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Artist and writer

Leonarno

leonarno lo res

Leonarno

When I was exhibiting at 619 Western in Seattle several years ago, I noticed a sample of the proverbial ‘little old lady’ wandering purposefully through the crowd of observers, looking at paintings. She had little interest in my work, but she lingered briefly at at some drawings, and soon left. She chatted briefly with one of my artist acquaintances on the way out. I was certain that I recognized her from ancient times – back in the late ’60’s or ’70’s. I asked my acquaintance about this mystery woman and he said that she was often through the art venues and would sometimes negotiate a sale, sometimes returning months later, or occasionally visiting the artist’s studio where there was no crowd – making an appointment. She is and has long been an interior decorator servicing  prosperous individual’s abodes, and also office settings such as business lobbies, conference rooms and so forth. She selects the chairs, desks, lamps, lighting fixtures, carpets, paint colors, traffic patterns for clients etc. When she occasionally needs paintings or sculptures to accent these rather formal arrangements she negotiates the price with the artist – usually less than half the artist’s asking price and pays cash. The work then goes to a posh frame shop for just the right type of frame to accent the environment she has created. She sells the artwork for 5 or 10 times her purchase price, which amounts to a significant ‘finders fee’. It is a bit of a racket, but she is very effective and successful.

I gather that she has married and changed her name, but way back when, she was known as Leonarno. She is probably 65 or so now, and was perhaps 22 when she was a striking feature in the Art School that I was in the last stages of attending. She had some proficiency with egg tempera via Tompkins (a local practitioner) and later she converted to acrylic, producing modest sized vaguely landscapish abstractions in muted earth tones. Quite nice paintings; well within the dying Northwest Style of the time. Back in the day, I had spoken to her a couple times – I was curious about the egg tempera technique, but she was reticent about the secrets of this uncommon medium.

She was an attractive but assertive little bird. Now her hair was dyed a stark black and in a fully styled cut in contrast to the long ‘ironed’ dark hair fashionable in her youth. As a young woman she was about 5’3”, very thin, with an odd body type. Her trunk was short and high shouldered, and her legs were unusually long. She was what someone called “a High Pockets” female. Now as an old woman, she seems quite small with a very pronounced ‘widow’s hump’ that reduces her height and she has an odd bird like stride with those longish legs.

It is a strange phenomena to see person that was known long ago and to see the wonder that age has wrought. None of us plan to look old. In our youth and young adulthood we don’t give it a thought. Time, diet, health, and the vicissitudes of life -both the best and worst, play a part in shaping the creaking husk we inhabit in aged descreptitude that will accompany us to the grave.

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Evelynn

Evelynn at the cafe

Evelynn

“You end up forgetting the people you shouldn’t and remembering the people who’ve forgotten all about you.” – Peter Orner

In 1967 I was a fresh entry into the MFA  program and was attending a weekly interdepartmental seminar regarding the baleful influence of Surrealism upon the Arts. There were 10 or 12 attendees, and often two or three lecturers holding forth. I think the moderators were junior profs, TA’s, or Adjuncts. None of the grey hairs were in attendance. There were 3 or 4 students from the Art Department, a couple from the Theatre, and the remainder were from various Literature classes. Attendance was a bit sporadic, but I was there every meeting. The moderators were attempting to generate some dialogue amongst the various intellectuals in attendance, and it was heavy sledding.We were requested to bring samples of our work to prompt general critique, thus there were readings, drawings, a recitation accompanied with harmonium etc.

Evelyn was a striking young woman, in her late 20’s. She exuded uncertainty and depression. She had a wonderfully expressive English accent at a time that the Brits owned rock’n’roll on the radio. Anything she said or read aloud was thus gilded with what we all took to be an upper class accent. She had been educated in a private English school, and had attended a British University, supplemented with a year at the Sorbonne. Her parents were governmental employees of some sort.

I was intimidated by her at first. She was enthralled with Artaud, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Breton etc which in her humble opinion had never and could never be adequately translated. I was a Gunter Grass, Brecht man. Her presentations were based upon the ‘cut-up’ method, and had sudden juxtapositions of French and English, bits of this and that, a few words then a shift in tense or topic or language. She would assume a bit of a fluty voice in much of the English and a more throaty but endearing voice in the French. To my unsophisticated ears it didn’t make much sense, but she seemed quite earnest about it all.

Soon after the seminar got underway I observed some public display of affection that seemed to indicate that she was ‘in love’ with another Artist – a thoroughly raffish,big nosed, rabbit toothed, scrawny guy from Slovakia, equipped with an impenetrable accent. His work involved tediously rendered  cartoon and tattoo imagery, seemingly randomly placed on three foot frames filled with ‘diamond tucked’ dark naugahyde.

I had volunteered to teach 8:00 classes because I was working nights in a machine shop. He was sleeping in the MFA group’s tiny studios and I often woke him at 7:30 A.M. I had to get ready for the class. Thus I knew that he was sleeping with any warm body that moved. There would be bitching and moaning as the lights came on and they staggered around getting dressed. Any member of the seven sexes was evidently fine with him. Frequently the entire studio area reeked of smut. I would like to assume that Evelynn had no idea regarding his indiscriminate behavior. I wouldn’t want to believe that this attractive, educated and intellectual young woman was simply hot meat for that lug.

Near the end of the term I wandered into an expresso shop for a hit of caffeine, and there was Evelynn, hanging over a chair, eyeing the door. Her little table was covered with cups, a gnawed pear, etc. I nodded at her, and sat a table facing her, and we had a bit of a chat while she was eagerly awaiting his arrival. In those ancient times, the cellphone was not available and constant monitoring of the whereabouts of others was impossible. We casually chatted about life until I had to leave. He had not shown up, of course, but I did the illustration as I remember her.


Malcom

Malcolm explains

Malcolm explains

In the churning of materials involved in swapping studios I ran across a college transcript. There are courses I don’t remember taking, but reading through it made the time frame of that life apparent.

The first year at UW was quite bewildering to me. I was terribly shy, and inexperienced, quite ill, and socially inept, and, not surprisingly, having a hell of a struggle with my studies. The rural high school had done a miserable job of preparing any of us for college level math & science. I enrolled in an art class spring term hoping to get my GPA up a notch. When I returned in the fall of ’59 I took more art classes. I was good at it, and enjoyed it, and the other courses were liberal studies and they were interesting and relatively easy – I was done with math etc.

At the Art School there was a bulletin board and there were little 5X7 cards with notices and/or opportunities. In my first drawing class the previous year (Freshman) I had taken advantage of an offer to go draw at a ballet school a few blocks from campus. Oddly, I was the only student to actually show up with any regularity. I loved it, all these lovely young ladies in tights twirling about. It was amazement to me; I had no idea that precious young ladies actually sweat – the stains showing on their leotards. There were 12 or so dancers in the classes, all performing the same exercises with military precision. After warming up at the barre, there would be group floor drills. Neatly arrayed in rows, they would perform several linked moves – a small dance segment sometimes lasting several minutes. The pianist would play a musical segment, emphasizing the bass and beat. The dancers would go through the moves in unison, as if soldiers on parade, and the instructor would provide critique, suddenly stopping the progression occasionally. The pianist would start over, back a bit, and off they would go again. I recall being amazed at the precision, and on one occasion they were moving forward, then pausing, feet apart at a 90 degree angle, then slowly squatting down as their arms went up gracefully, heads up and turning to the slide slowly as the hands stretched up. Over and over again, but never quite right. Suddenly, as they are all squatted down as if seated, there is a loud short fart! Suddenly the action was interrupted, everyone was standing, looking around. All of them were in close formation and guided by group sonar, they all turned and to look at the young lady responsible for the retort. She is terribly embarrassed and there is a burst of giggling.  In my innocence I had no idea that girls, mysterious angelic creatures that they were, could or would fart.

One of these divine creatures, on a break, came over and looked at my drawing and we exchanged pleasantries. The next week we chatted a bit more. Few of the other dancers ever acknowledged my presence.  Elizabeth was 16 or 17, not in college and not going to attend college. She was a striking Nordic blonde.

I had managed to overcome my shyness to the extent that I could drop in to one of the more notorious coffee shops on the Ave. It was a great relief to me that my two-bits was as good as anyone’s, and they would serve me espresso – me, the undeserving invisible neophyte. This was a ‘real’ Beat coffee shop with bearded guys; girls with long hair and Mexican ponchos, and they sat and smoked, and talked Marxism, Lenin, and Trotsky. Occasionally someone would sit near me; once or twice I was actually a participant. It had been noticed that I had a motorcycle and a leather jacket so the assumption may have been that there must be something inside that shy stringbean.

So I suppose I seemed an urbane sophisticate when I was brave enough to suggest to Elizabeth that we go get some coffee after class. I was carrying my sketch board, and she was in a big lambskin car coat with wooden toggle buttons over her Dance-Skins, hastily pulled on jeans, and penny loafers. This became a bit of a ritual the last few weeks of the term. Looking back, I realize she just wanted to talk to someone about how depressed she was. Her career as a dancer was over. She was 5’10” and 160#, and there was just no place for a Nordic goddess in the ballet troupes. She’d danced since she was 6 and loved it, but she had never trained any place but Seattle, which was a backwater. Between her genetics and the family’s finances, which prevented her from attending better facilities, she was doomed as a dancer.

I have been fond of ‘The Dance’ ever since. Elizabeth would diagram in my sketchbook the floor move diagrams, and rhythm counts, and positions. All of this was amazing news to me. My interest in ballet has cooled over the years, largely due to lack of opportunity to actually see it. My interest in interpretive dance – particularly Butoh, continues.

Our friendship, my crush, progressed to holding hands a few times. I took her home once on the back of the motorcycle, and her mother happened to be in the yard and was disapproving. In those days, nice girls didn’t. Reputations had to be maintained. Chastity was a major virtue. We were as innocent as lambs, scared, eager and reluctant all at the same time.

That summer I went off to the job my Dad had arranged for me. One of his Alaska friends had swindled part ownership of a towboat company, and I gather that Dad was owed a favor, and I got a summer job. But the next year his friend had moved on to other projects and there was no slot for me.

It was the fall quarter of 59 – I was 19. I had worked the previous summer as a cook/deckhand on the tugboats. I enjoyed the tugboat job and the odd lot of workers. They were younger versions of the friends of my Dad’s, and as I got out from under his shadow, I found that I could be somebody.

When I got back to the UW, Elizabeth had disappeared. The Dance studio had moved across town. But on the bulletin board were a couple other opportunities; The Drama School was looking for volunteers to do some set work.

In one of my drawing classes there was a striking charismatic lady – 6’ tall, maybe 110#, big beak–like nose, quite a striking profile, and one of those smiles that shows all the back molars. Rachel Kornberg, striding about attracting all manner of attention. Rumor was that she had been expelled from a swanky girls school back east for misbehavior. She was probably 25 or so, decidedly an older, sophisticated and experienced lady, and more to the point; she was involved in the Theatre.

I went down to the Playhouse in the evening and was promptly put to work using hammer, nails, paint etc. I thought that perhaps my activities would at least make me visible to Rachel, but I think I saw her once from a distance, and her attendance in the drawing class was intermittent. She disappeared from the art scene and a couple years later I spotted her involved in some inappropriate public display of affection with a tall longhaired gent.

While futzing about with the set stuff I became acquainted with the guy I came to know as Malcolm. Malcolm and I were working on sets side by side, and he knew a lot more about stage sets than I did – I knew nothing beyond building chicken coops. I don’t know that he ever had anything to do with the UW other than hanging out and socializing. I know that he attended lectures occasionally, and film events, and was often in the stage crew, but I’m not sure he ever actually took classes. He had been stage struck in high school, supposedly playing “Nicely Nicely Johnson” in “Guys and Dolls”. He had been given a ‘professional’ performance role by his mother’s boyfriend of the moment.

The boyfriend’s name was Mack or Max, he was in his late 40’s, and had been making a living in the dying vaudeville/burlesque aspect of show business for decades. I met him several times; he was an amazingly low and vulgar character, rudely funny, outgoing, and equipped with a million stupid jokes in the Henny Youngman style. He appeared 3 nights a week at The New Paris Theater, a block up from Skid Row. This was one of the last venues featuring strippers, and the shows consisted of magic acts, flame dancers, jugglers, a contortionist, dancing dogs, clowns in fat suits, and ventriloquists. Max was the MC, introducing the acts and performing his comedy sets – which were slapstick take-offs of what I thought Milton Berle had invented, only to learn later that Uncle Milty stole it all.

Malcolm appeared as the straight man for Max. An act I vaguely recall was an intro to, for instance, the stripper Iva Handful, or Mona Lott. Max parted the curtain, dressed in outrageous women’s clothing, droopy bright dress, huge floral hat, lots of exaggerated makeup. And he would have a rapid line of palaver about how he was the next act and he was going to take it all off. “You guys came to see pussy? Well wait till you see my pussy! You never have seen Pussy like I got Pussy! Never seen it as wet and wild as this!” and he would seemingly pee on the stage – all of this to hoots and hollers from the audience. And at that point Malcolm, in ridiculous checkered oversize suit would come out with a sheet and some rags, acting as if he is in charge and is going to clean up the stage and wrap up this desecration of womanhood and prevent an unseemly display. When Malcolm bent over to clean up the pee, he got kicked flat onto the mess. As he struggles to get up from the slippery floor, he is hit with the hat, which goes kapow! And then an argument ensues and Max blusters that he has a contract, and out of his droopy bosom a huge rolled piece of paper is pulled, and then Malcolm was beat about the head with the rolled paper, and shortly the paper is torn in the altercation. The tussle results in Malcolm falling down a couple times, legs akimbo, and more whacks. Then for reasons unknown the paper catches fire, and Max lifted his dress revealing a seltzer bottle in a holster, and squirts the paper and Malcolm. Malcolm is now resigned to Max stripping – what with the contract and all – Max starts yelling about ‘her’ messed up makeup, and then shouted the key line: “I need Talcum, Malcolm!”, “Talcum, Malcolm!!”,  and Malcolm would undo the front of his oversize suit with much exaggerated bumbling and pull out a huge 3’ puff ball loaded with talcum and whacks Max in the face releasing a huge cloud of powder. Great hilarity ensues in the audience, so much laughter that they have to do it again, and later again, after Max has struggled with Malcolm. Max trying to remove her dress revealing yet another dress, and below that a huge corset with straps to knee socks. The struggle revolves around Malcolm ineffectively flapping his arms like a chicken, trying to keep Max clothed, and Max’ determined efforts to shed clothing. There is much whacking, and falling, and sliding and shoring each other up and then stepping away letting Malcolm make yet more exaggerated pratfalls. Eventually Malcolm manages to give Max the bum’s rush through the curtains, and the band starts the intro as the laughter subsides enabling Candi Kane to slink out on stage in her shiny evening dress and feather boa

I don’t know how many of these goofy acts they had, probably many. They would do 3 or 4 a night.  Sometimes they would screw up and get laughing so hard that they couldn’t finish, and would suddenly improvise. Malcolm was paid in Scotch, and towards the end of the evening mishaps could occur. I recall one show, they were both loaded, and the skit went south and ended with repeated paddle whacks. The story line had completely disintegrated.

I guess I went down there 8 or 10 times that year. It wasn’t all that interesting, and I was taking a full load of courses and working part time in a warehouse filling orders for shipment and doing inventory. Max and the guys sat in the dressing room and drank to endless stories. At the New Paris I was shown the secret backstage door, and it was amusing to sit and have a Scotch and soda with Max, Malcolm, and some of the acts, and the band. Calling them a band makes it seem organized. The one constant was the drummer – essential for cymbal hits and rim shots, and exaggerated drumbeats for the strippers.  Sometimes it would be a sax or trumpet, bass player (huge upright bass). The theater had a 3-wheeled upright piano that could be ridden out like a bicycle. Guitars and amps were not common in those days. The ladies dressing room was off to one side, and while it was hardly segregated, the strippers huddled together in their seedy little dressing room nursing their own wounds. To me, at 19, they seemed old and worn, and a bit scary.

The strip acts were desultory. There was no inspiration. Each performer had her costume and song and routine and it was repeated a couple times a night in each program. There was the evening gown set, and the cowgirl costume, and the ‘exotic’ veil dance, and a tawny lady would do a dance to ‘jungle drums’ while playing with a plastic banana. One older stripper didn’t strip. She didn’t take anything off! She’d walk out and say, ‘Hi Charlie! How’s your wife? Say Hi to Jane for me.” “Sam? The children okay? Over the measles, are they?” “Bill! Good to see you sober and upright tonight!” “Officer John! I want you to come up and arrest this nasty rash I have,” and so on. And then she’d do one grind – one bump and that was it. The secret to the act was that a group of guys would go to the club, and one of them (in the know) would give the usher a $10 bill and a note, which would be given to Kandi Kayne. On the note would be a guys name and the topic – kids, operation, wife, dog etc. Kandi would put together a brief little set: “Officer Bennet! Quite a crime spree we are having tonight! How’s the little missus?” or “James, did you get that Ford fixed? I guess that’s why you don’t have any money for me!” each comment followed with a rim shot and laughter at the gentleman’s public disgrace.

As students we were too broke to have phones, and so meeting was just fortuitous. I would bump into Malcolm at the coffee shop or on the Ave. He often had some deal afoot, and I was recruited for a few projects, all of which were supposed to just take an hour or so, and which always seemed to run far into the night, or on for days of evenings. I guess he got paid for some of his labor, I never got paid, and often had to buy the pizza. It was fun, but looking back, I realize that I was running myself into the ground that year, my colitis getting worse and worse.

In the spring Malcolm had an opportunity to produce a play – some organization paid for the hall etc, but he had to arrange the set, rehearsals, the selling of tickets etc etc. He had a small role in the play. Some local luminary – a tall prancing guy with a lot of swoopy gray hair, wrote the play. My memory is that it was pathetic, not funny enough to be serious, and not coherent enough to make sense. Malcolm was wooden in his acting, the lead actress far too attractive and vivacious, and the lead male seemingly in a daze. The play ran for a weekend and died, and all the sets had to be dismantled and hauled across town to an abandoned warehouse, which was our job.

The play got bad reviews, and Malcolm was quite upset about it, threatening to have the newspaper critic beat up, or giving up entirely and becoming a hermit. He was working in a Re-Tread Tire Shop that also did brake work. He was always wearing a filthy blue mechanics uniform day and night. Malcolm was 5’9” and square built, round headed, stocky but not fat. Through a mutual acquaintance he arranged to take the critic to lunch to discuss the play and review. This seemed suicidal to me. Here is this guy, barely 21, dressed like a mechanic, taking one of the leading bright light intellectuals of Seattle to lunch.  Malcolm was able to eat anything from paper cups to wine corks, and, of course, the critic had food issues, and the originally proposed café was not suitable. He never spoke of the nature of the conversation, but said, “She was very fussy about what she ate, but luckily I had begun lactating the week before.” His next production, in the fall, got quite generous reviews.

In the middle of my sophomore year, through these episodes with Malcolm, I met Jack Pine, and that lead to a bunch of other adventures that I will write of elsewhere. The next fall I was 21 and returned to the UW for my junior year, feeling somewhat better. I found an evening job as a busboy in one of the new mall restaurants. Whatever health I had gained at home evaporated rapidly. Malcolm was way over his head in the production of a real play; Ibsen comes to mind. I helped take it down. That was the last time I was to work with Malcolm.

I didn’t see him again until ’75. I was in Seattle to see an art exhibit at the Seattle Center. My first wife, Jan, was crazed and drugged and left at home. I was working for UPS and sneaking a trip to Seattle to ‘research some equipment’. I had parked on the North side of the Center, not realizing that the exhibit was all the way across the facility. As I walked by the Playhouse, lo and behold, there was Malcolm, in a suit. We chatted briefly and exchanged addresses. He was on his way back down to Hollywood upon completion of the Seattle show. I sent him a brief letter and he replied months later, with his new address. This offhand correspondence went on for decades. I had a steady address and I guess he would run across me in his little black book and send me a letter with yet another address. Every year or so a letter from Chicago, or Atlanta, or Los Angeles, would show up with a page or two about his episodes. In the mid ‘90’s I received a little white invitation to his memorial service. Evidently someone went through his rolodex and sent out invites. I couldn’t possibly attend – it was 3 days away in Frisco.

Malcolm, Jack Pine, and I, and a few others involved in that loose knit group had many long conversations about life and art and human behavior. Not profound philosophy, but long and rambling attempts to define a creative life. Some of this became part of my mental DNA, and here and there I have hammered these thoughts into presentations at 619 as Proverbs for Our Times. Of course, what I can’t remember, I make up, refining the memory of a conversation.

Jack Pine suddenly had access to a car, a typically convoluted story he was frequently caught up in. He was just off the bus when he spotted a damsel in distress, holding a squalling child. They are standing near a car with smoke pouring out of one wheel. Jack was always on the prowl for maidens, so he wandered over to see what the story was. The little family had coasted to a stop in the parking lot, the brakes had failed. Jack offered to take a look – to check it out. She was just a mile or so from home, and he volunteered to drive it despite the smoking wheel and lack of brakes.  He got the car to her apartment yard by rigorously downshifting and coasting through stoplights and intersections. She fixed him a bit of lunch and he went out and got under. He deduced that the brakes were absolutely shot. Through his network of low-life acquaintances he rounded up a similar vehicle and stripped the parts. A modest amount of money was involved in the transaction, and he and his friend borrowed a jack and a few tools and installed the cylinders, shoes, and drums on the front.

As I recall, it was about a ‘55 Pontiac Station Wagon – a huge boat of a car. Not very old, but very worn. The young mother, Maryanne, was recently divorced and the car had been a gift from her ex-in-laws – a sympathy gift acknowledging that their son was at fault and  ‘no good’. Jack received several payments of romping sex for the repairs. He quickly wore out his welcome with Maryanne, but he was briefly able to borrow the car and thus we were cruising the streets on the way to a Mexican cafe. Mexican food was not franchised in the ‘50’s, and it the places serving Mexican food were very down-scale. Often little or no English was spoken on the premises.

Malcolm had the idea to swing by and pick up Julio, a stranger to Jack and me. Malcolm was under the misapprehension that Julio was Mexican. Julio was, I guess, Cuban or Brazilian perhaps. He lived in a tiny 3rd floor rundown apartment with a Murphy bed and a bathroom down the hall. We arrived mid-afternoon and found Julio in his pajamas, guitar in hand, sheet music scattered. He hadn’t had breakfast or lunch, he had been practicing all morning. He spent all day everyday studying Segovia and other classical guitar works. He seemed obsessed and quite accomplished, worrying about expression and subtle variations in tone and timing which he demonstrated to us. He had a 78 record that he cued over and over for our comparison. He is not interested in food. A young lady of rather extraordinary profile and style (very ethnic peasant) stopped by. She chided him on how he isn’t taking care of himself etc. It didn’t seem that they were more than just friends.

We were feeling flush and invited this pair to go to lunch, but he simply had to play a couple more hours, and she was on some errand. Several years later, like ‘68 or so, Jan and I attended a bit of a street festival out by Greenlake. There was a small stage and various musicians and singers played brief sets. At that point everyone was either in folk-music earnestness, or acoustic rock derived from Grateful Dead or Country Joe & The Fish etc. There was something distressing about the forced sincerity of this sequence of singer/songwriters that were so eager to get up and inflict us with their latest. We were drifting around the crowd when suddenly I spotted Julio. He had no reason to remember me, and he is now third in line to play. We waited for his solo performance.  Julio is about 5’2”, very thin, a neatly trimmed black goatee, sideburns with slicked back hair. He wore tight pleated black slacks, a shiny billowy shirt/blouse with a knotted bandana around the neck, he had shiny black pointed boots with Cuban heels. In this crowd of  scruffy slack jawed hippies, he appeared to be a freak from some other planet. He got on stage with his acoustic guitar and a stool. He sat down and started in on a dramatic Spanish/gypsy flamenco number, and the crowd fell silent. Here was this tiny, freaky, odd-bird, with a vaguely night-clubby sinister air to him; and he was vastly more accomplished and dramatic than the bunch of strummers and mumblers of the past couple of hours. He is knocking out great rhythms with those Cuban heels, and he is all over the guitar neck. It is an amazement and people are awed. His exit tune was an interpretation of Jimmy Hendrix. He got more applause than all the other acts combined.

One of Malcom’s standard refrains was; “Know your role and shut your hole!” One of his pet peeves was actors or others trying to take over the production; full of ideas about how to do stuff they knew nothing about. Actors that had small parts were always trying to expand the role or increase their visibility. I recall Malcolm dressing down an actor twice his age that was repeatedly fiddling up a simple ‘butler enters stage left’ scene. “Know your role and shut your hole, dammit” “Play it as it lays.” Julio would seem to be an example of how one can know the role and play it as it lays. A seamless performance, a minor role done extremely well is memorable.

On several occasions Malcolm, Jack Pine and I and others had discussions – bullshit sessions, really. Recently I attended a seminar of local established Artists and lo & behold the same topics are being discussed. For instance, the incredible curriculum vitas of our peers, is still a thorn. This is a sad and common realization – others have prospered beyond our imaginings. Their path is far from clear. On the one hand, we in the field feel that some of this work is crap and the citations and awards seemingly handed out at random, and on the other hand, we never get selected. At the seminar I brought up an extension of Malcolm’s theory, which was seemingly radical at the time, but which became one of my own sorry realizations during therapy processes surrounding my first wife’s schizophrenia.

None of us can begin to assess the extent of our own incompetence. We don’t know what we don’t know, and as individuals we can’t measure the unseen landscape of our own ignorance and incapacities. As mere primates we are afflicted with unfounded optimism. Thus we are inherently delusional and think we are pretty much all right, each of us is OK, struggling but accomplishing, much the same as our peers.  Our own incompetence coupled with unwarranted optimism can render us blind to the subtleties and coherence demonstrated by others. We, the GI’s in the Art Infantry Unit hunkered down here in the trenches, have no clue about what the generals are up to, or what prompts troop movements. As participants in the arts, we are marching soldiers, not the civilians judging the efficacy of this or that maneuver.

As Artists we set our own problems. We are introduced to these in our training, and augment the realm of ideas by sorting likes and dislikes. We can chart the series of steps that led us to produce our messes of today. A personal history of serendipitous circumstances coupled with personal preferences, hero-worship, physical engagements, and the sad fact that none of us is good at everything, leads to ‘middle of the pack’ accomplishments.

Jack Pine (and to a lesser extent, Malcolm) ‘hated’ the Arts. He felt that all the so-called self-referential self-generated turmoil and agony was just bull shit. His insight led him to feel that each Artist establishes a territory of comfort in which the inadequacies of their personal abilities are fully displayed. In some cases, the hapless and ignorant populace applauds these, and in others they are ignored or shunned. He felt that practitioners within the Arts were simply knitting their own comfy sweaters over and over again. Once they learned a pattern they were doomed to endless repetition despite the fact that the shoulder was lumpy or the sleeves a bit short or the neck too big.

An Art show is simply a display of arch coziness for the well-to-do. Each piece cleverly drained of any discord and thus appropriately placed in the sumptuous abode of the affluent where the inhabitants can ignore the art at their leisure while assured that they deserve to be catered this amusingly exotic visual feast. It is money well spent if one is congratulated on the harmoniousness of the decor.

Oddly, this sort of Art trash talk seems more relevant today than it did at the time. Both Malcolm and Jack Pine were involved in ‘the theater’, and in that era there were vast changes on the horizon – a better, more honest and forthright society was on the verge of blossoming. Brecht, Orozco, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Henry Miller, Freud – the list of luminaries goes on and on. The world was going to be a better place, and Theater and cinema were going to lead the way. Arts such as painting, dance, poetry were subsidiary. It is difficult to explain just what became of that optimism, but it is certainly scarce on the ground today. Theater attendance is tiny, and the plays rarely have an edge. Cinema is now a mass entertainment, it was expected to be the great messenger of society’s transformation but it has come to cater to the lowest common denominator.

During the brief period of the late ‘60’s when I was occasionally exhibiting and selling artwork – abstract work of some vigor – the audience consisted of young professionals and graduate students headed for careers. They were vitally interested in the creative. Today we have many more graduate students and young professionals, but they are struggling with massive student loan debt and they are thus no longer able to consider cultural expenses. They have also been seduced by easy and cheap ‘pop’ music. In the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s the music of the intellectual was Jazz and classical. Rock ‘n Roll was a mere low class amusement.

The economic circumstances supporting the Arts has changed as well. The people we thought of as well off in the ‘50’s would be barely upper middle class today. While there were truly rich individuals, there were only a few and the amount of the economy, politics, and culture that these few rich citizens controlled was not large. Today we have 1% owning more than half of everything world wide and this has had a dramatic effect within the Arts. Economic and Political discourse in the Arts is almost invisible. If it is present at all, it is veiled and often presented ironically. The 1% don’t reward so much as a hint of criticism.

As Artists we often feel that we are entitled to support from those with more money than we have. A short while ago times were flush and many in the ‘Arts’ were selling works, getting grants, finding venues. Unfortunately this easy money was generated by the greatest and most venal systematic fraud ever perpetrated in the history of mankind. As near as I can tell, Artists have not taken their share of the blame for providing decorative diversions to the crooks and thieves that claimed to be ‘the best and the brightest’.  Our comforting little artistic performances were a small part of the luxury that enabled them to sleep well. The affluent bought the Arts just like they bought the politicians and the media. As Artists, our casual wishing we would get our share made us complicit in the destruction wrought by the clients of the Arts.

In my old age I have come time to reflect upon how each of us becomes the character in our own lives. For a few it is a bolt of lightning revealing direction and insight, but for most of us it is an accidental accretion of haphazard serendipities. Who would I be now if I hadn’t met Malcolm and Jack Pine? What if I hadn’t fought colitis to the point of collapse? What if there hadn’t been a traffic accident that day when I stopped for gas, and I hadn’t struck up a conversation with Tom Coffin who subsequently introduced me to exactly the wrong woman destined to destroy my life? We do things, we are bumped and jostled by seemingly inconsequential and casual activities and our course is changed.

Another episode occurred in my sophomore year: It must have been winter term; there was an opportunity on the bulletin board to assist in a mural project. I had long forgotten this episode and then a couple years ago it came back to me. I can’t remember the artist’s name, so Gonzalez will do. I have tried to track it back, but there seems to be no public record of the mural, creation, or installation. I suspect that he was just squatting at the UW with no permission or station.

The call was to show up and help with a mural. The work was done in one of the Officer Training Buildings left over on campus from WWII. A huge building, perhaps 6 basketball courts in size, with 30’ high exposed rafters and beams, wood floors, large side windows and dangling industrial lights. I suppose they drill marched in there. All those buildings disappeared in the late ‘60’s. Inside this drafty cold abandoned building Gonzalez was setting up a huge mural, about 12’ high and perhaps 60’ long, on panels, supported by rude scaffolding. The actual painting process was done on ladders, or seated on boards between ladders, and some frequently modified scrap wood scaffolding. The mural image was ready to fill in, the drawing mostly chalked up, the grid clearly marking where the panels would fit between building supports when installed. I have no idea where it was to be installed.

He was really glad to see me, and had some panels set aside for a test or training. The test amounted to filling in the rendering of a clothed denim bent knee. There was a jar of mixed paint, a jar of medium, cafeteria plates for palettes, some brushes, and a sample to emulate. The panel was 18 X 24 – and I was to stand at a bench and fill this in, quickly – it had to be done directly because the panel was slightly absorbent and the paint very liquid. It required brusque handling. I found it to be easy.

Gonzalez seemed an interesting character. I got the impression he was local – I thought he was from Ballard from his accent. He was a stocky guy, in his 40’s, 5’10”, with a bit of a paunch. He wore cream-colored cotton loose blouse shirts, and shiny big pleated pants, and sandals. When the building was particularly cold he would wear a white sailor’s cap and a peacoat. He had been decades in Mexico working with Siqueiros, Tamayo, and Orozco. He spent a lot of time at high speed; this huge project required a lot of energy. I suspect he anticipated dozens of art students showing up to help, but there was never more than a couple of us at a time. He had a bit of a fit when spring break came and no one showed up for two weeks.

We didn’t get paid, and worked 3 or 4 hours when we showed up. I was put on the main panels the second time I showed up. The time was spent filling in acres of blue denim overalls of the Workers. It didn’t require much thought; just follow the lines and the sketch. At the time it didn’t occur to me that this was valuable experience, but later I was not intimidated by working on large canvases, or laying out large areas loosely. After all, I had worked on giants.

Occasionally his wife would show up. She was a revelation to me. She was a striking, tiny, dark, Aztec looking woman with lots of wire bracelets, dangling earrings, bright clothes, long skirts, and sandals. She was the most exotic person I had seen – perhaps ever seen. She spoke no English, but he was fluent in Spanish, so their heated and energetic conversations were opaque to me. She would storm in, trail him around in a volley of talk, and then wander out again. She was voluble, outspoken, and extravagant in gesture and dress. I had never seen a woman like that. Certainly no dull moments around her. She was very attractive in a stark, lean, Gypsy/Aztec manner, an amazing profile. I thought to myself, “When I grow up and become a real Artist, I’m going to have a woman like that!”

Occasionally the local socialists would wander in. I recognized some of them from the coffee shop. I was busy working, and there would be this muted echo of the dialectic – ‘Comes the Revolution Comrade’. I got a shred of cred from working on the mural. I guess I worked there 20 times during two quarters. I went home for the summer, and upon return, the mural was gone, presumably installed. Gonzalez must have been working on it non-stop day and night. There was a lot of work to be done when I left.

On a couple occasions his wife and her mother or housekeeper showed up with some food. A large heavy pot of beans and some hand made corn tortillas. A very plain and bland meal, accompanied with tap water. In those days, there were none of the so-called Mexican joints like Taco-Bell in existence. Downtown there were a handful of little Mexican cafes, and I had eaten in a couple of those; breakfasts or lunches while employed at the warehouse. One of my co-workers swore by Menudo as a cure for his frequent hangovers.

By the end of the school year I was in denial about my health. I had seen a specialist, and had some serious medicine, but I was exhausted. I could have continued the warehouse job, but once the term was over, I moved back home to Suquamish, and sort of collapsed. I tinkered with the Model A Ford, and I had a couple of motorcycles in stages of disassembly. I did a bit of painting and wood sculpture from rounds of cedar.

I don’t think my Dad had a clue of how sick I was, and Mother knew something was up, but it was never discussed. I simply couldn’t muster the energy to go find a summer job. At school I had been living on canned chili, Dicks Burgers (4 for a dollar), and beer, which I got from a guy that was of age. Once home, I ate much better, and started making homebrew which my Dad didn’t mind, and it was easy to sneak a shot or two or three from his several hidden bottles of bourbon.

Shortly after beginning of the winter term of ’62, I finally collapsed. I couldn’t walk, even with crutches, and couldn’t get up. Went home and was on the couch, unable to even walk to the bathroom.  In those days, family doctors would make house calls. The Doctor showed up, looked at me, and I was in the hospital the next day.

Frankly, I don’t know how to continue from this point. I was surgically modified into some other life form, resembling human, but with a whole realm of hidden issues. At my final meeting with the surgeon he suggested that I look on the bright side. “You should just do what you want to do. You want to be an Artist, so just go and focus on that. You don’t need to be concerned about retirement, you aren’t likely to live that long.”  He seemed quite chipper and positive about it. It was hardly a re-assuring assessment, and sure enough, a couple years later I was again in the hospital for an emergency operation, and then a couple years later I went in for another. This seemingly established pattern lead to some unfortunate life choices for a while.

After the first operation I was three weeks in the hospital and several months of creaking around recuperating. Towards the end of my hospital stay, when I was finally able to eat a regular diet, my Dad visited a couple times bringing me big French dip sandwiches.  As part of my recuperation Dad would stop by Crazy Eric’s Drives and get a chocolate malted and pour in a slug of bourbon. His shot was like 3 ounces, and when Mother caught him in the act, that was the end of the Malteds. Once home, one of the neighbors thought perhaps I could use some exercise to put some weight on, and brought me his son’s abandoned Charles Atlas course and weight set. I started doing the exercises out of boredom. I wish I had that course today, a complete original booklet and weights is worth a small fortune. Eventually I was on my feet again, splitting firewood and tinkering about. I returned to college in the fall, transferring into Art Education courses in hopes of becoming a teacher. It was a ridiculous choice – there were virtually no jobs anywhere for art teachers.

YouTube – Dr Wow Introduces Malcolm

YouTube – Malcolm and the Critic

YouTube – Malcolm’s-Furnace Inspector


Jack Pine

Jack PineI didn’’t know Jack Pine well; our acquaintance lasted a few months. But I was a bit in awe of him, and have often wondered what became of him and what his story was. I learned a lot about how to be a guy from him, which has intermittently been of value in later life. Some of which amounts to: “You are who you say you are; you are what you seem to be, and if someone doesn’’t like it, well fuck ‘em!”

Malcolm and I were puttering at some theatrical sets and suddenly Jack Pine was working with us. I guess that Malcolm had met him a few days earlier. Jack was in his mid twenties, small, wiry, and a large head. He was always in very worn jeans, and jean jacket, and occasionally a workman’s slouch hat. He was cocky, self-assured, and quick, –quick in both movement and wit. He hadn’’t had a haircut in months. Jack had quite a raffish air, a lean and attractive face equipped with a bit of insouciant leer. At a glance you knew –here comes trouble. Tom Waits has a song about a character:– “”I don’’t need no make-up, I got real scars, and I look good without a shirt”.” That song brings Jack Pine to mind, as does the Neal Cassidy character in Kerouac’’s “’On the Road”’. Jack Pine was not an intellectual. He was an interesting guy, but not a reader. He was a Beat with no interest or attachment to the Beat scene. He seemed a sort of ‘loose cannon’ working stiff, having as much fun as he could find on the ground.

Jack was full of stories, none of them verifiable. He had traveled with a circus, he had worked in a carnival, he had been an actor and can be seen in the in some western movie, third from the left near the watering trough, he had built movie sets in the desert, he had lived in a cabin in the mountains, his father knew Ernest Hemingway, his mother ran off with Spanish Gypsies, his aunt played bassoon in an orchestra, when he lived in Mexico he had a cougar for a house pet, he and three friends drove from Newark to El Paso non-stop in a stolen Cadillac, One of his girlfriends dropped him in order to go sleep with Kirk Douglas, and on and on. Who knows? Any or all parts of those sorts of stories might just be somewhat true. What difference did it make? It was all stories well told.

One story has proven to be somewhat verifiable. Jack Pine claimed to be great friends with Titus Moede (Titus Moody, which in French means tight as shit). A series of Vaudeville comedic performers in France used the name, Titus Moede. The current Titus adopted the name from an American vaudeville performer of the early 1900’s. Around 1962 or so, long after Jack Pine had disappeared from my life, I was leafing through a motorcycle magazine and lo and behold there is a picture and a paragraph about Titus, standing there grinning, looking thin and tough next to his Harley chopper. They were appearing in one of those awesomely bad motorcycle gang movies. The article was mostly about the manner in which his bike had been hopped up to 90” and had a sports car carburetor and magneto ignition.

So there was (and still is) a Titus Moede, who has had a long off-hand series of minor roles in many second rate movies. And it is possible that Jack Pine was acquainted with him. Jack knew how to ride a motorcycle. I made the mistake of letting him borrow mine to run to the liquor store, and he didn’’t bring it back until late the next day. And, of course, he had a wonderful story about the two babes he met, and he had to take one to the airport and the other one back home, and they drank all the bourbon while naked in a tub, and so on.

During some nice weather in the early spring he suddenly materialized with an old blue Harley 45. The bike had straight pipes and was wondrously loud. It had seen better days, but would start with 15 or 20 kicks, and as I found out, it would eventually stop. It was a terror to ride, the front springer forks were thoroughly shot, and it wobbled all over the road at low speeds. The front brakes had no cable, so there was no pretense of that brake working.

I had the privilege of taking several spins on various 45’s. Every last one of them was crap. Heavy, slow, vibrating and treacherous. They were cheap for a while, collectors items now. The 45’’s had been made by the millions for WWII and Korea. They were available surplus occasionally, and in the back of magazines like Mechanics Illustrated there would be little classified ads, selling them new, –packed in cosmoline (a horrid industrial grease preservative that would be caked and drooled over equipment to prevent rust.). As an acquaintance of mine found out, the ads were not entirely accurate. A large crate was delivered, and upon opening was there was the motorcycle, with no front forks or wheels. Those parts had to be bought retail and cost far more than was paid for the engine and frame. The engines were also sold separately, and in the 50’’s before motorcycles became common, some guy would approach a rider offering to sell a motorcycle engine. “‘Just like new’, been using it to run a water pump, or air compressor.” The 45’s disappeared from the biking scene very quickly as the Japanese motorcycles proliferated.  I don’t recall seeing a 45 after 1964 or so.

Working on theatre sets involved re-using and modifying previous sets. The humble farmers cottage would become the parapet of a sailing ship, or a castle wall, or a western mountain scene, a mining camp, an urbane cosmopolitan apartment, a woodland scene for a shepherdess, the backdrop for an imaginary orchestra, or the interior of a gypsy trailer. The set designer would provide some drawings, but they were intended to augment his portfolio, and while stylish, the drawings would be either exaggerated or uninformative. We would be working from the sketches, and adapting or modifying hunks of wall with doors or window openings (no glass), adding or subtracting roof lines, and painting brickwork, or wood grain, or mountain views etc. It was often quite crude. There was seemingly no money and very little actual supervision.

We would often be hashing the sets together while the actors are roaming around in their odd daze, memorizing and trying out their lines, and putting tape on the floor to indicate where they were to stand etc. Some of the actors had stage fright weeks ahead of the performance. We would occasionally attend the performances, we could get free tickets, but often we were so sick of the whole ordeal, we couldn’’t bother.  As carpenters and scrubs we were generally beneath notice or conversation with these exalted theatre majors headed for Broadway or Hollywood.

The sets were stored way across town. I suspect some alum had an empty warehouse in South Seattle. Our job, Malcolm, Jack, me, and whatever other help we could roundup, would take a big diesel truck that belonged to the UW motor pool and transfer crap in as large units as we could handle to and from the warehouse. That entire part of Seattle is much different now with the Dome, and the giant cranes and automated shipping of today. I drove a couple of times – scared to death at driving this huge truck. Jack drove several times. Malcolm didn’’t have a driver’s license.

It was heavy work but it usually took a couple of hours. We were often unloading in the evening, but as long as we got the truck back by midnight it was cool. So we would occasionally stop off to see a friend or have a drink or two. I don’t remember ever being checked for ID anyplace but the Liquor Store. In some of the downtrodden taverns of the time if you looked big enough to get on the stool, you were big enough to drink; particularly if you had someone with you that was obviously of age: –this is where Jack Pine came in handy.

Looking back, I would guess that we made 10 or 12 trips together. One of them is truly memorable, but a bit distressing to write about. It is indicative of how times have changed and how informal social institutions come and go. I was 19, headed for 20, at the time, and was as innocent of the physical aspects of human intercourse as could be. In fact, I’m not sure that anyone today less than 40 could possibly be as ignorant of such matters as many of us were. I had lived on a stump farm and had seen animals do it, had seen a porno photo or two, and had stumbled across a couple shagging away behind some bushes. I had seen nude bodies in drawing class and had some rudimentary idea of what went where, but I was quite ill with colitis and terribly shy and had no girlfriends.

One afternoon Jack hollered over the roar of the truck, “”Got any money?”” I had just been paid from a part time job, I probably had something like $50 in my pocket – be like $200 now, perhaps. Jack claimed to have some cash, so he is all hot to go someplace as yet unspecified. He wheeled the truck up James Street to Capitol Hill and heading North on 12th, and then down a treed side street. I had no idea what he was up to. He pulled up at a large rather elegant looking house on a corner. The house dated from the 1890’s or so, the door was dark wood with elegant wood curlicues around the cut glass.

Jack walked right in; he had evidently been there before. Off to the left was a heavy dark wood sort of a bar staffed by a rather gaudily dressed zaftig lady in her late 40’’s. Behind us is a tall, dark, mirrored coat/hat rack. The lady greeted us, very friendly, and wanted to know if we’’d like a drink as she guided us to the entry on the right, which led into a large carpeted parlor style room, with couches, comfy chairs, small tables, ashtrays were everywhere. She guided us to a couch and easy chair with a small table between us, and as I look around it dawns on me, – “My God, we are in a Brothel!”

To my left was a gentleman seated in a couch with a young lady perched on his lap and another lady glued to his side whispering in his ear. Across the room another gentleman nuzzled the neck of a lady draped across his lap. He had a big cigar in his hand hanging over the arm of the chair. The room reeked of tobacco.

The lady that is tending bar comes over to get our drink requests, she was wearing what I suppose was a slip with some lace. There is a small chalkboard on the bar with their limited selection of drinks and tobaccos. The prices were in the range of ‘gulp’. But we ordered the special, which as I recall, was a shot of bourbon and a Rainier.

As we got settled, a few moments went by, and then there is a little parade from behind a curtain next to the bar. Six or seven scantily clad ladies walk out, looking right at us, some smiling broadly. Three or so of them quickly decided that we weren’t worth the hustle, – one in particular seemed to be disdainful. I guess the ladies could be described as utility-grade, none were going to win a prize, but they were height-weight proportionate, and friendly looking. One had nylons with snaps and straps, one wore a girdle/bustier, one had a Japanese kimono robe that she swirled about a bit, revealing some thigh and breast.

I was vaguely familiar with the dancers at The New Paris, thanks to Malcolm’’s affiliation. The strippers seemed rather tough and favored a lot of eye makeup and rouge etc. They were to be viewed on stage and were rather dramatic and scary in appearance up close. The strippers generally were more in the Mae West/Marylyn Monroe body type. This was long before the introduction of surgical enhancement and breast augmentation.

Jack signaled a couple of the ladies from the lineup, and he picked the little one. I was terrified, and eager, and scared, and anxious, and beyond any conversation, but the drill was that we were to spend a few minutes getting acquainted: ““Hi, my name is Katherine. I’m from Philadelphia.” “Where are you from? What do you do? Certainly having some weather, aren’t we?” “Oh! I went to college a few years ago. I tried to play the viola for the symphony.”” And other unlikely patter that goes along with an arm around the neck and a hand on the knee and a bit of discussion about the half hour special today.  Part of the dictum: you are who you say you are.

The drinks are done and we declined to buy drinks for the ladies, and we were guided to the entry counter where a tagged key is acquired. Some cash ($20 comes to mind) was exchanged prior to our being guided down a short hall and up a flight of stairs to a hallway with several doors. In the room is a large old-fashioned bed, dark wood, floral patterns, a small table with a clock, some towels are on a chair, the window has white lacy curtains, and very subdued lighting from a table lamp.

The actual performance was pleasant, exciting even, but perfunctory. I’’m sure that the ladies have seen all manner of neophytes, weirdoes, and tender, and abusive, and friendly, and furtive characters. Once done, we chatted briefly and went downstairs. She promptly disappeared and let me sit and wait 5 minutes for Jack. We went out, climbed in the truck, and once underway, he punched me on the arm and said, “”Hey! How ‘bout that, Man?”

I had read of Toulouse Lautrec, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Picasso, and the salon brothels of France. This didn’’t seem to have much similarity to the glossy version in the novels of Paris. Brothels were sometimes euphemistically referred to as ‘Parlor Houses’ and the young ladies within might be called ‘soiled doves’. At the turn of the century, while exploiting and profiting from the Alaskan Gold Rush and the logging, mining and fisheries, Seattle was a wide-open town and there were numerous brothels. In the vicinity of the old Rainier brewery there was a specially build ‘crib’ with 500 girls on duty. The Gospel Mission in central Pioneer Square was built as a high-class brothel. In fair weather the horse drawn carriages would often troll the streets with ladies on display in suggestive plumage, and they would hand out discount coupons or business cards to men on the street.

I guess that I returned half a dozen times. – It was quite expensive for me, and it certainly wasn’’t a salon of intellectual discussion. In the evening it was crowded with gents sitting or standing, smoking cigars, buying drinks and talking politics, and cars, and crude repartee. Before lunch there would be only two or three ladies available, the parlor empty. One evening I was there and a portly gent was treating everyone to champagne, cigars, and girls. He completed some successful business deal or swindle and was blowing what to me was a fortune on good times for everyone.

I felt ashamed for patronizing the place, thought that I was somehow a marked man as a john. Someone might see me, or recognize me. As if I had a vast circle of friends to disgrace. Also I was getting sicker and sicker with my colitis and simply couldn’’t muster the energy to bother.

On my third or fourth visit I selected a tawny young lady. She was from Louisville Kentucky and had a disarming smile. Her teeth were charmingly crooked –and we don’’t often see dental issues like that today because the teeth can be aligned with braces. She was what in those benighted days was referred to, occasionally, as a quadroon. There was the brown paper sack test, – if a person was lighter than a brown bag and had the features for it, that person was white, if person was darker than a brown paper sack and had the racial features, they were black (or in those days a Negro). Thinking back on this young lady that I hardly knew, I realize that she had done something to her hair to get it straight and make it flip up like that near her shoulders. In just a few years she would be able to wear an Afro and drop the pretense of being almost white.

Her name was Charlotte, but she was called Charlie. I was flattered on my next visit, a month or more later, that she remembered me. She thought it was wonderful that I was an artist in college, and she had an uncle in rural KY that painted on boards with different colors of mud. I think of that now and regret the disdain I felt about whatever his efforts may have been. Fifty years later there is considerable interest in ‘primitive’ artists.

At that time I was quite ill with colitis, and I was embarrassed that I had to desperately use the bathroom for a bit. She waited for me in the room, and when I came in –I probably looking a bit pale. – She suggested that if I wasn’’t feeling well, we could just go downstairs and get the money back and use it next time. I soldiered on ahead. She was a lady that went through the motions to make sure a gent had a good time.

I’’m not sure if I went back to the brothel after that or not. It was spring term, and upon completion I dragged back to Suquamish, not feeling well, and slowly recovered on home cooking and general inertia.

In what must have been the last few days of the quarter, I had an odd incident. In one of the classes, an older lady was very talkative and was always involved in some discussion about the Arts and so on. She was perhaps 35”, quite thin, dark long hair that was often in sort of a bun behind the head. She had a vaguely continental air about her. (What hell did we know? She just seemed a bit exotic.) She would usually have a thin brush or pencils or chopsticks stuck into the bun. To me that seemed quite fetching.

There were often older students in the art classes. Individuals that for who knows what neurotic reasons wanted to learn to draw or paint, and suddenly had a time in their life in which they could indulge the fancy. I don’t recall her name exactly, but Nan or Nance floats up in my mind. She was probably 35 or so. I was 19 and a person in their late 30’s seemed a fossilized adult.

I had been helping Barney stretch some canvases a couple weeks earlier. – He was finally going to get started on the class assignments. I happened to mention this to Nan, and she was quite curious about how that is done. Could I show her? A day or two later we went over to her place where she had some stretchers and canvas, and the requisite small hammer and copper tacks, that were used back then, before there were staple guns.

She lived about 20 or 30 blocks from campus. I gave her a ride on the motorcycle. She had never been on a motorcycle before and was laughing and squealing the whole way. It was a two-story house with a porch, similar but a bit larger than Claire’’s house. It was furnished in heavy wood and upholstered furniture – that was probably from a dead parent’s home. There were a few family photos, a pleasant looking husband, and a couple sons that were probably in Junior High. She had taken over a back corner bedroom that had nice light. The studio room was sparse, an easel, a palette/work bench, a stool, and a Swedish Modern couch with a thin pad and the wood turned legs that were so popular at that time. There were some stretcher bars, a big folded hunk of canvas. She went out to her husband’s toolbox and found a carpenter’s square, and we proceeded to assemble and stretch a few canvases.

She suddenly wanted to know if one could work on the canvas before it is primed. Of course there is a long history of that treatment. She wanted me to start a painting on one of the fresh canvases.  “‘Well, why not?”’ Before I could get a canvas in the easel she was stripping her clothes off. She assumed a rather brazen and revealing pose on the couch and before I got very far on the drawing we were involved in some physical foolishness. Since I had been to a brothel, I supposed I had some sort of idea what to do, and I proceeded to saw away at this lady for quite a while. I was quite sick with colitis at the time, but during that hour I was not in pain. The next class session it was as if nothing had happened.

When I got back to classes in the fall I was still sick but feeling better. Nan was busy with a rather sinister looking chap. We nodded at each other. Later, I noticed that older citizens would troll the art school and other ‘cool’ areas in the search for easily available youthful students. This behavior became an epidemic as the hippies flowered.

Both Malcolm and Jack had disappeared when I returned for Fall Quarter. I knuckled down to a full load with some dense classes, and was working nights bussing dishes in a restaurant. I rapidly got sicker and sicker and ultimately just collapsed and was unable to finish the term. I ended up on the living room couch unable to even walk to the bathroom, and was quickly sent to the hospital, where I underwent some serious and life transforming surgery.

When I returned to Seattle, I was tentatively hanging out with some bikers in a couple local taverns. I had a Harley, and that alone was the price of admission. One of the louder and more obstreperous gents in the group had a couple ladies in tow. They contributed to his ability to have a good time because they were not above turning a trick or three, as opportunity or need arose. One of the ladies was Debby or DubDub as in Debby DubDub. She was a rather spectacularly endowed physical specimen and available for a tumble. I really liked her, although I was completely intimidated by her. There was no way I was going to take her on, she just exuded careless rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred, two-falls-out-of-three, bare-handed wrestling sort of sex. She was scary but a real traffic stopper. She was loud, low, vulgar and a lot of fun to talk to. Pick a topic and she could get a laugh or a fight out of it. She was also quite a gossip about other’’s capacities, interests, proclivities, and physical equipment. She knew or claimed to know the junk in everyone’s trunk, and was not above discussing it, to either benefit or disgrace the victim.

My Harley1960 copyI was only incidentally acquainted with this group and thoroughly amazed by some of the exploits. Within months, the group became involved in drugs and the scene turned ugly very quickly. The group began to self-identify as members of the Gypsy Jokers. They had stumbled into transporting and selling Mexican speed. They would drive a van down to San Diego. The van was often filled with liberated car parts (stolen-to-order Porsche bits etc) and then driven back with 50# backpacks containing bulk packed pills. The pills would be swiftly sorted into glassine envelopes that stamp collectors used. These were sold to peddlers that spread them all over Seattle.

This led to my leaving the group, as much as I liked a speed tab or two. I watched a couple of the gents carefully nurture some ‘hippie chicks’ into dependency and then turn them out on the street. I thought one of the young ladies was just a wonderful girl; fun, cute, diverting, strung out, and turning tricks in car dates. It was all just too much for me. I was headed into the MFA program and working nights in a machine shop.

I referred to the ladies in the brothel as ‘utility-grade’, which, while true, is a bit unfair. The standards of beauty have changed dramatically. If a movie from the period is watched, the type of facial features, and body types is quite different from today. At a glance, almost none of the women and few of the men on film would be considered worthy of appearance in the films of today.  Also, the population of the world has tripled since the 50’’s and thus the selection –has become ruthless. – There is a much larger pool of specific body types to choose from. There has been a major change in fitness levels within young specimens as well. Surgical modifications of noses, chins, lips, breasts, tummies, butts, and fat reduction procedures are common. The culture overall has changed, with much more emphasis on seductiveness and vastly more opportunities to alter and enhance appearances, performances, and experiences. If we compare a magazine from the 50’’s with a similar issue today, the advertising, ‘editorial’ illustrations and photography are completely different. Popular culture describes a different set of imagery and the changes in behavior and intent defy simple analysis.

When I returned to Seattle in ’65 to re-enroll in the UW there was considerable ferment in the air. The hippie culture was getting started; probably just past whatever might have been the period of integrity. It was well on the road to mass cultural hype and merchandising. At the time, despite my experience  at Reed, I was still infected with the ‘Beat’ virus, and was not fond of the hippie presence, – although there were certainly some attractive and diverting samples of pulchritude on display.

There is a myth about Artists, surrounded by lovely models, and endless opportunities for misbehavior, but this popular delusion is quite an exaggeration. If only it were true. The models that worked in the UW classrooms were carefully selected, and a modicum of professionalism was required. Once they got the gig, they were frequently busy in several sessions a day. They all had private lives elsewhere, and often pursued careers as dancers, or in the theatre, or as restaurant help. I don’t recall any of them being communicative. – Well, that isn’t quite true; when character models were hired they quite often couldn’’t shut up about their grandkids, or the escape across the Czech border, and so on. Character models are older and hired for distinctive or challenging portrait or figure studies.

Artist models are not paid much – $12 to 20 an hour today. Fashion and photographic models make considerably more because they have more extreme physical characteristics and the photographer is using their image for advertising. Several artists in 619 discussed hiring a model for several two-hour sessions. Each of us would have to contribute $10 or so. This episode was similar to herding geese with a stick, and by default I ended up with the model all to myself a couple times. We artists occasionally had to submit a character reference to the models to assure them that we weren’’t kidnappers or stalkers. A model earning $50 for a couple hours posing in the nude is in contrast to an escort that will show up anytime anywhere for direct physical contact sport for $150 an hour.

There are presently several drawing sessions in Seattle and I think I may have found one in Tacoma. A few months ago I attended a session that featured two models. It was quickly evident that a couple of the artists in attendance were simply voyeurs. The models were obviously lovers, and assumed several rather intimate poses. At the end of the session we had a bit of a show-and-tell, and the young lady greatly admired one of my drawings so I gave it to her. After all these decades I have a rather distinctive drawing style, in contrast to the stick figures of the voyeurs.

As Dr. JohnnyWow! I often wear a vest that was made for me back in 64 or so. Tom Coffin, the guy that introduced me to Jan, had a cohort that was in Reed on a wrestling scholarship (if you can imagine) and he was rather muscular for the times, and he wore a tailored formal sort of vest (from Goodwill) to display his torso. It was extremely un-cool at the time to be fit and for guys to display etc.  Today many fitness buffs wear clothing that clearly displays their status.

He had something like a photographic memory and at a party one night recited as if reading from his eyelids, a reasonable facsimile of “The Walrus and The Carpenter” from Alice in Wonderland, and then later some Shakespeare etc.

I had recently acquired about 50# of assorted leather for free – some leather was needed for some straps for the Model A Ford. After the straps were made there were a couple sacks of left over leather. And in the course of hanging out, I met a proto-hippie chick that was into crafts, like leatherwork. I was not weight lifting at the time, although I had for a bit previously, and the young lady, whose name escapes me at the moment – Sue, I think, saw the leather and thought I should have a vest. She made a paper pattern, and laced the leather together in a fondly remembered afternoon. The vest had wooden toggle buttons and leather thongs to close the front, but those disappeared early on. I wore it around a bit, and then it disappeared in all our moving about, but then resurfaced. Then it was put away again, and forgotten, and then it then resurfaced etc. The vest was found again last summer when we switched studios. It fits much snugger now – I’m much bigger and more muscular despite my age and I’ve been told it exaggerates my size because it seems too small. Karen doesn’t like it.

The young proto-hippie, whose name wasn’t Sue now that I think about it, was a lot of fun, a very spirited and spiritual sprite that would get in bed with anyone – oh the joy, ah the fun of it, and aside from the crabs and the penicillin shots, a pleasant memory. We were like kittens in a basket for a long evening.

In early ’59, I had begun to lurk in one of the coffee shops on the Ave. If you went in and bought a couple of espressos early in the evening and stayed on, by dawdling and reading a book or doing homework, they would neglect to gather the cover charge for the evening’s presentation. A couple times a week there would be a poetry reading and often some ‘road warrior’ folk singer would appear between authors. I saw Jesse ‘Lone Cat’ Fuller, and Big Joe Williams, Rambling Jack Elliot, Utah Philips, and others. These recorded, and ‘authentic’ roaming folk artists had no better venue than playing coffee houses for what must have been paltry sums and tips.

One evening featured a poet from Frisco whose name eludes me. He appeared for a long set. His oddly attired yet striking lady friend accompanied him on a cardboard box, a whiskbroom, and a stick. An odd herky-jerky shuffling beat as he read a poem about ‘the black mirror of the blind girl’, ‘the stalking leopard of passion’ etc. The musician, Guitar Red, or some such, hadn’’t shown up. In those dark and dim times, hardly anyone had a phone. – Cell-phones and the constant ability to contact others was far in the future. When the poet was finished, everyone just hung out for an hour or so, and for entertainment. One of the louder regulars, Bernhard, started an argument over at his bench, (the coffee shops of the time were furnished with plank style picnic benches, painted black). Whatever it may have been about, it quickly boiled up into yelling and pushing. He was asked to leave – he was 86’’ed as the phrase goes. He stormed out hollering and threatening.

Bernard was often loud and argumentative. He was a big burly guy, overwhelmed with Marxism and righteousness, which is a point of view not often expressed in our less open society of today. But he knocked his girlfriend on the floor and roughed up some others trying to make his point. I was among strangers at an adjacent bench.

His girlfriend, Sybil, I think, was crying and upset at that bastard. Upon reseating and calming down a bit, she wanted to go home. No one at her table had a car, no one offered to help, but I overheard all this and offered her a ride home on the motorcycle. She looked at me like: “Who was I, this callow youth, offering her a ride on, of all things, a motorcycle?” At best I suppose I was a slightly familiar face. Motorcycles were far from common in those benighted times and she had never ridden on one. She returned to her friends at the table, but several minutes later she came over to see if my offer was still available.

It was a clear and brisk evening, and it turned out that ‘home’ was way out past Northgate. She quickly got chilled and huddled up to me as we rode the 20 miles or so out to a crappy little rental house in a semi-rural area. Once there, she invited me in to warm up. – She was freezing and shuddering. I had my leather jacket and was inured to all manner of weather.

Her roommates and friends were inside sipping tea and listening to some saxophone jazz on the record player (lp’s had just become common, and this was before stereo).  The tea water was on and I was invited to sit on the couch and have some tea with these ever-so-cool people, several of which I had noticed on the Ave.

I sat on the couch and she brought some jasmine tea in big mugs, and a blanket. She slipped her feet under my thigh, brought her knees are up under my chin, and put a hand down the neck of my jacket and the other hand in the unzipped front of the jacket. Her hands were icy cold. Her head was leaning against mine. She is freezing cold, and she proceeded to tell her friends all about Bernhard; the episode, his many faults, how she hates him and on and on for what seemed like forever. She, or maybe it was the blanket, reeked of cigarettes and cats. Eventually, I had to pee, and it was time to get on the road. It was an odd episode. She was huddling next to me, sucking up my body heat, all the while talking endlessly about some brute that used to provide body heat. However I recall being quite happy to have a real woman’s body pressed to mine.

A few days later our paths crossed at the coffee shop and she sort of thanked me and sort of apologized for the evening. The next time I saw her she was once again hanging on Bernhard. I became nodding acquaintances with one of the other couples. He was supposedly fluent in 3 languages and was headed for New York to be a translator at the UN, and she was writing a novel, and the little bit I read reminded me of Willa Cather with a bit of Dos Passos, because I had just been reading those authors. Her last name was Burnet. I remember that because she had a bit of wordplay about her last name, – she was a brunette and her last name was Burnet.


Martin’s Daughter

Martin’s Daughter

Episode #1

In the gym the other day, putting along, I’m suddenly told that a fellow gym-rat was arrested a couple days previous.

Martin and I have crossed paths in the gym many times for over a decade. I am not on a time clock, so my hours vary while his are set by his job, so it is just coincidental when we meet. He is more devoted to aerobic exercises and is usually across the gym plodding away on the parked vehicles dedicated to cardio. We chat in passing.

In the distant past he was a high school football player and rode the bench at a local university. He was neither big enough nor fast enough to be a real player. He was briefly part of the track team, involved in shot put, hammer toss, and other strength events, but again, he was not big enough to be a contender.

A while back we were bustling out of the gym at the same time, and he started some conversation: “Why am I hurrying? My daughter is supposed to pick me up, so I’ll be half an hour standing around out front! My damned car is in the shop and she is my taxi driver.” We walked onto the parking area and lo and behold there she was, standing next to her car. Martin said ‘Come on and meet her!” At the car we exchanged greetings and a bit of guffaw talk – “Well, now where do we go, pops?”

I’m 65 or so at this event, and somewhat beyond a refined connoisseurship of young females. My view is superficially philosophical; lovely, charming, and a decorative element viewed from a suitable distance. She seemed to be 16 or so, pleasantly endowed, casually dressed, friendly, and outspoken: not a shy wallflower. She’s not going to win a prize in a beauty contest, but she is certainly attractive and vivacious. Martin had said that she is a bit of an athlete, in soccer and basketball, as I recall. I suppose she wished that she weighed 25# less, but she has a nice little body and fits her jeans. In her next decade she will be setting admirers aflame, as she is a splendid invitation to some young ardent to have a rolling romp.

 

 

 

sylvie - lookalike

sylvie – lookalike

 

Months later the two of them are repeatedly in the gym together. She was very awkward at the exercises. She had never done them before and her Dad is talking her through some lightweight reps. She was game, but really not interested. She and I had a few chances to chat; nothing of interest or memorable, just a bit about gyms, and about how heavy is heavy, and we complain about the damned music.

A couple years later I was shopping in Safeway and she came over and started chatting with me. I know so few people that I don’t expect to meet or recognize anyone on my furtive little foraging expeditions. Out of context I was slow to place her, but she referenced her Dad and suddenly I knew who she was. She was newly enrolled in a local junior college, and Martin had given her the family grey Toyota Corolla. She is living at home, and she has a little job in the cafeteria, and she finds some of the classes boring etc etc. I’m standing there listening, thinking about whether to buy mushrooms, and idly admiring her animation. I hadn’t given her a moment’s thought since we last met in the gym. I don’t recall that Martin had mentioned her for many months.

Weeks later, in the gym, Martin and I crossed paths and he says: “Sylvie tells me she bumped into you at the store!” What can I say? “Yeah, we were doing some shopping.” Mentally I’m wondering, what the hell, I’m becoming part of the family? Why am I a topic of dinner table conversation? Martin and I proceed to chat about her lack of interest in her studies and he goes into a bit of a tirade about her choice of boyfriends. This is the time-honored topic of ‘youth today’. This is in stark contrast to the perfectly sensible life in our youth.

A year or so later Martin told me that Sylvie has dropped out of college, not quite completing the Associate Degree in Marketing or some such. He is disappointed, but optimistic. She will go back. She will wise up once she gets some experience in the real world.

“It’s that damned boyfriend!” He comments.

“What? The Musician?”

“Oh no! That was long ago, she’s had several since then. A couple of them were damned nice guys, but of course, she dumps them and takes up with these losers.”

“Well, don’t judge them too harshly. Think of what was probably said about you at that stage of life. Dumb, drunken, vulgar, uneducated, low-class failing athlete with a big ego and a hard on. Think about how your wife’s parents felt when you took their darling daughter out in that ratty coupe you had.”

“Yeah, I suppose I didn’t seem much of a prospect to them at the time.”

“At the time? What kind of a prospect are you now? How did you ever cajole her into marrying you? Was she out of her mind? Was she so desperate that you started to look good? Was she simply overcome with lust? Did you drug her? Look at you now! What on earth could have prompted her to settle on an unlikely victim like you? And then to stay with you all this time…an amazement! Does you wife have no sense of self esteem?”

“Jeeez! Thanks for the compliments!”

“Well, I’ve met your wife and I’m sure she looks in the mirror and wonders if she couldn’t have done a lot better. To women, men are like busses, if they miss one, there will be another in a few minutes.”

I was giving him a bad time; his wife is quite striking – not a beauty, really, but she was working as a real estate agent (before the crash). Climbing out of her Volvo in a power suit in full regalia she was quite a contrast to him in his torn t-shirt and gym shorts.

Martin & wife

Martin & wife

“Damn, you’re just full of cheer-up today. I just wish Sylvie would find some guy that seems reasonable. At the moment I wish she would find a decent job as well.”

“What is she doing? Isn’t she living at home? How good a job does she need to have? Does he work? Are they co-workers?”

Sylvie was working the breakfast and lunch shift as a waitress in a national chain middle-class restaurant located in many malls. The menu features 24-hour breakfasts, a selection of burgers and fries, and fried chicken for diners seated in orange plastic clad booths. She wears a uniform. This is basic waitressing, not a genteel Food Server of elegant dining. She is on minimum wage and tips, and works 6 hours a day and thus has no benefits.

“No, he’s on unemployment or some damned thing. He shows up in raggedy clothes, and off they go to hear some band or see a movie or whatever.”

“Sooner or later she’s gonna move out, and then you will have no idea what she is up to. You will miss the excitement. Without her in the house you will have damned little to complain about. Just think, 150 or 200 years ago, you and the missus would have had to find her a husband, arrange a marriage, provide a dowry perhaps. And then her miserable lot in life would be your fault. Nowadays a girl has to find her own way and make her own decisions and you are out of the loop. At this point you are superfluous.”

“Jeeezuz, I’m sure glad I talked to you today, you have really cheered me up!”

“She is not a kid anymore, and as a parent you can offer a bit of gentle advice here and there, but it is no longer the time in life in which you can boss her around. You are no longer the stern parent that can threaten or cajole – you can’t use the longstanding military technique: ‘I can’t make you follow directions but I can make you wish that you did.’ She is a pre-programmed missile at this point, your example and instructional guidance has been installed, but vagaries in the wind could send her off course. Relax, watch the fireworks.”

“Awww. For Christ’s sake, don’t cheer me up like that.”

It was an amusing exchange, and lasted all of 3 minutes. I have probably improved it in re-writing, but that was the drift of a parental exchange regarding the foibles and fates.

A year or so has gone by since that exchange. We’ve not had much to say about Sylvie. I have coincidentally driven by her place of employment several times, but not given her a moment’s thought. There is no temptation to stop in for a meal. I don’t eat in places like that. If I’m going to eat a meal out in the world I will find a little Vietnamese place for Pho, or a little bar-b-que joint or some other treat. Burgers and fries don’t interest me. I haven’t had a French fry in years, I think they are nasty, and wonder that such food items came to be a treat or even considered food at this point of human evolution. In my youth, in Suquamish, we grew our own potatoes and would dice a few after lunch and chill them in ice water all afternoon, peels and all, blot them dry, and plunge them into brand new screeching hot oil in a wire basket and sear them until dark brown on the edges. Dump them out of the basket onto paper towels, blotting the oil off and then toss the fries gently with salt and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. That’s the way to do it.

If I were to stop at this national chain restaurant, she might not be on duty, and if she were, wouldn’t that be a bit odd? For me to go in and have this not-quite-a-stranger serve me: wouldn’t that seem a bit awkward? Am I to expect better or worse service? Would we have to chat? And what would we chat about – me the old fart, and her working as the server-slave? How much should I tip for the overly friendly service? Should I be generous, or strictly 20%? It never occurred to me to eat there, but now that I think about it, I find the prospect a bit troubling.

Long ago, I frequented Dixie’s Diner – a family run little joint of a sort that hardly exists anymore. I, along with others, became a familiar face through repeated refueling pit stops. I was on my way to the University on my Harley around 9 a.m. and the diner would not be very busy. It was cheap and convenient to stop in and get a breakfast platter. Upon entry, Dixie would exclaim: “Well, there you are! Been expecting you! The special today is cheese omelet with grits! Can we get you some coffee to start with?” I would sit at the counter and wolf it down. They were only open till about 1:30. Tom, the husband-cook liked to go fishing, and they made enough money on the morning trade to take afternoons and evenings off. They would often serve fish for breakfast instead of sausage or bacon: a slice of salmon or sole filet. It was a great place to eat. Their mission was to fatten us up. When they found out I was a college student, he would occasionally tip me a wink and slip me a little extra. Tom would say something like: “I made a mistake on that order a minute ago, the guy wanted bacon instead of sausage patty, maybe you could use this.” He’d throw a couple slices of bread over it and wrap it in white butcher paper, no charge.

During that period I looked forward to breakfast every day. In the evening I would get a ‘free’ meal at the up scale restaurant where I was bussing dinner dishes. The crappy ‘free’ meal was part of the minimum wages the hired help received if a person worked more than 4 hours. I only had to buy one meal a day. All the while I was plagued with my colitis and several months later I finally collapsed.

So it seems one thing for a customer to become a regular and have Dixie or Tom hail you upon entry and then add some strawberries to the pancake stack out of a spirit of generosity and ‘doin’ ya’ right’; and wandering into a sleek food service emporium and distract the waitress with off-site familiarity. A waitress has to set a certain pace. There is a smooth groove earned by repetition, and a boundary of social interaction cultivated by repetitive and essentially vapid and meaningless cordial scripted skills. To have a familiar from the outside world appear within the theater of labor could be disruptive. It could throw the worker’s rhythm askew, perhaps interfere with the smooth progression of frozen product from microwave to hot plate to tray to table to gastro-intestinal processing. A sudden lack of attention could reduce efficiency, and that might be reflected in the size of the tip. The display of attention and/or affection to a member of the family or friends may make others feel slighted and less than welcome. Service and attention should be evenly distributed. Just as the portion size is standardized, so must variations in the allocation of faux earnestness be within limits.

The food service facility is located just off Interstate I-5. Diagonally across the parking lot is a large hotel/motel/casino with a huge sign. It frequently features bands from memory lane. Some patrons stop in the food service facility because it is considered to be in some way better and a bit less expensive than the fare at the hotel/motel/casino. The travelers frequenting the rooms for overnight stays are on their way someplace: perhaps doing some business from their ‘office’ in their official capacity as Road Warriors (sales representatives). Pilots and flight crews also stay over at this temporary housing facility because it is out of the flight path and reasonably quiet. There is a shuttle bus that will deliver them to and fro. These types of patrons are prime restaurant customers as they are well paid and that often tip well, in part because they can write off the expense.

Through a series of staff health care incidents, coupled with her accumulated months of seniority, Sylvie was moved to the lunch-dinner shift. This is a bit of a plum because dinner orders are larger and the tips tend to be more generous. It also means that she doesn’t get home until 8 or 9 in the evening. As a young lady, she occasionally stopped to have a drink or snack or participate in some event on the weekend. She can wander over to the casino, drawn by the noise, bright lights, and playful atmosphere. She doesn’t know anything about gambling; there isn’t even a deck of cards at home. Sometimes she gets home after midnight, to the consternation of Martin and his wife.

She had been given the family gray Toyota Corolla that dates from the early ‘90’s and had over 250,000 miles on it. A couple of years ago, when I last saw it, there was a broken taillight lens held on with fraying duct tape, and the front quarter panel that had some bodywork done was faded – the repaint was done very thinly. I gather it was still running rather well, but there were heater/AC problems, one door had to stay locked, and the window riser was erratic. It was an old car and falling apart. It also needed tires and a brake job.

Just before Thanksgiving Sylvie went out and bought herself a new Toyota coupe. Martin and his wife, the adults, are amazed and appalled. She didn’t ask for advice, or permission, and as far as they were aware she had very little credit. She had a credit card and a bank account, but they assumed that she was chronically near broke. How the hell was she going to pay for that car, and the insurance? She has been carried as an additional driver on their insurance. These are the issues that come to the mind of a parent.

“What the hell does she think she is doing?”

In the course of a family discussion, it seems that she simply put down $2,500 in cash and financed the rest. The car was a dealer demo vehicle with a thousand miles on it. The parental units are appalled!

“What were you thinking? My God! Where did you get $2,500? What are you doing? How does a waitress get that much cash? By waitressing you got $2,500?”

Sylvie is taken aback at her parent’s outrage about how she spends her money. She explains that she has been doing some occasional part time work in the evenings. She does some catering and provides special services for selected clients. This reply simply stirs up more questions and unanswered concerns. Just exactly what sort of ‘special services’? What ‘service’ could she possibly provide that would enable her to gather several, many, thousands of dollars?

On the one hand: it is none of their business. After all she is 22 or 23, and employed. On the other hand she is living rent free in their basement ‘guest’ room that is complete with bathroom and shower, and the adjacent ‘wreck’ room has a couch, refrigerator, TV/stereo, pool table, dart board etc. Because of her shift work, they only see her in passing as their paths cross. But, after all, Sylvie is their precious angel/daughter. Their son is prospering back east, with wife and child.

At this point I have set the stage and we will have to enter a realm of conjecture. My information is sketchy and third-hand, but the volume and temper of the dialogue reportedly started rising rapidly when she showed up with her new red Toyota the day before Thanksgiving. I suspect she was expecting congratulations from the proud parents of this independent daughter as they begin to see evidence of her prosperity and wise purchasing decision. Instead they are shocked at her furtive and un-discussed extravagance. An interrogation into her earnings ensues. I have no clear idea how much an evening waitress in a middle class feed trough may make, but a single person that is not paying rent and has few other expenses could afford to have a car. The $2,500 down payment seems to arouse some suspicion as few of the working class can save that much.

I gather that there were some raised voices, but she went to work on Thanksgiving and got back home about 11 p.m. The customers had a choice of turkey or ham and it was a busy night. The parents are waiting for her to arrive. The mother is upset for no particular reason, and Martin is pacing around. When Stacie shows up, at last, the interrogation begins. What the hell is going on? Why is she so late? Where has she been? Why didn’t she just get the brakes fixed and put some tires on the old car? How did she get $2,500 dollars? And who are the ‘selected clients’ and what sort of catering and special services do these people receive? How much does that extra work pay? Is this through the restaurant? Since when does that joint do catering? Is she gambling in that damned casino? Is she selling drugs? What is going on?

Sylvie was a taken aback at this aggressive tone of questioning. She got a bit upset at this irrational snooping and prying on the part of her parents. About midnight she is near tears and becomes exasperated and furious. They have begun the inquisition and she is basically caught off guard and unarmed. In an exasperated rage she loudly gives them the truth. The truth, which she has been keeping from them, becomes her final weapon.

In one of his wry novels, Kurt Vonnegut discusses the power of truth, and his suggested operating motto was, “If you don’t truth me, I won’t truth you.” Thus the minor lies and delusions that propel an easier path through life may be maintained. All of us live with our illusions. Our views of life on this planet are thoroughly self-serving and we shelter our beliefs, ludicrous as they may be.

“I occasionally do some escorting!” Sylvie reveals. The mother is unfamiliar with this term. Martin is a bit worldlier – not as a participant; but men, with their lurid imaginations and endless curiosity are more familiar with the underground trade that revolves around pornography and the women mysteriously available for extraordinary renditions of sexual participation.

Sylvie is working in the time honored but scandalous sex trade. I am told that escorts often do not categorize themselves as whores or prostitutes. An escort is not patrolling cars in some unfortunate part of town. An escort may be a call girl, or a concubine, or just very discretely provide services on limited availability. Some escorts advertise on-line or in the back pages of certain publications.

Upon this revelation, Mother burst into tears and shrieks, and Martin blew up into a rage. He didn’t hit either of them, although he may have threatened to do so. Instead he started roaring and yelling and threw the dining table across the room, breaking a chair, and shattering the big sliding glass door. A picture careened off the wall destroying the frame and broke the glass. A vase toppled and was in pieces. The fresh floral bouquet was in disarray on the floor, and the carpet was soaked. He stormed around the house upset. Mother and Stacie cowered, holding each other crouched in a corner. Stacie grabbed her cell phone and dialed 911. Both of the ladies were terrified. They had never seen Martin in such a state.

Out in the country – the rural suburbs – if there is an emergency and the cops are called it can take an hour for them to arrive. When you may not need the cops they show up in 5 minutes. As the police came upon the scene, Martin was calming down, still upset, but rather spent. The police sized up what seemed domestic violence in progress. They felt that they arrived just in time to prevent a more serious physical altercation. It is likely that had they come half an hour later all three would be crying and holding each other and trying to establish some sort of reconciliation. However the cops showed up while he is still enraged. He was shocked and angry with Sylvie. He was mad at his wife – she should have done something! She should have suspected! She should have had a talk with Sylvie! Who knows what she should have done? Whatever she should have done she didn’t do it! And he was mad at himself for being fooled, cuckolded in effect. He was damned angry with the men that have casually paid his daughter who-knows-what for sex. Who are these monsters? How dare they! His sweet little angel child has been defiled and abused and degraded by these anonymous bastards!

The police decided to take him in – he spent the night in jail on a domestic dispute charge. In the minds of the officers this would reduce the risk of violence, and give the ladies time to recover from his unusual behavior that has been amply demonstrated by this outburst. The cops attempted to set the dining table upright, but it is broken, and twisted out of plumb. Martin was put in the back of the squad car with nylon wrist retainers and hauled off. Mother must go down and authorize his release the next day.

Several weeks have passed. I gather from my informant that Martin was released the next day and was required to enroll in an Anger Management course. Martin and his wife are suddenly involved in a Family Counseling program. After an initial session, Sylvie declined the invitation to participate with the parents in what she feels is their relationship problem.

Sylvie is in the process of moving out. She feels that she has been disgraced and humiliated. She feels this entire episode was uncalled for. After all, it is none of their damned business what she does. Her parents may suddenly care deeply about her decisions, but they never inquired or gave a damn what she did with her boyfriends – that were, in her opinion, all losers. She had a lot of fun with the boys and showed the boyfriends a good time when it seemed merited, and then went her own way. She has no plans of continuing in the ‘escort career path’. She considers it an opportunity to associate with a better class of men than she will ever meet otherwise, and also an opportunity to earn some real money. With proper precautions she believes that this can be safe and sane, and the job can be occasionally pleasurable. It is an admission of a fall from the grace of presumed innocence, however this pose of amateur unfamiliarity with versions of sexuality is a difficult role to play for young adults today. Thanks to the social transformation of pornography and contemporary entertainment it would be difficult to remain ignorant of the general scope of human activities even if the varieties have not been practiced.

She has become somewhat acquainted with a couple other ladies in the trade, and has considered leaving the waitressing job soon. The restaurant job provided her with an opportunity to try the escort job, but she feels she can meet enough paying, well-behaved and respectful clients in other ways. She insists upon meeting potential clients in advance to get acquainted: a coffee date, for instance. She also elicits references and attempts to verify employment etc. She assesses their personality and potential interests to establish an informal contract of expectations. She is never out of reach of her cell phone.

The foregoing is reconstructed from a third party intermediary. I feel a bit diffident about contacting Martin regarding this episode. I’ve not been to his house although his cul-de-sac is familiar. Months from now it may be easier to get a coherent story after the dust settles. Each participant will calm down and review their own responses and develop a comfort level within their role. Each will have their regrets, and reflect upon the correctness of their views and the appropriateness of their responses. In the longer run, they will re-unite as a family, the parents will come to silently accept her chosen activities, and next holiday may be more familial. Sylvie may change her mind and she may drift away from this ‘career’ decision.

Career Review

In the long run, an escort is time-bound. A young lady in her 20’s can sell her youth for perhaps a decade. The prime product is youth – ladies in their 40’s or 50’s are not in great demand. Older men have a vampire-like interest in engaging young lovers. Younger men want to have sex with members of their peer group that would otherwise be unavailable to them.

Other cultures and other circumstances create other opportunities. In civilized Amsterdam there are the Fokken twins, now in their early 70’s and still working part time as prostitutes after 50+ years in the service of mankind. They estimate that they have each had over 250,000, perhaps 300,000 customers each, thus far. One has ‘retired early’ due to arthritis, the other continues part time because their state provided retirement allotment is insufficient.

In Germany, Molly Luft is the self-proclaimed fattest prostitute. She weighed around 385#, but is now reduced 100 or so. She runs a ‘discount’ brothel and has prospered for several decades. The brothel has a punch card, and after 10 visits a customer receives a free trick. She has been in the business over 30 years and estimates her personal tally at about 100,000 clients; the business is near a million clients.

“Smoky” Forrest

Almost exactly 50 years ago to the day, I recall sitting in a not-very-elegant restaurant at a Formica corner table with ‘Toppy Tom’ and ‘Smoky’ Forrest. We were sharing a platter of crab cakes, and having a few drinks. The restaurant was noted for serving strong drinks and greasy food. It was located a block up the street from the tavern the bikers favored. The restaurant would let us in if we appeared sober and behaved appropriately. We were not to be intimidating the regular neighborhood clientele.

We were discussing motorcycles. A mutual scoundrel had recently acquired a rigid frame, sprung hub Triumph, partially disassembled, and it is stored in a shed out in the boonies. I had a Model A Ford Pickup and would be able to do the hauling, and perhaps some of the mechanical work.

‘Toppy Tom’ was a large framed rough-cut character, probably 6’6” and 290#. He had served some time in the slam and was on parole but he was working on a city funded sidewalk repair crew: jackhammer, concrete, pick and shovel labor. ‘Smoky’ Forrest was 5’10”, wiry, a smooth talker, and looked a bit like Kirk Douglas with a wolfish grin. He had been in the Army briefly as some sort of fireman and had recently been fighting forest fires.

Smoky Forrest

Smoky Forrest

Drugs were just starting to appear as recreational alternatives at this time. Both ‘Toppy’ and ‘Smoky’ were casually headed for ‘Speed’ dependency problems. The three of us were cruising fast, talking 90 miles an hour. There had always been some ‘speed’ around, but suddenly it was readily available, and several of the bikers were making spending money transporting and selling packets to riff raff that actually did the peddling. The bikers had somehow gotten into the supply stream of the time. Months later our little casual group was invaded and dominated by heavy-duty guys from California and the drug business became quite serious. Around then, I parted company with the bikers. I’ve written elsewhere about that, but briefly, several of the Californians were recruiting ‘hippie chicks’ through grass and speed and acid or whatever, and the girls would soon be turning tricks in order to keep their personal supply flowing.

Janet, our waitress, was a pleasant looking lady, late 20’s, blond hair with 3” of dark roots, snug fitting white blouse unbuttoned midway, a tight skirt, and nurse’s shoes. Very friendly with the customers, eager to get us drinks and another platter of crab cakes. ‘Smoky’ was quite taken with her and was in speedy dope-fueled small talk. Soon we learned that she was from Idaho, and had her GED. She had worked at this joint for almost a year; she will be catching a bus to her apartment after 8, and her cat will be hungry etc. It was just mindless getting acquainted sort of pleasant chatter while she was doing her job, hustling meals and plates to her dozen or so tables.

Janet - waitress

Janet – waitress

We were 3 or 4 drinks down along with a couple platters of crab cakes when it was time to settle the tab. I reached for my wallet to get out my share – probably about $7 in ’62, but Smoky said, “Put that away, I’ll get this one, you can buy me drinks some other time.” He took his wallet out of the leather jacket and put down a $50 (serious money at that time, wages were about $3.25 an hour; $1 would get 4 hamburgers at Dick’s Drive-In). He laid the wallet on the table with two additional 50’s showing. When Janet came to pick up the money she couldn’t miss the additional flash.

Smoky decided to pounce. “What are you doing later, maybe we could go someplace. Have some fun!”

“Oh, gee, I don’t know about that.” she said. Upon her return with the change she slipped him a little piece of paper with the many dollar bills – it simply said Janet and a phone number.

He gave her a big wave as we exited, and once outside he was joyous. “Damn! I’m going to have fun tonight! Gonna get me a pint of bourbon and make a call!” Later in the week he felt compelled to violate the Gentleman’s Code: “A gentleman never tells.” He went on a bit about what an energetic romp Janet provided and what a great time it was. They had taken a shower together, soaping each other generously, and went to bed with her hair in a towel turban, and rutted, and bucked and shrieked and roared. He insisted that I take her number. My memory is that the joy rate was $20, and he considered it money well spent. “She asked about you, but she didn’t want ‘Toppy’ to call.”

I didn’t get around to contacting Janet. I’m from Nome Alaska and dislike the water, and the idea of getting into a shower with some lady just didn’t appeal to me at all at the time. Also, I was silently and invisibly quite ill with colitis.

But we may envision this episode in Janet’s life as a somewhat similar storyline for Sylvie. In absence of fact, we can make up any story that suits us. Martin does not seem to wear the mantle of severe repressive morality. I have no idea what the parent’s individual sex lives may have consisted of, or the nature of their married relationship. Some men brag about past exploits and depending upon the conversational context. These tales may be rather vulgar and explicit. We are not acquainted with Martin or his family members to the extent that such matters would be discussed. Our conversations are limited to gym talk and comments on the weather.

Rates

If we consider the escort ‘career’ that Martin’s Sylvie has entered we quickly find that regular appointments for an hour are in the range of $150 to $250. Her $2,500 down payment may have involved as few as 10 dates at $200 each. Should she attempt to earn $50,000 annually it would amount to about 250 sexual incidents per year. Many long marriages go from beginning to end with far less sexual content than that.

An article about the Nevada Brothels mentions that the ‘soiled doves’ consider 10 to 20 episodes a day to be an informal limit. In other locations the pace can be dozens a day. Half the money goes to management of the ‘parlor house’. If these ladies were to work 200 days annually, this would amount to more than 1,000 sexual incidents a year. Many incidents don’t last an hour, and not all services are charged at $200; some are less and others significantly more.

The TV personality and founder of the ‘Moral Majority’, Dr. Jerry Falwell, has said: “Grown men should not be having sex with prostitutes unless they are married to them.” Some of Sylvie’s clients may be married, but this would be irrelevant to her role in providing services. People generally, and men in particular, demonstrate widely varying interest levels in physical expressions of sexuality in the course of a lifetime. In adolescence and young adulthood the species is in a peak period of ‘hot and bothered’, sometimes referred to as the age of “testicles in tennis shoes”.

On the other side of the age spectrum: decades ago I was acquainted with a person I thought of as an elderly gent – I now realize he was in his early 60’s and recently widowed, hardly a old fossil. He was regaling us with a tale of his dating life. He mentioned to the silver fox he was courting that he was not eager get involved sexually until they were better acquainted. She replied, “Yeah, well I’m not that eager myself, I’ve already had my sex for the year, would you like to sit and watch some TV?” This was in the Spring of that year, but in the November of their lives.old geezer

In my teens, I was far too shy, and then far too ill to fully participate socially. I had been a shy loner, and after my operation that personality fault continued until I got entangled. Because of my lack of discussable experience, and my uncertainty about what my role as a parent ought to be, I realized that I had next to nothing to say to my children regarding sex or related matters. My parents had never discussed such matters with me, and I continued the tradition.

We don’t have a clue regarding Martin and his wife’s instructions, rules, or information provided to Sylvie. There is some basic sex education provided in the schools, but I don’t know what that amounts to. It is probably basic discussions provided in a neutral tone through charts, diagrams, anatomical roadmaps, and basic health information regarding STD’s, condoms, and avoiding pregnancy. To paraphrase James Thurber: ‘when one is confronted with the actual sex act a schematic of the reproductive organs is as valuable as a map of medieval trade routes.’

Many states – the ‘Red States’ – have no sex education aside from encouraging total abstinence, and as a result these states have alarming rates of teen pregnancy, STD’s and HIV. In my high school, in the ‘50’s, around a quarter of the girls would drop out every year due to pregnancies. Often the boys involved were expelled as well. Guys were tossed off the football team, which to some was a fate worse than death. A few were able to get a couple of girls knocked up. Frequently a quick marriage resulted; the boy was 16 or 19 and the girl 13 to 17. Often the young ladies were involved in what today would be considered statutory rape with trolling military guys. This unfortunate and endlessly repeated comedy was simply cause for a shrug and headshake: just business as usual.

I’m far from certain what a parent should provide. At some point it isn’t a parent’s business. The young people need to get acquainted, go out and have fun with friends, and once out of sight they are out of parental control. A parent doesn’t know what goes on and doesn’t know the local moral codes of various social groups. Within a school there are various tribal alliances and each has it’s own behavioral strictures.

I taught briefly at Garfield High School in Seattle in the early ‘60’s. This school had, and still has, a predominantly black student body. The classrooms frequently had several pregnant young women. They were not expelled, and as near as I could tell, there were no shotgun weddings. The culture of the times seemed to be accepting – the girls might finish high school as single parents. I started out appalled, but soon I was indifferent as well.

Episode #2

Steven & Heather

In the mid-80’s my beloved ‘black iron’ gym closed and I began to frequent a different gym – I was still employed. The new franchised gym was in the vacant space of a deceased supermarket. It was a large gym, mostly filled with cardio equipment, stationary bicycles, stair-steppers etc. In my previous gym we devotees of the ‘chapel of black iron’ wore very ratty workout gear, torn t-shirts, sawed off jeans. The new gyms were an outgrowth of the burgeoning fitness craze and the lean bodies were often clad in colorful body suits that were snug and revealing. The young lady’s body suits were combined with a one-piece dancer’s leotard or camisole over the top. In the crotch area this resembled a thong. Often the young ladies appeared to be as colorful as tropical fish. One of the young ladies in regular attendance was called ‘The Thong Goddess’ by some of the guys. They would suddenly show some enthusiasm for cardio by operating a machine behind her to watch that trim little bottom, while they fantasized about the unspeakable acts they would inflict upon her preciousness if only they could get up the nerve to speak to her.

Steven was one of the big guys in that gym, heavily muscled and loud. We, the big boys, were relegated to the far wall that was lined with weights. He was a freelance construction worker and a housing boom was on! He was in his early 40’s, I guess, and a talkative character in an uneasy marriage – his wife was a well-built blonde, a striking figure, and also loud and outspoken. I saw her a couple of times, she would stalk in wearing high heels and start discussing the family issues in public, loudly. I got the impression that they rather enjoyed arguing and may have enjoyed the making up even more than the argument. When he was around we soon learned more about their family than was necessary: their vacations, their car problems, their damned son, their lazy daughter, etc.

That year, during summer vacation, the 14-year-old son was going to a sailing camp at Lake Tahoe. The daughter, Heather, was about 11 perhaps, and was going to stay a month with an aunt at a ranch in New Mexico. Steven thought this was a great arrangement. The New Mexico Aunt’s family were strict Mormons, and had horses and livestock. Maybe they could get some work out of the girl.

Steven’s wife had decided to clean and paint the kid’s bedrooms while the kids were gone. There had been continual arguments about the kid’s messy bedrooms, particularly Heather’s bedroom. Steven was enlisted to help move the furniture, and do some cleaning and painting. The son was returning first and that room went smoothly.

Heather’s bedroom was a disaster with moldy food, dirty clothes, stuff scattered everywhere. She had been told that they were going to re-paint the room: she had picked the colors, under duress. An attempt was made to organize books, magazines, shoes, clothes, and plush animals. Which clothes still fit? What should be washed? What should be tossed? There were bags of crap. It progressed a few hours at a time with much muttering about the unsightly and unsanitary hoard shoved under the bed and tossed in the closet.

Heather - ballerina

Heather – ballerina

Steven would get home from working at construction, pause at the gym to lament his fate, and then haul trash. He finally began to move the furniture to the center of the room, a bookshelf, a desk, a couple of chairs – one of which had been invisible in the clutter – and the bed. The bed needed to be dismantled, the box spring and mattress were to be set out in the hallway, and the bed frame knocked apart. Under the mattress a surprise was found. There were several recent porno magazines of the sort that were readily available behind the counter in franchised ‘Stop & Rob’ stores that have gas pumps out front. Magazines with titles such as Purely 18, Live Young Girls, Lollypop Teens, Finally Legal.

Steven is pole-axed, just stunned to find these in his precious daughter’s bedroom, and his wife is aghast and shocked and soon in tears. The daughter was just beginning to develop breasts; the mother and daughter have had a little talk about the onset of menses. Suddenly here are these quite explicit magazines with attractive young ladies with shaved pudenda and coyly posing – showing it all, playing with dildos, and performing sloppy blowjobs and having sex with men that have enormous cocks.

Suddenly the parents in her bedroom realized that their innocent little daughter may not be innocent – she might be physically innocent, but intellectually she is aware of sexual activities that are portrayed as normal, but some of which are outside the realm of what the parents have engaged in. They are in shock. What are they to do now? What are they to say or do when she returns? In their mind, she might have played doctor, or a game of show-me-yours, but the magazines are basically a how-to manual for dildos, blowjobs, muff diving, anal intercourse, and abusive activities with gags and handcuffs, for instance.

In the gym Steven was quite vocal on the issue. Who would give such pornography to a little girl? Why would this be circulating among her classmates? She can’t buy this stuff: it is behind the counter! Who is buying the magazines and passing them out to 5th graders? And of course, he has to discuss the size of the dicks displayed – Steven has 19” biceps but there is no known exercise to build a 12” dick. A man has to be born with this random genetic trait. He was in the military and has seen hundreds of guys in the shower, but never seen anything like the equipment displayed in the pictures. He somehow feels inadequate. Who are these freaks of nature? I recall him commenting on the shaved girl’s pudenda. “Christ! I’ve been married 20 years and still have no idea what the hell it looks like! Never occurred to me that a woman would shave that! It’s creepy!”

Where do these attractive girls come from? What tangled family life led them to participate in this circus act? One assumes that the ID and medical status of the girls is recorded, but are these girls just walking around on the street of LA? Are they recruited in some way? How much do they get paid? Are they forced into this activity? Are there pimps or procurers? Are the girls from Los Angeles or Russia? I became curious about what the pay scale may be for young girls of 18 or so for an appearance in the magazines, or in the endless supply of fornication videos. There isn’t a published pay scale, but informally there are statements that seem to reveal that the pay is just a few hundred dollars. I guess that the capitalist principles of supply and demand have determined that there are a large number of maidens available and none of them can command enough money to establish a significant and regular income.

On the home front his wife sits, sobbing at the lost innocence of her precious daughter. Inevitably, in her mind, it seems that in some way it is her husband’s fault, or at least the fault of men and their crude and offensive behavior. Unfortunately, while she is brooding upon the low-life and vulgar aspects of men that may have been revealed to her in the past, Steven happens to mention that some of the portrayed incidents are kind of hot. It was clearly the wrong thing to say at that point. Another flame of argument ensued. Suddenly he was sleeping a few nights in a motel, no doubt temporarily as they love the make-up sex. I moved on to another gym in the mid-summer and never gave this incident another thought.

I had not, at that time, thought about how the family reaction might have been quite different had the magazines been found hidden in the boy’s room. Young damsels are thought to be naively demure and thus unaware of the procreative chaos of the male assault awaiting them upon approaching a semblance of physical maturity. A young man of 14 or so is about to become eagerly curious about the nature of sex and female attributes. If Steven’s son was discovered to have the magazines, it would probably have been treated with less emotional uproar.

It is no longer possible to be as innocent and ignorant we were in the ‘50’s when I was in my teens and early adulthood. Living near the tiny town of Suquamish – an isolated rural area – there was hardly a hint of sexuality. The National Geographic would occasionally have exotic tribal scenes in which ladies might display breasts. In high school there would be occasional, but all too rarely, very worn magazines furtively passed around. Mad Magazine was one such, but it was devoid of sexual content. More to the point there were less common magazines such as Nudist Garden that showed both sexes coyly participating in badminton or picnics. The naughty bits were retouched, or hidden behind a hand or shrub. I recall viewing a couple of issues of Playboy, probably borrowed from someone’s father. The nude centerfold photos of the time were quite discrete, and the luscious young ladies depicted were thoroughly made-up to hide any blemish. The lighting for the photography was complexly organized and while nipples and bellybuttons might be visible, the pudenda remained hidden. Soon other magazines became more daring and explicit. By the early ‘60’s magazines such as Hustler were offering full-beaver gynecological imagery.

There was no newsstand in Kitsap that would enable a young man to buy an issue of such revealing images. There was a drug store in Poulsbo that had a small magazine rack, but Playboy was behind the counter. Mad was not available there. The Nudist magazines were on a high rack at the Seattle ferry terminal; an adult had to request the step stool to acquire an issue.

Heather, Steven’s daughter, would be 24 or so today. How did they handle this odd but not unique crisis? What became of her? Was this exposure at a young age influential? Or was it just a childhood memory forgotten? Did she move on to safe but energetic sex with friends? Or did she provide Porn Star sexual sessions with young men in her life? It would certainly be to the astonishment of the young men. Was she repulsed by the whole idea? If she thought the magazines were a true depiction of what men were about, perhaps she wanted nothing to do with any of those activities. I suspect that the magazines were being circulated surreptitiously among friends – in this case probably girlfriends. No doubt there was a brisk trade in naughty magazines amongst the boys, and inevitably some were diverted.

This little incident was about 15 years ago, but is still pertinent and current. Within this time interval, however, there has been a huge change within the pornography industry. There is no way to estimate the extent of the change in availability and content, but comparing the quaint photos of 19th century “Ladies of Negotiable Affection” of New Orleans’ brothels, for instance, with the exaggerated explicitness of today’s free porn on the internet reveals a stark contrast. The faded amber photos of ‘Dawson Dottie’ or ‘Klondike Kate’ of the 1890’s Yukon seem amusingly staid and quaint. In today’s harsh light and superior evolved fashion consciousness – who would pay for a session with that pudgy middle-aged sagging female?

As an old fart sitting in the little physical rowboat that I have paddled in the shallows of what now seems a vast sea of human sexual activities, I can reflect upon how a tiny trivial batch of information and interactions in the prime of life has led to a superficial grasp of the topography of the extent of the ocean’s possibilities. I can lean over the side of the rowboat and scoop up a teacup of experience to contemplate. Had I been in better health, had I not been so shy, had I not spent most of my life feeling like a misplaced Martian on this planet, there could have been considerably more to be experienced.

 

Background information:

Sally Salamander

I was very shy and isolated in high school. I was incompetent in sports, bullied, and lacking any transportation. I went to the local drive-in movie once in a sedan full of guys to see a black and white sci-fi movie. The rural drive-in was a party playground for local youth and young adults. On the way to the snack bar during intermission I recall that there was inexplicable hilarity at the back of the parking area. There frequent gossip about exploits and activities at the drive-in.

Sally Salamander was briefly in school when I was a junior. She was a dark haired, happy-go-lucky big-breasted young lady that had been in school, gotten pregnant, disappeared for a while and reappeared briefly. Her child was never mentioned: adopted I guess. Sally was one of the few people in the school that spoke to me. She said nothing more than “Hi”, but she was friendly and outgoing, and seemed much more mature than the other students. She was taking stenography courses such as typing.

She soon dropped out, but she would pick up girlfriends in her Uncle’s big ’48 Pontiac sedan. There was an attempt to enforce a no smoking policy on campus, but the girls would all light up as soon as the Pontiac was in sight, and then the six or eight would pile into the car laughing and shrieking. In retrospect I assume there was plenty of alcohol in the car. There were no drugs in rural Kitsap, but there was a lot of alcohol available.

Sally had a reputation as a loose woman and a heavy drinker. She had been found half naked and passed out in the locker room. She had been escorted off the field as drunk and disorderly at a football game. She was delivered to her parents after being found unconscious in the back of a ’49 Ford that was involved in a traffic accident – driven by two sailors. Her exploits were an occasional topic.

Sally was frequently at the drive-in where young men would ply her with alcohol. I gather that several guys would pick her up and prime her with sloe gin and Coke. At the theater they would proceed to get her smashed and coax her out of her panties and indulge in what is now called a gangbang in the back seat, with her putting up little or no resistance.

At one of these celebrations of beastliness, an acquaintance of mine got involved. His name was Richard, but he was called Ritchaaaard! He was a pleasant sort of fellow trying to learn to be a bad boy by hanging out – trying to fit in with a wilder bunch. When he got over to their car he had to start to catch up on the drinks – getting a solid slug of gin in his waxed paper cup of root beer. It was necessary to drink quickly because the alcohol would loosen the wax coating and liquor would stain and drain through the cup seam. He was soon loaded and caught up just as the action was getting under way. First one young man and then another and then yet another climbed in the back and jumped up and down on Sally. These so-called sex acts were probably one-minute quickies. She was drenched in cum: bombed but somewhat conscious. Suddenly it was Ritchaaard’s turn. He was slow to jump and suddenly he was grabbed from behind and his face plunged down into her drenched pussy. Despite his efforts he was held there a while, and Sally started laughing, swearing, and shrieking about the episode. As he was released he threw up all over her and the interior of the car. He ran off, pulling his pants up. The story was everywhere and he didn’t live that episode down; “The guy that throws up on girls.”

A couple years later, I was in college, bussing dishes in the evening, and spotted him with a pretty and demure young lady. They seemed to be on a date, having a nice dinner. My thought at the time was, “Well, good for him.”

Reflecting back, was it good for Sally? She was involved in activities demonstrating a lack of concern or awareness regarding consequences, a youthful participant in what were considered adult activities without forethought, planning or guidance. She was just going with the flow, enthusiastic in what would seem to be self-destructive behavior. It was easy path to superficial popularity.

I have no idea what became of her, but the script she was participating in and her role in the theatrics would not seem to lead anyplace but personal disaster. Sally was a willing participant to whatever extent she was capable of rational decision within the turmoil created by her willingness to debase herself.

The Blind Girl I remember:

When I was about 15, living in an impoverished rural town that is now filled with members of the cul-de-sac tribe, there was a blind young lady. I thought of her as an older woman, but she was probably in her early twenties. Not a pretty woman, built like a fireplug, living in her parents house and leading a rather sheltered life. I remember her playing with her cats on the porch on a nice day. She had several very friendly large grey and black cats.

Some local rowdy young men would load her into a car and “have their way with her” and then cheerfully drop her off: raped, roughed up, stunned, disheveled and lost within a few yards of her house. The hilarity of the story was embellished with the acting out of her flailing and groping as she tried to get her bearings and find the way to her mailbox and driveway, with her panties on her head. I gather this happened repeatedly, and, of course, she became pregnant and was shipped off to some facility.

There is now a splendid gated estate on the site of her parental home, the old stump farm now nicely mowed. The last name of one of the young men involved with the activity is now on a huge sign on an auto repair-tire sale store near the new freeway.

A poem that seemed poignant and relevant to me 45 years ago, referred to ‘the black mirror of a blind girl”. The poem was by Stuart Z. Perkoff, a “Beat” poet, now long forgotten, but his chanting accompanied by electric guitar and harmonium still haunts me.

What am I brooding about? Inquiring minds want to know.

Why wasn’t God Watching?

Why wasn’t God Listening?

Why wasn’t God There,

For Georgia Lee?

         Tom Waits

 

The 10 photos

My first part time job at college was assisting in an annual inventory count in an electrical supply warehouse. There was a mile of steel shelves, filled with bins, boxes, and tagged units. Each of us was given a clipboard and printed inventory list for each shelving unit. Copiers had not been invented yet and the sheets were printed on real printing presses. We were to go from left to right on the top shelf, and then right to left on the next shelf, matching the item name and then the count. Sometimes the count would be a unit, and sometimes the bins would contain dozens of fittings to be counted. We were using wheeled stepladders to reach the upper shelves. One of my coworkers was up the ladder wobbling at the top shelf and happened to brush his hand on an envelope that was covered with a heavy layer of dust. In the envelope was ten 4X5 black and white photos depicting a sailor and a lady progressing from clothed and hugging to naked and reclining on a couch with him on top, depicting a sex scene. He kept his jaunty white sailor’s cap on from start to finish. This was quite a disruption for the guys doing the inventory. Such was the state of pornography in ’58. The photos – production prints – were probably from the era of WWII or the Korean War. No one had seen anything like it.

Stag Films

There were rumors of ‘Stag Films’ but these were not common. The films were advertised in the back of various magazines. The short films had saucy titles and were often sold in bundles: five films for the price of three, shipped in a plain paper wrapper. The films were silent and came in 8 mm or 16 mm formats. In about ’61, I saw a few Stag Films at a bachelor’s party celebrating the marriage of one of the bikers. Several films were shown at party central – a rented house that we rather trashed during the festivities.

For all the talk about the stag films, they were silent and quite short. The story lines were idiotic, and the imagery was not particularly explicit. These were not fancy productions; probably shot in an afternoon with no re-takes. Judging from the costumes and hairdo, some of these films may have been shot shortly after Edison invented the kinescope, certainly some dated from the flapper era. The films had been copied and re-copied endlessly. The ladies were attractive but rather ordinary and the male performers were utterly ordinary. The only ‘star’ widely known today from this naughty-nudie vintage venue is Betty Page, and I don’t think she was in these films. The films were not in good condition, probably passed hand to hand for a decade or more. Despite the low-keyed attempt at luridness the films were boring.

The films had been available for several decades and were delivered in the mail, which influenced the nature of the erotic content. The films may as well have shown the couples playing cards. The films were sent in the mail and the advertised illusion was that these films were naughty and forbidden, but the reality was, I suspect, that the films passed the Comstock standards that prevailed at the time. The Comstock Act of 1873 made it illegal to send any “obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious” materials through the mail, including contraceptive devices or biological information.This law was repeatedly challenged, and major court battles took place in the 1960’s. For instance, Henry Miller’s books were forbidden import until the early ‘70’s. At our little showing the commentary of the viewers provided the entertainment and that was not elevated discourse.

 

Airbrushed

As a Junior in Art School taking ‘advanced’ figure drawing, an old professor (his name escapes me) had a reference book available which demonstrated compound lighting – how to illuminate a model to reveal form. The 3” thick book probably dated from the ‘30’s. Photographers were standardizing the methods of lighting portraits and the figure. How can the lights be placed to best observe and render the model? However, Artists over the centuries had devised a wide variety of lighting schemata despite the lack of flash bulbs and electric photofloods. Rembrandt was noted for his dramatic lighting for portraiture, often called ‘refrigerator lighting’ – as if looking into a refrigerator. The book was of interest because both the male and female models had all naughty bits retouched out of existence – nipples, genitalia, and even the navels were removed, although the butt crack remained. Faces were also retouched to be defect free. The representations were of some other humanoid race of asexual semblances.

Early Porn Magazines

Long ago – ’64 or so, I briefly shared a studio with a somewhat older Artiste. He had quite a stack of porn magazines of the time – black and white photos, goofy little titillating story lines. He referred to the magazines as ‘pound cake’. The depictions of both men and women were hairy; the women were often with unshaven legs and armpits. Some were obviously shot in Europe. The actual sexual apparatus was barely visible. As a minimally experienced shy guy I found the portrayal to be discouraging. Where or when was I going to meet or get involved with such blatantly sexual beings? The magazines were occasionally a source for a figurative pose for a drawing or painting. The characters were slim and well endowed; but most people on the planet are not physically elegant to the extent that they prompt universal lust at a glance.

Kohlmann

Kohlman

Kohlman

In the late 70’s I became acquainted with Kohlmann. He was one of the rapidly increasing batch of itinerant multiple degreed gypsy intellectuals, moving from one institution to another on one or two year contracted teaching positions. I had recently been put in charge of all the campus copiers, and had an analog copier that would both enlarge and reduce images. He had need of reductions of maps and charts regarding regions of Africa. The reduced copies would be trimmed to fit and then be taped together. Additional arrows and information would be felt penned. The final handout or transparency template could then be copied. Projects such as these are now done on computers. Through these projects we became sort of friends.

During the acquisition of his last degrees, Kohlmann had been a ‘full fledged hippy’. The timely publication of “The Joy of Sex” by Alex Comfort and “The Kama Sutra” had significantly energized the sexual indulgences of his acquaintances. Upon completion of a doctorate he joined the Peace Corps, long hair and all. He was trained and sent to villages in Africa to work on sewage and water issues. During his hippy phase he had been an advocate of the free-love hippy lifestyle. He discussed his dream of going to Africa and getting back to the ‘natural sex’ of the untrammeled native villages. In the villages he found to his dismay that the missionaries had certainly done their work, and whatever spontaneity and variety may have existed had been reduced to little more than missionary position quickies.

The villagers were dressed shabbily, and were very shy, discrete, and reserved. They had been so thoroughly indoctrinated in Christianity that spontaneity and simple physical joyous expression had been eradicated. He became enamored with a charming dusky maiden of his dreams, but he had to spend a lot of time initiating her into any form of pleasurable variation in their romantic play. He was quite disappointed at the loss of his dreams of an earthy paradise. He felt that the churches had gone to a lot of trouble to eradicate an area of significant pleasure in exchange for difficult lives that contained far too little joy between birth, disease, and death.

The lives of tribal people are in an unpredictable transition. The old ways are now largely forgotten leaving cultural shards, and the present is a cruel rendering of adaptive poverty and hardship, much of which was not part of the culture until virtually yesterday. The Peace Corps workers were minimally sheltered in tents and awnings and the natives lived in traditional mud and wattle huts sporting sheet metal roofing, often made of flattened oil drums and miscellaneous cans. Water was free for gathering and hauling, but far from pure. The entire world was an outhouse; the hygienic rule was that anyplace 20 feet away was a suitable squat. There was very little money and few jobs that made even a pittance.

It was said that there was no prostitution until the churches came and money was introduced. When Kohlmann was in residence there were a couple of young widows that would provide sexual services for barter or small change, and it was quite perfunctory – they weren’t selling the illusion of pleasure, they were desperate for food and medicine. The white folks – Corps and officials – were sole source for valuables. This sort of dependency relationship is common – in Alaska the early whites traders and the churches very quickly altered whatever the traditional values may have been, and very soon the gift of syphilis was widely distributed.

Kohlmann’s reflections upon the disappearing lifestyles in Africa reminded me of the demise of the Eskimo that I had witnessed as a child, and the sorry state of the local Suquamish/Salish Indians squatting in poverty in rural Kitsap of my teens. The types of lives, arrangements for the allocation of resources and the life of hunter/gatherers is shredded by the new and improved modern intrusion, but life is lacking the assurance that was previously provided for the indigenous. The natives are not here for a visit. Nor are they participants in the dream of a momentary earthy exotic romantic paradise. They are reduced to abject and inescapable poverty that is perhaps not much different than life before the invasion by aliens. These ghostly outsiders that suddenly control the resources have shredded the earlier tribal life.

Iraq

Several years ago I became briefly acquainted with Jim, one of the early soldiers in Iraq. He was between tours. As I recall he was on leave from his second assignment, waiting to be sent back for the third. He was a young, fit, but very edgy military guy that was living in his mother’s spare bedroom during his weeks off. He was so antsy that he came to the gym to simply wear himself out. He did very intense high speed and exhausting sessions that lasted a couple of hours.

We chatted several times. He had thought he had served his time, but through some terms of his contract, he was called up and re-assigned to Iraq. He hated the war, hated the Iraqis, but enjoyed the team aspect of being a soldier. He had no job prospects.

He knew nothing about Iraq or the Muslim religion or the civilian life prior to his arrival. He didn’t speak a word of the language until he was taught the couple dozen key phrases to shout at people when shoving them around, or threatening them when forcibly entering the houses. He had nothing good to say about the people or the country. He despised the lot of them. “What the fuck’re we doing there?” his repeated question.

There were two aspects that filled him with disdain.

On street patrol, in searing heat and in random unforeseeable danger, they had to enter storefronts and businesses and look around for weapons. Many of the businesses, particularly the Tea Shops, had TV’s mounted on the wall. In the Tea Shop’s men would sit much of the day, doing nothing but sipping sweet tea, playing dominoes and watching endless pornography, some of it ‘live’ from Berlin or Amsterdam.

Jim found the hypocrisy of this behavior beyond comprehension. Here were these severely religious men that won’t let their women show their faces or so much as an ankle. The wives are kept prisoner in the house, and only allowed out when accompanied by a male relative. Meanwhile the men are at ease watching gross pornography involving white women. White women (called flashlights) were infidels and beyond concern and existed outside the men’s strict religious principles, which they flaunted by praying 5 times a day.

In the evening or early morning the soldiers on patrol could hear the wives being raped and/or beaten. The men often had 3 or 4 wives and abuse was just part of the marriage. Those of the Shia branch can purchase wives as young as 9 years old. Mohammed had a wife of 9, thus this was acceptable. While prostitution was part of the TV programming, it was hidden in town. Widows that had no one to provide support were wandering the streets in a Burka. They would wear a red sock that they could discretely flash, signaling that they were available. This was very dangerous because prostitution was potentially a beheading or stoning offence, but they had no other way to make any money. Through a loophole in the Islamic Code, (Mut’ah) a man can temporarily marry a woman for an hour or more to have sex and not be a sinner in Allah’s eyes. The women have no similar religious relief.

Men could sell their daughters as temporary brides with no repercussions, although the loss of virginity disqualifies the girls from marriage in the future. Women are of little value, and their fate is not important. Marriages were arranged between families, not a result of the romantic customs of our society.

Recently one report in the little news we actually get from Iraq: one of the Sunni Imams has announced that it is permissible for Sunni men to freely rape Shia women of any age, and they also may be kidnapped and sold into prostitution or shared freely amongst fellow warriors. This amounts to rape and sex slavery as weapons of war. No weapons aside from assault are necessary.

There was great emphasis on virginity of the young brides that was to be demonstrated by the blood on the marriage bed sheets from the act of defloration. This illusion could be perpetrated by several opportunities for fraud. Elder religious leaders or local midwives can verify the presence of an intact hymen for a fee prior to the wedding ceremony. The illusion of virginity may also be created by an operation called hymenoplasty, which if done in England, France, or the USA might cost $900. This is a minor bit of stitchery done in a daytime clinic visit a week or so prior to the ceremony. There are also traditional ruses involving the insertion of a small sheepskin bladder containing bloodlike liquids. Recently there has been an insert-able ‘artificial hymen’ containing a gelatin capsule guaranteed to rupture and release a suitable sheet staining liquid. This device is imported from China, which has its own regional customs. Thus the daughters sold into prostitution may be redeemed through conspiracy.

The military’s dependence upon an extensive array of contractors has been an invitation to set up auxiliary services such as prostitution. One story from Jim involved an American food service vendor that opened a Chinese Restaurant adjacent to the Green Zone. The contractor imported many young Chinese women for staff, and sexual services were provided in a warren of tiny rooms in the back. There were separate entrances for US Forces and local Muslims.

This kind of double duplicity drove Jim into fits of anger. He spent much of every day wondering, “Why the fuck’re we there? Protecting a bunch of pious savages!”

Viet Nam, Cambodia, Thailand

Eddie was in the gym erratically. When he was in town he would be a regular for a week or two and then he’d disappear for weeks or months. He had been an Air Force Tanker pilot, but had retired after 20 years. He had been a standby pilot for a major airline but after the Iraq war broke out there was suddenly a demand for independent pilots that had security clearance – namely former military cargo pilots. He went to work for one of the independent contractors. He would never say who, or exactly what or where he was flying, but the itinerary involved unmentionable cargo delivered to obscure places not mentioned in the news. He may have been, probably was, involved in the ‘extraordinary renditions program’. He would hedge around the topic, not willing to go into any detail and not admitting anything. He was well paid and was having a great adventure while working as an independent contractor for a corporation that worked silently for the CIA or other governmental agencies.

His hobby seemed to be hooking up with local hookers wherever he went. When he found out I was an artist/writer he decided that perhaps I was a kindred spirit – what with the nude models and all – and he felt compelled to tell me about some of these incidents. For instance, he was pleased to chat about an available and striking woman in a bar in Kazakhstan. She was from Hungary and was featured in some European porno magazine. She kept a copy in her purse to show to clients, to demonstrate that she was a real pro and worth the extra pittance per hour.

One of his fondest memories was of the floating brothels in South East Asia (Cambodia or Viet Nam). He said these were known as “Flowerboats’. Poverty stricken farmers would often sell one or more of their young daughters into prostitution – there were traveling procurers willing to pay a few hundred dollars cash. Depending upon the nature of the handshake contract, some daughters would be expected to send part of their earnings home. Once out of sight, the procurer would begin the ‘breaking in’ process of introducing these 7-9 year olds into the sex trade. By the time they were delivered to the Flowerboats they would be adept. Uncooperative or rebellious daughters might be blinded by a local medicine man. Blind maidens might be trained as fortunetellers. Blind girls were welcome on the Flowerboats because local custom was that a blind girl couldn’t tell what the man looked like, and thus all men were treated with equal enthusiasm. If the blinded girls were not attuned to prognostication or didn’t display sufficient ardor, they were simply dropped over the side. Inexpensive replacements were readily available.

Eddie had quite a story about spending $50 for an entire night of fondling eager blind girls. One highlight was watching the blind girls wrestle in a large tub filled with cooking oil. Slipping, sliding, laughing, grabbing and flailing at each other with dildos, and so on. In addition to what was going on with the floorshow, there were TV’s over the bar that showed endless pornography, often child porn, but also bondage, rape scenarios etc. It was great entertainment in his opinion.flowerboat #2 1flowerboat #1

Eddie, the pilot, responsible for millions of dollars of high tech equipment, and long trained for performance, had seemingly no compunctions about taking advantage of the pleasures to be had in brothels of the world. No questions about the well being, past or future, for these creatures on the planet that were available to amuse and please him.

Summary

I started this mess off with a little story about Martin and his daughter Sylvie, but as I got to thinking about the issues involved the story kept expanding. I don’t pretend to know doodly about sex in society. I barely remember the urgency of it, and only have vivid recollections of a handful of treasured incidents.

We would rather not admit that the flaws in others that may fill us with misgivings are, in fact, our own. We would rather engage in self-delusions that are often the key to happiness. The longer we can go without changing the less likely change becomes. A life is a limited timeframe, and the sort of self-awareness necessary for personal change is seemingly not widespread. And as one ages some changes inevitably occur, until subtle behavioral changes are overwhelmed by the simple fact that the body simply no longer functions as it once did. We don’t get to start over, fresh, young, and full of vigor. Soon enough, in fact all too soon, our ability to pursue the physical exploits that were casual and taken for granted in early maturity becomes mere ghosts of past possibilities.

Within our little white middle class social structure, there seems to be social concern regarding the realm of the loss of virginity for young ladies. However, in contemporary pornography there is a huge demonstrated interest in the depiction of defloration. Evidently white guys sitting at computers love to engage in this fantasy activity. The harvesting of innocence is a routine life passage but is also an unpredictable occurrence. Defloration may be widely varied in actual personal realities. Since other people are involved in the earliest experiences there can be many effects. Unfortunately, young men are eager but inconsiderate, and many young ladies may also be eager, but no one can predict the sort of effect that these experiences may have in the passage of time.

Was Steven’s daughter, Heather, stimulated or terrified at the prospect of sex as depicted by the pornographic magazines? I don’t know how that all worked out – it is none of my business – but it was a matter of great concern to Steven and his wife. Their mutual outrage at the exposure would seem to indicate that they had in mind a gentler, more personal exploratory process for the passage into maturity. Not that they wanted to intervene and control the details of this initiation, but they hoped for an experience that was discrete, private, personally intense, and meaningful.

I suspect that both Martin and Steven’s notion of how the daughters should proceed would be a progression from a few intense friendships extending to some physical familiarization and leading to a romantic union through marriage, preferably a pleasantly loving union that lasts decades. This sort of arrangement is actually relatively rare, in fact. More than half of all marriages end in divorce and many that don’t end in separation have internal faults leading to varying levels of disgruntled muttering and avoidance. The middle class white folk notion of a proper marriage is historically a recent phenomenon. It was encouraged by the rise and intertwining forces of our capitalist system.

Within our political system there is constant references to ‘family values’. In current examples we have an odd sort of denial of reality. Hardly any family serves as the golden ideal. If we look back to the earliest American settlers – the Puritans for instance, the marriage strictures were rather severe and women were often rendered simply house slaves, laborers in the man’s house, and were easily replaced. The women often died in childbirth. There is now a significant battle over reproductive rights. Some states have denied women’s reproductive freedoms and related health care issues. We might hope this is the last of elderly white guys managing the roles of women. It is arriving on the scene, as the role of capitalism is increasingly debated.

The role of romance within the social structure of the middle class has become one of personal self-realization. In the not very distant past we were led to believe in our own immortality. We were all going to heaven if we would just follow the religious rules. Our roles were set for us through the status of our birth. Individuals were serfs or slaves with little or no opportunity to rise within society. One of the attractions of rampant capitalism was the ability to shift social status through hard work, or education, or demonstrated capabilities. While this personal advancement may still occur, the ruthless boom and bust cycles of our current financial system destroys the wealth of the lower classes while enhancing the accumulations of the already wealthy.

The capitalist crisis that seems to occur in every decade of history has led to the erosion of ‘family values’ and the related myths of ever advancing economic well-being. Our personal narratives are rendered a shambles. Up until recently there were few if any personal narratives of distinction. The encouragement of ‘shopping around’ for personal happiness through romances, gratification, and love linked marriages was dependant upon the now discredited promise of our increasingly ruinous financial system. We were groomed for the pleasure of new sensations, and the search for marriageable mates became a personal quest. Very recently in our past, and in many societies today, brides are simply bought or have negotiated values and alliances. Until very recently this bartering of women was almost universal.

Lasting love in our disruptive financial environment has become difficult. Romantic alliances are based on an individual feeling of mutual desire. We can change our roles and change has come to be desirable. We often want to avoid boredom; all manner of diversions can be purchased if we have the freedom to change jobs, locations, and mates. However the precarious personal reality for many is of desperation and financial ruin. Capitalism and romantic love offer the ceaseless promise of escape to a better world over the rainbow. But a general sense of the lie inherent in that promise is growing. The system of promised rewards has broken down, and left us with too many broken hearts.

Episode #3

The Pending Deaths

Big John, an acquaintance in the gym, has been noticeably in the dumps for several weeks. Men don’t talk about serious matters in the gym: the weather, honeydew lists, pickup trucks, a bit about high-light-reps vs. low-heavy-reps etc. John is well into his 60’s and has been trying to keep his weight below 275# for decades. All weight loss is temporary. We have been together in the gym perhaps 100 times: our schedules overlap occasionally. He has seemed a bit depressed for a while, but it is none of my business. But over a period of months, the story comes out in bits and pieces, and I attempt to reconstruct it.

Big John and Dolores

Big John and Dolores

He tells me of his two friends, both dying. They are unrelated but friends of long standing – 40 or more years. These people have cycled from friend status to acquaintances and then back to friends. His immediate lament is that he is running out of people to talk to. His peers are ‘passing on’ and none of them asked to go down the path they are on, which consists of extended lengthy debilitating illnesses and treatments. The reality is that even if the treatments and medicine are effective his friends will not be the characters they once were. There is no returning to past vivacity. Soon it will be Big John’s turn – each of us will get a turn.

Who are these people? What is their life? What was the story?

He speaks of Marylyn, a tall, broad hipped, vigorous lady in his memory. They were in high school together and had dated briefly. She quickly realized he was not for her. His interest in girls at that time was physical – getting a wet kiss, a handful of tits. She was on to that scam and stayed unencumbered through both high school and college. She became a teacher and later a counselor, and then some sort of administrator. She was a woman of wit and accomplishment.

Her first husband developed a taste for drink and it became part of his job. His Frat-boy skills and his capacity for drink led him to prosper. He also fooled around a bit, eventually giving Marylyn the clap a couple of times.

She divorced that lout and demonstrated that she had learned a lesson and in her late 30’s remarried to a hell of a great guy. He was some sort of supervisor in the Postal Service and a bit of a scholar of Shakespeare, and an appreciator of classical music and opera.

John didn’t have contact with her during the first marriage, but their paths crossed frequently for the next 30 years. He admired the pair, actually was in a bit of awe of them, and they had some great meals and long talks on the back deck with a bit of wine and crackers with cheese.

The husband died on the job. It was some sort of heart problem that laid him low, about 5 years from retirement. Marylyn rebounded quickly and proceeded to hire a contractor to re-arrange the house a bit, which enabled her to rent half the house to college couples. It became an apartment with a shared kitchen, and, of course, some couples were great and some were not.

John and his wife had many meals with Marylyn and met some of the couples. They talked of pets, gardening, cooking, politics, gossip. What do friends talk about? A couple of years ago it became obvious that something wasn’t quite right, and suddenly, she was undergoing treatment and was soon hospitalized. She is dying. The conversations now revolve around her concerns that the cats are fed, that the yard is kept up, and memories and laments of the past. All of this is weighing upon Big John.

The other dying friend is Bob, declining fast and in considerable pain: often a zombie from the drugs as his spine is eaten away. Bob was quite a colorful character. He was a wildman in his youth and the source of considerable uproar to those entangled with him: a couple wives, a few kids, and several girl friends were stirred into the chaos he created. In high school and as a young adult he was a charismatic and energetic performer in the Elvis, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley mode. This inevitably led to alcohol and drug abuse, and, of course, numerous infidelities, car wrecks, minor arrests, lost wallets and so on. He was a hell of a lot of fun.

Bob - Death at hand

Bob – Death at hand

Big John was dealing with his own family and job issues, and observed most of this chaos from a distance. He had occasional contact with Bob, but couldn’t begin to keep the storyline straight. As Bob matured and settled down a bit they became closer friends. He admired the second wife and wondered what the hell she was thinking – sticking with Bob, the loose cannon. His girlfriends seemed to be either nice ladies on a fling, or worn girls on a downhill slide. Bob seemed oblivious to their merits or faults.

In his 40’s Bob became ensnared in court cases regarding his lack of support payments for some children. At the same time his ‘rock star’ career was falling apart – it is not an old man’s game. He knew or was known by thousands of people. They were all acquaintances, not really friends now that he was off-stage and not buying the fun. But he created a business that was perfect for him. A job made by him for him. He was out all hours, checking the talent, making deals, breaking promises and staying high. He had become a Booker/Manager/Agent for bands, venues, and vendors. He made an ok living for a while, until he became ill.

Bob is now in his 60’s and he has a growth between some deteriorated spinal discs and he is in a state hospice. John says it is an awful place; noisy, the food terrible, and the minimum wage staffs speak little English. People die every day, and Bob will be exiting feet first on a wheeled cart soon. Despite all this John goes up to see him every few weeks. The only visitors are Big John and the one son of Bob’s that will still speak to him. John and Bob had a few great times together long ago, much to the wives’ chagrin. Now, if John calls the desk early in the day, the medication can be reduced a bit and Bob will be uncomfortable but awake and they can swap memories. Bob has a lot of goofy stories of the stars of the past and flock of various adventures.

Recently John is troubled by a promise he made to Bob. It was a joke at first, but Bob has repeatedly insisted that John promise to “go get laid for me and come back and tell me about it.” Bob’s deathbed lament is that he didn’t have enough sex, despite having ravaged dozens of more or less willing females. Now he would enjoy hearing of someone’s conquest. He doesn’t have computer access, and the institution forbids porn. Whatever pleasure or respite porn would give him is out of reach. In the last few years before he became disabled, Bob would occasionally engage a prostitute on his prowl for moneymaking opportunities, or call an escort service and have one sent over. He admits that his performance was an embarrassment, but the simple joy of holding and fondling was money well spent. The illusion of a relationship made him blissfully feel like a man, despite his erratic performance.

Bob had asked his son to take on the mission, but the son is far overweight, and has very possibly never managed to have sex. The son is overly religious and also a bit of a ‘stick in the mud’. In fact, the visits may be prompted by some misguided religious obligation. Father and son were almost strangers until the hospitalization. Big John is a bit rotund, so for him to call the son a blubber-butt would seem an odd assessment.

Big John is in full stall mode at this point, when he relates his dilemma to me, with a bit of hesitation and embarrassment. On the one hand, going off to have exciting sex with some young lady is an enticement, and on the other is the concern that he would get arrested, or that his wife would somehow find out, and also that his equipment wouldn’t work satisfactorily and that he would be embarrassed or disgraced.

My immediate suggestion for resolution is to lie. Make up an incident with some lurid details and forget it. Or simply stir up the wife’s pudding and tell Bob about that. But as it turns out, the story is all too common: as elderly adults they haven’t had intercourse in years. And John is reluctant to lie to his friend. Somehow lying doesn’t seem right, and a promise is a promise, but on the other hand he can’t bring himself to take direct action.

Recently, in the media there have been lurid reports of scandals regarding on-line advertising of the euphemistically titled Escort Services. Supposedly some of these Escort sites flagrantly advertise underage/child prostitution. The largest site in the world, Craigslist, finally closed down its’ participation in Escort ads due to the harassment about what were unfounded accusations.

I had become interested in this storyline a few years ago – it just seemed bogus to me. And in my casual review of the ads, I was never able to spot any under-age escort offers, a lot of sad and sorry looking ladies offering services and also a few striking females, but no kids. Craigslist decided to close the venue rather than spend vast sums in legal fees defending a low profit aspect of their business. A later investigation established that undercover cops hoping for the entrapment of johns in fact placed the few ads that appeared in large cities featuring under-age girls. Private investigators had been paid to substantiate a very minor problem by the highly profitable do-good fund that insisted there was a problem. Now that Craigslist folded, the organized Fun Suppression League is attacking other venues, and, again, there is no evidence, but that doesn’t prevent wild claims. A recent factual investigation reveals that there are about 800 arrests annually in the US of under-age prostitution suspects, none of which are related to on-line advertising venues. This would not seem to be a national scandal. The churches, movie stars, and right wing organizations fuel the attack dogs.

My suspicions about some news stories are aroused because in the past I had fallen for a widely reported wonder cure for schizophrenia and spent more money than I could afford on this treatment for Jan. A couple years later, after it had failed, I tracked down a report revealing the scope of the deception, and the dereliction of the investigative responsibility of the media. I have become quite suspicious ever since, and there have been many similar media escapades. There was a huge ‘scandal’ regarding child abuse in day care facilities, and innocent people were ruined or jailed as a consequence. There was also national hoopla regarding ‘Missing Children”, supposedly kidnapped in some sort of sinister white-slavery conspiracy. Photos appeared on milk cartons, despite the fact that almost all missing children are tangled in some divorce visitation rights escapade usually initiated by the father, and the kids are returned within a few days. Certainly, here and there, some isolated child goes missing in criminal and crazed activities, but this is not an example of extensive national criminality. Locally there was a huge blow-up about Satanic Circles and child sacrifices. The lurid press reports went on for a couple of years. Fellow church members confessed under duress and may still be in jail. The entire episode was entirely a product of overly active troubled minds, fantasy, and lack of calm rational fact checking. And, of course, we have the entire War on Terrorism, and the Afghanistan, Iraq War and similar national disasters based on vapors.

So I suggested that Big John go through the Backpage site and select some ladies that seem to be of interest, ladies that regularly advertise and are thus really in business, and print out the ads and pick one out. I suggested that John could simply call up a few ladies and chat briefly with them, and select one based on tone of voice and friendliness. After all, some of the ladies in the ads are offering companionship as one of the general services. These ladies are professional hostesses. Establishing some sort of quick and easy rapport is part of the business, and whatever might transpire, they have seen it all before. Big John in all his naked awesomeness is not outside the realm of their experience, and aside from inflicting multiple stab wounds, he would just be another customer on a busy day in the oldest profession.

I also suggested that he consider going to an Asian Massage Parlor (AMP). Some of these establishments feature a variety of services beyond hot oil massages. It would seem reasonable to assume that AMP’s listed in the Escort ads would offer entertaining variations such as soapy rubdowns. It turns out that Big John has never had a massage aside from a rare Ben-Gay backrub by his wife when he was in pain. Patrons of chiropractors are often referred to massage therapists for further manipulation and pain relief. Many staunch descendants of Nordic stock consider such treatments to be a character flaw and a sign of weakness.

I had a part time employee, long ago, that was a big fan of AMP’s. Every payday was AMP day. He had a favorite place and would chat about the inappropriate-for-public-discussion joys of little Asian ladies walking down his back and sitting on his front. He was disappointed that I didn’t want to go along with him. I didn’t think it would be appropriate for the boss to share the same AMP, although, as I recall there was a special discount if he brought in a new customer.

On a trip to Vegas his parents had introduced him to the joys of massage. They were staying in a fancy casino, and his father had arranged for carte blanche services, including the spa facilities. He was around 14 at the time, and despite some misgivings, came to greatly enjoy the massage – which I presume was not sexual. In the military he was stationed in Korea and quickly learned of the wonders of the AMP, and when finally stateside, he found similar businesses available. He was an odd and solitary guy, trying to get a job in law enforcement. I recall him talking dreamily: “The massage parlor is so much cheaper than being married, and where would I ever find a wife that would make me feel that good whenever I wanted?”

In the late ‘60’s, as the Viet Nam vets came back to the states, there were sad little reconstructions of AMP’s in areas such as Ponders, near Fort Lewis in Tacoma, for instance. As an occasional drinker in biker dives – out slumming – it was not uncommon for GI’s to brag of their exploits while on R&R in Saigon or the Philippines. This often revolved around AMP’s or strip joints that featured back room accommodations to entertain our heroic fighting men. Whatever country is fighting, all sides are involved in providing exploitable pleasure-dolls for the conscripts. What we would consider under-age in our genteel and judgmental culture is often irrelevant to the survival factor in countries shredded by military action.

Big John was not in the military. He married while in junior college and then set off on several jobs, none of which provided him with adventure. He settled early, had a couple kids, and now some grandkids. This whole episode is none of my business, and I am surprised at how I got recruited into advisory capacity. At the moment I have no idea what he is going to do. I know that he got a prescription one of the Viagra style drugs, but I’m not sure how he intends test drive the medicine. I have recurring images of his hulking hairy body in some thoroughly mismatched attempt with a randomly selected 20-something lady wearing nothing but a big smile, a few tattoos and a shaved pudendum. The contrast in expectations, experience, age, and physical condition could be hilarious. On her part it would probably be a routine episode ripe for opportunity to offer special services to empty his wallet. For him, it could be a difficult realization of the losses accompanying aging.

As a gym rat – I’ve been in gyms over 5,000 times – I have seen far too many naked men in the locker room. A young and fit athletic guy is to be admired, but the sagging, bulbous, hairy, stooped, aching older gents are not an attraction. All of these guys have some sort of sexual past – one plays like boogie woogie and another plays like Debussy, yet another has operatic climaxes and the other one doesn’t quite make it to the chorus of the first verse. There is no way to tell at a glance, and actually it is of little interest. It is an aspect of life that is private and ultimately sadly tragic as it all fails in maturity. At the very time of life it would be of most value, it is inaccessible.

I’ve met Big John’s wife – Dolores, I think – and she is suitably drab, in a floral housedress, standing in sandals next to her worn Toyota. She is built like a fire hydrant. There is a whiff of a glimpse of the buxom round-faced blossoming beauty she may have been back in those long ago days. The vision of Big John coming home this afternoon and taking her to the bedroom for a hurried shedding of clothes and an hour of sweaty, sighing passion would be a marvel to observe. We would have to turn our eyes from the spectacle. Mere poetry could not suffice to describe the amazing aspects of a lifetime of love and physically shared joy. Unfortunately I have been privy to the fact that they haven’t engaged in such activities in a decade or so. And now he is about to attempt a tantalizing infidelity for the sake of a promise, and this adventure seems ill fated.

Episode #4

Life in the Cul-de-sac

In the gym there is a hushed conversation. The storyteller is a lady in her 30’s, a bit of a fitness buff. I had no comment at the time, but it got me to thinking.

A friend of hers was arrested the other day. A couple of days before that arrest a pair of youngsters were involved in what may have been a sexual incident, behind a house in the cul-de-sac community.

The young lady involved was a child of about 10 or 11. The young man is about 13. It is unclear whether it was a rape consummated, or assault, or harassment, but some unfortunate and perhaps inappropriate activity occurred. The girl ran crying into the house with no pants on, wearing only her tiny little training bra.

The police were called: the bra seized as evidence, the clothes outside were gathered and statements taken. The young man – a boy, actually – is hauled off and questioned by the police and counselors. He was briefly placed in juvenile detention, and then released to his parent’s custody.

A couple days later a neighbor lady saw the boy walking by the scene. She was very disturbed by the incident, outraged in fact. She raced out of the house and started yelling at the young man. He paused as this adult ran up to him shrieking. I gather he attempted to apologize and smooth the episode over, but she will have none of that, and she whipped out a kitchen knife she had hidden, one arm behind her, and she stabbed the boy in the gut. Actually she inflicted an abdominal flesh wound and then cut his arm on the rewind.

She was under the impression that he was about to go back for second helping of rape with the vulnerable girl.

The cops were called, there’s a bit of blood, and a medic unit showed up. The boy is taken to a local hospital and there were some stitches, tetanus shot, etc. The wound could have been serious, but the wound was not life threatening. The lady was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon. She was released on bail a few days later. She was calmed down with some counseling and medications, and was contrite and sorry. She has admitted that she over-reacted and had been prompted into such a rash act by an incident in her past.

The boy is back in school. He has no previous record, and is considered a good student and amenable to counseling and therapy. The girl now attends a different school and is in counseling. Her main concern is about the return of her little training bra. It had a little blue bow that seemed special to her. The lady with the knife is back at work as a shipping clerk.

Many wealthy citizens buy houses in gated cul-de-sac ‘communities’ because they are seeking security, safety, and sheltered solitude. There is an illusion that life will be calm and that children will be safe. Despite the close proximity of neighbors, there is often little actual community. Everyone works or attends school. Neighbors are not friends because there is little interaction. The computerized security gate may prevent theft, but it does not exclude aspects of common human behavior.

More news from Cul-de-sac Tribe

I used the above little episode as a form of handout a few years ago, when I was exhibiting regularly. One person told me his family’s similar story of living in the cul-de-sac.

His little family had a bit of an inheritance and they put that down on a charming house in a cul-de-sac. The payment rates were affordable at the time. Both he and his wife were working, and their daughter would attend the local high school that was thought to be significantly better. Unfortunately the daughter began hanging out with a group of fellow students that closely resembled the riff raff that had surrounded her in the previous school. The parents had hoped the change would lead to her becoming socially adjusted to the upper middle class lifestyle of the new location.

As she attended the high school the situation deteriorated, and she became surlier and was skipping school. The parents were both working. The parents found it almost impossible to become acquainted with their neighbors, on the one hand they were gone all day, and on the other, in contemporary society every household has different interests and actually have little in common aside from location.

The daughter became involved with a young man – a drop out, and this led to her giving him the security pass code for the main gate. Suddenly houses throughout the community were being entered, robbed, looted, and damaged. The daughter was informally keeping track of what times people came and went from their houses and relayed the information to her boyfriend. He and his buddies would break in and loot the house. After several incidents a security camera was set up and it became obvious who was involved in the break-ins. Once the culprits were nabbed it came to light that the daughter was supplying the information that enabled them to raid the houses with impunity.

As this was revealed, the family became pariahs; considered terrible parents and in some way involved in the incidents. The daughter promptly ran away, living with other youth in the adjacent city, location unknown. The parents would like to sell the house, but financing has proven to be impossible because the value of the house is about 40% less than the loan obligation, thus the sale price won’t cover their current loan. They are financially stuck in this neighborhood, surrounded by people that won’t even acknowledge their existence, let alone feign friendliness.

They were awakened late one night by shouting and shrieking next door. Peeking out they saw a fight between the next-door neighbors. A husband was vigorously beating his wife and she was putting up a pretty good fight. They called the cops and the fight was broken up and the participants were hauled off on domestic disturbance charges. However their intrusion into the squabble was universally unwelcome.

Across the circular drive, a gentleman they had waved to in the past suddenly lost his job. They had waved to him in passing but never spoken to him. He celebrated the unfortunate freedom from work by going in the back bedroom and blew his brains out. The widow and children now live in the grandparent’s basement.

These are just a few examples of the peace, quiet, and joyous life in the suburbs.

The Virgin Birth?

A couple of years ago, in the gym I was told that one of my co-lifters was in ‘big trouble’. He was one of the local “tuffs”. To be “tuff” in Gig Harbor involves a form of improvisational street theater that consists of driving around in a loud Honda coupe, with blaring rap music, wearing baggy clothes and drinking beer out of a can. This pretense wouldn’t last two seconds in Compton or Detroit or even in parts of Seattle.

A sixteen year old young lady couldn’t get her father’s car to start in the church parking lot, and accepted a ride graciously offered by a couple of these ruffians. Evidently the young men decided it would be an enhancement of their outlaw status to terrorize, assault, and perhaps rape this virginal maiden (a church youth group leader and A student).

the Deacon

the Deacon

Sarah

Sarah

I will call the young lady Sarah. Her father is a deacon – some sort of honorary official in a large evangelical church. A very proper and erect gentleman, dedicated to good works, and also an insurance salesman. When he heard of the car difficulty he called a fellow parishioner, a mechanic, to please stop by and see what the problem might be with the car. There is a spare key hidden in the front bumper. When the mechanic got to the car it started instantly and he could detect no problem.

At the time, the incident merited a shrug. The car was fine, who knows why it wouldn’t start – maybe not fully in Park, or an ignition switch becoming intermittent. Not cause for alarm. However, a few months later, Sarah has missed a couple of periods and she furtively went to the doctor feeling queasy. In a matter of moments the doctor determined that Sarah was pregnant.

A couple of months later she was beginning to show, and she announced the fact to her parents. Her behavior had been noticeably deteriorating for a while. Suddenly she was caught smoking, and she had been quite broody, uncharacteristically silent and uninvolved in her previously active participation in school and church activities. The parents were aghast at the announcement and Sarah was not at all forthcoming about how this came to be.

The Deacon engaged a local cop to investigate. The cop is a church member. Sarah refused to answer questions or incriminate anyone, however the suspicion landed on the local “tuffs”. Both before and after the presumed conception they had been involved in minor nuisance charges. They are certainly visible. Sarah refused to charge them with rape. A bit of background questioning of her fellow students revealed that she had not been known to be dating or friendly with any fellow students. It had become obvious to all that she is quite pregnant.

The deacon arranged to have a ‘professional’ troubled teens counselor meet with Sarah. The counselor was from the mega-church franchise main branch. The counseling sessions did not go well, and Sarah refused to continue. The parents had very reluctantly discussed the option of abortion with Sarah, but by the time they had come to a bit of flexibility in their severe pro-life ideology it was a bit late for an abortion, and Sarah had already decided to have the baby.

the Counselor

the Counselor

Sarah had spent some weeks each summer with relatives in Idaho. The Aunt and Uncle had a small ranch, a couple of horses; some chickens, raising a beef annually. It was mutually decided that Sarah would go live with the Aunt until the child was born. This change of venue was a relief for the parents – out of sight out of mind. Sarah had become increasingly sullen and difficult. She had quit attending school and abandoned the church.

Sarah has refused DNA testing throughout the pregnancy and after the birth. She has also refused to return home, and has settled in with the Aunt and has found a part time job in a local shopping mall. She has never revealed who the father was, and has no intention of returning to her parent’s house, although they send some support money every month.

Shortly after the two “tuffs” were questioned and, in effect, accused of rape, the parents of one accomplice shipped him off to live with strict Mormon relatives in Utah. He has not been heard of since. The other “tuff”, the one I’m slightly acquainted with, has continued in his swaggering and erratic behavior. His Honda Coupe was seriously creased on one side in a drunken escapade, and he now has a dramatically clad post-punk style girlfriend. He seems to have stopped working out in the gym. He has put on about 30# around the belly and is busily filling in a set of ‘full sleeves’ of tattoos.

Episode #5 Big Bill

The other day I had to go into town for fasting blood work tests. As an elderly professional diabetic this is an annual pilgrimage. The tests don’t seem to reveal anything of consequence, but it does involve leaving the house sans breakfast, coffee etc, and by the time the ceremony is over I am starving, and my blood sugar is rapidly declining; so I am hungry, ill at ease, a bit dizzy and quite grouchy. On the way home I stop in a neighborhood café, a type of place that is rapidly disappearing. McDonalds is filled, but this little place has plenty of well-worn seating and nicely sticky tables. The traditional food is actually cooked by humans. It is so traditional that I can order biscuits & gravy with eggs over easy, and an Americano with an extra shot.

During my brief time as a cook on a tugboat (feeding 8) I had to quickly learn how to fix biscuits and gravy. It was not a staple in our house. In Nome, Mother would occasionally have some gravy left over from roast game (duck, goose) and the gravy would be poured over corn bread or re-heated French Fries. In the cooking of breakfast sausage or grilling burgers there are often bits and pieces and these can be scraped off the griddle and stored for a day or two. I would then take a pound of butter and render some roux. I would add the crispy chunks with perhaps several shredded and scorched sausage patties to the flour/milk/ roux ‘gravy’, and season with pepper. The biscuits would be fist sized from Bisquick. It was a very popular item. When I see it on the menu I often succumb to the temptation and order the platter. However in this century I think the ‘gravy’ comes in a five-gallon bucket and the cook just heats up a glob.

At a diner I frequented in college it was biscuits & gravy every Thursday – lots of sausage and thick gravy. Thursday morning was B&G and woe betide the man that didn’t want that. Guys would leave the house saying “Ah gee dear, I’m not hungry this morning so I‘ll just pick up something on the way to work.” The place was packed on B&G day. The diner I’m patronizing today is serving very ordinary biscuits & gravy; but it is a recipe in which the standards are not very high, at worst it is edible and at best it will put a pound on you (it is sometimes referred to as ‘heart attack on a platter’).

The scraggly looking young man serving had to make 3 trips to get the meal to my table, first it is the food, then he forgot the utensils, and then he had to wander around to find a catsup squeeze bottle. I leaf through the ‘Little Nickel’ and wolf down this undistinguished ordinary classic breakfast. As I slowly finish mopping up of the last of the gravy I sip coffee and look around at the other diners.

Most are regulars, local repeat customers, and are a bit paunchy. In contrast to the silence in fast food emporiums there is quite a bit of banter – “Hey Tim, how ya’ doin’ ?“ ”Is Jim out of the hospital yet?” “Want your regular?” People get up and get their own coffee refills, load their own plastic doggy boxes and so on. The dingy, busy environment reminds me of other places I would occasionally frequent long ago. There were a lot of little diners like this before corporate enterprises put most out of business. This place could be transferred to Nome and fit right in, neither better nor worse.

I sit and sip coffee before getting up and bussing my own dishes in the bins. I look across the room and this plump and sagging gent looks familiar in his grey hair, ratty baseball cap, checked shirt, suspenders, baggy pants, and very worn shoes.

Big Bill

Big Bill

It gradually dawned on me that he used to work at UPS, in another department, and that our paths there would cross occasionally. That was 20 years ago. Suddenly he looked up and our eyes met. He sort of recognized me, and we both nod a bit of a greeting in acknowledgment. At that moment I can’t remember his name, or what he did – something in the maintenance department. I sat staring at my coffee a little longer and get up to leave, and as I turned around from the bussing station he made a slight invitational hand wave.

I had to walk past his booth anyway, so I paused to greet him, figuring it will only take a moment and it is the polite and social thing to do. He waved his hand toward the empty seat across the table, so I sat and we begin to chat. I have been 12 years out of that job and he left a couple years later. He wants to exchange gossip about that ‘hellhole’, but I haven’t set foot in the place and have done my damndest to forget the entire 30 years wasted there. He was full of chatter about people I can’t remember or never knew.

He mentioned that his wife, Beth, died shortly after he retired. They had long planned to get a used motor home and travel, but just a few months after he quit, she started complaining about gut aches and fatigue. She hated going to the doctor, hadn’t seen one in years, but she finally eased her body into the doctor’s office and underwent about 100 tests. She had massive cancerous tumor growths all through her abdomen. It was inoperable, but she gamely went through treatment, lost her hair, turned yellow, and died within months. He had to take care of her; bathing, wiping her bottom, rolling her over to prevent bed sores, rubbing cream into her skin, and so on.

He was getting a bit teary talking about ‘Old Beth’. “She was one of those 3G women that are hard to find.” ‘3G’ stands for Good, Giving, and Game, which translates as pleasant and relatively virtuous, generous in time and attention, and ready to go along with whatever the game turned out to be.

I met Beth 3 or 4 times at UPS functions. A stocky square built lady, probably quite a foxy female in her tender youth. She had that low raspy ‘whiskey and cigarettes’ voice, a loud laugh, and a bit of a naughty mouth. She certainly filled a bra: could have put books on that shelf. She seemed to be an earthy, outgoing sort of person. I can sympathize with his loss, although I had no idea what their relationship history may have been.

Bill wants to talk to someone this morning, a peer that hasn’t heard all about it before, and I’m the guest or the victim of the recitation of his poignant history. Briefly – he is alone and lonely. During the several months of Beth’s illness he became the resident help. She wanted to die at home, and there was little hired help available. He started in as caretaker with some reluctance but as it progressed, it became a very meaningful activity. It brought them together in a manner that had been missing. As it became apparent that she was dying and was not going to recover, he could at least make her more comfortable; adjust the pillows, provide oily massages, bathe her, monitor her status, sit and talk, and admire her bravery in the face of death.

As the inevitable end approached, Beth became significantly weaker and Bill’s chores became more complicated and required more lifting. Beth could no longer sit up in a chair, or walk to the bathroom, for instance. Bill was 66 at this time, and his back began bothering him, and sciatica in the right leg developed, coupled with carpal tunnel problems, reducing the strength of his grip. While he was out on a shopping trip, she expired. He missed her passing, and spent months in mourning depression with reduced physical abilities.

Bill’s doctor suggested that he might benefit from some therapeutic massage to relieve the sciatic pain. Bill had fond memories of his attempts at massaging Beth – she enjoyed his ministrations despite his ignorance in technique. He began going to a Massage establishment located in a mini-mall a mile or so away. It was part of an adjacent chiropractic clinic. Every couple of weeks he would receive treatment, however after a few visits the Therapy Center changed ownership and became more of a spa, with a wider variety of services. In his view it was becoming frou-frou and woman oriented. He became uncomfortable about his attendance although his sciatica continued to inhibit his walking.

Beth and Bill had occupied the house for 20 years, their two kids went to high school, and one of them went on to college, tuition free at UPS. One is now back east happily married and the other, his son, is lazing about down in northern California involved in some marijuana growing enterprise. Bill doesn’t approve, but what can he do? His son is living with a very unusual lady: she makes the movie star that played Olive Oyl look voluptuous. They have been a couple for several years. Bill just doesn’t get it; she’s nice, but incredibly thin. “You could whittle a more voluptuous figure out of a yardstick.”

As the kids abandoned the nest, Bill and Beth got a dog and fenced the yard. The evening drill was that he would walk the leashed dog as dinner was being prepared. He would set out, rain or shine, umbrella, heavy coat, or shorts and tennies. Whatever the weather he and the dog went on the constitutional, and he’d talk to the dog about his day, about the damned boss, that crappy job, the idiots he had to put up with, politics, and plans for the future. On the way home he would have a plastic bag of warm dog poop in his pocket – his reward.

Several months after Beth passed, the dog escaped the yard. The fence had become quite weathered and frail. The dog had never been out of the yard unleashed and unsupervised. The dog was hit by a car within a hundred yards of the hole in the fence. Bill hauled the carcass to the local vet, but the dog had to be put down. Now he was really alone.

Every aspect of the house reminded him of better times, when life had some order and made sense. He and Beth had planned on traveling but he didn’t want to travel alone. A realtor that was a neighbor down the block approached him and offered to take care of the sale of the house. In very short order the house was sold for almost twice its appraised value.

A nice young family moved in. This was just before the entire economy crashed. Bill didn’t want to carry the contract so he took the money and bought CD’s at 4% at the bank that financed the deal. A few months later this proved to be the best investment he would ever make. Before a year had passed the nice young family had lost the house, the realtor had lost his house, several former neighbors were – and still are – in foreclosure of one sort or another.

He now lives in an apartment building often occupied by students. It is a small apartment but he has been there for several years and has become acquainted with a few of the other residents, all much younger. None of them expect to live there long – they are starting life as adults and he is at the other end of a lifetime. He has become quite fond of some of his fellow apartment dwellers. However, a month or so ago there were police swarming the place. Amber, one of his favorite fellow tenants was in a domestic abuse altercation. Amber’s boyfriend had been in several forms of trouble, and in this instance he was drugged or drunk or just obstreperous and bruised the young lady. The young man stormed out, only to be intercepted shortly thereafter by the police.

Amber

Amber

Amber decided to go live with a friend, Diana, to recreate her life and find another place to live. As a lovely young lady she will soon find a new beau. This was all very sudden, and, damned fool that Bill may be, he offered to help her move. Many boxes had to go down three flights of stairs into to awaiting vehicles. She had recruited a couple of additional porters and fueled them with pizza and beer.

Bill was coming up on 70 and while he still felt hale and hearty, by the end of the move he began to feel pain in his back and leg, despite the mystic curative powers of delivered pizza. The next day he was in significant pain in the small of the back and the sciatic nerve running down the right leg was excruciating. Despite the Advil and Aleve and Aspirin, he once again started thinking about massage. The place he attended several years ago is now a lady’s fitness spa, but not far away is a small occupational therapy massage parlor. The suggested treatment was $50, which seems reasonable considering the level of pain.

There was none of the hot stone, acupuncture, candles, and soft music ambiance. The masseuse gave him very vigorous, deep, and painful workouts. After several sessions he was feeling significantly better, but he continued the treatments. One afternoon after the hamstring/buttocks procedure, he rolled over for the front thigh treatment. He was embarrassed because somehow he was confronted with an obvious erection – the first in many months, years perhaps. He had no idea he was still capable of such a display. The masseuse is a lady in her late 30’s, pleasant looking, but not a beauty, but she has, of course, seen similar phenomena before. She said, “I’ll take care of that for you, if you wish.” Before he could decide what to say, she had the towel off him and proceeded to apply creamy lubricant and stroked it up into as stiff a rod as he’s had in decades, and soon he shot off a load in the air. He is excited – surprised. He had no reason to expect the handjob, no reason to think that it would be possible.

As he dressed to leave, she said, “I don’t usually perform that service, but I saw your need and was glad to help you with it, but normally I charge an additional $50 for that service. If you want it in the future, schedule a bit more time and expect the extra fee.” Bill was suddenly confronted with a slight problem, his leg was still bothering him a bit, but now he has two legs bothering him, one short and stubby, and the other to walk with.

Bill decided to continue with the treatments for a while. The extra expense was manageable, and the pleasure of it undeniable. After several episodes she offered to introduce him to a special ‘prostrate massage’. This would involve crouching face down on the massage table, with his ass in the air. She would wear gloves and with lubed fingers slid into his anus she would gently exert rhythmic pressure on the prostrate gland. Her other hand would be slowly massaging his erect penis, dangling down. It is similar to milking a cow teat. His discharge would be onto a folded towel. He is tempted as this may be utterly, exquisitely, exciting.

I’m not shocked by this talk, but he is clearly concerned. He assures me that he never cheated on his wife. He was almost a virgin when they married, and she was likewise close to being a virgin. They were happily married for 50+ years and they had what he thought was a full and rich physical experience. It never occurred to him that a woman, his wife, might give him a hand-job and he had never heard of a prostrate massage. Suddenly he is upset and unexpectedly lonely and horny. For all the mutual fondness in the marriage he is now wondering what did he miss? What could they have done? What else were they too uninformed, or reticent, or too hesitant to attempt? He has been awakened in his apartment by the energetic rutting in other rooms. He has heard the shrieking, laughing, grunting, and the bed bouncing, slamming the wall in youthful exuberance. He can’t remember making that much noise with Beth. “These kids today sure know how to have fun.”

After Beth’s death several friends arranged introductions to what they thought might be suitable ladies for him to get acquainted with. There are far more widows than widowers. None of these elderly women were of interest at the time. He didn’t want to discuss flower gardens, diets, operations, and adult children, or grand or even great grandchildren. He was still in mourning – still in a bit of mourning now, several years later. The idea of ‘dating’ and potentially becoming physically friendly with these frail silver haired women just seemed wrong; indecent in fact.

We had entered the realm of chatting ‘mano y mano’ regarding a very personal matter. It is a topic that is rarely discussed. What is an old fart with failing strength and flagging interests to do? What is an old man’s role in life while awaiting death? What, if anything, is to replace the enthusiasms of youth? The old philosophical cliché: ‘A life unexamined is a life not worth living’ is often trotted out as if this was a guide to defined action, but a detailed examination may reveal that the life is not worth a tinker’s damn. Whatever thin gruel of pleasures available for the elderly may be, they may not bear the light of examination – that which one would like to do is probably not possible, mentally, physically, or emotionally. When and if we pause to reflect upon a life well spent, we often find ourselves envious of those that apparently gave life damned little thought, and simply plowed a deep but ragged furrow. If we believe that a life may bear examination, does that mean that death might also need to be examined?

Big Bill and I worked as strangers for the same institution for about 20 years, but in a brief chat in a café, I am suddenly enmeshed in his life. He was troubled and willing to chat about it with a familiar stranger – as unemployed old farts we have things in common. At the moment, he is concerned about the legality of the massage services he has encountered. I don’t have any specific experience to relate, however in my research into the tales of the brothels that were common in the 1800’s through WWII it seems his fears are a bit overblown. After all there are, and long have been, the so-called Asian Massage Parlors that surround nearby military bases, and these humble facilities offer a variety of pleasurable soapy rubdowns and related full-on sexual entertainment. While his current provider is a fully licensed professional therapeutic massage practitioner, there is probably no legal restriction on activities regarding consensual treatments behind closed doors. Were she to place a large sign in the window complications could be created.

At UPS there was briefly an instructor in the School of OT & PT that had a bit of notoriety in the gossip channels. She was a short, outspoken and energetic woman that was conducting ‘Sexual Therapy for the Handicapped’ seminars. She had created her own little booklets, complete with rather amateurish drawings of masturbatory techniques, for instance. Advanced students could sign up for training in the field of Sexual Therapy, and this was a bit of a scandal – young ladies learning to become escorts etc. At this point I wish I had kept one of the booklets as a memento. A movie was recently regarding a young man permanently bed ridden that didn’t want to die a virgin and delegated his mother to find a woman to introduce him to the sensual delights. This is an unfortunate but not unusual situation for an increasing number of individuals living with a wide variety of handicaps. Many wounds, injuries and illnesses in the past killed quickly and surely. Today’s medicine enables survivors to live extended lives: often with seriously circumscribed interaction with others. Opportunities for developing physically intense relationships, even attaining minimal privacy, can be very difficult for the bedridden or for those hooked up to monitoring equipment. Some care facilities try to maintain a community atmosphere for social interactions, but physical romance or mutual sex play is suppressed. While randy free-range teen-agers seem to figure out the physical aspects, instruction and practice may be needed for many of the disabled, paralyzed, or limbless individuals. When Mortimer Snerd, the ventriloquist dummy, was asked if he’d like to sit down in front at the theater he replied: “Gee I don’t think I bend that way.”

Bill had not given such matters any thought whatsoever. Was his masseuse a trained Sexual Therapist or Sex Surrogate? He had no idea. He assumed that a licensed LMT had some sort of professional code, but what did it permit? My guess would be that some LMT’s may engage in these service opportunities and others will not. No doubt there is some controversy regarding such quality of life enhancement treatments. Our fellow citizens with rigid moral or political alignments will object – in their view, tax money should not be spent on providing pleasure to a bunch of handicapped retards in the state funded care facilities. This would be similar to the uproar surrounding sex education or birth control provisions for teenagers. Natural urges are to be suppressed and pleasure is to be controlled, and postponed. People are not animals; the natural expressions are to be socially acceptable and moderate in urgency and expression. The physically challenged should spare us the embarrassment of their clumsy inabilities and be denied the opportunity to express such basic needs. This includes the elderly, who may be suffering from multiple inabilities – some are apparent and others may have emerged so slowly as to be invisible.

God put us here on earth to suffer. We live, we die: life for many is often full of pain and discomfort. A Buddhist proverb: ‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is not’. All of us have unknown and often undetermined capacities. We have the potential to become characters within our capacities, but at any point in time the sum of our latent abilities are minus whatever happened to us: whatever ensnared and reduced us to our present state. We become whatever we settle for through factors such as boredom, age, illness, genetics, previous unfortunate decisions, or chaos that may be either internally or externally created. There is also the context of the society we inhabit. For a Viking or pirate, the measure of a man was defined by his ability to rape and plunder. In our current society that sort of behavior is reserved for soldiers, but the vast supply of sexual imagery and pornography that permeates many aspects of life has increased expectations in the young.

Bill mentioned some of the changes that have occurred. He is puzzled, confused and feels entirely out of it. His apartment house has many college students as tenants. Recently he was out back placing his garbage in the dumpster. The young adults living there are not noted for their concern with neatness, and there is frequently a bit of trash scattered and milling in the wind. A short time ago Bill noticed some ‘girly’ magazines on the ground – magazines similar to those that created havoc in Steven’s household when the issues were found in Heather’s bedroom.

Bill bent over, picked them up, and casually leafed through them. He was embarrassed to have them. He was afraid someone would see him looking at the naughty bits. He furtively rolled them up and took them back to his apartment to further his studies. He had seen Playboy in magazine racks but had never bought one. These somewhat frayed copies of ‘Barely Legal’, ‘Purely 18’, or ‘Panty Play’ were an eye opener for him. All these incredibly young looking ladies – kids, in his mind – posing provocatively, fondling their bodies. In some features, somewhat older gents with enormous schlongs are ravishing the delicate young ladies. What the hell is that all about? There was simply nothing that explicit available in his youth and now it is everywhere.

Bill is certainly not alone in his confused reflection upon the presentation of sexuality and the very limited experience that he had in his long life. That sort of activity, lust in general, is now long in the past. It was a good life, settled and a bit staid. It never occurred to him to encourage his wife to participate in a threesome, or anal, or vibrator dildos. She didn’t suggest such experiments and looking back he wonders now what her response would have been. Should he have been more aggressive in encouraging variety in sexual activities? How would he have done that when he had no idea that people actually could fit together that way? Wouldn’t some of the depicted activities be uncomfortable at the least? It didn’t seem right or necessary. After all they had been deeply fond of one another, and they managed to have two kids. Wasn’t that what they were supposed to do? Are the girls and guys in the magazine simply momentarily diverted with the novelty of it all? Will this sexualized younger generation end up with the same end result: a calm and fond marriage?

Big Bill’s close observation of the magazines yielded another topic. The young ladies have shaved their naughty parts, occasionally leaving a small decorative patch – a ‘V’ or ‘Star’ or little mustache. He had no idea that women would do such a thing or that it had become fashionable. He remembers a couple discussions with his wife regarding female shaving. When she first went to work, in the early 70’s, as they were courting, she got a prized job with a local manufacturer. Her job was front office receptionist/file clerk and she dressed appropriately in blouse, skirt, and pantyhose. She had to shave her legs and armpits. It was customary at the time. It was a nuisance, a chore. When she transferred to working in the assembly/production area that paid more, she wore blue slacks and shirts provided by a laundry service. She became very intermittent regarding the shaved legs and armpits. Only shaving for dress up occasions once or twice a year. Bill didn’t mind, as long as she was happy.

When they first married he was so inexperienced about women that he was unaware that women actually grew hair that had to be shaved, he was surprised that women were not hairless. Of course she had a wonderful little pubic bush that was one of the joys of intimacy, toying with that tactility. It had not occurred to him, and perhaps not to her either, that the bush could be shaved. It might be trimmed a bit to be invisible in a bathing suit but not shaved clean. Until he found the magazines he had no idea what a vagina looked like. He admits that he was never curious about it either. Most young men just urgently want to get up in there, to hell with the details.

The men in the magazines are often shaved as well, frequently with only a bit of body hair on the chest. I have been involved in gyms and around aspiring bodybuilders and I am thus familiar with the men’s shaving ordeal that involves recruiting a helper or girlfriend to shave the back and other unreachable areas. Some guys find the growing out process very uncomfortable, prickly and pimply, and they may continue the body shave for decades. I’m told that some females prefer the smooth clean body revealing the muscles. I’m also told that other women are quite fond of men’s irregular distribution of body hair. Some men are quite hairy and literally have a pelt. It is a genetic trait.

Many Spas provide depilatory services. There are several hair removal techniques. In the past 20 years or so a heated wax technique has become popular. It is commonly referred to as a ‘Brazilian’. The thick layer of the cooled wax is yanked off the skin removing the hair. I’m told that this is quite painful at first. There is also a laser light beam unit that kills the hair follicles. This is irritating and done in small patches. There are also depilatory creams that remove hair, and of course, there are various types of razors.

Just a bit of research leads to various genital interventions. To my surprise, and I’m sure to Big Bill’s dismay, quite a sizeable number of young demure damsels are paying a premium for vaginal improvement surgery. In some publications the view of the vagina is modified via Photoshop, an easy matter to clean up the vagina by editing the labia lips out of existence or re-tinting them to a lighter flesh tone. This has led self-selected sexually active females to have plastic surgery on these delicate body parts to render the lips smaller, symmetrical and decorative. It has long been possible to have the vagina tightened for a snugger fit, to enhance the sexual sensation. This is occasionally undertaken after childbirth.

Both Big Bill and I are elderly and there is little likelihood that we will ever see a vagina again unless heaven or hell is decorated with them. In our prime it never occurred to us to criticize the aesthetics of an available vagina. Now that vaginas are featured in magazines and porn films we can but wonder: has some group of young men become connoisseurs of the artfully trimmed? Have they decided that the plain old natural vagina is in some way objectionable to their sexual appetites? Have they decided that they are simply not going there? How many men are making comments about how ugly and deformed an individual’s labia seems to be? Are the women undergoing surgery because of rude comments regarding their natural appearance?

By and large, men are ignorant rude low-life, but it will be a shock to no one that the dialogue amongst unsupervised males is often crudely judgmental. The vaginal naughty bits are privileged territory and are only available for assessment to the few intimately invited. Women’s breastworks are covered but apparent, and often the topic of ribaldry among aesthetically sophisticated casual male observers. A significant number of nubile women undergo various surgeries to adjust the size or alignment of their cleavage. Most commonly they are enlarged, quite often very significantly. Some women have their natural sizes reduced because carrying around large breasts can be a chore and result in neck, back, and shoulder pains. Gravity has an effect on the breasts and some women decide to have them surgically lifted to create a more youthful or comfortable profile.

Several years ago I worked out in a gym that was frequented by a college swim team. Their workouts were quite different than mine. They were creating a trim lean muscularity. I would see members of the team occasionally. I became very slightly acquainted with Estelle; a rather small but very fit young lady. Weeks or months would go by without our workouts coinciding. When she graduated, her training for the swim team ceased and she was no longer in the gym frequently. One fine summer day she was back, transformed. She had a ‘boob job’ for a graduation present and had gone from a rather flat-chest to wearing a pair of cantaloupe. Even I couldn’t help but just stare. I have no idea what her aspirations or goals in life were – don’t even know what she was studying, but apparently one of her dreams was to be strikingly voluptuous. One of my co-lifters said: “A whole lot of sail on that little skiff.” In her pneumatic glory she soon disappeared from our gym, probably off to the big city with her new degree and fresh pulchritude.

Surgical enhancements have become quite common. In past decades the primary appearance enhancement was ‘nose jobs’. Young ladies that won the genetic blessing of a beak-like proboscis could have it reduced to the classic ‘Irish’ turned up little button nose. Sometimes this would look out of place with the rest of the features. Facelifts have become more sophisticated and detailed. Even middle class ladies such as Karen’s sister can afford to have a facelift for a more youthful appearance. Body contouring has also become common, often done with liposuction that removes a layer of fat, often around the tummy or ‘love handles’.

Different regions of the world prefer various types of treatments. In the USA the first choice is Botox injections to smooth facial wrinkles, and breast enhancement, but in Brazil it is often buttock enhancement and reshaping. In Korea and Japan there are eyelid treatments to make the eyes appear to be more Western. In the Far East there are also operations for lengthening the legs. The operation must be quite an ordeal: the bones are cut and a gap created. The legs are held in place; full of pins, and a stretcher device holds the legs at the new length until the bone grows over the internal stretcher plates and screws. Months of agony result in several inches of additional leg length. Those that feel their face to be too round can have jaw surgery to narrow the lower face for a more almond shape.

The USA, Europe and Australia lead the way in vaginal trimming, but in some religious groups – Islamic generally – there is brutal vaginal cutting of young girls, cutting away the clitoris and labia. This has a long history and is very slowly being suppressed, although it continues to maim many thousands in surreptitious and crudely executed mutilations within the religious community, often in temples, done by non-professional but experienced practitioners, sometimes with a used razor blade, or broken glass. This is perpetuated through a tangled web of religious belief in the necessity of controlling or eliminating lustful activities, and the male privilege enforcing a joyless loyalty. The victims often are left with serious scarring, lack of physical pleasure, leaking urethra, and difficulties in childbirth from scar tissue.

Men are not immune to body modifications. Many get liposuction, hair implants, Botox, or body hair eliminated. Male models and bodybuilders often have cosmetic surgery to enhance the display of abs, biceps, and calf muscles. Until very recently in the Western cultures, circumcision was universal, supposedly for compliance with religious traditions or in response to largely fictional cleanliness issues. Evolution devised a nicely functioning penis and trimming part of it away seems counter-productive. Some men, aspiring porn stars, have their scrotum tightened to eliminate droopy balls flailing about in the sex act.

There have been recent procedures for men to gain penis size through several types of operations. There have also been several patent medicines that are advertised as penis growth supplements. The fact is that none of these claims have been subjected to rigorous scientific testing and happen to be untrue, but wishful thinking continues. Most men are incapable of fully participating in the sex act by the time they are around 60 or so. Despite all the anecdotal chatter about men in their 80’s remaining randy old goats, the evidence of this isolated performance is damned slim. If this anomaly does in fact exist it doesn’t seem to have led to treatment for those that have already got a dead soldier in their shorts.

For those that feel that an erection is absolutely necessary for their self-esteem, there is an operation in which two flexible inflatable tubes are inserted lengthwise in the penis, and a small air pump is installed in the scrotum. With rigorous pumping the semblance of an erection can be created – an erection that will last until the release valve is activated. The performance reports are mixed. On the one hand it is certainly an erection, and on the other it is generally unsatisfactory because sensation is dramatically reduced. Yes, the gentleman can have some activity resembling sex, but he will feel little if anything.

There is also a vacuum pump device that will yield an erection of sorts, coupled with a contracting ‘cock ring’ to maintain the erection for a few minutes. The vacuum devices are often advertised as a penis enlargement device, which is probably momentarily effective. The vacuum process is uncomfortable to the point of painful, and the cock ring prevents the blood from circulating and is uncomfortable to the verge of painful as well. The erection can, in fact, enable some sexual activity, but the penis is about as sensitive as a sore knee. Most men acquire the pump with high hopes, but after a few unsatisfactory and uncomfortable episodes, they give up in despair. A lifetime of involuntary celibacy is the result.

For gentlemen who are still somewhat functional there are the widely advertised ED medications such as Viagra, Cialis etc. These are somewhat effective during the transitional phase between fully and enthusiastically satisfactory erections and the inevitable dead soldier that leads to solitary morbidity. The ED medications have side effects: achy and insensitive erections coupled with headaches, dizziness, sometimes blurred vision, mouth dryness, etc. Statistically most men find the side effects and the very temporary performance enhancement simply not worth the couple’s mutual frustration as the man’s libido and ability collapses over a matter of several months or a couple years. Patients renew the prescriptions (at $30 a pill) a few times and then resign themselves to their sexless fate. Thus the advertising is relentless as there is no lifetime commitment to the products. New suckers must be recruited constantly to keep the corporate profits in the 50% range. There are also hundreds of bogus supplements containing various vitamin and herbal concoctions. Since there are no regulations regarding ‘natural’ supplements these products can make wildly optimistic lies with impunity.

Most men have significantly reduced testosterone by 40, and many have next to no testosterone by age 60. Personally I have become an expert in testosterone supplementation because of my endless workout schedule at the gym. As a man of 55 I found that the addition of testosterone by injection is the equivalent of getting the windshield cleaned, the world is a brighter and more entertaining spectacle. It does not restore damaged sexual performance, but it does improve the quality of life generally. I have spoken to quite a number of gentlemen about testosterone therapy, but they have each decided that they are not interested, and as the years have gone by their dour view of life and physical deterioration simply continues. This is ‘free’ under Medicare, but they cannot be bothered.

 


Bob the Catholic

Bob the Catholic

I’m now 73 which is considered an age of full-fledged maturity. At this age, free of many of the compunctions of earlier periods in life, one can pause and consider the aspects of the paths taken, the opportunities missed, and the experience gained. This is a brief pause before the end to review the pluses and minuses of a life inevitably misspent and poorly understood. At my age one has vastly more past than can be made sense of. There is, at the same time, far less future, and whatever the future’s extent, it is sure to provide less time than it would take to actually create a coherent and encompassing worldview.

I have never been an accomplished sleeper. It is a result of being married for over 20 years to a professional schizophrenic; I haven’t slept a solid 8 hours in 50 years. One is never alone with a schizophrenic. The voices and terrors are always awake somewhere, and even decades later I am up between midnight and 4 am, often several times. Frequently these brief periods of wakefulness lead to what the Japanese writer, Mishima, referred to as the ‘nocturnal thoughts’ that plague the intellectuals of the white skinned. I suddenly remember and ponder the fates of acquaintances of long ago at 2 a.m.

Bob - the Catholic

Bob – the Catholic

Bob and I met in our 20’s. We were not really friends, but we would bump into each other and end up talking. He was puzzled at my self-designation as artist. He was a Catholic; that was it. His faith was primary and urgent. He had considered entering the priesthood and he viewed my choice to be an artist to be a similar commitment. He entered Gonzaga University and eventually dropped out – his parent’s fortunes had changed, and he couldn’t afford to complete the degree. In those days there were rather limited student loan and scholarship opportunities. I was freeloading on the MFA program at the UW, which while it seemed difficult at the time it now seems to have been an easy but fluky glide path.

Occasionally there are incidents in life that make this seem quite a small world after all. More than a decade later our paths crossed again. We were in similarly dissimilar circumstances progressing through life in age-categories. At that point we were both married, we both had a kid, we were employed, fit, healthy, broke, and wondering about the future. His primary concern was keeping his kids in private Catholic schools – kindergarten and second grade, but the costs are endless. He and his wife were very involved in the church. He was attending a morning service daily.

He was struggling in some ersatz partnership enterprise that had drifted into legal trouble on some contracts. The legal bills were eating them up. The future was tangled and uncertain, but his faith was pulling him through.

In contrast, my first wife was drowning in schizophrenia and I had spent several years on welfare. I had finally gotten a job through a casual acquaintance and a sense of desperation. I had to get out of the house – she was driving me crazy. My dream of an art career or becoming a teacher had vanished in the mayhem. The yearning remained, but my ability to produce art-like objects had dwindled, and my confidence in execution was near zero. Someday, who knows when, but someday.

We exchanged addresses and I sent him an Xmas card. It was not reciprocated, and the next year I sent another but again with no reply. I didn’t give him another thought for about 30 years, but on this tiny planet our paths crossed again. I would not have recognized him, but he spotted me, and we spent the afternoon in a café with coffee and talk.

His business of long ago had sunk like a stone. He had started over and was now more successful. However, one of his children had been killed in a pedestrian/traffic incident. The child’s death was neither parent’s fault in any way, but the death changed his wife and they drifted apart. Shortly thereafter his wife left him. They were still married, but she lived in another state. As Catholics, divorce can be complicated and he was still sending her support money.

The remaining child completed Catholic high school while living with the mother, but a private college education couldn’t be provided. The kid went to a state university, but that proved to be more than could be paid for. The kid soon drifted into serious student loan debt and then dropped out to work and didn’t return to school. At that time the kid was employed as some sort of factory worker back east, sharing an apartment, smoking dope, goofing off, still living like a teenager despite being in his 30’s. The father and child have an uneasy relationship, not close but far from strangers.

My life had improved. I was with Karen, which was the best thing that ever happened to me. We had a house and my kids were off in the world struggling, but surviving. I was starting to dabble in painting again.

He and I were in our late 50’s at this point. He inquired about my artistic commitment. That obsession had become undefined and amorphous; I was a weekend warrior in the Arts with little pretence and no prospects. He brought up his Catholicism and how he had come to reassess his engagement with the faith. He no longer went to church: just occasionally. He still believes, but he just can’t sit through the services and the rites. He felt like an impostor in the Church. It no longer felt right and he can’t remember what prompted him to take it all so seriously. He can’t remember just why it was so important, why he was compelled to spend so much time in the Church. He has lost the script and can’t remember the character he used to be in his youth which nevertheless seems just moments ago.

The fire flickered out after the kid was killed and the wife left. He got counseling, consulted the pastor, prayed on it, went through a period of agony and loss, but just could not get the kindling to ignite. He misses the church, but can’t bear to go there, it all seems empty of meaning.

Both he and his wife are living in sin, still married but living with others. He was introduced to his current lady on one of his rare church visits. It was a lucky but accidental meeting. I pointed out to him that we all meet our friends through accidental circumstances. He has not seen his wife for a couple decades nor met her gentleman.

He and his lady are content. He felt that she’s a bit too churchy, but they have a mutual agreement to not talk about it. She thinks he will ‘come around’ and re-engage with the church, and he wishes she would not be so damned diligent about attendance. As is befitting a couple in their late 50’s, they cuddle and comfort one another and life together is pleasant but not impassioned.

Of course things look calm from a distance. The aesthete’s phrase from Victorian times “Distance lends enchantment to the view” carries over to our view of casual acquaintances’ lives. His profound and unshakeable conviction seemed similar to my own obsession with the arts. If we judge the street traffic from a 20-story roof, peering over the edge, the general flow of traffic on the roads below is visible, but the details are not. The movement is apparent.

Recently I have been brooding about the nature of obsessions, or callings. Our culture suggests; “Many are Called, but few are Chosen”. It is not at all uncommon to notice that many individuals have obsessive behaviors and beliefs. I’ve not seen much of the world, but even to a person doing solitary it can be a source of astonishment. Despite my limited experience, I could go on for pages outlining the obsessive beliefs and dreams of the handful of people I have met. My Catholic acquaintance seems conventional and mundane. In his youth he must have been what is often referred to as ‘a pill’. I recall him discussing how difficult it was in high school because he had all these service obligations. There were morning prayers, and evening meetings, and the weekend was filled with rehearsals and services. He couldn’t participate in athletics because of his inability to attend practice, and he found the youthful vulgarity of the locker room offensive.

There is only so much time in a day, and life can get quite complicated. As adults we get entangled in all manner of distractions and necessities. An obsession needs frequent burnishing and there is often not enough time and energy to adequately re-enforce the compulsion. The maintenance of the ideal can be so strenuous that it often seems a heroic endeavor, perhaps one compelling admiration – the maintenance of a counterproductive enterprise despite the assault of obligations and reason. Most of these obsessions have no prospect of paying off in fame or fortune or transcendent spiritual episodes.

I had the good fortune to be married to a big league full-time professional schizophrenic for a bit over twenty years. In good conscience I can’t recommend this as an intellectual exploration of the ramifications of the wonders of the human mind. There has long been the observable fact that mental disorders seem to run in families, often skipping a generation, but leaving a trail of chaos that can extend for centuries. Recent research involving brain scans and genetic DNA tracing has begun to reveal the wide yet limited scope of human variation. These so-called aberrations are linked with traceable combinations of genetic coding. Brain scans now demonstrate the variations in ‘wiring’ that can be rendered visible. These variations have probably been distributed relatively constantly among humans for ages. The wide range of diversity of abilities and perceptions has played a role in evolutionary success. Increased diversity yields a variety of outlooks yet enables a level of social cohesion.

There is a bit of comfort acknowledging that some individuals are simply born to be obsessive. The compulsions often become apparent around puberty: a time of emotional turmoil and a period of self-definition. Parents are frequently not attuned to their offspring, and much of the advice from adults is incoherent and spotty.

“If only I had listened to my parents, I wouldn’t be in this fix!”

“Well!…What did your Parents say?”

“How the Hell would I know? I never listened to those crazy old bastards!”

“It is unfortunate that there are bad men and bad dogs, but on the bright side, a good man is not an angel and a good dog is not a man.” – C.S. Lewis

My father, George, was in many ways a good man. He was not an educated man. He had, perhaps, an eighth grade education – such as it may have been in the late ‘20’s. When in his cups he would brag of never having read a book, which was not quite true, but it was true in the spirit of Jimmy Durante’s doggerel song “The day I read a book”. My dad was co-owner of the Polar Bar and was proud that he didn’t work for wages. This was a frequent topic in Nome, a legendary land of the bold and adventurous. “Only a damned fool works for wages”, he often stated. That was a caution to the young, and it was often repeated amongst the miners, dreamers, hard scrabble entrepreneurs and thrashing losers that ended up in Nome. Nome was right near the edge of the earth. Nome wasn’t right on the edge, but you could see it clearly from there. There was nothing beyond what you could see.

While it is possible to find this philosophy in the world today, I believe it is no longer as common; so many small businesses have gone down in the ‘Recession’. Riches have become a quickly receding illusion. Among the laboring workers, the wage slaves, it is common to view jobs as “eating shit all day and hoping for more tomorrow.” Whatever the higher aspirations of the circle of adults that a young person may observe, many of the dreams of youth are crushed by simple greed and self-serving wrong headedness on the part of the adults in charge.

As a youth there is no method of assessing the depth of one’s future abilities or interests. In the process of nurturing these talents, there is very little honest appraisal. A college athlete can easily assess the caliber of an individual performance. Within the Arts it is quite common to be thought talented and to work hard and long to realize a dream, only to fail; and to fail for reasons that are far from clear. The list of variations that lead to failure are many; born in the wrong decade, in the wrong city, missed opportunities, missed connections, distractions, accidents, changes in health, family problems, wrong turns, bad advice, errors in judgment, or the wrong lessons learned. In the Arts, the success is often fleeting, lasting but a few years, despite decades of long work and little recognition. In the Arts it is possible to receive a tad of local acknowledgement among friends and peers, but being ‘Good’ is adequate only for family and friends. They are encouraging but clueless on the sidelines. A higher level of excellence is expected of those receiving wider recognition. I think it may have been Mark Twain that was afraid that Heaven is filled with enthusiastic amateur musicians playing their favorite tunes poorly and endlessly.

No one counts those that give up in despair and berate themselves for decades.

Graham Greene wrote of the priest, waiting to be executed by the firing squad: “It would have been so easy to have been a saint”, but that is only in retrospect. In the process of living among the living it is not at all neither a simple matter nor a clear path to attain a defined success.

 


Great-great Aunt Edna

As my first wife – Jan – began her plunge into schizophrenia, my sainted mother briefly mentioned that in her family there had been a relative: a renowned healer of ‘Hysteria’.  My mother, Margaret, was a person far from impressed by the ‘wu’ of any spiritual healer or what we now call alternative medical treatments. She was no great fan of doctors and the medical profession generally. She lived to 93 in defiance of much of contemporary medicine. Margaret’s lack of respect for doctors was coupled with no respect whatsoever for psychiatrists. Jan’s eventual diagnosis of pre or postnatal depression was ridiculous in her view, as was the encompassing schizophrenia. Jan simply needed to get her act together and focus on the important aspects of child rearing. After all, what good was a diagnosis if there was no cure? The diagnosis was just an excuse for misbehavior.

Aunt Edna app 1910

Aunt Edna app 1910

The information that Margaret provided was brief, vague, and dismissive. In the early1930’s Margaret was off the farm and in college (Wazoo). She was working as a maid/housekeeper with no support from the family farm in Prosser. She was desperately trying to complete a teaching degree in hopes of evading the life of her parents; trapped in endless heavy labor on a perpetually failing minimum income farm. Both of her parents were college educated and her father was considered a ‘genius’, equipped with a photographic memory. In Mother’s opinion: “The most impractical man she’d ever met.”

Her reference to Aunt Edna was just a few sentences. Edna had set out to become a medical practitioner/doctor. She had been inspired by the medical corps’ role in the Civil War and tales of Florence Nightingale. Walt Whitman, among others, had written of the appalling circumstances regarding the treatment of the wounded and dying soldiers; many died of infections such as gangrene and other diseases caused by lack of provision for sanitation. Every town had veterans; most families had losses. As in most wars of the era, it has been estimated that about 25% of the troops were infected with STD’s. There was no effective cure and little emphasis on prevention. Those too sick to fight but ambulatory were simply released to walk home.

The Civil War was over in 1865, about 20 years before her birth. Edna would have been approaching adulthood around 1900. There had been some money in that branch of the family, but as occurs today, there were recessions and bankruptcies and swindles and fraud. The Aunt had to drop the dream of being a college educated medical professional. She became involved in the Kellogg dietary/exercise/ treatment franchise. Kellogg was a bit of a shyster, and offered mail order courses which could be completed in weeks and which lead to certifications as Practitioner or Doctor.

Upon certification, my Great Aunt was employed at the Kellogg Sanitarium in Battle Creek Michigan. The Battle Creek Facility was a supervised live-in treatment center that featured a strict vegetarian whole grain diet, rigorous exercises, and frequent and dramatic enemas. Upon arrival, a participant was given an individual assessment and a dietary and treatment regime.  The sanitarium itself would seem Spartan for us today; it was clean, airy, and austerely elegant. Various additional services were offered such as: brisk hikes, interpretative dancing, mud baths, coldwater drenching, abrasive body rubs, and hot oil massages. There were special treatments in mechanotherapy, electrotherapeutics, and manipulative therapies (often recommended for what was referred to as ‘Hysteria’).

The patrons of the Kellogg Sanitarium were well-to-do upper class white people, predominantly women. Within that class there was great refinement and repression. Many women of that time and class led what we would consider incredibly sheltered lives. Marriages were often arranged, and there may have been little consultation on the part of the soon to be wed couple. They may have been formally introduced and perhaps had some brief chaperoned conversations. Marriages based upon our contemporary sense of romantic love were not unknown, but married life could be more commonly characterized as love shaded heavily by factors such as loyalty, partnership, mutual regard, or dependency, rather than passion.

An excerpt that illustrates the arrangements of the upper middle class of the time from Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’:

Gwendolen announced her informal engagement to her mother; Lady Bracknell, and the good lady replied: “Pardon me, you are not engaged to anyone. When you do become engaged to someone, I, or your father, should his health permit him, will inform you of the fact. An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could be allowed to arrange for herself….I have always been of the opinion that a person desiring to get married should either know everything or nothing…..I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.”

Divorce was difficult and not common.  Women often died in childbirth; or from infections, or diseases such as the flu, small pox, polio, or diphtheria. Diseases that we have become unaccustomed to in our era would often decimate entire communities. It was not uncommon for survivors (often men) to remarry several times.

In 1900 the world population was about 1.6 billion, and today it is almost 7 billion. In 1900 most people in America were directly involved in agriculture of some sort, living rurally and either farming or distributing farm products. Today most people live in cities and have a wide variety of employment opportunities: hardly anyone is a farmer in the old sense. Living in a town or small city in 1900 provided few opportunities to meet a variety of suitable mates. The entire social atmosphere, particularly for upper class women, was circumscribed. In 1900 many people didn’t get more than 100 miles from their birthplace although the intercontinental railways made travel safe, common, and inexpensive. It could be a huge adventure to travel the Mississippi on a sternwheeler, for instance. For many, such an episode would be the trip of a lifetime.

Men were encouraged to go out in the world and had many more opportunities to create a life of rich experiences. Many upper class men enlisted in the Civil War for the sport of it, as a way to burnish their resume. The same phenomenon was repeated with the Gold Rushes and massive land sales that accompanied the westward expansion of the railroads. The popular phrase “Go West, Young man!” was literally an invitation for adventure. Go out and seek one’s fortune and return to civilization with restlessness satiated.

A suitable marriage could always be arranged later. A gentleman had no expectation that his wife would derive significant pleasure from the brutish act of sexual union. Should she be eager and libidinous it may have seemed improper: he had not bartered for that sort of girl. Should the gentleman want to have some fun with the ladies; there were brothels full of women dedicated to providing pleasure. For example, one of Seattle brothels was notoriously referred to as the “House of Holes”. In Seattle in 1900 there was a brothel with 500 rooms, advertising 500 ladies for a man’s delectation, delight, and daily service. In good weather some of the ladies would be on display riding in horse drawn carriages through Pioneer Square. They would hand out discount cards to interested bystanders. Seattle had a population of about 85,000 at the time, and an estimated 2,500 ‘ladies of leisure’. A gentleman of the time could easily have his unfortunate lustful urges satiated. The brothels for the working class and those in the mercantile trades were priced accordingly. But a moneyed sport of the time could maintain a courtesan, sometimes referred to in those days as a grande horizontale.

It is difficult to assess what the realm of sexuality may have been in the past, and what it may have been for individuals in various economic and social environments is a bit of a guess. Even today in our supposedly more enlightened era there is considerable variation in physical relationships. After all, some people are colorblind or tone deaf, and in the sensual physical realm there are those for whom sexual joys are a primary aspect of life, and there are those that simply don’t understand what the fuss is about.

As an example of men’s general boorishness: one of my peers, a long married gent that spent part of his 20’s in the military in Korea, is somewhat bewildered at today’s highly sexualized society. He knew ‘damned little’ about sex until he was stationed in Korea. He shared an off-base apartment with a couple other guys, and they employed a ‘moose’ – a Korean young lady that did the shopping, laundry, some cooking and housekeeping for them in return for what sounds like spare change. She also would fellate the young soldiers should the need arise. Prostitutes were readily available in local bars. When he got back to America he found to his consternation that fellatio was not at a commonly available practice, and upon marrying his high school sweetheart, he discovered that she had never heard about nor would consider such an activity. They managed to have three kids, so in his mind he was a perfectly adequate husband. “All this sexy advertising and movies, who is all that for? All this talk about how to turn someone on, and orgasms: what the hell? I did my job, got her pregnant! What is there to learn? We had sex every month or two, and I suppose that as a young man I got an hour’s experience every year. I guess she was happy enough, she stuck with me for 50 years.”

The status and autonomy of women has dramatically changed in the past couple of centuries. Up until the 1890’s the age of consent was as low as 7 in Delaware, and 10 or 12 in most other jurisdictions. It was not raised to 16 or 18 until the 1920’s. The Social Purity Movement that started in the English speaking countries around the 1860’s brought about this age-awareness change. Social Purity became the Women’s Temperance League. It was an outgrowth of the Abolitionists, and spread out into areas of Temperance, Prohibition, anti-prostitution campaigns, and eventually led to the Women’s Suffrage activities that resulted in women being enabled to vote – thus becoming equal citizens and no longer mere property of men.

Kellogg and other entrepreneurs were swimming in the Social Purity stream. Right thinking believers were introduced to proper exercise and the consumption of whole unprocessed Biblical foods – each bite was to be chewed 30 times to ensure mastication. Healthy vegetarian fare coupled with vigorous colon cleansing ensured regularity that was said to be spiritually invigorating. It purified not only the body, but also the mind and spirit as well. Libidinousness and physical expression of animal spirits would be brought under control, at last. It was hoped that the introduction of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Wheaties et al would dramatically reduce the consumption of customary breakfast animal products such as eggs, bacon, or ham. Better behavior was sure to follow.

The diet of the majority in the 1800’s was execrable by today’s standards. There was little refrigeration – blocks of ice. Canning was a recent technology and often tainted. Farmers might eat relatively well on the farm, but horse drawn wagons were slow, and produce and meat was often not considered worth the trouble of delivering to the cities. Live animals were hauled into neighborhood butcher shops, and some would advertise meat as “Fresh Killed Daily”. Chickens and other fowl were often purchased live and slaughtered at home, or selected for the butcher to slaughter. Sanitation was often non-existent through the First World War. During the Depression the Dept of Agriculture was attempting to educate rural citizens in the advantages of remote outhouse locations, boiling water for sterilization, hand washing during food preparation, etc. The military greatly improved the general health of the citizenry by training soldiers to bathe regularly, and to receive inoculations, and rudimentary basic first aid. The returning soldiers brought this training home. While the theory of germs had been developed in the early 1800’s, it had little influence in daily life or the field of medicine until WWII. My uncle Roy, hale and hearty in his 20’s, died in the early ‘40’s from a routine appendectomy and the massive infection that followed the operation that was performed on the household kitchen table by a local family doctor. My grandfather held the lamp, and grandmother provided hot water and towels.

Fruit, corn, potatoes etc were often more profitably sold as ‘potable spirits’: cider, and versions of whiskey. There was little or no control over how these widely consumed products were distilled until after Prohibition. Whiskey, beer, or wine, were considered a safer drink than water. “In Wine there is Wisdom, in Beer there is Freedom, but in Water there is Disease.” Vast amounts of alcoholic beverages were consumed from childhood on. Much farm produce was fed to hogs. The large hunks of hogs were brined and smoked: sold as ham, bacon, trotters etc. Once thoroughly brined and smoked such treated meats were relatively safe, even if hauled miles in ox drawn wagons. Carcasses were rendered for Lard. Dairy products such as fresh milk were uncommon, but sharp and/or highly odiferous cheeses were available. There were frequently outbreaks of food poisoning.

In heavily industrialized areas such as London, in which children of five were often employed in horrible conditions, the health of adults was not good, and life expectancy was perhaps 40. Infant mortality was common and in many areas only about one out of 6 children would survive to age sixteen. A recent article regarding longevity mentions a survey of 1840 regarding cultural longevity – Sweden was considered to be an unusually healthy country of the time, however the average age at death for Swedish women was only 45. That has now increased to eighty-three. There has been a dramatic increase in the efficacy of medicine, with preventative measures such as inoculations, and treatments. In the industrialized countries, childbirth is far less dangerous for both the mother and the child. Despite the pride many express regarding the current state of American medical facilities, we are far below other nations in children’s survival rates, and overall longevity is a decade less on average than many other countries. Contemporary medicine now attempts to ‘compress morbidity’ and thus postpone ‘senescence’, the inevitable physical and mental collapse, into a shorter period of a life.

While the Kellogg regime would seem limited and coarse today, it was an advancement at the time, but only available to the upper class individuals. They could sign up for treatments of varying lengths, a week, fortnight, a month perhaps, and return to city life refreshed, invigorated, and renewed in spirit.

There was longstanding medical evidence that proper women were perhaps incapable of physical pleasure from sexual activities. Intercourse was for procreation and the necessary siphoning of men’s lamentable need for physical release. Since women did not regularly release liquid during intercourse, and rarely expressed any enthusiasm for basic and feverish rutting, it was a topic of debate among medical practitioners whether proper women were capable of sensual desire or sexual pleasure. It came to be believed that fluids built up and captured by the womb might cause a woman’s Hysteria. Discomfort or disease might also be caused by a uterus that was too light due to lack of bodily fluids, thus the floating womb was thought to shift location and cause distress. Intercourse might ‘moisten’ the womb and facilitate blood circulation, however activities such as enduring the indignities of the marriage bed were thought to be less than pleasurable and an inadequate treatment for those women afflicted with Hysteria.

Skilled manipulative therapy by trained practitioners could assist in releasing the internal womb pressure. It was observed that educated and refined married women often wearied of their husband’s overindulgence in sexual intercourse and that caused congestion of the female genitalia. Women’s reproductive organs were looked upon as “a veritable swamp, rife with pathogenic miasmas”.

Hysteria was a uniquely female complaint and was generic. Anything from headaches, fatigue, fainting, dizziness, lack of appetite, bad dreams, almost any ailment could be diagnosed as Hysteria. There were a wide variety of treatments available such as laudanum, herbal tinctures, invigorating tonics, breathing regimes, and physical exercise. In the 1850’s a form of digital manipulation of the nether regions became an increasingly popular treatment option. There were Doctors and clinics in the big cities that specialized in this service.

Aunt Edna began providing this treatment at the Kellogg Sanitarium. A Doctor that specialized in the service had trained her. It had become so popular that additional practitioners had to be recruited. The patient would often be fully clothed and recline upon a comfortable waist high bench with heel cups to elevate the knees. As best I understand, the treatment often included an initial upper body massage: the compressing of the rib cage and diaphragm to get the patient breathing deeply. This was occasionally coupled with what we would think of as CPR, direct mouth-to-mouth air exchange. After the preliminaries, the doctor would sit and reach a hand up under the skirt and massage the clitoral and vaginal areas until some curative Hysteria energies were released.

This was not viewed as a sexual act. Sex involved penile insertion by a husband or lover. Women that were afflicted with Hysteria were considered to have a serious medical condition that could be relieved with digital manipulation by skilled practitioners. Even the most skilled digital administration was often unpredictable, which made appointment scheduling a nightmare. One distressed female might require a full hour of energetic effort and another may experience relief in just a few minutes. Prolonged diligence put the doctor at risk of hand cramps or even the development of as yet undiagnosed carpal tunnel. The busiest clinics often trained midwives or nurses to take over the seemingly endless chore of a parade of women patients suffering from Hysteria. No one wanted this boring and fatiguing job. After all, the husbands had done their duty and were not about to take on additional chores that were best delegated to skilled and certified specialists.

Some enthusiasts for the treatment felt that only a woman practitioner could fully understand and bring forth the complete release of the tensions of pelvic congestion that was causing the Hysteria. Men might be unsympathetic or clumsy in their ministrations. There were special prescriptive ointments compounded for the purpose. Soothing oils were often coupled with mint, lavender, eucalyptus, ginseng, willow bark, or occasionally derivatives of opium poppy, codeine, paregoric, and laudanum.

Great-great Aunt Edna evidently had the touch. As her career progressed she added to her repertoire, becoming a labor coach/mid-wife, a general specialist in ‘woman troubles’, and veterinarian. However as the ‘Great Depression’ impoverished her clientele, she was unable to maintain her private practice in Ohio. In that time, displaced family members were often absorbed into relative’s households and farms. My grandparents had a farm in Prosser that was never prosperous, but it was mostly paid for. Edna was in her 40’s, and had quite a background in medicine – such as it was at the time. She took up residence on the farm, briefly sharing an upstairs bedroom. She quickly established a following in the tiny town of Prosser.

She encouraged my grandfather to put in a small field of herbs and poppies. Edna was skilled in the preparation of tinctures – little more than a bit of fruit wine or herbal tea with a dried poppy seedpod infused. At the time, Prosser was basically cash free. There was very little actual money in circulation and as a consequence it was largely a barter society.  Her ability to stitch up an injury, attend a birth, cool a fever, relieve pain, or treat a bout of Hysteria was rewarded with trades and a bit of cash. Ham hocks, a chicken, a haunch of venison, home canned fruit, or some heavy labor on the farm could be exchanged, for instance.

The Great Depression decimated the upper middle class. Suddenly those family units that had money invested in stocks, bonds, or bank holdings were reduced to poverty. It was common for families in these sheltered income categories to have quite large houses, with rooms and facilities for servants such as maids, cooks, cleaners, yard workers, horse groomers, nannies, wet nurses and so on. As is the case today, these support personnel were poorly paid, and had circumscribed private lives – two days off per month, room and board were provided, but the cook prepared special lower cost meals for the hired help.

For millennia the wealthy or powerful had slaves or servants. The exact definition and role of these household or field workers varied. In Biblical times, and within Islamic families today, the role of servants is often disguised as polygamy (multiple wives or concubines). The facility with which the upper classes can obtain maids and household help has been a stultifying economic factor. Since the ‘help’ was on staff anyway, why invest in improved efficiency? However a task may have been accomplished in the past was plenty good enough. Why buy a washing machine for one of the ‘wives’ when she has always done an ok job down at the pond, pounding clothes on the rocks? Servants didn’t need automation. What would they do with the extra time? Given time and energy to reflect upon life can only lead to dissatisfaction.

There was always the possibility that servants would be taken advantage of sexually. In some societies and households this was taken for granted, in others it was forbidden. A maid caught up in a sexual incident could be dismissed in disgrace, or sometimes quietly provided with a bit of a dowry and an arranged marriage with some local. As the railroads connected the American coasts, compromised maids were sometimes given the proverbial ‘ticket to Frisco’ where they were subject to various outcomes, often drifting into prostitution.

My grandmother ‘Steena’ came to America as an indentured servant and worked for 3 years for a prosperous family of German immigrants in Illinois. Upon fulfillment of her contract she traveled to Seattle to be near relatives. She went back to work as a servant. Her cousin, Gerda, was also a servant, but then was in an arranged marriage in what must have been a very minimally pleasurable union. (My mother couldn’t stand ‘Uncle Arnold’, the husband. He was a self-educated domineering bastard, in her opinion.) Upon his death Gerda went back to work as a nanny, working for a wealthy Seattle family for 40+ years. The family eventually arranged a pittance retirement for her. I had a great-uncle that had prospered in America, but he lost it all in the Depression. He said, as he began to prosper again in WWII; “I never dreamed I would again be so rich as to have my own car while being so poor that I have to drive it myself.”

The women of the servant class or the wives of the working class, were not receiving treatment for Hysteria. There was considerable discussion regarding the folly of educating young women in cultural refinement. The young ladies would become unfit as suitable breeding stock, filled with unrealistic expectations of privilege and promised ethereal pleasures. While the father, brothers, or husband of educated and refined young women might disport themselves with earthy and carnal lower class women, the daughter or wife was expected to be of a higher moral character. The physical and carnal could be suppressed through attention to spiritual enhancement. They were supposed to demurely close their eyes and focus upon the ethereal should the husband desire to plow the ‘south forty’. These refined women were to be the regenerators of a less brutish generation of offspring, lessening the slaughter and oppression of the physically feverish.

As electricity was introduced into households, a wide variety of vibrators and electrical stimulation devices became available. The Sears catalog and magazines coyly advertised muscle toning and tension relief devices. Many practitioners sold devices to clients as well. By the beginning of WW II ladies were taking care of themselves. The Hysteria Epidemic of the previous couple of generations faded away. Today there is an entire industry dedicated to a wide variety of vibrators, sometimes referred to as “marital aides”.

In our present state of enlightenment we can scoff at the efficacy and concept of Hysteria with the hands-on manipulated masturbation that today seems ridiculous. But what harm was done, really? A few ladies spent some money on pleasurable relief unavailable elsewhere in a repressive society. The use of poppy tinctures to alleviate anxiety or pain seems quaint today when the vast pharmaceutical industry owns every possible cure for every real or imagined ailment. At present there is a low-key government program to coerce seed sellers to eliminate the opium poppies from catalogs. If one wants to buy poppy seeds today, one must search on-line sources for true opium poppy varieties.

When Margaret briefly spoke of Great Aunt Edna I was experiencing a troubled passage of life and it is possible that I have misinterpreted the few sentences and have created what may be a plausible fantasy scenario. The Seventh Day Adventist cult of whole grains as expressed through the Kellogg Foundation may have been sufficient for Great Aunt Edna to prosper as a practitioner. While in Nome in 2013 I was researching the 1904-’06 era. Jorgen, my grandfather, was in Nome in that period. The local newspaper of the time has been preserved on microfiche, all slightly out of focus. A recurring ad in ’05 featured an “Anna M. Kellogg: Proprietor of Bath and Massage Parlors.” The advertisement’s services are illegible despite my best efforts, but such services and facilities were evidently widespread, even in the most remote areas. There were no similar ads. In 1904, Nome had experienced a serious fire that wiped out a significant amount of the town. One area that was destroyed was the fenced confinement that encompassed several blocks of ‘cribs and brothels’. Anna M. Kellogg may have been advertising additional illicit services, or it may have been legitimate soothing candlelit massages. We have no way of determining specifically what was being offered.

Long ago I was on a work team in which one of my cohorts was a devout vegetarian and he had many similar beliefs as Kellogg. His family were members of an outgrowth of the 7th day Adventist Church, as was Kellogg. A healthy bowel, fully cleansed and regularly producing multiple large, coarse bowel movements every day may go a long way to creating upright posture, a focused mind and joyous personality. My co-worker had not reached a blissful state of mind, but his bowels were a frequent topic of conversation – much as dog owners all too frequently discuss the state of their puppy’s poop.

I went to assist in some car tinkering at his place one sunny day, and felt the need to use his bathroom. As I disappeared around the side of the house, he shouted “Shearsonnahanger!” In the bathroom above the toilet hung a large pair of kitchen shears. The shears were to be used to hack up the massive turds his diet created. In Rabelais the turds of the peasants during grape harvesting season were said to be as solid and as long as the handle of an axe. Grapes were lunch and dinner for the peasants. Breakfast consisted of ‘groans, sighs and coughs’.

Locally we have a very hard working craftsperson with no health insurance. She finally grudgingly admitted that something is wrong ‘down there’ and she went to the doctor and expected a diagnosis of a hysterectomy for fibroids, perhaps. It turned out that she is a few years too late; cancer was eating her insides. If she went in for the chemo and surgery the entire family would be in bankruptcy for hundreds of thousands of dollars for treatment and be rendered homeless. Historically her treatment would have been laudanum or poppy infusion, and she would have passed with minimized discomfort.  In our contemporary medical wisdom the doctors will extend her period of misery for many months, and the family can then go through hardship and bankruptcy to celebrate her misfortune. (She has died, and the family has imploded.)

I came to the Great-great Aunt Edna topic through a chance encounter with Lynn Schirmer, a Seattle artist of considerable facility. I admire her work, and she ekes out a living on art sales and related activities. She had come across recent research regarding the clitoris. Amazingly, this vital bit of female anatomy has not been extensively studied and in many medical books it is passed over: lacking detail, and incorrectly rendered. Lynn decided to create a topical art exhibit regarding the clitoris – coupled with a web site that revealed some of the contemporary research to illuminate the entire show.

I volunteered to create a piece for the show, but began to have misgivings regarding my qualifications to participate. As a professional old fart, what the hell would I know about the topic? I can reflect upon what I should have known, what I could have known had I been concerned. As far as I knew, the female orgasm was invented in the ‘60’s, and my experience was so limited that I still have no clear notion of how all that might have worked, aside from the insight that sometimes amazing accidents happen. In considering the nature of the research for the art show, it occurred to me that all these revelations could make life a lot more interesting for the young adults that might put it to use.

My general idea was that perhaps this scientific information regarding the extent and range of the clitoris would lead to specialized tune up and adjustment centers. This could be a new franchise opportunity with skilled technicians trained in clitoral performance enhancement. It might be similar to the old days when I would invite old ‘Jimbo’ over and we’d drink beer till dark and then get out and tune the Triumph Bonneville until it emitted the exactly perfect blue flame out of the exhaust port.

My line of thought resulted in the 24 X 36 poster that was exhibited. The show was open for a month, but attendance opening night was thin because of bad weather. The show had a lengthy preview article before opening, but little publicity during the event. In my humble opinion, the overall show was lacking in thought and drama. The artwork submitted was mostly by female artists and was decorative but lacking confrontational edge. My work received little or no attention and no comment. Nothing in the show was sold.

I had bought one of the Clitoris T-shirts at the show and subsequently wore it to the gym. One of the gents thought the graphic image resembled the Martian death ray machines in the original “War of the Worlds” movie. I briefly explained the art show and the image.

His response:

“Well I’ve heard something about this clitoris thing somewhere, but I don’t think any pussy looks like that! But what the hell would I know? Its dark in the bedroom! Har, Har, Har”. This loud outburst is from a retired gent with a striking grey haired trophy wife, and four kids by his first wife.

We parted ways and we each moved on to our next exercise.  A few minutes later, Dan approached. He had overheard part of the little hilarity. He also inquired about the graphic image. He recalled a Tantric image that is similar. I don’t know Dan well, and I don’t know much about Tantric studies or beliefs, and had no idea what Dan and Tantric practices had in common.

When I started attending my current gym, my notoriety as an artist preceded me. Dan was, and probably still is, under the popular delusion that being an artist is an opportunity to become involved with lovely models. The dreary fact is that I have rarely been able to afford a model for myself. I have attended dozens of artist group sessions with 3 to 12 artists drawing frantically while encircling the model. Models earn $12 to $20 an hour. It is just a part time job but some models take it rather seriously and show an interest in the eventual artwork. Models are frequently involved in the arts: as artists, dancers, musicians, poets, and yoga practitioners. Models occasionally show up with a friend or lover to act as chaperone. With but one exception in ancient times, I’ve not been blessed with more than a handshake relationship with models.

Dan assumed that I was some sort of libertine and thus a kindred soul. He felt compelled to regale me with some brief stories of his exploits with ladies of the world in such ports as Singapore, Estonia, Sweden, and Viet Nam etc. He had been part of a military flight crew and is currently associated with one of the airlines. We share a bit of an illusion of camaraderie as ‘naughty boys’.

While admiring the T-shirt graphic he talked a bit about how, in his travels, he had recently become a patron of Tantric Massage studios, and that presently he is involved with a Tantric Temple. He feels privileged to be receiving Tantric instruction from a wonderful young lady called something like Mirandananda Dawnstarr who has a Temple near Sumner. The outside of the temple is completely ordinary, but the inside is amazingly decorated and one of the bedrooms has become an expanded ceremonial bathing and warming area. Obviously this has become an important and fulfilling participative activity for him. He offered to serve as a reference for an introduction. She is very selective and newcomers must have references and interviews.

I briefly discussed the Clitoris Art Show and contemporary research and he nodded his head, “Oh, yes, well the Tantric Yoga tradition has long known all of this. The West is so ignorant of the principles of pleasure.” He has recently been instructed in the proper forms of ‘Yoni Adoration’, for instance. He has been considering encouraging his current lady friend to accompany him to the Temple for mutual ecstatic ceremonies. This would involve his girlfriend attending a few solo sessions to enable Mirandananda to evaluate her readiness for prolonged orgasmic experiences.

In a previous month I was introduced to what I suppose is his current girl friend, a quite fit and pleasant looking woman in her late 20’s. To me, her most memorable feature was her smile. Unlike so many of that generation, she had been spared dental braces that result in the manufactured perfect toothy smile. Her smile reveals some slightly crowded teeth with the canines a bit prominent. She probably does not consider her teeth a distinguishing asset, but I found them endearing.

Aside from the brief introduction and subsequent nods of acknowledgement while passing in the gym, I have not had occasion to talk to her. After all, what can an old fart such as I have in common with an energetic young lady? I wonder how far outside the common mould of suburban single mom her sexual interests may extend, it is none of my business, of course. Does she know of his Tantric adventures? Or does she simply benefit from his secret participation?  Has he, in fact, enlisted her in the enlightenment program?

I could sympathize with her apprehension regarding the grading of her level of ability to experience and sustain blissful states. She may be reluctant to subscribe to solo evaluations of her orgasmic capacity. Dan may be a wonderful, satisfying and accomplished lover, but the Tantric mumbo jumbo may be a bit alienating, and the idea of this Mirandananda woman adoring and manipulating her ‘Yoni’ may be too far to go. It would seem tinged with lesbianism, and for many in our repressive society any whiff of same sex pleasuring is forbidden. After all, would Dan be so interested in the Tantric if he was having extended orgasms with a turbaned young man?

As is my nature, I got to brooding about this episode and opened the mentor’s website and checked out a few other sites offering similar services. Many of them list their services as available to: women, men, and couples. That ‘women’ are listed first may be a hint that most clients are women. The websites are not worded in such a way as to imply sex in the manner of the escort ads or Asian Massage Parlors. A large part of the allure may be sensual, not sexual. A long contemplative massage in a spiritual environment coupled with warm oils, candles, incense, and comforting mantras may be money well spent at $200 an hour.

Another group called ‘One Taste’ created by Nicole Daedone specializes in group therapy sessions referred to as “Orgasmic Meditation’. She has also written a book ‘Slow Sex’. There is also a TED Talk in which she explains the philosophy behind the search for a four-month orgasm. The group meetings are an organized informational presentation followed by a 15 minute carefully executed clitoral stimulation period between two strangers; other members of the audience. One part of the meditation requires that the women become trusting of their own unique abilities to experience pleasure in the hands of an unknown individual. This becomes a matter of giving permission to one’s own responses, not with a familiar lover or friend, but with a complete stranger that may well never be seen again.

Since starting this line of investigation my interest has waned a bit, but as I was leafing through a women’s fashion magazine a related reference leapt out.  In ELLE, Sept 2012, is an article regarding a book by Naomi Wolf  (Vagina; A New Biography). I had no interest in reading the article – I was looking for a usable female pose with significant contrapasto. But a sentence suddenly caught my attention in which a Mike Lausada is mentioned as a London practitioner in orgasmic therapy. A quick web search reveals that he offers a variety of counseling and physical therapy programs to enhance and encourage female sensuality. His rates range between 200 and 400 pounds per hour, with multi-hour sessions encouraged.

Other sex or intimacy training is available, for instance; Annie Sprinkle tours the country speaking of the vagina and clitoris. Annie is attempting to educate and inspire women to learn about their bodies and become familiar with their own pleasures, and if necessary, take care of their own orgasms. I gather that she has been conducting these seminars for a couple of decades and the audiences remain small despite advertising and occasional censure in the press. I read somewhere that she has volunteers on stage to show their vagina and demonstrate various techniques and implements for achieving orgasm. One of the displayed procedures is ‘fisting’ in which an entire hand is inserted in a vagina.

Long ago, when pterodactyls soared over the veld, before life went entirely to Hell with my first wife, we became briefly acquainted with a couple that was very involved in Tantra and the newly published Kama Sutra. This was in the era of the downward slide of Hippiedom. We were awash in those that had read a few pages of Siddhartha, Castaneda, the Whole Earth Catalog, the Mayan Astronauts, and the Apocalypse.  All manner of young people were far too earnest about esoteric topics that they, in fact, knew nothing about. This was the beginning of the end of fact based citizen knowledge. Enthusiasm and opinion now rules, and this has led to the vast foolishness we see in today’s politics.

A major societal change has occurred in recent decades. The ‘Great Depression’ and WWII was a very difficult period for most citizens and the result was several generations of hard-living, hard-working, hard-headed skinflints. This time period, which extended up into the early 60’s has come to be viewed as the “Adversity Culture”. Within the Arts this led to a separation between the ordinary citizens and the few that were driven to participate in the Arts. That generation is now dying off and has been replaced by what has been described as “the Screw-around Culture” in which vast numbers of often overly sincere but none too competent individuals have wandered into the Arts.

Looking back, I suspect that this couple had some hopes of us as recruits and participants in their joyous nude temple celebrations.  They were both art students and thus I was unable to avoid them entirely. Jan, my wife at the time, was already on the road to the far country of schizophrenia, although it seemed just creative poetic associations at the time. The sudden infusion of Tantric Yoga jargon was very wearing and disruptive on the home front. A couple of years later the Temple was headlines, it had been raided as a cult which was supposedly a front for prostitution and drug dealing. I have no idea what part was played by my acquaintances.

Christianity, Islam, and many other religions have long disdained the pleasures of the body. The indulgence in the pleasurable, particularly sex, has been considered sinful and not the path to enlightenment. There have been occasional contrary offshoots, but in general, among the staunch believers, sex has been basically for procreation. Backsliders, heathens, pagans and the hell-bound could indulge in guilty play, but the true believer was expected to attempt to maintain a level of uncontaminated purity. Ignorance of the possibilities can control urges. Relationships with no occasion of mutual orgasm can be created and maintained with purposeful ignorance.

While the Social Purity Movement was attempting to create proper thinking and restrained behavior through organic diet and exercise, there was parallel movement elsewhere in the world. One group in Russia took more drastic steps to free the believers of lust. The Skoptsy sect believed that castration would restore mankind to the pristine state that preceded the Original Sin in the Garden of Eden. Men would have their testicles removed and if that didn’t prove efficacious, they would have their penis cut off. Women would have mastectomies, and some had the labia removed. It is estimated that there were at least 100,000 members by 1900. The goal had been an enrollment of 144,000. That number would assure the arrival of the Messiah as promised in Rev. 14:1,4. The last adherents are believed to have died during WWII.

Locally there were a few commune settlements dedicated to a wide variety of experimental social orders. The Town of Home WA was originally a Biblical/socialist order founded in Eatonville that ultimately disintegrated due to divisions between the ‘Nudes & Prudes’. The ‘Nudes’ believed in free love and the ‘Prudes’ insisted on Biblically ordained procreation-only intercourse and restraint in intellectual interests. Elsewhere in America there were the Shakers, Mormons, Quakers, Unitarians, and hundreds of other sects. Some of these groups were exploring obscure Biblical interpretations, and others were attempting to redefine the ideas of personal freedom, equitable distribution of goods and services, equality between the sexes, the elimination of wage-slavery, and on and on. The crushing burden of capitalism and the oppressive requirement for labor in exchange for poverty and squalor was prompting revolutionary ideas and attempts to create a new and different reality.

We tend to think of the Great Depression as an American phenomena, but it was a worldwide collapse similar in many ways to our present ‘Recession’. WWI brought about great political and economic changes in Europe, the death of millions shattered many of the traditional political notions. The writings of Karl Marx and others supplied the intellectual ferment that led to the attempt to establish more perfect and just communist/socialist systems. Many of the most radical revolutionaries were women, and they insisted that the necessary changes revolved around the status of women. Often within the Capitalist system women are little more than property, slaves to men and treated abysmally.

Early in the revolutionary process questions arose regarding sexuality – were the people to be liberated to follow their urges in the new society or should the new society suppress freedom of physical expression in the interest of familial stability. By the late ‘20’s, despite considerable argumentation, the power of Stalin and Lenin established a repressive regime. Laws were enacted that attempted to define the role of sex as a service of society rather than sex as an expression of freedom within society. Was sexuality a savage and unruly freedom to be a stumbling block to the creation of the new world? Or was this vital animalistic force to be suppressed to avoid the commoditization of pleasure that might squander the energy required to create a more perfect society? In very short order the suppression of individuals triumphed.

In Maoist China the needs of the state clearly came before those of the individuals. A one child per marriage rule was enforced to control population growth. One unpredicted side effect was widespread abortions of girls. There is now a vast oversupply of men with no prospects of ever getting married. The one child program was originally to produce dramatically smaller families, and that worked, however it has also reduced the number of potential families. A similar circumstance has arisen in countries such as India where cheap and easy sex determination tests for babies has led to abortion of girl fetuses to avoid the necessity of the family preparing dowries to marry off the resulting adolescent girls. This social custom of dowries in many castes has made young men valuable and young women a liability, and now there is a huge mismatch between the numbers of young men and women. There are numerous cases of young women becoming prostitutes for a couple of years to earn their own dowry with family approval, and then having their hymen surgically restored to enable the young lady to become an eligible virgin for marriage.

Currently, in America – the home of the brave and land of the free – there are continual attempts at the suppression of information about sex. There are widespread attempts to prevent the presentation of even basic and minimal information regarding the biological facts of human intercourse. Additional information regarding the cultivation of pleasure is forbidden and thus the knowledge and techniques that may provide pleasure is left to the arena of uninformed amateur experimentation or pornography that is now amazingly available. Pornography is most often viewed by young men and is unfortunately primarily oriented towards male dominance.  The lessons learned may lead to insensitive, abusive behavior and one-sided expectations.

Dan, the Tantra man, may be attempting to expand his sensual horizons. His girlfriend may benefit from his refined abilities. I gather that much of his past sexual education was from one-night stands with ladies acquired in hotel bars around the world. I don’t know him well and it is none of my business. I’m not about to inquire, but this absence of fact enables the creation of any scenario we can dream up. It is intriguing to consider that there could be a coherent and detailed educational opportunity to enrich understanding of the more blissful of life’s pleasures. An adult has an opportunity through the Tantric disciplines, but this is heavily infused with ‘wu’, and may be a form of activities related to prostitution rather than education.

The establishment of some form of sensual education or familiarization program would inevitably be problematic. Many parents would be reluctant to enroll their precious pubescent daughter or hormone-laden son in a sexual sensuality program, despite a batch of ‘wu’ woven into the curriculum. Commonly the hands-on aspect of sexuality is provided free in the backseat. The more out-going and energetic, the braver or the more desperate and least guilt-ridden, will figure out the basics. This casual ‘let-nature-take-its-course’ free-range, hunt-and-peck, ad hoc self-education can certainly lead to a lot of fun, and also a lot of anguish. One can proceed through life with nothing but the most basic of pleasures. For the most part that is what our peers and our ancestors have done. As individuals we are all a product of unskilled labor that has been mucking about in a huge experiment in random genetic dispersion since the first squiggles of life in the pond water.  Enthusiasm and ignorance are the commonly essential elements for sexual activity.

We look back at the Hysteria diagnosis and treatment in the previous century, and we can be amused at their perspective, their flawed medical opinions, and the no-fun aspect of these stodgy stalwarts. We would like to congratulate ourselves on how much better informed and smarter and happier and fulfilled we are today in our enlightenment. With the passage of time we will also be looked upon as self-congratulatory fools. If the fervently religious become more prevalent, we will be seen as condemned to hell. Certainly in my disappearing generation, ignorance in sensual and sexual matters was near complete. No one told me anything. It was all a mystery. What little pornography I saw in the ‘50’s and early ‘60’s had the nipples, navels and body hair eliminated through photographic retouching. It can be assumed that my parents were told little or nothing, and certainly my parents told me nothing. As a result, I was unprepared to tell my children anything either. What could I tell them? I was far from certain about what I knew.

In the past 50 years or so, there has been some research into this aspect of human behavior. Kinsey and the team of Masters & Johnson made inquiries of common sexual practices, conducted tests, and attempted to define and refine aspects of behavior. Much of their research was published and publicly available, but not widely read or studied; it had little effect upon the standard cultural norms of the times. Women’s sexual response remains a mystery to most men, as best I can determine. Many men feel threatened by women that seem to be sexually independent. The men instinctively realize that they would be into uncharted territory because of their own ignorance and lack of meaningful experience.

Lynn Schirmer’s Clitoral Art Show was a bit of a revelation to the few who saw it. Certainly thought provoking for me as a member of a rapidly vanishing generation. Recently an article briefly described current research into female arousal. Meredith Chiver devised an experiment in which women were shown a wide variety of pornographic images. The women were equipped with a plethysmograph in the vagina to measure blood flow and moistness. This demonstrated a much wider range of responsiveness in most individuals than was personally admitted or commonly thought. A similar test for men revealed how limited their responses were. Women were generally significantly more responsive to a wider range of stimuli than men.

Recently a bit of web media sensation occurred regarding a young Polish lady, Ania Lewiska. She has publicly announced an attempt to establish a Guinness Book record by having sex with 100,000 men. This is not exactly prostitution because she is not charging for the 20 minute service, but expects the men to donate a bit to pay for the hotel rooms, transportation, and so on. She suddenly has a quite long subscriber list of men willing to assist her in this noble attempt. Unfortunately the Guinness Record organization has no category for sexual escapades. Quick research reveals that this accomplishment has been achieved by quite a variety of professional ‘soiled doves’. The Fokken twins of Amsterdam, now in their 60’s, estimate their client count to be in the range of 250,000 each, and one of them is still active.

We have many various cultures on the planet at the moment, and in the past many thousands of years there have been great differences in acceptable behavior – some probably unimaginable to our tiny brains and limited experience. Women have been subjugated and ruled over by men for reasons not all that obvious. Within these tribal and territorial groupings there have been some in which women played elaborate roles within the sexual realm. In others, such as current Fundamentalist Christian and Islamic cultures women are seriously repressed. Despite all reason or common sense they are treated like errant children, laborers, and slaves. In some branches of Islam, women are genitally mutilated to prevent them from experiencing sexual pleasure. Some are sold into child prostitution, or marriage far below childbearing age. The stoning of women considered adulteresses is still common, with no legal recourse. Many countries have customs that seem strange, perhaps unthinkable to us, as if we were right. From their point of view we are the strange and outrageous ones.

Technology has now entered the field of sexual possibilities, and ancient Bronze Age religions will find it difficult to maintain their long-standing beliefs. At present it is estimated that in wealthy countries about 1% of births are a result of in vitro fertilization – many couples evidently now prefer to select the child’s gender, race, hair color, and potential IQ or talents from sperm and/or egg donors. This is often coupled with ‘surrogate mothers’ bearing the child. How this technological feat is to be united with the religious notion of god’s will and bounty is yet to be determined. It is estimated that within 50 years 20% of births will be created through in vitro intervention. Vast numbers of birth defects are now detected and pregnancies terminated through everyday screening tests. The do-it-yourself aspect of breeding may rapidly become somewhat obsolete – if ‘parents’ have the money and inclination they can be assured of a higher quality child through science. Why would a ‘parent’ handicap their child by insisting that the couple whittle it out of their own flawed wood?

I suspect that many a woman presently looks at her children and wonders if they wouldn’t be significantly better creations had she been more discerning in the selection of mating material. With the divorce rate at over 50% and the birthrate of ‘bastards’ (children out of wedlock) also over 50%, many parents are saddled with a flock of children of mixed parentage. It must be often dismaying to realize that the genetics of the offspring are flawed to the extent that the children often display unfortunate characteristics of males long discarded due to those very flaws. In my own case there was long concern and now the reality that while little or no sign of mental disorders have developed, one of the kids is chronically suffering from the inherited problem of ileitis /colitis/Crohn’s Disease that is traceable back 150 years.

I have no idea what Great-great Aunt Edna would make of life as it is today. There is no one alive today to confirm or deny whatever her life may have been. Frankly, I also don’t know what to think about life today, or the past, or the future – should there happen to be one. We are all free to pretend that there is reason for optimism. We can be amazed at our very existence. There are numerous misfortunes that plague mankind, but we, the still upright, have momentarily eluded many of them. It won’t continue. There is no medicine for regrets. There’s nothing we can do about time. We await the inevitable erosion of the physical and the collapse of aspirations as we enter into the flatlands of the worn and aged. There is complete indifference to our losses by those still vibrantly living.