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Saturday, January 23, 2016

=Fake Girls=

2. Fastballs, fake girls & mornings-after 

Sitting back, savoring a ten dollar beer-and-hot-dog-lunch, I’m watching the game unfold about a mile-and-a-half below me like a god in the cheap seats. It’s a Wednesday afternoon, a two p.m. start, and ex-Yank Clemens is pitching against his old team. I like Clemens the way he is now, way past his prime: a big slab of a guy using brute intimidation even more than skill. One day, still in the far future, we'll learn that he's beefing himself up on steroids. But that won't make any difference to me—we all use a little chemical help to get by one way or another—and it certainly doesn't make any difference this afternoon. Because it isn't the performance I'm admiring, it's his worldview.

He’ll throw the ball at anyone’s head and he lets everyone know it. To him, that’s just a given and he acts as if he genuinely doesn’t understand what the objection to his me-only attitude could possibly be. He knows that during the short time that ball is in his hand, he’s got the advantage. The moment he lets it go, he’s a slave to fate just like anyone else. That one moment with the ball in our hand, it’s all we ever get.

Today, though, Clemens is even more like the rest of us than usual: he doesn’t have a goddamn thing.

It’s like that sometimes. No matter what you throw you up there, someone hits it back at you even harder.

Today the ball is flying all over the place, as if Yankee Stadium were a big old-fashioned pinball machine someone were making sing just this side of “tilt.” The scoreboard is lighting up like a Macy’s Christmas display, a row of crooked numbers dancing like elves in a drunken chorus line. Clemens had given up seven runs and a dozen hits by the fourth inning when he’s finally replaced by some sorry-ass reliever Houston has reserved to absorb the beating for the remainder of just such lost causes. But, to everyone’s surprise, the Astros come back in the top of the eighth with an improbable bombardment of their own and win 12-10.

Too bad.

I took the Yanks and three so I don’t cover and lose three hundred. I take the D-train back to Manhattan trying the whole time to catch the Mets on my Walkman through a blizzard of static because I have two hundred on the Cardinals out at Shea. I’ll lose that one, too, as it turns out. Betting against the home team, it serves me right, I guess, and I steer myself into a basement bar in the East Village and pour a few pints of Guinness on my guilt and so its half-a-grand poorer and almost two a.m. when I finally head out to the Bronx to keep my date with Sooki Soo.

#     #     #

I should admit right off that Sooki Soo is not like most girls, not like any girl at all, really, and yet she’s more girl than most. She’ll tell you so herself straight off, if you give her half the chance, because she’s learned the hard way that most guys don’t like any ambiguity or unnecessary anatomical surprises in this area. She’s just off her shift at the strip club and we’re having dinner at a dingy Chinese eatery under the highway, maybe two days after my already forgotten visit with the fat man. She’s having the mu shu shrimp, only eating the shrimp, which are none too populous in the mu shu here at Emperor Noodles.

Sooki likes when I take her out, even though I only take her out in those rare charmed hours long after it gets dark and long before it gets light. I only take her out when the only people still up are characters just as mismatched as we are, or too messed up to notice. I take her to dives like Emperor Noodles where no one speaks any English and you can get a whole meal with a small dish of pistachio ice cream for $3.95.

Let's cut to the chase. Sooki Soo is six-foot-one in her Rite Aid thigh-high fishnets even without the big white sissy platforms and she must weigh no more than one-fifteen soaking wet. She knows how many calories there are in a teaspoon of mustard. She knows the fat content of a raisin. If you’re thinking, “eating disorder,” then you’re close. If you’re thinking, “distorted body-image,” you’re galloping along on the right track. No one’s image of her body could be more distorted than Sooki Soo’s, and she’s got all the surgical scars to prove it. Most guys, they  don’t take her out at all. Most guys meet her in hotel rooms called “Rooms for Rent” and bring along a couple of 40s and, if they're romantic, packaged sandwiches.

I’m always telling Sooki I’m sorry I can’t take her out to regular places. She says, “I’m sorry I can’t be more of a regular woman.”

This is as close to true love as I’ve ever gotten: two people apologizing to each other for not being what the other wanted.

Sooki holds up and inspects a peanut-sized shrimp between her elegantly wielded chopsticks to make sure it’s not, in fact, a peanut, or, something even less desirable, an aborted mouse fetus, for instance. She shows me what she’s got trapped between the tips of her chopsticks.

She says, “Does this look like a shrimp to you?”

I squint at whatever she’s holding up, but before I can answer, she shrugs her shoulders, drowns whatever it is in  sweet and sour sauce, and nibbles it delicately with her capped white teeth. Her dress is royal blue, one of those things that’s off-the-shoulder, her big white sissy platforms must be four inches high, and her long press-on fingernails could make a visit to the toilet a life-threatening experience. She’s wearing a blue silk scarf around her neck and she has big movie-star wax lips and her make-up is cracking a bit in all the places you’d expect it to crack if you’ve been pretending to smile at a bunch of groping perverts all night.

Sooki has an apartment she shares near a defunct tin can factory with a friend and that’s where we go after dinner. She checks her messages and they are mostly from married guys calling from cell phones. They all sound irritated and crabby, like guys with untended hard-ons tend to sound, irrationally expecting someone to be perpetually waiting on the other end of the line to help them with their situation, like mommy with a warm bottle, I suppose. 

I make myself at home on a couch that looks like the ghost of a couch because there is a white sheet covering it for some reason I probably don’t want to know. I lean forward over a coffee-table covered with fashion and celebrity gossip tabloids. I pick up a copy of some cheesy rag with an article claiming that Jennifer Lopez has been dead for twelve years and a look-a-like has been performing for her ever since. That, I consider, would explain a lot. There is a story that Bigfoot is considering a run for Senate with the Democratic Party in New Hampshire. That Oprah Winfrey is pregnant with an alien spawn that will populate Antartica in preparation for the Antichrist.

Sooki is still listening to her messages, an entire nursery of whining, petulant creeps. She looks at me, shrugs apologetically, and mouths, I’m sorry, as if she’s forgotten that callers can’t hear you on a message machine.

There are fabrics hanging from the walls that Sooki has hung to give the place atmosphere but mostly to hide the rotten spots where the wall has crumbled away like moldy cheese. There is a poster from years back of Cyndi Lauper in her “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” incarnation. Right now I’m thinking two things:

1.) It’s so sad to be a human being.
2.) How do we endure how sad it is to be a human being?

Sooki has finally gotten sick of listening to all that pent-up testosterone-driven petulance. Or, maybe, the machine simply ran out of space for all the neglected hard-ons in the world. She’s mincing around the apartment, lighting candles and incense, and it’s not easy to mince around on four-inch white plastic sissy heels. It takes lots and lots of practice; it takes Olympic-sized dedication and devotion. It takes real athleticism. You’d be surprised, not that I'd know from personal experience, mind you. I've just borne witness to a lot in my sojourn in the land. Sooki asks me what I’m thinking about.

I say, “I’m thinking we really have to get out of that mess in the Middle East.”

She pouts.

So I say, “Okay, okay. I’m thinking that you look very pretty tonight.”

My heart, to use a well-worn euphemism for that flabby hunk of meat shuddering in my chest, is breaking when I say this.

Sooki smiles. She is putting the day-old flowers that I bought her earlier that evening from a subway station newsstand in a plastic liter bottle of Pepsi One that she pulls out of the recycle pail. She fills the plastic bottle from the farting kitchen faucet and sits it at the center of the card table that stands between the kitchen and what passes for the dining area. Carnations, they probably are, or were, or that’s what they’re supposed to be. They are dyed all kinds of unearthly colors that are supposed to look better than the color carnations really are. I think the whole bouquet may actually have been dead for days.

“They’re so pretty,” Sooki says, and the sad thing, of course, is that I know she really means this. “They’re so lov-er-ly,” she coos, and drops a little pill into the cloudy water so that they’ll last a little longer. She says, “I don’t have an aspirin, so I’m using a Premamin.”

I smile when she says this. I’m thinking, well, maybe they’ll grow a nice set of knockers. At least, I hope I’m smiling when she says this, because if I’m not smiling I don’t think I want to know what expression could be on my face instead.

“I’ll be right back,” Sooki says, and smiles right back.

At least, I hope that she’s smiling, because if she’s not smiling, I don’t think I want to know what else that expression on her face could mean.

She minces off into the bathroom and flushes the toilet three times and curses and spits and something rattles around in the sink. I hear the shower go on, it sputters and spurts like a man with a bad prostate, squirting out a painful piss. I hear some gargling and hacking. I hear a staccato burst of sharp farts. A groan. I hear the angry buzz of an electric razor. These are the things you try not to hear. These are the things that you know go on behind the scenes all the time that you try not to know. And you succeed, most of the time, so long as the walls aren't too thin. These are the things people have to do to put themselves together, to reassemble the jigsaw, to put a face on to meet the faces that they meet, as the poet once said. I pick up another tabloid and read the true-life confession of a desperate lover who sewed his dead beloved’s head onto the body of a dolphin. You can’t make these stories up. That’s what they tell us, anyway.

“Miss me?” Sooki asks when she saunters back.

She’s wearing a red silk kimono with some kind of poorly-sewn black embroidery of orchids, or maybe they’re dragons, it’s impossible to tell for sure, it’s all unraveling. It’s slit way up one leg, all the way to the hip, so you can see to the tops of Sooki’s stay-up fishnets. It’s supposed to be sexy, but it makes me feel like sobbing. Fact is, I did miss her. She must have been gone for about half an hour. I was starting to wonder what the hell had happened to her.

“Where’s Treena T?” I ask. 

I’m looking apprehensively at the door, wondering if we’re going to be alone tonight, or if Treena T will catch us in the midst of something particularly sordid, if not downright illegal in this and many other states. Treena T is a bodybuilder and professional trainer when she’s not acting in porn flicks with titles like Love Muscle Babes. She is terribly sweet, a real pussycat, but a little eerie, as any six-foot-five, two-hundred-twenty-five-pound muscle-bound guy with glued-on falsies, a black pixie wig, and a penchant for stiletto heels and knock-off Vera Wang gowns is bound to be. Believe it or not, there are two Treenas that could conceivably be coitus interrupting us here tonight, but Treena T is Sooki’s sometime roommate, the other one, Treena F. is in L.A., but how I know that I have no idea.

Sooki frowns. “She’s in Jersey. Getting her cheeks done by some doc she met on the internet. But I haven’t heard from her in, oh, like, days…”

“She’s getting her cheeks done again?”

“Yep.”

Then something occurs to me. “Butt or face?”

“Face. She’s getting what they did the last time fixed.”

Jesus, I hope so, I’m thinking. I remember the last time I saw her, the resemblance her face had taken to that infamous photo of Jersey Joe Walcott's at the moment of impact with Rocky Marciano's right fist was alarming and I’ve heard the resemblance did not significantly go away when the swelling went down. These back-alley plastic surgeons were creating a race of cut-rate mutants in the underground sex industry. It was beginning to look like an X-rated version of The Island of Dr. Moreau out there. Anyway, all this sounds vaguely familiar to me, what Sooki Soo just said, but then again, most things sound vaguely familiar to me lately. That’s what happens when you’ve already heard it all.

“I’m sorry,” I say, “did you already tell me that at dinner?”

“I don’t know,” Sooki says, looking confused herself, and she gets up to retrieve two bottles of beer out of the fridge, and turns off the kitchenette light, although not necessarily in that order. 

She crosses the room in her big plastic sissy heels, lots of leg flashing along that slit in the kimono, and it’s significant that neither of us turns on any of the other lights by way of compensation. She hands me the bottles, pretending she can’t twist the tops, and I open them. We sit on the couch for a while, drinking, not saying anything.

“I’ll do that” Sooki says, because I’m bending sideways to take off my shoes, and she hands me her beer bottle with the lipstick smeared halfway down the neck as if she’s been warming up for what comes next. 

She slides silkily off the couch onto her knees. I drink out of her bottle because mine is already empty and I taste her fruit-flavored lipstick and it feels as if she’s trying to undo my shoelaces, which would be a complete waste of time, because the shoes I’m wearing don’t have laces. I take another long sip of the cold beer; Sooki, pretend little geisha girl that she is, always buys Sapporo, and by now she’s slipping off my socks, and I’m vaguely worried about foot odor.

I take another pull of beer to distract myself.

Sooki’s worked my pants down and she’s licking me, making hmm-hmmming noises, and although I know her enthusiasm isn’t entirely authentic, because nothing is, I also know that it’s not totally fake either, and that’s something. I have my hands in her hair, but I’m not pulling too hard or messing around in there too much because I have no idea how much of her hair is real anymore and how much of it is extensions, and I don’t want this to be another of those embarrassing moments we have to act like didn’t happen.

Too much of all this is like that already.

“Hmmm-hmmmm,” Sooki goes, and I’m amazed, as always, at how this all works, even though we might as well be reading from a script. It’s all a little like your favorite dirty scene in a film you’ve watched fifty times before, and yet, somehow, it still works the fifty-first time, even though you know exactly what’s coming and when, maybe because you know exactly what’s coming and when. 

We end up in the bedroom after a while, which is to say, the corner of the one-room flat where the used futon is thrown on the floor beneath the satin comforter. There’s some shouting coming up from the street, some garbage can racket, some bottles breaking, threats, curses, pleading, gasps of pain. As you might imagine, this isn’t exactly a high-rent district Sooki Soo is living in, but the ugly-sounding commotion just seems to make being inside that much cozier. It makes you thankful to realize it’d probably take one hell of a supernaturally fortuitous ricochet from a stray bullet to get yourself capped up here, a one in a million shot. That kind of luck, good or bad, is really rare. You gotta figure if you're that unlucky, it's not bad luck. God Himself must want you dead.

I’m lying back on the futon mattress now and Sooki is on top of me, running her hands with the long painted nails over my chest, my stomach, and this is the time she’d be taking her clothes off, or I would be taking them off her, if she were any other girl. But aside from the red satin kimono with the wild orchids, or whatever, she still has on all the rest of it: the fake fur-trimmed bra, the leopard-print micro-mesh panties, the fishnet stockings, the big plastic sissy heels. Sooki is a bit like little Miss Invisible: she is the kind of girl that starts to disappear the more she takes off. 

Strange thing is, this is more true of most girls than you might realize. It’s just a little truer of Sooki.

Sex seems like such a mystery when you consider what we’re often driven to do just to make that connection, any connection. It seems inexplicable and I don’t just mean what’s going on now between Sooki and I, because what’s going on now really isn’t that much stranger than anything else, if you take the big perspective, if you look at it from the long range, I'm talking really long range, like an alien watching from Alpha Centauri. People will gladly acknowledge that we come into this world alone and leave it alone, but they generally never consider that we pass through it alone, too. That’s what sex is really all about: a way to fool ourselves into believing that we aren’t utterly and eternally alone. After all, anything that causes us as many problems as sex can’t possibly be our fault alone, could it? There's got to be someone else involved—if only to have someone else to blame.

Sooki makes things easy, but, of course, it still isn’t easy, it never is. There are all kinds of places to touch and not to touch, things to say and not to say, parts to see and not to see, to keep the illusion real. And so that’s where we’re at, as I’m touching her breasts, or where her breasts are beginning to be, or going to be, after a few more treatments. She’s still got her panties on, the bra, the sissy heels, everything, and she’s on her back now and moaning and squirming around because it’s my turn to make her feel good, and I can’t tell if it’s really anything I’m doing or if she’s just enjoying some movie version of herself that she runs in her head. Sooki’s got this part of being a woman down pat. The fact that I’ll be here with her while she watches this private movie, that alone seems to make her feel good, that alone seems to be enough. I’m there to bear witness to her fiercely imagined femininity. Sex, like any other social interaction, is mostly a performance.

“One day,” she’s always saying, “I’ll have a pair of real breasts,” but that’s not true. “One day,” she’s always saying, “I’ll have a real vagina,” but that’s not true either.

These are the kinds of little lies we tell ourselves all the time to make ourselves feel better. These are the kinds of lies we pretend to believe to make each other feel better. I have my hand on her silicone-filled bra, though, as if all this were true; I’ve slipped my hand inside her micro-mesh panties as if what she believes will one day happen already has.

Fact is, she seems even smaller and softer than she usually does and I’m reminded, yet again, of the cost of what she’s doing to herself chemically, of the impotence, the inability to experience real sexual pleasure, not to mention the risk of permanent damage to her internal organs because none of what she’s doing is being properly administered let alone monitored by an endocrinologist, and I’m amazed as she comes, or pretends to come, bucking like the girl she wants to be against my hand with all these pretty little gasps and soft moans, of just how convincing she can be, if you don’t think about any of it all too much, and it’s not the first time or the last time that I’m making a real effort not to think about too much of anything at all.

#     #     #

You’re not spending the night with a girl like Sooki Soo, that much you know going in. You’re not spending the night if you have to brave a thermonuclear holocaust to get out of there before morning comes. It’s kind of like being with a werewolf in reverse, except instead of the moon, it’s all going to hell when the sun comes up, and I’m not only talking about the need for a morning shave. You have to face up to a lot of harsh realities the morning after with a girl like Sooki Soo and those harsh realities are to be avoided at all costs.




So after we’re done, I stumble around, pulling on my clothes, and Sooki Soo gathers the sheets around herself, knowing that I prefer she not walk me out, or kiss me at the door, or, for that matter, say much of anything at all.  On the way to the door, I leave three twenties on the table near the dead carnations standing in the plastic Pepsi One bottle but neither one of us say anything about it because that’s not what this is supposed to be about anyway. At least, we’re both pretending that’s not what this is about. Before you know it, I’m out of the housing complex and walking up a block of steaming manhole covers on a street that’s looking less and less dangerous by the second in the grainy morning light and instead just more and more sad and generically miserable than ever before.

Coming soon: 
Chapter 3: Porn, aliases, and guilty consciences...

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