|by Mike Zetteler||
Life in the 1960s
Who's that dancing on
the jailhouse roof
Hooligan's on North Avenue was the place to go after night
classes (my favorite kind; I always avoided getting up early
if possible, even
weekends in high school before I
started working second and third shift at the can
company), or at least one possible hangout -- there
was always The Tuxedo, closer to school on
Downer Avenue --
with peanut shells on the floor and the thick glass schooners of
beer, cheap enough for even a student who could round up only a
few bucks to go out.
But the Tux was more popular with the jocks, frat boys and vets, though convenient for faculty, with good pizzaburgers -- Ella the motherly waitress could drowse off standing in the doorway to the kitchen waiting for orders, while we would crowd into booths in the afternoon or wait at the bar for beers served by Art, the world's slowest bartender.
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On a night when I had managed a
cheap outing with Anne-Marie Walders to the Art Center
for Renoir's Golden Coach a bunch of us ended up in the
semi-circle of a large booth behind a littered table facing
the east end of Hooligan's bar -- where she chided me about
some perceived gloominess -- in truth it was over this cute
German immigrant herself who had recently arrived with her
family to the West Side of Milwaukee to commute, as most
students did, to the University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She had let it be known -- was
actually adamant -- that she was a virgin and intended to
remain so, and furthermore wasn't especially romantically
interested in anyone, which, of course, included myself.
COMMUNITY OF SCHOLARS
Of course, it drew on my erotic thoughts of Bibi and the august Gregory, arising in an actual dream. I suppose I thought I could pique Garson a little bit without giving him any real impetus to jealousy. Goodman later combined it with some other censorship cases in an article for Liberation magazine.
But the closest Grumley came to hitting on me -- at least I thought he was -- was in Barney's one crowded night when he peered up from the booth bench at my face, saying, "You have the smoothest forehead of anybody I know."
A little flustered, I could only say thanks -- though I didn't know if there was any truth to it at all, and certainly never cared -- and from then on my forehead became a minor theme whenever we ran into each other.
But A.J., closet case though I'm sure he was -- and the little group of his friends on the magazine that all had their origin in their childhood neighborhood in St. Francis on the far South Side seemed to want to ignore it -- succeeded in staying an enigma. It was only the very first time I met him, when the Cheshire office was still in the basement of Mitchell Hall and he was there at the very start of the semester, just to greet anybody who might wander in, that he seemed a little askew.
After introductions we chatted a little about my chances of writing for them -- rather good, it seemed -- when he leaned back in his wooden chair and dropped his hand to his crotch.
"It's boring down here." Meaning, ostensibly, the basement marble corridor which seen through the open door was indeed deserted. "I think I'll masturbate."
He pretended he was opening his zipper, then stopped. It was, of course, a perfect come-on that could also be taken as just a guy joke if it got the blank response I was showing. Instead of I might as well join you? Or so I figured out years later; at the time I was just puzzled, and silent.
But I became part of the intense but friendly bunch at the magazine, English majors mostly, united by our obvious superiority to the crass journalists on the UWM Post down the hall when we moved across Downer Avenue to the converted apartments above Riegelman's and Green's Bookstore.
Of course, there were a few of us who fell in both camps, like the charmed aspiring poet Allan Jensen, who -- hapless as he was at something ordinary like spelling -- was elevated to Post editorship, and the sleek sorority queen Leslie Strobel, Allan's more competent predecessor there who nevertheless also dabbled in poetry while exuding a fashionably-turned-out quality that brought back my memories of a sensuous, perfumed Mrs. Kalterjahn, Sunday school teacher and youth group leader of my boyhood -- who once, to my shame, caught me smoking on an outing -- and her nyloned legs. Certainly a grown woman I hardly had the nerve to speak to, with a family, but mysterious yet friendly in a black Sunday hat and sleight veil with her sexy lipsticked mouth. Leslie seemed unapproachable in the same way, perhaps explaining why she seemed never to be dating and even virginal -- I wanted to ask her about that but it would have been awkward, since I barely knew her. Occasionally I would give her a ride at night to her home on Marlborough Drive in the northern suburb of Whitefish Bay, once even as we swished cozily enclosed through a misty rain while the radio sounded a muted romantic suggestion of a darkened Italian streetscape from a recent Antonioni movie at the Downer. But I was diffident, and she had always seemed elite, remote -- the moment passed for me, and she was delivered untouched and no doubt oblivious.
Years later, after they moved to New York -- together, though A.J. eventually got engaged to a woman -- I was as saddened as anybody, though not really shocked, when word got back that Grumley had died at 46 of AIDS. One of the first victims in the '80s that we knew back here. By then he had stopped acting but became a successful non-fiction writer who had even promoted one book about finding artifacts from Atlantis in the Caribbean on local TV. He had dated some cute Theater Department actresses during his stay here with A.J. and had published more -- including the novel, Life Drawing -- than I had, so it took that kind of ending for me to stop envying him and his friendship with Manhattan writers like Edmund White, Jean Genet's biographer, who wrote the foreword to his novel, and the other six members of the important gay writers group,The Violet Quill. Even if it was only a little bit of jealousy, and I tried not to . . .
My reverie ends when the blond guy asks, "What time you goin'?" I hear Tony call him Norman.
"Well Baby, what time are them damn races over?" Tony wants to know.
"About 11," Norman says with an unperturbed, level look. He's got power over Tony.
"Well, that's all right."
"And take it easy, huh? They're watching that car, you know, they're watching us."
"They're watching all of us, you don't want to get picked up with no underage tricks in the car."
Tony just smiles and bends and stretches his body in the black knit shirt, elbows to the back, "Oh Baby, I'm so horny today."
Turning back to me where I had been arranging my nickels and dimes in precise patterns in front of me on the smeared bar, fantasizing about Jenny and wondering what really attracts me to this place.
Physically I found the idea of sex with a male repulsive, though I suppose I could admire naked Greek statuary as much as anyone. Even an oiled-up body builder in a magazine had an aesthetic appeal, and they were an incentive for getting pumped up myself -- that's why they posed there, after all, and the gays had their own magazines -- but the closer I looked at a man with all the stubble and pores and flab the queasier I felt at the alien flesh. Hairy nostrils especially repelled me. Hard to comprehend that women could feel as warm and searching to such slabs of grotesquery as men felt for their softness and orifices.
I figured that's why I paid so much attention to my own grooming: I liked to display muscle, but hated being unkempt and coarse like a lot of guys were, thinking it should turn women off -- though my concern was also considered feminine itself by some guys, as I found out.
I didn't even much like a friendly arm around my shoulders, a habit drunks too often had. But still the whole operation and the patrons had a raffish charm.
"Well, Donnie, what are they saying about us on Hopkins Street?"
"Hell, you know." I shrug.
"Whoa -- Up jumped the Devil. It's a queer bar, right?"
I didn't want to use precisely that description, but: "Well sure, that's obvious, man. I don't think they like you."
Noting he had used the phrase again that seemed to be an all-purpose interjection. Eventually I learned it was from a Robert Johnson tune, though I don't know whether he even knew it:
Who's that milling on the courthouse steps
Nailing my face to the hitching fence
Who's that milling on the courthouse steps
Up jumped the Devil and off he crept
Suddenly, though, I feel my head drooping, the warning that I was liable to wake up -- as I sometimes did when I wasn't careful enough -- after falling asleep for a few hours behind the wheel in the car parked right in front of my house. It would happen and I sometimes couldn't make it inside, but I always knew just when I had to get out fast. I never really thought of it as passing out, since it was bedtime anyway.
So I made it to bed then with the shades drawn against the sunlight, thrashing -- at least so I thought -- in the old dream where it seemed I was having a seizure and was falling to the floor, though I would wake up in a sweat in the same supine position.
After that, The Renegades was a place I could go when it was convenient to get closer to home with a little time left for a jolt after driving across town and something was usually still going on. Another late night -- at least for her -- with Anne-Marie seemed right for that, since I was far from the East Side and pissed off enough to slam a few quick shots. Fuck her.
It was off to the bar for some shots and then to bed; fortunately I had no classes the next day, though I would have to make it to my unimpressive but necessary school-year job as a bus boy at the Cudworth Post American Legion Hall. But hangovers never bothered me much as long as I slept through the worst of it. And I always tried to.
There was no late -- early? -- breakfast for me at the Belmont, though Tony as usual offered to buy. As a frugal student, I usually saw no reason not to let him try to impress me with all his cash. That may have been the time I idly asked him just what he did during sex. He thought for a moment, at least about his phrasing, then said simply, "I suck."
My turn to ponder. "What does that do for you?"
Another pause, then, "It lets my eternal soul flow and flow . . ." Rolling his eyes up and looking up at the ceiling in pretend ecstasy.
But that was a rare real conversation, though sometimes a few of them would just drink in the back room after hours and bullshit and I would join in, especially after Tony said I was afraid he would rape me, though I doubted that with his gawky body and spastic movements, tall though he was, that he thought he could.
But I could also put him off just by taking his drinks and staying aloof. Once, even as I couldn't help thinking of the girls that baffled me when they were as unresponsive as I was being now, I just said, "Shit, Tony, what are you talkin' about, you want to blow every cute guy you meet. You don't even know me."
"Whoa -- Up jumped the Devil . . . what do you expect from a queer?"
How could I argue with that?
* * *
At the Cudworth Post the next night I cleared the tables arranged in a large horseshoe, watching when I could the girl in green at one end. Small and perfect features, smiling placidly at the guy next to her who, to my eyes, looked like a crew-cut lecher. I thought of a woodland bird -- I had hunted bobwhite quail as a kid up north near my aunt and uncle's cheese factory in the country -- when she chuckled, nibbling at her prime rib. The high-necked dress had a rich, brocaded front, covering her breasts but sleeveless, leaving her arms exposed. White and fine -- firm, of course, and I muttered to the other bus boy, not an original thought but it leaped to mind: "Man, I'll have her on rye."
It was an office party, and as I handled food scraps presents were passed out by a nondescript but jolly man in a gray suit. Funny presents, they thought, like a bottle of Nair, toilet paper with cute sayings, a shorty nightgown and hot-water bottles.
They were in on it -- apparently it was a wedding event -- and they watched with anticipation as the girl in green extracted her gift from from the square box with shiny red paper and ribbon: a long coarse and greasy salami. She held it up to show around, smiling shyly to the shrieks of the older women and some guffaws from the men as I cleared butter and relish dishes and pictured her white haunches and tight little groove like a clamshell on edge as I hiked her dress and bent her over the table.
When they all left -- some heading to the bar and more brandy old-fashioneds -- I loved her even for her slightly awkward, tipsy balance on small, black shoes walking away.
"Hey," I called to the high school kid, Andy, the other busboy who was dumping ashtrays by her empty place, "Is there a note there for me?"
He imitated a search and held up some wrapping paper and said, "Is your name Handsome? If it is . . ."
Later he wanted to leave early so he could pick up his girlfriend. I felt like saying no, irritated that he had a girlfriend while the girl in green never knew I existed.
"Yeah, I guess so." I knew he was in Young Americans for Freedom, and YAF was a big supporter of Goldwater in the coming election -- something we clashed over -- but he was likeable enough and I didn't want to be a prick.
But as I turned away he stopped me. "Let me ask you something -- those college girls, when you take 'em out and like that, do they expect you to put it to them?"
Anne-Marie came instantly to mind, and my rejection. She was seeing some guy who often picked her up at the drugstore whom she seemed to love to serve until she could leave on his arm, clutching and smiling.
You should be so lucky, I thought, before I admitted it to myself: I hardly know. I couldn't really afford actual first dates, the kind where you asked a relative stranger out to a genuine event, like a concert, and if I didn't necessarily think they all looked down on me because they were from North Shore schools like Nicolet and Shorewood High, that didn't help, either. Besides, few even attracted me, though we could talk about everything from Brakhage to Zelda Fitzgerald at McClellan's restaurant on Downer Avenue.
So I only saw Lorri -- who, with her lower-class proclivities, commanded less and less of my attention despite the lure of handjobs -- and then Jenny, both from the old neighborhood, and just hung around with the Cheshire group and aspiring reporters and philosophers and such who liked to drink cheaply during the school year.
Jenny at least let me get my fingers in her pussy in the car -- startling me the first time I landed on her bare thigh slippery wet under her skirt down to her knee -- and I could hope to guide her towards college where we could be together.
In the summer season I had more cash, though I had to save for tuition and paid room and board until I finally moved out, but I worked nights anyway and had the same old buddies and chick friends from the corner going back to the days of Pompey's Sweet Shoppe and the Savoy Theater on Center Street, next to the library.
Since we went to different schools and generally lived blocks apart, I don't know how we all found each other, but that's the way it was -- a popular playground or a busy intersection with restaurants and drugstores and perhaps a theater could draw a nucleus that perpetuated itself as a group for years.
"Well," I told Andy, "Sometimes. But not really. Not at first, anyway." Hoping I didn't blow the facade of sophisticated college man, but figuring I was right.
Still, knowing I could have those dates if I really had a plan filled me with diffidence, while the girl in green had me seething at her unattainability. An inversion of ambition I lived with, but I was afraid it marked me for failure.
Still, there was a year or so to graduation and I might yet do something worthwhile. A few undergraduate stories and poems hardly made a ripple, and it was more rewarding -- or inevitable -- to sit and drink at Hooligan's anyway.
Stopping there that same night I was glad to see Bibiana. Gregory was probably home with the kids, as we knew he hardly drank; he was more likely to appreciate an ice cream sundae or a big slice of cake. As a minister's son, he had never touched a cigaret, and no one could get him to try grass. But Bibi liked to drink beer and smoke and listen to music and often went out alone.
Definitely on Friday nights at Barney's where we all went as part of our communal ritual. Though Gregory -- a published poet -- wouldn't deign to write for our lowly student magazine, Bibi had started to work on her own style, a very simple, conversational approach, and had submitted work that we were glad to have.
Her eyes did seem to sparkle more when she talked to me, though she appeared to have the look of someone nearsighted who had forgotten the glasses she was used to wearing, indicated by reddish marks on her nose. But I was intrigued when she asked about going together to listen to some jazz groups sometime. Gregory could never get away.
I had begun spending more time at their ramshackle house on Maryland Avenue, drinking beer on the couch at parties or with visitors who always seemed to drop in, talking or listening to albums I had never heard, like Kenneth Rexroth reading Thou Shall Not Kill (A Memorial for Dylan Thomas) from his and Lawrence Ferlinghetti's 1957 poetry album:
. . . .You,
. . . . . . .He
. . .
. . . .He
Thomas had died not too long before of alcohol poisoning from
downing what he claimed was a record of 18 straight shots, in
York on an American tour which included a reading here at
Marquette University. So he had a solid following in
Thomas had died not too long before of alcohol poisoning from downing what he claimed was a record of 18 straight shots, in New York on an American tour which included a reading here at Marquette University. So he had a solid following in Milwaukee.
It was backed by a muted jazz band, beatnik style. And there were records by Tom Lehrer, Nichols & May and guitarist Kenny Burrell, whom they had known when Gregory taught at Wayne State University in Detroit. Michael McClure, Rexroth himself, Gary Snyder, even Allen Ginsberg: Bibi made him scrambled eggs with a ham steak from which an adoring student retrieved the bone to wear on a neck chain. Over time there was no telling who would show up.
It was there Allan and I hatched our plan to drive my white Triumph to New York so he could attend a film festival to scout for local Art Center film circle director Franny Lee -- who had no budget to send a representative but who could get him in -- while I dropped in on Milwaukee boho expatriate painters Peter Sinclair and Mike Grumley in the East Village.
On another night shortly afterward I found myself elaborating to an inquiring McClure about the non-stop 17 hour -- more or less -- trip each way, when we took turns peering with binoculars out the windows of the Spitfire for tracking law-enforcement vehicles while the small sports car topped out in its speed. Not that fast, to be sure -- barely 100 mph -- though certainly enough to get us a big fine, but we made it without incident so I could wander enthralled from Wall Street to the Village living on deli food to go and visiting the renegade friends while Allan took in the screenings.
I was immediately captivated by the 24-hour liveliness and unceasing sounds reaching up to the indoors and brazen pedestrians crossing streaming thoroughfares that only let me drive the Triumph with any ease after midnight down Broadway and even through Central Park, while I could find arty events to explore in the Village Voice for even my paltry finances. I could only hope to make it back someday, even if it meant furnishing a space by dragging up an eight-story walkup the cast-off furniture -- even mattresses -- that magically appeared along the gutters every morning. The shotgun apartments that dwindled like a vanishing perspective in a painting as each room got smaller with distance from the kitchen where the bathtub was covered with a board for a makeshift table and the door was guarded with a police lock like a crowbar based in the floor weren't discouraging, just exotic. Maybe I could relocate -- though I wanted to spend a year each in Madison and Chicago just for the experience -- even if the sight of crowded blocks of parked cars in the canyons each with their antennas snapped off and hoods dented from gangs of kids holding runs from corner to corner on their tops was a bit unsettling.
At the Garsons' soireés the long pleated skirts with the wide plastic belts Bibi often wore were not very flattering when she moved around the room in her big-hipped way, and I thought she could have used more lipstick on the small, pinkish mouth.
But while Gregory was my English professor and more reserved, it was wonderful to sit together in the living room and talk about my classes and gossip about her encounters with students as a new instructor. After a few times I had enough nerve at Hooligan's to say I should take her to a couple of jazz bars I knew.
When things broke up that night some of us lingered outside in the parking lot facing east on the five corners of Farwell, Murray and North Avenues, one block from busy Prospect Avenue and cut off from the view of Rieder's more upscale tavern with its stained glass windows and German hunting lodge theme. The Oriental Drugstore. Frenchy's well-known white tablecloth restaurant a little farther (noted for its wild game, but the regulars knew not to order the elephant: The story was that the French-maidified waitress would make you wait half an hour then return to inform you that Chef says he's sorry, but he can't start a whole elephant for just one person), across from the New York Diner hot dog place and a handful of other bars. Wimpy's Hunt Club. Vitucci's and Monreal's on Murray, with its tiny stage for weekend jazz.
Bibiana suggested tea at her place for the bunch, but I had already developed the habit of never stopping once I started drinking and drew the olive-brown army jacket a little tighter around me as a brisker wind kicked up, though I was glowing somewhere way within and planning to keep it going. Halloween was in the air and things were cooling down.
"Never touch the stuff," I said to the offer. "But I've got beer and wine in the car if you want to go," I said to Anne-Marie. I usually picked up something like Black Cat malt liquor and Mission port wine to get high fast when I got off from the factory to pick up Jenny, and kept the wine in the car trunk for cross-town trips.
Anne-Marie still rode west with me sometimes, as we had planned earlier, though by that time she was dating someone else and I seldom saw her except at Riegelman's in her brown and white checked uniform. The quaint carhop look was cute on her, and I couldn't help tracking her with my eyes as she worked the grill. Wanting to undress her, of course, visualizing short, brownish curls captured by possibly skimpy panties, under the starchy dress.
She said no, she had to get home, but before we got moving Bibi suddenly said, "You know, your sneakers are too white," and I was dodging her foot soles, intent on smudging, on the cold gravel.
Another girl from our table joined in the game as I yelled, "Come on, cut it out, dammit," as I hopped around and they chased me until I cleverly -- I thought -- jumped to the top of a low whitewashed concrete wall. The girl followed, but Bibi could reach my feet from where she stood below and inflicted a scrubbing of feet with a few handfuls of gravel and dirt.
I liked having clean, white shoes, but it was no use.
I was pissed off to see how the dirt on my shoes made a tracing of my toes like crayon on paper over a coin -- or a gravestone rubbing -- until the dance was abruptly over when I stepped on her hand, crushing it on the sharp gravel on the wall. I was walking in the moonlight on black bones and she was wincing in pain, and I felt terrible, but it was an end to the evening.
As usual, Sid McCoy in the car helped float me along in the bittersweet night, after Anne-Marie got out, to get a shot and chaser, this time back at Peanuts Herlitz's, but I could think about drinking alone with Bibi.
When she called my house the next week and said hi she went on quickly: "There's nothing oriental about the Oriental Drugstore -- except maybe the old gentleman at the counter." If she was nervous -- and she hid it pretty well -- I was too, but I said something about the ornate Oriental Theater next door, a landmark that gave the building its name, and then we were setting a time and choosing a place to go.
"I can't very well pick you up in my car," she said at first, but I couldn't picture us in the green Olds with its noisy pipes and conspicuously flapping tattered white ragtop -- too much attention for an unlikely couple, one of them a married teacher, parked on a side street or maybe down at the lake.
Better her stodgy family sedan.
So I asked her why not. A pause, then:
"Well -- all right. Do you want to meet me?"
"Oh, just stop in front at eight o'clock and blow the horn."
I knew I couldn't see the street from inside without going into my parents' bedroom, and of course my mother was sitting right there on the couch.
Hell, this would sure beat staying home with the collected Shakespeare or a psychology textbook and one eye on new host Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, intensifying my reading during commercials.
I could put off working on a paper about the atheism of Measure for Measure, a point I wanted to prove to the English department's Professor Tom Burnham, an Episcopalian from Virginia. That was my usual method -- do library research and find some obscure viewpoint to get fired up about to the point where it was fun to write an argument that the teacher probably wouldn't agree with. Not just counting words on the page but having something to say was half of the effort right away. I had done the same with The Merchant of Venice, using the writing of Jewish author and publisher Harry Golden of the South Carolina Israelite to argue that Shakespeare wasn't anti-Semitic, though Burnham taught the conventional view that on balance he was.
The horn blew when Bibi got there and there was no problem and she slid over to the passenger side and said through the open window, "You drive."
We made our first night together a visit to Les Czimber and his group at the Embers on Capitol Drive. It was cozy, with pianist Czimber -- a Hungarian who had escaped the Russians in the 1956 uprising -- playing straight-ahead jazz, and I told her about his early championing of then-local Al Jarreau.
I drank whiskey and sour, appropriate for that kind of evening, I thought, and it went by quickly -- Gregory was used to her excursions but she didn't want to push things too much -- until I was parking the sedan at the lake front.
It was the usual place for couples to go, with a reasonable amount of privacy if the cops could see clothed torsos through the windows, though it was a good idea to watch for them cruising back and forth on the road. With others positioned up and down the drive we were watching the submarine races, as the local saying went. Or at least waves rolling in.
It was a good strategy to park right under a streetlight so there wasn't as much shining in and the canopy of leafy trees spaced along the curb could spread their shadows, blocking more illumination.
When I could get Lorri LaRue down there with my clean handkerchief ready there was easily enough time for some necking, a hand under her blouse, to get jerked off without any problem. Why she didn't ever feel the urge to put it in her mouth, I didn't know, just as she resisted letting me touch her pussy. I only occasionally even saw it when we stayed naked under the sheets drinking beer most of the night in my married buddy Chuck's bedroom, when they went out for the night.
I was at a loss for conversation for the moment, but the radio was playing -- the usual Top 40 of WOKY -- then the news carried a report of an armed robbery and getaway at a West Side mall. I commented, knowing she was active in civil rights and school de-segregation, that the three suspects were described as white, though I had thought race was usually not mentioned at all unless it involved the feared black males.
"Well, I have heard it before, in Detroit at least," she said as I was thinking I ought to kiss her or something in spite of everything seeming suspended.
But here were thin lips and . . . what? Something missing. Ever since Barbara Firley in grade school I was drawn to a soft baby face, cushiony lips, welling up with a kind of tenderness that came to me from somewhere at the mere sight of the rounded features.
But in the skein of branch shadows on her face through the window she arched her back and made the maneuver I had seldom seen -- and never for me -- that had her hand behind her unfastening her bra then snaking it through one sleeve of her sweater. A little shake of relief and she stuffed it in her purse and stubbed out her cigaret.
For some reason I thought washerwomen's tits as I found one nipple then the other, larger than I was used to and rubbery in my mouth before I nuzzled the side of her neck a little bit under her ear. I liked the tiny pearl earring. "I didn't think they were this big."
"You just never noticed."
I had avoided kissing her, but while I was cupping a large breast and sucking on her nipple I knew what the hand on my groin meant -- or at least it was time to find out how available she intended to be -- and I did the unzipping myself.
Of course, the white Jockey's made it a little awkward until I pulled the waist band down far enough and she manipulated me into the warm and wet mouth that had me slowly growing hard. I wasn't imagining it when she bit me gently, teasing with just her teeth. I was thinking it would be great if Herman's Hermits could come on with I'm Into Something Good -- after all, she was a teacher and it was a classic schoolboy moment to remember -- but I had to settle for Maria Elena, a cool instrumental for romantic driving and parking at night.
Still, after a while with her head down while I watched the drive I didn't feel any impending spurt coming, just a friendly comfort, and she stopped after a few desultory pumps with her hand and sat up.
I stared past her profile out the windshield at stars affixed to the unmoving nightsky over the lake as I wilted.
"You have a nice one," giving it a little waggle for emphasis. I didn't want to argue with that, though I didn't see how I could take any credit, either.
Actually, I would come to identify more with Charles Bukowski, who wrote that his dick was in the normal range but his balls were huge. Too bad you didn't get much credit for that, though I had been amused by the limerick that started, "There was a young man of Assizes . . . ."
She looked straight ahead out of the windshield, where we could see the beach curving north, and ceaseless waves. "Something to look forward to . . ." To me or herself, I didn't know.
Then after a moment she took my hand. "Rub my stomach."
I knew perfectly well what she meant, and half-heartedly put it on her lower belly on the skirt. By then I was unnaturally calm, I thought, indifferent though I had even fingered several of the more willing girls as far back as junior high in the Savoy and the Zenith. We called it sitting together when on Friday or Saturday night a friend, usually a girl, would ask a girl on behalf of a boy who liked her and we would find two seats in an uncrowded row in the theater.
Sometimes the girls would ask; either way the guys might proudly end up with a face full of lipstick, though a hand quickly fondling a covered breast was about as far as it went. But it was possible to get someone with the right reputation, if she liked you enough, in a remote enough spot -- maybe the closed balcony -- and get a hand between her legs, under the panties, and explore. Inevitably, I would get to the point where I felt there was nothing left to discover and I would get up, even though it felt cruel, to go the bathroom or buy candy and just not come back.
If the girls talked about it between themselves I never knew, but the rituals continued and the messages went back and forth until we all started going more and more to social center and parish dances like St. Elizabeth's. Full body contact had its own charm, even with clothes on, and real dating could take over.
Of course, I knew nothing about the clitoris until I discovered a marriage manual in my Aunt Marjorie's bedroom, and even then for years I thought it was pronounced cliTORis.
So none of the balcony girls came, though I'm sure some of them could have guided me to the right little bump even then. But they were as unhelpful as Sandy Agnello had been when I had her leaning against her garage with my middle finger misplaced in what was actually the crease where her thigh met her body -- and she just laughed and pulled away when I caught on after several minutes of triumph.
But it was gratifying in my adolescent mind to slide a finger or two around in the moist, virginal slits that contrasted with what I imagined tonight to be Bibi's tangled, damp mass inches away.
She was about 15 years older, with two kids, and I pictured her husband, my English teacher, who had been plowing there in a gaping void. Not inviting.
It seemed, with my hand still inert, that it was time to leave the shore -- we had to make the trip back to my parents' house on the other side of the city -- and the time together was companionable enough after she finished another annoying cigaret and blew the last of the smoke out the window.
But I was spooked after that, not wanting to disappoint her but feeling no passion. The Garson's house continued to be the place to go -- even more so as it became a center for civil rights activities, and I would drink cans of beer there a lot with the other students they felt were interesting or malleable enough to invite, and I would sit there on the couch, often next to her when the others had left.
Flattered, as always, by her attention and showing her stuff I had written -- though I planned on being a novelist, I thought I wasn't refined enough to write poetry until I began reading hers: everyday observations that she shaped sometimes without formal meter or rhyme schemes. Some of mine were about her, of course, and I even thought I might be going too far in touching on our attraction -- because I certainly felt something -- insinuating a lust that Gregory Garson, when he saw them as part of my creative writing class, wouldn't know we never acted upon. Even though I never used her name:
. . . Summer will bring your protests,
picketers to gather
Around your flaring skirts and high,
Your insights into the structure of
Academic phrasings you can't wholly be
rid of. . . .
Mother of his lovely daughters (as they're
Lover of the workers, working at being a
We breathe heavy new winds
When rain slews sideways on the covered
You accuse me of trying to plan for
While you take advantage
Of marital accidents to plan. . . .
Several times she mailed me on the West Side, once sending me this:
I like your poem fine.
After talking to you on the phone
I looked up a couple of prosy non-
poems to send you
no images no obscurity
I'm sorry you hate my body
please may we talk
And some others I saved, including one about our date at the Embers:
did you look at me
through the crowd
like I thought you did?
when someone said --
when you mentioned, you dear
a place we knew last year?
(that long ago?)
New Year's Eve
I took it like a blessing
the pope grants the faithful
when you lifted my dress an inch
and kissed just above my knee
I remembered we had been sitting on the floor of her living room, her rounded bare knees schoolgirlish and delectable, as we all listened to Eric Burdon & the Animals perform a powerful The House of the Rising Sun, and then an older Aretha Franklin album. Bibi quickly rated Burdon above Mick Jagger, and I couldn't argue with that.
But still, I had already written a poem that gave me a twinge of guilt to publish in our off-campus mag riverrun. Cruel if taken as a literal description, but of course it was a poem with presumably fictional actors:
consider the drooping buttocks.
I had given my aversions some thought and wondered if it wasn't a consequence of an incest avoidance, that guys were programmed to make sure we looked for sex experiments in younger girls outside of maternal possibilities. I know that at a pre-pubescent age -- and I had started jacking off at 11 -- I had squirmed away when either my mother or my aunt had held me to kiss me good night, as usual, and I put a stop to it all from then on.
I later observed families where it seemed as if an adult with nothing to do would grab one of the kids to kiss and hug, and I came to think that if my own relatives had ignored my protests that I was too old I would have accepted it and been better able to express affection outside of sex later on.
But we were never that demonstrative.
Of course, I was seeing Jenny by then, though we only had the same parked-car possibilities for limited sex. My friend Chuck, who had let Lorri and me use his house when he and his wife Donna were away, freaked out when he realized that some of us were visiting her when he was gone.
Only Ray Malina was fucking her, though I had worked on my own plan, even driving her once in my car as I casually rubbed her upper thigh and then her cunt through her slacks.
"Doesn't your hand get tired?" she asked after a while, but she seemed interested, and I hoped she'd soon be leaving Chuck. But I couldn't actually imply too much while they were still together, since I didn't want to be responsible for a breakup.
Or for her baby boy.
When I was confronted by Chuck, some of that came out, and though we had been buddies since high school we went our separate ways and never spoke again.
But at least Jen had grown up without any inhibitions, it seemed, and though she didn't have any experience with blowjobs my cock was getting more attention than it ever had with Lorri, who really only wanted to neck. So I had the excuse of being faithful to my girlfriend. As I told Bibi one night, the two of us alone except for her kids -- one head a foot or so higher up than the other -- peering out from their bedroom doorway just off the kitchen, "It would be like you being a whore."
"Is that what you want -- for me to be your whore?"
"No, no." What could I add? And I don't want to flunk English, either? Meaning Gregory was a friend and teacher that I wouldn't risk alienating except for the kind of all-consuming affair I could only imagine, a Tea and Sympathy tryst.
"Is your sperm so precious?"
And of course I wanted a girlfriend I could count on to be with and have real sex like everybody else.
But not with her; I wanted a cute young thing, sexy but vulnerable at the same time. Even though I once had a crush on a Mrs. Kalterjahn, a powdered and perfumed, impossibly perfect Sunday school teacher with the sleekest nyloned legs, though I didn't have the nerve to even visualize a body under the finery.
It was bad enough that I would question Gregory's aesthetics and ideas more than hers because I felt he should be able to take it; after all, he was more accomplished, more like a father figure that I had to learn from by opposing. Even if he rightly expected more deference. But that was also the price of being my friend rather than just a teacher.
And Jenny was my girlfriend; we didn't see anybody else, though she still had rules about getting home at a certain time. A.J. and Grumley's flat was on Newhall Avenue across from the brushy slope that led down to the Milwaukee River a few blocks west of the campus. They occasionally had beer parties there, though I guessed they were hustling queers to get invited to more elaborate soirees on Lake Drive.
It was typical student decor, with some large paintings of a nude Grumley and some of his own work -- more figure studies -- and there was a barbell leaning against the wall in their living room, giving at least the impression that one or both of them worked out.
I was early enough -- though later than the appointed time -- to find Grumley still strutting around in a white terrycloth bathrobe, seemingly out of the shower moments ago, with an open bedroom door and the brassy blonde actress we knew as Luanne just getting up from the bed in her own blue robe, exposing the side of a breast. As if she were on display.
"I'm not gonna take this off, so forget it," she said, tugging out on the waistband where it stopped below the bared, tremulous breasts.
But she smiled and did her best to swivel and bump and grind with the striptease.
Near the end of the record she pretended to roll down the elastic top, then stopped, smiling as she pulled it up. She imitated the stagy ooh look of a professional stripper. Half-naked, she was as cute as ever, with inky dark eyes -- a little smudged, looking weary for a young girl -- and pouty red lipsticked mouth. Another one with a gap in her front teeth, like the Wife of Bath.
"I bet you'd let Don take them off for you if you were alone," said Kent McKenna, a swishy anthropology major who was one of the original A.J. Brennan gang from high school days in St. Francis. We had published his parody of Ginsberg's Howl in Cheshire, and Goodman had singled out for approval a line in another poem he read at the Garson's: He diddled her middle with a Christian cross. . . .
Such praise irked me a little, I admit, since though he had liked some of my poetry, I had read one aloud that he had judged as displaying my sophomoric illusions.
Titled GETTING TO SLEEP, it was set in the protagonist's bedroom
at five o'clock on a frigid morning
of a below-zero year
has covered the window except for one
patch perhaps the size of his hand
and approximately the shape of a knight's head
and continues through a session of drinking from a wine jug and a pensive, naked dance seen in the mirror and the morning radio stock report evoking memories of watching slaughterhouse sheep shot in the skull with a .22 rifle, until with the dawn
he rolls the bottle under the bed
and easily sleeps till supper time
All right, somewhat bathetic and jejune, I suppose, but as a college student I didn't think I should sound like a middle-aged Jewish man, either, but I let it go.
Jenny, still charged up and slipping on her clingy yellow top with black trim, responded lightly to McKenna:
"I don't know -- he never tried. But we don't really have any place to go."
I was chagrined that she had made it sound as if I weren't really interested in sex, but Allan Jensen later said that hell, we ought to go in together on a cheap rented room. He was seeing a tall Latvian chick named Ieva that lived at home and they didn't want to go into the bushes at the lakefront either. We ought to be able to find something in the converted mansions on Prospect Avenue near the Cudworth Post where we were both busboys.
Later, when we were driving alone, I had to tell her how pissed I was: "Listen, I'm still the man, even if we haven't been to bed. You don't have to go telling everyone about our sex life . . ."
I looked straight ahead with my best stone face, knowing coldness was about the only weapon I had at my disposal, while women always had the power of the sexual gatekeeper if they wanted it. Hell, any reasonably attractive woman could unbutton far enough to show a little cleavage -- or really push them up and out if she were desperate -- and get all the attention she wanted, any night she wanted. But what could a guy do? They already knew we were all horny, and any posturing like unbuttoning a shirt just looked silly.
But as I expected, she was contrite: Though I had been doing some reading and was all for economic and legal equality for women, I hadn't noticed that any of them were looking for somebody they could push around. Far from it. Dump one guy, sure, but then it was to find someone else to take the lead or cater to. And I was older, besides, and had the car. Women who really liked sex didn't use it as a weapon, since they would be depriving themselves, I thought, though it was mostly theoretical until now.
"Okay, okay." She leaned over and kissed me high on my cheek and darted a tongue into my ear.
But oddly enough, I thought, her performance didn't make much of a stir in the long run -- I didn't mention it otherwise on the ride home or after that -- though as the party was winding down after I came back and we were slumping back into the furniture, the light through the wooded river banks starting to stream in, the occasional car drifting down the shaded side street at the start of the new day, things did become more bizarre.
Several of them talked about a French film at the Downer in which a Gestapo colonel tortured a captive with lit cigarets for information. Besides Allan Jensen from Cheshire and Matt, my other good friend was Stan Beckman, from Anne-Marie's neighborhood near Washington Park and an aspiring writer like myself.
He wasn't preppy like Allan -- his father was a mailman -- and covered his severe psoriasis with long-sleeved shirts. But he had dates occasionally, and the one he brought -- the only chick left -- had us listening as she claimed to know that cigaret burns weren't all that painful.
Surprisingly, this one-time farm girl -- Sylvia -- told about a game the guys and girls back home had of holding out their bare arms or legs together and putting a lit cigaret in the channel between them to let it burn out. If you flinched you lost, but for couples it made identical scars as a sign of their connection.
It wasn't long before we had to experiment, of course, and I was overly vicious for some reason in grinding out a butt on my friend Stan's forehead after Sylvia and I held our lower legs together and let a cigaret burn out between our calves. True enough, after the first searing pain the nerves went numb and we lasted through it. Left alone, the cigarets always went out after some excruciating moments from the red-hot glowing tips searing skin and nerves.
Sylvia wouldn't go any farther than taking off her blouse, keeping the satiny white bra -- and Stan did report once at the Tux that she had inverted nipples -- while we put our torsos together and burned a lasting mark for both of us just above the waist, like old fashioned raised white vaccination scars. It was one more for her and the last for me, though I later learned that Stan had come off the worst, with some ash getting into his wound and prominently marking his forehead for years, if not forever.
But the beer had lasted us and we were all pretty numb. Once again without Jenny after the first few hours -- and we had no really good place to go, anyway -- I had hoped to smoke some dope, but Matt Wilensky was the only one who consistently had a supply (Justin Beste, the white-aproned student who watched the alley door for Barney, it turned out, a stop on the pipeline from Chicago by way of Kenosha) and he was working, as usual.
It was the school term for me, but I knew Ray Malina was home from third shift at the can company and I called him to see if I could score. No luck, but though school and my life in the old neighborhood seldom mixed, I invited him over. Bars opened at 6 a.m., but without me to go drinking with, the fall months could be boring. So he came.
I don't know if he was impressed with the flat or my artistic friends -- a shiny metallic African mask, a fabric wall hanging -- as I had intended, but Sylvia with her boobs making little humps over the top of her bra was startling enough.
The blue ceramic chip bowl held just crumbs, and the remaining dip was crusted over, but the refrigerator still had some brown paper bags with partial six-packs in them.
"So where's yours?"
Meaning my date; I had to point out Jenny was still underage and had to leave when her parents wanted her home. He was soon shaking his head over the tale of the cigaret burnings, though as a Chicano it wasn't unusual that he had his own home-made pinprick and ink tattoo on his hand. No formal gang affiliation for him as a pupil at nearby Riverside High, but he had long ago punctured himself with her initials for the love of his long-time girlfriend, Linda.
Even though he cheated on her all the time.
But it was Bibiana who really let us know how stupid and crazy she thought we were. Certainly with so much shit going on with blacks and cops and the school board and especially marches down south and here we were, spoiled and indifferent to doing anything meaningful in our lives.
She may have been right about that, though I didn't see any real room in my life for anything beyond joining an occasional demonstration with the NAACP. The Vietnam war was very remote for most of us, with students getting an automatic deferment from the draft. Only Matt Wilensky made much of a point of criticizing it. I had studying to do, and worked too, after all.
But it led to her high irritation when Goodman -- never as solicitous of her or any female as he was towards the guys who were invited to her gatherings -- contradicted her stance and maintained one night when she told the story that it was sometimes healthy to do something extreme, even painful, to get roused out of apathy. Like pinching or punching yourself or taking a risk for the rush it brought. He was a Gestalt lay analyst, so spoke with some authority, though I rather felt she was right once I looked at my scars soberly.
Goodman confused things further with his assertion -- despite being a community organizer in his New York neighborhood and certainly a sympathizer with the plight of mis-educated young people, especially young Puerto Rican males, that a perfectly valid way of approaching life and its difficulties was as the beast in the jungle. In other words, a rejection of the humanitarianism and sense of justice most of us at least aspired to in favor of raw self-interest. Not something the idealistic Garsons would likely embrace. Or even myself, especially with their example.
Once at Barney's when a little drunk as usual and I suppose with immature insensitivity I even asked Bibi what the Garsons ultimately were doing with their lives. She felt I was demanding she justify her existence, but she thought about it. Finally she said she thought they were having an effect and that she would ideally die a martyr to, you know, some great cause.
Without dope or even enough women to go around, Grumley's party abruptly burned out with the rising sun and I left, taking at least the sight of the half-dressed Jenny home with me to bed. That and the beer dulled any residual burn pain a lot and I could ignore it, though Stan bitched about his branding every once in a while until we graduated and he moved to St. Louis to teach at a troubled boys' academy.
Especially, as he pointed out, since the torture proved nothing about our actual will: "I bet if I put this out in your eyeball you'd fuckin' talk." How could I argue with that?
Grumley, who had his own slight forehead burn rather gingerly administered by Stan, was the first one to be twitted by Bibiana at her own party: "I thought you were different." But though she told me later she thought he looked a little gay she couldn't believe it at first when I told her he and A.J. were hustlers.
"But hustling, I'll never understand it, even though I read City of Night. I get the point they keep their masculinity, and at the same time indulge their need for money and sex. Well, at least they give of themselves . . . no wonder he was almost kissing that guy."
She indicated an older man in a well-cut business suit in close conversation with a red-cheeked, animated Grumley. The sophisticated Charles Brady, of course, no doubt slumming with Grumley and even holding his hand. He did remind me of the Noel Coward I had seen in old footage on TV, a frequent visitor in an earlier era to Lunt and Fontaine at their estate in nearby Genesee Depot, one county away.
With Jenny about to graduate in the spring I could keep her there for a few hours, but I watched Bibi dance with strangers, faculty and activists, grinding close with her hips in some cases, and I had a few twinges. For one thing, it had become clear that Jenny had picked up a lot of experience in a few years with high school guys she was allowed to date and I didn't want her to know how inexperienced I was, if I could help it. I knew Bibi could have changed that, but I always had that self-conscious hesitation, the feeling she was too matronly for us to be simply playful equals and I wouldn't -- couldn't -- respond to her blatant expectations if I tried. A limp dick would devastate me and probably shatter my allure.
Even if, as she said during one long night of drinking beer, "He knows what a whore I am. And I know he's fucking some blonde piano player, a music student."
Things continued at that impasse into the summer after Jenny's graduation, though I let Bibi -- and everybody -- think we were screwing. What with the Garsons' vacations in Michigan and her postcards and then a trip to Europe with their kids, I was seeing less of them and moving on into other classes and dating more. Especially late nights with Jenny after second shift at the factory. By the next year after I had moved to the East Side she had started UWM because of my influence, and of course we finally had a place to go.
A few months before she had helped me move some packed boxes for my parents to their new upper flat in West Milwaukee. We rested on the bare carpet with our greasy cheeseburger wrappings and cans of beer from the bar on the corner and I soon had her dress up and my hand on a sopping cunt that I slid into amazingly easy for my first time, coming quickly.
So I was proud of myself and glad to have the cheap one-room apartment in Aileen's building. I had a small TV, mainly for news since I was usually working nights or out drinking, but I had started out as a journalism major -- switching to English when I decided teaching meant more time for writing and less work than being a full-time reporter -- and always devoured the daily Milwaukee Journal, if not the Hearst Sentinel as well.
Like everyone else, following the murder in Mississippi of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, I was further horrified at the assassination of Viola Liuzzo -- apparently with the acquiescence of the FBI. Learning she was from the Detroit area, where Bibiana and Gregory had come from, further personalized her for us, and I could see Bibi's face -- she was about the same age -- taking the place of Liuzzo's head with its mass of dark hair in the news photo, a victim of some racist machination. I imagined Bibi as being that heroic, given the chance.
I might not want to graze on the thinnish lips, but she was the standard for the strong woman I wanted to meet, someone I could argue with and who could teach me something, with a major I knew nothing about, a painter like Ieva, or musician. Or at least an English major I could talk with. Even Aileen, not a student, had picked up some insights into psychiatry.
But the same paper with the account of Liuzzo's murder carried a local story about an armed robbery of a jewelry store at the posh Mayfair Mall that brought with it a slow realization:
Armed Assault on Police Officers
Wauwatosa Police detectives are investigating an armed assault on three Wauwatosa Police officers that occurred last night. At approximately 11:53 pm, officers responded to Mayfair Mall on Mayfair Road in reference to a reported robbery of a person in progress at LeBoldt & Co. jewelers. When officers arrived on the scene they were confronted by three armed suspects. At least one of the suspects fired at the officers. One officer returned fire, but the suspects fled without being hit by the gunfire.
The suspects fled the scene in a black Lincoln, and a vehicle pursuit began south on 60th St. The suspect exited the vehicle and fled on foot near Fiebrantz Avenue. Officers continued to search for the suspects and two suspects were located on W. Leon Terrace near Fond du Lac Ave., where they were arrested after another exchange of gunfire.
The suspects have been identified as: Anton Stojsarljevic, 38, Deidre Marshall, 30, and Conrad Kuntz, 36, all of Milwaukee. A fourth suspect is believed to be still at large. The suspects in custody have been charged with kidnapping, armed robbery, three counts of assault with a deadly weapon on a law enforcement officer, possession of a firearm by a felon, and numerous traffic charges.
In addition there were outstanding warrants on Stojsarljevic for communicating threats, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, inflicting serious bodily injury, and possession of a firearm by a felon.
It is believed that the suspects were holding a female in the closed store against her will when officers arrived on the scene. The officers were not injured. The investigation is continuing, and Milwaukee police are looking into possible connections with other recent armed robberies on the northwest side, including several holdups of savings and loan associations in the area. Persons with information are asked to contact the Wauwatosa Police Department's Detective Bureau. . . .
Up jumped the Devil, hey Tony? As it dawned on me that it was about Tony S. and three of the tavern crew, I knew I had to check things out.
So I swung over to the West Side after second shift, though I usually stopped every night at Barney's, to see for myself that the bar was dark. It was nice knowing you, I thought. But I was a student, after all, and this was just a small part of my life.
I had messed around with petty crimes myself, just out of high school -- shoplifting, stealing from the back of trucks, breaking into lake cottages -- even going to the edge of armed robbery, though normal caution and an innate sympathy for any victims held me back, until finally the cops confiscated my .25 automatic from my trunk in a routine traffic stop.
I had even gone to the library to read up on police procedure, like Arrest, Search and Seizure, hoping to be a better criminal, and briefly imagined I could take the training to be a cop for its macho rigor. But I learned you needed unrestricted vision to join the force, and I wore glasses. When the recruiters came to UWM the same thing kept me from enlisting in the paratroopers.
But I outgrew the romanticism of wanting to be an outlaw as college life beckoned and I stopped hanging out on the corner and drifted away from the old gang. The new challenges engaged my mind, though my mother couldn't understand how I could sleep late every day and hang out at the Tux and Hooligan's and still do well in class. Disgusted, she eventually stopped making my noonish breakfasts and I usually headed instead for McClellan's on Downer Avenue.
Downtown, weeknights at Barney's brought out only a few patrons -- some art students from the Layton School of Art, a solitary reporter or two, like Ed Blackwell and Mike Kirkhorn, or columnist Jay Scriba who lived nearby with his wife Mona. Maybe a lesser politician or staff member -- but Barney, an old-fashioned saloon keeper and a fan of Edgar Lee Masters' A Spoon River Anthology, was pleasant company, if somewhat puritanical: You would be well. advised not to say fuck in his presence, or, as I learned, quote the lines, "Whose balls were
two different sizes. . . ."
It was fitting that the decor included a few oil paintings in ornate gilt frames that illustrated some passages from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Near the alley door:
And those who husbanded the Golden Grain,
And those who flung it to the Winds like Rain,
Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn'd
As, buried once, Men want dug up again.
Close to the front where one table in the window looked out on Water Street:
Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly -- and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.
[Photo of Original Barney's Painting
from Carol Ann Fryer]
A few hard-boiled eggs from the back bar for me -- they shucked easily, since Barney knew the secret of starting with older, unboiled eggs -- and I lasted until closing, musing about Tony and his gang and wanting to tell somebody.
But even though I thought it should be a solemn occasion, my mind strayed to the hard-boiled eggs as I wondered if anyone else knew my secret of also piercing both ends of the egg with a cake tester to let in the water as it boiled -- I had noticed that eggs that cracked while in the pot seemed to peel easier.
I even played a few tunes on the ancient Wurlitzer Barney kept against one wall, creating a bottleneck about halfway down the narrow bar. He favored Glen Miller and some old operatic singles and moldy figs like those by generally forgotten cornetist Bix Beiderbecke and other jazzmen like Wisconsin's renowned Bunny Berigan. Records were generally ignored on the weekends when conversation -- artists, students, politicos, reporters -- took over, but it amused me to explore something like the now-obscure Frank Crumit, once known for his novelties like
Abdul the Bul-Bul Emir:
The sons of the Prophet
are brave men and bold
How could I argue with that? Clearly she had missed her calling as a hip guidance counselor, though I thought of life as rather exciting, not dreary, at the moment -- the Post had run an article on student sexuality, and Jenny and I read that we were cohabitating when it was almost unheard of among students, which seemed to give us at least a start on the bohemianism Bibi advocated -- but how to live without much effort, or at least on my own schedule?
Artists and craftsmen -- maybe leather workers or jewelry makers -- might be able to swing it, but I was a long way from earning anything by staying home to write novels, which is what I dreamed of doing. I knew a glass-blower named Terry Yelves that hung out at Barney's and went to a studio -- an old barn -- in Door County in the summer where he sold to tourists, and guys who could paint houses, but I was stuck.
Life magazine came out with a photo spread on Beats who were doing what they called going underground, and I told Bibiana that's what I wanted to do, maybe in Chicago, since I couldn't stand the thought of more reading and writing about some obscure writer -- I tentatively chose Edna St. Vincent Millay from the choices -- to construct an acceptable thesis. I had been in school for what seemed like a decade and wanted to work on my own stuff.
She and Gregory Garson thought I would like the Hyde Park area, but the few poems I published locally or regionally meant nothing as far as a career.
Only Robert Bly at The Sixties was moved enough to respond with any personal insight -- and that was to call me a watered-down Bukowski and chide me for not sending him anything that showed I was paying attention to his droll observations. The short stories -- though they went over well-enough on the Cheshire level -- were rejected by the literary magazines where I methodically sent them.
Still, I lucked out when by virtue of still being in grad school I qualified for a work-study program working on the index to a literary encyclopedia Bernard Fleischmann, head of the Comparative Literature Department, was writing. When he went to Europe for the summer they kept sending my checks even though I didn't have to turn in any work and I knew I would drop out in the fall before anyone could call me on it, though it had been up to him to assign the manuscript pages I was to scour for author references.
So I could give up the cab driving and drag home a case of beer every other day or so and type and re-type my stuff and send it out and watch the sun rise over Prospect Avenue and the lake -- the sliver I could catch out of the side window, since we were in the rear of the building -- every day until I crashed.
Old people in their wheelchairs and tied to their beds in the nursing homes on either side of our brick building would moan and curse the attendants, voices carrying through our screen windows, and our older tomcat would leap in through the small panel I left open on the door to the flat roof outside our second-floor apartment most mornings.
Jenny came home in the afternoon to cook and we would sometimes have sex, maybe go to a movie at the Downer Theatre or Downtown to sneak her into the crowded Barney's on Friday nights -- after midnight -- for raw beef sandwiches.
Sometimes she just ended up dozing off there in the car while I drank and socialized inside, even if we couldn't get the few brandy and Cokes that would have been enough for her.
I had been with her one way or another since she was 14, and though I had been getting drunk and jerked off for years on the weekends, I had my uncertainties about dealing with more sex until I experimented by fucking every day for a week or so -- which was fine with her -- until I slacked off, realizing how thoroughly bored I had become. In any event, the real excitement had been gone for a long time.
But I always marveled at her capacity to come almost at will, and in the general sexual ignorance of the time, I speculated that she maintained a natural pathway to vaginal orgasms because she never masturbated. After all, she claimed she never did.
Still, after crawling in beside her more and more often with the sunrise, I began sleeping with her all the time, keeping a worn bedspread on my pallet and using it just for study. I craved some variety, though, speculating about almost every female we socialized with. I could occasionally get her to humor me with a blowjob, but if -- as I often did -- I would half-joke I think I'll come as she leaned over my legs with her bare ass and its dark, swampy cleft in the air and sucked she would pause and say Don't you dare.
One time we were almost done, still early in the evening and with the lights uncharacteristically out, when someone knocked at my door and in the crack underneath it in the lighted hallway were what had to be a pair of men's shoes, creaking with a substantial weight. I figured her parents never really believed she was living with Aileen -- her father had tracked us down once when we were dating to a showing of Elia Kazan's America, America at the Oriental, where she said we would be, expecting to catch her lying.
Of course, like most of us on the left I considered Kazan a snitch for his testimony to HUAC, and On the Waterfront as a self-serving brief for informers, but it was an American film serious enough to see.
Watching the door we stayed as quiet as possible, only her head moving enough for her to finish me off through several more rounds of subdued but determined rapping, and the shoes finally moved away without a word being said.
We never knew who it was for sure, though we figured it was her father, checking on whether she really lived downstairs with Aileen, but of course she was never there.
Unusual events like that could heighten our desire for sex, especially if I hadn't touched her for a while because I couldn't turn it on right away after she had made me mad. Even though she would do what few chores she felt like doing while stripped to the waist.
"Quite looking at my tits," she would say to goad me as she moved around the room, half-heartedly dusting.
And mad I would get, over her housekeeping habits, primarily -- she had sworn up and down that she would faithfully clean out the cat box, but so many times I would find myself unable to tolerate the clumps she blithely overlooked -- smelling the acrid ammonia fumes -- and do it myself.
And she would trail in her wake what seemed like a rain of scarves and jewelry and makeup items and papers and God knows what else, while I would reflexively restore them to where I thought they should go. Not that I couldn't tolerate the growth of dust bunnies or the filmy windows or her dirty ashtrays, but those did take extra work, where she just created disorder when it could as easily have been avoided in the first place.
"Jesus Christ! Would your mother leave the sink like that?" I would say, or bring up whatever the day's irritant was.
"Nevah," was her usual chirping response -- she though it was cute, like a lot of mannerisms that had lost their charm. And of course, we knew her mother, like mine, was a cleaning fanatic.
"You just want me to be Jenny Robot, pick this up, pick that up . . ." She would go into her machine imitation, moving stiffly. Truth be told, she was good about doing laundry -- maybe because she just wanted to get out of the apartment -- always offering to take mine, and making the bed. But it would go right past her whenever I would point out that it was just as easy to keep things neat as she went along. After all, I always did.
Of course, she couldn't be bothered to put anything on the grocery list when she used it up, and it became exclusively my job when we went to the Sentry supermarket on Oakland to make sure we were supplied. Kraft Dinner, the makings of tuna noodle casserole for sure, an occasional steak.
And one time she asked flatly, "Would it make any difference?"
Meaning, since she sensed my growing indifference -- though my sex urges were about as frequent as ever, only with fewer preliminaries as time went by, more of just bending her over the cast-off furniture, Then would you love me more?
Well, though I could be evasive when I had to be, or very legalistic, I always had a hard time lying, and after a long mental review of all the women I had been lusting after, I had to admit that no, it wouldn't.
Hell, if I walked the hall at UWM and saw a woman with a blouse gaping where the buttons were kind of far apart I would change course to follow her for a while for a while if I thought I glimpsed a part of a rounded breast without a bra. And I felt I couldn't blame myself too much for my lack of overall affection, since she never had any trouble coming no matter how perfunctory I was.
Which, though rare, was really how it should be for women as well as men. After all, we didn't demand much and didn't expect to be complemented ourselves on the mere ability to enjoy sex.
It was during that time that she would infrequently wake up while I was still alert myself to start a disjointed conversation. She looked foggy, and I would generally tell her to go back to sleep. Once she peered at me in bemusement: "You have circles in your eyes."
I realized she meant my contact lenses, and since this childishness seemed more than a little odd I probed a little further on a hunch, asking what her name was. It turned out she was Renée. That was actually her middle name, and after that since I knew she was, in effect, sleepwalking, I saw no point in doing anything but gently getting her to lie down again.
And I had recognized her state as closely aligned with an activity I had abandoned a long time ago: hypnosis. Even as a boy I had read about it in one of my Uncle Homer's men's magazines when I visited my cousin, Darlene. He always kept copies of True and Argosy on the coffee table, and though I believed the article mostly fantasy, I was curious enough to check out library books that detailed a history from Mesmer and Charcot through military psychologists who used it to treat what was called shell shock to fairly modern university research.
Having established its legitimacy -- hypnosis was once used in everything from drug-free childbirth to painless dentistry, including the antics induced by stage hypnotists: Cluck like a chicken; Sing a song instead of saying your name if asked your identity -- I knew I had to give it a try.
I became familiar with findings that came from experiments designed to convince skeptics who held that subjects wouldn't act against their own best interests. Never mind that stage hypnotists had been humiliating stolid citizens -- admittedly pre-selected and tested -- in ways no sane person would voluntarily put up with. These professors risked a lot by having their volunteers commit petty crimes, like stealing from purses.
Of course, they were discrediting the notion that subjects were somehow aware there was no real danger in trying to grasp rattlesnakes, since they could see the supposedly invisible glass, or somehow saw through the experimenters who could apparently trick them into attempting dangerous acts, or were merely trying to please by putting on displays of shivering from extreme cold or, the popular classic -- in some circles -- of beating the heat by removing clothing. Probably to take a convenient shower.
The element of trickery was important, since it was recognized that a direct order to do something outrageous could make the victim balk and wake up -- common terminology, though it had been established that the connection with actual sleep was superficial. A person acting under a post-hypnotic suggestion -- a very real event -- gave no evidence of sleeping, and someone handled by a competent practitioner would engage in aware conversation and acts without any sign of a trance except, of course, extreme suggestibility.
So I made my first move -- really not expecting it to work -- with my younger cousin, Georgie, in a dim bedroom at my house. Conclusions about who made a good subject were controversial, but young boys and adolescent girls were generally considered good candidates. And sleepwalkers.
But certainly not, despite common beliefs, unintelligent or weak-minded persons, whatever that might mean. It took a certain amount of intelligence, after all, to follow directions and keep one's mind clear of distracting thoughts.
But I was certainly astonished to have a 10-year-old in my dim bedroom start responding rather vacantly to my conversational questions, and following the few commands I could improvise to test him, being unprepared for success. Inducing him to give silly answers to my queries about his name and age, for example. But I didn't want to risk jolting him into self-consciousness with something too vigorous, since I had used the common sleep-inducing technique -- though without the clichéd dangling pocket watch found only in bad movies -- and wasn't sure if I could convert him to a more wakeful state. Even if experts did it all the time.
But from that time -- after some serious follow-up reading -- I had an activity, if not quite a full-fledged act, to beguile friends at gatherings when no parents were around. In addition to our clandestine beer-drinking.
Of course, with friends -- and especially boyfriends -- watching, I couldn't go too far in the way of having the girls take off even their tops by making them think it was getting hot or they were alone and getting ready for bed, though I figured I could. But I could make people seem to disappear and at least stretch the guys between two chairs, supported only by heads and heels. With these kinds of results I knew I could, in effect, create future unwitting participants with post-hypnotic suggestions that could be activated by phone or even letters.
Such commands had to be reinforced over time, of course, if not actually activated, but they could persist for quite a while, as in the little-shown but
horrifically accurate 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate, with Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra and an incestuous mother, Angela Lansbury. There, an innocuous Queen of Hearts was the trigger.
I also knew that major law-enforcement agencies were well aware of illicit uses of hypnosis, but I believed I could at least be smart enough to exert some powers without attracting attention. For one thing, subjects in a post-hypnotic trance were very clever at manufacturing rationalizations for the most outlandish behavior, so stealing for me or sexual acts might well be possible.
I could easily leave such an instruction in place, and no one observing would even notice. After all, I used post-hypnotic suggestions at my sessions already just to make it easy to put my participants back under with the snap of a finger -- and it was true that my favorite and most susceptible reactors were some of the chicks that always hung around with the group.
An enjoyment in dominating otherwise frustratingly sexually aloof females, I imagine, that made me especially patient in demonstrating my prowess, though the guys were always there to look ridiculous if I wanted to use them.
Still, I was scrupulous about removing all such future possible influences from everyone's minds before the party was over, though of course the care I gave to having them remember the experience as enjoyable and deeply restful ensured a repeating supply of subjects.
The sleep-inducing technique came about -- and was successful -- because, though young myself, I had a rather deep and, when I wanted it to be, soothing, some might say boring, monotonous voice. Not like the stage hypnotists who worked with a loud, overpowering tone under bright lights and noisy conditions.
But even I later employed a method myself closer to theirs of tricking persons to go under, not against their will -- which was considered impossible, in the absence of an already-implanted suggestion -- but surely without their consent, in the guise of what was purported to be only a test of their ability to comply with a practitioner's directions. This involved some forceful, rapid talking and instructions to willingly close eyes and blank out and just listen to commands that had you imagining falling backwards and trusting the circle of onlookers to catch you, and eventually being unable to articulate your correct name. My buddies thought it was fun to supply newcomers whom I could put under this way.
So did I, at first. But I became increasingly uneasy at whatever power I could wield, and soon eliminated most of the potentially humiliating aspects, and never called upon any of the girls for any nudity or anything sexual, even covertly. Tempting though it might have been to have a sex slave, the idea of someone following my wishes not of their free will repelled me, and seemed to make for a barren, cold relationship that could ultimately leave me alienated even from the world itself. Strong, perhaps, but the idea was chilling.
And so were certain consequences of a trance:
Subjects were unpredictable, and could be unnerving. They were usually very literal in their interpretations, but with variable results. You could tell someone that when she woke up so-and-so would not be there. Sometimes I would say you won't see him. Sure enough, she would usually ignore anything the other party said and did, even making excuses for his non-appearance, but sometimes she would hear the disembodied voice, which could freak anyone out.
Just because I said you won't see him.
And it always nagged at me that no one ever came up with the definitive explanation of what hypnosis actually is, though theories abound. From Freudian childish regression to simply succumbing to a barrage on the senses to the apparent disassociation that accompanies sleep and its dreams. And indeed, one could talk to a sleepwalker and lead her to a demonstrably hypnotic performance.
But the mystery -- and ultimate neglect -- no doubt stemmed from our ignorance of even the normal functioning of the brain while we had a growing ability to predictably control it through drugs and simple duress, even as we more surely dealt with disease.
You could add to this the simple ineptness of many a would-be hypnotherapist, said to have been the reason Freud himself gave up on it.
So by the time of Jenny's displays I had lost interest in undue influence over anybody, feeling it an alienating experience. Even though I had in our early days found Jenny to be an easily and deeply manipulated target. And the idea of a woman subject to my sexual whims on demand had become more creepy than anything else. Especially since I could get anything I wanted, sexual or otherwise, through conventional means. At least from Jen. If I had a failing in her eyes, it was that I didn't want enough from her, that she was no longer that significant to me.
After several sleep-talking episodes that I told her about -- she had no memory of them -- she pondered about it for a while and decided the fugues surfaced because of a deep conflict: "You know I told you I never masturbated -- I think I wanted a way to tell you I lied . . . it was really a lot . . ."
Of course, it didn't really matter, and this general indifference of mine meant it was inevitable that she should move out to Allan and Ieva's on Cass Street. They had gotten married with a baby on the way and they had a room for Jenny in exchange for some babysitting. I had ignored her more and more, not wanting to make her feel dumb, but she was very defensive.
I pointed out that I knew very little compared to the Garsons, but I didn't resent them -- just the opposite -- for what I could learn from them. I remembered an evening when Gregory had been discussing Wisconsin poets Lorine Niedecker and Harland Ristau, whom I as an undergraduate had never heard of. I was a little discouraged about my pace of learning, and Bibi was slightly amused, making me cringe by calling out to the other room:
"Hey Greg, Don wants to know when he'll be as smart as you."
But her defensiveness was a long-time theme with her; when she was 14 and I was in college already and 20 years old she wrote in one early letter:
. . . .I'm sorry that you were
sick last week. I thought
about you alot and I hope you
will make it all worthwhile
this coming week. Even though
I'm "illiterate" I can still
put down on paper what I want
I'd give anything to be
able to go out at nite with
you and have my mother not
care but I guess "Love in the
Afternoon" is the best I can
do a present. . . .
But I don't know what made her react as if I called her "illiterate." I guess I was more overbearing than I thought. I wanted to get laid, after all, and I wasn't dumb enough to insult a girlfriend in a relationship as tentative as this unless it was just banter -- but she called things off anyway, on her own, saying I really was too old for her. It was two years after that we started going out again, but this time her mother intervened, saying she had to wait until she was 18, changing her mind only when Jen turned 17 and was about to graduate. So we could see each other, if only on weekends, and her letters started again:
. . . .I thought alot about you
today. I'm sure going to miss you
this week just like last week &
the week before. . . .
Did you ever notice how I skip from
subject to subject. I feel very
self-concious (sp.) writing to you
because I know that you notice my
terrible sentence structures, lack
of transitions, and my limited
vocabulary. . . .
I'm getting quite a few hints on
the art of "making love" from this
book I'm reading. with a little
practice I should become quite
adept. Of course I'll restrict my
practice time to the time spent
with you which never seems to be
enough. You always said you needed
me but that I didn't need you.
Well, I think you're pretty well
straightened out now & I am
starting to need you more and more.
I love you Don, I'm sure of that &
I know that I want you & now I
really do need you. You're so
quite sometimes that its' hard for
me to say these things in person.
I can't wait until Sept. when I
can quit Allen-Bradley & go to
school which means I'll also see
more of you.
I hope you didn't mind me
dragging you to that picnic Sun.
At least you made me happy by
COMING ---------- to the
picnic. . . . That concludes this
irratic effort . . .
I was a little taken aback by the mention of being all straightened out, since I had mostly forgotten the performance anxiety that cropped up when I worried about following through on our first spontaneous session. Even though I got a stifled laugh once when I couldn't help calling myself the incredible shrinking man after a movie we had just seen.
I knew I was rather withdrawn around her -- though I hoped not overly critical -- mostly because everything I was learning was beyond her and I didn't enjoy just lecturing when what I wanted was a good discussion, but at the time I figured that would come later. At least I had her pointed toward college. And I had my own place, moving out from my parents' in time to get drunk on the Fourth of July and toss those firecrackers down the stairwell. Celebrating independence, of course, and the freedom to fuck like goats. But a sign of her struggles to come might be in the next letter where she writes of her entrance tests:
I don't have to go back tomorrow, it's for those eleigible to take the English test to be exempt from English 101. I'm not elegible because I only got a 60 on the ACT in English . . .
And she wasn't self-conscious about writing that summer that she wanted to lose some weight, that she had about as much resistance to food, sex & sleep as a wet noodle. And with her last letter before moving in I realized that I was probably dealing with a girl of rather unusual sexual intensity:
I went to the doctor to-nite fir my physical for U.W.M. I never had a real physical before. I wonder if any other women get "hot pants" from a physical. Christ, the way he moved his hands around I thought I'd croak. . . . he weighed me so I have definitely decided to go on a diet . . . . I miss you so much during the week, honey . . .I resent every bit of fun or enjoyment you have away from me
. . . .I think I'll go to bed soon. Then I can dream about you. I may not be perfect but I'm trying to learn to be the girl you want me to be. I sure hope you're happy with me as I am with you.
All my Love Always,
Oddly enough, it was the same Possley family doctor who played a role in her moving in. Her parents thought it was outrageous for her to even locate in the same building, and relented only to the point of suggesting they ask the doctor -- who had a daughter about Jenny's age -- what he thought.
They stipulated to following his opinion, not worrying much about it. As it turned out his daughter was away at college in Madison, and he thought it was perfectly all right for her to move across town, no matter if I was so close by or not. I did have to wonder if her moist, cozy session with him had influenced his friendly attitude, while I was looking forward to a lover who could get off rubbing it against the corner of the sink.
So she moved in, and though she was still cuter than almost any chick I had met, her desire to please me didn't always extend -- and she had very black hair -- to shaving her legs and depilitating the dark growth on her arms often enough. Still, I didn't really want to control her, just wanted to be left alone at times. It was pointless to try to interest her in something I was reading -- though I tried with some poetry by Dylan Thomas, which I even had on a record, along with Karl Shapiro's In Defense of Ignorance -- when she had to go to every class and take notes while I slept late and skipped lecture sections we managed to take together except the first and last days of the semester.
And I still aced Econ 101 while she scraped by, and couldn't understand how I -- with some knowledge of Marx and Engels from a philosophy course, honed by the Garsons -- could question a few tenets of capitalism in class.
Similarly, in a more playful manner, I would use some notions I learned about in Epistemology to try to get her to question the very truth of reality. But she quite sensibly maintained nature was concrete and predictable, and any philosophers who claimed otherwise were crazy, or trying to fool you. And none of that Veil of Maya crap, either. Ironically, it was when we dropped acid years later that she granted that those thinkers may have had a point.
But what this materialism of hers -- and mine too, I had to admit -- meant for the notion of free will, she didn't know, though she accepted that too. Even if, as I pointed out, a universe of cause and effect didn't alter its mechanics just when it was convenient for us to think so.
As Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim concurred with Gen. Rumfoord about the necessity of firebombing Dresden: "I know, everybody has to do exactly what he does."
Which explained, I noted, why some of those reductionists could believe that free will was an illusion, that thought was something that just occurred a millisecond after an action. An epiphenomenon, as it was termed, that accompanied our already determined impulses. Thanks, Dr. Ross.
Ultimately, though, such speculation was only rewarding in the beer-soaked sessions of cosmic import I had with other students holding scholarly pretensions, usually in a bar. So I learned early on not to look to Jenny for intellectual badinage, though she understood when I explained my resolution of the free will versus determinism debate: It didn't matter.
We acted the way we acted, and couldn't do any differently even if we were aware of forces pressing on us. Such awareness merely became another influence, in an infinite regress, yet we still had to act.
An enlightened society made exceptions for inescapable compulsion -- the proverbial gun to the head -- but otherwise we had to live with the everyday results. Coerced or not.
As Bibiana said, "So what if you knew everything was predetermined -- what would you do different?"
I knew I couldn't argue with that.
But if I was too remote for too long Jenny would let the cat box fill up while the smaller kitten would make it worse by scratching out his crap onto the linoleum, or drop her own clothes and accessories wherever she felt like until I would explode -- a few times, anyway -- and swing out wildly with a clenched fist at whatever part of her was closest until I was spent after some clubs to the body.
As she frankly admitted years later, "Sometimes I deserved it and sometimes I didn't." But it was certainly a frustrating way -- for both of us -- to get attention, and more and more I thought something was wrong and I shouldn't be with her. And she was the only woman I would ever hit.
The cats turned out to be a further bother when we discovered way in the back of a deep, dim closet where we tossed rags or at least unwanted clothes that they had been using the pile to piss on. Close up it reeked, of course, but we didn't notice until Jenny went way back with a flashlight to look for something. More surprising -- though it wasn't unusual that she had been walking around naked -- she said that on some sort of impulse she had sat down on the old plush floor cushions to turn the flashlight on her own vulva.
"I could see what it really looked like inside -- I'll never ask you to do anything . . . to do that to me any more. I can understand why you wouldn't want to . . ."
It was true that I could find the occasional cunt in pictures or real life to be cute, a defined groove at most with chubby outer lips but the rest tucked away, hair neatly trimmed and not a wild thicket -- but some were more like a gravy boat filled with night crawlers. Such a critique, I felt, was matched by the description I had read -- seconded by a girlfriend -- of the male genitals as resembling a pile of turkey giblets.
But with her I had mostly noticed how a true brunette with white skin shaded into red and dark red edging the black pubic hair, a private view that was a little flick of knowledge.
So I was surprised, mostly because I had generally ignored anyway what hints she had been making that I eat her pussy, and didn't know it was an issue. It was hard to get to, not like her nipples, and it always did what it was supposed to and left my face and moustache dripping to the point where I didn't really feel right about kissing but didn't know whether to wipe it off.
And with what? I thought that might be the equivalent of her spitting my come, which she had never done. Especially since she came as fast as she wanted without it, anyway -- I would just stroke until she went a little loose and I would ask, "Did you come?" She would nod while letting out a softly exhaled "uh-huh," and I let myself come too.
So I guess I ignored her hints while plunging ahead.
But I could still feel a little guilty since I had even gotten her to douche. I had read enough women's magazines in their homes, since I was a compulsive reader, like Cosmopolitan -- I would read Ladies Home Journal if that's all I could get my hands on -- to know it wasn't medically necessary, but given the direction of the plumbing and the role of gravity, I felt uneasy about being a backup cleaning system.
And it seemed they all got yeast infections eventually, or trichomoniasis -- which at least one insisted on pronouncing trichomonas -- or chlamydia. And TV advertising emphasized the need to feel fresh.
Anyway, I didn't invent the concept of douching. So it was only in the abstract that I eyed delectable young ladies and thought I want to see what you taste like. In reality I didn't want to bother.
And my fastidious nature wasn't challenged then by anything more outré: It would take until the '80s to realize times had changed when I read in Cosmo that ladies should prepare for their bouts of anal sex by inserting a soapy finger. But then I could feel superior, having picked up on the merits of such personal everyday hygiene years before when reading Kerouac's Big Sur, where he mocked the general populace for not cleansing with soap and water and going around with "dirty azzholes."
As time went on she took more and more solace in her favorite albums, played on our beat up, green leatherette-covered record player: Barbra Streisand and West Side Story. Nothing to be ashamed of, but I soon tired of them and had my own to get drunk to when I had written enough -- or tried to -- for a session and wanted to get to where I could sleep -- shutting her out with the Dylan Thomas and Edith Piaf and Joan Baez and the first of several copies of Carmina Burana. After first hearing Thomas read I would often think of some coincidentally appropriate lines of his when I left some semen in her hand or on her face, calling forth my Quivering Prince, or prints -- though I doubt any woman picked up the reference.
In the same way I realized I could stump just about everybody by asking what city in Wisconsin was mentioned in a Dylan Thomas poem. If I were feeling helpful I would tell them to think villanelle, but that's all.
There wasn't much besides music and sex to do, anyway. Since we weren't married I couldn't take her to the tavern with me -- otherwise legal in Wisconsin for underage spouses and children -- and though in earlier days I made it to Barney's or O'Reilly's or Hooligan's every night after second shift it was mostly to line up someone for the weekend. I was actually very domestic and wanted someone to live with so we would only go out to eat or drink on an impulse. I didn't want to plan my free time just so I could be sure of getting laid.
Of course, with anybody new I had to structure time for dates until things worked out; at least whoever it was would know that we were going to screw on a regular basis. Generally Friday nights, and if it was on Saturday and we spent the night together we had Sunday before getting up to get in enough sex to last the week.
Drinking at home could get out of hand for me, especially when I was alone; once she came home and I was contentedly balancing a tumbler of bourbon and seltzer on my stomach sitting up on the worn mattress and blasting O Fortuna because, as I told her, I had realized a pattern in my series of short stories and figured out how I could interlock them through one narrator into a novel, yet peddle them separately.
Thin stuff, but I was happy for the moment, though all I got was an uncomprehending "Terrific."
I gave her a copy of my latest story, set in our old neighborhood, and when by way of opening a dialogue a few days later I -- somewhat slyly, I thought -- pointed out, "There's a certain amount of hostility toward women there," all she said was, "No shit."
Rather sullen, I noticed. Of course, I had been wrapped up in my writing for weeks.
But then, considering her struggles in English class, I should have known not to expect much in the way of literary criticism. All her papers were getting low grades, and she was having problems with her English professor, a Dr. Kathryn Whitford.
An unforgiving harpy, to hear Jenny tell it.
Still, I knew she cared about me a lot. I was dutifully working out three or four times a week, rolling down an old quilt over the apartment floor for padding, and when I had progressed to the point where I needed some short pieces of something for more height from the floor for heavier deadlifts she struggled home twice from a nearby construction site and up the staircase cradling some rough concrete blocks.
And far from resenting my drinking, she knew it mellowed me out and encouraged it by asking whether I wanted a beer whenever she got herself Cokes from the chained and locked fridge in the hall we shared with the lesbian couple next door. Another guy up on the third floor also used it.
Generally I didn't accept, since I kept to my own work routine, but she would often make me boloney and cheese sandwiches if she thought I might want one.
But I at least had hoped I could find someone who could entertain herself, since while I hated conforming to timetables or punching a time clock I had to compensate by setting my own patterns and rituals to concentrate on the important work of the moment, even though it looked like all I had was freedom.
Other people put in their hours at work -- or in class -- and seemed pretty carefree the rest of the time and didn't understand why I had to be so businesslike except when it was clearly time to let go.
But she would even intrude on this remoteness, sitting or moving around half-naked until she knew I was watching with a growing interest then half-heartedly covering herself, pretending modesty, suggesting, "Oh no, the mystery -- "
But with her the sex could be over really fast, lights on and TV babbling away, and she would be left on her own again. Maybe falling asleep, but several times when we were still side by side, sticky and relaxed, I would see the tears collecting and falling down her cheeks.
"What's the matter?"
"I always think it means you still love me."
But I had no way to manufacture a fascination with her where there wasn't any, and I didn't try to talk her into anything when she hinted at moving out.
Before she did finally leave she said flatly, though she was somewhat tearful, "I'm never going to be an intellectual. I'm . . . never going to to go down to the library to check out the latest poetry books. . . ."
I couldn't argue with that. Anyway, there seemed to be a lot of women around now that I was taken, and I had scarcely admitted to myself that she could leave -- though I feared that at least l might get really horny again and begin to imagine what I would do to her if she would turn up at the door.
But I could let her go because I had the built-in protection guys had against blatant sexual manipulation: It took a while for real horniness to take over, and until then it was hard to anticipate feeling deprived. And you could always imagine a new lover in the picture, even if there were no actual candidates.
But underneath everything I had to admit that if women really controlled life and could demand the most abject worship in return for pussy, I would do it. If that were the only way. Fortunately, the world wasn't made so that men were that powerless, and if someone showed a tendency to test me with unreasonable demands I would immediately balk.
Even as she was leaving, bitter at my indifference and convinced it was my nature, there was a part of me that wanted to say, But you don't understand, I've got this big bloody heart that I want to give to someone and be deeply in love with, it's just not you. . . . I did advance the bucket theory -- that my affection, apart from sex, was like a fluid that slowly dripped into a pail. Keep tipping the pail and there was never very much to enjoy, but let it alone and don't test it for a while and it would eventually fill up to come splashing out to surprise us both. Never seemed to happen, though she claimed to have tried it.
But there was still another complication: That fall I'd had a skin infection on my groin, for no apparent reason except that the dry skin that I grew up with that spared me from much adolescent acne sometimes caused a lot of scratching -- and maybe her over-vigorous fingernails carried something too -- and it started to flare up.
Anxious as I was to get rid of any blemishes on my balls I would compulsively peel the skin -- as with a sunburn -- layers that came back worse than ever and I would drink until I could fall asleep despite the pain I eventually caused, and usually in the morning it would feel OK. Scabbing over again.
Finally, one night that didn't work -- the pain was still excruciating -- and Jenny drove us to the emergency hospital on 25th and Wells Streets, where the examination brought back to me the line, "One was so small it was nothing at all. . . ." There I got some pills, antibiotics I assumed, though I never was told exactly what I had. I mentioned the sleep problem and the doctor gave a me a small bottle of Nembutal right then.
I washed down two with wine that night, and soon drifted away. The flakes cleared up quickly, and I restrained myself. I was apologetic about the scabs that had even encroached on my dick, and reticent about sex, but she hesitantly revealed it actually felt good to her.
But after that when I had to get up early for an exam or something and knowing how hard it would be, I would take some pills and drink wine and go under while playing my most stirring music.
Capriccio Italien, for one, and the heavily emotional Warsaw Concerto. Smart-ass that I was, I found I could irritate even musicians when I stumped them by asking who the composer of that one was. Bonus points for naming the British movie that contained it; double bonus for the American title.
When drunk I would forego the more cerebral Dvorak and Schoenberg records I brought back from the Garsons, sometimes just wallowing for no real reason except youthful weltschmerz.
Sadly, the older cat, the orange-striped Max Orion, didn't come back one morning, and we pictured him squashed by a bus, but the little gray one -- eventually left behind by Jenny, though it was supposed to be her responsibility -- was still there, planting both front feet in his food dish and scattering it when he ate. That was why we called him Pig, and he was especially annoying, since he hadn't been properly socialized and squirmed and struggled whenever I picked him up. Though he would creep into my lap when I was sitting up in bed and knead the thin blanket covering my legs with his front paws and suck contentedly on a nub of fabric, purring away, that's all he would permit. No petting.
half in a fog and then mostly blanked after washing down some sleeping pills with port wine and plumbing the depths of sound, realizing how the kids could take downers at a concert and still stumble around awake as the blasting music was more exquisite for having penetrated layers of drugs, saying I only want to be affectionate, come here you little bastard after it jumped out of my arms and away and I tried again but it would have none of me and I started lighting firecrackers and tossing them as he ran around the room and eventually hid under our one old easy chair as they got closer and I lit one and pitched it underhand under the chair where it exploded as he cowered ungrateful little fucker until I settled down for a while in a stupor and he eventually crawled out blood and drool trickling from the mouth and stealthily onto my lap . . .
I felt terrible when I woke up the next day, of course, not only because of the hangover, since I thought I couldn't abide cruelty to children or animals. Bullying may never be right, but adults could look out for themselves or at least were on notice that they should do something or suffer for it, and that was the way it was. I had been pushed around myself until I bulked up.
"Well, goodbye . . ." were Jen's final words as she lingered in the doorway -- probably expecting my last-minute protest -- before taking her remaining few possessions for the short trip to Allan and Ieva's.
Even if I hurt a bit, I could never directly say so; I would just come on a little romantically until we were screwing, and it happened that way soon enough at the new place. But for the time being, I had decided to finish another story -- rounding off the lot -- and polish them again on the portable typewriter. I generally ended the sessions by drinking, and if I was too much awake beyond that, listening to music -- immerse myself in the emotions, actually, of Tchaikovsky warhorses like his violin concerto, or even Ravel's Bolero, but I felt everyone did that once in a while.
I envisioned Anne-Marie or Aileen or even Barbara Firley from St. Leo's Grade School, all pussies I thought I wanted to eat at one time or another. Somebody, but I wished Jenny would appear at the door.
Allen and Ieva were my friends, of course, and were were still part of a group that published an off-campus magazine, first rather effetely called Milieu, then -- maybe even more pretentiously -- riverrun, as Milwaukee at least had three main rivers. By this time, Julian Feindorfer had taken over exclusively as editor, writing around the country to get submissions from established poets. One that he actually got was Charles Bukowski's Fire Station poem, while he allowed each of us to print a few of our own. So we gathered for discussions, or just to party with other graduates.
Allan allowed as how he was dumpfounded at the job Jules had done. And he was happy that if any errors made it into print he wasn't the escape goat any more.
Jenny was generally there, of course, and though I knew she was always loyal when we were a couple, she didn't have any compunction about getting laid when she was unattached -- either because she just liked sex or because she wanted to validate herself with anyone who paid her attention. The difference to me was important, though I never came to any conclusion. But it wasn't hard for her to get responses -- while I had to follow all the traditional routes, with lots of empty stretches.
So it wasn't unusual that we should end up together for the night, after the first time when I came over early and she was doing some ironing in a filmy white gown that swirled openly around her, naked otherwise.
"I guess I shouldn't be doing this," she said, pulling the robe shut over the prominent pink areolas.
She was still putting the hot iron up when I came around behind her, twisting her head back and toward me, adding a nuzzling the way women did while prolonging the pure groping of her tits and grinding her ass into me as we approached something more mutual. Lightly I pinched and rolled her nipples around, while she smiled a little.
"Is that a banana in your pocket or do you have an erection?"
Since her humor hadn't changed much since she was 16 and sent me a Hanukkah card, though neither of us was Jewish -- unlike a lot of the students at Washington High, where we both had gone, and the surrounding neighborhood in the Sherman Park area -- I assume she heard that somewhere recently. She tended to like chanting the Beans, beans, the musical fruit rhyme, and drove me further up the wall when I would come out of the bathroom -- no matter if it was late in the evening on a date -- by observing I bet you feel 10 pounds lighter, though of course in that context it was not relevant at all, and you'd think she would figure it out from my blank-faced shrug. Not the femininity I pictured when I thought of the tantalizing Anne-Marie, or even Aileen.
She always had her own kind of wit, though usually of the loudmouth, putdown type: Not too swift, are you? would be typical, except -- as she pointed out -- around me. Then she was the opposite of her usual bowling-queen, factory worker type. But I was careful those days only to come on physically; if she responded, I wouldn't be caught asking for anything more permanent.
Even though she was fucking Matt Wilensky and dating some others I barely knew about, I didn't care at the moment, though when Wilensky was over there at night I had qualms. One of those times she asked why I was hanging around when obviously Wilensky was waiting for me to leave, and I had to tell her truthfully that earlier he had asked for a ride home. A blow to her ego I didn't mind delivering.
I had to add haltingly that I hoped she was taking care of things so that Matt hadn't been staying with her right before I did. And leaving his own distasteful quivering prints, I thought, jealousy and hygiene mingling in my thoughts.
So I guess I projected some ambivalence as we drifted back together, letting her look for a new place for both of us.
The old building on Prospect Avenue, famous as a party house known simply by its number, 1833, was being converted into yet another nursing home, and I had to move anyway. So we ended up in the lower front of a four-unit building on E. Kane Place, on the Milwaukee River bluff and behind a similar building on the street in the front.
Eventually it would be remembered by some as the home of Jeffrey Dahmer's last victim; before that, Kane Place and the Avant Garde would be featured by local writer Tony Hozeny in the stark short novels Driving Wheel and My House is Dark. And quirky local reporter and columnist -- for the Sentinel and alternative press -- Michael Horne lived for a while in the same building, down the street from the original hippie food co-op that became the thriving Outpost Natural Foods on Capitol Drive.
After we relocated, I was driving cab again, my work-study job over, and I threw my earnings, meager as they were, into a coffee can after every 11-hour shift -- or, generally, around dawn -- to add to Jenny's wages from Allen-Bradley to pay the rent. It was a lot more than we were used to spending as students for the two-bedroom, furnished flat with appliances.
But her return to factory work made it possible to afford, even as I chafed under images I had of the view the farmer saw plowing behind two horses in a cartoon I had seen, complaining about the same old scenery, walking behind the horse's ass with the same view as I had of the same old butt in the air on our ratty bed.
Even if I
occasionally had her go down on her knees and crawl to it in
front of the tall, circulating fan on a stand on the kitchen
linoleum for whatever variety I could think of, it was more
to humor me than anything else, with a face almost as
endearing as ever looking up, occasionally flicking to my
eyes with her own doe eyes to gauge my pleasure as she
remembered to employ her tongue on my sac.
She cooked some meals and I did the dishes, then read the paper, while she watched TV until her bedtime, shows like Ed Sullivan and The Fugitive. Mostly I would type and re-type my rejected poems and stories.
The factory didn't do much for her intellectualism. She would come home sweating and strip and flop naked on the floral-print soft chair, the screens on the rear wall facing her letting in a little cool air from the Milwaukee River, while I sat on the couch opposite her, revising my material with the portable typewriter on my lap.
From near the brush-lined water, bugs -- the smallest living bits of green I've seen -- somehow made it in through even the window screens.
Slumping down to spread her legs a little, talking maybe about her foreman or whatever. Once she quoted a fellow line-worker, a married black woman who said her motto was, "When the weather's hot and sticky, that's the time to dunk your wicky."
I took the hint -- it didn't take much -- but reading and some desultory attempts to write during the mugginess occupied my limited time when I wasn't cab driving. And there was usually that case of Weber beer to be worked on.
So it was no surprise that I didn't object when she moved out again -- she always had her parents' home to go to -- though it meant a lot more cab driving for me, usually two 11-hour shifts a week, and less writing. But the manuscripts were coming back as fast as I sent them anyway. Almost as irritating, though I had gotten rid of the sloppy gray cat when I moved, she had stuck me with another we called Killer. Also gray. We kept him inside, where his annoying qualities included leaving dark, wet footprints in the bathroom sink where the faucet dripped -- to his fascination -- and on the patterned oilcloth on the kitchen table when I was working. Butter couldn't be left out, of course, covered or not, or it would be stuck to with gray hair.
He did learn to retrieve crumpled pages and cigaret packs when I tossed them across a room, at least for a few rounds of fetch before he grew bored.
But because it seemed most of the Humane Society cats came with fleas and ear mites, it had became my task to wash him in the sink with a special liquid and swab inside his ears with a lotion, once a week, tolerating me and the Q-Tips, even though he lost his cat élan, pitifully soaked to half of his dry size until I toweled him off before he could scoot off, still damp, to crawl in the dust under the bed. Something he immediately did anyway when released.
Occasionally he would get out, and I wouldn't have a clue where to look, but little kids from one of the two adjacent buildings would bring him back to my door. I had no idea how they knew where he lived.
Sometimes I came home at dawn and sat in the doorway to the hall in the middle of the building and drowsily drank beer while the sun rose high enough in the east to be warming and some of the same kids -- I scarcely knew whether they were boys or girls or what unit they were from -- would huddle up against me in their thin jackets, everyone very cheerful and cozy for the moment.
Soon the beer would take over and I could go in to sleep while leaves drifted down like weightless brown and golden wedges.
But I couldn't keep up with rent, and I didn't need the extra room, shabby though it all was, and I started looking for another place. At the same time I applied for -- or least was on the lookout for -- different jobs, hoping for one a little more in keeping with my degree. But I was surviving, and I knew that although it might take a few weeks, I would encounter somebody to go out with and that I would get laid again.
So every so often I had to explain to myself how I ended up about to marry Jenny.
It started with the flu, as I said later to those who would ask.
By then, I had a line on a job at The Milwaukee Journal and had given notice to move when I succumbed to that year's flu, a virulent type that flattened me and then left me unduly weak as I tried to gather my stuff and look for a new apartment. A cubbyhole was all I wanted, but suddenly all effort was beyond me.
As time ran out, I called Jenny. In all sincerity, I asked if I could just park my belongings and myself at her new place a few blocks south on Brady Street. By most appearances she was happy, with a female roommate, though she told me later that she had moved home and waited for me to get in touch.
"When you didn't call at my mother's I figured I had to do something -- I wasn't going to live way over there and have her waiting for me to come home every night, and I figured it was over for sure."
Of course it never occurred to me that she was expecting anything, but I certainly wouldn't have made any domestic overtures.
So she found Sherry Lerner, a slightly younger UWM student who had an older brother, a disk jockey on WOKY who had changed his name to Peter Wolff. Rather plain, her main distinction was that she was taking the Pill regularly, though she was a virgin -- without a boyfriend -- just because something could happen real soon and she wanted to be ready.
So of course, she appreciated Jenny's expertise, and the apartment above Mary's Diner on Brady was just right for both of them -- and on the bus line to the Journal Co. on State Street.
Jen herself had moved on from Emko foam -- first suggested by Aileen as better than her haphazard approach -- to the newly popular Pill. This time the chatty gynecologist seemed very concerned that her boyfriend might find her too tight, which could have been flattering to one of us. But she had to volunteer that, if anything, the opposite was true, which at least he attributed to her extreme lubrication.
But with two bedrooms it left only the couch in the front room overlooking the busy street -- George Webb's hamburger parlor and the A&P supermarket on the other side -- for me, though at least I could pile my stuff in a heap in the dining room. The malaise dragged on, though I was soon at least well enough to think about getting out -- the Journal job came through and I started as a library clerk, doing research in the files for reporters and sometimes the general public, whose calls we took because the paper wanted the citizens to think of us as the purveyors of fact -- while Jenny had her own life.
It turned out the library -- sometimes known as the morgue in movies -- was staffed mostly with young women, hired because college students taking some time off when they weren't sure anymore what they wanted to do in life were somewhat more educated and capable than kids just out of high school, but still willing to work cheap. At least for a while, until they went back to school or drifted further into bohemia or got married.
Men like me, with or without a degree, were rarer, though not unheard of -- some didn't fit anywhere else and stayed for decades -- and I passed the 35 words-per-minute typing test with some finagling by management just so they could qualify me.
Jenny and Sherry, who had some contacts through her brother, were by then taking trips to Chicago and various clubs, though neither could drink legally. It was there Jenny met a stocky, light-skinned black guy, whose name immediately went past me when I met him at her flat, though all the freckles and reddish hair made him distinctive enough. She said he was Adam Wade's cousin, and part of his entourage -- they had met at one of Wade's shows -- and she had been going down there to see him for a while until he came back with her.
Well, all right -- the Journal Library after all was full of women, some of whom told me they liked my newly-adopted sport coat and colorful striped-shirt look, a change from beatnik utilitarianism -- until I went to bed the first night on the couch just off her bedroom in the front.
First I drank my usual six-pack or so after coming back from Ehlert's tavern just down the block. There was no door between us, just a curtain and it wasn't long until I heard -- or imagined I heard -- the thrashing and rumpling and murmurs that seared themselves into my brain as what could only be his mounting her and her lifting her legs and responding with her hips as she always did. Probably reaching a hand down and cupping his balls. Or maybe not. Maybe they were just talking quietly and simply shifting to get comfortable, but I couldn't stand a second more of it and went for the phone. The mental picture was unbearable.
She said later that she thought I had just called an old girlfriend, but the only place I could think of on such short notice was my mother's in West Milwaukee, where she had an extra room, mostly used as a showcase for some antiques and collectible dolls. By then it was early morning and I had to work that day, but she didn't question me much and just sleepily said sure when I asked if I could come over to stay until tomorrow. So I slept amongst the polished showcases after taking the carefully-costumed dolls off the high, solid bed, itself an antique.
The room with its air of old, well-preserved sterility and the frozen dolls was a sharp contrast to Jenny's vivacity, writhing far away.
But what to do the next day? After work, still weak from the illness and distraught, I called Jenny and said bluntly, "I think we ought to get married."
Simply, I had thought that if I were that horribly, sickeningly jealous I had to be in love -- Journal cuties forgotten -- and might just well give in to it. I did wonder how yet another singer, first Al Jarreau, now Adam Wade -- a Johnny Mathis sound-alike with a few modest hits -- had intruded on my life, even if not as directly, though he probably added to the freckled, rutting intruder's appeal.
She didn't give me an answer then, naturally enough, but we made a date to meet at Kalt's on Oakland Avenue the next night.
I had my clay stein of dark German beer while we ate corned beef sandwiches -- caricatures of famous performers, mostly at the Fred Miller Theatre next door looking down on us -- as I was mostly silent, since I had no real reason to try to convince her of anything. I knew what she felt.
"Well, Don, you know marriage means forever. And I have to tell you I was, you know, pretty promiscuous when we weren't together."
I knew that, of course. Fucked half the East Side was more like it, though I figured I would have done the same thing if I could.
"Well, at least there won't be any surprises," I said. But I was having misgivings already, opportunities at the Journal Library rising in the distance. And there were those unbidden pictures in my mind of her fucking those guys I used used to see her with on campus. There had been a rally of feminists one bright noon hour when some actually burned bras or anything symbolic they thought appropriate, tossing them one after the other into a flaring trash basket. It drew a crowd to the edges, myself among them, where I saw her rummage in her purse and shrug and sacrifice a blue box of Tampax. The event brought us face to face and in talking I mentioned the twinge I felt when I saw her around with one guy or another.
As she had told me one time, not taunting but almost dreamily, "There's something about young men and their bodies . . ."
"They may be friends, but I know sooner or later it's gotta be one you're screwing. Maybe it shouldn't hurt, but it does."
"Donald, you take sex too seriously," she had claimed. Now that was a thought. Of course, I wanted to be hip and like others in our supposedly liberated generation, but while it might have been an option if I could always find a cooperative partner at will, the fact was it took time and planning. My best scenario was a week after a breakup to hit the bar again and find some chick to talk to. Then a date on the next weekend to establish rapport. Even in those fluid times, another week or more -- if all went well -- to get to the bed. So it was a serious business, though she seemed blithely unaware.
The corollary was that she thought of me as more desirable than I really was.
So she was quickly speculating on dates, planning how soon she could tell her parents, and before I knew it I was engaged to get married in June.
"What about Maurice?" I asked, remembering that was his name.
"I know how to get rid of him. I know what he hates." She looked a little sly -- smug -- and I decided not to ask, though she had insisted on telling me how he preferred to get inside a woman and then never ejaculate, just wait until she came -- if she could, considering his inactivity, and by her own hand -- and then pull out.
So I surmised it had to do with his manhood, or lack of it, though I didn't want to dwell on the details. I assumed he would be as chastened as I was when she once demonstrated how cooperative good sex should be when she went all passive and limp, to prove her point, and I quickly wilted in the middle of the act.
The ring could come when we got around to it, and though I found a small apartment in a red brick building festooned with vines on the Oakland bus line where we could live together for a while, she eventually moved back home for the symbolism of coming fresh to the marriage.
How could I argue with that?
But first we cohabited in that already-hot spring month in the stifling small room with no cross ventilation, where I left the cold shower running continuously and the bathroom door open to cool the air. We were shocked by the ceiling collapsing, saturated, dispersing plaster dust even covering the oven from where we salvaged her tuna casserole.
So she inadvertently left me to revert to my bachelor ways at the Downtown Journal offices on State Street, where I tried to block the looming future marriage from my mind.
There was a Sentinel night copy girl -- the Sentinel and the AP shared the block-sized building -- named Matty. Her skirts were a shade too tight on an ample rear, often exposing tops of dark stockings rolled down to just above the knees on plumpish white thighs when she sat down backwards on an office chair to chat.
She was still getting over her black boyfriend, who had been a student killed in some sort of mysterious police action at a university dormitory in Stevens Point -- all that she would volunteer -- though she would ride around with me in the sports car on days when I was off, even taking me to the boyfriend's family barbecue in Racine. I was the only other white person. So she used me, holding out the possibility of grabbing those big tits someday, but I was plunging much too quickly toward a marriage. And I wasn't black, while, as she said candidly, the deceased and his buddies treated me like a queen.
And a rather ditzy blonde -- just out of St. Joan Antida's Catholic school for girls but already pregnant, it turned out -- started shortly after I did, and I supervised her in one of the staff's simple chores, using a ruler with a handle to clip out articles for marking and filing. With her long, straight, yellow hair -- no dark roots for her -- I found Eleanor really appealing. I thought of her as the Dutch girl counterpart of the little Dutch boy I saw in myself once when I stared at my reflection in the grade school window.
The idea probably came from an image in a book, since my family mainly emphasized their German and Bohemian heritage. But though she was actually Polish, it turned out that I was also Dutch and French, one distant ancestor having moved to Holland from Bremen and married into some newly-arrived French Huguenots, founding our line as an aristocratic-sounding de Bourghelles.
But Ellie's coming baby had a father in the picture: Mac Ristic was a surly painter recently graduated from Layton School of Art, who was moving with her to the East Side, and she soon quit.
Still, our paths crossed every once in a while, leading eventually to an aborted affair. But clipping newspapers was not her forte, though whether out of simple ineptness or the quick boredom of the gifted, I couldn't tell.
Our brief fling came after an abusive time with Ristic when I ran into her walking to Glorioso's deli on Brady Street. She was enthusiastic about astrology, as I soon found out when she eagerly offered to research my chart. Only to immediately turn cool when she learned I was a Scorpio.
Apparently the stars said we weren't compatible, though I liked her fine, and at my diplomatic quibble one night with the scientific basis for that finding, and who decided this stuff in the first place? immediately concluded I had proved her point and leaped from the couch. I was too skeptical and scientific, a real journalist, always needing answers when there were many things that couldn't be explained, like who wrote the Bible.
Not really true, I wanted to point out. Starting at least with the Nicaean Council in 325 AD, where books of the Bible were said to have been voted in or out, lots was known or at least speculated on about individual authors of scripture. Even if it was just conjecture. And far from being a dedicated scientist, though it was my job as a reporter to ask questions, I was perfectly content to live without the answers, while it was the astrologers who needed even a pseudo-science to deal with uncertainties.
Already I was wistful over her winsome doll face and impressive ass packed into tight jeans decorated with cursive gold embroidery, slipping away as I realized it was futile to try to grapple with her viewpoint, and so it was all over with us.
Immediately after her hall door closed I was glad I had returned the copy of Linda Goodman's Sun Signs that warned women about
Scorpios: "Just behind his frosty reserve is a huge pot of boiling steam that bubbles and seethes continually" and "If you're in love with a Scorpio male and the word passion frightens you, put on your track shoes and run as if King Kong were pursuing you. He is."
But on the other hand, I would read, not necessarily, as the whole book was a masterpiece of equivocation.
But I still had to get back my copy of Paul Goodman's Nature Heals, though at my almost immediate knock she brusquely demanded to know, "Who is it?" Even while damn well aware who it was.
And that was before I had the right opportunity to confront her other quirk. Like only one other woman I knew -- one I had met at Barney's -- she had avoided ever being naked to the waist, even wearing a nightgown that she kept buttoned down the front.
She always stopped me from fondling whatever breasts she was concealing there, the few times we actually made it to bed before her blowup. Since it was clear she was self-conscious about their small size, I quickly decided to ignore them and bare her thighs and whatever else I could expose there, happy to find her modesty didn't extend to her genitals.
She had left her young son with her mother, so with Joan Armatrading singing Down to Zero on her small record player on the bare floor of her bedroom, Mac's coveralls still on the back of the door -- though she claimed he was out of her life -- we had barely satisfactory sex. But then, I subscribed to the theory that even when it's bad it's good.
Though she had the sensitivity after a while to turn off the deeply lugubrious Armatrading, whom I actually liked, I had found her shrinking-violet act off-putting enough to take the spontaneous excitement out of everything, and hardly managed to get it in.
But I had learned a long time ago that squeezing the base of my dick would force it to be hard enough to at least slip past the outside lips, where the right motions could allow the pleasure to take over and I would stiffen more and let go and soon be pumping away.
Still, after my tentative thrusting she surprised me when we were sitting up side by side, backs against the headboard, when it was over by remarking, "I don't know whether you know it or not, but I climaxed then." This was startling enough, since she was quite passive, but also because I don't think I ever heard a woman call her orgasm a climax in that kind of intimate conversation.
But of course the relationship was already doomed, though I had studiously avoided any mention of her tits until she would specifically acknowledge what her problem was and give me an opening to reassure her, whatever it took.
With only one other coupling in my own bedroom, it didn't happen, though I would always retain the fleeting impression of a small but perfectly adequate -- in my opinion -- breast under my hand in her delicate black bra before she immediately flinched and moved my palm away. So I never got to explain that tits could be tiny and yet be cute just because they suited their possessor.
But the Library also employed the tall, rather sturdy Betty Chesak, though she put me off when I joked around and called her my Tawny Goddess.
Still, she was clearly flattered. And we could at least talk about the Chicago Symphony and its latest director, Jean Martinon, since she loved the classics. But she had a boyfriend, a violinist, and was happy just to pass on some of her poetry once in a while when she learned I had published some myself, and theoretically helped edit Feindorfer's magazine.
Like most of us who were at home there, she enjoyed learning new and obscure facts, and I did find out that she was another who couldn't recall Richard Addinsell, much less the movie Dangerous Moonlight. Or Suicide Squadron.
The only other poet to have been in those environs for a while I actually knew: Jerry Berndt from Madison. Also a filmmaker who showed his first film at the UWM Student Union.
Word got around all too soon that I was engaged, since Jenny sometimes came to pick me up in the new white Triumph we had bought even before the wedding, with her credit at Allen-Bradley's credit union. I was never going to get my hand up Mattie's skirt to the smooth white skin that somehow looked damp when she flashed a bit, and I never had much time to get to know anyone else, though candidates drifted in and out over just those few short months.
Some, I knew, wouldn't care about my marital plans. I realized the rare attractive female reporters who came into the file and reference area for help didn't even look at me much, maybe out of a sense that they were superior, though I was as old as some who had started reporting right out of college.
I thought about calling the engagement off, with common sense coming back, at least partly from a conscience that said it was the right thing to do before things got more complicated.
Though the sex was exciting again for a while, I knew it was only because we had been separated and I hadn't been getting laid. I came the closest to bailing when Jen came to visit on the East Side and we sat in the car before I took her home after quick afternoon sex when she just pulled up her skirt and I had some of the old time urgency and where she cried again.
Her hair was in a dark shag cut, and her small, darting tongue and bright lips -- she was always olive-skinned in the summer, especially -- made her adorable, as usual, and I traced a light pattern on her dappled cheek in the sun-baked car with my finger. The kind of touch she always liked, and she looked pleased.
I decided maybe events would provide an excuse to split someday, when I wouldn't feel I was to blame, but how could I bring myself to back out now?
So I found myself being married in the small Methodist church near her house, with Allan Jensen the closest we had to an official photographer, and Bibiana and Gregory Garson in the audience, then in the basement of the church for cake and refreshments but no alcohol -- the church didn't approve -- where we unwrapped their Fugs album. Then to her parents' house. Plenty of drinking there, before our getaway to the Hilton Downtown for the weekend and more drinking for me, even a rare bottle of wine for the both of us in the restaurant, where I played at sniffing the cork before eating the prime rib and baked potato. Extra for the sour cream.
At the Possley's we circulated in the front rooms, doors and windows open to June sunlight and breezes, for a while standing with my Uncle Al, who had married my Aunt Marjorie after the death of her first husband, the detective. I had liked my Uncle Stephen Whitty, though having been a cop who had even been in the paper for a shootout in a house on the West Side, he could be intimidating -- especially when he warned me about the pitfalls a juvenile delinquent would face. So maybe it was fitting that I stole his gun from my aunt after he died.
But he had his whimsical side. He liked to tell people, "I may be witty, but the guy who wrote Snowbound was Whittier." That usually led to his other witticism: "I'm a poet and I don't know it, but my feet show it -- they're Longfellows."
Uncle Al, a gruff factory foreman well-liked by the family, stood with us near the staircase -- Jenny still in white with white teeth heightened by her tanned olive skin, I in my dark blue suit and striped blue and white tie -- while he proffered advice, much as he had when he went with me when I was 18 to buy a used car. Not knowing how similar the circumstances were:
"You know, marriage is forever." Shit, I thought, that seems to be the common sentiment.
"That's a long time." My stiff bourbon and seltzer in a large tumbler rimmed with gold tinkled as I gulped it. The Possleys had brought out the good monogrammed glassware. Combined with the drinking at the hotel it wiped me out at the end of a long day, and there was no sex on our wedding night, though I surprised myself with a never-to-be-topped -- not even close -- five rounds of sex the next day after a morning swim in the rooftop pool before checking out.
If she was disappointed that splaying her naked legs out on the bed with her dress pulled up and the black patch between them like spilled ink so obviously available, it was soon forgotten.
But our married time wasn't to be that long, after all. Jenny had found us a place on Bartlett Avenue on the East Side, and we were back to work on Monday. By that time I had gone from working days a few in a row, then nights until 11 p.m., to volunteering to take all night shifts. I could drink when I got off and sleep late and still get up a lot more easily, the only thing that made it possible to last some 13 months. That was about as long as I could hold any job.
There were diversions to keep us going. A variety of drugs was becoming more common, and people at Hooligan's and O'Reilly's and Barney's were sharing. Though I had gone from being a beatnik to the young gentleman, I thought -- befitting my white sports car, complete with driving gloves -- even sending for a book of Esquire tips on dressing correctly where I learned how to tie my shoes with laces pointing down like little trees and tucking in my shirts by making a fold in the back before pulling up and zipping my pants, unlike TV and movie actors who were always stuffing their shirttails down past their belts -- hippies were moving in. I could read about them in my own paper, as returnees from the coast talked about starting up their own local underground press, and the first be-in was held at the lakefront in Juneau Park.
And I had sold my weights to Jenny's brother, knowing full-time work was all I could handle, and smoking again as well. I could stay at the bars afterwards. Now that we were married she could even join me, using the car herself if she needed to, though she was liable to fall profoundly asleep and neglect to pick me up for hours.
Pot was all over, and speed was popular, and people would drop over occasionally and we would drink beer and listen to everything from the Jefferson Airplane to Chico Hamilton, a house-warming gift from Matt Wilensky. Or we would visit other couples. She had made a friend, Gail, at UWM, who dated and then married a part-time bartender named Cecil. He took classes at UWM and worked nights at Stauffer's, Downtown at the top of the Marine Bank high rise on Water St. and Wisconsin Ave. overlooking the city and far onto the lake. He could afford a really nice apartment, since his method of tending bar included ringing up premium drinks one step below their listed price and dropping the extra quarter into his white shirt pocket. All night long.
Once on a Saturday afternoon Cecil stopped in while I was drinking a pint of wine and gave me a Black Cadillac and we went off to the Shag house, where they lived, mostly, and rehearsed for their gig at O'Brad's on Locust Street. There was a hookah burning some grass in the middle of a floor scattered with cushions, and Cecil said they were also stoking it with opium.
Already heart pounding from the speed and a little dizzy from the wine on top of it I crouched down and inhaled a few times. When I stood up all I could think of was that I had become a rising human thermometer while my pulse raced and all the pressure was ascending my spine to my head in a column of pleasure I had never experienced before and I felt my face must be glowing bright red. Evidently I looked normal, because I could relax a little and slide down with my back against the wall to sit in silence while conversation went on around me until I could lurch to my feet and leave for supper.
It was Cecil who, before he married Gail, told Jenny about her idea of sex, which was to put down a towel and lie flat on her stomach while he entered her from behind as best he could until he was finished. It didn't keep him from getting married, though Gail herself even asked Jenny if she came every time she did it.
"Of course, she was expecting I would say no, or something like that, and when I said yes she shut up real fast."
I had to point out that Cecil's scenario shouldn't be that surprising -- we knew couples where the guy was always insinuating that he wasn't getting enough and the woman would be coyly letting it be known that he wouldn't stop trying to corner her. But the truth was, her attitude gave him the pretext to proclaim his studliness. Just let her keep him milked for a week or so and see what becomes of all that ardor, I said. And it wasn't likely that the guys hadn't found out about their partner's tepid nature early on.
At Cecil's, Jenny and I finally dropped our first LSD. The first half of the experience was delightful, like good pot, until Cecil -- who had plenty of supposed Sandoz lab stuff -- decided we weren't high enough and gave us another dose -- pushing us into complete paranoia to the sounds of Desi, Dino, & Billy.
I remembered leaving his apartment building on Downer Avenue, his telling us don't wake the neighbors and I saw -- sensed -- the ground as being full of jumbled white bones, all his dead Indian neighbors now sleeping in the earth, as the
Blues Magoos and Western Union by The Five Americans kept reverberating in my head. Psychedelia was big in 1966, and it all ran together in our brains like a spaghetti of twisted colored cables.
Jenny had to drive us, and we locked the doors at home and swore not to let anybody get in to get us, while we rode it out. Pictures of the artists on album covers like Nancy Wilson, looked alive, like real people, while I couldn't bear to look at human flesh -- hers or mine -- since I had X-ray vision and could see tube-veins and cells.
Eventually, I could look at real skin again, though touch was still exquisitely heightened.
As the crest subsided I could finally fuck her -- I couldn't pass that experience up -- in extraordinary sex with a dick that seemed twice normal size feeling every molecule as I was sliding into a grasping cylinder of warm, slippery canned peaches, while the elasticity of every muscle in our bodies seemed to knit together and I came, seeming to pump from way down inside my spine for what seemed to take an eternity.
Later I tried to write some poetry, which was completely worthless except as notes from the navigation. Unusually relaxed and very peaceful the next day, I called Bibiana to report my insight from one of my poems: The point is that there is no point. So much for the universe. That was as profound as it got, though as I believe to this day, it may very well be true, though not a practical adage to live by.
The final impact of that night hit me later on a quiet weekend when I settled down with some beers and then a joint only to become terribly depressed, to the point of thinking humankind should protest the very universe with a massive suicide, a die-in. A few more tries convinced me it was the grass, and I recognized that I had to give it up.
Back at work I began to think more about how little I was paid, while reporters came in and out and went off to write things I could do with a little training. And some of the women there paid more attention to them than to me. The Journal published a few small human-interest pieces I wrote in a column intended for occasional contributors -- using vanity thumbnail photos to make up for lack of payment -- and I began plotting my future in journalism. Plotting because I didn't see how I could be happy without dropping Jenny.
How could I be a dashing newsman in a trench coat like the UPI reporter who stopped at Barney's occasionally, and ignore all the women I would meet for 40 years or so because I had a wife at home? Just going back to UWM brought the anticipation.
The very air in the library seemed somehow confining and frigid, as I clipped my newspapers and answered phone calls from the public -- I never forgot who Notre Dame's Four Horsemen were or what the o in Gran Turismo Omologato, or GTO, meant once I looked them up, though we were told to ask whether it was for a bar bet and decline to help if it were.
Was there an organization who could advise the caller on breast feeding? I had the La Leche League's phone number at hand . . . Of course I once hated any job that didn't have hours I could plan on, just as I avoided overtime -- figuring I made enough to live on -- especially when it cut into bar-closing hours after second shift. But I began to appreciate how reporters could come and go and wander around, no doubt fudging their time sheets or whatever. How hard could it be? Or copy editing -- ideal for an English major -- might offer the best of several worlds.
Though only one library clerk was said to have ever gotten out as a reporter, I made arrangements to meet one night with Sentinel City Editor Bob Wills. He told me that even if I took courses it wouldn't do me much good there, since both papers almost always required master's degrees.
But by then I was committed, and looked around for a way to finance my future, eventually taking my bachelor's degree to work for the county as a social worker. That meant I was getting up early again, and to make the transition I drank quietly every night to get to sleep, and going in while holding on rigidly at the edge of normalcy.
Meantime, as the Vietnam War, well under way, continued I could read about the casualties in the morning paper. Eventually, a familiar name, a guy who had hung out in the old neighborhood, Pete Feierabend, popped out at me. Raw as my nerves already were, I cried a little at my desk as I drank from my mug of morning tea. He hadn't even been born here, but came from Germany.
As for myself, I applied for conscientious objector status, under the new Dan Seeger decision that said I didn't have to have a religious objection to all war -- philosophical would qualify -- but was turned down by my local draft board after I wrote a lot of bullshit quoting everybody from Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr.
Of course, I didn't want to kill anybody, certainly not Vietnamese fighting a nationalistic war for independence, but I wanted to keep my own ass from being blown away, though I had no idea how I might feel about a different war.
According to the law, I had to be opposed to all wars, and I had already had several clashes with the draft apparatus before the Seeger decision, even took the physical, but they maintained that even though I was over 26 I was liable for the draft until 35 because of my previous student deferment. It wasn't enough that all students got one and that when I enrolled and signed some papers one specifically said that submission of this form shall not constitute a request for a 2S deferment. On the government's own document. Ironically, I could have been exempted if I had taken the government's offer a few months earlier and gotten married then, but when Jenny pointed it out I turned her down.
How could this be? I pursued that question for quite a while but officials were evasive until one woman on the phone told me that, well, if I didn't want a deferment I should have specifically requested in writing that I not be given one.
The next step was a local appeals agent, a lawyer and a holdover -- he personally and his function, which I don't think many people even knew about -- from World War II. He seemed surprised to hear from me -- from anybody -- and put me on hold, or thought he did, while he told his secretary to hold his calls because I've got a windy one here. Basically, he told me that he felt justified in intervening only if I were blind or deaf or missing a limb and the draft board still didn't care.
So the board, after lecturing me on why it was my duty to go, in the tradition of a great-Uncle Howard, a Milwaukeean who had been a captain in WW II, turned me down. The president of the board also told me that they thought I couldn't have written my statement without professional help. I thought it was pretty good myself, though I certainly wrote every word.
Their attitude at least gave me an opening, though, as I pointed out in my letter to the state appeal board that under the draft statutes the board's one and only function was to determine the sincerity of my beliefs, not whether I had gotten any help, and not to shame me by bringing up patriotic relatives.
I didn't panic, since I didn't know of one person who really didn't want to go who ended up drafted, in addition to those who deliberately chose jail or Canada. The wait seemed interminable, though.
When I came home from the Welfare Department late one afternoon Jenny in a red blouse was leaning out of the upstairs window holding a white cardboard sign lettered Good News as I parked just off the alley. The appeals board had ruled for me 5-0, which meant I was liable for alternative service -- a hospital or mental ward or something similar -- until age 35. I had already decided not to apply as a medic; they were certainly heroic, but each one freed up a soldier for combat -- and probably had a shorter lifespan.
I wrote a letter trying to have my current employment as a social worker counted as fulfilling the requirement as a community service itself, though I knew I had stalled the machinery long enough to be in a category -- over 27 -- that was unlikely to be even called short of a homeland invasion. They wanted the young and flexible, not troublemakers like me.
But despite Jenny's endearing concern, we weren't getting along, although technically I never committed adultery. If she didn't ignore the cat box or fill the path to the bedroom with the detritus she shed -- scarves, jewelry, bras -- she was always putting a purse, that could have been filthy from resting any place, on the kitchen table.
So I went to O'Brad's -- named for an Obradovich -- by myself, and met the first prospect: Sarah from Green Bay -- which of course made me think of a Dylan Thomas poem and how bright . . . frail deeds might have danced as indeed we were dancing.
I was also seeing a woman the recently-divorced Cecil was dating too, a former romantic possibility from UWM and Cheshire, named Cynthia. She'd apparently gotten healthy enough to stay in school and date, and finally found herself a lover -- only to have him flop down and die of a cerebral hemorrhage walking down the sidewalk next to her on Brady Street.
Ultimately, though, Cynthia decided that since I was technically married -- even if restless -- it wasn't right to be seeing me. Unfortunately, she implemented her decision by standing me up on a cold night when I waited in Joe Ermi's bar on State Street across from the Journal building until closing time. And my bus had stopped running.
But I had realized that not only did marriage usually make me more adept at handling women, they were going to be all around -- especially if I went into journalism. How could I spend time in the co-ed classroom to become a new reporter while looking at what my old friend Ray Malina had called the same old hair pie? Jenny was certainly nice if I paid attention to her, but otherwise would provoke me with all kinds of domestic obstruction instead of taking up intellectual pastimes on her own, or even reading anything besides Time magazine.
And she balked when I wanted to alphabetize the spice rack.
Of course, I couldn't expect her to be a poet, but even her work as a draft counselor at the Milwaukee Organizing Committee with the current crop of radicals wasn't very impressive to me, since she was only learning things about the movement I had already gone through, and parroted friends who couldn't teach her from works I didn't already know about, like Fanon's Salt of the Earth or Regis Debray's Revolution in the Revolution.
With nothing she could impart to me -- my ideal would have been an exotic black painter also into literature and maybe philosophy -- I knew also that with all that pussy out there I would have been stultified by sticking with just a wife, no matter how cute. No poet herself, as she said, and the most she attempted -- as far as I know -- was the scrap of paper I found:
Why doesn't he like my friends?
enough, I suppose, surprising me, though I would argue that I
had nothing against her friends, it was just that I
already had my own, and her messiness was under her
control. The supposed uncleanliness of her cunt was
up to her, since she had a supply of douche
powder and I put up a hook in the bathroom next to the
mirror alongside the toilet for the bag, at her
direction. And turnabout -- or in this case, lack
of it on my part -- was only fair, since she rarely wanted me to
come in her mouth. With good reason, I suppose,
thinking it might deprive her of a climax.
. . . and would not let her be
seemed nice enough about it, complimenting my writing
and suggesting I was more cut out for a national
magazine like Time or something. But
then, I figured he thought my independence just added to
the burden of publishing with a crippled business that
made him a pariah to much of the community, a burden he
was forced to assume after his father had received so
much recognition for his courage. Even if he would
rather be pursuing his career as the genteel publisher of
a Great Lakes sailing magazine and
hanging out with the country club set.
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