MARCH 19, 2018
This piece appears in the LARB Print Quarterly Journal: No. 17, Comedy
Full disclosure: I was told to write something comedic for this comedy issue.
Full disclosure: I should say I was asked to write something comedic for this comedy issue.
Full disclosure: Surprising myself, I said “yes” immediately. I was in one of those moods where you think it’s good to say “yes” to things.
Full disclosure: But I’m a little out of practice writing prose and to just sort of snap your fingers and write something “funny” isn’t that easy. I’m not regretting saying yes, but yesterday I was. I thought, “Oh, shit, I’m going to have to tell them I couldn’t come up with anything.”
Full disclosure: What I thought I might write about — yesterday — is that sometimes I have feelings for my dog, Fezzik, that verge on the erotic.
But that’s not really accurate. It’s more romantic than erotic.
But one time — in a moment of great admiration and affection for his person and his cute little body — I did brush my hand against his tiny, fur-covered p***s, and I wondered if I would need to bring it up in my analysis.
And would I also have to tell my analyst that more than once when Fezzik has yawned in my face I have wanted, fleetingly, to put my tongue in his mouth?
Full disclosure: So that’s what I thought about writing yesterday, but I didn’t think there was enough there. Not enough story. I love my dog, and one time, and only one time did I touch his genitals. And that one time was almost accidental. Emphasis on almost.
Full disclosure: What happened was this: Fezzik and I had been separated for hours, which is hard on both of us. Often, when I am gone for long stretches, I wonder why I haven’t heard from him. I look at my phone expecting there to be a text. Then I catch myself: “You idiot, he can’t possibly text you!” And yet I’m hurt and bewildered that he hasn’t.
So on the night in question, I came home, eager to be reunited, and Fezzik raced about, stuffing toys in his mouth, which is what he does at his happiest. It’s like he can’t contain himself, his joy, his need, so he has to load up his mouth, which I understand quite well. We all have oral issues. My mother only breast-fed me for two months and I’m still upset about it.
Anyway, after Fezzik exhausted himself dashing about, he hopped onto our bed, I mean my bed, and he lay on his back, put his paws in the air, and exposed his belly for a soothing rub. This is usually phase two of his welcome home to me.
I looked into his eyes, which are quite beautiful, and I’m not the only one to think so. A Lyft driver, who was ferrying Fezzik and me from a friend’s house in Santa Monica, commented on their loveliness. He said, “It’s like they’re ringed with mascara.” I had never considered this, but it was an excellent and astute observation.
So I lowered my hand to rub Fezzik’s belly, but because I was staring moonily into his eyes, my hand went too low and lit upon his little fur-pouch, the tiny speed-bump that encases his p***s.
I knew immediately that a mistake had been made, but I let him my hand linger there one second too long, felt risqué and louche and outré, all things French, and then stroked his belly. But that one second makes all the difference in the world. It’s the membrane between heaven and hell, between sin and virtue.
Full disclosure: I should say I have thought of touching him again. But I think I want to touch it only to do something bad and taboo, and then be forced to tell my analyst about it. So it isn’t so much that I’m compelled to touch it again because I want to touch it again, but, rather, I want to get in trouble. I want to be punished. I’m looking to create a drama for myself. My punitive super-ego hasn’t had much to work with lately. I’m sort of old and well-behaved at the moment.
Full-disclosure: But I’m not sure if my filter is operating properly, which is perhaps one of the reasons — of the myriad — I’m in analysis four times a week for over three years. You see, I had to go for the old-fashioned cure to try to change myself before it was too late. But maybe because of a leaky filter, which still hasn’t been fixed, what I’ve touched on here — literally and otherwise — is most likely illegal, and I should have kept my mouth shut!
Yet I also suspect I am not alone with having inappropriate thoughts about my dog. I mean I’m not saying other people are having inappropriate thoughts about Fezzik, though I could see why they would, like the Lyft driver, but what I meant was that I’m sure there are others out there who have strong feelings for their dogs.
And let’s not forget that sometimes this all goes in the other direction. For example, when I was a young boy, maybe six years old, my uncle’s very large and very hairy English sheep dog, Oliver, in a moment of lust and insanity, pinned me violently to the ground — this was in Pennsylvania — and mounted me, missionary style.
I was wearing shorts, it was summer, and he rubbed his horrifying, slick pink thing — one of nature’s mistakes — between my bare legs, like a piston, bathed my face in hot dog-breath, and bit my shoulder, without breaking the skin.
He was a rough lover, but good about the biting, and I sensed intuitively, despite my youth, that something sexual was happening, and I was terrified and screamed for help. My uncle came running, grabbed Oliver by the scruff of his neck, cursed at him viciously, and threw him off me. After that, the memory goes blank, until about my sophomore year in college.
Full disclosure: But about Fezzik. I’ve had him for six months. He’s a rescue. Maybe two years old. He was abandoned, left chained to a fence. He seems to be a mix of beagle, Chihuahua, and basenji. He has floppy ears, a tan body and a white neck, and his firm, little tail is always up and curled, revealing a discreet and fastidious anus. He weighs about 20 pounds and his fur is soft and lush. He’s loving and kind, introspective and silly, soulful and good. Naturally, we sleep together every night.
I get into bed with a book, and he burrows under the blankets and goes down by my feet, though sometimes in the middle of the night, I find him curled against my lower back for warmth, and I feel lucky not to be alone in the world.
In the morning, he emerges from beneath the blankets and kisses my face and cleans my eyes. Then I make coffee for us — well, for me — and we go to the backyard, and I read Pema Chödrön, whose books I love, and I think about things, like how the path is the goal, my ugliness is my beauty, and that pain is the great teacher.
Meanwhile, Fezzik sniffs the ground for raccoon urine, buries his bones in the dirt, and sometimes sits in my lap, like a sentinel, turning his head to the left and the right, smelling the breeze.
It’s a soft and delicious existence, and I’m a soft citizen in a troubled time, but in these moments with Fezzik, when I quiet myself, I sense the expansiveness of life beyond the confines of my pinched and noisy mind, and I am not without hope.
Full Disclosure: Yesterday, when it seemed that I couldn’t write this piece about Fezzik, I was rooting around in some ancient files on my laptop, looking to find something I could repurpose, and I came across an essay I had written 12 years ago, but never published. In this essay, I had included a journal entry from 1993. I was struck by the entry as something that the LA Review of Books might like because it’s primarily about writers and literary figures, and so I’m going to add it here.
I know it’s a bit odd to pair it with my Fezzik love story, but what the hell? Why not experiment? It’s sort of like saying “yes,” which is how I got into this mess in the first place, a mess which is probably going to lead to my being arrested by the ASPCA or even the Audubon Society, though their concern is primarily for birds. But I imagine they would want to come to Fezzik’s aid if they get wind of this essay.
Full disclosure: Here’s some background to this diary entry: it was written one night while I worked the door at the old Fez (not short for Fezzik, sadly) night club on Lafayette Street in Manhattan. I was 28 and had published one novel, but had gone back to school, to Columbia, to get a degree so that I could teach.
Being a student, I was always low on money and had many little jobs. In this entry, I talk about “running film” at a boxing match in Madison Square Garden. This was before cameras were digital, and so I was employed by a news service to run the film, between rounds, from the ringside photographers to a make-shift dark room in the bowels of the Garden. The idea was for them to start developing the images right away, but I only had to run one time since it was a first-round knock-out.
I got that job because my girlfriend back then, referred to as H. below, was a photographer for Reuters. I remember being with her when the first attack on the World Trade Center happened, about two weeks after this entry was written. We had been out all night and then slept very late, past noon, in her dark, cave-like apartment. It was February and cold, very little sun, and in overheated New York apartments you could almost sleep through a whole winter. Then her boss called, waking us. They needed her to rush down to Wall Street — someone had attempted to blow up the Twin Towers.
Well, here’s the entry:
February 10, 1993
I was hung-over all day, but rallied in the afternoon. Philip Roth lectured at Columbia today. I asked him, “Why are we ashamed to be Jews and how can we get over it?” He didn’t answer, just laughed. But I was serious. He said that he was excited by three cities: Newark, Prague, and Jerusalem. He said that he was intimidated by people with conviction. Me too. I don’t have conviction. He said, “Be ruthless, serve the writing, not the life . . .”
Last weekend: Friday night I was the bartender and waiter at a private party in Turtle Bay for the former ambassador to England. Mayor Koch was there, gave me a penetrating look, like he wanted to make love to me. I heard someone talking about Koch at the party: “He’s a terrible man, dividing the city, I listen to him on the radio still going on about Dinkins abandoning the Jews.”
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. was there for some reason. He wanted a whiskey, “One ice cube, mild.” He still had a thin moustache, his face was jowly but he looked dignified. I could almost recognize in him the young man he once was; I kept comparing him to the black and white vision of him in my mind from “Gunga Din” . . .
When I brought him the drink, he said, “Thank you, you’re too kind,” with great dramatic emphasis, like I had saved his life, and then he said, “I’ll put you in my will.” I said, “I’ll give you my name at the end of the party.” He smiled at me, his eyes twinkled.
When I went up to Mayor Koch to see what he wanted to drink, he extended his hand, he thought I was somebody at the party, I was wearing my blue blazer, but like a good servant I didn’t extend my hand to meet his and said, “Would you like something to drink, Mr. Mayor?”
He didn’t want anything, and then this middle-aged reporter started talking to me, and he gave me the same look that Mayor Koch gave me, and he said that young gay men were not as frightened about AIDS, and then he added, “Sex is back in, you know,” and I said, “I never knew it completely went out.” I was quick with the one-liners that night. Kept sneaking drinks for myself.
Saturday night I ran film at Madison Square Garden for Reuters and the Washington Post at the heavyweight championship fight; it was great. Backstage there were dogs in cages for the dog show the next day, and in the arena there were movie stars, sports stars, gangsters. Fans chanted “bullshit” after the quick knockout. Riddick Bowe was amazing: his long beautiful jab tipped at the end with muscle-like curled bright red glove. Bell tolled ten times for Arthur Ashe.
Child star Macaulay Culkin came backstage to see the dogs in their cages. His hair coiffed, skin pale, very tiny, had private limo, looked at the dogs and smiled like a little boy. His father had a Hollywood ponytail. When they got in the car Macaulay sat up front and his parents in back, it was an odd reversal.
Michael Dokes, the loser, glowering out of the corners of his eyes, in body-length fur coat, leaned on his old handler and went into a limo after Macaulay.
Went to press conference and watched Bowe with the circus of TV reporters. Saw MC Hammer and Joe Frazier – not walking too well; old boxers all damaged, their brains and balance loosened in their heads.
Then Sunday I worked the door here at the Fez for the Neal Cassady memorial radio broadcast, a pathetic sort of tribute with old men trying to recreate lost youth and madness for stylish dead Nineties youth submissive in the audience. Snuck down a few times. Ginsberg was up on stage, trim, looking like a reformed congregation rabbi in his blue blazer and flowered tie and grey beard and wise kindly bald dome, reading his poetry about young boys’ hairless chests and buttocks; then Ginsberg’s old lover, drunken Peter Orlovsky showed up, fat, looking like an Archie Bunker crony, baseball hat, blazer, pocket bulging with pens. “I am a famous international poet,” he said to me, so that I wouldn’t ask him for the cover charge. His name wasn’t on the comp list. I said, “I know who you are. Don’t worry about the money. But for admission can you tell me about Neal Cassady?”
He was happy to talk, drunk, launched into a little monologue, “It was like the sun came into him and gave him energy. You don’t see that kind of energy any more, his arms, the biceps, the triceps, they were beautiful, strong, his belly was flat, and smiling, he was always smiling, always on, took the energy right from the sun . . . “
“What about Kerouac?”
“Too good for words. He lived to write. Not for fame and money, just to write, he died in his bathroom and wrote his last poem in his blood.”
“Him and Elvis in the bathroom. Is it true that Kerouac screwed Neal over?”
“No, they loved each other. It wasn’t a homosexual love. It was a love of souls. Man to man. You see, Jack loved Neal because Neal was a great cocksman and Jack was shy, a gentleman, he was like . . . like Victor Hugo and Neal was Rimbaud . . . and Jack gave Neal life, made him immortal.”
Well, that’s all to report. Look forward to being with H. tonight if she still wants to see me. I’ll bring a bottle of wine.
Full disclosure: So many little things I could mention regarding that entry. Like the time I met Allen Ginsberg in 1986, on Avenue A in the East Village, late at night, and he told me to go to the Naropa Institute to study writing, and so I did, driving some guy’s VW van from New York to Denver, and then taking a bus to Boulder, Colorado, only to discover that the Naropa Institute was really expensive and I couldn’t afford any of the classes. This was before the internet, when you did things like drive cross-country to a school because Allen Ginsberg told you to, not knowing that you couldn’t afford it.
And how years later, I would see Peter Orlovsky, sitting in doorways, in all sorts of weather, always near University Place, and he had completely lost his mind and was quasi-homeless, but somehow, he lived a long time after Ginsberg died.
And how at that same party where I served Mayor Koch and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., I also served Kurt Vonnegut, and I told him that he was the first writer I had ever loved, and he said it was kind of me to say that. But for some reason, I didn’t put that in the diary entry.
And how the people who threw the party took me under their wing and gave me a spare bedroom in their house to use as an office so that I could work on my second novel, since the room I rented, where I lived, was too small for a desk. And how I would look out the window from my “office” and I’d see Vonnegut, who lived across the street, sitting on his stoop smoking, since his wife wouldn’t let him smoke in the house, and how on that same street was this mysterious high-end brothel, which 20 years later sparked the idea for my most recent book, a thriller where a young girl is saved from such a place.
Well, I guess that’s about it. I’m running out of steam. Been writing for a few hours. And if you were here with me in my little house in Los Angeles, you would have heard me call just now for Fezzik, and you would have seen him come trotting into the room, where he is now sitting by my feet. A little yelp of some sort came out of him and he is looking up at me with his quizzical, beautiful eyes. It’s time to take him for a walk.