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THE THICK MAN
I woke up from a disturbed night's sleep with my sinuses clogged and aggrieved. I had just been dreaming that I had a brain tumor. I hacked and sneezed my way out of bed and cursed my neighbor who smokes cigarettes first thing in the morning. The stink of his tobacco creeps its way into my bedroom each day, awakening me at 8 A.M. and causing an allergic reaction.
So I opened the door of my apartment this particular morning and shouted across the hall, "STOP SMOKING!" and then I slammed my door and muttered, "You bastard." I often do this, but I don't know if he ever hears me. I don't think so since he was friendly to me the other day in the elevator and I feigned civility.
Anyway, after this auspicious beginning an incredible day unfolded. My sinuses drained, and then later that morning a messenger arrived with copies of my new novel, The ExtraMan. I usually don't tip messengers, but since this was a special occasion I opened my wallet. I had a twenty, a five, and two singles. I hesitated as to the proper tip amount and then took the two dollars and handed them to the good man. He looked down at the bills and I immediately regretted not giving him the five — what could he do with two dollars? But he thanked me with his French-Haitian accent and an appreciative smile appeared on his face. I forgave myself my cheapness. He can buy a slice of pizza, I thought.
I closed the door and examined my novel. I noticed right away that from the rough handling of the messenger — whom I had just generously endowed with two American dollars — that all three copies had tiny dents in their bindings. They are ruined, I thought. How can I be proud of them?
My insane response to holding my novel for the first time, a novel I had worked on for too many years, fulfilled the prediction of a friend of mine, Spencer, a therapist-in-training. "When you get your book," he had said, "you'll immediately seek out an imperfection and then want to kill yourself." The young Freudian was right. So to prove him wrong, I pretended to ignore the minuscule dents and was able to see that the book was actually quite beautiful, that nine years of waiting for a second novel had come to a fantastic end.
But I couldn't revel in my accomplishment for too long as I had to hustle off and play a role in a short, avant-garde film. A beautiful woman, whom I've had my eye on for six years, had asked me a few days earlier to be in this movie with her. She had initially called to tell me she had seen my oneman show at the Fez and that she admired my performance. I thanked her for her kind words, and then she made her proposition: "Jonathan, I'd like to work with you. I'm shooting this short film Friday with this great director and I think you would be perfect as my lover."
"Your lover? I'm flattered."
"We have to kiss," she said in a whisper.
"It's the role I've been waiting for!" I said, grandly.
"A Hollywood kiss," she then said, disappointing me. "No tongue."
"Of course not," I said, maintaining my dignity.
Still, tongue or no tongue, the opportunity to embrace this woman felt like a gift from heaven; she wanted me to be her lover in a movie — was it to be a warm-up for real life? I could only hope. So after receiving my novel, I rushed off to the movie location. The director had called me the day before and told me to dress like a 1940s businessman — so my costume was my Brooks Brothers sport coat and tie, my Barracuda raincoat, and a fedora I had bought years ago in Saratoga Springs, New York. We were shooting on the plaza in front of the Tisch School at NYU. I arrived on set and my costar greeted me with a compliment. "You look so handsome," she said.
"I think this fedora makes me look like a Hasid," I said.
"Not at all," she said.
"Well, you are a picture of beauty," I said, and she was. She's a redhead with high cheekbones, green eyes, and a slender yet womanly figure. She was wearing an old-fashioned-looking black cocktail dress. We were straight out of The Thin Man — she was Myrna Loy to my William Powell.
The director was a long-haired fellow with a regal jaw. He positioned us in front of the shiny sculpture which is next to the plaza's Fourth Street entrance. I was to speak no lines. My sole duty was to hold my Myrna Loy and kiss her. The director positioned our arms around one another in a way that he liked.
He explained that Myrna was to kiss my neck, then count to four, swivel her head, and kiss me on the lips. He was going to shoot us while sitting in a wheelchair, pushed around by his assistant. His idea was to circle us for a Hitchcockian embrace, like the one in Vertigo with Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak.
We did the first take. I felt the tender smooch on my neck, then her glorious face swiveled and was before me. Her green eyes flashed, with flecks of gold inside the green. She put her lips on mine and to my great surprise she immediately opened her mouth and this lovely female tongue introduced itself to my male tongue and tickled it hello. We held the kiss. It was delightful, and I swelled against Myrna's thigh, no longer a Thin Man. I grabbed her rear.
"Beautiful, beautiful," the director exhorted, and I sensed him circling us in the wheelchair-cum-dolly for his Hitchcock shot, and there was no hitch to my cock, it rode up her dress looking for a ride home.
"Cut," he said.
Myrna immediately pulled away from me. "How was it?" she asked the director.
"Beautiful. Beautiful. You guys look great."
My erection began to go down. The director reset the shot. The assistant took a light-meter reading. We stood there holding one another. "That was some kiss," I said. "I'm glad it wasn't a Hollywood kiss. It was more French new wave."
"Oh, my God. Did I use my tongue? I was simply in role. I wasn't even aware."
"You didn't feel anything?"
"I was only aware of the camera."
This was dispiriting. Had our kiss meant nothing to her? If she was unaware of her own tongue, was she unaware of my Thick Man?
For the next hour all I did was kiss her. As soon as the director said "Action," I got action. Up my erection would go and then down it would go with the castrating "Cut." And after every embrace, she'd pull away from me and ask the director about the shot. I was falling in love and all she cared about was art. Why had she asked me to do this? What did it all mean?
Then our scene was over. She had many more hours of shooting, but I was done for the day. Done for the film. Myrna gave me a chaste kiss good-bye on the cheek and reapplied her lipstick for her next scene. "Let's talk soon," I said. "Go out for dinner."
"Sure," she said, but there was no indication in her tone that this kissing would have a sequel. I felt resigned. She is a beautiful enigma who gave me an hour of joy and I don't know why; perhaps that is all there will be.
I walked home, sexually wound up and emotionally melancholic, which is a rare combination — depressed and aroused. So I stopped at the Missionary Position Cafe on Second Avenue for a consoling coffee. I sat at one of the tables and a young blonde girl at the adjoining table smiled at me. I am having a curious effect on women these days, I thought.
I brooded over my caffeine. I held my fedora on my lap. The blonde was still looking at me. She was in a blue cotton summer frock. Her arms were delicately covered with gold hairs and she wouldn't stop staring at me.
"Do I know you?" I asked.
"No. But I saw you at the Fez. You are very funny." A conversation ensued. She spoke English well but with a German accent. She was a tourist from Hamburg, nearing the end of a two-week holiday. Her name was Claudia. She was only twenty-one, and she was quite lovely except for a pimple on her right temple. But I forgave her this, thinking that traveling is difficult on one's skin. She had seen my show listed in the Voice and had come with several German friends. She thought I was a celebrity. I was in like Flynn. My Fez show was working all kinds of wonders for me. I spent the rest of the day with her. But not wanting to lay out a lot of cash, I took her to Staten Island. You can't beat an inexpensive romantic boat ride. Then I paid for a cheap Italian meal on the Island, and she drank a carafe of wine.
"You don't drink?" she asked.
"No, I'm an alcoholic," I said.
"Doesn't that mean you drink a lot?" she said. They're very smart in Germany.
"I've quit," I said.
"That's good," she said. "My father is an alcoholic. But he drinks." Once she said that, I knew I was in for a good night. The odds had been in my favor ever since she had agreed to go with me to Staten Island, but you never know with women. Sometimes things turn out platonic when you least expect it, especially with European women. In Europe men and women are often friends, which doesn't happen in America, so American men, such as myself, can get confused. We're not accustomed to being friends with females.
But daughters of alcoholics, regardless of their country of birth, often adore me. It's sad, but the lousy fathers of the world have driven all these girls, their heartbroken daughters, into my arms. I'm not sure what these girls see in me — my inherent alcoholism, drunk or sober? the impossibility of lasting love? — but they sniff it out and try to undo what went wrong way back when. Of course they can't. No one can. And what am I looking for? Probably to let somebody down so that I can hate myself.
Anyway, the sun set and we took the ferry back and the sea air made us amorous. We began to kiss on the prow. It was my second French kiss of the day, even though Claudia is German. My fedora almost blew off.
We came ashore and found a secluded bench near the water in Battery Park. I didn't need a director for this scene. Claudia sat on my lap. We kissed. I became aroused and she rubbed herself against my erection.
Then I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the Holocaust Museum was looking right at me. I had forgotten that it was in Battery Park. The museum wasn't happy with my behavior. Forty-five years ago her people were gassing my people. But she's innocent, I thought, protesting to the building. Then Claudia draped herself across my knees and raised her ass. This was unexpected. Then she put my hand against her ass, and I understood intuitively that she wanted me to spank her. She was awfully young to be depraved, but people, generally, are more mature in Europe.
So I lifted her frock, revealing yellow panties. Her ass was round and firm and white. Quite beautiful. I began to lightly spank her rear, though I mixed in a hard smack every now and then to keep her guessing. With my hand cupped, I also tapped her gently between the crack of her buttocks, softly hitting her vulva. She really seemed to like that. Then I looked over at the Holocaust Museum. Is this better? I asked, silently, in my mind. I figured that corporally punishing a German had to give the museum some solace. And while I spanked her, I gave her my thumb to suck as a phallic substitute and she took to it blissfully.
Later, I put Claudia on the subway back to her hotel. She was leaving New York the next day to go to Boston. From Boston, she would fly to Germany. Who knew that Boston had direct flights to Hamburg. We exchanged addresses and kissed good-bye. What will become of her?
I went home and put my copies of The Extra Man on my bookshelf. When I was a little boy I used to put my new sneakers next to my bed and stare at them as I went to sleep. I was always proud of new sneakers, thought they were so beautiful-looking. So twenty-odd years later I lay in bed with the light on and stared at the copies of my novel. Across the distance of my room the dents in the bindings were hardly noticeable.
OH, PARDON MY HARDON
Saturday night, I was out with my friend the Polish actress and film star Graziela. She's an older woman, wonderfully elegant, and still quite beautiful. She chain-smokes and uses a silver cigarette holder, but with Graziela I don't mind the secondhand smoke. With her, it's like the fog on the stage for an Ibsen play. It's romantic, moody, and provides a European ambience. I feel lucky to breathe it in.
We both were famished and so we went to McHaley's on Forty-sixth Street and Eighth Avenue. We sat at a booth in the bar area so that Graziela could smoke and we ordered bacon cheeseburgers. For years I was a vegetarian, and before that I was kosher. But of late, I eat almost anything. So this was the first bacon cheeseburger of my life. It was quite decadent and quite good. McHaley's is supposed to have the best burgers on Broadway.
While we ate, I glanced occasionally at the Yankee game on the television. And Graziela smoked — her eating hardly interrupted the flow of cigarettes — and told me her various troubles. I think she believes that because I am a novelist I might know something about life. I haven't disabused her of this notion. And I do know one thing: When someone is in distress the best thing you can do is listen to them, or pretend to listen. Let them drain the wound of their psychic injury and healing takes place. So I listened to Graziela and snuck glances at my heroes, like Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez, on the television.
After our cheeseburgers, which I paid for like a big shot, we strolled through the throngs of Times Square tourists and Graziela launched into a wonderful Mac Wellman monologue. Wellman, a brilliant but somewhat unknown playwright, often utilizes Graziela, and the monologue she performed for me was filled with non sequiturs and baseball references. The Yankee game on the television had inspired her. In her Polish tones, she exclaimed, amidst the Midwesterners and the neon, something Mac Wellmanish, like, "Ball four. I see a cat. Who am I?" I was a lucky man to have one of New York's great actresses performing for me on Broadway, all for the price of a cheeseburger. Then we went up to her apartment, which is in the Theater District, and her home is like something out of a Tolstoy novel, even though she's Polish. There are hundreds of old beautiful books, lamps with silk shades, gigantic oil paintings, a shiny samovar, black-and-white photos, ladies' hats, tea sets, and because of the lamps, the soft lighted glow of the Old World.
She had me take off my shoes and lie on her large, beautiful daybed. She angled the television in my direction. She wanted to watch me watch the rest of the baseball game. I think it reminded her of her ex-husband, an American who loved baseball. She made us coffee and sat on the other side of the room from me. She smoked and I watched the Yankees.
"I feel like a king," I said, luxuriating in the pillows of the daybed and the freedom of my stocking feet.
"You are a king," she said.
I then asked her to join her king on the daybed but she preferred to sit in her favorite chair. I wanted her next to me so that I could rest my head on her full bosom, but it wasn't meant to be. With women, I am secretly like the baby swan in that children's book who loses his mother and goes around saying, "Are you my mommy?" In my mind I said that to Graziela, but not out loud.
After the Yankee game (another victory, of course), I left Graziela. The Yankees' win had coincided with my digestive process. After the last out, I really needed to use a toilet — Graziela's strong European coffee had activated the bacon cheeseburger, but there was no way I was going to violate Graziela's commode. I'm very neurotic about using other people's toilets. So the end of the game gave me a natural exit, though if I didn't have to go to the bathroom, I probably would have stayed a while longer with the hope that eventually she might have joined me on the daybed. She's over sixty and incredibly sexy. But my toilet issues took precedence over my romantic desires.
In parting, she gave me a tender kiss for each cheek — oh, if there only could have been more! — and I quickly walked over to the Algonquin Hotel to use the bathroom. Since I was in jacket and tie, I knew I wouldn't be harassed. I always like to use the toilets of fancy hotels; it's the closest I come to being a guest.
So I was sitting on the john, feeling the bacon cheeseburger protruding from the area above my pubis like a softball, even though I had just watched a baseball game, and I was concerned. I had been very ready to go and now the thing was stuck. This would be my first and last bacon cheeseburger! I should have remained kosher and vegetarian! I was being punished. I nervously massaged the softball, hoping to force the thing down and out of me. Then the bathroom door opened and I heard a child's voice with an English accent say, "I'll be all right, Daddy." Then an adult English voice said, "I'll be right outside."
And then the stall door next to me was opened and underneath the partition I saw a boy's small, well-clad leather feet. Dear child, I thought. Then he expelled a large, gaseous, noisy multisyllabic fart.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "I Love You More Than You Know"
Copyright © 2006 Jonathan Ames.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Thick Man,
Oh, Pardon My Hard-On,
Rue St. Denis,
Troubles With Cockroaches and Young Girls,
My Wiener Is Damaged!,
I Called Myself El Cid,
My New Society Testimony: Able to Love Again,
I Love You More Than You Know,
Everybody Dies in Memphis,
No Contact, Asshole!,
Whores, Writers, and a Pimple: My Trip to Europe,
Club Existential Dread,
The Most Phallic Building in the World,
The Most Phallic Building in the World Contest,
'Tis the Season for Halitosis,
Sneakers Make the Boy,
A Tribute to George Plimpton,
I Love Jack Kerouac,
Our Selves Between Us,
How I Almost Committed Suicide Because of a Wart,
S/he Said, He Said,
Midlife Assessment: Cataloging My Ruination,
The Onion Asks Me: What Is Funny?,