By Donnie Michael
(Excerpted from a Life-In-Progress)
I sit here in my taxi, staring at bottoms. I admire bottoms, specifically female bottoms, for their expressive but faceless sensuality. They have no eyes to widen or narrow or dart; no mouths to smile wryly, invitingly, or otherwise. They are not subject to interpretation. Margo has a wonderful bottom, though she is unreasonably self-conscious of it. Hers is a proud bottom, with full jutting cheeks. It holds a prominent position in some of my favorite reveries.
I had the best of intentions. But then, I always do. Story of my life. Historically, my good intentions and largely self-inflicted lofty ideals only serve to increase the height of my fall and sharpen my knack for self-reproach; I see now that I have no reason to expect anything different from the current situation. It is a chronic affliction.
Margo and I share a relationship the fabric of which has worn thin as ancient levis. It is a thing we have patched and mended so many times in the past four years that it is unrecognizable from the original. We have worn it out the same way any bankruptcy occurs: gradually, and then all of a sudden. But then, there is nothing new in that.
Anne runs. It is the focus of how she defines herself. The act itself is her goal and, though she recognizes its transient nature, it dictates her lifestyle. She also is teetering on the brink of a waning relationship, dissatisfied and restless for a change, and yet hesitant about making that change, reluctant to abandon the comfortable familiarity of her particular brand of misery
On the radio, the dispatcher directs me to pick up Bill and take him home. I know without being told where to pick Bill up because I do so every day at about this time. None of the other drivers like to take him home and some flatly refuse. I kind of enjoy it. Bill may be the most unrepentantly honest person I have ever come across. His honesty is spontaneous and unadorned, uncomfortable and invigorating as an icy shower. During the busy winter season, Bill drives a taxi himself. In the summers he drinks. He is at some stage of intoxication whenever I pick him up, though the liquor does not seem to dull his intellectual faculties nor his capacity for social commentary. I don't know whether Bill's candor is a result of his drinking or the other way round. He told me out of the blue one day that he sometimes wakes up so lonely he cries uncontrollably, but then went on to say he would rather masturbate until his arm falls off than sleep with any more marginal women. Though he freely admits to dalliances with more than his fair share of what he calls ersatz-womanhood. Bill has also advised me that loneliness is a sickness curable only by the right person, though temporarily treatable by any number of the wrong ones. The contradictory nature of Bill's reasoning does not detract from its accuracy, it just gives me more ways to think about a thing. Also, Bill lives in the apartment directly above Anne's.
I have known Anne for several months now, and admired her openly though from a distance, due to the nature of my relationship with Margo. Now, however, I recognize that Margo and I no longer have anything you would want to call a relationship, and Anne and I have become participants in a confusing but ambrosial dance: I pursue her openly though somewhat indirectly to avoid backing her into a corner regarding her current relationship, and she responds with similarly oblique enthusiasm.
After Bill gets out of my cab, I sit for a while looking at Anne's window wondering if she is in there. The sun is just now going down, filtering through the pine trees to glint metallically off the window, making it difficult to see if there is light or movement in the room behind. She could be in there, watching, as I am, wondering who's going to make the first move.
We had dinner last night - sushi, which I detest - and lunch today. We spoke of the deterioration in our respective relationships, and innuendo swirled thick as honey. Curiously, she said that after a long talk she had agreed to give her relationship one more chance which I interpreted as some sort of attempt at circumventing guilt: putting the ball in my court and somehow absolving herself of responsibility for anything that may or may not follow. Having grown up Catholic, Anne seems to have developed the sort of labyrinthine logic that stems from a continual necessity for contrition. Still, I plan to have her down to my place by the river tomorrow night for dinner and seduction.
First, though, I need to talk to Margo. I intended to let her know a couple of weeks ago of my plans to seek comfort elsewhere, just to keep everything out in the open. But somehow I just haven't found the right moment; like I said, my intentions are always good. Despite a great deal more introspection than I am comfortable with, I'm unsure whether this dilatory approach to openness is because I don't want to upset her, or because I am afraid it won't.
It is time for the bars to close and I am parked strategically here at the point of convergence from all the nocturnal hotspots. I am new to the taxi-driving business and in my two months on the job have nearly stopped my drinking altogether. One reason is that driving the late shifts keeps me out of the bars. Another is the sensation of looking into a mirror I get every time someone vomits in my cab. There are very few positive adjectives that apply to drunks; amusing is the kindest that comes to mind. The truth is, I would rather be in there sloshing Swedish vodka and Mexican beer, goofy and untroubled as the lushest of them. This job is way too conducive to unfettered thought. And sometimes as lonely as staying sober at your own party.
New Mexico looms like salvation. The sight of its sun-colored license plates on the pickup in front of me feeds a longing nostalgia, an ache that never completely fades. There is an aspect of perversity in this as I spent a painful childhood in that state. Still, I feel the pull; it is almost a need. It is very near, no more than two hundred miles to the south, beckoning me to flee the sterile beauty of this place, this world-famous Ski Resort. There used to be a town here, filled with funky old structures and an odd but real conglomeration of residents. They tore that down though, in favor of the resort, spanking new and as contrived as a theme park. The people are gone too, herded down-valley or gettoed-up in low-income housing projects to make room for condos, hotels and vacation homes. The economy is booming while the community withers and this place is teeming with nothing more interesting than money. But New Mexico is there, with its ochre hills and piñon nights. It is as if by simply crossing the border (an imaginary line) I might relax, exhale the dull angina from my chest and slow the aimless whirl in my head. I could be there in three hours.
But no. Tonight there is Anne. I have just come from the grocery and in the back of my car are two heavy brown sacks containing the makings of a Mexican feast. One sudden turn and the bags could tip, discharging a pandemonium of color across my car: bright reds and dark green of chiles, dustier greens of tomatillos, yellow tortillas, beans the color of rich soil and the white pearlescence of a peeled onion. An amber bottle of tequila and a half-dozen yellow-green key limes. I have selected specific music for the stereo; I have candles; I have a fire laid in the pit at the far end of the lawn beneath the old apple trees where we can hear the river. I have a trampoline.
Seven o'clock seems a perfect time to me, and I stop at the health-food store where Anne works to find out whether it seems equally perfect to her. It does not.
I was going to call you, she says. Unexpected arrival of a friend, she says.
Knowing he has been gone: boyfriend back in town? I say.
As I drive homeward with my twin bags of concealed Mexican hues I try to imagine what the evening might have been like - an exercise in self-immolation. But the odd thing is this: I am unable to imagine myself making love to Anne. I cannot envision her arched beneath me or poised above me. Cupping her breasts or tracing the perfect line of her buttock and thigh with my palm seems far-fetched. The idea of my head between her legs or hers mine is ludicrous.
Margo, on the other hand, leaps readily into my fantasies. Less fantasy, in fact, than steamy reminiscence. Margo, whose public reticence about sex is equaled only by her private fervor; who abhors the idea of sex but revels in the act; whose moon-shaped face holds features both Arapahoe and vaguely Slavic in an arresting combination; whose breasts and superb bottom I can feel in my hands even now; who, of my own free will, I have not made love with in months.
All of which leads me to question my motives. Anne owns one of those willowy angular bodies and pert Celtic faces featured so alluringly in fashionable catalogs. Long legs, wide shoulders and an athlete's graceful fluidity on narrow boyish hips. A bottom that is aesthetically perfect though apparently not conducive to sexual fantasy. It would seem my interest in Anne's bottom and Ivy-League beauty is strictly ornamental, without even lust as a basis. For whose benefit? Margo's? Am I capable of such puerile superficiality? Without question.
My head is just now beginning to clear. With an endless empty evening and a full bottle of tequila on my hands, I made a bit of a spectacle of myself in several of the local bars with someone named Nicole. Very pretty in a hard, roadhouse sort of way. I guessed upper Midwest and was surprised when she said California. She bought me a drink and said nice ass. I replied likewise of course but it was true. It was her birthday and, as she was already quite drunk, I hurried to catch up. As to the requisite sex later at her place: aside from some spectacular lingerie and a mutual frenzy, I really don't remember.
Sometimes, even often, the life I have chosen seems an exercise in diminishing returns. But every so often I re-recognize that the benefits in terms of time and place go a long way toward balancing the scales. I've decided: no taxiing today. I am spending it alone but for Young Wingo in my small chunk of Eden here beside the river. Well, not mine exactly, but close enough for the time being.
We are lying here in the shade of the old orchard listening to the various squawks and bickerings of birds about who knows what. The lawn is littered with green apples that fall with sporadic regularity: small crashes rustling down through the leaves and thunking onto the grass. At first Young Wingo, sprawled out on his side like a horse in the shade, would jerk up and snap his puppy head around with ridiculous alertness every time one hit. Now he doesn't even flinch.
A flock of dark, common-looking birds - starlings, I think - swarm the tree nearest me. They thrash furiously about its limbs for a few minutes: wings beating against leaves and branches, a shrill hubbub of angry bird sounds and apples whacking into the ground like fat hailstones. Now they bolt. Must be a hundred of them, moving like a swat-team low across the sky, leapfrogging from tree to tree down toward the thick screen of cottonwoods along the river.
Summer here is sweetest on these fat slow days in the cusp between August and September. There is an intense serenity to them, heightened by an awareness of impending autumn. November looms like the chill shadow of a gravestone. A day such a this spent in solitude can seem a clandestine bit of stolen glee, though it also foments a profound ache for someone to share it with. But I recognize that the sheer delight I take in this day cannot be shared, and suspect the presence of anyone else would mar it. Still, the ache is there. I briefly consider calling someone to come share it with me but know that after an hour or two of that and gratuitous sex I'd be wishing they would go away and leave me to read and write in peace.
I am invisible sitting here in my cab, part of the landscape of the night. People come out of the bar across the street and walk by without even a glance. Though it is night I know they could see me in here, illuminated by my reading light. Some pass right next to my window, close enough to touch, oblivious of my presence or without the slightest curiosity about what I might be doing in here. If they are women I can smell their perfume. They should peer inside, I could be writing about them.
Anne strolls by with another girl. She doesn't look in my direction. She too is oblivious of my presence - or worse, uncomfortably aware of it and hoping to ignore me. I am always visible to Margo; she sees me even when I don't see her, shouting to me across the street or appearing suddenly at the window to startle me as I sit behind the steering wheel reading or gazing at bottoms. At such times she is always conspicuously cheerful and solicitous while I feign cool detachment, a perverse resolve to keep her at arms-length: mutual insincerities devised to camouflage the gaping hole left by squandered intimacy. Having shared the drama of Romance-and-Poverty-in-Foreign-Lands, experiencing both the bliss and frustration in total dependence upon one another, we have each allowed ourselves to become peripheral to the other's life. In my worst moments, the monstrousness of this overwhelms me, snowballing upon itself and any other melancholy close at hand until I am buried beneath a suffocating mound of sadness.
I see Nicole across the street at the same time she sees me, hesitates, then crosses toward my cab. She is dressed simply in paint-tight jeans and a red sweater beneath which lurk memories of black lace. With her white-blonde hair and tough, pretty features she seems exotic as a New Orleans stripper. It is a slow night and I promise to come dance with her between fares.
On my way home at 5 am the high full moon tints the air silvered cobalt, like water in a night-colored swimming pool. It is chilly and the hematite sky makes it seem even colder. I kept my promise and slipped off between fares to dance with Nicole who in the light of sobriety turns out to be a sloppy drunk. Finally too embarrassed by insistent tongue-ramming, I quit going back and just stayed in my cab though I did give her a ride home after. An uncomfortable and lengthy sexual bout there, characterized by much mashing - nose, lips, genitals. Distracting at best, bruisingly painful at worst. Whether this was due to uncoordinated drunken floundering I don't know; perhaps she actually believes pressing her parts painfully into mine and ramming her tongue into my mouth only to leave it lying there like an abandoned slug is sexually bewitching. I wanted to stay up and watch the segue of colors at sunrise but don't think I can hold out.
On the radio, the dispatcher informs me that I have a message to call Anne. When I do so she inquires whether I am available for dinner within the hour. I consider the fact that the taxi business is quite brisk just now, and my recent epiphany of her strictly ornamental value in my scheme of things, and reply - at tremendous cost to my self-esteem - that I am indeed.
Dinner is Chinese. Conversation is light and bantering, exterior. The innuendo is back though to me it seems forced, artificial; designed to rekindle my pursuit. We spend an hour over dinner but have to rush a bit toward the end; Anne has to meet someone for a movie. We pay the check and she hurries out, taking one of the two fortune cookies with her, not having time to crack them open and compare fates. But she leaves satisfied with my renewed ardor. It seems clear Anne's interest in me is rooted solely in my interest in her, which has for some reason gained an excessive prominence among her insecurities. She has no more desire than I of consummating this chimerical foxtrot, which seems fair, and probably enjoys a mutual recognition of the whole pathetic deal. But neither of us is letting on.
I break open my cookie: ‘THE NEXT FULL MOON WILL BEAM HAPPINESS YOUR WAY’. If I pin my hopes on that I could go a whole month without any major disappointments.
I met Margo's new interest tonight. Stumbled upon them having dinner with her parents. I was surprised at my stomach's queasy flounder and had to fight a potent urge to bolt. Margo's radiant smirk amid all the intensely adult civilities and her private, raised-eyebrow shrug across the table at him was like a numbing blow to the chest. I felt like an interloper in my own life.
The hardest thing is the idea of Margo making love to someone else; though I've been through that before with her. Besides which, there's the matter of my own mashing about with the towheaded Nicole. On the positive side: maybe now I can stop reading her daily horoscope.
Today I had one perfect hour. Took Young Wingo and went for a bicycle ride up Cattle Creek where the neon hues of the changing aspen were vivid islands in a drab oak scrub sea. The still air held the knife-edged heat of Indian summer-like holding your hand above a candle's flame, high enough it doesn't burn you but close enough to feel the heat - and the pungent whang of sage. The pine shadows were sudden pools of heavy coolness we passed through where fallen aspen leaves lay against the black earth like fat golden teardrops.
When we crossed a stock gate onto private land, two horses ambled up to investigate. Young Wingo wouldn't come near them as I had just chastised him for chasing cattle - a harmless pastime though ranchers don't see it that way. The horses followed when we took off down the road, not ten feet behind. They sped up as we did, the four of us hurling ourselves down the narrow road, me splashing through puddles and mudholes the three of them would leap. Young Wingo was a black blur at my rear wheel with the horses hard on his heels. When I slowed for the next gate the horses clattered past and veered off to follow the fence line down the slope to a little meadow beside the creek where they began to graze. I climbed the gate with my bicycle while Young Wingo wriggled underneath, getting momentarily high-centered and pinned between gate and ground before escaping unperturbed, eager to continue our journey, or equally willing to loiter with me and watch the horses awhile.
I am intermittently amazed and profoundly grateful at the extraordinary moments when I still think of mine as a Boy's Life.