John Updike once got me laid. I was in my mid-20s, bored with joke writing, anxious to explore longer, serious forms. I split my time between the NYPL on 40th St., and The Strand down on 12th. I'd begun dressing all in black, the idea being that in order to be a real writer, I had to present a certain image, and mine was a cross between Samuel Beckett and Echo and The Bunnymen. Only I couldn't sing and rarely observed long silences.
The library women seemed preoccupied with study, faces pressed to texts, small fists scribbling notes. They weren't terribly attractive overall, and worse, they paid little attention to me or my routine. I'd stand for hours holding a book with one hand, the other either on my hip, on the shelf, or brushing back my Bunnymen bangs.
I sensed that I was choosing the wrong books as props, large philosophical tomes and encyclopedias too bulky to be cool. So I shifted to small books of poetry, gently nodding my head as if appreciating cadence and rhythm, when all I was thinking about was pussy. This proved a tactical error; the only girls who noticed this scheme were weird academic types with thick legs. I didn't mind the thick legs. They stimulated my inner-R. Crumb. It was their faces, primarily their teeth, that threw me off. Yellow, unflossed, smelling of deli coffee. No wonder so many poets killed themselves.
Out of desperation, I settled on Literature. Numerous authors, styles, moods, genres. If I couldn't score there, it was back to browsing magazines at Gem Spa. Having not gone to college, and not paying attention during high school English class, my knowledge of fiction was grotesquely limited. I grew up on comic books. I knew more about Jughead, Sad Sack, Teen Titans, and Richie Rich than I did about Jean Valjean, Larry Darrell, or Holly Golightly. But I recalled how taken one of my high school teachers was with John Updike. She pushed his novels and essays on us, praising his prose with theatrical waves of her hand. (She wore long silk scarves, large hoop earrings, and overused the phrase, "But of course.")
Updike, eh? Why the hell not?
I pulled out several of his novels, did the reading pose thing, and waited. While waiting, I slowly sank into Updike's lush narration.
"He felt a tickle in his rear, as if tiny feathers of cracked glass lightly teased the soft tissue between his cheeks. The commuter train was packed. Men in charcoal suits read their folded newspapers. As the tickle became a burn, he looked around to see who might be watching. Everyone seemed to be minding their business, but in such cramped quarters, that condition could change within seconds.
"The burn spread like an African grass fire. Tiny beads of sweat linked arms and ran down his reddened face. He decided to risk embarrassment. Slowly, his right hand moved to the inflamed region which, had it vocal chords, would have released a lunatic's scream. First the index finger, then its middle brother, pressed against the seat of his pants, driving the pinstriped wool into the fleshy fold. The fingers formed a hook and dug into the burn, erasing discomfort with each determined scratch. The relief was so rapturous that he believed he could hear angels singing, celebrating his return to sanity. He removed the fingers from their place of glory, bringing them up to his nose, where he inhaled their pungent perfume. He smiled, and remembered that his wife was making meatloaf for supper."
Wow, I thought to myself. This guy can write!
As I pored through intimate, poetic descriptions of taping a package, washing a glass, flipping a coin, and pressing an elevator button, a nice-looking young woman interrupted my Updiking.
"You like Updike?"
She had soft red hair, freckles, wore bookish black glasses, and most importantly, her teeth were clean and white, giving her a creamy smile. It was all I could do to keep my knees from buckling.
"Updike? Sure! Big John's my favorite American author, bar none!"
"Well, I'm more of a Joyce Carol Oates fan, but Updike's right up there!"
"Yeah, Oates is good, too. Really, really good." I had no idea what I was talking about, but after all my pretentious efforts, I wasn't about to blow this opportunity by admitting my ignorance of Oates.
"You know, I've never met a guy who liked Oates. What's your favorite book of hers?"
Tiny beads of sweat linked arms and ran down my reddened face.
"Ummm, well, you know, it's Oates' essence, her narrative air that grabs me. Specifying a favorite book misses the larger point. Why not celebrate Oates as Oates!"
She liked this answer. Or at least pretended to. Anyway, we went to her apartment and fucked all afternoon.
"He had never felt such supple, freckled flesh. As he gazed at her bare back, he imagined the freckles to be villages, a civilization based solely on her beauty. How happy he would be to live there for a day. A peasant among her pores, tilling her exquisite earth under the warm sun of her smile. No one living there would ever flirt with atheism. They would know God intimately, not only forgiven for their trespasses, but encouraged to extend their peripheries of sweet sin."
Thanks again, Big John! You will be missed.