls from her friends never stopped, she'd had the telephone disconnected.
     Of course, her friend Keith -- she claimed he had a girlfriend -- had access to her all day, but when I couldn't even get her attention at night I took it as a slap at me.
     Maybe it was a misunderstanding, but I was pissed, and the next time she stopped by for a minute -- rushed again -- and I complained, she saw I had already hung her thin, pink nightgown on a downstairs hook.  Just a tactic.  Display some indifference.
     After some strained chat, she left while I was upstairs in the bathroom and I came down to see that she had taken it with her.  I was too proud to call her, and I didn't see her again until we came face-to-face that summer at a street festival in the Third Ward and she swiftly scurried by, pulling on the hand of Keith from her office.
     It was even more poignant that we had often been in that same neighborhood together; she worked at nearby Johnson Controls and I often drove with her on and off the looming freeway structures.  It was on one such ride that she pointed out an odd little memorial tucked away in what had been the old Italian area.  Some concrete benches and a plaque adorning some bricks.
     "Do you know what that is?"
     "Ah -- The Tomb of the Unknown Freeway Driver?"
     She knew those city blocks, of course, and as she explained, it was actually a tribute to the vanished Little Pink Church -- built as Our Lady of Pompeii -- a community icon from before the day Festa Italiana shifted to the Summerfest Grounds on the lake.  But the canyoned streets still served for jazz and neighborhood celebrations, and a glimpse of the shrine further reminded me of when we had roamed there together and once explored San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter.  But she was gone and off to a distant block and on her way to spreading her comforting thighs with their little nest between for someone else.  Keith, of course.
Little Pink Church     So for me it was back to the bars -- Jammer's was closest to home and my last stop after some late-night jazz.  Though a few years before, when it opened as the The Original Lie to Me Lounge, the new owner/bartenders brought a female following from their time at Hooligan's and The Tuxedo, that coterie had dissipated and I had gotten old enough to be ignored by the new, younger women -- though some would start a conversation out of what I figured was Table At Jammer'sboredom, or perhaps I just looked friendly but non-threatening.  I was fairly reticent -- better that than over-eager, I thought -- and demonstrated it to myself when I found I didn't have the nerve to follow through on my resolve to tell the next young thing who was taken by my now mostly-silver hair and wanted to touch it that it would be okay as long as I could feel her tits.
     So there was no groping on my part, though a few times I felt like a dog being petted.  For the most part I had either connected with anyone I was going to -- once for some pot-smoking at the bar and a little kissing, a walk to her nearby apartment only to be left at the door with a cool dismissal -- or a brief hookup that ran its course when I had sober second thoughts about the eager, recently-separated lawyer and mother who turned out to be rather unappetizing in full daylight.  And she had to periodically meet on the premises with her husband -- another regular -- to effect the exchange of their tot, underscoring my alienation from the whole domestic scene.
     One large, blonde woman named Sandra left me with a scrap of paper with her number scrawled on it at the tavern, promptly lost in the breast pocket of a sport coat, that I didn't find until I gave up looking for her at the bars and just as randomly ran into her again during a closing jazz set at The Estate -- no coat in the middle of winter and too drunk to drive her Taurus home.  As she told me, she had drunk a quart of vodka, typical for her in those late stages.  So it was no surprise when she woke up next to me in the morning and used my phone to check herself back into rehab.  Drunk as she was -- and she knocked over and caused the arid death in a swath of dirt of a large palm tree planted in a wicker basket in my front room -- she kept drawing back from planting her mouth around my cock after making definite moves in that direction when she had me on my naked back.
     Some form of latent caution, but entirely too ungracious for someone I had saved from freezing in her car or smashing it up, I thought.  But I had to settle for her sprawled, lethargic fucking.  And of course I never saw her again.
     It rounded out my connection with my beginnings as a hippie reporter when a former girlfriend of Rennie Gaulke, the last Kaleidoscope editor -- someone I had watched from the office window on Brady Street, combing out luxurious black hair in the sun outside her apartment above the liquor store -- started coming around Jammer's.  Though I had admired her from that distance and had appreciated her spirit when she backed down a cop who wanted to go up to search her rooms for that same guy whom she was indeed hiding after the trashing of Brady Street following the height of the Water Tower Park protest, I was less enthralled to meet her up close.
     Though Bernie certainly had a cascade of black hair, I wasn't as captivated by her angular, Irish face and freckles as I had idealized it from across the street.  Her chatter could be annoying, even if I usually looked for a woman who was knowledgeable and could argue her opinions.  Maybe I was ultimately self-centered -- a woman who could raise a lot of topics really gave me openings to respond with what I thought I did best.  I could hold forth with my own observations about things and work in my varied experiences and not so incidentally show that I wasn't just a manual laborer.
     But though she could follow my references and seemed to live with real understanding of arts and politics -- important in my life -- she could be a little unsettling when she referred to her full sex life.  Open-minded as I felt I was, I thought she showed herself as out of control when it came to light that she had a history of taking guys home from a bar for sex, meeting several strangers who stole from her when she was passed out or even brutally smashed her face after a blowjob.
     It was also a little jarring when she mentioned a sister in Iowa who recently divorced and was starting to date again, who lamented her lack of experience, saying she had only slept with three men: 
     "How many have you had?" Bernie recalled her asking.
     "Oh . . . I don't know -- five-hundred?  A thousand?  I told her," Bernie went on.  I had avoided flirting with her until that point, but she got around to mentioning she had always wondered what it would be like to go to bed with me.
    "Would that be possible?"
     It was a touchy moment, but I diplomatically told her, "I don't do that anymore," referring to our generation's time of fucking indiscriminately -- which I figured she thought I was part of, though in truth I had always been looking for a girlfriend and never had a one-night stand.  I came close once with a two-date bout of mechanical sex with someone I was reluctant to admit was a dog, who left me cold about running up the score.
     But she had sensed I was uncomfortable and came up to me at O'Reilly's where I was drinking aloofly and leaned in, her hand on my arm:
     "Don't worry about a thing."  Then walked away, in control.
     But Bernie was nice enough, if not very appealing to me, and I had gone a long time without getting laid.  She proved to have long, low-slung tits with rather small, reddish-brown nipples that didn't seem very erotic.  Since I was absolved from showing showing any true affection I could observe with detachment as she briefly sucked my cock.
     "I always wanted to do that."  Looking up.  We moved on to my perfunctory performance that quickly found her clutching my forearms with a slight spasm, and she became the only woman I had ever known to apologize for coming too quickly.
      It was flattering enough, though I couldn't take it that personally, and my alienation when she came back from the bathroom was increased with her enigmatic remark:
      "I guess I was trying to make a statement or something.  Anyway, you'll find it."
     Sure enough, on the low shelf behind the bathtub was a rolled-up dollar bill distinctly tinged with pink.  Still with the curled shape of its insertion.  More of a jolt than encountering a friend of Wade's girlfriend -- having recently joined us at Marino's Tavern near the docks for lunch -- on the bus for my ride home, wearing jean shorts cut so raggedly brief that a string from her tampon hung out below the V of her denimed crotch.  This after Wade's girlfriend Marcy had whispered in his ear at the table and he looked up at her with a confident smirk and told her:
     "That's all right, I'll eat you anyway."  Leaving no doubt that she had informed him of her imminent period.
     "I didn't mean that," she was quick to make clear, blushing.
     So sex was all around me but still elusive on a sustainable level -- I couldn't bring myself to rely on Bernie, though it was inevitable that I would work on the docks with East Side guys like Big Hippie and Wade who were members of what we came to call Bernie's 500 Club  -- and I was drinking far too much on my quest every weekend that sometimes started on Thursday and continued through Sunday.
    Though I had written sporadically over the years for the alternative press and as a stringer for suburban papers like the various Post publications -- until the Journal put them all out of business with its own suburban editions -- it had been when I was deeply domestic or at least with a dependable girlfriend and source of sex.  I couldn't face sitting alone at my Smith-Corona portable from my college days and trying to type on the inevitably curled and neglected pages when the docks were slow and Manpower had nothing for me.
     Instead I could be out at the bars trying to get laid, or at least talking to someone, and as I ruefully noted at the end of long stretches of stumbling home on weekends, somehow precisely realizing it was the moment to leave just before I might fall asleep in the bar or sometimes in the car, the aloneness didn't matter nearly as much any more.  And I did often wake up in front of my house in my car some hours closer to dawn.
     Depending on a partner for stability and if not for inspiration at least the equanimity to allow my submerged enthusiasm to take over wasn't unrealistic, I thought.  Anti-social painters who escaped to the South Seas had their cocoa-skinned mistresses in the background for comfort, not stimulating conversation, and James Joyce's Nora prompted his letters about her stained panties and redolent farts, not intellectual collaboration.
     This can't last forever, I always told myself, and it would be the most efficient thing to spend methodical blocks of time searching and forget about writing until I had someone there to crawl into bed with after those long sessions draining beer cans and hoping I could stay sentient enough to write coherently -- but the verbal skills were the last to succumb to alcohol, after all, as I and any number of literary drunks had proved.
     Still, my forays into the night life could pay off, at least temporarily, though the Greek woman in the black leather jacket, whose parents owned a popular East Side restaurant intrigued me for about as long into our first date as it took for her to spot her coke supplier at Jerry's Hideout.  I had the chance to go in with her and share her buy, but I declined not on moral grounds but simply because I thought it really sad to have to do some lines simply to get through a first evening together.  Sharing something to make an entertaining or sensual time even more pleasurable after they had become routine would have been different.
     So I watched stoically as she left me at the bar and walked away.
     It went on that way, with the only really exciting encounter beginning at an early Sunday evening poetry reading at Woodland Pattern bookstore.  Evelyn -- who turned out to be married, for 25 years -- was there with a married girlfriend, also from Fox Point.
     The reading had been combined with another event just finishing, a piano performance marathon where the musician ended with a flourish and a crashing chord -- as well he might -- after a record-setting 24 hours.  I took the momentary silence before the applause as an opportunity to call out -- not too obnoxiously, I hoped:
     "One more time!"
     I did get a few smiles, and the heads of the two women were among those who turned, getting their attention as I had hoped.
     Sitting behind them in the array of folding chairs, I quickly made sure to start chatting when we stood up, wondering aloud about the possibility of some of the poets or audience getting together at a nearby bar.  Turned out the pair was heading to Kalt's for drinks, and it seemed only natural that I should join them there.
     Soon sitting cozily at the table, leaning forward over the red-checkered cloth, we were surrounded by the signed caricatures of an army of superseded celebrities who had performed at the Fred Miller Theater next door. I remembered my mother had taken me there years ago to see Eddie Bracken in Tunnel of Love, and I had even brought Mary to a performance of Othello.
     Already electric with anticipation and alcohol, we learned a little about each other -- and with her encouragement I gave her my phone number to write down before she left.  I didn't know whether to expect anything -- and she had quickly thrown the slip of paper away, she said, but by that time she had memorized the number anyway -- so when she called one morning close to noon when I was still in bed I was pleased as I reassured her with some banalities about wanting to get to know her better.
      True enough, though I didn't mention I hoped to be fucking her soon.  So we planned our first date.
     It was one of the few times she could get away from her husband at night, and it happened to be perfect for me since it was the union Christmas party.  The giddiness was something I had forgotten I could feel as we danced and I sweated in my heavy sports coat and we kissed when we could until we left early enough on the bitter cold night to wind up in my bedroom.
     My head aswirl in a faint cloud of her Houbigant scent, I had her skirt up and her grabbable ass still in her satiny panties in both my hands:  "Do you want to make love to me?"
     How quaint, I thought.  "That's the idea."
     "Fuck my brains out."
     After that we settled into a routine where she got up early every Tuesday morning in Fox Point and did the family laundry before driving south to walk up the stairs to my bedroom door around noon.  Apparently she found the place amazingly clean compared to the apartment of her previous lover, whose bathtub she had ended up scrubbing out of some sense of domestic duty.
     "When I saw yours I knew I could eat out of it."
     Though she had short hair, dyed auburn, in the daylight of the room even with drawn shades she proved to be a natural blonde -- especially apparent with her quaint (or queynt, as Chaucer would have it to my English major's eye) habit of lying back to watch me delicately find the lips and insert the plunger of gel to squirt up to her diaphragm as she insisted.  The whole works was stored in my nightstand between visits.  This was in contrast with the arrangement with her only previous lover who, she said, "Never came inside me."
     It was always intense, though rushed.  Sex before I got up to wash quickly, and out to eat lunch at one of the East Side bars, like the Five & Dime, though preferably one with an obscure corner or back room to relax and drink in until it was time to take her back to her car so she could get home before her husband.
     During our conversations I eventually figured out that since she got married at 17 that her one previous fling had been with the same  convivial Irish lawyer who made the rounds of East Side bars like Jammer's, where he seemed to know everybody and bought us all drinks before moving on.  In preparation for leaving her husband she had studied technical writing, and told him she would use the money she would soon be earning to help pay for the new Toyota she bought as her reward for graduating.  But before that she had relied on the jolly but slovenly lawyer to drop her off a block from her house, often with minutes to spare.
     "I think I wanted to get caught," she mused as we downed a pitcher of beer at Jacqueline's on Humboldt Avenue.  And the affair did seem to spice up a marriage that needed it, at least for her, just as she seemed to take a suppressed pleasure as she informed me deadpan how she had to perform her wifely duties on the infrequent special occasions when her husband thought it was appropriate.
     Somehow these sly "confessions" didn't bother me, since I had never met the man and he was just an abstraction to me.  I couldn't picture his rutting and her acquiescence -- if that's what it was -- though I wouldn't for a minute put up with her choosing now to see anybody else but me.
     We never ran out of things to talk about at these too-brief sessions, with her possible new profession fitting in with my own interests -- she even loaned me her copy of the Chicago Manual of Style, which impelled me to buy my own.  But she fretted over her coming 25th anniversary, and I told her that if she were going to end the marriage to do it soon and not wait until the celebration was upon her or possibly over.
    If she split now, I said, he would naturally be hurt, but wait too long and he would be devastated, dwelling on the cruelty of her abandoning him on the eve of their milestone, or even worse creating the grounds for him to obsess over reaching 25 years and then having it all shatter.  She also griped about having to give up her new car -- she hadn't found a job yet, and had even decided she hated technical writing -- though at least I could give her a place to stay.
      I could imagine us living together -- after all, her kids were grown -- and we both floated in a warm haze when we were together.  It endeared her to me even more, if for a moment, when like Karen she called my cock huge the first time she had it in her hand.  Just her inexperience, I thought again, but what did it matter?
     For the first time since Karen left me and I would wonder if I wanted her back over whomever I was seeing, the answer was probably not -- only her age, though she was certainly more chic and finely featured, made Evelyn someone I would wonder about for the long run.  Several times in certain kinds of tavern lighting or bright sunlight I had noticed the slackening around her neck, the beginning of an old-lady jawline.
     But her tits were still high and full, and when she was on her back naked and ready to be fucked she would whip her arm around and raise her hips to grab a pillow to slip under her ass -- a gesture made instinctive by her married life, I figured -- making her seem even more receptive and eager for me.  A flattery that was hard to overlook.
     And so our afternoon trysts continued until my winter layoff when I made arrangements to take the train to San Diego, my first time there without Karen.  I never could have faced being alone there under the immensity of the western sky, walking along the ocean or sitting on the heights of Sunset Cliffs above the tidal pool at night, the lights of the city behind me, without the thought of a woman in my life to anchor me to home.  And to sex.
      So after an earlier than usual reprise of our traditional coupling she drove me to the Amtrak Station in the morning, with the understanding that she would be there in two weeks to pick me up with my baggage.  I proceeded to drink in the club car and then at my seat for 12 hours, watching the scenery flow, then slept there for another 12, rousing only when it was time to eat the noon meal in the dining car.
     The conductor made a point of seating singles together, but I had only one desultory conversation with a fairly attractive woman who at any rate was destined to get off halfway to California, leaving me pensive.
     Another 12 hours of drinking -- a guy who got off in Iowa and myself finished off the supply of tiny bottles of bourbon and almost all the brandy -- and I woke up in Los Angeles with just enough time to bathe out of the men's room sink and wash and blow-dry my hair.
     The San Diego bars in Point Loma where my motel was seemed freshly exotic -- though I looked out-of-place to the natives with all my walking -- and I found some satisfying jazz spots.  Still, I couldn't connect with any local women in the taverns and barely got into a conversation with the only female working out where I was lifting weights at the field house in nearby Robb Field.
     This was especially disheartening since on my first trip with Karen I could look through the slats of the tall fence abutting the cottage and gaze on the oiled, topless form of the woman sunbathing in a lawn chair, legs spread, next door -- though of course I had Karen with me ready to whip off her clothes at any sign of horniness to show her round little tits and ample hips and thighs that otherwise ensured she would never be caught outside in shorts.  So I wrongly assumed that -- unless you were extremely unattractive -- life would always provide a possible target for lust.
     Inevitably I soon had Evelyn on my mind, and her morning phone calls at home when I was still sleeping.  Far more salacious than I would ever have been:
     "I was just thinking about your hot come in my mouth . . . Do you want to come in my mouth?  Yeah?  Do you want to come in my cunt?"  But then, she had been conventional for so many years.
     I was far from Old Town San Diego magazine stands or adult bookstores, but I found a place with a supply of postcards one night, and bought a few with arty leaping nudes captured rather discretely in color photos in Mission Beach scenes.  They would have to do as I jacked off before bed most nights, promising myself that I would still be plenty horny for her by the time I got back.
     It was a huge letdown then, when I arrived at night at the Amtrak Station and its lonely expanse of empty tracks after surviving the 48 hours on peanut butter and crackers bought with part of my last $20, to find I was alone with my bulky bags and only the bus for a ride home.  Fortunately I'd had my leather-covered flask of bourbon along for the journey.
     At least the docks and bodybuilding had left me strong enough to cope with the mountain of luggage I had thought necessary for the trip.
     The next morning was worse when she called to tell me she couldn't have picked me up because she had hurt her knee exercising in her living room -- but that anyway with the wedding anniversary nearly upon them she had decided to stay in the marriage.
     "How could I deny him that?"
     So it ended, with the final insensitivity happening when she pulled up outside my house -- and I crazily imagined she might want to come in, for a farewell fucking at least -- but instead I had to retrieve her birth control gear from my bedroom and bring it out to her.  It only compounded my pain -- after momentary elation -- when after several months she came over with the news that when she had a surgical procedure for some minor female condition that the doctor offered to throw in a tube-tying.  She hadn't told her husband, since their sex was so rare he would find it suspicious, and she had to continue using the diaphragm -- so I was the logical person to break in her new playpen and report on its pleasurability.
     ". . . But we have to make it fast."
     That I could do, and I was upstairs and out of my jeans in a flash as she undressed, ass and belly revealed quickly, and went on to pronounce everything wonderful after the humping I nevertheless prolonged as much as I could.  But enjoyable as she said it was, it proved to be our last time, and she showed no inclination to get a job and a divorce.
     For the most part that meant more weekend nights drinking at jazz bars or neighborhood spots, ending at Jammer's, though the pattern of afternoon delight was recreated for a while when I met a nurse, Trudy, who worked third shift.  She was a neighbor of my friend Wade from the docks, and we went from being introduced in his hallway to meeting for drinks when she got off work about noon to her visiting my bedroom like Evelyn.
     I could sleep as late as possible, especially since I didn't have a date for the evenings, but grew disheartened again when it turned out she generally worked long hours to save money for her periodic vacation trips around the country.  She had been indulging herself for years with these long absences from work, something she could do as a private duty nurse, and, though it pained me, continued planning these stretches.
     She would stay away long enough to have to give up her apartment, and though she was affectionate and receptive enough to sex -- she was a grandmother, after all, and showed a definite careworn hardness, accentuated by continuous smoking -- she didn't seem to need it, and I would lose track of her until she would hit town again and call me.  She would be at the bar and made sure I had her new address and number, until one time when I was tending bar myself and we made a date to meet there when I got off -- I planned on a few pitchers of beer and some battered and deep-fried eggplant with marinara for starters -- and we agreed as a matter of routine that she would call to confirm she could make it.
     But this time as a point of pride I made a resolution not to know her new information -- and when she didn't call and didn't show I figured that showed the depth of her interest and made no effort to see her again.  I thought there were a few supermarket sightings in passing -- a wild mop of curly blonde hair over a face even more lined than I remembered -- but I couldn't be sure.
     I was left wondering, as I often was, about how to get these women to simply say how they felt instead of being mysterious -- after all, communication was supposed to be such a good thing, according to the magazines -- since I might possibly change something about myself or at least have the satisfaction of thinking, that's the way I am, like it or not.  Instead, they were non-committal and distant . . . then gone.
     I had ended up tending bar that late in life -- though I had always been looking for a decent part-time job since longshoring turned out to be so undependable -- by a roundabout path.  Though I took minimum-wage jobs in grimy, deafening binderies, for example, just to make the rent, I had been aware that personable adults could do much better, and in more congenial surroundings in one of the few occupations that almost anyone could learn to do that paid an adult a living wage.
     But I always figured I didn't need to be around alcohol any more than I already was, and that serving drinks would only threaten any stretches of sobriety I could maintain.
      So I took the opposite course.  I had heard that alcoholics, especially those with the time and inclination to hang around their clubs -- there were several in Milwaukee -- could find lots of sex along with their nonalcoholic diversions.  So on a Monday night, after recovering on the usual hungover Sunday, I made it to my first general meeting, at the Alano Club on Prospect Avenue.  As a first-step meeting it was designed to welcome newcomers, and I found I didn't have to say anything beyond introducing myself.
     The coffee bar, with snacks and burgers, was pleasant, and I found that though I had gone the route of going to bars and drinking seltzer, that had proved unnerving and unsustainable, but I could spend hours drinking coffee with others in the same boat.  Often boring and just as much a time waster as the taverns, at least I wasn't sick and debilitated the next morning -- and it was more likely to be a morning rather than late afternoon when I got up, though I still couldn't face staying home to write when I could spend time with a variety of members at the old, white mansion.
     Eventually I could contribute my own story as a First Step participant.  Though some could talk about their stints in rehab, or drunk driving arrests -- even horrific accidents and manslaughter and the few actual murderers who had served their time -- I only had my own low point to recount.  It came in Newfoundland where I had gone with Erich, a friend from the docks who was importing illegal cars with non-approved emission controls from Germany for easy sale here.  I was to be a driver for a Mercedes, as I found when we left Milwaukee in his van -- so quickly when a slow couple of days opened up on the docks that though I didn't get around to filling my flask before we left I promised myself that I would find some bourbon in Canada.  I was thwarted when we found only a beer bar in St. John's, with no takeouts at closing time, and the government liquor stores were closed.
     As the one in the group of four who was used to staying up the latest -- drinking generally being the way I got to sleep -- I volunteered to be the last one to use the motel shower.  Being stark, staring awake I did what I figured I had to do and started drinking from my blue mouthwash bottle as I finished cleaning up.
     Whatever the alcohol content, it eventually did the trick in all its cloying mintiness -- or at least kept me feeling I was dealing with a need until natural tiredness took over.
     These First Step meetings revolved around tales of hitting bottom -- sometimes mockingly called drunkalogues -- and though my story wasn't all that depraved as such anecdotes go, and I knew it, it was at least unusual and seemed to fulfill its purpose.  Even though I protested once, hearing more sordid escapades, that maybe I was out of place there, that "I don't think I'm really that bad."  To be countered by an old-timer in the circle with:  "So, just how bad do you want to be?"
     After a while, spending long hours sitting and snacking on popcorn and chips and drinking soda and listening to the jukebox -- just like a bar -- I took advantage of an opening and became a bartender there myself.  It turned out that organizing my supplies and keeping everything stocked and the working area clean was suited to my propensity for efficiency, and of course made it even easier to socialize with any female -- members or newcomers who were learning to navigate the scene while newly sober.  The little bit of pay that was offered on the flexible schedule during slow stretches on the docks or as a supplement to my Unemployment checks in winter also helped a lot, and I didn't have to resort to manual labor at the temp jobs.
     So I honed all my movements, from making and serving coffee to washing dishes to short-order cooking to closing out the cash register -- generally locking everything down at midnight, or 1 a.m. on weekends.
     After soon meeting several women I believed I was on the right track, and could go home thinking about them and the possibility of sober sex -- but though they were friendly enough and even affectionate, sometimes with spontaneous kisses and hugs, there always seemed to be something holding them back.  Bonnie had a non-alcoholic husband waiting for her at home, and Judy told me flat out she was really drawn to sleazy, low-life types she could feel superior to -- and there was a biker or two in the picture.  Several of the more mature ladies made overtures, but physically they left me cold.
     One divorced newcomer -- a former hippie-type still given to cute headbands and even beads -- was dealing with dependence on painkillers, rather than alcohol, and was charming and good company on a few outings to small theater productions and restaurants afterwards.  But she often disappeared from the club for long stretches with mysterious illnesses or outright relapses -- after one absence she recounted how she had gone to the emergency hospital with a piece of soap inserted in her eye to score pain relief and sedatives.
     I had to eventually write her off as being just too flaky, along with a few others who chastely let me pay for their dinners but otherwise kept me at arm's length.
     While liaisons and the possibilities of sex seemed to swirl around me outside of my participation, I was stuck -- and though the meetings that I used to work through the 12 Steps, at least to a point and with sincerity in the beginning, were supposed to be opportunities to unburden oneself, I couldn't participate honestly.
     Stealing, adultery, lying, losing jobs, crime and of course backsliding -- anyone could and did admit to all of it and find acceptance, and I dredged up my transgressions, mild as they were -- but I could not face the circle and admit my problem was that I was lonely and horny.  Above all, with the right woman I could do without drinking -- but I was there to get laid, or at least find a girlfriend.  Anything else I could cop to, but it seemed horribly embarrassing for me to in effect beg to be loved.  And ineffective.
     The intrigue I wanted was there for others, however, making my isolation seem harder -- even leading to a situation and momentary frisson that had a well-known couple publicly break up and the female half to announce plans to leave town.  Quietly, Gloria approached me on the ornate landing between floors and asked if I wanted to take part in her $20 lottery.  To get a plane ticket and leave Stanley behind she was selling chances for the winner to have sex with her if she could sell tickets to 10 guys she felt she could accept in her bed, at least long enough for the payoff.
     A great plot for a story or movie I could write one day, I thought, though I could never come up with a final twist.
     But unfortunately for even my small erotic hope, they reconciled and she gave my $20 back.
      So after the winter season, including the holiday dances, and some summer cookouts, I found I was still watching everybody drift away from the counter and couches while I closed up to leave alone -- and gravitated again to Jammer's, quickly pounding double shots of peppermint to make up for the lateness of the hour.
     The new routine sufficed for a while, though I was soon back to regular bar drinking on weekends when I was free, but I had learned that I had an affinity for bartending -- though maybe not for coping with drunks -- and my new occupation was launched.
     Methodical as I was, with a respect for going to the sources and learning the right way of things -- something ingrained in me as a reporter -- I took the year-end bonus money we had earned at the docks -- one of the perks, along with a free frozen turkey -- and signed up for bartending school, and soon began as a banquet bartender in several suburbs in turn as I tried to work my way into something closer to the East Side.
     At least with tips and only working the higher-paying weekend gigs, wedding receptions and social functions and such, I was making decent money on an hourly basis.  Just as important, I had no desire to drink while on duty -- generally, especially when it was new to me, we were much too swamped with work for me to think about having a taste myself.  And it would have quickly sapped my energy.  At any rate, drinking on the job wasn't usually tolerated by the caterers, though when it was time to clean up the premises I managed to sneak in a lot with a large vodka and diet Coke or several, kept out of view of the overhead cameras, before heading to my regular late pub stops on the way home.
     Once, early in the evening, the officious, fat owner of the Ramada-Airport had me hand him my glass of diet Coke and sipped it, tasting no alcohol, of course -- and I then pointedly poured the rest in the dump tank before he turned away.
     Word had gotten back to the Club when I first started drinking, and though one could attend meetings no matter how abysmal their behavior -- indeed, that was the point -- the board was not happy with the example of a backsliding coffee server and I was eased from the schedule over time.
     By that time I had reached my own insight into my erratic if sometimes excessive consumption.  Simply put, though the blue Big Book said of the First of the Twelve Steps

          1. We admitted we were powerless
 over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

     I was far from powerless.  I just devoted an extraordinary amount of time and effort to exert that power, and had succeeded with my many rules and habits to maintain an equilibrium for at least a half of a lifetime so far.  No drinking except weekends, or never before workdays, or only on special occasions if I felt in need of slowing down.  Of course it interfered with my job, as the warning signs would have it, but that was why I had the jobs I did -- I might miss work, but the job was still there.  The biggest delusion I avoided was to think I could have a little and then coast, the way the Big Book depicted countless alcoholics who thought they could have just one or two and then feel better.  Coasting.  Call it binge drinking, but I knew from the moment I took the first drink I wouldn't stop until I was asleep -- passed out, perhaps, but it was generally night and time for bed anyway.
     Resting peacefully as soon as my head hits the floor, I sometimes joked.
     So my life was manageable, though requiring determination.  And it was a point of pride that I never lied about when or how much I was putting away.  And in the long run I felt it wasn't that much, since as a longshoreman who had to show up ready for anything or be scorned by the rest of the gang as a stick, someone an overburdened partner would soon find a way to retaliate against, I had a routine that included regular sessions with weights in the gym and jogging and a yoga workout I alternated to keep in shape as days off allowed.  So it was a balance.
     But as a bartender I soon realized visions of eager women tossing their keys at me over the bar -- or however they would flirt -- were unrealistic, at least at the neighborhood pizza joint where I ended up, though I made sure to work where I could get a free meal and leave not too long after the kitchen closed.
     Approaching 20 years on the docks, I had settled into my routine of joining the regulars at Jammer's after my shifts of pouring drinks and washing glasses, sharing my tales of longshoring and pseudo-hospitality with acquaintances and friends who would listen.  A few of them went back to the old days at various East Side hangouts, even including Barney's.
     I had moved around for a while after becoming single again, ending up in a city high-rise project on the Milwaukee River.  It had age and income requirements but amounted to the best deal around for those who qualified, and I was happy to get the word to my old friend Terry and help him move in as well.
     We had realized a long time ago that our backgrounds included many of the same women -- over many years and affairs -- and we could think back on some good times as we drank at the bar.  In truth, there weren't many salacious details that it occurred to us to share, though we did have some appropriate anecdotes about Music Teacher and her need for masturbation -- it turned out he too found her requests overly demanding -- and the elusive Christy in Waukesha with her perfect pink nipples, and even my long-time roommate Valerie.  A long time back she'd had a crush on him, as recounted to me by her girlfriend Carol Ann at Barney's one night, finding her way into his bed in a surprise late-evening move with her dancer's body and knees flexed to her ears, only to be rejected in time by Terry as too needy.  He confirmed that and a few other participants it turned out we had in common, though unfortunately those days of post-sexual liberation and the Pill, before AIDS, seemed to have vanished.  Along with our youth, not so coincidentally.
     Still, it was a source of surprise to me, at first, if not actually resentment, that the same women found us both attractive -- he was shorter, and more grizzled and lined from a life in the sun sailing boats in Door County and flying his home-made kites -- and a head of hair that started straight and full but ended as a big bald patch when his attempts at curling it to fill in the thinness ultimately failed.
     But I had to admit that in the longer view we were much alike -- unconventional lifestyles and erratic jobs -- he a potter and I a sometimes-writer after our factory stints -- with bearded visages and casual, bohemian appearances.  He was shorter than I, and I suppose women found him cute, but I had to exclaim one time when he came into the Astor coffee shop with pants legs tucked into high, patterned socks:
     "Dances with elves!"
     Of course, adults and philosophers and leaders had always exhorted others to follow their own dreams and live lives of independence, free from others' dictates.  Chart your own course.
     The unspoken text was that this would somehow bring success and achievement as it had to the accomplished exemplars themselves.  That it could mean a life of poverty and little recognition and ultimate alienation from the circles of support we start out with wasn't usually a part of the calculation.  For every long stretch of time when I successfully avoided work or abandoned one agreeable companion for a fresh, complaisant replacement I was stuck in a menial factory job at minimum wage for endless periods, and drinking alone at a bar while eyeing unavailable lovelies.
     But we had decades of history to talk about over beers, and my continuing work as a longshoreman provided some anecdotes, while he could talk of his recent experiences blowing up and selling balloons in the park and at city events.
     I sensed things were winding down for me at the docks when the employers mounted a push to get everyone to sign over their vested pension rights or accumulated credits for a one-time payout that would let them sell their own interests unencumbered to a buyer willing to take over their holdings.
     One night I told about one of the first takers, a long-time hold boss who had gotten his experience in the Korean War as a cargo officer, one of the few white leadmen.  With the buyout available, he was soon to walk off one afternoon, his gloves and a shackle for weight stuffed into his white hardhat, heaved off from the pier where his ship was tied into the slip to sink with a small splash into the choppy water as we cheered.
     Having lived in poverty for so long and with back rent accumulated over the years, and always needing car repairs, I couldn't resist the lure of a few thousand in cash myself, as opposed to a distant pension in which I still didn't have vested rights, and might never.  At 52, bartending would have to do.
     Unlike Mac Leverett's hat, my own simply ended up in my closet as a talisman, alongside my rakishly modified cab driver's cap from my college years.  I did note somewhat ruefully that 21 years of wearing it in the hold and on deck and on the shore that it had left its mark in more than one way.  Not just metaphorically, shaping my life as the emblem of a unique vocation, but physically:  I was accustomed from early on to wearing a bandanna underneath at work, keeping sweat-damp hair from matting further as I just let it dry on breaks rather than trying to comb it out, and of course sopping up the rivulets that tended to roll down my forehead to burn my eyes.
     As it happened, the hardhat had a leatherette band inside that dipped to a point to cover the plastic suspension, and it overlay precisely the triangular fold at the front of my red bandanna to form together a distinct X that over the course of many years left the same permanent indentation on my forehead from the pressure.  Never going away, in the right crosslight a perfect X could always be seen to mark me.  Long after I retired I could muse about the symbolism, of course, of the effects of a way of life chosen early on staying with me forever, but there it was.  Oddly enough, I never pointed out the branding to anybody, and it was never noticed except by me.  But it was visible in any mirror.
     What would Mike Grumley say if he could see me?
     Of course, Terry and I were marked also by the various sexual and romantic escapades of our past, including our more recent tentative and dwindling possibilities, to the point where it amounted to mostly speculation, while the modern age of computers, especially as my new hobby, entered the picture -- with the charms of online pornography becoming ubiquitous.  Now I could have a screen that helped visualize if I wanted a wife that I could watch getting fucked -- even by a dog.
     I admitted to finding it all fascinating, and useful, the most convenient way outside of actual sex to keep desire alive and active.  As I mentioned to Terry, "For one thing, that's how I find out if I'm horny and want to do something about it . . ."
   "I don't do that," he said quickly.  A reflex, it seemed as he then noticed I wasn't disparaging masturbation at all and that my raised eyebrows were actually a comment on his lack of sex drive, if not his honesty.
     "Well, sometimes I do," he continued rather lamely.  But I took him to mean that indeed he had given up on any sex, just as he had actually mentioned that he didn't care if he ever got laid again.  As a grandfather who at least in his own mind had a history of prowess, his ennui was plausible -- and at any rate was his business and not my place to judge.  By most accounts he did have impressive numbers to reflect on, though as I pointed out I was never trying to set records:  I  just wanted to settle down with someone cute, and write.  And if my count of affairs made while I was trying to entice sleep had reached 29 or 39 -- when awake I could never recall, exactly -- he had balled away with a lot more.
     Now I was casually gliding through porn sites at the end of an evening and finding every couple of sessions jiggles and folds of flesh and hard core thrusting and sucking growing more fascinating until it was time to get out the K-Y Warming Liquid and newly sent-for Fleshlight.
     So eroticism wasn't over for me, even with the rise of computing and my own ventures into web publishing.  I now had a website with old mainstream and alternative reportage and fiction and poetry and had started a novel about longshoring's disreputable history called Shenango after an old term for itinerant dockworkers.
     A name that took hold back when the ships were wood and the men were iron, as the saying went.
     My Web presence led to females surfacing electronically, at least -- via the Internet and e-mail -- from my college days and East Side hangouts and underground publishing collectives to raise hopes of an eventual renewed liaison.
     Nothing much panned out, though even Bibiana Garson in Washington State -- long divorced from Gregory -- got my e-mail address after being turned on to my online reminiscences by a daughter that heard of it from childhood peers that remained in the city, and wrote to me.
     Like many respondents to my website, including Gregory Garson and others who were looking to touch upon the past or perhaps had idly checked for references to longshoremen or the underground press, she was one who was initially complimentary about what history I had preserved but at the same time admitted to being overwhelmed by the scope and detail.  Generally they promised to read at more length when they got the chance and comment in detail -- but they seldom followed through.
     It happened a lot in bars that after a conversation about my website with a drinker that seemed earnest enough and interested in my histories that I would give them my business card with URLs so they could check things out -- expecting to get e-mail comments -- but I never did.  Even though readers from around the world -- mostly strangers -- would comment about those same pages.
     Bibi herself eventually likened my efforts to Henry Miller, though "without the sex," as she typed in her e-mail, which I thought was fair enough if she meant only the histories.  Apparently she couldn't give much consideration to the fiction, maybe because I wrote old-fashioned realism.  Then she was silent for a long time until she wrote me about a therapeutic writing class she was taking where she was called upon to write a journal, a sort of recollection of "all the men I have kissed."  She said she seemed to remember that we had flirted but that I had been wary of Gregory -- my English teacher, after all -- finding out.
     "Did we kiss?" she asked.
     With her age and experience the group  project seemed a daunting task, and I marveled in a message that it wasn't at least limited to actual lovers, not just kisses -- of which even I had too many to begin to count.  But I thought to gently remind her of our past -- apparently fading from her mind -- by confirming that we had indeed kissed, though I was concerned about Gregory and my guilty feelings, and directed her to my short stories -- links she might have passed over -- about a Milwaukee youth eventually attending UWM and some tentative oral sex with a seductive teacher there.
     "Anti-climactic," as I pointed out to her, hoping that maybe she would find that long-ago failure to completely charm me -- because of course for a real passion I would have risked the chance of Gregory flunking me, or worse -- had at least been turned into art.  She was a poet, after all.
     It was silence on her end for a long time, until I finally wrote and asked if somehow she had been offended.
     "Didn't you write about my vagina?  I remember that I was horrified."
     I could only remind her that where the Garsons appeared in my writing -- complimentary by anybody's standards -- I had written like a sexless Henry Miller; the rest was fiction and not to be taken as depicting actual participants.
     She grudgingly admitted that was true, but I took the ensuing lack of communication to be a result of her new alienation.  Since I respected her and Gregory above anybody else that I could consider mentors, I was sad but resigned that given their advancing years our cameraderie could never be regained.
     All the more so since they had both suffered for their principles, losing their jobs for a Vietnam War protest at school; if not to the martyr's death once speculated on by Bibi they went far beyond most of their academic peers.
     My own age was becoming more of a factor as time went on, with fewer good conversations with contemporaries or even suitably interesting -- and interested -- bar-going types, male or female.
     Even so, with music supplied by an advanced sound system that had replaced the jukebox, Jammer's could draw me in for long sessions -- though it became more rare as I spent more time at the computer and eventually elected often to stay home even on a weekend night.  I found myself thinking that the taverns could be desolate but that I was ensuring I would have something of importance to offer to someone someday if I finished my various projects while learning some HTML and web design -- drawing on my experience in magazine and newspaper layout.
     So without struggle I was drinking less and less -- it seemed pointless to bother at home -- and wondered why I had ever sought that warm, enveloping muzziness.  My eventual theory was that when I was in relationships or even found regular camaraderie in bars, the occasions when I was forced to forego companionship could be compensated for with an alcohol-induced glow.  Replicating a recent sense of pleasure.
     But faced with a grim loneliness, I had to confront that I had nothing to look forward to, and drinking only enhanced the hollowness around me.  Better to feel healthy and on point and accomplish something in the moment -- especially with the growing challenge of building and mastering computers.
     But then I also remembered Marlene's father who was said by her mother to have been nursed by her through the DTs as an alcoholic working for Bugs Moran in Chicago and going on -- unlikely though it seemed -- to drink again normally and own the family tavern on Milwaukee's North Side.
     And picking up on writing my stories and articles where I left off was so much easier with a keyboard and illuminated screen and instant editing functions.
     Oddly enough, I could feel guilty about not drinking, as if I were admitting my encroaching elderliness by giving up on bars and swinging dick night.  So I found myself drawn back on rare occasions, maybe after a street festival for a nightcap, aiming for several times a year.  Sometimes after a Mexican dinner and some jazz.
     When I did, I could always watch the TV, of course, though the owners favored sports, which usually left me cold, and it took close attention to subtitles to make the occasional desirable movie worth viewing.  Once a commercial for a sleeping aid played, and the announcer advised taking it only if you had seven hours to devote to sleeping.
    "You wish you had seven hours to sleep?" I asked a momentarily still Jamie, pausing in his incessant rounds, sweating even in the cool autumn night, door open, in a loose Hawaiian shirt.
     He nodded ruefully, and I felt prompted to observe:  "Hell, even my naps are longer than that."
     But wait long enough and even a relatively quiet corner bar -- and it was actually on the corner -- like Jammer's could be more than the usual sedate scene.  So it was that my friend Ralph Praefke, who salvaged and sold antiques to earn enough to carry a substantial coke habit, somehow prevailed upon a young blonde he knew to cartwheel topless the length of the bar and back several times.  Unfortunately keeping her shorts on.
     I never asked how it came about, though I suspected the powder he had in abundance played a role.  Just as I was occasionally the recipient of a free thumbnail of the stuff in the men's room.  The same dynamic, with previous owner Jimmy Schreiner himself supplying the fuel, may have led the tall local TV newscaster to dance atop the bar, barely keeping her head from hitting the overhanging ceiling with its recessed lights dimly illuminating the spectacle.
     She kept her top on, so Jimmy didn't feel the need to lock the door, as he sometimes did when things got racy or lines were being done off the bar, but it was an entertaining diversion anyway.
     More rewarding to a guy like myself just sitting and quietly drinking was the occasional flasher, one of several Zonyx Flash At Bar Anim .GIFyoung ladies who had no interest in me but a strong enough need for a refill to lift her sweater at the far end of the bar, around the bend, to get the bartender's attention.
     Once, two of them, as if they had rehearsed it, lifted their tops in unison -- bare tits underneath, of course.  To get a drink or just for fun, I didn't know, but then I was only observing out of the corner of my eye because of their position on bar stools around the curve of the bar.  Fortunately, I had a good reflected view in the front window, obscured darkly by fir trees on the outside but easily returning the sight of the interior.
     Finally, one night that display was topped by a young lady who bantered most of the night with a busy Jamie, calling for another vodka and sweet, who pulled up on her sweater -- but unlike most of them who gave a quick up and down tug and glimpse, this fabric was tight enough and her breasts full enough to make substantial obstacles, until a harder tug set them free to swing, nipples like pink candy bits making small twin bull's-eyes visible even in the low light.  A seemingly long pause before she was covered again, as I watched with apparent equanimity, and it was over.  The last tease for that night, at least until I swallowed the flat remains of my final beer and left.
     My tower for the disabled and elderly -- I was considered near-elderly myself, a category recently added by the city toRiverview Apts. on Milw. River dilute the presence of alcoholic and drug-addicted residents who qualified for government benefits -- loomed in the dark, past the streetlamps and shadowed, silent playground of Pulaski Field abutting the Famous Wolski's famous Wolski's Tavern premises.
     I had lived there long enough to be on good terms with the manager, a stout black woman whom I helped, in the early days of the Internet, with her installation of Windows 95 on her office computer and eventually bookmark a website I found for her:  She said her mother confided that her father had been one of the Inkspots, and I linked her to a fan site, to explore the connection, though I never turned up any evidence myself that any of the various performers were candidates for that role.
     The block-long walk north after a last glance through the plate glass at the female form visible at the end of the bar was slow with exaggerated carefulness as I maneuvered to stay upright, the scene in the tavern staying with me as I thought back to the night at Grumley's where Jenny had gyrated to the music semi-naked in her girdle in the doorway, pink nipples and delightfully wobbly tits, and I had to recognize that the way things were going I would never see again such a show by any girlfriend of mine and that Jenny, all the Jennys, could only be conjured up in my bittersweet remembrance of them.
     I wasn't usually one to torture myself with induced longing or regrets, but if I felt morose at times some music of a bygone period seemed called for, and I had plenty of it on my computer if I didn't have the original record, to be played through the connected hi-def flat screen TV and resonant soundbar as the cathartic, diffuse grief I probably had been seeking came welling up.
     Tuning in a TV program -- probably some affectless overnight newscast with a slickly attractive duo -- seemed Radio Audience at Grandma'stoo flat for my surfacing sense of loss, but I kept everything at bay with a rare visit to some childhood enthusiasms, from afternoons at my Grandma's when we gathered around the floor-model RCA for The Shadow and Gabriel Heatter's news and the Play Inner SanctumInner Sanctum mystery.
     It was the heyday of Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters, of course, but I was captivated by Tex Ritter and Rye WhiskeyPlay Ritter whenever I heard it.
     My usual fare was all-day broadcast jazz in the background -- with some classical music to relax to reading the Sunday paper -- going back at least to local host Play YouTube Selection Icon .JPGRon Cuzner and his encyclopedic knowledge.
     But having gone so far as to play Tex, I indulged my nostalgia by putting on a keepsake from the days my mother would load a stack of 78s while ironing.  She grooved in her private way, reminiscing about who knows what, to Pearl Bailey, and Benny Goodman and Bing, but my favorite was Patricia Norman, who caused a scandal when she  recorded Play Norman & DuchinOl' Man Mose.  As my mom delicately pointed out, she supposedly sang something other than "buck-buck-bucket," though I was only vaguely aware of the nature of the transgression.  Still, I could later appreciate that my mother was straightforward enough about it.
     So it was onto a path of reveling in memories and hurt intertwined, and I allowed myself to indulge.
     I started with the Jefferson Airplane Play Airplane Pillow AlbumSurrealistic Pillow album, one that I had often listened to with Jenny when we were first married.  I followed it with the Fugs -- a wedding Jenny & Don Wedpresent from the Garsons -- especially as I associated her with Play FugsSlum Goddess; switching to Play Mamas & Papas AlbumThe Mamas and The Papas for a cut that reminded me of her and one that I had pointed out I liked for the poetic craftsmanship in the placement of a simple comma: Play Mamas & Papas "trip . . ." Tune"trip, stumble and fall."
     With Don Crawford's Play Crawford's Princess of the NilePrincess of the Nile and Play Crawford's Fear FountainFear Fountain I was into my time with Marlene.  I had met him Don Crawford Album Cutwhen he played at UWM and stayed at the Garsons', fresh from the Tonight Show and touring the country in his big Buick -- mostly obscure venues for the course of his career, unfortunately.
     But Play Crawford's If I Gave You My LoveIf I Gave You My Love always resonated with us for some reason, and I could only follow it with our all-time preferred medieval tapestry, Play Carmina BuranaCarmina Burana.  By then I was swimming in pleasurable pain, and even deeper into drink, releasing tears from caverns within, and I was making selections for their emotional depth.  The Beatles and Stones had been so ubiquitous that their impact at any time was diluted, but I had always been drawn to Play Crawford's If I Gave You My LoveShe's A Rainbow, even more so since I always associated it with the long-gone Cheryl who had once appeared on my doorstep.

          Have you seen her dressed in blue?
          See the sky in front of you
          And her face is like a sail
          Speck of white so fair and pale
          Have you seen the lady fairer?

     After many years I realized I had mis-heard the lady fairer, and it wasn't about the Lady Cheryl at all, or even Carol, but by then the link was ingrained forever.
     Even though in flitting in and out of my life she had seemed to be the one female who was content to just use me for sex and to be on my arm at events, unlike the voracious Jenny who nevertheless was seeking a deep connection with a companion.  So Cheryl could disappear and leave me wondering what I had meant to her, though I felt obligated to take it all on her terms, the terms typical of many a man.
     About all I learned of her was when she came back to Milwaukee for a visit and called me but would only meet me at Barney's with her husband -- a school-based child-psychologist from Nashville -- whom I mentally tagged as an insecure wimp when he hovered in the vicinity even as we briefly danced in the crowded back room.
     But though the past is linear, even with its seeming mechanistic convolutions, memory is free-ranging, hopping between random visions.  So up popped warm thoughts of Karen and her presence in the balmy courtyard autumn night of the Chicago tavern where we ate and  drank, to the sound of Play Willie & RayWillie Nelson, as romantic to our ears as the touch of the soft wind.  Play Willie NelsonAlways on My Mind came up now as the aural talisman of that interlude, as well as for my now alcohol-dampened lust for that chubby but uninhibited body and pussy, so recently virginal.
     Still, I also reminded myself sometimes that though I liked to recount that I had initiated two virgins, for the long run I couldn't see the attraction of marrying one.  I would always be wary that she would wonder what another man would be like -- and without comparison she wouldn't really be able to appreciate whatever I could do well.
     By then I was well into a session made poignant yet sodden as any in those distant college days of musical indulgence, choices surfacing in my mind with the old keening drama.  With saturation my drinking had slowed markedly, though I noted sardonically that my tumbler of bourbon and ice and seltzer -- rimmed and monogrammed in gold -- was a wedding gift, a relic that Jenny, generous Jenny, hadn't taken with her.
     Then it was back to a previous era again, early college days, the time of Jackie Wilson and Jack Scott and the almost Gregorian sound of the Play ShirellesShirelles.  Evoking those hand-jobs from Lorri in the car while Motown and soul mixed indiscriminately on Milwaukee radio with bland teen pop and occasional doo-wop -- the one I still played, along with the Moonglows' Play MoonglowsSee Saw, until the cops broke it searching my car -- being considered the first to actually have doo-wop in the lyrics: the Turbans with Play Turbans When You Dance.
     So with tears forcing their way and then drying and then welling again I could berate myself and in the next minute reflect that no matter whom I had displeased or turned away from, it was only the last alienation that counted -- with anyone going before it had always worked out, and who would I have relegated to the list of mere possibilities?
     Just as Dylan Thomas could stifle his mourning because, "After the first death, there is no other," I could assure myself that until the last death there was no other.
     The intensity of an Evelyn alone, even with grown children and a husband -- my last real consuming passion despite her off-putting, matronly diaphragm -- made the other disruptions worthwhile.  And how could I have known at every step what I would lose and when I would be adrift?
     No, I had made my choices, unconventional as I may have been, with nothing to be done now but seek a kind of solace.  For hurt and yearning I turned to their echoes in the haunting harmonies of Play Master JackMaster Jack and its reminder of the late '60s.
     Unfathomably strange world indeed, as the tune said.  With Valerie already dead at 50, how could I argue with that?  I could envision still the moment when she tried the Cosmo pencil test, to determine if her cute little titties were too small to hold a pencil underneath, and thus not in need of a bra.  She was glad to find the pencil stayed trapped, barely -- but she still went without a bra.  Common in those late '60s, the time we started acquiring albums together.
     I was drawn to one we first heard on the new free-form FM radio, hosted by Kaleidoscope co-founder Zonyx YouTube Selection Icon .JPGBob Reitman.  Pulling it from its milk-crate holder, I mulled over the notion of why some songs were generally to be kept away from if you didn't want to to feel the avoidable pain, even as I went to the one I perversely treasured as the saddest ever recorded: Maffitt & Davies with Play Moffit & DaviesLandscape Grown Cold.
     Sometimes that last drink becomes an imperative even if you fall asleep with it in your hand to slip out of your limp grasp, gold trim and all, and fall to the floor, those pale faces specks of white floating away into the waiting darkness calling you down . . .

                                         THE END

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