workzine

Bart Plantenga, 12/26/2011

Current Occupation: writer / proofer / translator / editor

Former Occupation: foot messenger / house painter / cab driver / factory worker

Contact Information: Writing is enjoyable work although not getting paid very much for it makes it less so. I have always had to combine labor with writing to survive. I realize that labor and any attached agony or adventure inspires writing while too much work kills spirit, drains energy, leaves little time… my work is available at numerous sites but my website is a good place to begin: http://bartplantenga.weebly.com/. My entire novel BEER MYSTIC, which deals with beer, NYC but also laboring at the low-end of the esteem/pay scale is available online in a global pub crawl of 40+ host sites: http://bartyodel3.wordpress.com/.

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Paris Sex Tête

[novel excerpt]

For real money I did very odd jobs for ladies with money and knowing not what to do with it except chemically alter their hair so that they all had these perms that looked like forests on fire, like autumn upstate, like the color of a bordello sign in Nevada. Ladies with slender catalogs of cultural icons, phrases, astute pronunciations of stock French phrases, charades that allowed them to convince themselves they were deeply involved in the lively marketplace of ideas and art. Ladies who had gathered around WACO [Women’s American Community Organization, the founder of which had indeed been from Waco, Texas] and WOOP [Women’s Organization of Paris] who took me to cafés in my work clothes, ladies that sat mystified by the passage of time, ladies who gathered in clubs to do good deeds for no good reason other than to get out of the house or advertise their souls via their magnificent benevolences, ladies rendered useless by their leisure who at once touted and complained about their men in expensive precisely-cut suits, (suddenly they weren’t husbands but something more generic – hims, the fathers of their children, absentee roommates), ladies, up to six of them, all with their own strong personal scents and the prowess of knowing where to get it at a wholesale price, confused about whether to hide who it was they were underneath all these scents or accent who it was they still wished they were. The clash of their fragrances was like an orchestra tuning up.

I seemed to perk them up immensely especially in the dark, crisp afternoons leading up to Xmas, which they all celebrated with days stuffed with gala events, appointments, cocktails, running around with elegant shopping bags, their days stuffed the way they allowed someone else to stuff their holiday turkeys.

Their adoring, insinuating, wide-eyed attentions made me feel like a cute puppy rubbing against the legs of ladies at a Tupperware Party. Somehow. I managed to cause a stir, a bidding war. The three that smoked blew smoke rings in the shapes of hearts, caressed my cheek with long, slender hands. It made me believe the very grandiose ideas I was entertaining in my journals – that every woman wanted me, desired me. That every femme had a thing for me. This led to some wobbly feelings of gratification and magnified self-esteem. As managing director of desire I assumed new responsibilities. It meant grooming, hand-washed underwear, lists, quotas, pacing, flattery, shaving pubic hair into suggestive shapes, presentation, posture, seminars, letterhead, chivalry, consultations, physical therapy, massage (where was my copy of The Art of Sensual Massage?). In short, it meant kama over to my house, Sutra.

Sometimes they talked about me in the third person impersonal – “my handyman.” And so I’d quote lyrics “If your broken heart should need repair / Then I am the man to see.” It was a song they all remembered. Or politely acted like they did. The sentiments of the song made everyone at the table giggle a little like the giggle that comes from drinking sparkling wine too fast. “I whisper sweet things, you tell all your friends / They’ll come runnin’ to me…” And one of the lady crew chimed in with: Come-a, come-a, come-a, come-a, come, come / Yeah, yeah, yeah…” with a little shake of her shoulders and a discreet yet insinuating youthful friskiness.

I realized there was something to be mined when I heard them picking and pecking away at me from around the café table. Hey, its that Xmas spirit of generosity. “What’re you going to put in our stockings?” that kind of winkwink provocation.

Quibbling like slave masters in a market square, smoking with all the elaborate gestures of youthful empowerment and connivance. Like jezebels because they were smoking against the wishes of their … their whatevers. What delicious decadence too; communicating with the likes of me via their Gitanes and Rothmans. At once naive, willing and … fatigué … world-weary washed out, pissed off, demanding, willing to discuss or argue as long as I had the charm to know my best-kept place and all looking younger than their years. Preserved, mounted, pickled, uplifted, tucked, professionally made up. Some were no more than 8 years older than me but had lived such mature, gentrified lifestyles for so long that they, in silk scarves, business suits and encrusted Rodin or Chagall broaches, looked exactly as kept as their lifestyles had kept them.

“He’s yours on Sunday. I’ll wager he’s not cheap. What can you do for me?” Each phrase and question filled with innuendo and insinuation. And don’t think I was immune to all this. I was very prone to the afflictions of flattery. There are things you can take for flattery but most of them involve some level of deafness.

“He reminds me of Jan Michael Vincent?”

“More like a young Rutger Hauer.” Speaking as if I wasn’t there except in some inorganic, holographic form, like they were discussing some antique urn and fed their forlorn sex lives on innuendo, double entendre, and leveraged passive-aggressive charm.

“Or that guy in Jules et Jim …”

“You mean Oscar-Meyer Wiener?”

“No, haha, don’t make me laugh, Oskar Werner. Don’t you think?” What is that particular spiritual state between annoyance and swagger, between satisfaction and ennui?

They hired me to do odd jobs, to accompany them, sit in cafés and talk so they could convince me and themselves they were a lot more with it than some of the others in the group, or I’d take them to bookshops, recommend books and chapbooks by people I knew. They promised publication of my every word and fart. They promised to invite me to parties. To Herald Tribune affairs. One of their husbands or whatever she called him, worked for McGraw-Hill.

They looked at my poems like they might the genitalia of rams at a livestock auction. In their homes, they watched me hang blinds for them in my shorts as they walked around their spacious apartments wielding a curling iron or something like it. Or they kept me company as I painted their kitchens, inspecting my work periodically, leaning in their doorways, arms akimbo in weirdly incongruous pret-à-porter costumes. Ladies who prowled about, insinuating gestures, suggestive postures, intonations suggesting the prowess of knowing what taste should feel and look like, gazing down at their own painted toenails, wistfully inquiring if I liked their color.

These were women buried in their awesome baubles, in their absolute destitute worthlessness and the hopeless activities that might temporarily obliterate that fact. Women who felt free to brag about their childhood devilishness, their liberties, their skipping classes at Bryn Mawr to go skinny-dipping, a car for college graduation, their libertine-ness. Women absolutely mortified of being alone. They even read books together. This wasn’t friendship this was tribal behavior. Money is always wasted on the rich. I don’t remember who said that. Maybe it was Orwell. But he’d be proud to see that I was determined to help redistribute some of it.

I wasn’t about to say anything controversial like the fact that painting your toenails different colors was a teen thing. You could hold your breath and listen to the slow unravellings of long dormant feelings, Mrs. Robinson, the way Lauren Bacall held a cigarette, tips from Romy Schneider, Jeanne Moreau, Rita Moreno, Joan Collins. Ladies who would then offer refreshments, exotic cheeses like Boulette d’Avesgnes from Picardie with herbs and a fat content of only 45%, from a silver tray and then something from their Louis the-whatever splendid lacquered little liquor cabinet and later a drink in the local brasserie in their bejeweled sunglasses by Dior or Omigh. Tawdry in Silk would be the name of this story.

Genoa Trieste was much younger than these gals. She lived in Venice so the distance between us could weave an intense and strange tale of lust that our letters made look like love. It is with Genoa that I developed the encryption techniques, so amazingly cryptic and involved that I began to believe they were somehow of worldwide importance. The encryption was meant to spare Sophie the anguish of suspicion. It WAS – no, really – out of deference to her emotions that I encrypted Genoa’s phone number in my spiral notepads. And there I was, armed with a phone card, venturing out into the rain, standing in the steamed-up phone booth on the corner of Rue des Quatre Fils and Rue du Temple, staring at the page in my journal. Where had I circled the random words in my journal and ascribed numbers to them which corresponded to Genoa’s phone number in her Venice – each number plus 10. Oh, here it is; the journal page, March 27, had 6 circled words and this is how it read FUR-9, DINK-19, OMBRE-31, LACTOSE-12, FULSOME-48, NASA-16… So I wrote the decoded number on an old bar receipt (have to remember to throw the receipt away and NOT n-o-t put it back in my pants pocket!!) – 19-29-41-22-58-26.

I’d then dash into a tabak, buy a phone card at the first pang of desire or loneliness. Bam – 50 francs in 5 minutes. 50 francs that had taken me nearly 4 hours of jogging through the rain, three days before Xmas, to earn, hanging Paris Patois posters.

The phone rangrangrang, with me drawing Matisses into the condensation on the booth glass as I waited, waited. I tried to be systematic, calling her late at night but sometimes, especially when it was rainy going on 3 weeks steady and I’d been on my rounds of putting up Patois posters and my sneakers and socks and feet and the bones in my feet were soaked through with rainwater I’d suddenly need to hear her voice and we’d talk hesitatingly about Raymond Chandler vs Dashiell Hammett or how she made risotto or the effect the Pope had on the current zeitgeist! That’s right and all at 10 francs per minute! Or we’d imagine elaborate maps and describe how I would find her in Venice and how I dreamt of her on her knees. And how the streets of Venice are so quiet off the beaten track that we could do it at high noon under a balcony. IF I WERE TO EVER GET THE COURAGE (her word) TO COME VISIT HER. (Her emphasis.) And here I’d be in the middle of Paris traffic staring at a huge grafitti that said:

WHO AMI

POLE VAULT HAHA

trying to decipher its meaning with Genoa on the other end and suddenly ordinary time blossomed into an extraordinary moment, a time ripe and pungent with possibilities, so ripe that I would hustle down to Gare de Lyon and just study the timetables, look at the boards, check the prices… See Genoa’s generous face fluttering by like a film outtake.

“How will you be seeing me?”

“You are on the edge of your bed and I’m rubbing my hands in the shape of a prayer from bellybutton through the crevice, which is scented exactly to match what it is my nostrils process as arousing … the wetness, the fur and across your perinium and circling your other …” Frankincense, sage, chickory cigarettes, wool rubbing against perspiring skin… She was one of those exceptional women who never overacted the part, an enchantress, all the more so because she looked like a librarian, albeit one who oversaw the Ligurian Erotica Archives. She understood perfectly the full significance of scent and the incredible bond it was capable of creating between a man and a woman. The nose’s work of taking the secreted molecules of two people who are in some kind of negotiable equilibrium is assimilated by the brain, which gives myth, power, and structure to this sensual encounter. It was as if she were preparing to go blind.

“I am now like that exactly. You can see me. Scent me. I am sure you know and like the smell of leather pants that I am wearing now the whole day. The smell in the seam that separates my right leg from my left.”

“Almost.”

“What is wrong? Are you crying?” I was actually hyperventilating, well, maybe I was unhappier or sadder or lonelier than my feelings of gratitude and awe allowed me to feel here in Paris.

“Not exactly. It might just be pollution …”

“Well …”

And then the card would begin to die its horrible death; I was helpless as the centimes ticked off … and then – shrrt – her voice was gone, shorn from my hearing. But I could fill in the silence. I could hear and see her lips forming the very words – IF YOU WANT TO LEAVE HER YOU SHOULD. I WILL TAKE CARE OF THE REST. LEAVE OR FOREVER JUST FORGET THE IDLE DREAMS WITH ME IN THEM. YOU MUST… I could stare at the phone, I did stare at the phone, I mouthed her words, kissed the steamy little window in the phone, said nothing, it said nothing back.

Months later, I received a musk-scented package which contained several aromatic sheets of paper folded in half, quarters, eighths. It involved her pursuit of her own notions about scent as borne out by various scientists such as Auguste Galopin and Wilhelm Fliess who both pursued the bio-psycho-sexual connections between nose and hard-on. She wrote that Fliess found evidence that during certain heightened states like menstruation, sex, and pregnancy that actual structural changes take place in the tuberculum septi region of the nose. These were described by Fliess as “genital localizations.” He noted swollen membranes, increased sensitivity, even nosebleeds as sympathetic reactions to something like menstruation. He noted that certain erectile membranes in the nose were similar to those in the vagina and penis. I later re-read the letter in the Patois toilet and masturbated while holding the folds of the letter up to my nose.

I only ever saved one phone card from all those calls. How many cards did I go through? How many weeks had I by then lived in Paris: let’s say 50, that’s 2500 francs [$416]. Which, of course, could have brought me there via train any number of times! The card has a portrait of Billy Holiday on it. Coincidentally, that was Genoa’s or Chandler’s(?) favorite singer.

But that’s an entirely different story. Triest Trieste, would evolve into a novel full of melancholy and unfinished business, remaining forever devoutly unfinished.

“JOYEUX NOEL!” The fêtards yelled, hoisting moist bottles of medium-priced champagne as they wended their ways to their Renaults. “Merry Fuggin’ Xmas” I grumbled, knowing I’d be working all tomorrow right up until the edge of Xmas Eve.

#

back to WORK

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