I certainly did not expect these jitters, these vapor trails from Jennifer, but the matter's truth was this: she'd E-mailed me a copy of her rather lengthy application for a Fulbright. I dove into it and made my remarks on the printouts. I later responded with an mail that she thought was very insightful on my part since she also was aware of which sections were weak or vague in stating her purpose. I also told her that I'd scratched a few notes on a recurring grammatical redundancy I thought should be clarified line for line, as there were only a dozen or so I found, but that we should confer, each with our copy in hand to make the changes. Over the phone perhaps. She never responded to this suggestion, but made her own edits, and sent it off accordingly. The bad news is she didn't get the grant. Not that I'm inferring that the dozen or so prepositional overloads played any part in that rejection, but I would have wanted, as long as my basic grammar skills were serving best practices, to have presented the most formidable paper possible. Errors and typos are proliferating life forms in E-mail, irregularities and broken adverbs in poetry or narrative, but in a paper of great value such as a Fulbright, and now an admissions application, one might presume writing technique a judged criteria in meeting the standard.
Those few words reverberated in my head over and over again that morning. Eureka! I thought to myself. She is indeed beginning to show signs of melting this resistence she has shown to acknowledging me and my desires to play the slave-master games she was taking to the world of strangers, with ME! Over the years it has been true that dear sweet Jennifer Hoke now Connolly has uttered some of the most profound compliments I've ever had foster my unstable spirit. But while we communicate almost to a mind meld when in the presence of the other, long absences and her ever-wandering eye for sexual excitement elsewhere has left their telltale tracks on my love psychology, as the words keep pouring in, and the tonguekisses, and fingergroping, and the lapdances, and displays of nudity, and even the spreading of the black forest of sexual secrets as late as five years into my marriage with Sue. And now Jennifer was married, undivorced, and still no more a legally free sexual lizard than myself, although she was decidedly with the extra eighty pounds and thigh pimples I was carrying, more of a catch that I could ever pretend to be. Preoccupied with specific enigmas of my own seasoned worth I was still struggling to penetrate as I calibrated my parachute into the dark-eyed forest of Jennifer's parrying lust, a lust that this seasonal break had graciously prepared. No time like the bounty of the present, we had agreed to believe. Snatch from others before they snatched from you, Jennifer had haughtily explained during some otherwise unsurprising post-coital moment a few years before. Appalled at the time, I kept shuttered my opposing counsel, and soon learned to adapt her streetwise feminism to the face to face requirements of my own game logic. No present like the gifts of lust when she's right there humming your name. This, dear friends, was the basic principle some of us imagined the rapidly expanding universe was supremely groomed to respect.
She had already that morning reveled in the notion that sex with Tim was impossible. No nookie last night or this morning. "That's strike two! Only one more night, and you're out!" I exclaimed in my best Jerry voice. There were no more details. No biggie. I was charting my own rough seas. I truly believed, odd as it seemed, that the third strike would solve the pesky problems of to whom and exactly when Jennifer would serve in the careful night that her own acts of shameless lust, shell games, and mollycoddle leftovers would take her. Then there would be New Year's Eve and the limosine extravaganza, if we could ever confirm a driver. Sue was still working behind the scenes on the problem. She assured me things would work out. Rick Alcalde had stepped in, and exerting some influence. An Arab named Ali was tenative. Patience, Gabriel, patience. I had news for her. I was practicing a very ruthless form of patience with every breath I took. One more night, and it would be strike three for Tim.
But I was showing sympathy for Tim. At the kitchen table I defended Tim's valor and good manners.
"Jennifer, you know, Tim's had it tough with women. His very first was some radical feminazi, not to be redundant, but to show emphasis, a "woman" named Elizabeth. She practically ruined any natural impulses even the shyest guy might show in normal gender chase scenarios. He's only been with three women I believe, but it's not like he doesn't try. He repeatedly gets twisted up in situations he plays perfectly but which always seem to crumble in some 'Oh I've got a boyfriend' rap, when he finally gets up enough nerve after trying to interpret all the signs properly to ask her to some event, usually a show, maybe a Christmas office party, or some generally safe outing. Tim's a perfect gentleman. None of that 'hey baby, let's hang at the Crow Bar, get drunk and screw' shenanigan for Timothy Scott Shipman. But it never works out. Despite what I consider an overload of detrimental habits Tim doesn't hurt for friends, male or female. Plenty of chicks want to be his friend, but won't treat him like a man with a dick. I sympathize, I really do. These women seek him out at work, call him on the phone, are just in the neighborhood et cetera, and yet it all collapses with that old female standby, oh I've got a boyfriend."
Jennifer listened. A wicked smile was forcing itself into one corner of her plump pouty lips and along the ethnic proportions of her maximum eyes. Her skinny frame could be measured like gold but was as pale as Romanian snowcaps spotted only with a scatter of tiny black moles, for beauty is a card that always gets played on both sides of the crack in a blocked equivocating gush. My fair lady's oversized white tee-shirt hung straight to just below her hips, where the barely concealed black triangle of penal amalgamation held firmly in check bare legs of an active New York City sophisticate along the curvature of her perfectly plush baby cheeks. Didn't say much, but still she listened with an attentive responsiveness I sorely missed in my own number one. A playful growth of dark hair made its way from her tiny wrists up arms crossed loosely against her alabaster flats, as I laid out the laundry list recalling one longtime friend's handsome manhood to another longtime friend who now, as I think back, always one to revel in the past, could always be counted on to reek with a persuasive unabashedness, a wafting perfume of charm and self-assuredness that always fills the room wherever she goes, even if playing dumb is the program she happens to be compiling or executing at the time. I placed a cup of Earl Grey on the marble garden table we used as our primary dining furniture when we weren't plopped in front of the national vibrator, the television set, telling her that when reduced to a prime number, Tim was always the gentleman's gentleman. This was one trait I was certain the two of us shared (degree depending on barometer readings, the culture in which we stirred or were buttressing, and the price of tea in China). Nevertheless, within our own circulation various femme divines and their counterparts, the fatales would love us, pamper us, covet some feature like my eyelashes, et cetera, or at least that was the case during most of my first three decades before my unfairly fair looks went south and my outspokenness apparently took on a more frightening apparel, but like the annoying and sinister creak in the patently bored, they simply have never wanted to date us back in the day or fuck us if it came to that, no, just friends, just friends, just friends, damn that primal pecking order...
I wanted to know more about what drove her to these distinctions, almost to a rage, whenever she saw or thought about two people fucking, or buying clothes, or walking down the street.
"Yeah, what's THAT about?" she'd bellowed in May as we discussed sitcoms sprawled across her bed while Sue hacked away nearby at Jennifer's old 386 monstrosity trying to fathom her Windows OS and why the diskful of bondage JPEGs we had brought her as a gift were not viewing properly, "There's no way Trudy would be with THAT guy in real life." She was referring to NBC's The Single Guy, and more specifically, the character Sam happily married to Trudy, that Asian sizzlebutton, played by...
Here on the Dollhouse sofa, carefully weighing the consequences, I wanted to finally strike a blow for clarity.
"You know Queenie, I've listened to you rage against the physical appearance of men for years now, and have never quite understood it. I remember back in the Eighties when you would squish and squoosh over the glam boys in the bands, and now you seem to go out of your way to slag guys that I think look a whole lot better than me. How am I supposed to feel buckled up against this kind of analysis as you drape yourself all over me?" She hated to be called Queenie. Her step-father called her Queenie, and she hated him. Jennifer knew how to hate. It was true we hadn't actually stuck the duck since '89 I figure, but that was about the only area of intimacy we hadn't shared since then. She'd even married a rather goofy-looking, goofy in an English sort of way, harmless-souled bloke with stringy hair down to his knee-knocker bollocks, named Desmond Connelly, a drummer in whatever occasional rock band would offer him a gig, in the meantime. One of his bands had once opened for Daisy Chainsaw, and so claimed a leg up in the race for FUCK ME fame, but I admit I now forget their name. She hadn't until our May train trip to New York even seen Sue since '88, but that reunion was a pleasant enough long weekend, although as usual Sue suffered a bit more than the two of us. Well hell, Sue paid for nearly all Jennifer's eats and drinks, even cab fares that entire weekend, so goddamned happy I suppose we were to get out of the house, and get to see her in the big city just as she was leaving itbuying friendship perhaps? Actually things almost ended as soon as they began. I was about ready to peel out of Manhattan the very next morning after we arrived in late afternoon by train.
We had gone out to eat and on the way back to her place, Jennifer instead wanted to dip into this dirty floor males only dive. Within minutes of our first beer, she eyeballed some gaga longhaired guy she wanted to shag. Off she went to squat on the stool next to him. There were no other squats available at the bar. I plunked down on a hard wooden plank solo in front of the pool table. A bellyful of Mexican cuisine had made this long day even that much longer. I was beat. Sue, now sitting alone in a booth across the bar, was fading fast, blackout mode, a rarity for her, but thanking our personal angelic guardians, whenever I'm in control of myself, she ain't. When I'm in blackout mode, she's okay, can drive, et cetera. It's an amazing thing, but after thirteen years of examples, we know each other's signs, and the angels know us both, and keep us balanced accordingly, so far, knock on woody's woodpecker, a hundred percent safety record. Our troubles multiply when we party apart, so we try to not stray too far. I don't mean we cling, I mean we go out together. If one or the other of us stays home, there is not the other to pick up the slack.
Meanwhile, after ten minutes or so of pool table blip, I graviate over to Sue Baby. She's shellshocked. Her face is warped, her eyes zippered in flatliner notes, nothing getting in, nothing getting out, her speech as slurred as David Duke's Louisiana gubernatorial campaign in the national press. Boy, that was quick. She had been fine a half hour ago at the restaurant, but I knew her pain. Here we were all the way up from DC on Jennifer's last weekend in the Big Apple (her calendar for visitation rights) before she relocated to Ithaca and Cornell, and guess what, she's on the prowl. All the while she's been feeding me lines like she never goes out, never gets laid, never, never...
WELL, EYE NEVER!
It was time to get Sue to bed. I slid from the wooden booth and approached the Cornellian Bitch now furiously in heat.
"Jennifer. Sue's way past the point of no return. She needs to get to bed. I certainly don't want to interfere with your evening, so if you have a spare set of keys, or will just take a cab back to your flat to let us in, you can then return, and I'd really appreciate it..."
"Okay, give me about ten minutes, and I'll come with you. That sounds like a good plan," she replied with a wink in her voice and a crosshair in her eyes. I returned to Sue, still bleached beyond inert status. She was falling. We waited. We waited. We waited. I threatened several times to make a pest of myself in front of Jennifer and this artistic boy, but I restrained myself and finally she was off her stool, and we were out the door hailing a cab, Sue propped up on steel-wool whiskers of a cat cruising along at least its eighth life in a decade, collapsing into bed fully clothed, finally killing the cat. I, on the other hand, tired but sober and maybe somewhat constipated, was heavy with disgruntlement that Jennifer was pulling this disappearing act, but I wasn't going to let on. Obviously, she needed to prove something to herself, and to us. "Go have a good time, get fucked in the biggest way!" I laughed as she shot me that wicked eye mote one last time, tossing her long black hair in a quick self-assuring whip as she pulled the door to the fifth floor Lexington Avenue walkup quietly shut. I fell asleep I'm sure but soon I was awakened by the crying.
Jennifer was back in the apartment, balling lion's tears. Her crying lasted for ten minutes, no, twenty, maybe thirty minutes. This was an old familiar tune for her. All those punk rock nights when she'd hurl herself into electrifying tantrums and fits only to collapse like the mournful baby tiger burning bright into a squelching night that junkies down on 15th Street would wager would never end. It would be the next day before I would hear all the dumb, gratifying details of this latest, but I knew she had been stood up. I remained quiet, daring not stir even as traffic on Lexington still rolled on, I imagined. I didn't know what time it was supposed to be where or with whom, but I figured it was time to let this event fade away to the spectral light. Frankly, I don't comfort others very well. It's not in my DNA. Well, it might be in my DNA, but it damn sure wasn't introduced to me in enough quantity or quality to amount to a strong suit in my upbringing. I really have to know something reassuring about a person before I can open up in that way. I'd found both Jim Morrison's Giant Feast of Friends and family blood is thicker than water panaceas to fall far short of the mark, and approach certain aspects of human tradition as suspect until I have something real to share. Keep away from boilerplate sensation. I'm pretty much tangential to the "comforting words" curve in ordinary circumstances. So I didn't want to hear her sad tale regardless of what time it was inside that black room. All I knew was, she was moody and her mood was dark, and it was too late to turn her clock around. She'd failed in her devious dismissal of her guests from DC. For this bit of cheek, I was winking to the cracks in the walls, confident that even the sensually replete knew the bitter sting of coming up short during a spotty career of last calls. Details in the morning. That would be soon enough. Soon enough I said to myself, after she had the gall to tell her powerboy that we were her parents from out of town visiting...
Sooooo, dark eyes flashing, she announces she had come to the master. Despite her quiet moods, when Jennifer had something to say, her words could pick the teeth right out of your spit-shined mouth one red tooth at a time.
I never got much of a response to my question. She had her quirks like the rest of us. So I let it rest. Pecking order questions pushed their way to the table of contents my mind kept refreshed at unheard of megahertz speeds on their way to the consequence grinder, shades of Pink Floyd's The Wall tearing across the penny, the railroad cars, and the faceless vegematics of modern love syllables. She had come to the master, she says. Of course it was only recently, through our E-mail splash during the summer of 1996 that she was even giving me the benefit of the doubt in being a writer of consequence after years of failing to return letters I had written her save an occasional holiday card, but I never rocked the boat on those issues in the past. Hell, I even had to force feed my own wife the canvas of words I called writing. She has NEVER wanted to read them on her own volition, while I've had to demand she listen as I read them to her on those occasions I was desparately needing some minor sort of recognition or feedback, simple attention or to make a point. She always shot back with the same, "As usual baby, your stuff is good. What do you want me to say?" Jack Johnson, in many ways, the sharpest and the deepest of my 1980s friends, meanwhile could never bring himself to read much of my writing, always claiming a bout with dyslexia, or that he preferred to read my novels not in chunks but once all together in a full book. Steve Taylor recently had come bursting upon the scene declaring first his own pride in literature, and topping that with the cherry bomb that what I was writing was literature of the first order.
Another newcomer Lynn Landry has never stooped to such trusty accolades, but she has consistently offered strong support since we first began corresponding after she took off for pink rasputious SF, California soon after shacking up with Jack last winter. Tom Howell and Len Bracken suspect me of incomprehensible mutterings worthless to one and all, Blumstein too, although in the last year it seems he has begun to respect me on a level that makes sense to me, as well as to him, leaving me to exclaim, "We've come a long way, Baby!" Tim Shipman once declared that he didn't understand poetry, and that he didn't always understand me, but he recognized genius, and I was some kind of genius. Peter Burris had heard from Edd Jacobs in 1986 that I was a smart cookie, but Peter had seen little evidence of it, and instead he was watching from afar the ever jugular rat races to peg his own winners and losers still perched like stray cats upon the language police blotter with whatever sense he could make of it all, just in case his own maturing snobbery might wane.