..First Glyph

January 22
7:30 p.m.

But my old friend Chuck, with an impish chuckle and pretending it not by design but merely whim meeting opportunity, put the Datsun into park in the parking lot of the topless bar. "Flesh Goddess," proclaimed the unoriginal neon sign. And what man can adamantly oppose such a venture to a man he has not seen in five years, to a man he does not know anymore, to a man who will interpret it as a prudish judgment of his character, and perhaps rightly so, if he says, "This is not my kind of place, Chuck." Or, "I do not really belong here, Chuck." And how can he say this truthfully if he has experienced only one or two strip clubs in his life--those when he was fifteen? He can't really say this truthfully, can he? I don't think so. And not when the truth is that he avoids the scene because he fears the scene. But fear? Fear? Not real fear. But that sweat across my cold brow, that tightness in my swollen throat. That fear of what the scene might mean, fear of how the scene might break open something within me that might not then be shut, something that maybe I won't want to shut. Forever then I would be lost, you know, forever wayward, astray in my quest for the spell of Chopin.

A similar dilemma once at a Catholic educator's convention. New Orleans. Bourbon Street. My roommate: "Let's see this live sex show." And, again, what could I say? It is not in me to be the offended moralist. I said, "Sure." But when he turned his back I cowardly dodged into a muffuletta shop. I skulked away. I ducked down a side street, past a hotdog vender, and onto another rue. I wanted to see the live sex show. Yes! How I craved even to see it! But the place in me that craved to see it was the place that I cannot obey. It is my weakness the way alcohol may be another man's. Or gambling another's. Or violence. Once you know these things about yourself you know it best to avoid even a sip or a lottery ticket or an untoward word. Because you cannot know where the next step leads. Or you know too well. In that way there is fear.

But Chuck was driving. And suddenly, impishly, he was chuckling. And, sweat on my cold brow, tightness in my swollen throat, I was treading past a very large bouncer and through a long dark corridor and thinking to myself that in this place the mystery would not be. Regardless, I was prodded on by fate and circumstance.

And this is the proverbial male bonding! My first encounter with it. It no longer seems such an absurd concept. For something really does happen. The experience is intensely male and it is shared. It happens in the bowels, in the throat, in the coursing of the blood. And it cannot be smothered. The bond comes from the two parties unavoidably becoming equals, arriving at that common physical plane, being strickled to their most primal maleness, and sharing, in consequence, identical perspective, unison. I can understand this fleeting communion strengthening or even generating camaraderie between two men. For Chuck and me, however, this did not occur. The communion, I think, has to be built upon to create a lasting camaraderie. And our communion was before these altars of nakedness and nowhere else.

"Fascinating," he concluded profoundly at one point, "In my opinion." He had just revealed to me his philosophy of women. It was basically a list of oxymorons. The situation demanded a nod from me. I nodded. I rejoined, "Everything impossible is fascinating." And I repaired to my one beer and continued my stream of thoughts on Hesse's Steppenwolf. A highly inward and moral character there is haunted by the lust and wantonness of his nights. He seems sometimes insane, sometimes confused. In that setting, with me planted there before those naked gyrating women, the book made perfect sense to me. We all hide a wolf in us. I was feeding mine-- reluctantly. And the peanuts, I recalled. I recalled sitting in a Tucson bar. Co-workers had cajoled me there. I recalled eating peanuts continually as I drank glasses of beer. I couldn't stop thinking about Goethe's Faust for some reason. I couldn't stop eating the peanuts.

In the end there was little to fear. The dancers were talent-less--thankfully. Only one of the ten I watched mustered even a semblance of seduction. And still I think it was her natural stage presence more than her dancing. The rest were just naked women. Once the affect of their nakedness wore off--A bore. The Bayadere ballet is much more sensual, I think. They did play a song by Sheryl Crow though.


John Dishwasher

The Gods of Our Fathers