Background

A Pool Hustler's Daughter grows up in subterranean America. She dreams big, hustles daily and loves her Daddy. With empathy, fascination and grace she navigates and inhabits every tier of society; sees beauty and hope and magic in all things; respects and lives by the "mitzvah."
A Pool Hustler's Daughter calculates the trifecta payout at the racetrack, hides money on three parts of her body, has an arsenal of "Uncles," and keeps a baseball bat by the front door. She values friendship, loyalty and experiences over "things." Like her father, she seeks to learn "The secrets of the universe" and believes "Life ain't on the square." She applauds the self-made and those who learn to "overcome" their circumstances. Her door is always open for a sofa to sleep on, a hot meal, or an eager listener for a life story.
























Thursday, December 5, 2013

10 THINGS I WON'T DO BEFORE I TURN 40: Chapter 8 or # 3 GO TO THE PROM

I notice him immediately. He is the one guy in class who finds a way to offend everyone in his vicinity, in a non-menacing way, then smiles and acts self- deprecating to even the playing field. Everyone is on edge after he leaves the room. He likes that. He plays with his hair, a lot. He flirts with the cafeteria lunch lady. He jerks off to a photo still of Natalie Wood from Splendor in the Grass while listening to The Jam’s That’s Entertainment. He dog ears all the orgy scenes in Henry Miller's Quiet Days in Clichy. He can’t look a girl in the face, because he is too busy looking at her breasts. He loves his mother. His online chat room name is Alvy. His online chat room girlfriend’s name is Nasty Girl 312. His favorite character on the television show Gossip Girl is Doroda, Blair’s rotund, long suffering but plucky and loyal, Polish maid. He is in the red on his pay pal account due to online Poker. He has a bookie who hangs with him at the off track. He is in touch with his feminine side. He DJ'd his kid brother's Bar mitzvah. He made his kid brother sit through the independent film making farce Living In Oblivion on his IPAD during his parent’s anniversary party at the Ritz Carlton. Prior to the film viewing, he got kid brother stoned at the Ritz Carlton. He tried to put his hand up his (removed) cousin’s skirt at the Ritz Carlton. He has a girlfriend in Canada. He has a blow-up doll named Barbie. He was arrested defending a woman's right to choose. He passed out on his bed in his clothes, smiling, with Tangerine Dream on his IPOD and David Foster Wallace's short story "Forever Ovehead" on his chest last night. His friends often refer to him as “selfish prick” but “funny.”

His name is Auggie Schulman, future all around awesome man/boy and I am going to the senior prom with him.

“Age difference, what age difference?” I answer Auggie, as he tries to catch his breath after I jump out of the soccer team storage locker, I have been hiding in, at the end of their game. I enjoy dramatic entrances. Sue me.
“I mean, I don’t have a date yet, but I could ask someone.” Auggie tells me.
“Listen, you are only eighteen years old. You're going to have years of these type of events. I am going to be forty in just a few months. I need to do this. I need to do this, with you. You’re kind of, well, cool.”
“Cool, you think I’m cool?” Auggie answers, still sweat on his brow under his head band post-game, staring at my breasts.
“Yes, like the coolest guy in your class, Or at least the most original one. I can’t think of a better teenager to spend a night at the prom with.”
“Okay, I’ll do this. It would be original. It would be memorable. Nobody would ever believe me if I told them in college, or at my own wedding years from now…”
“See, your thinking ahead. I always do. You can’t be the most interesting boy in your class without doing something just like this. And besides that, I have a great coke connection.”
“You do?”
“Yeah, Steve McQueen”
“Steve McQueen, the filmmaker?”
“Wow, that’s why I like you so much, Auggie.
But no, the film star.”
“Really?”
“He’s a ghost friend of mine, don’t ask. Marcello Mastroianni introduced me. He's a ghost, too, FYI. Any way, Steve gets the best shit.”
“Cool.”
“So, you’re like totally okay with a thirty nine year old woman going to the prom with you who occasionally talks to and/or buys drugs from ghosts.”
“Yes, I am okay with it.” Auggie answers, smiling devilishly. His pale blue eyes are putting me into some kind of teenage trance.
“Jesus, Auggie, keep this up and I might let you touch my boobs later."

I show up to the mall of my youth and find the North Beach Leather store replaced by Yankee Candle Company. DAMN! Must procure leather mini dress on Ebay. Instead of a tanning bed, I have a spray tan. I book a limo and a room at the Four Seasons post-prom. At the very least I can watch “Movies Still In Theaters” the remainder of the night.

Going to the prom has had very little impact on my life as a woman, on my self-confidence. Just ask my therapist(s); we are all in agreement on this.

The problem with me and prom is that I attended a fourteen year private school consisting of less than 250 high school students. Because of the small size, Prom was available to all four class years, freshmen to seniors. You would think with these odds, I could have snuck in sometime, but, alas, that was not the case.
Every time I pass by the teen cocktail dress section of any Department Store, I think the exact same thing - I didn't go to the prom.

Now, technically I did actually go to the Four Seasons that night, senior year, and take the elevator up to the ballroom. But when it came to actually walking through the threshold of the door, into the ballroom, I could not manage to get one foot in front of the other and walk INTO the prom. I just looked at all the large round tables, like a wedding, and the Reggae band playing for at most two minutes. I saw my friends laughing and dancing, with someone in a tuxedo beside them, turned around, took the elevator back down to Michigan Avenue flagged a cab and left.

I only took the dress back out Junior Year Halloween in college. Friends thought there was some theme to it - Killer Prom Date, Prom Date Serial Killer, and Mutant Prom Girl? No, there was no theme; I was just a girl going to the Prom. I thought Halloween was about being someone you're not.

When I show up to Auggie's parents house that night they look a little worried. Auggie is thrilled. An older woman who also happpens to be a Shiksa - Jackpot.

I don't even get out of the car when the limo pulls up in front of Auggie's house. I just wave. Steve McQueen and I are in the middle of a very intense chess game right now, and I don't want to lose my concentration - or have Mr. and Mrs. Schulman notice their son is hanging out with the (un)dead.

Auggie, high off the power of messing with his parent's minds, hops into the limo and all of a sudden starts...screaming like a little girl.
"AHH! Is that? Am I seeing a ghost?" Auggie yells at me.
"Auggie, stop acting like such a star fucker. Steve may be the greatest box office star of the seventies, but he's just a normal guy. Likes to drink Bud and play the ponies." I pause "Steve, this is Auggie, Auggie this is Steve McQueen."
Auggie collects himself, taking a deep breath and shakes his hand.
"Steve is dropping is off at dinner, then the limo will come back for us."
"This is the best night of my life already" Auggie tells me.
I smile.
"But, why didn't you let Steve take you to the prom? I mean, he's so much cooler than me?" Auggie asks.
"I'm attracted to Steve, yes, what woman isn't? I mean, come on, he literally melts your panties off with his steely blue eyes. But we have no connection as artists, you know, not much to talk about. He's pretty quiet and I prefer loud and obnoxious, like you, Auggie. I love to hear a man talk; especially when it’s tailored to get under my skin." I pause, "But most importantly, well, Steve is a ghost. I don't want to cause that kind of a scene at the senior prom." I tell Auggie. "Women do like it when a man stares at them, in the right way, the way Steve does, there isn't an ounce of sap to it. It is a serious moment, and he makes a woman feel like a woman. You should learn from it." I finish.

We walk into the Rush Street Steakhouse Gibson's together. It is heavily wallpapered with the Viagra triangle crowd. Martinis and money. I am happy to think I am with an eighteen year old. He can be my arm candy.
I lead him to the bar. It is crowded and loud and great to people watch from.

"I don't eat much when I'm wired. How about some oysters and vodka?" I ask Auggie, who is about to check into his smartphone. I grab it away from him.
"Listen, if I see you take this out, while I am talking to you, I will throw you, and it, out the fucking window."
Auggie looks scared. Poor thing has already had to accept the existence of ghosts in the world.
"I'm sorry. I always had a hard time, not scaring men away with my death threats. Perhaps you are beginning to understand why I didn’t start dating until my late twenties. Please, let’s have a drink."
The male, bow tied bartender, hands us over two Stoli vodka rocks with twists and a dozen oysters.
"Here" I say, putting an oyster shell up to Auggie's mouth.
Auggie looks scared, maybe he's too wired.
"Is this an aphrodisiac?" he asks
"It's delicious" I tell him.
"But I mean, is it going to give me hard on?" he whispers, embarrassed.
"No, don't be ridiculous." I say, forgetting how even a man/boy like Auggie, can be self-conscious about the unpredictability of his own sexuality.
We finish the oysters and I wipe Auggie's mouth with my napkin. I have to remember to stop mothering him. He's my prom date, not my child. I picked Gibson's specifically because thirty and forty year age differences are overlooked daily, twenty years is nothing.
“So, if you don’t mind my asking, why didn’t you go to prom?” says Auggie, eyes down.
“Well, Auggie, to start with, I didn’t have a date…”
“Why not?”
“Well, I was a lot different back then. For one thing I was shy. Like, painfully. My father brought a boy home for me to meet once, and I literally ran out his front door and walked three miles to my mother’s hyperventilating. I believe the medical term is panic attack.”
“Yikes.”
“And my parents, who were divorced, had polar opposite philosophies when it came to me and my romantic life.”
“Like, what?”
“Well, my mother hated men. She wanted to prove that a woman could thrive without a man, without sex.”
“Double yikes.”
“I was her poster child, to be paraded in front of my father, to punish him. If I even mentioned a boy, anything at all, she rolled her eyes and punished me with heavy passive aggression until I broke down and cried, or shut up about it. I had a profound sense of guilt, for even finding someone attractive, forget about even imagining a kiss…”
“And your father?”
“Well, when he wasn’t dating teenagers or prostitutes or, teenage prostitues, he was telling me that I did everything wrong when it came to being a woman. He demanded that I follow his very strict rules as to how to “land” a boyfriend, and if I didn’t follow these rules I was destined to be alone the rest of my life. The pressure…was too much. All I really wanted to do was remain alone and get both of my parents off of my back.”
“And did you follow your father's rules?”
“I tried – barely – but again, I was too shy, I was always so much younger than everyone else, and even the thought of someone from the opposite sex breathing on me, well, it gave me a deeply unsettling physical reaction. One I didn't get over until much much later, my senior year of college. It's when I learned how to let go a little and have fun. Thank God.”
“And prom night?”
“I bought the dress myself and my friend Sarah, did my makeup at her house with my Dad phoning non-stop. When I answered finally, he screamed at me until I was in tears, saying there was no way I could go to prom by myself, without a date. It wasn’t natural. He said it was going to fuck me up the rest of my life.”
“But you went anyway?”
“I tried, like I said. I normally avoid mainstream activities, but I felt I had already missed three years of prom, that I needed to experience it once before college, that I would regret it. ..”
“You bought the dress, bought the ticket, then you didn’t go?”
“When I got to the ballroom, I just couldn’t walk through that threshold. I just couldn’t…”
“But you will tonight?”
“Yes, like I said, I’m…different now…”
______________________________________________
Auggie and I walk out of the elevator of the Four Seasons Hotel, walking past the large flower arrangements, Peonies, Ranunculus, Lilies. Walk past the water fountains, across elaborately decorative carpets.

When we get to the ballroom, Auggie walks ahead of me and through the door, inside…

He turns round, to see me, stuck again, unable to walk forward.

“Cece, please. You can do this, I’m going to do this with you.” Auggie tells me, smiling, reassuring me. I like that he reassures me. He walks back out of the ballroom and holds my hand.

“Better late than never," he says, "Close your eyes.”

And I close my eyes, and step forward.

“Now open” he says.

When I open them, there I am, I’m…at prom. And I’m not alone. I have the best date ever, Auggie Schulman, and he, he might be only eighteen, but he gets me...

“Drink?” he asks.
“Absolutely.”

I look at the beautiful ballroom. Across the dance floor I see an old face, a dead one, my English teacher, the one who made me love reading, the one who noticed me, and plucked me out of the crowd. The one who wrote on my report card – with my very first A grade in high school, that I was a “Star.”

“Dr. Stone,” I say, “What a pleasant surprise.”
I give her a hug. She is flawlessly dressed, navy Armani skirt suit, pearl earrings, alligator purse, long black hair, sapphire blue eyes, as tall and thin as any super model, brilliant but bat shit crazy, in only the best of ways.

“I still like to come to Parker Events, see how the high school is doing, you know I am obsessed with youth culture, they are our future, you know, plus I want to make sure my English curriculum hasn’t been messed with. Some of the teachers, the old timers, can see me, I still spook them with my presence, just like in the old days…”
“You were… a force…to put it lightly…you changed my life…entirely…I hope you know that…from my letter..from college. You still motivate me, every single day”
“I know, “ she tells me, “I just wish you hadn’t waited so long to start writing again.”
“I know. But my subject matter is self-indulgent, prose pedestrian, vocabulary low-brow; plus I make sweeping generalizations regarding great works of art.”
“I told you, emphatically. You must write while you are young. Write, write, write. What about that didn’t you understand?”
“My early writing was garbage, even you know that. I had to find my voice, I had to find my style. I had to live a little…”
“You always hid your face behind your hair. I nearly slapped you because of it. You were pretty, didn’t I tell you that?”
“You were the only one to tell me that, how could I forget. You were the only teacher to “speak” to me. Do you know how much that meant to me? It took a few years before that happened again…”
“Was it a boy? Did you have sex with him?”
“Dr. Stone!”
“Carpe Diem, Carpe Diem!” she yells.
“Yes, I even kept the Andrew Marvell poem “To His Coy Mistress” above my college bedside lamp as a reminder.”
“Carpe Diem is for every day, it’s meant for the rest of your life. Not just for when you are twenty Cece. You know what I would be doing if I was alive right now?” she tells me, dead as dead can be, serious, “Fucking everything. And yes, that is a double entendre.”
“And that’s why you’re my hero.”
“I implored all of you to understand the importance of sex, never to overlook it. Why do you think I always talked about it in class? I could command an audience of thousands with the suggestion. You remember every lecture that I had mentioned something of a sexual nature don’t you?”
“Of course, that was your calling card. And you were an incessant flirt.”
“And that is why my students always had the best grades, became famous writers, actors, filmmakers. I knew how to get people to listen to me. To remember me. You should employ my tactics in your own..writing.”
“I do, I just don’t want to devalue the importance of sex by talking about it too much. I will always think of it as a gift.”
“Cece, it is a gift. You, are a gift. And forty is nothing. Even at ninety I could have run a marathon, probably. If you don’t live your life, they way you imagined it, when you were young, I will never speak to you again.”
“But you’re a ghost.”
“But I can haunt you in your dreams.”
“Yes, you can. But I will never ever fear you. You are my hero. I wanted to get m PHd in American Studies just like you. Might still.”
“Nothing more gratifying than being an educator.”
“Everything I write is for you to be proud of me one day, Dr. Stone, for believing in little old me. Scholarship girl, daughter of the school receptionist and a pool hustler. You thought my differences made me interesting. You pleaded for me to write about them. I am trying.”
“Well try harder. No excuses.”
“No excuses” I answer her.
“Well, you know how curt I am. Off to Paris now. Gertrude Stein’s salon awaits. You have no idea how we fight over the spotlight in Paris, you know, who’s running the show. She’s got Picasso on her side, but I’ve got Matisse. I told her I had my own artist’s salon here in Chicago, but for some reason she thinks hers is superior…can you believe that woman? The nerve! I told her she needed to lay off the galettes and she told me I was a skinny bitch! I thanked her, of course, you know how hard I work to keep my youthful figure.”
“Of, course.”
“And the fashion in Paris, its, well, you know…”
“Oh, yes..” I answer.
“I plan on getting her organized, too. She has my time, tasks and materials management system in a three ring binder. Alice is pushing it on her, slowly.”
“B. Tolkas? Of course, she is.”
“And one more thing,”
“Yes, Dr. Stone”
“The anthology, you sent me, of W.B. Yeats, his poetry, when my sister passed away. Well, thank you. You know how much I love..”
“Words” we say in unison.
"Remember, Cece, everyone under my tutelage becomes a famous artist one day. I'm still..waiting. And I don't like...waiting."
"Understood." I say.
"Let nothing stand in the way of your writing," she implores, "nothing. And if your stuff is worthy of being a student of mine, I'll run it by Gertrude. Although for being a lesbian, she's not that supportive of female writers...still stuck on that bastard Hemingway, like he's God or something. Personally, I think it's just penis envy. Toodles!"
"Toodles!"
And with that my teacher, hero and writing mentor dissolves through a wall, grabbing her fur stole and throwing it over her shoulder; still so very glamorous, even in the afterlife.

Auggie walks up to me with a diet soda spiked with rum from his hip flask.

“Sorry,” he says, “try and remember I’m only eighteen. I can’t legally drink at this thing.”
“Friends here?” I ask.
“Lots of friends, just”
“Not close ones…” I say.
“You are outgoing, Auggie, you will always have lots of friends, always be…in the spotlight.”
“My outgoing behavior, well, it’s usually just a decoy… Shhh, don’t tell.”
“Well, I’ve made it to prom…because of you. You had me pass that threshold. Thank you, Auggie, thank you.”
“You don’t have to,”
"But..now I should be leaving. It’s your night, not mine. Tonight is for the under twenty crowd and I’m about to enter a brand new Nielsen bracket.”
“But, you have to have one dance. With me? It’s prom.”
“Oh, that’s sweet, but…” I begin

New Order’s “Temptation” begins to play.

“How?” I begin.
“DJ’s your age. He also likes blow…”
“Ha!”

Auggie runs out to the dance floor first, he has some rhythm – minor – for a white boy.
I dance, near him, by myself.

I see some of Auggie’s friends waving; laughing at his dance moves. I move backward, watching him a few precious moments more, and walk out the door. I take the hotel elevator upstairs. Room service and pay per view awaits. Maybe I’ll even get some writing done, for Dr. Stone. She’s always tapping me on the shoulder, when I get disillusioned or lazy.

________________________________________________

"Auggie, what are you doing here?" I ask, shocked.
He says nothing, just stares down at the carpet.
"Auggie? Are you okay?" I ask again, concerned.
"You had me at Steve McQueen's ghost" he tells me, looking up, and reaching for my hand.
"Auggie..." I say, shaking my head, and let him kiss me, once, softly. He tastes salty, like the Ocean.
"Please don't tell me you're here because of some Harold and Maude fetish. That would bum me out. Ruth Gordon has at least thirty years on me in that film."

I turn on the overhead light.
"Cece, what the?" Auggie yells.
I turn to look at the half massacred room service tray.
"Oh, that was there...when I got here. The service in this hotel is terrible." Liar.
"No, you're different, Cece. Don't take this the wrong way, but you are very different."
Auggie reaches to touch my face and then my hair. He looks entranced.
"Oh, do I have chocolate cake on my face?" Sometimes I fall asleep in the plate itself.
I run into the bathroom to look in the mirror.
"You're.."
"Young again."
"Like my age, like.."
"Seventeen. I was seventeen the night of my senior prom. I'm younger than you. My hair. Its huge! All I did was eat some cake and fall asleep..."
I look at my outfit. I grab the tag from the back of my strapless dress it reads "North Beach Leather."
"Oh, my god, even my voice sounds funny. Look at me, look at me, goddamit. I have no wrinkles! And my tits are up to my neck! Steve McQueen really does get the best shit!"
Auggie just laughs, and starts to stare. His blue eyes are lighting up. Like sparklers.
I open up the envelope where the Coke is stashed.
"It just says "Magic" on it." Auggie tells me.
"Steve McQueen gave us magical blow." I say, looking up at Auggie, grinning.
"Then why didn't I change?" he asks.
"Because you don't need to. This is still your normal prom night. And Steve knows I bought and read every single Biography ever written about him. I am a dedicated fan."
"I'm glad I came back then. You know I like you at 39, but you, being seventeen and all, well, I feel more comfortable. You're very pretty. I just want to...smell your hair..."
Auggie makes me smile. I accept his words. I allow myself to hear them, digest them. I do feel pretty. Why didn't I appreciate myself more when I was seventeen?
"You know I've never kissed an eighteen year old boy before?" I tell Auggie, "Another bonus I can cross of my list before 40."
"You know I've never kissed a thirty nine year old woman in a seventeen year old's body before. Oh, yeah, and I'm a virgin."
"What?"
"Please don't make me go to college a virgin!" Auggie begs.
"What? Blow makes you say crazy things!"
"I was coming back here to ask you to devirginize me. Please, Cece. I don't want to get to college a virgin! I even made a playlist on my IPOD for the occasion."
Auggie shoves his IPOD in my face. The playlist is entitled "Auggie's First Time."
"Everybody should have a soundtrack, in the movie that is your life." he tells me.
"NO WAY. I do not have any desire whatsoever to "do it" with you. I'm sure it will happen this summer, and if it not, just plow a horny bible beater from your dorm room floor first week freshman year...just stand guard at the beer bong periphery, the right girl will literally fall on top of you."
"But if you're seventeen, doesn't that mean that you're..."
"A virgin, too. OH MY GOD."
"Ha, ha! You're a virgin!"
"Please, it took me twenty one years before I stopped getting teased like that. Leave me alone, Auggie, or I swear to God I'll.."
"You'll, what?"
I am surprised at my reserve. Something is holding me back.
"I'm not as strong as I normally am. Being seventeen. I barely said two words when I was seventeen. Especially not to boys. I was incredibly shy. I guess I have come kind of far since then."
"Listen, aren't you the one who keeps repeating how you'd like to see life come full circle?"
"I do, I do. I just never thought this...was an option. Aren't there any whores in your high school who can provide this service?"
"Well, I managed to get one girl, an exchange student, to blow me a few times, but she complained I was too big, and stopped answering my calls."
Deep swallow.
"Auggie, I do not want to commit statutory rape!"
"I'm 18. If anything, I would be the statutory rapist since you are only 17." Auggie says smiling. He really feels like he is going to win this argument.
"Cece, I'm going to be your statutory rapist," Auggie repeats again, smiling even wider than before, even his sparkling eyes are smiling. Perv. God, he has long eyelashes. You could ski off of them.
"Auggie, I have never been naked with a teenager or as a teenager before. I don't think I'm mentally - or physically - prepared for this."
"You'll be fine. Steve McQueen gave you the magic cocaine for a reason, and I think this is it."
"Did it ever occur to you, I might want to be attracted to you?"
"But I thought?"
"I'm sorry, I am attracted to you, Auggie, like every detail about you warms my heart, other than the fact you are so young. You are a character. If I was truly seventeen, I might fall in love with you and never ever stop. I just want to...wash your hair"
"Really? You could love me?"
"Auggie, I'm frigid."
"What? What does that mean?"
"Blame corporate America. Blame spreadsheets and numbers. Blame a broken heart. But most of all blame me. When I lost words, I lost hope, I lost everything that made me...me."
"I only think of you as a writer, an artist. Does that help?"
"Listen, I hope you never have to hear that ugly word again - ever. But it is in fact a medical condition that I suffer from. All you need to worry about at your age are wet.."
"Moist"
"Vaginas"
"Like the Sonic Youth song?"
"Bingo."
I feel something going on, downtown. My downtown.
"Can you excuse me a moment?' I tell Auggie.
I rush into the bathroom, close the door and look in the mirror. My face is slightly flushed, red through the fake tan.
He's doing something to my body, this Auggie. If being seventeen means I'm still a virgin, then it must also mean..."
Auggie knocks on the door.
I open it slightly, cautiously; Auggie sticks his head through the opening. God, he's beautiful. The young ones always are. Stop thinking about his blow up doll at home. Like right now.
"I'm turning you on, right now, aren't I? Can I see you naked?"
"NO!"
I slam the door in Auggie's sweet smiling face.
He's doing it. He's getting to me. I rush over to my purse and look in my wallet. There are all of my VIP club cards from over twenty years ago and a condom. The one I carried with me on prom night - 1989 - but never used -ever.

I hear music from behind the door. Roxy Music. Goddam DJs.

I open the door to a dark, candlelit room. Roxy Music's "Over You" plays.

"Take off your clothes," Auggie orders as he sits on the edge of the bed loosening his tuxedo tie and throwing off his Sambas, nearly breaking the bed lamp. The power in the room has shifted now that I am seventeen again. I think Auggie is figuring me out. Goddam horny teenagers. Oops. I think I'm a horny teenager, too.

He just looks at me. Looks me over, up and down, just like Steve McQueen would, without sap, just like I told him to. Points for listening. I am so moist right now I feel tropical. Does he have to like David Foster Wallace and Splendor in The Grass? Auggie...the music...this whole scene...my shyness...his forthrightness...well, it is starting to feel like my first time...

"Auggie, sex changes you. Well, it can change you. It changed me, completely. I fell in love the night I lost my virginity. Old fashioned I know, but it does happen. I know you're a guy and all but I don't want the same thing to happen to you. I've never gotten over it."

"Everything that's happening right now is supposed to happen. It's all a part of my path, to be a great artist one day, to be a great filmmaker. You want that for me, right? Just like I want it for you. Please, stop talking and take your clothes off, already. I want to see you. I want to see you naked. I have a hard on just thinking about it. You can kill me afterward if it will make you happy. Slit my throat if you like, or stab me with an Ice Pick..."

Oh, god it's happening again. A few times, without him even touching me.

"Auggie, what's your favorite..."

"Band? The Replacements."

"Movie?"

"Deer Hunter. And I think the wedding scene was not too long."

"Dwarf?"

"Sleepy, of course."

"Okay, okay, Auggie, I'll...say yes."

Auggie is still trying to act cool, concentrated, and serious with a straight face.
"Good," he says calmly.
"But be warned...I'm a bleeder."

When we are lying in bed together, under Four Seasons high thread count linens, listening to Cat Power and just figuring each others bodies out, before anyone's status officially changes, I feel more than moist, I feel connected, to this boy, who I think is a stranger, but isn't. I know him, like I have known Guillame Canet, like I have known David Duchovny, like I have known Ne-Yo. We have met before. He is in my heart already, and I love him.

Cat Power's "Still In Love" plays. Ahem, Um, definitely.

"Ready?" he asks, nervously, "I don't want to hurt you." he whispers, breathing heavily, slightly afraid about what comes next.

I close my eyes. Even the sweat dripping from his forehead and into my mouth tastes sweet and promising.

When it is over we are both on opposite sides of the bed, processing, lowering our heart rates, thinking; holding hands. I am daydreaming, I always am.

"What, are you thinking about?" he asks, not pushy at all.
"Just how real this all feels. How it makes me remember, and miss..."
"Cece, I..."
"Auggie?"
"I love you." he tells me.
My stomach drops, this, exactly this, is what I always wanted to hear.
"I know you warned me, but...I love you," he tells me again, sitting up, "When I opened my eyes and saw you lying there, I felt it. You changed me."
I look right at Auggie, this charming kid, whoever he is, wait; I know exactly who he is, or parts of him, at least.
"I love you, too Auggie,"
Auggie looks happy, happy that I love him. I make Auggie happy. So elementary my speech, so…Gertrude Stein.

"You know, I always wanted to be a torch singer, Auggie" I confess.
"I can imagine it, like Diane Keaton in Annie Hall" he says, smiling, “My fave…”
“Don’t even say it” I tell him.

Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, who I foolishly thought could be my friend one day, sings to us, "Dreams." Ahem, um, yes, definitely.

I roll on top of Auggie, making the first move, brushing his soft, thick, dirty blonde hair back, and looking, photographing. It is so rare for me to be the aggressor, to have someone vulnerable, beneath me.

"Follow my lead" I whisper.

An hour later, Auggie and I are drinking Champagne and toasting what has turned out to be one hell of a prom night.

"I can go again." Auggie tells me.
"I'm sure you can, you're eighteen, Auggie, but you know I like to think about it for twenty minutes, hours, years, before it actually happens. There is some parallel lives shit going on right now. I’m dreamer, remember."
"So, I won you over with the Deer Hunter?"
"Well, there are many reasons, and that's one of them. Your obscenely large penis was the clincher, however."
"You sound like a horny teenager."
"I am right now, aren't I?"
"I love Deer Hunter. Guns, War, macho up the ying yang. Depressing. And Epic."
"That seems to be the party line, but that is not at all why I love it. It has very little to do with the actual film, the actual plot line."
"Then why do you like it?"
"It's because of everything that is going on behind the scenes."
"Like the movie Lost In Oblivion?"
"Not- at all - though I find that movie to be a hoot. It inspired me in my early twenties. When I finally worked on an independent film, I was mindful of it."
"What happened? Behind the scenes?"
"The entire film is a testament to love and friendship. Meryl Streep only took the role because her lover, John Cazale, was in it and she wanted to be close to him as he was dying. And John was only in it, because Robert DeNiro put up the insurance money, because he was uninsurable. John was not predicted to make it through the filming alive, much less the release. John had played,”
“Freddo, in the Godfather II
“Correct, with Bobby - if you don't mind me calling him that."
"I don't, go on."
"John took the movie because he was an actor, and as an actor all he wanted to do was act, even up until his dying day. Being an artist is compulsive. To create is to be alive."
"That's a beautiful story."
I snort another line and start pacing the room, naked. So unlike me. Magic blow.
"Tragic and beautiful. John was able to finish filming, but did not live to see the release. Meryl Streep nursed him until his last day. Bobby DeNiro was an incredible friend to make sure his fellow actor, his fellow artist, had the opportunity to be in that movie. How kick ass is that? There is no greater act than caring for the sick. I have done it a few times and I have never felt closer to God, then when doing so. What Meryl and Bobby did for John - well, it’s a testament to the greatness of humanity. Yet another overlooked Good Samaritan reared in the great state of New Jersey - Ms. Meryl Streep."
"There is a conspiracy against New Jersey isn't there!"
"Yes."
"Fuck, I will never think of the Deer Hunter the same way - ever."
"But you want to know what really gets me about Deer Hunter? What really splits my chest open until my guts fall out like a fish? It’s that goddam wedding scene. All of the bloated fifty some odd minutes of it."
Auggie snorts another line.
"Meryl's thinking I am never going to marry my lover, John, and John's thinking, I am never going to marry Meryl. Have you ever heard of anything more heartbreaking? " I continue," And then, under all of this stress, all of this duress, they both give great performances and are pieces to something larger than themselves - a great movie, a great piece of art." I finish.
"Holy fucking shit is that deep. You seem to care more about what's on someone's mind…"
"Than their actions....yes…I am obsessed with thoughts..."
"I don't know if I can handle this all at eighteen."
"I'm sorry, Auggie. You shouldn’t have to. But that's why the Deer Hunter, besides Michael Cimino being an Academy award winning director, is a tragically beautiful piece of art. And art is never what it seems on the surface. There is always a back story."
"I think you might be the most romantic woman I have ever met." Auggie says, "it’s like an affliction with you, isn’t it?"
"You've known me for three long years; you would think you would have considered this fact before we slept together!"
Auggie swallows and rubs some coke on his brilliant white teeth. He may have just had sex with a crazy person.
"Cece, I've only known you for three days, not years." Auggie corrects, gently.
"Sorry, I do know that, you're just, just, too damn familiar, and I'm wired out of my eyeballs."
"I'm glad, that I'm familiar" he says.
"You know, this was a great night, and don't take this the wrong way, but I didn't need it. I didn't even need to hear you tell me you loved me, although it sounded nice."
"I meant it"
"Well, whether or not you meant it, my first time was already perfect, even without hearing “I love you.” I was with someone I liked, cared about and trusted. I made a conscious decision after weeks of contemplation. It happened in a very romantic way, well, what I think of as romantic. And it was all me, all authentic me that night. I couldn't get away from myself, for the first time, ever; I didn't drift off. I wasn't comparing what was happening to a film I had seen, a television episode, lyrics from a song, or a memory. My brain, was quiet, and open. Everything was brand new; without reference. I was present, I was there...listening, filming, recording...instead of… replaying. He picked me out of a crowd. Those are the people you never forget. He was a character and I love characters. I'm a writer, remember? He literally and figuratively rescued me that night. He was my hero. Like I said, it was perfect."
"Question: is after sex talk always this intense?"
I start to laugh finally.
"No, it isn't, but you are with me, and I am in the middle of an existential crisis and am kind of lonely. Feel free to run out the door screaming if you need to. I swear I am done with the serious talk."
"I like talking on this level, about ideas, but"
"I'm sorry, Auggie. At this age you should only like a girl because her hair smells nice, or she lets you take naked pictures of her. When you are older, relationships can get much more complicated."
"Are you still friends, with your first? I hope you and I will always be friends."
"We're friends who are not friends."
"That makes no sense."
"When you are my age, it makes perfect sense."
Auggie sits at the edge of the bed again, in his boxers, smiling lasciviously.
"Hey, can I take naked pictures of you?"
"I still look seventeen, right?"
"Yeah"
"Then, sure. What the hell."
"Awesome."
"And feel free to share them with all of your friends, or on the internet." I add.
"I love you." Auggie tells me again. I allow myself to believe him.
"Hey, you know what will restart this party? Drugs! Alcohol! Music! Let’s turn the "Auggie's First Time" playlist off. How do you feel about disco?"
"And dance naked in front of the windows above Michigan Avenue?"
"Auggie. You saying that makes me want to cry, even more than after my actual deflowering. I swear I'm going to make a t-shirt with your tight ass on it that says I heart exhibitionists."

If I am seventeen, then maybe my favorite radio station exists. It does - AM 1390. The greatest soul station Chicago ever had; the only one with a racetrack, deadbeat Dad and condom commercial playing on the same set break. This station played twenty four hours a day in my Wicker Park apartment in my early twenties. Every night after nine pm they would play Jose Feliciano's "Light My Fire," god I miss....DJs.
Sylvester's "You Make me Feel Mighty Real" is playing.
"Let's go clubbing!" I tell Auggie.

Wouldn't you know it, Auggie and I are in the back of our limo hitting the Chicago nightlife with my VIP Club Cards in hand. All the Clubs of my youth that I remember are still open. I know the DJs and the bouncers. Being underage will not be a problem.

We hit Jilly's, a retro seventies nightclub in Chicago across the street from Gibson's, on Rush Street, where Frank Sinatra used to hang out. Another one of my cousins, from my great grandmother's sister's line, who is probably in the mob, is working the door, and lets us pass.

I let Auggie do a line off of my cleavage and we clank Long Island Iced Teas in honor of my friend Little Bertha.

I hear cymbals up above on the speakers. Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes off of You."

"Deer Hunter!" Auggie yells.
I grab him by the arm out onto the dance floor.
"It is mandatory for all Italian Americans to get on the dance floor when Frankie Valli is playing. Pavlov!"
"The wedding scene was not too long!" Auggie yells at the top of his lungs.
"I know, it's perfect..."
"Cece, this is the greatest night of my life"
"So far, Auggie. Wait til college..."
"My jeans.. they're different" Auggie tells me, laughing.
They are pleated, and French.
"Girbaud," I tell him, "I should give them to my friend David Duchovny. It is his life's quest to find the perfect pair of pleated pants"

We hit more bars, til 4 am, and I notice we are running out of the magic Coke, I imagine it will be gone by dawn.
One last thing.
We get back in the limo, drunk off our common youth, the idea of breaking through, of new beginnings.
Auggie looks at me, seriously, and I shake my head.
"Blair?" he says
"Chuck?" I say. Roleplaying - again.
And Auggie aka the cocky and confident character Chuck Bass jumps me as we pay homage to Chuck and Blair's infamous limousine ride in the TV show Gossip Girl. I heart…characters.
"It’s my favorite show!" he yells as he hikes up my skirt.
"Mine, too" as I pull his shirt over his head, laughing.
"I'm Chuck Bass" are the last words I hear out of Auggie's mouth until, "I'm going to..."

The limo pulls up in front of our high school, right there on the corner of Clark and Webster. We get out and walk onto the soccer field, hand in hand. I am walking barefoot on the grass.
Auggie throws his jacket on the dewy grass and we both lie down and watch the sunrise. No music, no flashbacks, just Auggie and I and the distant sound of the limo engine running on the street beside us.

Auggie whispers:

I love you

I whisper back:

I love you, too

I caress Auggie’s face with my hand, not much time left for...recording. I pinch his lips with my fingers and slip my tongue inside of his now smiling mouth...remembering.

"You good, Auggie?" I ask
"Great," he says.
"Hey, did you read Thomas Stoppard's play The Real Thing while you were at Parker?" I ask him.
"No," he answers.
"That's too bad. It’s one of his earlier works. We read it sophomore year, they must have changed the curriculum around." I say.
"Why?"
"In it, “real” life is going on at the same time a play is. The characters are actors. It is about love. You are never quite sure what is the "real thing" and what is make-believe, you know the actual play?" I explain.
"And this resonates because?"
"I’m scared. I'm not sure what is and isn't real anymore, Auggie. You have no idea what I have been going through lately, the things I have seen, people I have met. I put all of this pressure on myself before I reached forty to be the sort of brave and uninhibited woman I dreamed of being at twenty. It's exciting, and pleasurable, but also frightening. It’s all so new…"
"You have issues with pleasure. You have issues with letting go." he tells me, as serious as one dead Steve McQueen.
"I'm starting to feel pleasure again, starting to have desire. It has felt foreign to me, for a long time, but it feels natural with you."
Auggie smiles. I am reassuring, him.
"Auggie,” I swallow,
"Oui?" he answers, softly.
‘is that, is that even your real name?" I ask, heart racing. He grabs my arm tightly to get my attention, but not to hurt me.
"Try and relax, okay?" he whispers, "Essayez et vous de' tendre," Auggie repeats, desperate; like time is running out. I’m catching on…
The limo honks from the street, breaking our silence. We pull ourselves up and start to walk toward it.
I let Auggie get into the limo first. The door is still open.

"When I feel out of control, I like to pretend life is a musical. Like a young Christopher Walken singing and dancing in Pennies From Heaven. I much prefer that image, to him with a gun to his head. I rewind and replay as needed." I tell Auggie, lightly touching his hands with my own, “Sometimes words are softer in a song, that’s why I will always love a good mix tape,”

"Don’t you mean play list?” Auggie asks.
“Right…playlist.”
“Where are you going?" he asks, confused.
"For a walk." I say, "I always need to walk to clear my head, to process."
"Thanks...again." Auggie says, looking slightly sad about having to say goodbye.
“No…thank you." I say, smiling and slamming the door.

I walk East on Webster until I hit the Lincoln Park Zoo and pass by the seals and the Lion House. It is deserted. I walk through the back entrance of the zoo and through the Viaduct to Lake Michigan and North Avenue Beach, in front of the old ship. It is where I used to meet my friends over summer vacation every day when I was ten. I wore a purple one piece and put Sun In in my hair. I memorized all the words to the Rolling Stone's "Satisfaction" that summer.

I come up to the beach, also deserted. The sand is soft and the water cold as summer hasn't started yet. I wade out into the water to my knees, beneath my leather dress, seeing a swan in the distance; must have escaped from the zoo, I think. Is this a message, from Steven Dedalus? Has tonight just been yet another episode in my own Portrait of the Failed Artist as a Nearly Forty Year Old Woman? Perhaps it is a dirty Goose and not a swan, my vision's never been that great.

I walk back onto the sandy beach and sit down. The sun is almost completely up. I notice that my once pleasantly plump hands are a little bonier and veined than before. Raised moles on my arms begin to disappear. I must be changing - back.

I replay:

I love you

and

I love you, too

I watch the waves to see if Marcello Mastroianni will show up, forcing himself out of the water, just like in the film La Dolce Vita, but he does not.

I pull my sunglasses and IPOD out of my purse. I hit play on my own playlist entitled "Thirty nine for Thirty nine." Song 1 plays. In Deep's "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life."

Monday, December 2, 2013

Shogun

It was just another Friday night in Lincoln Park for me in 1984. Around ten o'clock at night. I didn’t have a curfew.

I stood outside the front door, inside the vestibule, of our grey stone building’s duplex down apartment and began to smell that smell – a familiar smell, unsuccessfully buried beneath burning Patchouli incense and a few Winston cigarettes…Marijuana. Oh no.

I heard the familiar voices of John, Paul, George and Ringo and some deceptive giggles.

It was flashback time. And I would be walking into the thick of it.

I told myself I would walk as fast as I could to my back bedroom and close the door. I wouldn’t look up or make eye contact because that was asking for trouble. Just like they tell you not to make eye contact with a beggar or a gypsy, I wouldn’t make eye contact with my mother. She was drunk and stoned and the last thing I wanted to have was any kind of a conversation - a no-win conversation. A no-win conversation where merely the inflection of my twelve year old voice would be found guilty of some type of disloyalty and subject to a significant verbal smack down. I would hold my pee in until my mother fell asleep downstairs, I told myself, as I couldn’t risk walking into the bathroom as it would only give my mother a few minutes of creative time to acknowledge that I was home and to find something completely devastating to say to me. She was more vulnerable when I caught her off-guard like this, and was forced to be spontaneous. Let’s just make my heart murmur, more, I thought.

Please let Johnny Carson be on, please let Johnny Carson be on was all I kept telling myself over and over again. I had to take my shoes off at the door, and I just hoped my laces weren’t double tied.

I kept replaying the number sequence of eight-eight-seven over and over and started to use sign language with my hands. I had learned sign language at St. Clements in the sixth grade and it was the perfect addition to my OCD repertory. I would sign (with my right hand) all of my angry and painful thoughts such as “I hate you,” “Please go away,” and, most commonly “Please leave me alone.” The only relief from signing with my right hand was sleep, and I almost always fell asleep to the television in my room or my record player. As many buffers as possible keeping me deep within the cocoon I called my bedroom, the better.

Luckily enough I entered the house to dancing and I glanced a nearly empty bottle of Bolla red wine on the glass dining room table. I had perfected the art of looking straight ahead with my right eye, while leering lightly and undetectably with my left one. She was entertaining, I thought, relieved, and quickly ripped my Tretorns off and ran into the bathroom. I would gamble tonight, I thought. The music was so loud that I couldn’t even hear myself peeing. I stood up, washed my hands quickly and speed walked into my rear bedroom (running would have been noticed immediately.)

I closed my thin, pine wood door to my bedroom - the floor was freezing even in my socks - and I quickly took my clothes off and jumped into my bed. The room had two windows and sliding glass doors which made the room the coldest in the house. I started rubbing my hands over my skin under the covers of my blanket to warm up as I turned on Johnny Carson and disappeared into his monologue. I intermittently made a fist with my right hand as I tried desperately not to use sign language with my right hand, but instead kept signing my number sequence over and over again – eight eight seven – until half way through Johnny’s talk with Ed McMahon I fell asleep.

It wasn’t much later that I heard my door being opened.

Please go away,” “Please leave me alone,” I began to sign as I awoke.

I heard hiccups and my mother sat at the edge of my bed with a plastic cup filled with beer. Her eyes were red and glazed over. I knew it, even though I kept my own eyes closed in the dark. She was waiting for me to react and I couldn’t react, or I would be up all night being yelled at and hearing doors and cabinets slam…

Eight-eight-seven I continued to sign with my cramped and cold right hand.

“Your friends will always leave you for a man” she began, hiccupping.

Eight-eight-seven.

“Without a man, you have no one.” She continued.

Eight-eight-seven.

“Don’t ever fall in love” she finished.

Eight-eight-seven

Please go away,” “Please leave me alone” I signed again, hoping it would work this time.

“You hate me, don’t you?” my mother asked, “You hate me” she said again, almost laughing.

I didn’t say a word back to her. I wanted her to think I was in such a deep sleep that I didn’t hear her. I wanted to be a professional actor and I was putting all of those acting lessons to good use.

If she thought I was awake, she might go on like this for at least an hour. Maybe even sleep at the edge of my bed in her expensive pink silk kimono. The one she wore to an upper crusty Halloween party a few years back when my father and her went as the couple from James Clavell's "Shogun." They were big fans of the book, and the Shogun mini-series, of course. My mother even wore a black wig and slippers to the party and had pancake white makeup on that night. My father wore a black kimono, and a black wig - also slippers – and a sword. They had the best costume at a party where they stood in a room full of advertising executives who created images for a living. And my parents trumped them all.

I don’t hate you” I signed with my right hand, under the covers.

There must have been something magical in that last sign, because my mother gave up on waking me up which would allow some human being, any human being, to witness her suffering. The only human being she could ever find, it felt like back then, was me, her daughter. How much longer would this go on? I kept asking the universe. She wasn’t even forty yet, and still beautiful, I thought - the envy of our little Lincoln Park liberal enclave. Only her music was old.

She closed the light wood door behind her. I sat up a little under the covers .If it wasn’t for the dark, I could see my breath in that room, it was that cold.

I hate men” I signed with my right hand, slowly.

I hate men,” “I will never love a man.” I signed again, debating whether or not to turn Carson back on without the sound this time.

And I hate hippies.”

And then I made a fist.

Goosebump Goddess

"Tell me, the dream , again..." "Well, it's night, and New York is particularly quiet. It's not necessarily late at...