N a p a l m H e a l t h S p a : R e p o r t 2 0 1 2
The Magus of the Blue Hour
I’m out the door. I’m on my way.
Not that I go to galleries any more, but my old friend Z calls and says, “X, I need some moral support because it’s my first opening on 57th Street where money talks, and this new rum company will be handing out Mai Tais even though my work’s got nothing to do with Mai Tais, so I’m feeling like my show is merely the bait for this corporate sponsor to hook my prospects on their rum and to see you there would help me feel legitimate in a big way,” and I’m thinking, Bring on the Mai Tais.
I need escape. I need a couple of hours off.
With a cold already causing sneezes, I know a little rum will help me weather that storm while I finish the last entry in a year-long series of articles which asks, if civilization is annihilating the wild, what does that do to the wilderness within us?, so as I’m walking, I’m thinking, Central Park’s two blocks away, scary as hell after dark, maybe wilding around there with a buzz on will bring the wilderness out of me and give me some ideas.
I arrive early. I coat check my shawl.
I get a Mai Tai and have clear sight lines to the work and I’m smiling ear to ear for I immediately love her show which is entitled “Nothing Is as It Seams” and features ten photo montages of a man and a woman approaching one another, each succeeding montage creating a larger frame of reference which changes the context and the meaning of the images, and I’m thinking, Such a knowing eye to the mating rituals in this town, how both predator and prey are misled by lures and snares, and I’m happy for Z, who flutter-waves me over, kvells at my compliments, introduces me to this photographer named Y and leaves me standing there alone with him.
My pulse quickens. My jaw drops.
Y’s got that shaygetz thing---rugged face, longish mane, dimpled chin, strong shoulders, loose corduroy jacket, safari shirt, top buttons opened, dark chest hair spilling out---and big deal, he’s a manly specimen and not a bad choice for the last dude on earth even with that hint of the hustler in his smile, and so what?, I’m attracted, and yes, he can rattle my teacup, bubbalah, but I’m thinking, Can he talk?
“You’re a writer? You write for The Voiceless?”
“Well, yes,” I say a little sheepishly, but he jumps right in and says with such warmth, “X, I must confess I’ve been thinking about who you might be, based on your first article when you wrote that human beings are unconsciously embarked on a wave of mass extinction that’s wiping out half of the planet’s ten million species of plants, animals and fish so Mother Nature might, like pulling a tick out of her armpit, simply exterminate us to save what’s left of life on Earth, and I agree with you that we’re acting reptilian and refusing our role as homo faber eco-steward mammals but I wonder, if Mother Nature can be so carefree, why can’t we?, and so I keep returning to your conclusion which I find incredibly erotic and renewing, that our consciousness is not separate from the life around us and the sounds we utter in sexual abandon might be the echoes of all those species we make extinct,” he says, and I’m thinking, Yes, he can talk---was there really any doubt?
He loves my work. He quotes me verbatim.
“Pardon me, X, I just need a minute to pull myself together here because you’re standing so close to me and you look so much like how you read, that is, breathtakingly beautiful, so let me calm down and get you another Mai Tai,” he says like a total charm boat and a real man, unafraid to share his feelings for me, and for the first time this evening I’m glad I’m wearing bling and mascara, heels and a little black dress from the back of the closet, and as he takes my plastic cup, he accidentally brushes his hand against my chest so my foolish nipples give me away by hardening instantly and my whole body wants more before he disappears into the swelling crowd, and while checking my mirror and re-applying lipstick, I wonder how much grift is in his mix and if his finger brush were an accident at all before he returns with refills, disappears my fears with his big brown eyes, and just as I’m thinking, Let’s go to my place, Z catches my attention, raising her eyebrow as if his game were in question, but I wave her off and get my shawl.
We down the drinks. We hit the street.
“New York at twilight,” he says entranced, takes out a small, high-speed camera from his jacket and aims at me, so I’m thinking, This is my cue, and I walk way ahead letting him shoot me from a distance before I duck into a doorway and when he finally catches up and can’t find me, I jump out, pin him to a parking meter, get in his space and ask, “You like to work in this ambient light when day and night are suspended in what you photographers call l'heure bleue?”
“I do. I wonder what you call it.”
“The hour of the vampire announced by the wolf’s call of the wild as in ‘Twilight, a timid fawn, went glimmering by,’” I say, and without missing a beat he says, “‘And Night, the dark-blue hunter, followed fast,’” quoting George William Russell’s “Refuge” back to me as if he could read the words from my mind, and I’m thinking, Destiny guides our meeting, and just as I realize I’m so utterly impressed with this guy that my eyeballs are popping out, he takes my picture.
He puts his camera away. He reaches out his hand.
I take his in mine, and we amble along Eighth Avenue, filled with the magic of twilight as he discusses my interpretations of Z’s work, my speaking voice versus my writing voice, and when I ask him how he imagined me, he says as smart and sexy, that in person I’m all of that but ten times more, and so all right, I’m thinking, It’s no wonder I’m melting a little in company so seductive and assuring, and in two blocks we’re arm in arm, and why not?, we’re a great fit, everything’s where it should be body to body which makes me think I should pull him into an alley and have my way with him and that sends the joyous abandon coursing through my bloodstream until my breathing gets so aroused he looks over and asks if I’m all right.
It gets wet between my legs. It starts to drizzle.
He looks skyward but I say nothing, knowing all I can do is desire him, and he takes off his corduroy jacket, drapes it over my shawl and it’s so warm and smells like him and he holds me closer which feels so good I could cry, but a block later I can’t keep walking in this gentle rain, and because I know it’s going to be steamy sex in a rancid vestibule that we’ll regret later or another Mai Tai right now, I stop below a chic sign in red neon spelling Thai Tyger, harden his nipples with my fingertips to let him know I’m getting too hot to handle and say, “Hey, Z, I’m a starvin’ Marvin, let’s get a nosh, shall we?”
He stands frozen. He stares panicked.
I give him a moment to lighten up or express himself, but when he does neither, I go right through the door on my own, thinking, I’m sorry he putzed out and went Twilight Zone on me and I hope I haven’t ruined his evening, but once inside he checks my wrap, his charming manner returns, and I look around at major style, convinced I made the right decision as we follow the maitre d’ past an elegant teakwood bar leading into a maze of walkways with intricate sculpture, and I soon swivel into our very private booth and watch walls dissolve in flat black without clues as to where the restaurant begins or ends.
I’m glad he’s paying. I’m adding fifty to the bill.
Above our table in a large oil painting framed in ornate gold-leaf, the Queen of Siam beams regally, colors pulsing, thanks to odd angles of track lighting that also throw light and shadow on his sculpted face as he says, “X, you see the whole mess we’re in so clearly with civilization and the unheeded warning signs from writers: while the English Lake poets revered nature, walked the wild woods and wrote the Romantic movement into being, the British empire carved up Asia and Africa whose reverence for nature was considered backwards and legitimated their conquest and I see now how our treatment of women and our lack of reverence for nature go in hand in hand making it only more unfortunate that the only remaining path to reverence our culture seems to take seriously is the passion of erotic ecstasy as you pointed out,” and I’m thinking, He’s using my own writing to seduce me.
He moves closer. He touches my hair.
As he beams the promise of unabashed sexual healing, I glance at the exotic fish darting about in their captivity within the bright, faraway aquarium, and I’m thinking, This is where the conquest of the wilderness has gone---into his skull’s contour, especially the shapely frontal lobes above his brow, the graceful way his thumb touches the pad of his pinkie, the coordination of his hand and his eye---because I know deep down we’ve mostly been hunter-gatherers, reluctantly farmers and only recently post-industrial wage slaves with deep misgivings about the road we’re on, and though I don’t want children, I’m still a woman, and what can I say?, his brute upper body strength, thick hair, big stride and survivor skill set causes imaginary butterflies to flutter inside of me awakening impulses long dead, nearly extinct, wild things that make me blush to think about in public.
“You must be famished, X. You must be bored.”
“Yes to the first statement, and not at all to the second, but thank you for asking,” I say, and now that I know that I want him, he clueless to the spell he has cast over me, his generosity and concern overwhelming me, I’m thinking, I have to get up and move around or just undress him right here in our dark booth, so I start by unbuckling his belt and I can see where this is going and I like it, but instead I stand up, make a T with my hands, saunter very slowly down the corridor to the far end of the bar by the fish, and all right, sue me for appearing to play bait and switch, but a few of my friends know I work late and appreciate meeting for a drink, and no, I don’t sleep with as many as you might think, but yes, I have my purse and I’m checking my cell phone messages at the bar’s dark corner.
Just clearing the deck. Just in case.
Closely observing every part of my moving body the whole length of my long, slow walk back to his side, I slither into the booth and he hands me a Mai Tai and asks, “Any calls?,” and though I can’t decide if his delivery is a put-on, a provocation or pure honest inquiry, I’m thinking, I owe him an answer to what he’s really asking me, so I slink out of my panties, slip them into his coat pocket, slide closer in the booth and press my wet opening against him.
I say, “To nothing pressing.” I raise my glass.
We clink rims, sip and lock eyes, and I’m thinking, The mating dance is on full tilt, and when the waitress returns, without breaking the look, he speaks to her in Thai for awhile, they both laugh at something he says, then he asks me in this confidential tone, “You spoke of a runny nose---might I suggest a possible cure, something that will go well with this excellent Mai Tai?”
I nod yes. I love him.
“Tom Ga Kai,” he tells her, and to me he says, “where India meets China in Siam: coconut milk, ginger, coriander, lemon grass, green chilies---a knock-out for the sniffles,” so that as she leaves, in the heightened silence that sexual arousal and alcohol provide, I undress him in my mind while his eyes undress me, the back and forth of which enhances the enticement so much that I’m thinking, I can’t keep this game up much longer.
I uncross my legs. I find his fingers.
Though I can’t wait to gush to his tender caress, I’m not sure what to do next, I mean he’s so willing and his mouth’s so wide I want to French kiss him and there’s all that build-up springing out from his half-opened pants, but when I decide that the best move I can make is to go down on him under the table, I get a charley horse in my left calf, and as he massages away the cramp, I’m thinking, I don’t want to lose my appetite or my reputation, but I must get a grip, at least find out his first name.
The waitress brings soup. The better I eat first.
“How well do you know this joint?” I ask, and his voice drops, saying, “It’s where I came the night of my return from Thailand, so pardon me for looking shocked when you chose it on the street,” but I don’t even want to go there so I say, “What brought you to Thailand?,” and in complete deadpan he says, “I’d fled New York to avoid a death threat as I’d been employed by a detective agency which offered inventive ways to collect evidence on extra-marital behavior and I’d taken photos which could prove detrimental to an influential celebrity known for his fatwas---I’m not going to say who---only that if I’d been told all the details I never would have tailed this whack job in the first place, but at least the boss called to tell me he had given me up and that I had about an hour to get out of town, so on the plane I resolved never to work for anybody but myself and to never use photography, the true love of my life, against anyone, and as a result, I shaved my head, practiced mindfulness meditation, wandered the jungles and made pilgrimages to retreats deep in the wilderness,” and then he sits very still and quiet like he’s back in Thailand, so I’m thinking, His story of loss and redemption is the intro to my final wilderness article.
I finish the soup. I see the pad Thai arriving.
I say, “The wilderness is a ferocious teacher and must have done you some good,” in a tone I hope masks my fascination with him, but he says, “With gunmen hunting me down, my motivation was high and to make it worse, I was lost in my own wilderness for I’d come of age on Ansel Adams and Minor White, taking that shifting foreground-background Zen-like landscape shot, so I felt I deserved my exile for almost destroying a man with my photographs, the result of abandoning my art to pay the rent,” he says, and I’m thinking, What irony to bear.
“Up goes the rent. Up and down the food chain.”
“But the top of that chain has been the big cats and all my photographs and all your words won’t bring one extinct white Bengali tiger back, will it?,” he asks as we both dig into the pad Thai and I’m thinking, He’s so able to express what we have in common as if we’re already bonded as comrades, before it dawns on me he’s getting existential, about to lose his cool façade and needs a little understanding.
“You’re hunted still? You’re marked, Y?”
“Yes, and the more people who know where I am, the sooner I will be found out, but I don’t regret telling you because it has created a bond between us,” he says, and I’m thinking, Perhaps the bond he just confirmed is a key to the article---maybe the last wilderness is the boundary that separates one mind from another.
I look him over. I see the light go on.
“Is there really no boundary separating one mind from another?” he asks, and I’m blown away momentarily, thinking, Is he some kind of magus of l'heure bleue?, before I regain my composure and say, “The boundary’s only in our heads, but you never fully answered my first question.”
He looks puzzled. He hesitates.
As the waitress brings us chicken in basil and shrimp in red curry, he says, “You ask how well I know this restaurant, and of the first night I remember nothing, but a year later to the day A, a friend from my old neighborhood, gets in touch, which was odd because I changed my name, my passport, everything, yet he manages to find me under the alias I used to curate a photo show for Asia House and comes to the opening to tell me to meet him twenty-four hours later at an address he hands me---no name, just an address,” he says, and I’m thinking, This is no coincidence.
“It’s here. It’s the Thai Tyger.”
“Yes, X, and A, my old Argentinean neighbor and a great photographer, is talking Thai like a native and the whole staff comes out to take his darshan while he pulls out maps, asks me to narrate my pilgrimage and tells me he’s made a ton of money filming near-extinct animals in the Serengeti and wants to create a show of my Thai travels, and I’m wondering how he even knew about my life there as I told no one I’d been overseas, and A is asking me about meditation instructors and diet and monasteries and wants to know if there are any wild animals left in the jungles,” Y says and looks so gravely at me, I’m thinking, His soul hangs in the balance, “because A’s only fear is the white Bengali tiger, worshipped in Bengal and Siam during the moon’s crescent phase as the incarnation of Shiva, the destroyer of the illusion we’re enveloped in, but I tell A I can’t help him, he pays the bill and we go our separate ways.”
What a tale. What a hunk.
I’m so glad I’m taping every word he’s been saying, and as the waitress brings coffee and clears the table, I’m thinking, The wilderness isn’t gone, it now inhabits civilization where the trickster gods of the twilight have returned, convinced that’s the last line of the last article until Y says, “X, I only wish this were the end of my story, but a year later to the day, a package arrives at my parent’s house in the old neighborhood addressed to me, and my Sicilian mother calls and says it’s mallocchio, what you call the evil eye in Italian, and it’s giving her bad dreams, so I go over to the house, open the package, and inside is a broken camera, which reveals a roll of film when I pick it up.”
“You go in the dark room? You develop it?”
“Yes, and the first few shots are of A walking city streets in Thailand, but the last ten photos are in rapid sequence and reveal a white Bengali tiger---in the jungle, then a few feet away, then leaping toward the camera, finally with A’s left arm in its mouth, and the very last frame is blank,” he says, and I’m thinking, This is truly Mother Nature speaking and surely the last line of my article.
He breaks down. He holds my hand.
When his tears roll into his coffee cup, he looks up at me as if awakening from a dream and says, “What does it mean that you and I sit at the same table in the same restaurant consuming the same food and drink that A and I enjoyed?,” but I’m thinking, What possible connection is he making, unless he equates my rush to have him with how we destroy our environment, that like his dead friend A, I can’t see what I’m so urgent to have even while it’s eating me alive?
I grab his face. I pull him close.
“Y, our desire is a ‘fearful symmetry’ as that English Romantic poet called his tyger, and our meeting here in the Thai Tyger at this table means that you can’t escape your fate, nor can you change the world, that is, you’ve used your art as a weapon once and you’ve been hunted ever since, so why don’t you come to my place, a safe haven, and we don’t need to do the wild thing if you don’t want, I know we just met after all, but you’re kind of cute, and I’m thinking, I could hold you.”
“X, I’m the bait! X, I’m cursed!”
“Y, my dear Thai tyger, you’re not the bait and I’m no timid fawn but the Lady of the Twilight herself,” I say and as he tries to interrupt I add, “and I’ve been hunting you a long time,” and I’m thinking, I must lay him down in our booth, take him inside me and make love to him, and when our eyes once again meet, the spinning world around us stops and the only thing moving are his tears and then, don’t ask me why, I bring my face very close to his.
I stick out my tongue. I lick his tears.
“I’ve been hunting you longer,” he whispers before I put those thick lips of his on mine, and now I’m totally getting swept up as he smells so good and he really knows how to kiss, I mean not just on my lips but along my neck and shoulder and it’s really getting wet down there and my nipples are protruding like bullets and he’s brushing his fingertips against them so tenderly it’s no accident this time, and I’m thinking, Call me a tease or a JAP, I don’t care, but my bladder’s ready to burst, so without warning I break away from his clutches, catch my breath, get lost in the black corridors, find the waitress who points ominously and gives me the same Twilight Zone look that he flashed on me earlier, and I walk awhile turning this way and that---I’m still swooning from his kisses and the Mai Tais---until I stop at the end of the maze and face two doors marked only in Thai.
I open Door Number One. I hope it’s a bathroom.
Instead, I step into a large outdoor garden, and what’s drawing me closer I don’t know, but as I ascend a long ramp my heel gets caught in the grated walkway, and though I’m immobile, unable to get my foot out of the shoe or the heel out of the grating, I’m thinking, I should ask him more about that curse, for I notice below me an altar of sacrifice adorned with images of Shiva and above me, in a sky having cleared with nightfall, a crescent moon rising between two apartment buildings, and behind a semi-circle of large exotic ferns I can just make out a white Bengali tiger fast approaching against the rapid staccato clicks of a high-speed camera.