Buddy Black in the Booby-Hatch

I’m not going to tell you my whole goddam autobiography or anything. I’ll just tell you this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas. The facts at hand presumably speak for themselves, but a trifle more vulgarly, I suspect than facts even usually do.

I felt like giving somebody a buzz. I’m not sure what time it was, but it wasn’t too late. The one thing I hate to do is to go to bed when I’m not even tired. What I thought I’d do, I thought I’d go downstairs and see what the hell was going on in the Lavender Room. They have this live video chat club, the Lavender Room, on the Internet. I checked in incognito, under my screen name SexisFun—orHell507.

The goddam chat club was full of perverts and morons. Screwballs all over the place. I saw one guy, a gray-haired very distinguished-looking guy with only his shorts on, do something you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. He put on this very tight black evening dress. I swear to God. Then he started walking up and down the room, taking these very small steps, the way a woman does, and smoking a cigarette and looking at himself in the mirror. Then, in the window almost right over his, I saw a man and a woman squirting water out of their mouths at each other. It was probably highballs, not water, but I couldn’t see what they had in their glasses. You should’ve seen them. They were in hysterics the whole time, like it was the funniest thing that ever happened. I’m not kidding, that chat club was lousy with perverts. I was probably the only normal bastard in the whole place—and that isn’t saying much.

The other end of the club was full of flits. They weren’t too flitty looking—I mean they didn’t have their hair too long or anything—but you could tell they were flits anyway. I like to be somewhere at least where you can see a few girls around once in a while, even if they’re only scratching their arms or blowing their noses or even just giggling or something. Except for a few whory-looking blondes, the chat club was pretty empty of that most interesting of all active animals, the American Girl in Shorts.

Then, a young woman wearing glasses and pajamas and no slippers lunged onto the computer screen with her mouth open. She was about thirteen, with straight ash-blond hair of ear-lobe length, an exquisite forehead, and blasé eyes that, I thought, might very possibly have counted the house (of perverts). I spotted her immediately, and my arm shot up into the air. The young woman saw it, and me, and waved extravagantly back. I reached out to her instantly, hitting the tips of my fingers on the screen.

I messaged her, “You’re looking fine. It’s good to see you.”

She was a girl who for a private message dropped exactly nothing. She looked as if her instant messenger had been flashing continually ever since she had reached puberty.

“Listen,” I typed. “Do you feel like playing a little Canasta?” I was a Canasta fiend.

“i dunno i gess so maybe after i get 2 know u haha!”

The young lady, however, seemed slightly bored. I saw her yawn. It was a ladylike yawn, a close-mouth yawn, but you couldn’t miss it; her nostril wings gave her away. She had on those damn falsies that point all over the place, but you felt sort of sorry for her. She had a lot of charm. She had quite a lot of sex appeal, too, if you really want to know.

“Please. I’m lonesome as hell. No kidding.”

She stared back at me, with those house-counting eyes of hers, then, abruptly, gave me a small, qualified smile. It was oddly radiant, as certain small, qualified smiles sometimes are. “whats ur name ? im faith cavendish”

“L. Manning Vines.”

“wuld u lik me 2 chat 2 u?” she asked, with a certain amount of color in her face. “i chat xxxtrmly artikulet 4 a person—”

“I’d love it.” I wrote down the name of a private room, “The Secret Goldfish.”

“i shall rite 2 u furst,” she typed, accepting it, “so dat u dont fill compromized in ne way”

Her eyes sparkled with depravity.

Offhand, I can remember seeing just three girls in my life who struck me as having unclassifiably great beauty at first sight. One was a thin girl in a black bathing suit putting up an orange umbrella at Jones Beach, circa 1936. The second was a girl aboard a Caribbean cruise ship in 1939, who threw her cigarette lighter at a porpoise. And the third was Faith Cavendish, a small, almost hipless girl with styleless, colorless, brittle hair pushed back behind her ears, which were very large. Her general unprettiness aside, she was—in terms of permanently memorable, immoderately perceptive, small-area faces—a stunning and final girl.

So I just went over to the private room and waited, wantonly.

“im capricorn,” she said, as soon as she came in. “? wut r u”

I chose to interpret her attempt to be friendly to me, to gently persuade me to take off my armor—or at least my helmet—as an implied invitation to join her in bed at my earliest convenience.

“Pussycat,” I said. “I feel at least that I know you quite well enough to guess what kind of well-meant gesture might be welcomed from me right now. In this entre-nous spirit, before we join the others, the grounded everywhere, including all the lofty experts who know so well what we should or shouldn’t do with our poor little sex organs (please don’t shut me up) I privately say to you (unto you, really, I’m afraid), please accept from me this unpretentious bouquet of very early-blooming parentheses: (((()))).”

“durr ? i hav matching bra and panties”

Women kill me. They really do. I don’t mean I’m oversexed or anything like that—although I am quite sexy. I just like them, I mean. I didn’t even like her much, and yet all of a sudden I felt like I was in love with her and wanted to marry her. I swear to God. I’m crazy. I admit it.

I’m an ecstatically happy man. To the point: I happen to know, possibly none better, that an ecstatically happy writing person is often a totally draining type to have around (of course, the poets in this state are by far the most “difficult”). Worst of all, I think he’s no longer in a position to look after the reader’s most immediate want; namely, to see the author get the hell on with his story.

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know are the lousy details of how I arranged to meet the girl at her parents’ house (who were occupied) and all that kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. If you’re a reader who requires only the most restrained, most classical, and possibly deftest methods of having your attention drawn, then I suggest—as honestly as a writer can suggest this sort of thing—that you leave now, while, I can imagine, the leaving’s good and easy. I’m here to advise that not only will my asides run rampant from this point on (I’m not sure, in fact, that there won’t be a footnote or two).1

I’ll point out that I made it very snappy (with Faith Cavendish). She said I could come right over if I wanted to, and asked “is there ne way i can get u to bring me some m&m’s and two six packs?”

Boy, she was a real tigress over the Internet.

It was almost three o’clock when I finally found Faith’s house. I explained to Faith, who had come out to the driveway to meet me, that everything had been absolutely perfect until I had turned off the Merrick Parkway. Faith said, “Merritt Parkway, baby.”

“It’s getting so icy out,” I said. “I drove under fifty the whole way, around ten hours as a matter of fact.” I live like an evil-minded monk in Cornish, New Hampshire, not far from the Vermont border. Faith lived in Whirly Wood, Connecticut. “Oh, it’s lovely to see you.”

Faith turned up the collar of her coat, put her back to the wind, and waited. “What’d you bring me?”

I lunged into my freshly loaded car. In doing it, I hit my head a very audible (perhaps retributive) crack on the roof. The crack had evidently resounded over the driveway. Faith started to offer me her unqualified sympathy. But I was the sort of man who responds to all public injury of his person, short of a fractured skull by giving out a hollow subnormal-sounding laugh.

“That’s not beer,” she said, turning.

I, with the ingredients for a pitcher of Tom Collinses in each hand, stopped short. I extended both index fingers, gun-muzzle style, and said, “Don’t nobody move. I got the whole damn place surrounded.”

“Did you bring my M&Ms?”

“I thought I’d make some Tom Collinses, a somewhat sugary pitcherful.”

“You are the only boy I ever knew that could make me laugh.”

The words were no sooner out than I realized that she didn’t mean them at all. “Listen, if you’re not gonna be a nun or something, you might as well laugh.”

So we went toward the house, and she kept walking ahead of me so that I’d see how cute her little ass looked. It did look pretty cute, too. I have to admit it. She was quite skinny like me, but nice skinny. Roller-skate skinny. She wore this little blue butt-twitcher of a dress. She really did look damn good in it, though. I have to admit. Her pretty butt twitched so nice and all. It was so putrid I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

Then, just for the hell of it, I gave her a pinch on the behind. It was sticking way out in the breeze. I didn’t do it hard, but she tried to hit my hand anyway, but she missed. She said, “Keep your hands to yourself, if you don’t mind.”

That killed me.

The front door swung open onto the kitchen. Faith said cheerfully that the whole damn dinner was burned—everything, except her brownies—but I said I’d eaten anyway, on the road.

“Would you care for a cocktail?” I asked her.

A little piece of business, I might well mention, that I record here with a rather distinct shudder. Granted that I was passionate, and that I may have been doing only what any red-blooded sexy simpleton interested in a little tail would have done under similar circumstances (losing their brains). I am Not a Drinker, as the expression goes. On an ounce of whiskey, as a rule, I either get violently sick or I start scanning the room for unbelievers. On two ounces I’ve been known to pass out cold. This was, however—by way of an unparalleled understatement—no ordinary day.

“I really don’t think I’d better,” she said. “Thank you so much.”

“You can put that in the refrigerator, Faith-kid,” I said, like the biggest drip, glad to get it over with. I was already sort of sorry I’d let the thing start rolling. “Don’t get too oiled up with that.”

She went directly to the refrigerator and opened it. As she peered inside, with her legs apart and her hands on her knees, she whistled, unmelodically, through her teeth, keeping time with a little uninhibited, pendulum action of her rear end. “Is it L. Manning Vines. Or Hinds?”

I very nearly answered, “Rudolf Schmidt,” the name of the janitor of my old prep school dorm, but a certain cautionary impulse still prevailed. “Hinds.”

Faith shut the refrigerator door and walked over to the enamel table, putting down a loaded tray of brownies. Her nails were bitten down to the quick. “You want some?”

I was a little nervous. It seemed to require all my energy just to take off my coat, and I stood for some time, just resting up, as it were, before taking on the herculean task of lowering myself into the seat opposite her.

“Do you want me to get you some milk for your brownies?” She was getting friendly as hell, all of a sudden.

“Well, ordinary, I’d say grand. I mean I’d love to have a brownie, but I happen to be ill.” What a dope I was. I shouldn’t have said that.

“Oh. That’s too bad.”

“Listen, I bought you a present,” I told her. I took it out of my coat pocket and showed her.

“Gimme.” She took it right out of my hand.

I thought it was such a beautiful and inspired gift, and I kept watching her face while she opened the package.

“What is it?”

“A gold-plated swizzle stick,” I said, pretty irritated. “You’ll always have good luck if you keep it with you at all times.” Corny.

“I’m saving it,” she said. “I’ll put it in the drawer of my night table.”

“Thank you for the compliment,” I said—suave as hell, boy.

“I’m going to go up and get ready, okay?” She made no move to leave the vicinity of the table. In fact, she crossed one foot over the other and, looking down, aligned the toes of her shoes. It was a pretty little execution, for she was wearing white socks and her ankles and feet were lovely.

I reached down in front of me and took both of her ankles in my hands. I was getting more and more nonchalant as it went along. I really was.

“You gotta be patient for that,” said the owner of the ankles, and then she started getting funny. Crude and all. “Do you have protection?”

“Sure,” I said right away.

“Strip off your pants.” She was very nervous. She really was. I think it was because she was young as hell. “Wait at the table for like five minutes and then follow me up. Okay? Okay?”

I certainly felt peculiar when she said that. I mean she said it so sudden and all. It made me feel sad as hell—I don’t know why exactly. “Wait a second, willya?” I said, but Faith had already gone.

With little or no wherewithal for being left alone in a room, I stood up and walked over to the window. I drew aside the curtain and leaned my wrist on one of the crosspieces between panes, but, feeling grit, I removed it, rubbed it clean with my other hand, and stood up more erectly. Outside, the filthy slush was visibly turning to ice. I let go the curtain and walked back to the enamel table, passing two heavily stocked bookcases without glancing at any of the titles. I got undressed and started looking for a hangar. I didn’t want to get my sharkskin slacks all wrinkly.

Then something happened. I don’t even like to talk about it. All of a sudden, somebody said, “You want to explain yourself?”

The next thing I knew a man was in the room. He acted like he owned the damn place.

“What’s the matter? Wuddaya want?” I said. Boy, my voice was shaking like hell.

“I want you to keep your hands right where I can see them okay,” he said in a thin, sibilant stream. He was tininess itself, surely being not more than four nine or ten and without being either a midget or a dwarf. “And I want you to sit down right there.”

“What for?” I said. God, my old heart was damn near beating me out of the room. I was so damn nervous. I know more damn perverts than anybody you ever met, and they’re always being perverty when I’m around. I wished I was dressed at least. It’s terrible to be just in your shorts when something like this happens.

“Look,” he said, in the spuriously patient tone of voice that a teacher might take with a child who is not only retarded but whose nose is forever running unattractively. “Grab that towel, wrap it around yourself, please sit on that stool.”

Boy, I was shaking like a madman. I was sweating, too. When something perverty like that happens, I start sweating like a bastard. I can’t stand it. I lowered myself onto the stool, gingerly, like someone whose foot has gone to sleep in theatre.

“You want to explain yourself?”

His eyes, which were pale brown in color, and not at all large, were slightly crossed—the left more than the right. There was something distinctly intimidating about his stare. It seemed to come from a one-man mob, separated only by time and chance from his Brooks Brothers catalog and a splendid view of the guillotine. I’ve been terrified of mobs, of any kind, all my life.

I shook my head. I shake my head quite a lot. “Boy,” I said. I also say “Boy!” quite a lot.

“What are you so nervous about?”

“I’m a moron.”

“The girl you were chatting with online is how old?”

“Some things are hard to remember.” I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful.

“Thirteen,” he said. “And you are how old?”

“I act quite young for my age sometimes, and some times I act like I’m about thirteen.” I laid this terrific fart. It was a very crude thing to do, but it was also quite amusing. All I need’s an audience. I’m an exhibitionist.

“So you think that’s funny?”

“I’m not funny.” I tried to rip off another one, but I wasn’t in the right mood. “Really, I’m not. It’s just my face.”

“What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a short-story writer,” I said.

“Which one are you?”

“I belong, in short, to a species of literary shut-in. I spend six months of the year in a Buddhist monastery and the other six in a mental institution.”

“Is that accurate?”

“I simply happen to find Eastern philosophy more satisfactory than Western. Since you ask,” I said, “They simply happen to regard sex as both a physical and spiritual experience.”

He looked at me like he’d just beaten hell out of me in ping-pong or something. “What was your plan tonight?”

“See a goddam movie or something, and hold hands,” I said. “That doesn’t sound like much, I realize.”

“Here’s what doesn’t make sense about that. You got gin cocktails. You got condoms. Sounds like you were planning to have sex with this girl.”

He wouldn’t believe me. People never believe you.

“Witty bastard. All I ever meet is witty bastards,” I said. “Give her the time? I wasn’t quite born yesterday, you know.”

“Let me give you a little hint, okay, we have the chat log so you can go ahead and start telling the truth.”

All of a sudden then, I wanted to get the hell out of the room. It was a very dirty trick. What I really felt like, though, was committing suicide. I almost wished I was dead.

He started handling my transcript like it was a turd or something. “You ask her if she’s horny. You ask her if she does anal. Would you care to hear more?”

“No, sir, not very much,” I said. I felt like jumping out the window.

He read it anyway, though. “I’m probably the biggest sex maniac you ever saw. I can think of very crumby stuff I wouldn’t mind doing if the opportunity came up. I can even see how it might be quite a lot of fun, in a crumby way, and if you were both sort of drunk and all, to get a girl and squirt water or something all over each other’s face. Don’t tell your mom or anything.”

I had to sit there and listen to that crap. It certainly was a dirty trick. But you couldn’t stop him. He was hot as a fire-cracker. Strictly a bastard. It was like being in a lunatic asylum and having another patient all dressed up as a doctor come over to you and start taking your pulse. It was just awful. He talked and talked and talked.

“Imagine giving somebody a feel and telling them about a guy committing suicide at the same time!” He stopped reading and put the paper down. “I’m not saying I will, but I could go on for hours escorting you through the chat log. You thought that it was okay to have this kind of chat with her and why?”

I don’t think I’ll ever forgive him for reading me that crap out loud. I wouldn’t have read it out loud to him if he’d written it—I really wouldn’t. “She’s quite affectionate, for a child. The only trouble is sometimes she’s even too affectionate. She really is.”

“You’re an adult, she’s a child. There are laws protecting children. Do you get why teen girls at a certain age cannot give consent legally?”

“I don’t like people that dance with little kids,” I said. All of a sudden I started to cry. I’d give anything if I hadn’t, but I did. “I’m just going through a phase right now. Everybody goes through phases and all, don’t they?”

“You talk about this like it’s some sort of hobby building train sets, that’s not what we’re talking about here.”

“I keep making up these sex rules for myself, and then I break them right away,” I said. Unscrupulous. “Am I going to get arrested?”

“That’s not up to me,” he said. “Now, what do you think would have happened had I not been here and had there’d actually been a thirteen-year old girl. What would have happened?”

“We’re mismated, that’s all. That’s the whole simple story. We’re just mismated as hell.”

“I can only imagine what would have been going on in this house had I not been here.”

That’s something that drives me crazy. When people say something twice that way, after you admit it the first time. Then he said it three times. What lousy manners. I mean it. Boy I couldn’t’ve sat there another ten minutes to save my life.

“You know who I am?” the man asked. “You know what happens next right?”

I knew who it was, too. I don’t know how I knew, but I knew. I’m psychic. “This is the part where the cameras come out.”

“I’m Chris Hansen and I’m a reporter for Dateline NBC. I’m doing a story on adults who try to meet teens online. Now, if there’s anything else you’d like to say about this predicament you’re now in, we’d love to hear it.”

“Leave me alone.”

The old red carpet is out, I thought. I had a premonition that when my episode aired matriculating young men and women—attracted to those few or many details of my life that may be defined here, loosely, operationally, as lurid—would strike out, in singlets and twosomes, notebooks at the ready, for my somewhat creaking front door (a good many young English Department people already know where I live, hole up; I have their tire tracks in my rose beds to prove it). O let them come—the callow and the enthusiastic, the academic, the curious, the long and the short and the all-knowing! Let them arrive in busloads, let them parachute in, wearing Leicas.

Hansen said, “If there’s nothing else you have to say, then, you’re free to walk out that door.”

“I have to go,” I said—boy, was I nervous! I started putting on my damn pants. I could hardly get them on I was so damn nervous.

“You can walk right out the door you came in.” He was trying to act very goddam casual and cool and all, but he wasn’t any too goddam cool. Take my word.

“I just want to thank you for being such a goddam prince, that’s all,” I said. I said it in this very sincere voice. “You’re aces, Hansen-kid,” I said. Flinty, then, I did indeed mean to sound here. Churlish, no. “You know that? What a gorgeous job for a guy around sixty-five years old.”

He kept walking right behind me when I went to the kitchen door, and when I opened it he stayed in the damn doorway. All he said was some business about my being a “very, very strange man,” and abruptly and very quickly closed the door and manipulated the bolt to a locked position.

Boy, it began to rain like a bastard. In buckets, I swear to God. It was as cold as a witch’s teat. I reached in my coat pocket and took out this hat that I’d bought that morning. It was this red hunting hat, with one of those very, very long peaks. It only cost me a buck. The way I wore it, I swung the old peak way around to the back—very corny, I’ll admit, but I liked it that way. I got pretty soaking wet, especially my neck and my pants. My hunting hat really gave me quite a lot of protection, in a way, but I got soaked anyway. I didn’t care, though.

When I finally got down off the stoop and went out into the yard, I was crying and all. I don’t know why, but I was. I guess it was because I was feeling so damn depressed and lonesome. I thought, I hate this rain. Sometimes I see me dead in it. Then, I said quietly, “My darling, isn’t that a line from A Farwell to Arms?” My lips were quivering slightly, like two fools.

A policeman walked slowly and very independently, not to say insolently, a few steps into the yard. The rest—ninety-seven men—were standing around in hatless, smoky little groups of twos and threes and fours. I ran without regret in the direction of my car. I ignored the flashes of blue all around me. They either had your number on them or they didn’t. I fell over and damn near broke my knee. I always pick a gorgeous time to fall over.

A ranking policeman landed on me like a goddam panther. He had a pretty good half nelson on me. “Liberate yourself from my viselike grip,” he said. Then he smacked me. I didn’t even try to get out of the way or duck or anything. All I felt was this terrific punch in my stomach.

“Je-sus Christ,” I said. He was a very strong guy. I’m a very weak guy. He half-lifted and half pulled me over to the middle of the yard. I neither struggled nor cried; I let myself be moved without actually submitting to it.

I felt so damn happy all of a sudden. I was damn near bawling, I felt so happy, if you want to know the truth. I don’t know why. It was a strangely emotional moment for me. I lay quite still, looking at the sky. It’s me, I thought. I’m a freak with freakish standards, that’s all. I’m the Tattooed Lady, and I’m never going to have a minute’s peace, the rest of my life, till everybody else is tattooed, too. My lips began to move, forming soundless words, and they continued to move, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” ‘Mercy,’ because it’s such a really enormous word and can mean so many things.  

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