Punishment

April 30, 2009 § 4 Comments

                                                               ANGER–HIERONYMOUS BOSCHhieronymus_bosch-_the_seven_deadly_sins_and_the_four_last_things_-_anger

The hardest thing to learn is how to endure emotional pain without believing that somebody has to pay for it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a particular person or group or the world or that old stand by, oneself: the need to make someone pay, while denying that that’s what you want (in the case of others) or that there’s any reason not to (in the case of oneself)—this is something I keep battering against, dizzy with loneliness, self-pity and rage.

And that’s all. I’m lonely; I’m angry; I feel sorry for myself. Nothing novel, strange, frightful or even shameful. I don’t need to remind myself about how much worse some people have it or stoically push down regret.

I can feel it, and so what. Nothing has to be done. Delilah told me last week, when she was describing how she felt her way into a character, that she had to think of the character’s emotion as an action she wanted to carry out. That sounds right for her art, which usually means it’s what you shouldn’t do in life.

Don’t just do something; sit there. This should sound familiar if you’ve had any exposure to the infinite library of spiritual self-help. Yet all the times I’ve heard that slogan, I thought it was for other people. It excited guilt and dread—I don’t do enough, I’ve never done enough, my problem is stasis—which I would repeat ad nauseum without realizing that I was engaged in a frenzy of action, if only in my head.

A night of cold ashes, no charm, no stories. I’m angry and I can’t say why, and I’m angry that this blog can’t be like a diary where the secrets are told and somebody later decides for you whether to publish. Yet I prefer having readers before I’m dead, so I shouldn’t complain.

I’ve gotten away from the moment. The one after the tears  and the semi-hysterical punishment dramas. After I told the cat to fuck off and he galloped away to play lonely games in the living room. The moment when I realized my feelings were noisy but not important.

Punishment doesn’t work. I learned that.

I don’t have to act on my emotions. I learned that too.

I don’t have to stir them with a long spoon, imagining what I’d do if was going to act. Ditto.

I don’t have to not do that, either.

                                                                                         SLOTHsloth

 

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Summertime When The Living is Queasy

April 29, 2009 § 2 Comments

                       Rachel Ruysch, Amsterdam, 1664-1750Rachel Ruysch, Amsterdam, 1664-1750



The tulips should be behind bars like 
    dangerous animals;

They are opening like the mouth of some 
    great African cat,

And I am aware of my heart: it opens and 
    closes

Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of
    me.

The water I taste is warm and salt, like 
    the sea,

And comes from a country far away 
    as health.

--from Tulips, by Sylvia Plath

 




Spring is cresting in Manhattan. The enormous tulips that neighborhood associations started planting everywhere a decade ago are lolling over their little fences, petals spread wide. Red, flame, yellow, cream, blush, purple, mauve and deep pink. In the after-dinner light they glow like moon flowers, and their suggestive droop reminds me of painting—the great Dutch still-life painters, of course, and all the artists who accepted the confines of theme (Christian or Classical, or portraits of the wealthy), choosing to spend their days with naked goddesses, those of the ample, gorgeous flesh: goddesses bathing, picnicking with the girls au naturel, or in the case of Venus, entertaining her similarly naked and chubby son.

Something was lost when artists started openly painting their wives and mistresses. Realism brought a depth of feeling—of sorrow, mortality and the charm of the everyday—but the figures were no longer the most beautiful the painter could imagine, the skin no longer as satiny, faces losing that expression of coy and serene pleasure.

The pleasure for us, in the 20th and 21st centuries, is that we didn’t and don’t often see these goddesses as perfect—too fat, we think, too limpid, faces a little too soft (Ingres’ odalisques excepted). The thrill comes from the artist’s desire poured into paint, flesh as full of light as the most ethereal sunset. It wasn’t only their bodies the artists idealized. The settings, whether forest or bedroom, were female territory. The bountiful goddesses lounged naked without fear.

Their male counterparts may have interfered with mortal women, raping them, turning them into cows and so forth, but the goddesses held their own. They were far more powerful than the Virgin Mary, who could perform miracles but not cuckold God or make her son answer to her whims. They were the women the artist wanted to submit to even as he decided the length of their tresses and the curve of their breasts, surrounding them with pillows, mirrors and tapestries—or trees, dogs and nymphs—as he chose.

This is what feminists call “The tyranny of the male gaze.” I understand the anger of being told, “There are no great female artists because women don’t have genius,” which was still bandied about when I was young, and with the grief felt at the evidence that men value youth and beauty so highly that even the loveliest woman will eventually disappoint.

I suffered from not knowing what the “female gaze” might be, for feeling like a freak for all the things I had in common with ancient goddeses: lust, erotic languor, jealousy, vanity, and most of all the desire for power in both its ‘empowering’ sense and in the wish to meddle cruelly or brilliantly in the lives of others. I wanted these qualities recognized not as those of the slut, the shrew or the castrating bitch, but rather of large-souled goddesses with their all-too-human flaws.

I shed that hope, eventually.

Even so, I was glad to see what the male gaze saw. To know what drove them to art and through life, what pink clouds piled in the evening sky, gleaming rivers, or past-their-prime tulips reminded them of. Beauty is lofty, but give a man a moment and he’ll think of sex.

I think of it too. The nights are warm now and some trees are scattering their blossoms on the sidewalk as others unfurl their colors. The streets are crowded with the young—so much so that the older couples look exotic, and older singles seem out of place, anomalies to be removed by some latter-day Guiliani.

The summer will disappoint. It always has. The year after year of golden social life, Europe and the Hamptons, Maine and Cape Cod, parties, romances, dancing on the beach, cocktails in the morning that my same-age gay neighbor remembers was never what I had. I could have it, if I’d been different. It was available, if I hadn’t been too scared to partake. It might still be available, for all I know.

But my summer will be smaller than that, and that’s okay. I want to walk in the warm darkness most nights. I intend to get to the country a few times. I’ll make love when I can. But mostly I want to read poetry again the way I used to. I want my brain full of wandering lines until I can’t understand, am utterly flummoxed by, the fact that most people have no idea why it’s read.

That’s why I felt like a freak when I was young. Not because I was female and wanted to be a great writer. Because I found poetry, Greek myths and Robert Graves’ eccentric and esoteric book The White Goddess so much more interesting than punk rock or deconstructionism that the company of my peers generally left me speechless.

Age cures a lot. Now I’m happy to talk about tulips and politics, recipes for homemade ice cream and whatever it is you’ve been doing lately. Just don’t expect me to remember the bands of the late ‘70’s and ‘80’s. I was reading Baudelaire.

Her Hair

O fleece that down her nape rolls, plume on plume!

O curls! O scent of nonchalance and ease!

What ecstasy! To populate this room

With memories it harbours in its gloom,

I’d shake it like a banner on the breeze.

Hot Africa and languid Asia play

(An absent world, defunct, and far away)

Within that scented forest, dark and dim.

As other souls on waves of music swim,

Mine on its perfume sails, as on the spray.

I’ll journey there, where man and sap-filled tree

Swoon in hot light for hours. Be you my sea,

Strong tresses! Be the breakers and gales

That waft me. Your black river holds, for me,

A dream of masts and rowers, flames and sails.

A port, resounding there, my soul delivers

With long deep draughts of perfumes, scent, and clamour,

Where ships, that glide through gold and purple rivers,

Fling wide their vast arms to embrace the glamour

Of skies wherein the heat forever quivers.

I’ll plunge my head in it, half drunk with pleasure —

In this black ocean that engulfs her form.

My soul, caressed with wavelets there may measure

Infinite rocking in embalmed leisure,

Creative idleness that fears no storm!

Blue tresses, like a shadow-stretching tent,

You shed the blue of heavens round and far.

Along its downy fringes as I went

I reeled half-drunken to confuse the scent

Of oil of coconuts, with musk and tar.

My hand forever in your mane so dense,

Rubies and pearls and sapphires there will sow,

That you to my desire be never slow —

Oasis of my dreams, and gourd from whence

Deep-draughted wines of memory will flow.

— Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)

But I still like Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt

April 28, 2009 § Leave a comment

David Foster Wallace’s suicide has excited a lot of comment, and one thing he wrote—a commencement address delivered at Kenyon College in 2005—has been widely disseminated. I came across it for the third time while reading blog posts about atheism. He says:

 “…in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you.”

This is heartfelt writing, and at one time it would have spoken to me loudly, but now I think it falls short. Pretty much any idea or passion can eat people alive, and religion has done so repeatedly, spectacularly, and horribly in the span of recorded history. I don’t think I have to remind anyone of the many instances. Nor do I think worshipping God inoculates you against a parallel or underground worship of material things.

The kernel of truth here is that it’s possible to worship God and stay centered and sane, while worshipping money or youth will never end well. Yet most people don’t worship these things. They’re seduced by them early or late, waste time in their pursuit, make decisions they come to regret, but this is merely human. This is how we learn. I doubt that the number of those who truly worship money, youth or sex—the people we all recognize as obsessive—is greater than those who worship God to a fault.

Wallace’s remarks express the soft liberalism, the ‘being spiritual is good for you,’ assumption that sets my teeth on edge. I know what it is to feel the inrush of joy, of gratitude for the beauty of the world and the love of other people, the astonishing surprise of life. I don’t refuse these feelings. I talk to the moon and the trees, and imagine they hear me. I take solace wherever I can.

But I don’t think it detracts from this to say that our brains—which are patched-together organs, add-ons and upgrades often colliding with older systems, causing mysterious glitches—are structured so that feeling gratitude prompts us to assume the existence of one to whom that gratitude should be offered. This awareness of a self-conscious other, of debt and reciprocity, is what has made human society so successful. That it overflows into the belief that there are more others than are visible is what happens when a new mental capacity is thrown into the mix of stay-alert-to-danger, use-all-your-senses-because-one-might-be-fooled animal armor.

I’m not arguing with David Foster Wallace anymore. That’s one passage of his writing; he had many other things to say. It’s the culture of faith without rigor, belief without thought, that bothers me. It’s sanctimony and religion used to oppress that rouses ire. When my grandmother, a staunch Catholic, visited us during my childhood, my father would drive her to church in his underwear so she wouldn’t try to talk him into going inside. He did that because the Church had wounded him. I don’t know exactly how–he died when I was very young–but his anger and fear left a vivid impression.

I know Catholicism is more than what happened to my father. I’ve read Thomas Aquinas, St Augustine, Francois Fenelon, and John Donne. I’ve even met a few wise Christians, and could have met a lot more if I wasn’t such a recluse. Yet it rankles when people think religion is safe. It’s not intended to be safe; it’s not safe when it’s done right; it’s certainly not safe when it’s done wrong. 

It’s taken me some time, since I moved into the agnostic-atheist camp, to regain the pleasure of transcendent moments. I shied away at first like a hurt child, not wanting to be fooled. But that passed and I became able to value them, to make use of them to love other people more actively, to remember what I have rather than what I don’t have, to listen to the accumulated wisdom of the race. (Not that I always pay attention. Sometimes I’m too busy obsessing over money and sex.)

Those moments don’t oppose my stepping back to say: I can’t explain the world or the source of mystical feelings, but the idea of God as a sentient being that cares for me and everyone in particular doesn’t accord with my experience.

And to worship Spirit or Energy not otherwise defined (in my circles, a popular choice) seems like an oxymoron to me. One can imagine such a vague Power, but worship requires a sharper focus. Worship is love, which is why it attracted me so strongly in my youth. But now I prefer loving my cat and my favorite humans. I’m happy to ascribe whatever virtues I possess to the success of my simian ancestors in learning how to get along, and the tonic effect of reading great books.

I had a theological argument tonight with a close friend. Maybe someday he’ll convince me. That can happen. But for the present I feel strongly about the need to stand up for those without faith, those who don’t worship, those who don’t know how the world was created or what death means, and live with it.

(If I’m mistaken about God or the Gods, I hope I end up in the silvery court of the Moon Goddess or the Kingdom of Immortal Trees. I’d hate to wake up in a Hieronymous Bosch painting.)

 

“God is Love,” My Mama Said

April 27, 2009 § 2 Comments

The New York Times has an article* about how atheists are now organizing, coming out of the closet as they put it, asserting discrimination akin to, if not as severe as, that suffered by gays. The gay analogy is particularly apt, since the first task for gays was to win credence for the idea that discrimination based on sexual orientation is not okay, not simply to be expected. Atheists will also have an uphill battle to get people to understand that their complaints have merit. It’s apt but also depressing, since gay rights is a new chapter of Western Civ, but this country was settled by those fleeing religious persecution. Atheism doesn’t have to be a religion for the equivalence to hold; all that matters is that the persecution is because of religion. It’s not really a subtle point.

I live in New York, so I’ve never faced anything like the problems of the South Carolina couple mentioned in the article: the husband fears that if his wife makes her atheism public, it might imperil his job. But to read about it makes me angry in that particular way one gets angry about an injustice visited on one’s own kind.

When it’s a great coup for the President of the United States to grant respect in his inaugural address to those who don’t have faith along with those who do, it’s past time for atheists and agnostics to assert themselves intellectually and politically. And although I can generally do without Christopher Hitchens, and don’t agree with everything in Richard Dawkins’ book, it did astonish me when those books were reviewed by the usual East Coast critics, and they seemed more worried about giving offense to the  religious intelligensia than anything else. They reminded me of shopkeepers in border towns afraid that raids and skirmishes will hurt trade—an entirely reasonable concern for shopkeepers in border towns, but critics are supposed to be in a different business.

I don’t consider myself an atheist, exactly. My position on any of the ‘great’ questions—the meaning of life, does God exist, what is truth, what is evil—is militantly agnostic, which is to say that I find it preposterous that humans should believe it possible to ever understand the real nature of the universe, our place in it, how much we know and how much we don’t, or even whether these questions have any meaning at all.

Consider a dog, a crab, a mosquito. Can any of these creatures see the limits of their experience? Human self-consciousness, culture and our rapidly growing body of scientific knowledge don’t suggest to me infinite capability. I remember as a child asking someone (my mother, my math teacher?) what the biggest number in the world was and having it explained to me that there never could be a biggest number because whatever number you come up with, all you have to do is add 1 to get a bigger number. That was the sort of thing that used to give me shivers.

Believing in God is one way of acknowledging human fallibility and encouraging wonder and awe at the mystery of existence, and I was attracted to it. I spent my 20’s reading about religion, mysticism and other esoteric traditions, and concluded that all we know is that people are full of desire, fear and hope; have vivid and similar imaginations; and that certain disciplines and activities affect mental states, sometimes remarkably.

I was gravely disappointed. I wanted to find the meaning of life. I wanted to contact greater-than-human intelligences. I wanted my spirit to go on after death. I still do.  I just don’t think any of it is likely, anymore than it’s likely I’m going to wake up able to fly.

But I wonder where it will lead, atheists demanding respect. The ideas of evolutionary biologists about why human societies have been almost uniformly religious are often interesting, but the most important part is that human societies have been almost uniformly religious. Is it possible for people to hold on to the faith that so many crave without believing they must shout down those who don’t believe?

For some, of course, it is. But I’ve come across a number of (intelligent) people’s musings about faith lately. None of them seem to understand that faith is deepened by doubt, just as love is deepened by trial. God can’t be disproven. Nobody should worry about that. We’re nowhere near smart enough.

One of my less pleasant chores when I was young was to read the Bible from one end to the other. Reading the Bible straight through is at least 70 percent discipline, like learning Latin. But the good parts are, of course, simply amazing. God is an extremely uneven writer, but when He’s good, nobody can touch Him.

~John Gardner

Did St. Francis really preach to the birds? Whatever for? If he really liked birds he would have done better to preach to the cats.

~Rebecca West

*http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/27/us/27atheist.html?em

 

 

 

More About the Cat

April 26, 2009 § 3 Comments

catback1Charles has been weaning Fitzroy off dry food (all the vets, including my sister, say it’s not good for cats) by hand feeding him tidbits of bluefish, chicken and liver. The cat is indisposed to eat real food but when it’s minced very small and squashed onto the end of Charles’s finger, it becomes acceptable. I’ve always felt sentimental about those stories of nursing orphaned chimps with fingers soaked in milk, saving the tiny creature’s flickering life, but my cat is 1 year old and strong enough to run like a wild thing around the apartment at 3 a.m., rip the leather off the couch, then sprawl like a melting butterscotch sundae on my bed; he doesn’t need hand-feeding.

On the other paw, Charles thought I was joking when I suggested raising goldfish in the kitty fountain and letting him catch his own dinner. OK, maybe I was joking, but not entirely. The fountain isn’t big enough to sustain a cat’s nutritional needs and he probably wouldn’t eat them anyway, just bat them out of water and leave them to rot under the bookshelf just as my stepson used to do with his lunch 30 years ago. But if I had more room…

Yesterday, Charles had a long argument with the lady in the pet shop about whether it was wise to take the cat on a leash to the park. I’m not in favor because I don’t think it would be sufficient: cats like to roam free, not sniff grass with a doting owner and a crowd of strangers commenting on their every move.

Still, just because I don’t want to do it myself doesn’t mean I think it would do any harm. The lady kept saying things like, “My 3 year old nephew wants to stay up all night watching horror movies; that doesn’t mean I let him.” Do 3 year olds really want to watch horror movies? The ones I’ve known didn’t clamor for that until they were 6 or 7. Eventually, they become able to spend entire weekends watching slasher flicks and Euro porn while drinking beer and tequila shots, if they so choose. When they’re the age-equivalent of a 1-year-old cat, I mean.

I hate it that domesticated animals can’t have lives of their own. Farm animals should know the pleasures of sunshine, wind, grass, mating, and breaking out of the pasture or pen once in a while; pets should have unsupervised hours. In the 1970’s, my mother’s dog Morgan used to wander every morning up to the grand seaside hotel in our New Hampshire country neighborhood and walk through the lobby greeting staff and visitors like the resident dignitary he was. 10 years before that, my cat Ricky ran away from the nice couple my mother gave him to when she moved us from the suburbs to Manhattan. He lived alone in the woods for a couple of years—mourning his lost harem of 3 female cats and me, or so I believed—and I respected him greatly for his self-sufficiency.

I’ll never get a chance to respect Fitzroy. He’s my pet, my comfort, my ward. And Charles, frustrated grandfather whose grandchildren all live too far away, is happy to spend hours feeding him from fishy fingers even as he refers to him as Little Lord Fauntleroy.

 

 

Idle a while

April 25, 2009 § Leave a comment

cat toyCharles is visiting for several days and we’ve been playing with the cat and going out in the evening with the nieces. We saw Ramona do a rumba-samba at her Dansport recital and she was wonderful and beautiful and very sexy in a backless, black-sequined dress. The school was decorated with streamers, balloons and colored lights and there were lots of women of all ages and shapes in sturdy high heels and shiny, low-cut gowns. Ramona’s teacher, who looks like a cross between a triple-joined wooden puppet and Jim Carrey’s sweeter younger brother, danced alone to The Lion Sleeps Tonight in a jungle patterned shirt  and brought back a lot of memories of the days when that song was new.

We took Delilah to a play called Jailbait, showing in a theater, The Cherry Pit, that’s new to me, on Bank Street near the river. The building housing the theater has a big plaza in front, with stone benches, and lots of young people were sitting alone reading scripts. It was 6:40, still broad daylight. There’s a drama school and an acting workshop on that block and the mood was festive and studious. Delilah, in a red shawl and black skirt, black flats, looked like a bohemian girl from any decade of the last seven, except the ‘80’s. In the past month, she’s had a big role in a play in Boston and a shot a pilot about a young woman finding herself (she’s the best friend), and she’s bubbling over with confidence and joie de vivre, grabbing New York with both hands.

When I think of myself at her age, I prefer not to.

The play was about two fifteen year old girls who sneak into a club, pretending to be 21, for a rendezvous with a thirty-something man one of the girls met the week before, and his friend. The story is well written, but proceeds with a certain ponderousness that made me restive. The shock and distress of the men when they find out the girls’ true ages—one of them has sex—is probably entirely realistic but memories of being young and shielded from any idea that I needed shielding kept crashing in, and I couldn’t take their distress seriously. I suppose even now it troubles me to think I might need shielding, though I have no trouble wanting it for my nieces, my husband, my lover, my cat.

I have love and help in abundance but nobody will put me in a safe place for a few years until I finish growing. I have to make my own safe place (carefully forgetting that such a place doesn’t really exist for anyone), and that notion makes me feel as if I’m floating just to the side of my body, a few inches above ground. The temptation is strong to simply detach and lose myself in the tulip beds.

Social life over, we have the weekend to ourselves. During our conjugal visits, Charles and I have a tendency to descend into a pleasurable but too-extravagant languor. We eat and drink. We lie about. We stroll—or swim, in Florida—and usually he fixes something of mine, and I cook a nice dinner, but mostly we lie about.

He needs a respite. I need stimulation. But my brain feels like a bouquet of weeds and wildflowers tied with an old shoelace, some of the little flowers wilting, some slipping away, the fresh green beginning to sweat, and I have to hold it very carefully but also get it somewhere before they’re all dead. 

********

They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.

–Andy Warhol

 

Time spent with cats is never wasted.

–Colette

Wild Nights

April 19, 2009 § 3 Comments

11 a.m.; 1926, Edward Hopper11 a.m. 1926, Edward Hopper

 

So The New York Times has finally gotten around to writing about Craigslist Casual Encounters!* How long have reporters been asking for this assignment? It’s a perfect plum of a data mine: a crowded mishmash of dirty-minded weirdos trying to fulfill every kind of sexual hunger save the ones that bring the villagers out with torches.

ARE YOU MY ASIAN NYMPHO?

GIVE YOUR PUSSY A SPA EXPERIENCE!

Of course, CL isn’t what it used to be. Several years ago I went through an Internet dating phase, and though I wasn’t interested in the match.com crowd (for one thing, I was married), CL was too scattershot—it doesn’t require you to create a profile, so people talk more about what they want than who they are—but it was always fun to read.

I used to keep a file of bizarre postings, thinking I might use them in a novel. I deleted most of them last fall when I was weeding out my overloaded hard drive (though the space they take up is like a toenail clipping in a closet) but here’s one I managed to save. It’s from a woman.

Another thing, ideally I am looking for something with the soul of a writer, though by profession you don’t have to be one. I like abysmal depth and outpouring of passions. It would be wonderful if you can also balance that with staccatos of wit and ethereal delicacy.

 Any of you guys think you’d qualify?

I never answered an Internet ad unless the man revealed himself unintentionally, if only by one word. I needed a crumb of unmediated information before I bothered to move to the email stage. And then it was time for close textual analysis, which I found far more rewarding than cocktail party chatter. Email doesn’t give you the crucial physical info, but I never cared, because a date with a man with a good mind is interesting, whether it leads anywhere or not.

The men I met were all very smart, some more or less normal, others delightfully strange. A few were asking for sex but looking for love; others were straightforwardly kinky. I was seeking adventure, and in regard to sex, a kind of serious but considered dominance. I never found exactly what I wanted—some guys didn’t get the concept, others did but couldn’t embody it—but I had fun. Patrick was very good with ropes, a bon vivant with a lot of sailing experience. Big, bluff, red-faced, sweet, he was my first Internet romance.

And there was an extraordinarily handsome man—movie star handsome and a decade younger than I was—who wanted to have sex in Grand Central station during rush hour. He was charmingly insistent, reminding me of a teenage boy trying to talk a girl into some minor illegality like trespassing. I didn’t give in. But he pushed me up against the wall and kissed me while the commuters stared, and yes, I let him and liked it. I would have seen him again but he was too ADD.

There was another man who wasn’t handsome at all, but that didn’t matter. He was ferociously smart and wonderfully dirty-minded, in the way only the intellectually over-endowed can be. He put himself through Princeton writing porno. But I didn’t like his odor. He wasn’t unclean: he just didn’t smell mammalian. His scent was mineral, with a cyanide aftertaste. I couldn’t ignore it; couldn’t explain.

At the end of the Times article, the reporter mentions the site, AshleyMadison.com, which is for married people seeking affairs. He describes the site this way: “There is no pretense that anything but sex is being offered, which is just fine for people with louche tastes looking to avoid polite society.”

Louche. That’s a good word. I’d off-rhyme it with smooch, Proust, or gauche. And, excuse me, where does one find polite society these days? (In Proust.) And why didn’t the reporter go on any dates himself?

When I wrote about personal ads for my college paper, I went on a date. I was 18; the man was in his 50’s, fat, disheveled, and a tenured professor of physics at one of the Boston universities. We met at the Ritz and he told me stories of escaping from Hungary in 1956, as well as giving me a discreet but fascinating précis of his marriage.  He took it gracefully when I admitted what I was really doing. Of course I wasn’t writing for the Times. And I know how to pick gentlemen, even from the louche crowd.

Wild nights! Wild nights! 
Were I with thee, 
Wild nights should be 
Our luxury!

Futile the winds 
To a heart in port, 
Done with the compass, 
Done with the chart.

Rowing in Eden! 
Ah! the sea! 
Might I but moor 
To-night in thee!

–Emily Dickinson

* http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/19/fashion/19craigslist.html?hpw

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