|by Mike Zetteler||
Life in the 1960s
Dive deep, leap clear . .
Teach us to care and not to care . . .
[Background Sound Except in IEx Plays Here]
[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.
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 film 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 Marino'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 censorship, sex and the alternative scene since leaving Kaleidoscope -- even his adventures as a cab 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 was 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 session 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 arranged 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 Kenosha, 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?"
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.
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 boredom, 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
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© Copyright 2014 Mike Zetteler
The Renegades Part I
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