I hear the word.
The country is not being referred to. I know that.
I haven’t heard the word used like that in a very, very long time. But hearing it now, I’m back.
I could be listening to a podcast about American slang in the eighties.
“The thing about the eighties,” drawls Bugsy Weller, “is that everybody gets to be a JAP,” spoken in intermission after the second act of Turandot. We’re in the red and gold lobby of the Met. She’s leaning on the railing that protects her and the rest of us from a three-story drop, all with chandeliers blazing high above, and she’s staring down at the glitzy crowd. Bling is being born.
Meantime, I’m swallowing the shock of the slur whole. Okay. She is Jewish: She knows what she’s saying, right? To tell the truth, she herself is the definition of JAP and, I see now, proud of it. Jewish American Princess. Why am I so shocked: She often self-references with that term. Actually, a lot of the time. It’s a badge of honor, like bitch? Imagine a contest: “bitch” vs. “JAP,” for most used by Bugsy Weller.
The idea gets me chortling. She turns to grin at me, thinking.
I’m laughing at her pronouncement. I don’t say otherwise.
Hey, she knows she’s red-hot bright and sexy – but if a person, that is, a guy, were to place a hand on her silver-lamé sheathed ass? Don’t. Do not do this. She’s sipping champagne and has just recently gone ultra-feminist, as in: Do not touch until I say so. Touch her, uninvited, and she could well toss the contents of the glass in my face.
So, I don’t run that risk. The boner I had is now gone.
I shrug at “JAP” and continue sipping the champagne that I’ve
bought for us.
* * *
But how about that other woman, even further back in time? The one who’d said: “I like a man in a tux.”
When was that? Who was that?
The world before the Internet. Clearly.
Seventies New York City. Yes, that other time and place was the seventies, which reverberated with its sense of importance, talking Revolution and Don’t Look Back.
Funny. Now, I am doing just that, and why not? It was a rich, primordial age when ancient souls were reincarnated to dance once again for and with the gods of nature, and especially for Dionysos, Ecstasy himself.
And now I’m off.
Donna Summer wails, lights shimmer, giddy arcs racing over the dancers. Your feet do the intricate, mystic steps of the Peyote warrior, faster, hotter, and then the space burst into shouts deafened by the million amplified heart beats of the drums pounding in each and every sweating body. The world is set to climax… holding, holding – not yet! Now! LOVE TO LOVE YOU, BABY!
A woman’s palm brushes against my lips and pushes an inhaler up one nostril. I snort it up like a racehorse. Then the other nostril.
White light obliterates the world. All that’s left is beating hearts, thundering now and ready, ready. White light. Screams.
Feet pound the floor. I spiral, shooting dead through the heart of the universe.
In my mind.
And then it all subsides, awash in sweat, I’m panting and giddy, “What was that?” still dancing, floating now, legs off somewhere but still driving automatically through the dance like a superhighway.
She just grins back.
I see her clearly then: She’s in black leotards and a black motorcycle jacket. She shakes her full head of black hair free and zips her jacket down, opening it up wide to expose two perfect upright breasts shining in the colliding disco lights. The nipples could even be painted: hard to tell in that light. “I like a man in a tux. Got a big cock?”
Before I can wipe the surprise off my face, I feel her hand grab to judge for herself. She purses her lips. They are painted mauve or black: the light again? Her face is chalk white.
I remember a twinge of fear gripping me before I say: “Not bad?”
“Nice… Nice. So. You wanna go downtown? Limo’s outside.”
“Yeah, why not? Got to say good-by to some people first,” I say. Patrice Drouard and some friends of his over from Paris had asked me to get them into Studio, which is why I’m even here.
Her face moves in close so it is inches away from mine. “Check your watch, man.” Her breath is wintergreen.
Rather than say, I hear ya, I do check my watch.
“I’ll be at the door in fifteen minutes.” She growls that at me. Her face moves away from mine, and then her whole body follows. She turns on a dime and darts off through the dancers. She’s gone.
I stop dancing. And then I need to pee something fierce. I know where the men’s room is.
I’m there. I’m noting that the white porcelain is breathing and scintillating from one rainbow color to another rapidly as I approach the urinal. Piss fills my nostrils. I think of Paris pissotières on a warm summer day.
“Jeezus,” piss spatters my trouser leg, “Drouard!” He has spotted and followed me. What she stuck up my nose is… what? Her name? “You saw her?”
The friendly space between Drouard’s two front teeth smiles at me above his black bow tie. You can get into Studio in black tie. “And I’ve known you forever,” he says and now starts peeing himself. Not exactly forever like me; he zips up.
I zip up: “I haven’t got to the name part yet. Now we are snickering like school kids. “I was going to go looking for you.”
“She wants me to go downtown with her, whatever downtown means. She’s got a limo, she says.” I look at my watch. “Shit, I’ve got five minutes to make the door. Will Danielle and Gérard be insulted if I…?”
“We’ve all just taken half tabs of THC,” sniggers Drouard.
I can’t imagine this: “They did?” I sound like a dork. Drouard nods and grins ear to ear, flashing me that space between his two front teeth.
“They want to meet Andy Warhol. We’ll be here all night. They’re dancing right now.”
We step over to the washbasins. I avoid the mirror from previous experience, avoiding any apparition of psychedelic truth I might see there.
“Is he here tonight?” Drouard adds.
“Warhol? Probably. You know?” I have no idea as I turn on the hot water tap, which is cold, “Who talks to Andy? I mean…” I’m bluffing. I have no fucking idea.
“Espèce de con!” We chuckle together at that. “So,” Drouard looks at his watch. “If she’s got her own limo,” he fell then into his comic heavy French accent, “shee muzbee a coke dealahr.”
“It wasn’t just that she put up my nose, mec. Salut.” I’m already at the door, catching hold of it to exit, as a guy pushes it open to enter. I can hear Patrice Drouard bark at my back “Salut!”
I circle the edges of the dance floor.
There she is, waiting. She’s zipped up her jacket. Seeing me she turns to leave: Written in studs, the back of her jacket reads PUSSY WHIPPER.
The back seat is a semi-circle. She reaches and switches on the TV embedded in the back of the front seat of the limo, as the car sails down Eighth Avenue. “God, the Joe Franklin Show.” It dawns on me how much Drouard with his two front teeth looks like Joe Franklin. She switches channels to a black-and-white forties movie I can’t place.
“Isn’t that…? Shit, Spring Byington?” She clamps her right hand over my mouth and unzips my jeans with her left. She reaches inside. Her hand feels ice cold against the inside of my thigh. Her hair is brushing my cheek. There’s a perfume I can’t place. I take a lick at her cheek.
She recoils: “Don’t!”
Before Studio, Gérard and Danielle invited us to Le Cirque (because Nixon ate there…) and were critical of everything they ate. Only the champagne pleased them: a Dom Pérignon. So, they ordered another one, taking no further risks. In exchange, I am to get us all into Studio 54. That’s what they’d come to New York to experience: Fabuleux Nightlife.
I’d liked everything I’d ordered to eat. So right now, I can’t imagine Gérard and Danielle, all ivory and black silk, dancing high on THC. They’d bought some fucking ghetto powder from a Studio dealer?
Her right fingers stroke the satin lapel of my tux. “What’s the occasion?” To not make Drouard and the others uncomfortable, I’d put on the black-tie tux jacket I’d gotten in a thrift shop on Madison, which is something trendies would often wear with jeans when going out.
“Dinner party.” I feel emboldened then: “What’s your name?”
“Queen of the Jungle?”
“The same.” She doesn’t smile. “What’s yours?” It sounds as if she’s only asking to be polite.
I ignore her question. And then think, why not? “Bill.” I surprise myself at how quickly I can come up with a lie. “Bill” is the joke name for all Americans. Like all Frenchmen are Pierre?
Instantly her right fingers flutter against my lips, marking time: “Won’t you come home, Bill Bailey, won’t you come home?” I’m shocked: She has a really good voice. I scrutinize her to see if she isn’t Cher, but she’s not.
“Are you a regular at Studio?” I ask.
The voice of a Southern Black woman comes out of her throat, husky: “I’m not regular anythang, baby. Whodja think?”
Her left hand hasn’t moved from where it was. It no longer feels cold against my thigh. She has not delved inside my shorts, just fingered to keep it hard.
I can’t believe her: fantasy bitch come to life. I reach over and start to unzip her leather jacket. Her right hand comes down hard on top of mine. She allows me to zip down a few inches and then stops me. “You can touch the nipple for a minute… Do it! Right now! Nice. Okay. A little tighter. A little… Yeah, okay. Now game’s over.” She jerks my hand off. “We’re getting out here first. We won’t stay too long, okay? Unless you wanna.” She puts her tongue to her lower lip as she zips up her jacket, driving my hand totally out. “You know this place?”
I peer out the window and shake my head. “Fourteenth Street?” “The Anvil? Come on, baby, you must have heard of the AN-VIL!” My blank look makes her smile. I shake my head, no. She looks relieved: Why? “You’ll see.” The driver has gotten out and is opening the door for us. “Come on.”
There’s a line outside the door, all men, jeans, leather. It’s a fucking gay place. I pause and then catch up to her as she walks right to the head of the line; I hear the doorman say, “Hi, baby, Tobi and Seth just finished. Billy’s on.”
“That Billy! Badass!” she leers.
“Yeah,” chuckles back the doorman. This seems to be a joke they share. And then the doorman sees me behind her. He starts shaking his broad, fleshy face in a no-way.
“Tux is leather,” she pontificates. “Get real! You know that.” She grabs me by the arm and pulls me with her through the door.
And then I’m inside.
I’ve been into gay bars before, but I wasn’t prepared for this.
Disco lights whirl through the haze of reefer smoke. Over the heads of the men packed in around the bar dance men, one young kid in a leather jockstrap, and cowboy boots and hat. She’s now pulling me along after her up to the bar. She puts both of her hands on two men standing there, who look surprised at seeing her, and then parts them with a knowing smile. Most seem to know her. They grin or kiss her cheek as they let her on by; they all size me up. I can see them doing a thumbs-up, thumbs-down: either grins or bored looks.
She gets me in right beside her, right up against the bar.
Suddenly, the whole place lets out a unanimous hoot as a Black female voice belts out: LOVE AND HAPPINESS… The bartender is way off at the other end of the bar. I feel eyes over my head and look up; a kid is dancing on top of the bar right in front of me now. My eyes meet a cock and balls with a thick steel ring around them, and, above that, there’s a blond boyish grin: skinny but muscly kid. I freeze. MAKE YOU WANNA DO WRONG. The kid does a turn and then squats down, jutting his butt toward my face and wiggling it, and then he’s back up. MAKE YA WANNA DO RIGHT. He dances on back along the bar to the stage and turns to flash me a grin.
“He likes you, Bill Bailey, you like him?” Sheena hands me a bottle of Budweiser. I hate Budweiser.
“Ah… I don’t think so. I don’t really think so.” I take the cold, wet bottle in my hand anyway, and take a long swallow. I’m shaken, and she sees it.
A middle-aged man with a big gray mustache standing beside me says into my ear: “Why not?” The man winks at Sheena: “A hole’s a hole.”
She gives the man a broad grin: “But some are a lot tighter and better behaved than others.”
The man belts out: “Yes, sir!”
She leans in close to speak right into my ear, “Let’s get nearer the stage.” She moves off into the crowd. I panic for a second – packed in by men – and push my way free to go after her. Most are staring at my tux; some look hostile, maybe because I’m being so pushy?
There is another stage, not connected to the bar, further in the back. It’s a raised platform coming out of the wall with a few chains hanging down from the ceiling over it. Some naked or half-naked men are dancing on it, grabbing hold of a chain occasionally and lowering their bare asses down toward the spectators. And then suddenly the music changes to the stripper theme. The lights lower close to blackness; the stage empties. When the lights come back up, they spotlight an empty stage. I blink at the harsh light and see Sheena is beside me but ignoring me. She’s staring at the bare stage, waiting. The room seems to breathe; I’m in the belly of an animal.
A big Black man jumps up on stage wearing only leather jockstrap, engineer’s boots, and a black leather motorcycle cap. He begins to pace, a lion pacing, loosely moving to the music, and then the crowd moves in and in front of me – I can’t see and then I can – he’s holds up a big pink rubber penis in one hand. The crowd roars. The Black man grins and looks down at Sheena. The pink dildo strikes me as so incongruous in his big hands. I look to Sheena, and she is gone. I can’t see her anywhere. I’m alone in this crowd. The men push and pack in tighter toward the stage, pushing me gradually forward. I feel a rush of panic.
Eyes are now all over me. I smell sweat and leather. They’re quizzing me, either that or it’s judgment again: interest or rejection. I decide it’s all about the black-tie; I can deal with that.
And then the whole bar is staring at me. LOVE AND HAPPINESS. Music keeps pulsing non-stop.
The big Black on the stage has caught sight of me. His eyes come down on me from his platform like a spotlight. I’m groaning, like, get me outta here, but I keep a cool exterior, until the Black man does it: he points the dildo at me and beckons me with it. I’m caught in his dancing, teasing, mocking eyes. He’s playing with me like prey, a leopard toying with his food. He’s dragging me into his show: All eyes are on me as if on stage already.
A guy shouts into my ear: “Get the fuck up there! Do it, man!”
Then in a full sweaty panic, it hits me. I know what to do: I raise my arm up so everyone can see and give the big Black man the finger. The Black man scowls; the crowd hoots, howls; some applaud. “Billy! Billy! You fucker!” they roar. Billy turns away, and a thin blond kid scrambles up on stage dressed only in his jockey shorts.
I feel myself fade into the background; the limelight has left me, leaving me feeling oddly deflated. Had Sheena caught all that? I’d done it to show her.
Sheena’s game is leaving me, dropping me like lead? I feel a hand move in under the tail of my jacket and feel my ass. I don’t even look to see. I just think: It’s not my wallet. No one’s picking my pocket. And then another hand strokes my crotch. My whole body flinches, but I don’t move; I don’t care. So what? I’m watching as the Black guy rips the jockey shorts off the kid, and then greases up and down the dildo from a can of Crisco shortening on the floor of the stage. The kid is pale and obviously stoned. His cock looks like a peanut.
And then I feel my own penis pulled at and feel something wet on it. My body jerks in alarm; I glance down to see the top of a man’s head. I can’t move in the crowd. I’m afraid to do anything sudden; I sense teeth there somewhere in the wet warmth. I look back up to find the kid hanging spread-eagle from two chains.
The Black guy parts the kid’s rear-end for the audience to see his asshole: whistles, catcalls, hooting. And then he applies the dildo. My mouth goes dry.
Part of me wants to watch, but I pull my eyes away to look around again for Sheena. And then I catch her, see her grinning at me. She’s sitting on a stool at the bar. How did she get over there? The anonymous head is still slurping at me. I look down. I try to pull back, risking teeth, but there’s no room to move. I look back over at Sheena as a joint is passed to me. She nods, yes, to me. So maybe the joint has come from her? Can she see what the guy down there is doing to me? Okay, I take the joint and smoke, and then pass it to the man next to me, whose eyes never leave the stage show as he picks it from my fingers. So, it’s the same grass smoking ritual here as anywhere in the city?
I’m feeling a bit comfortable; my penis begins to react. Is it the joint? From behind someone holds a small vial of amyl nitrite under my nose. I turn my head away. Too late: It goes right up into my head, blasting white light and heat to my thudding heart. I see the skinny kid’s face wreathed in ecstasy as he hangs impaled. My dick is rock hard.
And then the rush is gone, leaving me shaken to the pit of my stomach. The man works insanely at my shrinking penis. A wave of nausea makes me suck in my breath. I turn, you could say desperately, toward Sheena at the bar. She blows me a kiss. That fucking does it: I yank my dick and am suddenly free. My arm goes down and my hand pushes it all inside my pants. I rotate towards her and push my way through the men toward the bar. I’m surprised to find them parting like water and then rushing forward to fill the space I leave so as to get up closer to the stage. I’ve been in the way.
It can’t be easier.
I reach her. “Hi.” “Hi.”
“This place is a fire trap.” Macho, blasé, that was the intention of my remark, but as I say it, I realize it’s true.
“Which means you wanna go?” She runs one finger down my chest. She’s ridiculous, playing the classic vamp thing. She’s as unreal as a porno image, but there she is and I want to fuck her. Whatever that entails. So, I nod. “Put your cock back in your pants then.” I look down in surprise.
In the limo, crossing town on Fourteenth Street, she says: “I was only testing you to see if you were part gay.”
“That part.” She puts her hand on my leg for a second, and then
withdraws it. “It would have been okay. But the report came in that you were like a fucking dead fish. Don’t get angry. I’m quoting.”
I grunt at the TV screen now dark. What does she know? What fucking nerve! “Now where?”
“Have some more of this.” She sticks the inhaler up to my nose. I reach up and grab hold of her wrist. “What is it?”
“Coke, of course. Don’t you know me, man, I’m the Snow Queen of the Upper East Side.”
“Right. This was more than coke.”
She shakes her head. “Eh-eh. Just very, very good.”
I take one snort. You jerk, my mind says. “That’s enough for now.”
She grunts and puts the inhaler away. “Are you going to come home with me, baby Bill Bailey?”
“Is that where we’re going?”
“Well, if you want… but I know another crazy place. It’s not even after five yet. You’ll like it a lot better.”
She opens the fridge under the TV and pulls out a bottle of champagne, “Can you open a bottle of champagne in a moving car without making a mess?”
“Of course I can. What is it?” I reach forward to turn the bottle so I can read the label. It wasn’t Dom Pérignon, and I feel relieved it isn’t. Mumm’s.
“I do like a man in a tux.” She produces two glasses while I open the bottle. “Even if it’s only half of one.”
“You sit here for a minute.” She gets up from the cabaret table where we’re sitting. I watch as she crosses edging along the side of the room, and then my eyes switch back to the women on the stage. I think: This place? I’ll come back here on my own.
It is a dream I never realized I’d had, but I know now I must have had it a million times. Because I am ready for it like a kid for a chocolate sundae. In cosmopolitan European cities, there have always been places like this, a variation on De Sade, a Victorian Hellfire Club.
It isn’t packed like the gay place; the interior is cutting-edge New York design, Minimalist with attitude. Elegant. I know the drinks are very expensive. There are tables and chairs on a level up a few stairs, with the stage down below, and plenty of standing room before it, where several men in Armani suits stand holding drinks while girls dance in leather straps and high-heeled boots. The women are gorgeous. Beautiful, tight bodies, nipples rouged like the Aphrodite of Pierre Louÿs; their lips are glossy. Some are blond, most are some shade of dark in this light; there is one Black girl and one redhead. The music is disco, and then suddenly it segues into a Baroque fanfare. The girls dance to either side in formation as a fantastically sequined and plumed Chinese girl comes onto the stage. The girls move in on her, stripping her down to metal rings encircling her breasts; she arches back like an acrobat, placing her palms on the stage floor and spreads her thighs open to the audience. In seconds one of the men has his face pressed deep in there; the music segues back to disco as the other girls resume dancing.
Sheena is back: “You wanna go down there and get a taste?”
“I’d rather get a taste of you.”
She puts her hand on mine: “Not just yet. Watch.”
She pulls me up then as if we are going to dance but instead leads me down to the stage area. As I stand beside her, she pulls the man off the Chinese girl and steps in in his place. She is muff-diving for me.
I don’t like watching this and I have to pee badly. She seems oblivious to me now. I step away. Sheena can’t stop licking. The girls are doing dance routines around the couple. I move back off and head toward the men’s room. Inside, there is a man at the only urinal. I step into a stall. I vomit violently into the bowl. And then it’s over. Cold sweat drenches my face, but I feel exhilarated.
This is where I always wanted to be. Sheena is the dream.
Her bed is heart-shaped, with satin sheets. It is so crappy nouveau-riche, I think, as she takes my clothes off me, and then suddenly it all snaps together. She puts a Quaalude in my mouth, and then follows it with her tongue down my throat. She lies in the middle of the satin like every Playmate, Bunny, Vixen, I have ever jerked off to in my life. She makes up for all the sex I had been deprived of working in Alexandria, Egypt, my post before NYC. She is why I’d moved. I am every stud in every porno flic.
We slip against the satin. Her breasts are perfumed, flush against my nostrils, my lips, my mouth buried in them. Her skin: fine like chamois, thin, and delicate. Her flesh is firm: ripe avocadoes, mangoes. Her lips are everywhere on my body, in places where I would want to say no but then would feel the start of a rippling…
And then her body shakes, more violently than I’ve ever seen. Picture thunder and rain in torrents.
That was the first orgasm. It isn’t enough. New positions are found. Teeth give darts of pain. And then the second time, effortless, seamless, and then the third, for me, now stopping to catch my breath, as she rushes in a race to the finish: Victory!
From the kitchen she brings in two glasses of ice-cold papaya juice. We drink slowly, enjoying the sight of each other, listening to breathing, to the city pulsing beyond the building, and not talking. She lowers the light and curls up against me. We fall asleep.
Her mouth wakes up parts of me and then all of me. Without a yawn, in place of a yawn, I’m breathing in her body.
She produces a chain of small rubber balls on a rawhide strip, three different kinds of dildos, a complex leather harness, which she slips into like a glove. Her nipples are delicately clamped and her ass twitches high up in the air like a bitch cat in heat.
Two more orgasms.
She brings in two more glasses of icy papaya juice, two ripe pears, two English muffins with honey. There is no telling what time of day it is. We smoke a joint. We make love again. At first, our lips are sticky with honey.
She has a huge bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub. She drops oils and perfume into the seething water, gets in first, and then beckons me to join. I have sex for the first time in water.
We stagger out of the tub into great Turkish towels. My cheeks are mottled red from the heat as I sweat into the towel, looking at myself in the floor to ceiling mirrors. She pulls the towel away from me and kneels naked on the marble floor.
She works upward from my toes. I become a phallic pole, a herm. I am to be worshipped, pagan, like a beast, like an animal force of muscle, sperm, life. There is no “me” in it. I am not worshipped – no, not at all.
When the rite is completed, she takes me to bed again.
She yawns, covering her mouth: “I gotta get some real sleep. You gotta go, stud. It was. Fabulous.” She pulls me off the bed and onto my feet and leads me into the anteroom where my clothes are strewn about just as she’d pulled them off of me. She looks up at me from the floor, sitting there, thighs spread on the thick carpeting, as I dress.
I put the bow-tie of my tux into my pocket. “We should get together again.”
She smiles and puts her finger to her lips. She shows me the way
through the living-room, into the foyer, opens the door, gives me a little push and shuts the door behind me. I hear her double lock it.
I am in a tux going out into New York, not knowing if it is night or day or in between. My watch says seven.
It’s dusk. I have to walk to a corner to check for a street sign. And then I get a cab home.
I call Drouard: “What day is this?” He goes crazy.
“I’ll be right over.”
“Not with Danielle and Gérard. I mean, I can’t deal.”
“They took a taxi to Kennedy two hours ago.” In fifteen minutes, he is sprawled on my couch, all ears and sipping a drink.
All the following day my testicles ache in acute memory of her. I never see her again. She ignored me when I asked for her phone number; her doorman always announces she is out.
One Saturday, I take a look at that carton in the back of my bedroom closet and think, shit, unpack it. How can you still have that box sitting there from the move?
I pull it out, slide it across the floor, sit on the edge of the bed, and rip it open. Inside, sitting on the top of books are my notebooks. I start reading.
And then I feel like going back to Egypt, going back in triumph, carefree, as a tourist. So, I go.