The Vividness of the Ache of Youth
For I always had the Jones for jillflirts and cruel fair maidens, and--whatever kink it represents in the Y-chromosome--an almost overwhelming capacity to fall for freshly minted lesbians or lesbians-to-be. Moreover, I had the "good buddy" links to several out, long-term, lesbians who had good, healthy, and strong relations with their fathers. I don't think I sought all this out consciously. Indeed, I was blindsided a couple of times by it. But it just kind of fell out that way.
It made for interesting, and soap opera strength, love triangles, love pentagons, and even love dodecahedrons a decade and more ago. All gone now, of course, and only the memories remain.
These memories flash suddenly and with hallucinatory vividness for me occasionally, for that is part of my biochemical brain disorder. Not the actual time making love, usually, though one particular night in a New Orleans hotel, after dinner at Antoine's with the famous Oysters Rockefeller, Pimm's Cups later, and a stroll in the moonlight through the Vieux Cairee, still lingers. As well it should, since the specific night which followed popped just about every circuit breaker that I had.
But, more often, the collateral memories when love, lust, and spectacular beauty in the surroundings combined to an exquisite anticipation of desire, rather than the consummation of desire itself, are likely to flash for me.
I can still see every detail of dining on tiny sanddab fish, breaded in cornmeal, on Cannery Row, in Monterey. The sun was setting in fire orange, gold, and regal robin's egg blue, and the small, black cranes of Monterey Bay were skimming the surface, hunting for the same fresh sanddabs as I was eating. The vividness of my lady's pert round face, under its young esquire haircut, in that evening ocean sun, made the return to the motel room in Pacific Palisades almost anti-climatic.
Why not on the beach? I can hear you ask. We walked there in the Full Moon, but the tide, a fast freight train of a Northern California tide, was coming in far too rapidly to make even a half-hour of it, let alone a night.
The anticipation of desire, in my experience at least, is far more of a gourmet treat than its fulfillment. So an afternoon alone in San Francisco's shopping district, buying stone beads of different colors and giving directions to two young Asian ladies (one plain and one very fancy) about how to string a surprise magic necklace for my moon-faced beauty, is more vivid to me now than the presentation of the necklace itself, or the exceptionally warm and steamy interlude which followed. The store clerks were fascinated, I knew, by how head over heels in love I was, and startled at a man choosing to express it in the way that I was doing, and the interchange between the four of us, which was mine alone to have, is still amazingly electric in retrospect.
So the permanently exotic scenes now flash by me on the screen of a bare grey world of penury, air pollution, and unrelievedly cloudy winter prospects, in the middle of Midwestern Everywhere Else. There is, for example, the Albuquerque of thirty years ago, long before the California love above, when there was more ozone in the air than now, the sky was far bluer, and you could even jaywalk across the main street in the city.
They always say in Albuquerque, "You should have been here when..." Well, I was there when, at a spectacular Fourth of July barbecue in a warm old adobe house with a snug fireplace and exposed wood beams. It lasted ten hours from the mid-morning digging, fueled by Coors beer, of the barbecue pit. It resulted in two divorces, a drive-by flag stealing, and a wild, but unsuccessful (thank heavens!), chase of the thieves while wielding kitchen knives and baseball bats in the air.
It was quite a good party, with the usual mass erotic aftermath. But what sticks with me most vividly, three decades later, are little details like the high polish on my bullhide Tony Lama boots, sitting by the side of the bed, or the smell of roasting ribs mingling with perfume as I ran a gentle finger first down one side and then down the other of a certain delicately arched spine.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
My life has been bitter, but, then, so is the best chocolate. I have loved and lost and watched all my family die. I have read, studied, and written; failed and succeeded; looked and photographed; thought and cried.
Now I am old. Not really old, but the old that is no longer young. The old that still has many pleasures, but where the greatest pleasure comes from the relief of some chronic discomfort: digging a piece of crud out of the ear, scratching the spot exactly between the shoulder blades, shifting in a chair, or even shifting chairs, to relieve a twinge in hip or knee. Relief is now more intense than any positive pleasure.
Old age is a creak in the joints and a stain in the eyes. This last especially, a jaundice of faded hopes and abandoned ambitions. But, if you're lucky, the fear of failure and of authority fades, too, leaving the eyes with a calmness and a becoming mildness. It is a tamer version of the soft, liquid, and vulnerable eyes of someone who has beaten heroin.
I have beaten both love and lust.