Thursday, March 21, 2013

My Father's Eggs

My father could never throw anything out, partly because everything he laid eyes on became autobiographical. Every morning he would prepare a plate of kleine Schweinerei, an edible mosaic composed with bits of toast dabbed with pâté or stinky cheese, smeared with butter, topped with slices of hard-boiled egg or shaved ham, and always a cup of insanely strong instant coffee with a layer of pure cream floating on top, undisturbed. He savored the contrast between the hot, bitter coffee and cold, sweet cream. (He would serve this coffee to guests, who would fall from grace as soon as they stirred.)

          He would bring his breakfast into the dining room, which was a composition of his particular chaos. Bags were strewn across the floor and their contents, a mixture of articles and offprints, important papers, letters, and junk mail, spilled out and mingled in a friendly way. The table was covered with stacks of books in Latin, German, Dutch and English, jars of pens and colored pencils, fountain pens and index cards.

          All of this stuff would get pushed carefully to one side to make room for his breakfast and the full breadth of the New York Times. He flagged articles for my mother to clip by drawing scissors in the margin and eventually filed them in his highly idiosyncratic filing system. More than 20 cabinets in his study included such headings as Taboo, Nomen est Omen, and American Shit. He insisted on filing by given name rather than surname; in order to find Einstein, you would have to look for Albert. It has always been perplexing to me that he was a bona fide member of The Royal Society of Indexers.

          He would study the advertisements in The Times and often see fit to improve them, enhancing the noses and nipples of fashion models, supplying wrinkles and warts, adding tufts of armpit and pubic hair, a boner here, labia there. Somewhere my mother has several manila envelopes containing these embellished ads.

          I don't believe my father was ever bored, due to what he referred to as his "rich inner life." When he was too old to drive, he continued to drive theoretically by instructing my mother. In his aristocratic Teutonic-British accent, he would incessantly chastise or philosophize, as the mood struck him.

          "Don't take this street, take the long way...I abhor traffic. Why do these American idiots speed up at traffic lights? So adolescent! They race like mad only to jam on the brakes. Don't imitate. Drive slow and calm: be fluid."

          Sometimes he waited in the car while my mother ran errands. That's what the index cards in his breast pocket were for. An idea, a motto, or a joke would occur to him ("What do you call an old man's balls? Elderberries"), and he would instantly write it down in his spidery handwriting or make an illustration. In the absence of such thoughts, he turned outward and drew caricatures of passersby, politicians, or people he imagined. More often than not, he would flip down the car's sun visor to look critically at his own reflection in the mirror and make one self-portrait after another. He produced thousands, all filed into albums of various sizes.

          When his brother died, my father studied his body in the mortuary. My father looked uncomfortable, but quickly produced an index card from his pocket and began to draw a portrait of my uncle. Afterwards, he was apologetic. "It's not very good, I'm afraid. I was in a rush and had to draw in mid-air."

          This is why nothing could be thrown out. Anything and everything became a a kind of salvation or a self-portrait, and by extension, a holy manifestation. (That was a word he used often to describe something he didn't want violated. "Don't throw it out—it's holy.")

          His gift for immortality inevitably backfired. Although we rarely ate together as a family, when guests came for dinner, as they often did, he was instructed by my mother to clean up, which created a certain friction. The bags and papers, all the documentation of his life, had to be moved somewhere—but where? Piles of precious junk would be shoved into his study or my parents' bedroom, and get absorbed for good. Occasionally, my mother would go behind his back and organize him, which was a disaster because he could no longer find anything.

          For years my parents drove from Princeton to Martha's Vineyard for a whole month every summer, and the packing would give my father migraines. Packing would take several days, during which his life—medicine, vitamins, clothing, papers, books, notepads, typewriters, everything--was strewn haphazardly throughout the living room. My father checked off a list of inventory, with Roman numerals, that went on for pages. They had to take two cars in order to squeeze everything in (including his assistant, with whom he was naturally having an affair). Nothing was simple.

         My mother unearthed volumes of graphic correspondence between my father and his lover shortly after his death. She keeps the letters—just as my father did—because they are a part of him.

         Another way his gift for immortality backfired was with his eggs.

        Once my mother boiled half a dozen eggs, and when they cooled, she began to pencil Hard-Boiled onto the shells to distinguish between raw and cooked. My father took the pencil from her and began to draw his self-portrait on an egg and, in the end, all the hard-boiled eggs became self-portraits. The problem, of course, was that now they were holy and couldn't be eaten.

         At Easter, when I used a kit to dye hard-boiled eggs in a palette of livid colors, my father showed me how to pierce a raw egg with a needle, top and bottom, and patiently blow out the contents to make it hollow. Once empty, the eggshell provided a perfect canvas for portraiture. With pencil, we were carefully able to create subtle shading, but we used pen and ink most often, probably because it never faded.

          Eventually we had to stop eating soft-boiled eggs. I displayed my eggheads, as well as some of my father's, in a makeshift gallery on a shelf in my bedroom, by making use of every single egg cup in my parents' kitchen. Once when I was furious with my father, I deliberately squeezed his eggshell. It was unbelievably satisfying to shatter him. But in the end, I saved the fragment of shell onto which his face had been inscribed. Because just like him, when the pressure is on, the instinct to preserve is always the most urgent.
Source: Dida Heckscher Mitchell

Monday, March 11, 2013

Ménage à Trois

Dear Lord, just a little addendum. If I ever have sex again, please, please don't let the man run away and leave me to get eaten by a fucking lion.
Un. The lion

New York Post

Sex romp ends in lion horror


Last Updated: 1:16 AM, March 7, 2013
A Zimbabwe woman was mauled to death by a lion while she and her boyfriend enjoyed an outdoor romp.
Sharai Mawera was killed Tuesday in a bushy area near a school in Kariba, My Zimbabwe reported.
The boyfriend fled the horrific scene wearing only a condom, and watched from a distance as the beast ripped apart Mawera before he ran to the road for help, the site said.

“The lion came from behind and roared,” a pal told the site. “The guy managed to escape before stopping at a distance where he witnessed his companion being attacked. He later rushed to the road seeking help.”

Deux. The witch

Men snicker when they tell my story, this dark joke, as if to punish every woman. Not all men are like this, but enough are. If I had lived, I would probably have remained silent. Because I'm gone now, and men talk, this silenced rage takes on its own life. If I could tell you my story, there are many, many things you could not bear to hear, but I would tell them anyway, and you would have to listen. I would pin you down and tear into you, and you would hear me.

          A man tells a story about a woman who suffers the consequences. Because this woman is unmarried and takes her pleasure in the open air--not quietly behind a locked door with the curtains drawn--this woman gets what she deserves. Because she is unmarried, she must meet the man in secret. You know the old story. She is torn apart by her reckless passion and pays for pleasure with her life. Some men will grieve, but more will laugh.

          That woman is not me and that is not my story. Any woman would imagine my story differently. Ask any woman.

          Kariba, Zimbabwe, is not the best place to be in March, at the end of our long, hot rainy season. The earth looks red and steamy beneath so much lush greenery. A few tourists still come to the park to fish and to look at wild animals: elephants, egrets, herons, and kingfisher, crocodiles and impala. Lake Kariba is choked with water hyacinth, filled with fish and the drowned, petrified skeletons of mapane trees. The air always rings with bird call and is heavy with the smell of the vegetation.

          He is a fisherman and I worked at the market. We would meet at our favorite spot late in the afternoon, when his work was done. He would shower first, to wash away the stink of fish, and he always smelled good for me, like cologne and clean, fresh clothing, but still like a man. He would bring a small rucksack with a few sweets, a bottle of water, and a blanket.

          We would meet along the road by a clearing and enter the bush, which was like leaving the world. Sometimes we held hands and ran; sometimes when he was in a bad mood he walked on ahead of me. Other times he made me laugh till I wept. Whatever his mood, when we found our spot, concealed by the bush, he would drop the rucksack and spread the blanket and we would lie down together.

          Sometimes we looked up at the sky and held hands, but usually we were in too much of a rush. We left sentences unfinished, words sank to the bottom of the lake like pebbles. The market place, the fish caught in their nets, all of it was a dream. Always the mineral scent of damp earth blowing in the hot wind. All our troubles forgotten, blown away.

          I must have smelled the lion first, but the tingle of hair standing on end was lost in all the other sensations. My attention was on building my pleasure and I had waited all day and maybe all my life for such joy. Inside the bushes, right behind our heads, we heard the growl. The man sprang off me in almost the same instant that the lion sprang on. It clamped its teeth down on my neck and shook me in the same way a house cat would shake a mouse in its jaws, to snap the neck.

          While it tossed me into the air, my lover fled. As fast as his legs would take him, he ran away. Before he reached the road, his legs gave out and he turned around, naked and panting, to vomit.

          His body shook while he looked back to watch the lion finish me. He could do nothing more.

Trois.  And the wardrobe malfunction

Love-making woman killed by lions
06/03/2013 00:00:00
by Staff Reporter

A WOMAN was mauled to death by lions as she made love to her boyfriend in the bush.

Sharai Mawera died on Tuesday after the animals pounced as she enjoyed a romantic al fresco moment with her unnamed partner, the Herald reported.

Mawera's boyfriend, who has not been identified, is believed to have fled in the nude when the lions struck. He raised the alarm.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Lunch with Avalokiteshvara

Avalokiteshvara, whose name means "The one who hears the cries of the world," is the divine embodiment of compassion, of the willingness to bear the pain of others. Avalokiteshvara can be either male or female and is capable of transforming  from a pale and luminous many-armed deity perched atop a lotus into any form of spiritual teacher that suits the nature of the person in need. The manifestations of Avalokiteshvara are countless. 
For the life of her, Nina can't figure out why, for the last three Saturdays, she has been secretly meeting her ex for lunch. Not her ex-husband--the most recent ex--but her first love, the one she had loved when she was 17.
          At 2 o'clock they meet at a café called Whole Earth and, for no particular reason, they leave at exactly 3:30. There is something significant about this careful allotment of stolen time. James is always there before her but it's easy to pick him out of the crowd, even before she walks inside. Seated by the window, waiting for her like a picture in a frame, is the unmistakable silhouette of a tall, middle-aged man in a Crocodile Dundee hat fiddling with his iPhone.

The first Saturday, Nina had brought her laptop and helped him type something up for work. She worried that she had changed too much; she was older and heavier, and she was afraid her divorce had left her with a kind of toxic aura of damage and insecurity, like anti-pheromones.

          Afterwards, while James was reviewing what she'd typed, Nina was able to study his face. Age hadn't changed him much; maybe he was heavier and his skin looked dry. There was probably very little hair beneath his Australian Akubra hat. Still handsome, still the same, sneering tilt of the head, puffy lips with downturned corners, the high cheekbones and strong jaw (he needed a shave), the same large, sad brown eyes which seemed capable of conveying only a limited range of emotions.

          But there was something wrong with his ear; it was as if it belonged to another person. The ear was small and shriveled, its lobe deeply creased and discolored. It reminded her of a mummy and she thought of how she'd found James last year.

          He had waved Nina over to his parked car from where she stood, across a parking lot, but she hadn't recognized him till she was right up in front of the driver's seat. They hadn't seen each other for twenty years.

          "Come sit down with me for a minute," James had said, patting the empty passenger seat beside him.  James had been sick then, pale and rigid with pain, waiting for a doctor's appointment. Pain seemed to have aged him almost supernaturally. After she sat down beside him, James said, "I need you to distract me."

"Looks great," said James, after reviewing several pages on Nina's laptop. "You can just send the files to me as an email attachment."

          As soon as they stood up and pulled on their coats, James thrust his hand into his pocket. Nina had paid for her own coffee but now he stuffed two bills into her coat pocket. When Nina tried to return the money, he put his hands up and said, "Then I won't ask for your help again."

          Something gruff and unbreachable in his tone made Nina give up right away. She supposed she just resented  that he seemed bent on defining their first official meeting by a financial transaction. She supposed  she should have been relieved that they owed each other nothing. Instead, she was upset that James could so easily withhold himself from her. It was such a small detail, yet it made her sick to her stomach.

The following Saturday she didn't see him in the window. Nina strolled the bulk food aisle and peered into all the plastic bins of grains and beans. She observed that French Lentils were an unappetizing shade of gray and resembled miniature gravel. There was an aisle of homeopathic remedies and vitamins, powders and tinctures, pyramids of stacked root vegetables, organic gardening books and yoga magazines. She couldn't decide if the displays were playful or smugly earnest. There was something childish and depressing about the prevailing logic: the whole earth is doomed, but we, the chosen ones, will fight the good fight with locally grown radishes, overpriced homemade seven-grain bread, and positive thinking.
          Even so, some customers were dishevelled and taciturn, pale as a skinned potato. Nina had also noticed as many BMWs parked alongside the hybrids as jalopies. An older woman with a diamond-studded Cartier wristwatch and skin as taut as a drum plunged her veiny hand into a bin of kombu. But most of the customers were young and hairy and friendly and wore jeans. They ingratiated themselves with a sense of well being and common purpose, like cult members tending the fountain of youth.

          Nina scanned all the tables in the café once more and then drove home, bringing the sexy, sweaty smell of patchouli with her. She thought about frying bacon and eggs, but her fridge was empty.

          She didn't feel like shopping so she opened her laptop and emailed James to ask why he had stood her up. She asked lightly, as if it was a joke.

          "I thought I was early--I've been waiting here since 1:40," he wrote back. "Did we say 1 or 2?"

          When Nina appeared at Whole Earth a few minutes later, James said, simply, "It's my fault."

          An alarming number of food cartons in various sizes were spread out over the table where James sat. He gestured towards an extra fork and spoon he'd placed across from him.

          "You have time to sit down?"

          "I'll just stay a few minutes."

          James ate slowly, as if he was amused, and continued to offer Nina food, pointing at the labels on the containers: nut loaf in mushroom gravy, mixed sea vegetables, curried sweet potato soup, lentil stew, kale salad.

          "Try this," he said. "I have no idea what it is."

          "Thanks, but I can't stay long. You ever notice how weird everyone here looks?"

          "You mean like me, wearing my hat at the table?"

           She stayed with him for over an hour during which they barely spoke. At 3:30, Nina walked James to his car in the parking lot before remembering she had parked in the street.

Now she watches James poke at his seitan stroganoff while he stares at Nina with his big, brown, unblinking eyes and she blushes.

          "I never eat healthy food," he grins. "Do you have any idea what this is?"

          James leans back in his chair as if to assess her critically, but he is smiling. For the first time she is able to place some of her uneasiness.

          Nina is sitting across from someone who knows her well but who is a stranger. A mask has been dropped, but she's not sure which face is gazing at her right now—the lover or the stranger? His leg is too long to fold under the table and grazes hers. She lets it, enjoying the slight pressure of his body for a moment before she shifts her legs.

          She only moves because she doesn't want him to.

         James is talking about moving abroad in a few years, retiring early so he can enjoy the island in Southeast Asia he visits for two months each summer. He talks about the karaoke bars there, and the transvestites, how the sun rises over the ocean, while Nina thinks of all the different prostitutes who keep him company there.

          A while ago, when they had just started emailing each other, Nina had asked James if he had any exotic photos of his island. He sent pictures of six or seven delicate Asian girls with parted lips and lacy thongs, posing provocatively on beds that were still made. They are always carefree and willing, these girls, not always pretty, but always young and eager, and always at a price. It was at their age, she supposes, that James and she were together.

          Today there is no pause in their conversation, no silences or hesitation, and Nina lets her mind wander as James talks. For some reason, she starts thinking of someone else, someone who had left her a long time ago and made her feel broken, but whom she rarely thought of anymore.

Nina found it quite funny to think that at one time she had wanted so hard to believe in Dean—to suspend all of her disbelief about everything. After Nina and Dean had been together for several months, he confided to her that he belonged to a group called Eckankar and that his spiritual leader was Sri Paul Twitchell. Nina giggled, and then quickly agreed to take a workshop on Waking Dreams to demonstrate her open-mindedness.

          The definition of a waking dream turned out to be quite simple. Every day is a miracle and every mundane encounter during the course of a day is an example of God talking to us. Each encounter offers the opportunity for divine guidance to anyone willing to contemplate the signs. For example, if you break your leg on the same day you run out of gas, you might try asking yourself, Why am I afraid to move forward? 
          Astral projection is also an integral part of Eckankar's belief system. When your soul leaves your body, it is thought that you open yourself to God's all-consuming love and truth.

          One rainy evening when they lay in bed, Nina asked Dean to help her soul travel. She was afraid that once she left her body she wouldn't know how to return.

          "It takes a lot of practice," said Dean in his Southern drawl, and yawned. Maybe his treacly accent made him seem less patronizing. "It's not something you can just decide to do."

          "Well, then, help me try. Just talk me through it."

          He rolled over onto his back and took Nina's hand in a way might have suggested that something auspicious was about to occur, or a profound level of annoyance.

          "So, alright. Close your eyes and just picture yourself outside of your body. Keep on picturing that while we chant. HU...HU...HU..."

          Nina stopped chanting when the sound of wind and lashing rain became overwhelming--it sounded like the wind was rushing through a long tunnel, and she was the tunnel.

          Nina found herself outside—it was that simple—rising up into the night like a tiny bubble. No sensation of the bed beneath her or of holding hands. But she was cold and wet, and rather dizzy; Nina hadn't expected exposure to the elements. Out of body, there was nothing to lean against or cling to—the all-consuming truth was that she was alone.

          Nina opened her eyes and lay in bed, blinking. She was still holding hands with Dean, but he was snoring.
Photograph by Ahn Jun
Today James explains why he hasn't spoken with his mother for years. She and her twelve sisters are all charismatic and  inclined to be judgmental about his lifestyle.

          "They're religious and I'm not. All my sisters are married with children. I don't have children and I'm not married, so they can't relate. They have no respect for me. I work very hard, but they don't respect that. I have no patience for being judged. If I feel someone is judging me, I leave and I don't look back."

          He raises a cup of Free Trade black coffee and stares at it before putting it down again. It's gone cold and metallic. James's expression softens, as if he is ready to speak of love.

          "My mother never got over her father's suicide. She's worse since my uncle killed himself a few years back. Jumped off a building. The sweetest guy, used to take me fishing, always had a kind word, but he would get depressed.

          "He was an architect in New Zealand. Can you imagine?"

          For a second--barely a fraction of a second—Nina is poised between holding on and letting go. She wonders if every time James tells this story he, too, is reliving it. We live and die, that's all. For now, incredulity is comforting, like stepping back from a precipice.

          "Did he jump from one of his own buildings?" Nina can't help asking.

          "Nah, it was just a building down the street from where he worked." There's nothing more for them to say about it. They had both peered over the edge as long as they could stand it; it was time to jump or step back.