Friday, June 25, 2010

The Room

The Room

In this small room, where we one shadow cast--
A bouncing bug, legs twitching, on its back--
The walls are jet
For with one motion we have made them black.
See how it dies, our captured silhouette,
Starless and fading, for we have at last
Covered our wounds with love's red tourniquet,
Leaving us only touch to guide our hands
And satisfy the urge of our demands.

For even in the dark we close our eyes
And trade our names as if we are unsure
Of who we touch:
We make of what we cannot see a pure
Dark bliss of sighs and sightlessness, so much
That as we join, we do it in disguise,
Masking ourselves to make our love endure.
For love needs night, like cattle need their mangers:
At night, even the old make love as strangers.

And as we dress each other with our dreams,
Who knows but that this room will sympathize,
Since it has known
A thousand other throats to match our sighs,
A thousand tenants who left it alone,
As we will leave; so like a room, it seems,
Is love, that holds, and hopes, and dares, and dies--
Its rented heart doomed to an empty center,
As we are doomed: to pierce, but never enter.

copyright 2010 Matthew J Wells

Monday, June 21, 2010

Guide to Guys: It's On Me

Last week, my friend April, who writes for The Stir, asked me and my friend Liz to answer a question for this week's He said/She Said Column. The question: who should pick up the check on a first date?

You can find April's column here, Liz'a She Said post here, and my complete ramblings below the ancient logo for what used to be a "game show," but which would now get produced as a Reality Series:

Sorry; a question? Sure. Shoot.

What's that, you say? “Who should pick up the check on a first date?”

Hmm. Let me give this absolutely no thought at all. My automatic answer: if it’s a date, the guy picks up the check, because that’s how you know it’s a date in the first place. Or at least that’s how you know the guy thinks it’s a date in the first place, or wants it to be. Picking up the check is a signal of intention and interest. It’s the guy saying, “I’m not just looking at you as a friend.”

But it’s also a sign of respect, in a way that has nothing to do with romance. When I say, “Do you want to go out to dinner?” and you say, “Yes,” then that means I’m paying. Why? It’s all part of the package. We wouldn’t be sitting across from each other sharing a meal if I hadn’t popped the question, and picking up the check is understood as a given the moment I hear your “Yes.” It’s not even an option. Think chivalry.

Of course, chivalry may seem quaint and even sexist in our courtesy-challenged society, but again, it’s a sign of something. All first dates take place in a Signals Bar. Everything I do and say will be interpreted a hundred different ways, like a speech at the United Nations. If I pick up the check, it says a couple of interesting (and hopefully interest-related) things about me. (Like, y’know, “Look out, girls--he’s a man with a job.”) If on the other hand I say, “Let’s split it,” that says something, oh, half-interesting at best (which implies half-uninteresting, and lemme tell ya--if you’re more than 40% uninteresting on a first date, it’s the kiss of death). And then, if I’m stupid enough to say, “Your treat, right?” or, “You had the $30 dollar special which means you owe me--wait--hang on a second while I pull up the calculator app,” or, “So is it okay if I leave the tip?” then that is what most women politely call a deal-breaker and profanely call something else entirely.

Another deal-breaker is the guy who goes into a first date saying to himself, “I will only pick up this check if there’s a spark,” or, “I’ll pay if I think this is going somewhere other than two separate cab rides home.” This guy you do not need, ladies--any hint of quid pro ho is a sign that you are having dinner with someone who is totally prepared to dump you for somebody younger or prettier at the first available opportunity. Since his feeling is that a date is like a high-risk investment, that means he orders the wine believing that he’s owed something in return, and if he doesn’t get it, then he’ll put his money somewhere else. (This probably also means that he’s involved in insider trading, and treats his secretary like crap. Run; don’t walk.)

The point is, dating is not an investment. In reality, dating is a gamble. It’s like a game of poker--you raise, you call, and you always pony up to see the other player’s cards. And once that game starts? That’s when it gets really interesting. Once I raise the stakes, it is then up to the woman to decide whether she calls or raises back. The call would be by saying, “No, let’s split it.” The raise would be by either making a half-hearted attempt to pay and then backing down, or by saying, “If I had known you were pickin’ up the tab, I would have ordered that Johnny Blue.”

And, like poker, if you raise? The game continues. But if you call? The hand is over. If a woman insists on paying half, then there is no date. As a guy, if someone I’m interested in throws down a couple of 20’s and says, “No, I insist, this is for my half,” that translates in my brain as, “I am not interested in you romantically.” And I’m fine with that; in fact, I’d rather hear that than the actual words, “I am not interested in you romantically,” because the actual words hurt like hell. That’s why, when a woman says she wants to pick up half the dinner tab, it’s the rejection equivalent of French: a really nice way to say something that in reality sounds like a slap in the face.

But--and I cannot say this strongly enough--it is also a heart with a line drawn through it, which is the universal symbol for NOT INTERESTED. So if I do continue seeing this woman, it will have to be as friends, unless I want to delude myself into thinking that through the liberal application of persistence and three-course dinners, I can get her emotional barometer to swing from COLD AND DISTANT to HOT AND HEAVY. And don’t think I haven’t spent years paving a road through that emotional jungle, okay?

Oh. You too? Really?

Interesting. Want to talk about it over dinner?

The Wicked Cool Wicked Bible

As part of my commitment to answering questions nobody ever asks me, here’s this weekend’s response to the unasked query: “So what exactly is it like to live in your head all the time, huh?”

I’m glad you asked. This weekend, while working on The Short Story That Keeps Turning Into A Novel, I needed a random reason for somebody to go into a 19th-century library to discover that a valuable necklace has been stolen from the safe in that room--and by “random” I mean something totally unconnected to the potential robbery. Basically, I was looking for a book that somebody could cite, or cite wrongly, which would then impel the owner of the library to say, “I’ll go get my copy and check.”

After wracking my brains for about an hour, and filling up about three notebook pages with a lot of “How about this?” and “No, that won’t work at all,” my little inner imp suddenly popped up and said, "Hey; I’ve got an idea.”

ME: Yeah?
MY INNER IMP: Isn't there an edition of the King James Bible that left the word “not” out of “Thou shalt not commit adultery?” How about that as a book?
ME: Perfect; problem solved.

And to answer your next question, yes, there actually was a Bible printed with that pro-copulative typo. It's called The Wicked Bible:

The Wicked Bible was published in 1631 as a reprint of the original King James Bible by Robert Barker and Martin Lucas. When the error was discovered, the two printers were hauled into the Star Chamber by Charles I, fined £300 each (or about 40,000 pounds in 2010 money) and stripped of their printing license.

Since almost the entire run of these Bibles was called in and burned, there are less than a dozen surviving copies worldwide--one of which, interestingly enough, is in the possession of the New York Public Library. The existence of this particular Bible is the source of several totally apocryphal anecdotes in the lives of New Yorkers who actually tried to view it, among them Andy Warhol, who supposedly wanted to silk-screen the offending passage and create a painting out of it. After being repeatedly refused a private viewing of the book, Warhol started screaming at the head librarian in a withering tirade which ended in the following exchange:

WARHOL: So who do I have to fuck to see the Wicked Bible?

On a side note, there is no truth to the rumor that an early 20th-century King James Bible was printed in Virginia, in which the Ten Commandments were completely removed from the text and replaced by the so-called 11th Commandment--the only commandment one needs to obey in order to be counted good, happy, successful and pious at all times and in any era whatsoever:

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Daughters of Marx and Coca-Cola

That Marx and Coca-Cola line is from Jean-Luc Godard, who famously described the characters in Masculin Feminin as "the children of Marx and Coca-Cola." (And we all know who got custody of those kids in the divorce settlement, right?)

Anyway, I've been watching a lot of Godard lately (and I can hear my friend Daniel all the way in London yelling, "Godard?!? You watch Godard?!?") which has had the triple effect of making me (1) talk in a voice over whenever I do anything, (2) walk into bodegas and ask the guy behind the counter to open a pack of Gauloises so I can inhale that pungent tobacco aroma, and (3) drag my 60's French pop compilations out of storage, the Femmes de Paris and Pop à Paris series, because they're chirpy and happy and I've been thinking a lot about death lately. And watching Godard. Which to Daniel is the same thing.

(Sidebar question: Jean-Luc Picard and Jean-Luc Godard; namewise, aren't we talking what Derek Flint is to Erroll Flynn?)

So. Since nothing says joie de vivre like a leggy mademoiselle in a pink mini-skirt singing about how much Annie likes suckers, here's a little online trove of what I've been listening to over the last few days when I'm not dancing to the Japanese Popstars. Here you will find not only one of the best covers of a Rolling Stones tune you will ever hear in your life, but Petula Clark singing in French with the kind of accent that can best be described by the word "phonetic." To say nothing of the only version of "Nights in White Satin" you will ever want to listen to more than once, and a Serge Gainsbourg song that would have killed if Joan Jett had ever covered it.

Bonne écoute.

Mlle. Laforêt

01 - Marie Laforêt - Marie Douceur, Marie Colère
02 - Zouzou - Il Est Parti Comme Il Était Venu
03 - Petula Clark - La Nuit N'en Finit Plus
04 - Annie Philippe - Pour La Gloire
05 - Eileen - Ces Bottes Sont Faites Pour Marcher
06 - Annie Philippe - Baby Love
07 - Patricia - Mes Rêves De Satin

08 - Sylvie Vartan - Donne moi ton amour
09 - France Gall - Les Sucettes
10 - Anna Karina - Roller Girl

Mlle. Karina

And because every good compilation needs a bonus track:

Bonus Track: Jean-Claude Brialy & Anna Karina - Ne Dis Rien

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sonnet for Leni

It’s not your death that hurts--it’s what comes after:
The way the loss gets slowly wiped away
Like distant echoes of remembered laughter
Fading out day by day by boring day.
Time is like bleach. Time fades the brightest hues.
Time stops the bleeding while it blunts the edge.
Time bleeds the reds and washes out the blues.
Time walks us step by step back from the ledge.
The brutal truth is, every wound gets healed,
And sometimes never even leaves a scar.
The blade that is our soul will be annealed.
It’s cold and cruel and the way things are:
Absence, not Hate, is Love’s most patient rival;
It’s not your death that kills--it’s my survival.

copyright 2010 Matthew J Wells