Thursday, October 07, 2004

I took creative writing my senior year at U of Michigan. I wrote two stories that I liked, the teacher read one out loud and said he wished he had written it. That story, about gay frat boys, seems just a bit dated today, but at that time it was considered controversial. Dogpoet is in the writing program at Columbia University and he has written about his interaction with Maria, a fellow student. Some of the things she said about his writing, which basically revealed aspects of her personality, reminded me of what other students said about me.

Here's my other story, Leonie (Lisa to my Mother):

"Are you going to Heidi's party" Levi asked me as a I sat before the mirror, applying makeup to my arms. I'd read that the Romans accentuated their arteries and veins with red ocher or ground lapis lazuli and I was trying to see what their deal was.

"I don't know, should I?" I asked. The blue vein (or was it the artery? I was never good at anatomy) on my left forearm convoluted in an interesting way.

"Why not? You've been working awfully hard lately. We never have any fun! Not like we used too." He stepped into the doorway and I saw that he'd been dyeing the tips of his hair blue.
"That looks so pediatric!" I told him, rolling my eyes. "Everyone is doing that!"

"Really?" he frowned and looked at the hair hanging into his face. Shrugging, he wandered back to the bathroom mumbling "Oh well, that’s the way it is." Poor Levi. He had never quite escaped his apple pie Iowa roots.

"This looks like shit!" I muttered, wiping away at my arms with a kleenex. Everything I tried to do did, my makeup, my photos, my hair. I looked at the face and saw the plainness of it. Despite the mascara and pale white lipstick and the heavy blush to make my to cheekbones stick out I was still just plain old Leonie (Lisa to my mother). A too thin nose and curly brown hair that I cut short on the sides and multi-pierced ears. That's what I looked like. Usually I didn't like it much. Lately I hadn't liked it at all.

Heidi's party wasn't too crowded and the people were all the same. Monica was there, her long stringy blond hair tucked behind those monstrous ears. She tried to kill herself the week before when I was at home visiting mom, for the eighth time since I'd met her. She'd succeeded twice. The wonders that CPR and stomach pumps could do. She was talking to Donny, equally blond, less suicidal. About the recent heat wave and how well the Yankees had been doing.

I sat on the couch alone and watched Heidi prance about in her leopard spotted leotards that were getting really boring really fast and drank my drink, something red and fruity with quaint little ice cubes shaped like busty women. I despise ice cubes, they are so American.

The only new person I saw there was this chick wearing a jacket made from flowered brocade curtains, complete with the little tassels around the edge. I got up to talk to her but Levi intercepted me and warned me that she was from California and was looking for a break into modeling. I avoided her like the plague.

I followed him over to the corner where our hostess with the mostest, Heidi herself, reigned. She smiled and blew a big blue chewing gum bubble, holding a fat cigar while talking to Levi.

"Have you tried the seafood at Doolittle's?" she inquired. "I've never tasted anything so good!"

"I hate sushi," Levi said bluntly. "I read somewhere that thousands of Japanese get horrible parasitic worms from eating sushi."

"Well not at Doolittle's, it's so clean and the lobster is yummy too. Nice skirt Leonie, where did ya get it?"

"My mother gave it to me when I went and visited her." It was gray wool and I had embroidered in variegated yarn around the moth holes.

"How is mom?" she asked.

"My mother is fine. How's yours?" I said.

"The same. Weekly visits to her shrink who she's got the hots for. She likes the picture you sent her. Let me see, ahhh, she said it was too vivid." Heidi smiled brightly.

I'd taken a photo of Heidi and her sister Hope and their mother Mrs. Schneider as part of my series on car wrecks. I'd titled it 'Prom Night". Heidi and Hope are wearing big fluffy white dresses and huge corsages and are in the front seat of a pink convertible wrapped around an old elm. Mrs. Schneider is standing there looking like she is screaming. I put lots of fake blood on the dresses, lots. It looked great. Some of it came out of Heidi's mouth.

"Sarah Clark's mother wanted a chainsaw for her birthday," she announced. Sarah Clark was another blond. Fat, too, apologetic for being so.

"What is she going to do with it?" asked Levi. He was furtively looking at Heidi. They were having an affair or something but were pretending that no one knew about it. Made it more exciting.

"Chainsaw sculpture, can you believe it, chainsaw sculpture!" Heidi said. I could. "She saw some in Minnesota and fell in love with it."

"You gotta love something." I mumbled as I moved away, surveying the people again. They were all so boring, I mean not in a conventional way with a 9 to 5 job and two kids and a spouse and heading towards a divorce. I mean dull in that I knew everything about them, all of the dirt. I knew that Levi slept with Heidi and that she'd slept with Donny who had done both Heidi and Hope at the same time. Donny was the one that they got gonorrhea from. Who knows what else he had. Monica was frigid and liked strawberry sundaes and Phyllis was a leather dyke who wrote poetry. I admit I'm as boring as the rest of them, but that night I was bored of being bored.

In the corner a handsome man in a green polo shirt leaned against the wall, muscles filling out the shirt, short dark curly hair perfect. He seemed familiar, but I'd never seen him before. No makeup. Natural color in his hair or close enough to the real shade. He was listening to Monica and by the movement of her arms I could tell that she was showing how she botched her last suicide attempt when the rope pulled the chandelier from the ceiling. His attention wandered, but he hadn't glimpsed me.

I was suddenly self conscious and I went into the bathroom and thanked God that no one had puked in the sink. I looked into the mirror and hated what I saw so I bent like a bowing Japanese and scrubbed away at the blue and white and red and pink and black until the running water had left my face anemically pale. I reflected on my reflection, without makeup I was plain. When I smile my teeth are pretty straight but they are yellow, a genetic gift from Mom. Someone pounded hurriedly on the door and I unlocked it. I jumped as Hope stumbled in, puking everywhere, big pink gobs of who knows what. Most of it missed me.

"Too much to drink?" I asked sweetly as she retched. She was thirty, too old to play the game, but not mature enough to let go. Her hair was thin from abuse, dyed one to many times, her clothing too weird. She should find a husband or something.

"Where's your face?" asked Monica as I searched the room. He was still there, talking to Donny. Donny who would fuck anything.

"Down the drain, I was tired of it." Her drink had stained her lips bluish purple. "God I hope he's not gay."

"Who?" she asked.

"That one. The guy in the green shirt." Monica peered at him, pursing her lips in what she thought was a smart look. As a child, she'd seen the oldest Partridge Family daughter pout that way.

"Oh him. No, he's not. At least that was what he told me." she said cheerfully.

"You asked?"

"For Donny." I was already edging away, catching his eyes. We met in the middle of the room and suddenly everybody seemed to go away.

"Hi," he said to me, "We haven't met before." He had perfect white teeth. Tan, flawless skin.
"You're right, I'm Leonie." I flirted then, with my eyes.

"I'm Steve." The unspoken words "I'm the most beautiful man in the world" passed through my head.

"You don't hang out with the crowd." I said.

"The crowd?"

"The crowd. Heidi and Hope and Donny and Monica and Levi and Charlie and Phyllis and all the rest." I reeled their names off, not including my own.

"And you?" he asked.

"I'm peripheral. I hang out with them, they can be fun, but I'm not really one of them." I distanced myself, lying. Lying. Why did I lie? I was a member, a full fledged member of the "in" art crowd.

"What makes you so different?" he asked.

"I've got a job, taking pictures for Arrista." I said casually. That was the truth. A nice job shooting celebrities and pretty people. I got invites to all of the art openings, all of the silly fashion shows where the models strutted down the runways wearing contorted fabrics. I was at the Governor's mansion, now that he was young and hip, taking photos of his daughter's bat mitzvah. I took arty photos, and Arrista published them. I took pictures.

"How'd you like to be in the magazine? I'm looking for someone to hold some new books." He had to want to be. Everybody wants to be famous, that's why hidden camera commercials are so popular.

"I'd like that a lot," he was smiling. His eyes, not green or blue or even gray lit up.

"Cool. Let's make an appointment to shoot." We did.

I walked home with Monica at three thirty. We were too cheap to pay for a cab. In my bag I clutched a kitchen knife that Donny had sharpened to a fine point, capable of doing some very fine carving if need be.

"You talked to Steve?" Monica asked. She was busy peering about her, clenching her hands around the straps of her bag. For someone who practiced suicide with regularity, she was scared to death of getting hurt.

"Yeah, he seemed very nice."

"He has nice eyes," she said.

"Hazel, that's what they call the color, " we step around a sleeping drunk and cut across the street.

"I thought they were brown? said Monica.

"No, they were hazel," I said. We had reached her place. "I'll see you later."

"Bye," I waited until she was safely inside her building and quickly walked the rest of the way home, my mind occupied.

My camera clicked and my heart beat in time. The hot lights made Steve sweat as he stood there shirtless. The books were on the floor forgotten. I was sweating too. He was the perfect animal. And he knew it. Strutting and posing and turning his head just the right way. I realized he'd done this before. I pictured him nude in my mind.

"Cut the lights Phyl," I told her and she did and in the sudden darkness I was blinded. Steve stepped out and touched my face and whispered in my ear.

"Are we done yet?" I didn't want to be, but we'd shot all morning and most of my film was gone. Only a single roll was left, I loaded it into the camera automatically.

"Yes," I said. That day I was wearing an old faded blue oxford, blue jeans, and Nikes. Nothing new, nothing vintage, I didn't want to scare him off. No weird makeup. I didn't want to scare him off I wanted him so badly. He wiped away at the sweat with a towel Phyllis had given him and I could smell the cologne he wore. Something exotic and spicy.

"Let's go get something to eat," he suggested. I agreed and to my surprise he asked if I'd like to eat at his apartment. He claimed that he was a great cook. I believed him.

Once there we didn't eat. He made the right moves, said the right words and I was in bed on top and of course he was perfect and it was perfect.

"You are so beautiful," I whispered.

"What is it you like in me? he asked. I was still on top, looking down on him.

"Everything," I said. He smiled and ran his hand through his hair and started thrusting again.

"Tell me more," he begged quietly.

"Your lips are the right shade of pink. Your eyes are fudge brown, your nose is..." I listed the traits that I found attractive and it excited him more and more until I ran out of compliments and he just plain ran out.

After it was done I lay in his arms and ran my hand down his stomach as he dozed off, counting the muscles. I turned to kiss him and found a little scar on his neck. My hand touched it, traced it, and I looked at him more closely. Another scar discretely on his nose, his hair thinning a little on top, callouses on the soles of his feet, dirt under one nail. A little plastic surgery and a Nautilus machine. I wondered what he'd look like behind the wheel of a wrecked '74 Cadillac.
I got up and went to the bathroom, scrubbing his smell off me. On top of the toilet were his hazel eyes in their lens case. In the mirror I saw the same old me. I dressed quickly, wondering what I had ever seen in this man. Perfection doesn't exist, anywhere.

In his living room I pulled the last roll of film from my camera, the roll I had shot of him standing before me naked, and exposed it to the sun that streamed through his marvelous windows, leaving it draped over a once spotless couch. I shut the door quietly as I left.

At home that night I spent hours dyeing my hair straw yellow and hating it but there was nothing else I could do to it. I called Hope and asked what she had done wrong with hers.

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