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Notes From The Temple of Dominoes #35

"The unofficial Cliff's Notes of the degrading, sarcastic vision quest that is Modern Life"

Tonight's episode:"A Pantry Full of Food for Panic!"

 

96/ 8/17 Hi folks. Another unspectacular day spent combing the unruly scalp of my life, rearranging the crap on my floor and making mix tapes when I should be constructing my future, but the struggle is not over yet. We're a race of frogs in a flowing river and I've spent the last fifteen years clinging to a dry reed above the water line, bouncing from the current and complaining about my sunburn, but now after months of reading omens and interpreting cloud patterns that spell out "QUIT YOUR JOB AND START SWIMMING" I finally gave notice a few days ago at Major Legal Services, acting not so much out of self-respect but out of the desperate fear that those who had heard my years of whining would realize I never had any. Same thing, really, except for the years of indecision and job security, but there was no doubt in my mind I was the happiest man on Earth as I left the office, choosing my direction instead of drifting toward it...I haven't really decided what to do yet, knowing only that any change in my life would reward me with either more money, more freedom, or more Dickensian misery upon which to construct my great literary career...future generations will no doubt admire my ability to conjure feelings of stagnancy and directionlessness; I owe it to them to surrender my illusions of self-assuredness and economic comfort. I know the life I've been living is not the life I'm supposed to be living. I know I've said that before.

96/ 9/30 Six weeks and the space between worlds later, hello again...I turned 30 on September 20th and now I'm unemployed, only vague plans for the future and let's agree not to tell my relatives until I've got an income, I owe them money...so far hunting for a job has been like discovering that I have wings just as Farmer Buford's rope tightens around my ankle, every excited flight met with a spinebreaking yank downward, all hope and sense of self-worth rocketing high and low like the whole of downtown San Francisco is the set of an enormous game show with my future as one of the prizes...somehow the idea of offering my fate to "a spin the big wheel" would seem so much less barbaric than asking potential employers on a daily basis to decide whether or not I'm worthwhile...

Been doing lotsa thinking. Should I seriously pursue standup, inspired by the several people I know who get money for doing it badly? Should I throw a few supplies in the car and drive away like the city is on fire? Can I survive living the vagabond life I've always been afraid to try?

I have changed. I used to think of myself as a songwriter first and a comedian second and anything else third, my future waiting to inevitably receive me, no assembly required...now I'm learning that fate is the name we give the future after it's happened, but before we've understood it. I'm no longer sure where my future is going to take me. I still plan to record music, for example, but I no longer expect to single-handedly redefine popular songwriting over the coming decades. At this point I'd be happy just to record the next "Sugar, Sugar" and get out with my dignity.

96/10/8 Finally finishing this today...it's been coming very slowly, cement through a garden hose, just as I've been busy hunting for a job and working too infrequently on sound for "Not Famous Yet", the 16mm feature film that friend/director Joe Sullivan is busily editing, coming soon to a VCR near you, I'll keep you posted. I've recently been pursuing leads on a few high-paying corporate writing jobs, but nothing real yet. Nothing to do but survive and keep at it, armed only with sack of eye-poking metaphors and the inclination to write three pages in my journal about the act of drowning before I swim toward the surface. Evolution does no favors for people like us.

Life goes on and makes me more humble. After applying for numerous writing and editing jobs I'm discovering that I'm not really much of an expert on spelling or grammar...the price I pay, I guess, for claiming run-on sentences and comma-free pages as my secret weapon against the language that threatens to become a fence instead of a freeway. I'm trying to find a happy medium between my now-habitual linguistic crap shoot writing style and the merciless advent of spell check programs. Wish me luck.

I miss being able to sleep at night and destitution is looming like the huge dark garage at the bottom of the downhill driveway, but for the time being I'm really enjoying unemployment. Every time I walk to the post office or the store in the middle of the day, I hear Wallace Shawn's voice from My Dinner With Andre, proclaiming "The life of a playwright is tough" and confirming that some days ya just gotta do what needs doing today. It's a scary time to be alive, but it beats the alternative.

I finally put together my first book, "The Electrocution Journals", selecting the best of the autobiographical short stories/long complaints you've come to expect from this here publication. Each of the eight stories (13,500 words total) has appeared in Temple of Dominoes at some point over the last few years, so you might have read them before, but copies are available for $3.50 (postage included) from Raining Goldfish, Box 590104, San Francisco, CA 94159-0104. I want everyone in the world (except my relatives) to read it! Order 'em by the dozen! The perfect Christmas gift!

In This Issue:

MARTY RAMBLES ABOUT MOVIES

Movie reviews for people who hate movie reviews and the people who love them.

THE ST. VALENTINE'S DAY MASOCHIST

Eager to conquer my habit of comparing every new life experience to one of a handful of romantic disasters from my past, I've here tried to work almost all the aforementioned catastrophes into one final, corrosive, formal complaint. Please remember, bitter metaphors are just my way of saying "I love you, but not enough to want you to be happy."

WHY CIVILIZATION IS CRUMBLING, PART III

Our heroic reporter continues his habit of focusing the magnifying glass of human insight upon the deepest mysteries of our culture and accidentally setting them on fire.

CHRISTMAS

Does life feel empty and meaningless? Do the canoe paddles of modern society fail to reach the water? Will the plastic rituals of our culture forever continue their ludicrous sprint into the desert? Is it just me?

AND MORE!!

All stuff on these pages Copyright 1996, Martin Azevedo. (Except the illustration, copyright 1994 Nina Paley.) Confront your deepest passions and send the transcription to Martin Azevedo/Temple of Dominoes, Box 590104, San Francisco, CA 94159-0104 and feel free to include job offers or blank checks too. Thank you for coming. Have a nice day.

 

MARTY RAMBLES ABOUT MOVIES

(These are my contributions to HUH! magazine; Several other folks also contribute to this film-review publication, which unfortunately never uses the same name twice. Write to Huh!, box 590104, SF CA 94159-0104 for info about the magazine, edited by Jeff Lester)

REVIEWER: MARTY A.

INFLUENCES: ALL THAT JAZZ, APOCALYPSE NOW, MY DINNER WITH ANDRE, THE MUPPET MOVIE.

VIDEO GUIDE: Doesn't use a video guide.

LIKES AND DISLIKES: Likes films that offer insightful surprise every minute; Hates films about stupid people that suggest they've got some advantage in life. Hates reviews. Hates telemarketers. Suffers occasional back pain. Loves sunsets, long walks, dancing to funk. N/S. Spineless, neurotic. Can be bribed. Writes life-affirming poetry. Nothing feels right since mother left.

RATING SYSTEM: In continuing my tradition of borrowing ratings systems from other media, I will be evaluating movies according to the familiar "Garage Sale Rating System", whereby the quality of a neighborhood sale is determined by the desirability of the available merchandise. The best movies will therefore be awarded the "Cheap Music Equipment!!" rating; quite good films will be awarded the "Pile of Books" rating; so-so movies will receive the "Broken Tape Deck" rating, and the movies to be avoided will be given the "Old People's Mantle Accessories" rating. Certain movies exist which, while impossible to defend as worthwhile cinema, are still often worth a look for the curious fun-seeker; such movies will be awarded the "Box of Free Stuff" rating. And consider while studying these ratings that films and garage sales have much in common: a good garage sale can make you happy even if you don't buy anything, while a crappy one is just depressing but you can usually come back later and find the stuff sitting by the garbage can with a "free" sign on it.

ROAD SCHOLAR (1994)

To whom it may concern:

When I was a kid I loved playing in the water but I couldn't swim, so whenever we kids played in my rich aunt's backyard pool, I'd frolic in waist-deep water and dance giddily toward the diving board until I'd stopped breathing and then I'd tiptoe back toward safety and the enjoyment would resume. Eventually I survived the disappointment and frustration of my childhood but as a grownup I've been dismayed to recognize this same pattern in my new playground, the film world. Too often, the deep end isn't much fun and the fun end isn't very deep.

Which is why I enjoyed Road Scholar so much. NPR commentator Andrei Codrescu crosses America in a Cadillac, finding and filming incredible communities, lives and events hidden on back roads and in big cities and making beautiful, often comic observations about each of them without becoming shallow. He does point the camera at the kitschy cellulite of American life, but his observations are usually balanced and insightful. The people he visits demonstrate many ways of dealing with the ugly meaninglessness of civilized life, and he lets his subjects glorify or ridicule themselves.

Often finding graceful humor in awkward reality, Codrescu's well-focused wit distracts from the fact that he's not out to make jokes; he's out to show the world as it is. The thickly accented Codrescu compares many of America's uglinesses to his own experiences in his native Romania, where he was often threatened with imprisonment for having declared himself a poet. His artistry is well-used here: language is his flashlight and he lifts it away from the typical overbright path, shining it onto the darkness and into the darkness and revealing the shapes that hide within it. He's glorious to watch...or rather, what he sees is glorious to watch.

I've been rubbing words together for many years now, but the observations in this movie remind me of my own duty, as a poet...the film takes many steps deep into Americans' search for religious meaning, showing ceremonies that are laughable, warmly beautiful, peaceful, grating, appalling. To see one or two of these groups or sects might make for an amusing satire, but to see them all at once is like circling the magnet with a compass; an invisible picture is drawn that suggests where each of the many eyes is looking, and with what clear or poor vision. Fortunately, the film offers no clear answers of its own; the illustration of so many individual views of life is more than enough in itself. This film's most beautiful moment is the one in which the viewer realizes that what this man is doing is terribly important, to himself and to us. It's not necessary that we each cross the country and document our findings...but with only a few well-cast words, Codrescu suggests that the nation and world we live in is a much deeper and more complicated place than is obvious to our everyday vision.

RATING: Pile of books!

 

COLD COMFORT FARM (1996)

I have this annoying habit: whenever I'm around a woman who infatuates me and she's acting cold and distant, it becomes even more important to me to convince us both that I'm the guy she wants to be with. I search for good conversation but no subject has been raised, and so I just speak whatever nice thoughts come immediately to mind, which usually are that I'm glad we're together and it's nice that she came and I'm glad she's there and all that. And as the conversation crumbles I don't always recognize that I'm saying such things for the second or third time. She usually does.

The weird part this time was that I'd dated her two years before and now she said she wanted to become friends again. She'd given me the whole schpiel about how we weren't dating, this isn't anything romantic, etc., and I nodded a lot and thought about how she had become even sexier since she dumped me on Valentine's day years before. We had grown more compatible, I was sure: she had become a writer, so she now understood why I had to spend so many hours at my computer, but she still had the same very high-paying job, so she might be able to fund my film projects. I'd give her great backrubs and she'd wonder why we ever split up.

So we waited for the movie to start and I made conversation and she sat facing the blank screen and giving occasional one-word answers to my fertile questions. More intensely than ever, her smoldering mystery was balanced by my radiant zest for life; I knew we belonged together. "She's oddly quiet", I thought. "I should tell her how happy I am to see her."

Her head snapped toward me in the dimming light. "Stop telling me you're glad I'm here", she hammered, turning back as the movie started.

Suddenly it occurred to me I was miserable...extremely, hilariously miserable, tactless and hopeless, waiting through the length of an entire movie to find out if the reunion tour was to be canceled. I felt like an alter boy caught masturbating in church, forced to wait through the entire sermon before receiving his punishment.

And what a movie to watch in such a state of misery. A parody of the novels of the Brontes and Jane Austen, it's the story of a young English woman who decides to experience life by moving in with her horrible, frightening lunatic relatives on their sticky, filthy, cursed farm. Generally I enjoy being swept into movies but I was eager to remain safely outside this story, chuckling naked in a fetal state of emotional rubble next to my ex-girlfriend whom I shoulda avoided like a traffic accident. I was in Hell. Mercilessly, the movie rolled forward as if nothing was wrong, and as I envisioned the descent into my brittle, humiliating romantic future, I found that every character onscreen acted out a different hideous neurotic disorder, each of which leapt forth from deep inside my psyche for mouskateer roll call: first we met manic paranoia, then entered vomitous self-doubt, followed by Ian McKellen's marvelous cameo as corrosive self-loathing, the frigid bottom of the wishing well into which I'd fallen. The film was a wonderful illustration of everything that's wrong with modern man and so was I. She had made me horribly self-conscious and criticized me for being horribly self-conscious and that made me more self-conscious. What messiah will rise to lead us from this ghastly hall of mirrors? It's dates like this that keep our churches and asylums full. Kind readers, be gentle with one another. Surely together we can find a less disappointing ending for this nightmare.

RATING: Broken Tape Deck! Pay your money, but don't say I didn't warn ya!

FUNNY BONES vs. MY DINNER WITH ANDRE

Two women, two movies, too much excitement!

I prefer to see movies alone nowadays, mostly because whenever I'm with someone I worry that the person I'm with won't like the movie, and I wind up noticing all the reasons the person I'm with might not like the movie, and when the movie ends the person I'm with usually says something like "Wow, that was great" and I wonder how he or she could like such a stupid movie. The fact that most people are just like me in this respect is the reason that most movies stick to such a rigid agenda of car explosions and bus crashes, so the epsilons who own Stallone posters and never decide which movie to see until they've arrived at the multiplex have something to talk about on the drive back to the 7-Eleven parking lot they call home. (Don't get me wrong, I love America.)

There have long been alternatives to standard Hollywood movies, though: so-called "Art Films", designed for people who don't care whether the people they're with are having a good time. I recently watched "Funny Bones" with Freda, my sister's 97-year-old German teacher, a holocaust survivor with a thick Austrian accent. I'd heard the movie was "brilliant", a marvelous story about failed comedians who travel to remote villages in search of people who are "naturally" funny; in the end, however, I found the movie thought-provoking but somewhat less interesting than the description of the movie on the back of the video box. Was my reaction due solely to my concern that I'd forced this potentially tedious, inexplicably weird story upon my aged friend? It's hard to say. The film felt like a ride on a train that moved only slightly faster than walking, and since I'd planned the evening specifically to show someone else a good time, I was eager for the film to get where it was going.

Still, I did find much to appreciate about it. FUNNY BONES seems to be of a very limited genre: it's a drama about comedy, yet it's too absurd to be sappy and too involving to be dismissed as silly. The story is marvelously filmed, and Jerry Lewis gives a complex, affecting performance as a cheerfully aging comedian. It's a fascinating collection of elements which add up to something less than whole, but perhaps worth experiencing anyway.

Don't try it on a date, though. In fact, considering that the current motion picture rating system tends to be valued only by parents ("Will this movie corrupt Junior?") and horny adolescent males ("Will this movie feature breasts?"), I suggest a new system for informing the public about the films they consider seeing. Animated musicals and moralistic action films would be given a "G" rating, indicating that these are the movies to see if you're bored and can't decide what to do. Every intense courtroom drama would be labeled with an "S" rating, meaning that this movie features Susan Sarandon or some equally talented actress eager to redefine her image. Comedies featuring former TV actors or costing less than $30,000 would receive the "I" rating, calling for an audience that likes to think they coulda done a better job directing. And any drama about the lonely life of a musician or any film made in a foreign country that doesn't feature slapstick comedy or Kung Fu would be labeled with the phrase "WARNING! ART FILM!!" The danger is immediate, brethren. Somewhere, at this very moment, a desperate young couple is preparing to watch ALL THE MORNINGS OF THE WORLD or WHY HAS THE BODHI DHARMA LEFT FOR THE EAST? Can we just sit back and allow this to happen?

So, I'd seen MY DINNER WITH ANDRE about twenty times before, but this was the first time it made me think about being locked in prison. I brought the tape to Freda's two weeks after watching FUNNY BONES and she turned the television volume up until the film's incessant dialogue rattled the objects on the table like large tokens on an electric football game board and I wondered if I'd chosen the wrong movie for an old woman who frequently asked me to repeat whatever I was saying. She'd requested a film that featured interesting, possibly educational dialogue, and this one seemed perfect: Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory meet in a New York restaurant and engage in a conversation that begins with Andre's avant-garde theater experiments in Poland and Denmark and progresses gracefully to confrontations with the most dramatic questions of life: Who are we? What are we doing? And where are we going? I'd long considered this film to be among the most insightful, fascinating and inspiring movies I'd ever seen.

Freda's the type whose body stays in the same position when she sleeps, her head dropping straight down as if to say "I'd rather study my own clothing than watch this movie." I wasn't shocked - she'd fallen asleep several times during Funny Bones, after all, always waking up to offer some gentle praise for the editing or the photography or something else that didn't require unbroken attention to be appreciated. Still, it got me thinking about the last time I'd seen My Dinner With Andre, years before.

Christine and I had set a dating endurance record by staying together something like four weeks in a row, which meant I assumed we were going to get married. I was young and had much to learn. One by one we worked past each other's little litmus tests - would I like her favorite music? Would she appreciate my little stories? Do I say incriminating things in my sleep? Would she like my favorite movies? We cuddled on my couch and I put in the familiar tape. Every time I'd seen it with friends or watched it alone, the air had become pregnant with ideas - great conversations waiting to happen. But this time my thoughts were different. "Look at Andre's sweater - nobody dresses like that anymore. Are they just gonna sit there and talk? Is Christine enjoying it? Why do I feel like the walls are closing in?" I turned to see her head roll to the side as she nodded off. We never got married.

Freda faded in and out as the movie continued and I realized that if I was ever on Death Row and I was granted a last request before my execution, I'd ask to watch My Dinner With Andre in the company of the executioner, all the guards, the warden, the judge, the jury and whoever had seen my face on the poster. I'd enjoy the insightful, witty filmed conversation for about forty minutes and then I'd scamper away from the snoring, uniformed crowd as Andre talked about eating sand and throwing up. (It's a great moment, really.)

Freda seemed mostly alert during the home stretch. Our two heroes had told most of their stories and all that remained were the vague profundities tossed out at the end like party favors for the audience to carry home. "Excellent pictures. Excellent actors," she said. A few minutes past. "Very nice," she said. The conversation on screen continued. Several times she seemed ready to say something that she never said. Finally she turned to me: "Could we maybe bring it to an end? They've made their point."

"It's almost over," I answered.

She turned back to the screen. Soon she chuckled. "I wouldn't want to be married to him. He'd talk to me day and night."

RATING for FUNNY BONES: Broken tape deck! Maybe you can do something with it!

RATING for MY DINNER WITH ANDRE: Cheap music equipment!! Enjoy it with someone who's allergic to anesthesia!

 

 

The St. Valentine's Day Masochist

(Love, part 1)

love n. a powerful emotion felt for another person

manifesting itself in deep affection, devotion or

sexual desire || (tennis) no score, nothing ||

There's no thrill like watching your girlfriend patiently stack everything you've ever loaned or given her on her carpet next to your backpack at 6:30 in the morning. It's slightly more fun than being thrown out of summer camp by spontaneous vote of all the other kids, but only because there are fewer witnesses.

Life is ugly and complicated. This is not news. Romance is a slippery eel in an ocean full of dirty dishes, loneliness is a carnival ride of slow electrocution, and the only time I really feel alive is when I change lanes to pass on a two-lane highway. Yet every song, story and commercial hammers home the idea that romantic love is the stuff I'm supposed to use to fill that gaping hole in my life. I'm better adjusted than I used to be - I no longer suffer panic attacks from isolation, phoning distant friends one after another to solicit support like a PBS station during a pledge break - but the ominous campaign is impossible to escape.

Valentine's day in particular is a bad idea. Lovers need no excuse to celebrate romance and single folks need no excuse to feel bitter and frustrated. Imagine if only thirty percent of kids got Christmas presents - would it still seem like such a great fucking holiday? So who the fuck decided to plan a day for romance without coming up with a plan B for the rest of us? My idea of a holiday is a day on which, in celebration of some great milestone in the history of our oppression of the people who lived here before us, I get to sleep in. If Valentine's Day were a real holiday, I wouldn't have had to spend every February 14th going to school/work/whatever and being reminded of the many attractive women I'm not sleeping with.

But even for the romantically entangled, Valentine's Day isn't a holiday to celebrate; it's an obstacle course to survive if you're lucky and motivated. It weeds out the slow and clumsy like a room full of bear traps.

It started in college. I was dating Anna...it was doomed from the start - she was a Republican and I was a theater arts major - but we'd developed a very sweet affection for one another and a romantic date was planned for February 14, the day she would return after five days visiting her parents in San Diego. I spent so much time wondering if the fact that I was wearing a suit meant I was supposed to order for both of us that I failed to notice how sad and confused she was. Finally she told me very tenderly that she'd gotten back together with her ex-boyfriend over the weekend and she wasn't sure how she felt about it. It was a surprisingly warm, friendly moment, and I was very happy for them both when I learned the following week that he had called to propose to her. Of course, we hadn't actually broken up by then...that wouldn't happen until a few days later, when she met a Neanderthal at a party and insisted she just wanted to help him find a place to stay for the night, plus for unrelated reasons she suddenly needed to be single again. By that time I knew it was over and I was happy just to let her drive me back to campus one last time, her cro-magnon pal's rusty pickup chugging close behind us. Some things aren't worth arguing about.

The next year I'd arranged a mid-February visit with my old flame Marina, calling from the San Francisco streetcar terminal to be told by her roommate that she was nowhere to be found. Later learned she'd been busy getting back together with her abusive sycophantic ex-boyfriend - not the one for whom she declared her love after he broke her jaw, another one - and I should understand because, she dramatically explained, "I love him." It was February 13 but I hadn't figured out the pattern yet.

That would happen the following year. Becky, six years older and living in New York, had been cruelly dumped by one of my adolescent buddies and so I assumed she'd skip our planned February 14th visit and spend the weekend in bed with him, but in fact our day went as planned - a sobering tourist trek to Alcatraz Island. She was attractive and affectionate and I felt gooey about her for several days, yet I worried. What did it mean that the first day of our nascent relationship was spent in a prison full of inescapable traps, tension and sorrow? Should I pursue my attraction to my new friend, or heed my keen sense of dark symbolism? Perhaps, I thought, it would be a mistake to expect perfect bliss from romance in the first place...it does say a great deal about our culture, after all, that we so tend to overromanticize life's ugly details that we've made a national park out of a prison.

Ramona was an exotic flower, a dazzling beauty, an emotional coal mining disaster, so it really was not surprising that she stood me up on Valentine's Day the following year...she later said she had to work, thought she had my new number and left a message on a machine belonging to someone named Chris. Twelve months later I thought I was gonna get married to Christine but I'd not had the required three months to adjust to being in a relationship that wasn't immediately carcinogenic, so when the Valentine's Day cookie cutter came down upon us a bloody mess of lost limbs and bitterness was created. She was dressed up like a holy dream of forbidden beauty and I showed up late, disheveled, carrying a wilting flower and distressed by a conversation I'd just had with a friend I'd proposed to years before. I'd have left me too.

The following February Linda visited from New York but she decided to ignore our adorably desperate little partnership and spend the first two nights with her other friends, and so the romance we'd built in December staggered to a clumsy end after I told her I never wanted to see her again, but we managed to salvage a friendship. A seedling rising meekly from the path of the mudslide.

So it was with great trepidation that I anticipated the arrival of Valentine's Day this year. I was dating Sandra and even while everything was going well I found myself living cautiously, like a well-known clean-shaven hemophiliac mob informant. We dated, we talked, we played pornographic versions of familiar board games, everything rolled steadily forward like a bowling ball down a lazy suburban driveway. Then came Valentine's Day.

I spent the morning at a funeral. My uncle had died on February 12th and I greeted my mourning relatives in the same outfit I'd worn to my last job interview five years before.

The service was like a weird practical joke, so strange as to be beyond cruel. I was sure everyone in the room was conspiring to keep my living uncle hidden somewhere, pretending he was no longer around, pretending people really do leave without giving anyone a chance to say goodbye, to seal the leaky hole left by the thoughtlessly departed. It was a practical joke with a lesson in it, a ritual message about life, but one that nobody understood no matter how much they pretended they did, no matter how convincingly they wore the costume.

My grandmother sobbed uncontrollably - I made the mistake of asking how she was - and I imagined how warm and exciting and horribly unusual it would be if I could actually drop the role of somber, polite cousin and tell everyone what I was actually thinking, tell them all the ways my uncle annoyed me, all the time I'd spent not thinking about him and how horribly sad it was that he was gone and we'd all come together only for this ugly moment, to exchange awkward roles and unknown rules and embarrassed small talk.

Finally drove to Sandra's house for dinner and had a sweet evening together, two affectionate passengers waiting for the "in love" dashboard light to click on. Two months later we would realize the mouse in the jar had run out of oxygen, but we'd broken through. Some weight had been lifted away.

 

Most people who have romance in their lives think they're experts at finding it, like blind people bowling who insist they know how to roll a strike twice in a row. Granted, it does help to keep trying. But the search for the truth of love is ambiguous: Those in relationships know that it's no big deal and those who are alone and unsatisfied know that if the folks in relationships were dumped tomorrow they'd think they'd been dropped in the middle of the Sahara with an empty canteen and a broken Swiss Army knife. The amazing thing isn't so much that neither side will believe the other, but that so many people will completely exchange their former loyalties and beliefs when they inevitably change sides in the argument, like a giant game of "Red Rover, Red Rover".

The surprise for me is how quickly the appearance of a potential relationship will instantly transform me into the world's most condescending, ambitious treasure hunter. Before, I recognized the unique, blessed magic of every individual; now suddenly, the world's a big county fair, I'm both the judge and the blue ribbon and I can't give myself away until I've tasted every jar of jam. Disgusted contestants tend to abandon the competition before the judging's over, leaving me alone, unawarded, holding a sticky spoon. Could I be doing something wrong?

All I want is to be in a loving, exciting relationship, and yet I haven't figured out how to reconcile the "Everything Is Beautiful" unconditional-love mantra with the "You Better Shop Around" romance-as-shrewd-capitalism philosophy. Women aren't objects, men aren't prizes; and yet, while we claim to value equality, arranged marriages remain unpopular. We're expected to judge each other constantly, but we're supposed to hide the fact that we're doing it.

Maybe love is the opposite of judgement. That explains why people look so hard for a good "catch"; they get all their judging out of the way ahead of time, so they can pair off and live in unconditional bliss, until one day they wake up on top of a pile of broken dishes and empty beer bottles, screaming something about the television and throwing the children that they'd also failed to notice until the kids tragically entered the parental crossfire.

I really don't understand the game. Popping the question used to mean "Will you marry me?"; now it means "I know we're broken up, but can we still have sex?" I don't know where to start, and the rules are only getting more complicated.

A friend of mine went to a bondage party and was asked to hold a woman's leash. (Didn't people used to just hold hands?) "Be dominant", she said.

He found it difficult. Raised to be politely passive about everything that didn't have a steering wheel attached, he wanted to be dominant, in order to comply with her wishes, but he didn't know how.

In a certain way the solution seems easy enough - he would only have to come up with something for her to do, and then pretend to insist that she do it. He could play a forceful game of Twister and command her to do his bidding. "Right leg on yellow, bitch!"

Do note that tone of voice is crucial; adding "bitch" to any mandate does not automatically make it a command. Saying "Right leg on yellow, bitch, please" wouldn't have the desired motivating effect, and in fact it might inspire a disgusted mutiny from the dominated, but ultimately controlling, slave.

And so my friend was left standing helpless, holding the leash of his determined follower, the proverbial twister dial spinning endlessly in his head. Questions blurred past - "What do I do? What do I say to make her happy so she won't reject me? Isn't there something I can offer her so she won't decide I'm worthless? Would a bribe work?"

This, readers, is the spiky mountaintop of inaudible wisdom where most of us guys spend our lives.

Now, put down the sniper rifles. I'm not saying that women secretly control men by pretending to be helpless, although such women do exist. I'm saying that most guys are completely lost, desperately willing to please but clueless as to how to do so, wrestling with a rulebook full of apparent contradictions written in gibberish.

"You like nice guys? I can be nice, I'll show you nice, you've never seen nice like - huh? Deep, mysterious? You want mysterious? Uh...how about quiet? Quiet passes for mysterious, I bet, yeah...wait, I can be sweet too. Yeah, sweet's no problem. I could say some really great sweet things, of course, but I'm still being quiet, so you'll think I'm...wait, I forgot what I was supposed to be quiet for...would you like it if I was sullen and moody? I'm real good as sullen and moody, you just let me know..."

This is a humorous exaggeration, of course, ha ha ha. I have learned in becoming mature that the person you date should be someone who makes you feel comfortable, since romance is the place where your true self should be able to come out. This fact can be difficult to accept, since I believe that the average person feels free to express his or her true self only when he or she is alone in an elevator, scratching rudely or breaking into song or rethinking poorly chosen dialogue from embarrassing moments earlier in the day.

I'm happy to say I do pretty well at being myself in relationships. I'm relaxed and confident right up to the third or fourth day, when I start wondering when she's gonna figure out what an annoying, tedious and shallow person I am. The more fearful I get that I'll be recognized as a loser, the more desperately my hands start pushing at the surface of the water, trying to keep my body immersed as it rises toward the air. My fingers feel less and less liquid to push against as I struggle to quickly become the person she'd want to be with, the person I'd be if I weren't such a loser. Amazingly, however, I forget what that person would talk about in any situation, and I again wonder if it would seem pensive and mysterious if I just shut up for the rest of the relationship and I only opened my mouth for her adoring kisses. Will she even kiss me, or has she grown tired of that too? Why did she agree to go out with me, anyway? She's weird. I should be with someone else. But what if I can't do better?

Boy and girl hit it off. Girl freaks out that boy will be obsessed lunatic like the last boy. Boy freaks out that he could find a better relationship and feels guilty that he's too scared to try. Girl freaks out that he's such a decent boy and she's afraid of hurting him. Boy freaks out that he's the wrong person for the job and struggles to become the right person for the job without really knowing what the job is. Girl freaks out that the spark isn't there and she's afraid relationship will stagnate. Boy freaks out that the spark isn't there and he's afraid she'll notice. Girl and boy freak out, argue, tremble, suffer and agree to remain friends. Thus beaten and quivering they achieve romantic bliss. Someday.

In the end it's best to remember that we're all human beings, with everything in common. "When everything was going well I thought it was because I'd finally learned how to do things the right way, so now that my life is a hopeless mess I've either forgotten what I knew or I never knew it in the first place. Good thing I kept a frigid ocean of cynicism hidden behind my thin facade of giddy romantic ecstasy, just in case."

 

WHY CIVILIZATION IS CRUMBLING, PART III:

Marty leaves the house for once and has some thoughts about it

96/ 9/13 YAY!! The phone is unplugged and I finally have a moment to drag you screaming through the organic Disney hell ride inside my head - a long overdue trip, so please indulge me. I'm just back from a Mission district theater the size of a large taxicab and now, overwhelmed, I want to buy more moments of your time. The show was called "DreamMachine" and it doesn't matter that you missed it. This isn't a review, it's a story and a tumor and a necessary belch, so forgive, please. Here goes.

DreamMachine, created by Elijah Aron, was a ride: I sat in a padded car and was pulled through eerie closet-sized rooms where hands and heads and faces and other things popped out of the painted walls and sang songs to me about my journey into the land of dreams. So far I've described nothing, a cardboard kindergarten play, but this was much more. It was great theater, which unfortunately means it's impossible to describe accurately by telling you what it actually was. The best I could hope to do would be to approximate its imaginative effect using words. This was a too-short, very silly ride through a musical children's book - like a Disneyland ride, yes, but on a different level. While I saw that it was made of cardboard and actors, the images that came together in my head made it clear I had been taken somewhere else, into an underground world of singing clowns and weird music.

And from this island I could see that we back on the mainland have made many terrible, terrible mistakes. Somewhere along the line we gave away the most valuable things we had to the people who were least able to understand them. To too great an extent, adults have stupidly relinquished clowns solely to the entertainment of children - exactly where they do not belong.

Human beings have this habit: we see or hear things and we decide what they mean. If we're standing on train tracks and we hear a train whistle approaching, we step away from the rails. If we see a cop or a delivery person or anyone else in uniform, we expect certain behaviors from them. It's a necessary survival skill: we "make sense" of things.

But a clown is someone whose actions and looks don't immediately "make sense". We recognize that a human being is wearing the costume, but the strange face, the expressions and the odd body language don't add up to anything predictable. Human beings don't act like that. We spend our lives assembling puzzle pieces with factory-worker efficiency, but an inspired clown offers us costumes and behaviors that don't fit into recognizable patterns, and we are very eager to make them fit. If the clown is successful, we find the only way to make sense of the strange behavior is to accept that we have not fully understood the world up to now, and that in fact it is as natural for a person to bounce or crawl or sing as it is to drive or shop or make small talk. And suddenly, the world is seen as new: a successful clown will delight the audience with a thrilling sense of freedom and discovery usually reserved for children...but this is the root of our mistake. Clowns are our best tool for re-entering a mental state of imaginative freedom, but we have mistaken this delightful state of wonder for childhood itself, and we have assumed that anything that makes us feel like children must be for children, since we are adults.

This mistake has sabotaged everything it has touched. Adults feel confined and depressed because the world doesn't sparkle like it used to; they think it's the result of age instead of attitude. Young children are often terrified of clowns because they can't make sense of the way the clown acts or looks. The clown represents the unknown, and the child doesn't know enough not to be afraid. And the typical solution to this problem has been to make clowns less unusual, more friendly and harmless and predictable... stripping them of every bit of their power and true charm along the way. A clown suit has become just another uniform, ensuring us that we'll know what to expect.

Of course, we have a few very good reasons for wanting to know what to expect. Interacting with people without earning their scorn is a complicated game. We don't want to let on that we're clumsy, or that we're fascinated by someone whose body or manner makes him move oddly or look unusual. Occasionally I'll "wake up" and realize I've been living in a shark cage, trapped behind bars of strict behavior designed so other people will know what to expect, so they won't be afraid. We're eager to manufacture a predictable world. But living in a cage is lonely and suffocating. We need otherworldly performers like we need friends, to lure us out - or to slip unexpectedly through the bars and join us inside.

A creepy man with stiff clay hands at the end of his elongated forearms leapt up three feet in front of me and sang his clever song about the dream machine he'd built for us. I shared the car with one other audience member; it was our private show. In a nightclub I'd be horrified if the singer came that close to me when I was sober, but in this tiny room I was free to enjoy the performance without worrying about my role within it. I was not onstage, embarrassed before a crowd; I was inside the machine where anything was possible.

Great art has always treaded close to the line of ridiculousness, and DreamMachine bounded gleefully upon it the entire way, every silly performance happening within arm's reach; the show made a firm ally of absurdity and thus became far more powerful. This happens in rock concerts, too: when Nick Cave snarls at the audience like a furious preacher, or KISS take the stage costumed like demonic insects, many in the audience might run away laughing - but those not shaken loose by the leap over the line may witness something much larger than life. The performer invites the audience into a place where music is more genuine and powerful than anything living in the everyday world, where each day's rage may rise audibly to life. Something is allowed, finally, to breathe again.

The show - the ride - was much too short, even disappointing in the end...yet I left with that feeling that everything around me was alive, finally, for me to see. The familiar songs on the radio resonated with a drive and a depth and a quality of sound that I'd never heard before. And the people on the street...every one was costumed as a different character, every one a humble clown. It's enough to make ya laugh.

Copyright 1996 Martin Azevedo

CHRISTMAS

I expand and contract like helium when the weather changes: when it's warm and sunny I find it difficult to remain focused on anything indoors, since it feels like it's my duty as a living creature to frolic in the park, but cold and wet weather makes me feel like the whole world has shrunk to the size of whatever warm corner I've squeezed myself into, inside my room or my sheltering coat. In the Summer, the whole living world invites me to be a part of it; in the Winter, I'm left isolated with only those things I know are mine, part of me. Cold, dark days make romance more intense, loneliness more desperate, the future farther away.

And this is what I believe Christmas is all about.

A few days ago friend Betty said she was sick of the predictable holiday get-togethers we've been having the last coupla years...they're all starting to look the same. But why celebrate Christmas if we don't want it to look like last Christmas? What is Christmas that makes it Christmas? Betty, raised vaguely Jewish, sees the holiday as mostly an excuse to spend a nice time with the right people - her husband Earl in particular. Earl suggested that Christmas, placed uncoincidentally at the Solstice, is a bright celebration of light and warmth at the darkest time of the year; even a defiant celebration of life in a time of near death. I agreed with both views, but I saw something else in it...I think Christmas is a celebration of that exact thing that becomes visible when the world is at its darkest. It's a time of recognition that, although the world is cold and not everything can survive and grow through this harshest of seasons, as family we are still alive, within our coats and walls and cold faces and tough steel skins. During this time it's not enough to simply acknowledge the pleasant things near us...instead we fight past our everyday trappings and gather together those few things, those few people, we can truly consider our own: relatives, close friends, loved ones. This is why we celebrate Christmas with those idiotic cousins: because, while friends are a reflection of who we are now and who we want to be, our relatives are a reflection of a completely different, physical, undeniable part of who we are, and we celebrate that part of the whole of ourselves on these special, holy-days. It's a day for admitting to ourselves and accepting from ourselves, after a year of fighting to convince and change. Gift giving turns out to be a celebration of what we have, not what we can get. And it's wonderful to celebrate what we have by giving some of it away, but it's a dangerous habit to look at all those things we can truly call our own and see only those new possessions we didn't have yesterday.

So far I've discussed Christmas without mentioning Christianity, and it's hard to explain why without alienating Christians, but I guess I'll try. Imagine if a single bank declared that of all the money in the world, only the cash in its one vault was valuable; the bank would be laughed out of the market...but some religious groups regularly declare that their pathway to the divine is the only one. And while I think it's just fine for human beings to try to out-compassion one another, it's infuriating to hear one group claim sole right to judge or guide all "God's children".

If Christ hadn't been born we'd still need Christmas. Any description of the many things the holiday accomplishes would sound redundant: celebrating the birth of our savior, preparing on the darkest day for the coming renewal, gathering together to be warmed by the things the harsh seasons can't take away...have I repeated myself yet? This is not at all to suggest that the birth of Christ should not be the center of a Christian holiday celebration. But it would be myopic to claim that the holiday is meaningless when celebration is focused on other important things.

Most days are predictable like endless rehearsals for tomorrow's play. But when I experience real magic, a feeling of awe at the depth and sparkle of life, I recognize it as the missing heart of each day's living. I promise to try to keep the feeling inside and work it into my foundation and experience it every day, not as an escape but as the reason behind and the meaning within everything I do.

I'm lucky enough to have found this magic in many places...inspired moments of love from friends and relatives, gatherings of the right group at the right time (like Rec-Lab - I'll explain if asked)...even a great musical clown show. The first few tours of Cirque Du Soleil shone with a vision of life I'd never seen before, deep breaths of air after too long underwater. None of these experiences shares the same feeling as Christmas...but that's exactly why they're exciting. A feeling of wonder can't be pulled out of last year's storage box and ignited again. It comes from directly and imaginatively confronting those things in life that are valuable and meaningful today. And each of these celebrations - Christmas, a special group gathering, a glorious performance - are tools for doing exactly this. Tools for celebrating life itself. Tools for living.

 

 

© 1996 Martin Azevedo

 

 

KISS MADE ME A MAN

Martin Azevedo tries to make sense of it

Making fun of KISS in 1996 is like teasing the guy who wet his bed at camp. Whatever made it happen is natural and inevitable and many years into the past. Yet twenty-three years after the band's debut album, I doubt there exists a journalist in the world who could mention KISS without marking the territory with a sarcastic swipe. Certainly I have no interest in being the first.

And yet this is KISS' triumph. In 1973, KISS was a struggling hard rock band in New York when the four performers began experimenting with outrageous makeup as part of their dynamic stage show. The response was immediate and tremendous. Their brand of rock theater didn't tread near the line of ridiculousness; it charged over and kept running. By making it impossible to take them seriously in any conventional way, they leapt beyond the limits that encase most mortal bands. Their show was explosive and unreal; their songs were catchy and as subtle as a pile of dildoes. Adolescents of every age were overwhelmed. KISS was more than a rock band; in full costume, they became the superhuman incarnation of rock itself. Seeing KISS in concert must have been like a communion with the gods.

And I never got to experience it. My mom hated KISS, and for better or worse, I loved my mom. She read a review of KISS' 1978 San Francisco concert and quoted the critic to me: "Kiss doesn't make music; they make noise." I nodded in agreement, mostly because I had been raised without a backbone, but soon strange and wonderful changes began inside me and before long I was spending whole summer weeks in my neighbor Todd's bedroom playing air guitar to "God Of Thunder". Todd, educated in KISS mythology, taught me how to lean back on my knees as I played the solo. Todd's mother was divorced and she smoked inside the house and he had a cool stereo and an Atari and more toys than me. I didn't really want to be like him but I wanted all his stuff. Life in the suburbs is like that.

I played Ace Frehley in our air-band version of KISS in the Cabrillo Elementary School "gong show" in 1979, without ever having heard "Shout It Out Loud", the song we were to mimic. I wore a tinfoil costume and a thin wood guitar I'd painted at Donny's house. Bobby borrowed a real guitar from his dad and he and Donny taped smoke bombs onto their instruments and pulled out lighters in the middle of the song to ignite their fireworks and weave more seamlessly the illusion that KISS itself had appeared for a quick show in the Cabrillo school multi-purpose room. I really don't remember why but we never made it through the entire song. I was born to play Ace Frehley and it didn't happen.

And now it's 1996. My hair is shorter than a marine's, I'm poorer than my parents were and I play guitar for real now. Adolescence is over, but KISS is back! Many interpret this tour as a cynical gesture designed solely for profit, but I see it as a crucial opportunity for rock fans of all ages to come together and study the ways in which the torment of adolescence unites every generation. Is "I want to fuck you like an animal" a more satisfying metaphor than "You pull the trigger of my love gun"?

But these are details. It was the whole picture that scared my mom, and the whole picture that drew me in. Guys in demon makeup with guitars, singing about sex and partying before it was okay to swear on an album. They didn't need dirty words. They had makeup and icky metaphors. They were real men. Some things you can't learn from your parents.

 

 

 

THE UNDISCOVERED PLATONIC DIALOGUES

PLATO'S LOST EROTIC CRUSADE

This is part 1 in our series of the recently unearthed works of Plato, who often composed his thoughts in the form of dialogues between the great philosopher Socrates and a young student. Evidence suggests also that Plato made a practice of using Socrates' name when introducing himself in group therapy sessions. Additional ancient heresay reports that Plato blamed his parents for his skin problem and that he once ate his own sandals on a bet.

SOCRATES

Tell me, young Dorocles, has something upset you?

DOROCLES

Yeah. Remember that woman I told you I was dating?

SOCRATES

The actress? Of course. Your heart was light at the mention of her name.

DOROCLES

Yeah. Well, now she tells me she thinks of me as her brother.

SOCRATES

Really? That's wonderful.

DOROCLES

No, it's awful. She thinks I'm sweet and funny and she has a body that can melt granite but she doesn't want to go out with me.

SOCRATES

Oh. That's too bad.

DOROCLES

Tell me about it.

SOCRATES

I'm surprised to see you disappointed, though. You two seemed to be getting along so well.

DOROCLES

Well, I'm getting tired of it. This has happened before.

SOCRATES

It has?

DOROCLES

Yeah - every goddam time I date someone, she winds up just wanting to be my friend, like that's all I'm good for. Am I not a sexual being? Don't I have rights?

SOCRATES

Well, young Dorocles, have you considered that maybe you're just dating the wrong people?

DOROCLES

Gee, thanks for the insight, Einstein.

SOCRATES

But isn't it true? Consider, Dorocles, that you're a clever, intelligent, handsome lad. Surely there are women out there who would love to date you. Perhaps you should be looking to date a new kind of person. Tell me, what attracted you to this young lady?

DOROCLES

Are you kidding? Look at her! She's Aphrodite with clothes! She's built like a brick temple!

SOCRATES

But, what do you have in common with her? What do you admire about her character?

DOROCLES

Uhh...gimme a f'rinstance.

SOCRATES

Hmm...well, for example, Dorocles, you've met several of the women I've dated since my dear wife passed away, haven't you?

DOROCLES

Yeah, I guess I have.

SOCRATES

And have you noticed any common trait shared by all the women I've dated?

DOROCLES

They're all Asian neurotics with eating disorders?

SOCRATES

(perturbed)

I was thinking of the fact that they've all been intelligent.

DOROCLES

Oh. Yeah.

SOCRATES

You see, young Dorocles, you're only robbing yourself if you don't pursue the company of young ladies whose personalities interest you.

DOROCLES

Yeah. So when was the last time you got naked with someone just because you respected her personality?

SOCRATES

Well, yes, it's important to find a romantic partner physically attractive. But is your goal to find the right companion, or to prove your own worth by claiming a glamorous prize?

DOROCLES

Uh...my goal is has something to do with hot sex.

SOCRATES

Of course. Tell me, Dorocles, have you had the experience of noticing a very attractive woman turning the corner in front of you, only to catch up with her and find that she is not nearly as lovely as you originally thought she was?

DOROCLES

Happens all the time.

SOCRATES

So she seemed attractive when you only knew a tiny bit about her, but as you gathered more information, you changed your opinion.

DOROCLES

Well, when I saw her from a block away, she seemed worth a closer look.

SOCRATES

Well, imagine that meeting someone for the first time is like catching that momentary glance as she turns the corner. If you see beauty, you see beauty...but as you learn more about her, you may see her in a different way.

DOROCLES

So I might decide someone hot is actually ugly?

SOCRATES

...or you might decide that someone "ugly" is actually "hot".

DOROCLES

Well, look. I don't try to tell myself how to feel about people. If I'm attracted, I'm attracted.

SOCRATES

Hmm. So, Dorocles, when you're interested in a young lady, do you make your feelings known?

DOROCLES

Whaddya mean?

SOCRATES

Well, Would you consider yourself... aggressive?

DOROCLES

Oh, yeah. Most of that I learned from porno films and magazines. And they're usually pretty aggressive, so yeah.

SOCRATES

Oh, my. Well, if that's the case, I'm afraid you've got a lot to learn.

DOROCLES

Oh God, you're not gonna give me any of that masturbation-is-sinful crap, are you?

SOCRATES

(Clearing throat)

Hmm? No, I, uh...hadn't planned on it.

DOROCLES

'Cause, you know, everyone does it.

SOCRATES

Yes, Dorocles, I'm...aware of that.

DOROCLES

I mean, I used to feel guilty about it, but that was just stupid.

SOCRATES

Well my point is that the mysteries of sexuality are very rarely portrayed with accuracy in the world of pornography.

DOROCLES

What do you mean?

SOCRATES

Dorocles, I am not unfamiliar with...er...erotica, and yet it's been my experience that...very rarely in such works will you find any hint of the intimacy or drama that make sexuality exciting.

DOROCLES

So...are you saying they could be made better?

SOCRATES

Of course. Any art worth doing is worth doing well.

DOROCLES

How?

SOCRATES

You're asking how?

DOROCLES

Yeah! Suddenly I'm dying of suspense.

SOCRATES

(clearing throat)

Well, Dorocles, it occurs to me that you're probably behind on your mathematical studies, so -

DOROCLES

Wait, Socrates, are you just gonna let me go through my life ignorant about this stuff? What about teaching the youth wisdom and all that?

SOCRATES

(sighing)

...If you must hear my thoughts on the matter, so be it.

DOROCLES

Thanks.

SOCRATES

Hmm. Where to begin...

(producing a copy of "Hot Sirens of Thebes" magazine)

Let's look through this one.

DOROCLES

Socrates! Do you always carry -

SOCRATES

(flipping through magazine)

Never you mind. Now, here we see a series of photographs of a lovely young lady.

DOROCLES

Woah Nelly! Slow down with the pages.

SOCRATES

But look at these! Here, she's wearing a piece of alluring lingerie above her waist, but not below.

DOROCLES

Ma-ma.

SOCRATES

And yet in the next photo she's dressed in a bathing suit that covers her lower half but not her upper half. Then here she's completely nude. Then in the next picture she's partially dressed again. You see? This sequence of events would occur very rarely in nature.

DOROCLES

...and your point?

SOCRATES

My point, Dorocles, is that there is no sense of narrative flow through the series of pictures. Would it not be much more effective if the pictures told a little story?

DOROCLES

So pornography requires narrative flow to be sexy.

SOCRATES

If it's to portray sexuality instead of merely displaying nudity, yes.

DOROCLES

You know, Socrates, I'm glad I'm not you.

SOCRATES

Yes, well, perhaps we're all better off.

DOROCLES

You're saying that pictures of hot women without clothes don't interest you?

SOCRATES

What I'm saying, Dorocles, is that...well, let me describe it another way...you know how, on Christmas morning, it's always great fun to unwrap the presents?

DOROCLES

(playing along despite the glaring anachronism)

Yeah.

SOCRATES

And you're familiar with the feeling of disappointment that comes when you realize the last present has already been opened?

DOROCLES

Yeah.

SOCRATES

Well, imagine if you had a present that you could unwrap and keep unwrapping forever. Imagine it's the most delightful toy you could ever play with, and you play with it by continuing to unwrap it.

DOROCLES

Sounds kinda pointless.

SOCRATES

Well, it doesn't feel pointless while you're doing it.

DOROCLES

So you can never get it fully unwrapped.

SOCRATES

No. You can take some of the wrappings off and arrive at something you think is the center, but you haven't finished unwrapping. You're back where you started.

DOROCLES

I'm getting depressed and I don't even know why.

SOCRATES

Well, imagine that a human being is a gift just like that. The way to enjoy the gift is to continue to unwrap it.

DOROCLES

....so...do you mean like, take people's clothes off?

SOCRATES

Well...in a way, yes...but I'm describing many things. You see, there are many ways to reveal who a person truly is...to "unwrap" her or him from the costume of stranger. You might remove a layer of wrapping by engaging in conversation, or by sharing an experience that teaches each of you about the other.

DOROCLES

But you learn about people when they take their clothes off, right?

SOCRATES

Well...

DOROCLES

I mean, I have a real thirst for learning about some things.

SOCRATES

In fact, it does reveal something when someone removes all clothing. It shows an exciting willingness to emerge from behind one's isolating costume. Many indicators of personal identity are removed. Many shields are dropped.

DOROCLES

Plus, you get to see breasts.

SOCRATES

Yes, that too. But when you've unwrapped someone's body, have you truly revealed something? Or are you back where you started?

DOROCLES

Well, it's fun to look at naked women and imagine all the things you could do with them.

SOCRATES

That's true. But is it more exciting to look at someone who's naked, or to watch someone disrobe and become naked?

DOROCLES

I think, the second one.

SOCRATES

Yes, because you are seeing more. When someone performs an alluring striptease, the performer is allowing not just the body to emerge from behind the clothing, but a whole different personality... an entirely new creature. What you're watching is the gradual revelation of the vulnerable, physical, sexual being that had been hidden within the costume of an everyday person.

DOROCLES

Huh?

SOCRATES

At least, if it's done right.

DOROCLES

So are you gonna talk about the magazine now?

SOCRATES

Yes!

DOROCLES

Finally.

SOCRATES

...because the most common mistake the magazines make is to act as if the sexual being and the naked body are the same thing.

DOROCLES

Socrates, have you considered that maybe you're just buying the wrong magazines?

SOCRATES

What I'm describing is very common. Most of the ways we hide our vulnerable, sexual selves from one another have less to do with how much we're wearing than with the things we do, the protective expressions we offer.

DOROCLES

Gimme a f'rinstance.

SOCRATES

Well, look at this young lady photographed here.

DOROCLES

The one removing her swimsuit?

SOCRATES

Yes...she's certainly lovely, but look at her!

DOROCLES

If you insist...

SOCRATES

Do you see? She's smiling like she's greeting a classroom full of kindergarteners.

DOROCLES

But people are supposed to look better when they smile, right?

SOCRATES

Often that's the case, but this is not a revealing smile, a relaxed smile. She's smiling like someone ordered her to smile. And while she's wearing no clothing, she appears to be the only one who's failed to notice.

DOROCLES

Socrates, I think you're the only one that worries about this stuff.

SOCRATES

Perhaps you're right.

(handing magazine to Dorocles)

It's not easy being a visionary.

DOROCLES

So you honestly don't find these pictures interesting?

SOCRATES

They're perfectly attractive photographs, but it's infuriating that they are presented as if they offered some image of sexuality instead of mere beauty.

DOROCLES

Well, maybe some folks know the difference between real sex and just naked pictures, but they still want to see the pictures, y'know? Maybe some guys like it when naked women smile like proud kindergarten teachers.

SOCRATES

Yes of course. That must be it.

DOROCLES

Y'know what I think? I think you expect so much excitement from sexual publications because you don't get it enough in real life.

SOCRATES

Dorocles, what we are discussing is erotic art. And if I, Socrates, can't offer an opinion about art, who can? Huh? Huh? Huh?

DOROCLES

Okay, but it sounds like you're oversimplifying it. You're implying that there's only one kind of facial expression that shows sexual vulnerability.

SOCRATES

Well, of course that's not the case. But by Zeus, I'm tired of buying magazines to see pictures of naked women and then opening the magazine to find that they don't even look naked. They look like they're out shopping in flesh-colored suits. Rarely is there any sense that the woman in the picture has surrendered her armor. There's no illusion of intimacy, as there might be in clever erotic art.

DOROCLES

Well, maybe the things that look sexy and vulnerable to you are not the same things that have that effect on someone else.

SOCRATES

True, true. I suppose I must allow for others' lack of taste.

DOROCLES

Or for your own.

 

Still in translation, this series continues with "A Moveable Republic", the philosopher's frank, obscene tirade about the his debaucherous nights as a self-obsessed starving expatriate writer in the slums of France. The complete translated works will be published in a future volume entitled"The Plato Fun Factory."

 

Copyright 1996 Martin Azevedo. Illustration by Nina Paley.

 

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