This morning I tried to count how many women I’ve slept with. Strangely the total was less than the last time I did this, three years ago. The number should have gone up by one, but instead it went down by three. So that’s four missing women.
This is disturbing, particularly since the total is not so high as to excuse oversights. And what it makes me think is that I should write down the names of the women I currently remember, before I forget them as well.
I picture myself at ninety, in a nursing home, unable to remember a single woman I’ve ever slept with. So I’m ninety and I’m devastated because I believe I’m still a virgin.
This happened last Sunday, during New York’s one and only snowfall this winter. As Rachel and I walked through Prospect Park, I noticed that the snow was perfect snowman snow, wet but not heavy wet. We choose a spot away from the big field, on a slight rise.
The way to make a snowman, in case you don’t know, is to roll a snowball through the snow, pushing down as you roll it. It’s slow going at first, because the ball is small and has little surface, but it gets easier once you reach a certain mass.
I decided that we were going to make the best snowman in the park, and I believe we succeeded. Except it wasn’t a snowman we built but a snowwoman. We gave her spiky twig hair and breasts with acorn tops as nipples. I was particularly proud of her breasts, one of which was slightly larger than the other, just like with non-snow women.
(Confession: it was strangely erotic to rub the breasts with my palm to smoothen them out. Does this make me a pervert?)
Rachel regretted not having a camera, but I felt that a snowperson is by its nature impermanent, so why try to capture it? However, on the way home, Rachel convinced me to return later and take photos. “You can post them on Oblivio,” she said.
Sadly, shockingly, this is what we found when we returned:
If this doesn’t look like a snowperson, it is because it’s not one anymore; it’s a crime scene. The pile of snow in the middle is what remained of her head after someone stomped on it. We found her torso elsewhere, smashed to pieces. Only her base remained intact.
I was upset. I’m still upset. Rachel and I walked through the park taking photos of other snowpersons, none of which had been harmed. Only ours.
Was it because of the breasts? Was it because we made a thing out of snow that had breasts, and so someone figured it would be fun to fuck it up?
I really think this is what happened. Or else some dipshit decided that exposed breasts on snowpersons are an affront to decency and shouldn’t have to be looked at, that little children will see breasts on snowpersons and all hell will break loose.
Anyway, fine, this happened over a week ago now and I’m trying to let it go. Non-fucking-attachment.
One more thing: her mouth. We found her mouth stuck in a tree. It had been a metal top from a can, the kind you pull off with a tab. I used the tab part to make it stay on her face. They folded the thing in half.
I noticed immediately that the guy at Mister Pizza had a new rash. It was on his right temple. Purplish and large, it reminded me, in shape, of Alabama. He also limped, which he had not done previously, and in a way that indicated hip pain.
I felt sad. Even before the rash and the limp, this man has always made me sad. He confuses orders and struggles when calculating change. Because of this, I usually avoid Mister Pizza. However, on this day, needing something quick before jumping on the train to meet you, I thought I’d pick up a slice and eat it on the platform.
Two customers were ahead of me, waiting for their food. Since this was a pizza parlor, where the fare is simple and easy to prepare, I figured I’d be out of there, slice in hand, in a few minutes.
I was wrong. My order didn’t get taken for at least five minutes as the proprietor struggled to wrap two hero sandwiches in tin foil. There seemed to be a problem with his right hand which made it difficult for him to open and close his fingers.
To give the man his due, he makes a good faith effort to serve his customers, and he devotes himself to doing it right. And this is what makes it so painful to watch him: he is doing his very best.
I placed my order, and then he cut a slice and carried it, limping, to the oven.
“To go or stay,” he asked.
“Stay,” I said, not wanting to put him through the business with the take-out box.
I was concerned about time. A J train had passed as I reached Broadway. The J comes every ten minutes or so, which meant that if I stayed too long in Mister Pizza, I would miss the next train and show up late for our meeting.
The proprietor placed a paper plate before him and tried to separate the plate from the one beneath it, but again his fingers wouldn’t cooperate, so the two plates remained stuck together.
I said nothing. My chest felt heavy. I studied the soft drink dispenser.
The man limped to the oven, scooped up my slice with a big metal spatula, then limped back to the counter and placed it on the plate – or rather, plates – adding a clump of napkins on the side.
“A dollar fifty,” he said. I handed him two bills. He rang up the order, then stared into the open cash register drawer.
What was this? Why wasn’t he giving me my change?
Suddenly he turned and hobbled toward the back room. Now I understood: he was out of quarters and had gone to get a new roll.
Then I heard the approaching train.
My first thought was to run – there was still time if I ran – but what would I say to the proprietor? I could have yelled something like “That’s my train; keep the change,” but had I done this, he would have known that I had been hoping to get out of there quickly because I had a train to catch, and that he had failed me, as he fails others, all day long, day after day, despite his best efforts.
I couldn’t bear it. I stayed and waited for my change. This is why I am late.
There’s this moment in her car where I have no choice but to say good night, because I can’t invite her in – I don’t live here, and even if I did I’m not so sure I would bother. Of course she could have invited me to her place, but the time for that was in the restaurant or soon after the restaurant, only for whatever reason she didn’t. Somehow the vibe shifted from hey-let’s-keep-this-going to hey-let’s-just-get-this-over-with-shall-we, and I don’t know why. Worse, I sense she doesn’t know either, that’s she just as confused and disappointed as I am, but that neither of us knows the other well enough to say anything about it. So now here we are in the car and she’s dropping me off and saying something about how grateful she is for my help with her resume. I say I hope it helps her land a job she loves, and then we both remark how nice the other is and how much fun the whole thing was, especially to get to know each other some, which we agree was the nicest part. I don’t lean over to kiss her cheek, nor do I offer my hand for her to shake. Instead I wave goodbye as I leave the car, rotating my hand in the same way one might jiggle the doorknob of a locked door, only I hold my hand mostly open, so it’s more like the way one might fondle a breast of a certain size, rubbing the nipple with the sweaty part of one’s palm, although in the case of a breast the motion would be slower, a breast requiring a slower, more sensuous motion than a doorknob.
For several months now Rachel’s been looking for a job. It’s been difficult at times, but I’m proud of her because she’s managed to maintain a positive attitude. Her motto: One day at a time. Sometimes when I see her getting discouraged, I remind her that the earth will one day be a flaming ball of fire and that all this will be forgotten.
“How do you always know the right thing to say?” she asks.
“I just know.”
Today she sent me her latest cover letter.
Dear Executive Director:
I am responding to your poorly worded and unclear posting on
the low-paid-jobs-for-losers-who-decided- to-go-into-social-work-because-they-actually- thought-they-could-make-a-difference website for the position of Peon in your poorly run and under-funded social service agency. I have enclosed my way over-qualified resume for your consideration.
My employment experience is abundant and varied. I have been underpaid, overworked and unappreciated in a variety of positions including Band-Aid Applier, Finger-in-Dike Holder, and Justifier of Lousy Policies. I have always excelled in situations that require a high degree of denial, a capacity to look the other way in the face of gross malpractice and fraudulence, an ability to accept horrifying working conditions, and a tolerance for seeing zero affect of my efforts to ameliorate people’s lives because, “well, we do the best we can.”
At this time, I am looking for another underpaid, overworked and high-likelihood-of-burnout job and would relish the opportunity to learn more about the available position in your agency. I am particularly intrigued by the prospect of working for another lunatic director with no interpersonal skills, management ability, or capacity for leadership.
I look forward to hearing from you if and when you get your shit together, but will not hold my breath.
Naturally Rachel wrote this by taking her actual cover letter and replacing all the lies with the truth.
Remember the scene in the Wizard of Oz in which the wizard, frantically pulling levers, intones, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”? I’ve long believed that language developed, to a significant degree, so that we could lie to each other.
Certainly this is true of the language of business.
I will refrain from discussing the language of love.
A bird surely thinks as it builds a nest, just not in words. In what, then, is it thinking?
On her secret website, a friend writes:
There is a theory about how some birds learn the global positioning skills that will guide them along their migration route. The theory talks of the nights that they spend after breaking out of the egg, exhausted, eyes able to see only the nest below and the sky above. There, for the first weeks of their life, they stare endlessly at the constellations as they move across the theater of night sky. The stars, in their subtle movements, imprint themselves on the little bird brains with such force, such permanence, that the birds will always be able to know where they are in relation to where they began.
That’s what it was like, looking up from his lap into his calm eyes above for minutes and minutes. Minute movements there. And much love. A positioning, an equipping for travel.
I told her she was wrong, but she came back with evidence.
And just now I realized what’s it like when I bite my nails. It’s less like thinking than feeling. And there are no words. “Get that. Good. Again. Bite. Good. Now over. Again. Bite,” and so on. Just not in words.
Which is how it must be for birds.
However, a baby at birth thinks nothing, I suspect, beyond the baby equivalent of feels good and feels bad and also perhaps something that adds up to what the holy goddamn fuck. Just not in words.
Last night I curled behind Rachel as she slept. She was on her side, facing away from me, so I brought my arm over and around and laid my hand on hers. It was warm. I could feel her breast under my arm. She took my hand in hers.