Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Up Your Fucking Ass, Mr. Sexy

The clock says to get moving but I can't. I screw my delicate mousetrap mouth to one side and show my brass stare. Not for nothing I call myself an iceberg. The people I hate are just outside my window.
I want to yell at them, to curse them out. I want to drop marshmallows and watch them splatter with lethal force after the 37 floor Times Square freefall.
But the windows don't open. I'm stuck in this sepulcher, this white man's palace. I sit back and let the phone ring. Voice mail is a very underrated thing.
It's that time of month. That's what my boss says.
He's sure it's that and not impending skin cancer. Or that my tanning lamp burned out. Or that I was badly clawed on my leg by my neighbor's cat which I was taking care of while she was in Bermuda. Or because my favorite neon tetra has been floating upside down near the surface of the fish tank for three days now.
My boss says it's that time of month. That's why he's my boss and not the other way around--because he's a simple charlatan who knows nothing but trusts his gut.
“Call Red Adair,” I tell him. “The oil well's on fire.”
He doesn't say, “Take the day off.”
He says, “What? Like your shit doesn't stink too.”
And I want to shout. Of course it does, you silly man. It stinks on hot ice. You're the one pretending to be perfect, with your Armani suits and your slicked back hair and your immaculate clear polished fingernails. You're the one who thinks he's better than everyone else. You. You, Mister Sexy, you.
But I don't say a word.
Because what angers me is that he's right--it is that time of month. It wasn't supposed to be--not for another eight days according to my regular schedule, which has run like clockwork for two years now--but when one thing goes wrong everything does. The whole damn system breaks down. And then the blood starts flowing. The crowning insult: I'm the Bayonne bleeder. Get me the vacuum cleaner, please.
“Only women bleed,” I tell Eric when I get home.
Of course he has a comeback.
“How about my hemorrhoids?”
And I'm forced to tell him that I don't want to think about his hemorrhoids because that's an everyday thing and asking someone, even your partner, to think about something like that every day is tyranny, is fascism, is oppression, whereas the period, the menses, the brown blood flow, is only once a month and asking someone to be a little considerate once a month is reasonable. Indeed, it's what you should expect of friends. Time to vacuum, Dickhead.
He doesn't say: “I understand. Let me cook you dinner.” Or even: “Can I help you clean?”
He says, “Get the fuck out of my face.”
Which he considers the height of rational discourse.
Sometimes the dude is like a brick wall. There's more responsiveness in a piece of raw meat.
I, on the other hand, am a sponge. Everything leaks because everything in this faulty world must at some point or another lose fluid, it's an unwritten law, and I soak it all up. A blood sandwich. When I was a kid that's what I'd do when we ate meat. Take a piece of white bread--Wonder or Arnold work best--lie it in the juice, and when it was full, soaked to the max, I'd fold it up between my fingers and eat the succulent morsel in one bite. Then I'd lick the running red stuff off my fingers. It was better than Bosco.
When I'm like this, Eric goes to Pittsburgh. Which is to say he doesn't call, doesn't propose a candlelight dinner, doesn't wait for me to call him. He simply digs out his tools and spends his days working with a blowtorch, sweating pipe. Ordinarily he's a graphic artist. When I'm on the rag he's a plumber.
I know he'd like to take that torch to me. A BernzOmatic straight to my borscht belt. He doesn't realize that what I need right now, when I'm groaning and vacuuming and he's monkeying with a hot water heater, is a good roll, a quality lay, a frenzy of fingers all over me. A back rub is not enough. Show me one woman who hasn't at these moments found an excuse to take a hot bath so she could get off on the jetting water flow while her queasy mate sat silently on the bed watching The Price is Right, intimidated by the sheer, unavoidable, natural physicalness of her body. Nice girls do, all the time.
We are, after all, tied to the forces that move the moon and the stars. We are cosmological.
Unfortunately, though, that mystical connection doesn't make it any easier. The philosophers say that with repetition a thing becomes familiar, a part of you. But if more of these western philosophers were women, the whole damn corpus would be different. Kierkegaard and his ilk could hardly deal with the opposite sex. We were the other, the dreaded, the unknowable. “Supposing truth is a woman what then,” wrote Nietzsche. The truth he couldn't handle. A thing beyond good and evil. A bloody thing.
The first time I sent Eric out for tampons, he bought Pampers instead. He said he didn't notice the picture of the baby on the box.
“You don't know anything,” I told him.
He gets rational when he gets angry. He corrected my grammar. “Use proper English,” he said, “The right way to say it is, 'You don't know shit.'” Then he left. That was the start of his monthly disappearances.
It actually didn't matter that he was too embarrassed to buy me my OB's. I used the Pampers anyway. I rolled up one of the diapers and stuffed it in my underwear like a maxi-pad. Talk about roughing it.
Eric doesn't notice much. When I'm pre menstrual I stand in front of the mirror each morning and weigh my breasts, one in each hand. They're so heavy, almost painfully droopy. They scare me. But he has never remarked on it.
He doesn't see the pimple on my forehead or my shoulder that even now, at age 36, comes every month to presage the period.
He remains male, doggedly outside and oblivious. He never breaks out, never gains weight, always wears comfortable clothes, and thinks he looks good without a shirt. So much for justice.
When I have a particularly bloody and painful period, when Eric has disappeared and I'm alone, this is what I do: I save my tampons. I dry them out, let the blood turn brown. Then I send postcards. Each one has a tampon stapled to it by the string.
I call them my monthlies. I send them to certain men I know. I inscribe different sayings on the cards. I have written: “Run for your life. It's a gusher.” I have written, “Warning: If used improperly this device can cause grievous bodily injury.” I have written, “This plug's for you.”
I imagine mailmen throughout the country delivering these missives, holding them gently by the edges so as not to be contaminated. I envision the people who sort the mail refusing to touch my monthlies without rubber gloves.
I have only had one bad reaction--from my sister. She told me my brother in law thought I was being aggressive.
My brother in law's a good man. But I know that aggressive isn't in his vocabulary.
“Was that his word?” I asked.
“No,” she admitted. “What he really said was, 'I like your sister, but she sure can be a ballbuster.'“
I wanted to shout. Of course. I am a ballbuster. Absitively. Posolutely. But only because I've had my balls busted so often myself. Why can men give but not receive? Just what is the deal here?
But I didn't say anything. Sisterhood is powerful, but not that powerful. There is no such thing as solidarity.
When I was a kid, there were icebergs in the Hudson. I saw them from the Jersey side every time we drove over the G.W. Bridge, and I swear my father told me that his father had walked across the river when he was young, because it used to freeze solid. But there are no icebergs anymore. Even in last year's cold snap, the river didn't freeze.
Since I'm almost done with the flow, Eric consents to meet in a bar after work. Eighth Avenue. The neons stain the faces of the people en route to the Port Authority. I stand in the doorway. This is an old men's place. They're watching Jeopardy. The 7 p.m. ritual. I don't find this at all threatening. Guys like getting the answers and trying to guess the questions. Women like giving the answers and not worrying about the questions. We have formalized this in our culture. We call it marriage. We call it relationship. We call it the war between men and women. Jeopardy, in a larger sense.
“What is Kashmir,” the toothless guy at the head of the bar shouts, and everyone nods.
Eric is wearing his Mister Sexy shirt, the one he always leaves unbuttoned one button too far, to show off his chest hair. He's watching TV too.
“What is Macedonia,” Eric shouts. Countries for $200.
He's put himself in this line up. The male fashion show. Guys in jean jackets with hair a la mode thinning but pulled back into a pony tail drinking beer and calling out their responses to an insane TV quiz show, bonding without talking about anything at all.
And I realize that's the point. Eric wants me to choose him. To supply the question to his answer each time: do I recognize him, do I think he's sexy, do I love him.
What would he do if I walked up to some other guy the greasy guy with the paunch sitting next to him, for instance and gave him a tongue kiss? What would he do if I sucked on the guy's neck, Dracula style, and ran my fingers through his hair?
But, of course, I don't do any of that.
This is what I do: I walk up to Eric, down the remainder of his pint beer, and before he can say his usual, casual, super cool, “Hey, babe,” I say, so loud it projects beyond Jeopardy and for all I know beyond the bar and out into the street, “Up your fucking ass, Mister Sexy.”
As I slide onto the stool on the other side of Eric from the fat guy, I'm electric. Eric notices who couldn't and doesn't say anything. His pulse chimes the seconds in his neck. I'm glowing. My nails are redder than the coating on a candy apple. My jacket, and my bustier underneath it, are ruddier than a fresh piece of meat. My lips and cheeks are rosier than a blushing bride. My proud flesh is phosphorescent.
“Sometimes you are so rotten,” Eric finally splutters, and unwittingly speaks the words of the ages. For I am rotten. Women always have been. I curdle cream. I sour milk. I make good meat turn bad. I am the spoiler, the carrier of rot and fermentation and degradation. And yet, at the same time, I am the red cross, the fertile crescent, the cradle of civilization.
I just sit there, and Eric disappears and the whole bar disappears. I am brighter than the neons and darker than the moon, hotter than strong acid and colder than any iceberg.
“What is bleeding,” I shout. In the distance, everyone applauds. It's the right answer to the Daily Double and I win a bourbon and a beer.

Radio Controlled Planes

Sherma watches her father.
“Rafael,” her mother says.
He holds up a hand. He doesn’t have to talk.
He’s tinkering with a wing, so intent he can’t be disturbed. It got bent, last weekend, mangled by a tree when it suddenly lost lift.
“Sherma, don’t bother your father,” her mother says.
Sherma was just looking at his arms. Like banisters, she thinks, meant to hold things up. She admires the way they cradle the broken wooden struts. But she knows not to say anything. The wing, right now, is the only important thing.
Sherma turns and goes into her room. Behind her, she hears her mother: “Rafael.”
Sherma knows, from the safe haven of her bed, that her father has her mother’s head out the window.
He doesn’t say anything.
But Sherma gets the message.
Any time, any place, anyhow, for any reason.
In the morning, her mother has a scarf tied stylishly around her neck. But her eyes give away the lie.

“He threw her in a pond,” Sherma announces to her friend Connie. “Last night.”
Connie shakes her head. “What pond.”
“I dreamed it,” Sherma says. “He threw her in from the third floor and she was floating, head down in the weeds with all her hair spread out. Then he walked away.”

Her mother has fixed dinner but her father wants none of it. He’s standing in the living room sandpapering the epoxy he applied to the wing. There’s white dust sticking to the hair on his arms. He brushes it into a little pile on the coffee table.
“Sherma, be quiet,” her mother says. But the only noise she made was the soft puck of her eyelids as she blinked back tears.
When she was little, Sherma remembers, he wiped her eyes when she cried. She was just a baby, but she can recall his handkerchief, almost as big as her body, and the way it felt against her skin, and his knobby hand moving towards her, smelling slightly of gasoline.

He takes her with him to meet the guys out by Rodman’s Neck, and Sherma sees one plane go out of control. “No no no no,” the guy who owns it shouts. “Sweet mother of God, no.” He jams on the joystick but the plane refuses to respond. It has a mind of its own and just flies away.
Suddenly, he’s running after it, across the parking lot and into the field by the bay. He’s up to his chest in weeds and water before the other men catch him. Silently all the men watch the plane shoot skyward and disappear.
“It’ll keep going till it runs out of gas,” her father tells her.
The men make puddles in the car on the way home. None of them talk.

Sherma dreams that she throws her father’s plane out the window and it hovers in the air, like a hummingbird. Just stays there in the air outside her window and waits for her and her mother to climb in.
Sherma and her mother are in the plane as it breaks free of her father’s control. They soar across the vast blue. Her father is underneath, cursing, and chasing them. She squeezes her mother tight. They fly higher and higher towards the clouds, so high they never have to come down.

Sherma sits at her mother’s feet.
“I want a turn on the dance floor with the most beautiful woman in the room.” Her mother, who loves to dance, shakes her head, so Uncle Nick takes Sherma. Like her father his fingers smell like gasoline.
When the song’s over she steps away without even a thank you. Her father, she sees, is at the bar surveying the scene. Sherma knows he will not ask her mother to dance, even though she wore her green dress, the one that clings to her body without a wrinkle. He sees her looking at him and turns away.

There’s a special landing strip on the deep blue, strong enough to support a plane. It touches down on the rolling surface, settles, and then slowly sinks. But the river is warm.
Sherma feels the pulse of her father’s tears and knows immediately that something dreadful has happened, that instead of taking off, the plane crash landed on the living room floor.
Her father wraps her in a blanket and, cradling her in his arms as gently as he held the broken wing, steps out the window and they drop into the cool night.
Her mother looms out the window and points.
“Go to your father,” she says.
Sherma shakes her head and her mother falls.
Next, her mother pricks her with a safety pin and laughs.

As they drive home, her father and mother don’t talk. Sherma wants to scream, to tell her father to stop. Just stop the car and get out. She wants her father and mother to walk away, hand-in-hand, and in her mind she watches them disappear into the future, where they will be happy, without her.
When they get home, her father scowls and takes up the wing. He needs to attach it to the plane.
“Shhh,” her mother hisses, but Sherma hasn’t said a word all night. Her mother pinches her hard on the leg and she goes to her room.
And, from the darkness under her covers, Sherma rubs her leg and knows what she will do.

Later, after another episode with the window, Sherma hears her father and mother go to bed. She waits for a while, making sure the house is still, then goes to the basement. She pulls out the black plastic bag in which her father keeps his favorite plane. He’s painted it beautifully, with perfect World War I decals and camouflage coloring. She gives the propeller a soft twist, then puts the plane to one side and pulls the bag over her head. It’s dark inside and smells like chemicals. She’s the prize possession now, gone flapping away as her father gives chase into the weeds and emerges covered with slime. Sherma wriggles down to the bottom and breathes in the steamy darkness and shudders as she soars over a bright new world of lipstick lawns and nail polish houses and sunlight glinting off her mother’s man-made gap-toothed smile.