The Swan

Of whoever has lost that which is never found
Again! Never! Of those who deeply drink of tears
And suckle Pain as they would suck the good she-wolf!
Of the puny orphans withering like flowers!

Charles Baudelaire

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Elisa opened her eyes to an overweight cleaning lady standing over her, nudging her, saying “Excuse me miss, very late now.” Elisa jolted immediately, as all people do when woken by a stranger, and then seeing that the middle-aged Guatemalan lady was of no obvious threat, Elisa leaned back with relief and glanced around the hotel room, still unsure of it all. The sixty-inch flatscreen was still on, an infomercial with a man screaming about a vacuum cleaner with ten free attachments. The windows were open, and the tops of perfectly manicured palm trees could be seen blowing gently just outside the window. A seagull flew by without flapping its wings, and the long white window curtains blew inward, in their stiff polyester sort of way. Elisa felt a pain in both feet, looked down and saw she was still wearing Louboutins, and then she grimaced, as if to confirm to herself that her feet actually did hurt, having worn them since the shoot the day before. It was a different pain than in her ballet years, when the pain was a distinct effort of height and poise, when it brought a modish pleasure to ache with one’s own athleticism. The overweight cleaning lady bent over to plug in the vacuum cleaner. Elisa grabbed her purse and sunglasses, thanked Juanita, and hurried out the door.

The throbbing dreamless heat of Los Angeles has not let up for over a month, and the drought is worse. In the hills, bobcats panted during the day, and they are not supposed to pant. Flowers died, or just never grew in the first place. Couples generally had less sex in the summer, not on purpose, but because people don’t like the sweating agglutinative automation of their humping, and so it just works out that way. But the singles slept around even more, almost in a confused frenzy, like trying to get one last fuck out before the end  .  .  .  strangers’ pudenda sticking together when they fell asleep, their dreams plodding along like ephemeral dehydrated farts, trying to pass the restless scenery of dreams.

Songbirds wished they could groan, but in the mornings they open their tired eyes and know they must sing. Heat does not come to a place to be enjoyed  .  .  .  it comes to repulse, to make everyone sweat, it’s a mode of lethargy, a starless drunkenness that hangs from all your body parts. People have different ways of dealing with the heat in Los Angeles: many stay indoors drinking blended margaritas, watching new episodes of The Price is Right on mute as a rotating fan no longer rotates but points directly at a man or woman’s bare chest; others stalk the cafes where there is air-conditioning and other people to sit next to, thus evoking a sense of commonality through association (most people don’t actually talk to the others sitting around them, but they would not typically sit comfortably alone in a largely vacant café either  .  .  .  it’s a declared but unspoken trade: sitting near to one another gives each other an attestation of one’s life, but to speak out of context would be uncouth); others snort cocaine in bathrooms and sweat and talk about future business ventures for hours; others watch Netflix as they munch on summer-themed cookies and milk and wait for the sun to go down, when they can finally come out, like hyenas of rage tempted at the fall of dusk. Elisa was different  .  .  .  she thrived in the heat. She grew up on a ranch in New South Wales, Australia, herding cattle from a young age, One summer when she was thirteen, she castrated several bulls, and could ride a horse better than any of the boys in town, and though her hands were firm and confident they were still slim and gentle. Tough work does not certainly turn one’s hands tough  .  .  .  there are those who cannot callus-over elegance, who cannot make one’s tendencies hard. By fourteen, she moved to New York to dance at Juilliard, and by seventeen she was discovered by a young fashion company in Venice Beach, California, while on a family vacation, while she was playing basketball on the outdoor courts near Muscle Beach, her long red hair tossed in the bright jovial rage of competition; and her fame as one of the prominent models in the world has risen ever since for the last one-and-a-half decades. Women from all over the world sought to have her figure  .  .  .  they drank coconut water and did yoga and rubbed themselves in facial creams, even though Elisa herself did not do any of these things, because men and women alike draw out huge proportions of their leaders  .  .  .  a large-breasted Dziwozona alluring in the fog, Anna Karina smoking cigarettes in Technicolor, Hillary Clinton wide-eyed and cackling about a newborn  .  .  .   it is the brittle tautological nature of the idol that makes it so. The rose-cheeked inamorata convulsing in heat, then lunging at a star. The very static nature of a picture of a man or woman in a magazine is the ontological pseudo-world that we lust and crave. Because the whole physical thing, beyond the representation, beyond the quixotic undergarments and the saturated dawn, is too much. The entirety of a human is too much to remain sane and sober.

Elisa canceled her Uber, and waved down a taxi. “Apollo Studios,” she said to the driver, “It’s down on Main. I’ll tip you well if you can make it quick.” And the driver hit the gas faster than she was expecting. She fell back into her seat, pulled out her phone and texted the photographer: “Traffic is terrible. I’ll be there in 10. Frustrated face emoji.” She looked up and saw one of her billboards: a black and white advertisement for a perfume  .  .  .  in it, she’s shifted most of her weight onto one leg, is wearing only panties and a faded white spaghetti strap, and her thumb hangs candidly from her panties, and with her other hand she lightly bites her index finger, touching the tip with her tongue, staring at the camera, and therefore at everyone who looks at the advertisement, as if to say, “What might be under these panties of mine  .  .  .  and, I thought this finger was food.” The spectacle of the desired is a positively active phenomena, an intenerate dynamism that is held in place for eternity. The picture of Elisa is not a picture, not a pixelated representation to be jaded by in the thrusts of stardom—the picture, or simulacrum, is the active being frozen for eternity. Like a single point on a multidimensional plane. The Knossosian remains are carried in the dust. The Beatles play in outer space. And man trembles to a photograph of a woman in her panties.

She looked to the cars and people shoving amongst each other on the streets of Los Angeles. A lady in pink spandex rode by on one of those bicycles you stand up on and ride like it was an elliptical. Her ass retracted and bulged with each motion, like a physiognomic pulse of weight, you could tell everything from its countenance, enough ass for King Zhou of Shang, a neon envy, a celebrated lodestar in the fog. A girl was sitting on her father’s shoulders, holding an ice-cream cone, staring with her mouth open at the lady ride by, the strawberry swirl melting all over her miniature fingers, the first drips plummeting onto her dad’s balding head. Tourists from Minnesota and Idaho and Japan, wearing large sunglasses, extending their smartphones onto selfie-sticks, posting their photos on the internet with #relaxingwithmygirls and #winning, brief forays from the beige tedium of regular life. Couples drank cocktails under yellow umbrellas, laughing, and smoking long cigarettes. They do this over and over, for months, years, making the nihility of idleness—of life itself—intoxicated just enough to make it bearable.

Elisa made it to the studio almost an hour late. “I’m so sorry,” she said, taking off her sunglasses, “Strange morning.” During the photo shoot, Guy (pronounced the French way of course) asks Elisa to stare into the camera, asks her to, as he puts it, “look sexy.” She shifts her weight, points her chin up in order to pull her jaw line back, and smiles flirtatiously. The camera shutter clicks rapidly. “Yeah. Oh. Yesss. More of that,” Guy says behind the camera. “Oh. Oh yeah. Uh-huh.” She turns around, sticking her ass out a little more than seemed natural, and looks back to Guy, her hair tossed from the large fan blowing in her direction, blowing her up and down. Her smiles straightens into a face of mysterious sophistication. Guy loves this: “Oh baby, you’re so good,” as he clicks away. André Breton ended his book with “Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or it will not be at all.”

It was almost a year later. Elisa tied her bootstraps and pushed open the barn door, and could begin to make out the darker silhouettes of fences and trees against the dim horizon, like a little flame was barely lit behind all that sky. Her fingers were cold, and every movement she made she could feel her joints rub in the stiff winter morning, and her own body heat had not rubbed against the inside of the jacket long enough yet to make it warm. She walked past the stall where two-hundred chicks huddled together under a heat lamp, a couple more of them dead, because, as Jim says, the cold pushes out the weak. Jim has farmed and ranched this same land all his life, but his back is old now, and he cannot do the amount of work he did just a couple years prior, and so Elisa has taken over much of the work, and they have dinner together a few nights during the week. Fyodor, the Queensland Heeler, the most compassionate of all the dogs Jim has had on the farm, came trotting up beside Elisa, as he does every morning. His light fur contrasted against the dark air, his tag lightly jingled against his collar, so Elisa always knew it was old Fyodor coming up behind her. He accompanied Elisa through her morning routine, and seated himself politely as she fed the goats and the turkeys and the chickens. The two of them walked to the next pasture in a gorgeous silence together, side by side, the sky still perfectly at rest, and she looked up as she often did and felt satisfied by seeing all the stars again. She could see her breath now, and made a point of exhaling deeply in order to see how much of her breath she could see at once. The many piglets heard their footsteps and came running up to her, snorting in unison, lining up against the other side of the electric fence, one of them getting shocked on its nose, and squealing sharply. Elisa stepped over the wire and set out several large plastic pans in the grass, the little pigs rubbing their wet noses against her legs, drawing a mess of glistening snail-trails on her rubber boots. She poured them their food, and they all fought over each other, as they always have, since they fought for a drop from a nipple, stepping on each other and shoving each other for more room. From the beginning, all animals, including man, must shove away the others and grab hold of the huge leaking tit, and never let go. If he does not follow this rule, the others will, and he will die alone in the cold.

The sun was just now coming over the furthest ridge, the bright love-maddened ribbons shooting across the sky, bringing with it the slightest edge of warmth to Elisa’s face and fingers  .  .  .  the grasses hanging heavily with frozen dew, like limpid coruscating lanterns, the grasshoppers hushing off their frigid bulk. The lethargy of the world was waking up again  .  .  .  no amount of nihilism can stop the grasshoppers from rubbing their legs. “Good Morning Ferdinand!” Elisa said cheerily to the dark sinewed thoroughbred as she entered the stable. Ferdinand looked up and nodded with a gentle excitement. He liked the sound of her voice, and she liked talking to him, and she sometimes thought it looked like Ferdinand knew what she was talking about. “Have you been waiting for me? Look at you.” And he cocked his head and blew air from out of his nostrils playfully. She brushed him down until his hair was smooth and glistened under the lights hissing overhead, and he stood there patiently, his big dark wet eyes watching her. She scraped under his shoes, put on his blanket and then his saddle, and tightened the belt under his belly, his long veins permanently bulging. She hoisted herself onto the saddle, and didn’t say anything because she didn’t need to say anything, and they walked out of the barn and into the pneumatic plain. The flirtish Australian desert gnawing with a million tiny antagonists, long shadows of the dawn stretched beyond the edge of the grasses  .  .  .  the gentle madness stirring from its slumber. They walked beyond the ranch land, where the birds were singing and beginning their flights out from the tall grasses, and they walked up the mountain along the narrow trail. A snake crossed the trail directly in front of them, but neither Elisa nor the horse were afraid. Ferdinand simply held back, watched the snake slither by in the sand, her large pixelated diamonds across her back, her cool loneliness breathing again, as she disappeared into the sagebrush.

The line of sun was a little further up the mountain. They were still in the shadow, but would be there soon. Elisa looked back, and the barn looked so small, and the cows and pastures like little toys, and she smiled.

50 Shades of Grey and the Attack of the Throbbing Penis

by Guy Walker

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The sun finally rose just enough to push through the beige tellurian blinds, the first ray of morning light shining through the dusty soiled bedroom, shining on the huge heaving butt cheek of the fat woman sleeping. Her breasts weighing down the bed, the blue veins beating slowly and tired, like each heartbeat was a victory. A fan in the corner oscillating over and over, blowing the long draping fern, then moving towards the sleeping woman, blowing all her starless sordid hair like she were really resting under a coastal breeze. A kitten was still waiting by its empty bowl, as it had waited there for most of the night, just waiting for the fat woman to stir, then wake, then feed him, then he could finally eat. But she didn’t stir  .  .  .  she just groaned as all the little robins sung outside.

Lots of time had passed. The room was now full of steaming light, and the woman rolled over onto her back, naked, little heads of sweat pushing from their pores. She opened her eyes finally, her eyelids encrusted with all that grossly golden night, and she was staring up at a huge and absurd paper mache of a dragon hanging from the ceiling. It just hung there, completely lifeless, the blowing fan not even making it stir. Like it were some recoiled memory of life, just hanging there in the middle of the room. The woman shoved that whole body of hers onto her feet, picked up these old enormous panties, and slipped her legs into them one by one. And then those great breasts into a bra, trying to contain the impossible. She stood up and walked towards her desk, making the antique floorboards creak. She didn’t eat, didn’t wash her face, didn’t piss, and didn’t feed the little kitten. She just sat into the deep cracking leather chair, opened her laptop, and began writing instantly, her fingers burning furious, page after page written. Outside, the wet temporal English countryside buzzing and spreading, but the fat woman never once looked out the window  .  .  .  her words were just too magnificent. She can’t stop, she is so inspired. Words and love and scenic delirium devour her. Her heart beats with more nerve and adventure than she has felt from all the real wanton intrigue she’s had in the bedroom. She writes her next sentence: “Holy crap! He’s wearing a white shirt, open at the collar, and tray flannel pants that hang from his hips.” She feels the poetry flood over her. It’s all too much. She’ll need a glass of water soon.

She is Erika James, EL James, and she is halfway through her life epic, 50 Shades of Grey. No one knows it yet, but Erika will excite and satisfy tens of millions of desirous desperate women seeking something far from their pallid arid landscape empty of any romance. In other words, Erika is going to sell books.

In its primitive and immature stage, it started as a Twilight fan fiction series named Master of the Universe, and her pen name was the extraordinary Snowqueen’s Icedragon. Unfortunate for us, He-Man, Prince of Eternia was cut from the original, and Master of the Universe was renamed to its current title, 50 Shades of Grey, a title of great enigma and enthusiasm. The book is nothing less than exceptional. Its prose is something that edges close to masterful, something that Tolstoy and Melville and Thoreau and Nietzsche and Joyce all writhe under envious graves that they did not come up with her words, or her bold original characters, or her complexly enraptured storyline: an average-looking young woman falls in love with a hot billionaire. And they have really hot sex together. In fact, our hero, Christian Grey, spanks the young woman, Ana. And she likes it. Then he whips her with a belt. Ana doesn’t like to be beaten that hard, so it doesn’t work out in the end. But in the midst of her libidinous appetite for abuse, we are graced with Erika’s natural talent for words, something that we as readers are forever in debt: “I pull him deeper into my mouth so I can feel him at the back of my throat and then to the front again. My tongue swirls around the end. He’s my very own Christian Grey-flavored popsicle. I suck harder and harder … Hmm … My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves.” As an aspiring writer, I can’t focus on my own words anymore. I am completely aroused. My fully erect penis throbs for the next page. I read further and further, almost as fast as when Erika wrote the thing. This is as dangerous as Mozart’s Requiem. It’s something that has been sold to 90 million readers, in 52 languages, and read also by all the screaming shopping girlfriends who have borrowed the book from them. They’re all women of course. But the sorts of women who buy and read this shit come from all sorts of chivalrous conditions: single, divorced, widowed, married, prostitute, suicidal. All sorts. None of them have actually ever been in love, and none of them have ever even had reasonable sex, but they all read and dream and fantasize about being spanked on the ass. They like thinking about naughty stuff like penises but they would never dare to do anything about it. Quite seriously, women who join book clubs, and discuss over tea and biscuits the allure of being bitch-slapped is something akin to men watching hours of hazy porn as their eyes turn red under all that languid hopeless heat, their penises sweaty and tired and flaccid again. In other words, everyone is too coward to realize out their fantasies. Rather than having great sex with a great partner, the women who buy this kind of shit prefer to read a book in their sweatpants and drink green tea sweetened with three packets of Stevia as they text their girlfriends how much they hate their ex’s.

J.D Salinger may have forbidden any film adaptation of Catcher in the Rye, but E.L. James is smarter; she knows that her story is too important to keep from the masses of moviegoers, and so she sold the rights for $5 million. Hollywood makes great films about our most exigent ponderous heroes–American Sniper for example, about the smarmy brittle character of a man, casting his Châtiment de l’Orgueil across the deserted landscape by killing any brown male between the ages of 16 and 65. 50 Shades of Grey is opening on Valentines, which is just perfect timing if you and your date like watching sadomasochism but not actually taking part in it. You can watch a girl being tied up and beaten, and eat more popcorn while holding your girl’s hand. It’s something that hits right at the heart of a serious philosophic inquiry, something that Gilles Deleuze argued didn’t even exist as a real term. Sadomasochism is of course the combination of one’s desire to be bear pain through sexual acts, and another’s desire to inflict the pain. For Deleuze it’s something else. In his essay Coldness and Cruelty, Deleuze argues that the sadist actually attempts to destroy the ego in order to unify the id (the human’s basic instinctual forces) and the super-ego, while masochism alone is the desire that intensifies because of a delay of sexual gratification; its sexual frustration is ‘rewarded’ as ‘unwavering coldness.’ This is known as The Contract: the process of controlling another, and turning them into someone cold and cruel and callous. In other words, because a man is sexually insecure or unsatisfied, he will be more prone to tying up girls and whipping them in order to feel a little better about himself. This is something every sex-related serial killer has in common with Christian Grey—they all need to assert their dominance over their named inferiors. Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, for example, had an insatiable sexual appetite; he would charm women (mostly prostitutes) with a picture of his son, then he would have sex them, then he would strangle them—seventy-one of them in fact—and then he would dump their dead bodies in the river. Or David Berkowitz, Son of Sam, a New York serial killer in the late seventies who shot and killed several couples; whether they were kissing in their car, or having a picnic in the park, David didn’t enjoy seeing couples in love while he had nobody to share romantic company. The most exemplary failed masochist of all is Elliot Roger, the 22-year-old who couldn’t get laid so he decided to kill six people, targeting young women. Elliot Roger was Christian Grey’s imperial predecessor: wealthy, the son of a movie director, somewhat good looking, and sexually frustrated. In his last video before his killing rampage, he says, “I’m 22 years old and I’m still a virgin. I’ve never even kissed a girl. I’ve been through college for two and a half years, more than that actually, and I’m still a virgin. It has been very torturous. College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. Within those years, I’ve had to rot in loneliness. It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime, because… I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman.” Elliot was as much of a gentleman masochist as Christian Grey, the only problem was that he didn’t have anybody to turn cold and callous, so he just killed them instead. His masochism was so confidently intact as he waited outside a Dominos for hours and hours waiting for a girl to walk by and smile at him so they could start talking and eventually fuck in a glorious fashion. The only difference between Christian Grey and Elliot Roger is Christian actually fucked. In the masterpiece 50 Shades, Christian Grey loves a gentlemanly dominance as much as Elliot: “I don’t make love, I fuck…hard.” In other words, Christian is empty of any human empathy. He feels absolutely nothing except for his throbbing aching penis and his alpha carnality for dominance. He is basically a complete vacuous fuckwit. Again to Ana, he says, “I don’t know whether to worship at your feet or spank the living shit out of you.” According to Sigmund Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Christian Grey is probably just an incredibly guilty piece of shit who wasn’t breastfed enough. Freud argued that inflicting pain on another during sexual intercourse is “the most common and important of all perversions,” and that masochism is a form of sadism against the Self. Guilt, he continues, is very much a part of masochistic sexual tendencies, originating from an incorrect development of the child.

As much as people love discussing whether a pernicious chewing individual was born that way or the society they grew up in molded them that way—the old stupid debate about nature or nurture—it doesn’t really matter for Christian Grey. Christian was one lonely fantasy of one lonely woman. What is impressive is that 90 million women are desperate enough to go out and buy a book to quench their muted doloric utopias of being tied up and beaten by a hot rich guy. Master of the Universewas the perfect title. Its only problem is that its meaning is too straight forward. People love their subtleties.

Across the road from where Erika is writing her epic, there is a cherry blossom where a nest is shaking and the mother bird is peering down. Beyond that there is a garden, full of pretty flowers, still covered in morning dew. And beyond that there is another tall house. Inside, a fat man in a stained white wife-beater is sitting back in his sad porcine couch, his hand wrapped around his sweaty throbbing penis, tugging on it madly as the man on the television gets whipped and whipped again, naked, screaming for more. The fat man is almost there, he’s so close. His face contorts and freezes. Everything is silent for a second. Erika pauses for the first time in hours, thinking of her next word. She looks out the window. Outside, a group of pheasants erupt from the tall grasses. The fat man leans forward in the dim opaque room, coming all over his coffee table. Erika smiles, and then writes, “Why is anyone the way they are? That’s kind of hard to answer. Why do some people like cheese and other people hate it? Do you like cheese?”

 

From Here to Eternity

by Guy Walker

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Three oysters for twenty-four dollars. Every time I sucked in the erotic phlegmy growth, I paid the waiter my half-hour working wage. I have a habit of counting ten dollars in hits of ecstasy—an appetizer at a fancy restaurant in Hollywood on a three-course Christmas eve dinner for the price of two and a half hits of ecstasy. Not bad. I couldn’t help remember when I lived in a spare closet in a house on an island in Norway, and in the evenings we’d bicycle out to the river mouth and collect hundreds of blue shells, and the pretty girl with the long red hair would cook them in garlic and butter, and we’d drink a jug of cooking wine together and make love until the seagulls screamed their vile obscenities—it was mating season for them too, and the sun never slept, and neither did we.

“Sounds like this is clearly a pattern for her,” my uncle said, sitting across from me, always slightly smiling in his jovial penetrative old age, “to just run out on someone who loves her.” He was speaking about the ballet dancer who broke up with me and then drove off in the middle of the night, leaving Los Angeles altogether.

“Another Pellegrino please,” I called to the waiter. He wore an ironed black collared shirt, his hands folded behind his back, and he bowed obediently at my request. I craved a martini, but my aunt and uncle don’t drink, and I respect them because they are rare and gentle and good enough to be respected, so this arrogant magisterial form of water was the best I could do. I don’t remember what I replied to my uncle—something about the loss of innocence—all I remember was the girl with the long tan legs and the good posture and the gorgeous face walk into the restaurant. It’s easy to automate any conversation—I do it with everybody as I think about the ocean, or how I would like to throw rocks at sand dunes, or how it would feel to hold an ice-cream cone until it melts completely over my hand. Anything. We live in playgrounds. So I automated the rest of the conversation with my relatives, and stared at all the strutting pullulating romance ahead. The girl sensed I was still looking at her, and her eyes turned to mine, and she smiled a little, I’m pretty sure.

She then turned away and headed to the other room of the restaurant with her family, to go suck oysters in their buttered cream.

“Any special plans for New Years?” my aunt asked. She sipped her raspberry Izze from a champagne glass and then wiped the corners of her mouth with a crudely neoteric purple cloth napkin. My aunt is one of those extremely beautiful women who could probably heal the world if given the right chance. But we’re all chewing on the last morsels of innocence, and I knew not many of her kind are around any more.

“Well, a friend from college invited me to Vegas,” I replied, “It’s all very random and unexpected how it happened, but she was always just the sweetest person in school.” And we all smiled and agreed that it would be a very lovely time indeed. The waiter returned to our table and poured my Pellegrino like it was a choice Italian wine.

On arriving here, I parked my car around the corner, and walked past the sick miasmal backdoor of the restaurant, where the cooks took out dripping bags of food scraps and wasted meat and coffee grounds and crumpled blotted toilet paper all spun and sprinkled with used tampons. Who knows what else. My lonely cheap appetite for ruin wanted the overloaded bags to burst from their bottoms, for all their contents to spill into heaps of trash, as piñatas of misery, and the pigeons and the homeless and I could all scurry into a frenzy, sorting through the garbage and picking out little morsels of red velvet cake and hunks of fat cut from the steaks. But it didn’t happen. The trash boy just heaved the bags over the edge of the dumpster, and that was that. The sidewalk was stained forever from years of heaving kitchen waste over the edge. A homeless man walked by me, his head down, muttering his obscure lucid rituals to himself. A pigeon limped on her peg leg. A rose bush grew from its square-foot portal, cut back for the winter, but still pushing madly for a bud.

“O darling!” a lady across from our table touched her breast and smiled, and her apparent man-crush or husband leaned back and laughed approvingly. “O darling,” she said again, “you shouldn’t have.” And she set her nearly empty wine glass down and leaned across the table and he leaned across the table and they kissed—just a peck, if that even qualifies as a kiss. If no bodily fluids are exchanged whatsoever, then it is usually something else—a tepid grunt in the animalistic heap of conversation. They smiled more and said a lot more blushing reassuring things to each other, and then he excused himself, either to piss or to shit, or to jerk off or clean under the rim of his penis. Bathrooms are the last deserted refuges for us to go. Whenever I go out to bars or clubs, I go to the bathroom so many times when I don’t need to—it’s the only place you can breathe, the only place you don’t have to keep bluffing, where you can sigh in the comfort of yourself. The lady kept tapping her bright red fingernails against the edge of the glass, and she kept pressing her very listicked lips together, staring down at her glowing phone, scrolling through various doddering archives of the young and the famous.

I wanted to see the girl with the good posture and the gorgeous face, and make her smile and lean forward. I know it’s pretty much everywhere—the brief consorting episodes that help us make it through the squalid nights—a little hope and intrigue that keep our pulse quietly surging. Lacan was right—desire itself is what we have to chase but never catch—it’s what keeps us running towards the light again and again. When it comes to romance, we are all dogs, running again and again after the ball that was thrown, retrieving with little scraps of optimism, panting, gasping for more. Somehow we all believe getting laid helps, as if for just a moment it actually relieves us from the immortality of quarantine. Anyways, I looked down and ate my fish and velvet cake, and sipped my espresso. Before leaving, I asked the waiter for a pen, and wrote my phone number on a scrap of paper, and walked into the other room of the restaurant and gave it to the girl, and she smiled and told me her name was Lily. I would have kissed her right then and there because she was so damn pretty, and I know she could have too, but there are rules to these sorts of things—we would need a very tailored context to actually do what we desire. So I just told her to call me sometime.

I hugged my relatives, drove home to my little house in Topanga beach, collected my kitten, tent, coffee, stove, two huge blankets of many sewn together rabbit furs, firewood, and many other odds and ends for the next week. After Christmas in the mountains at my parents’ huge secluded home, I kissed my kitten on the head and he bit my finger and sucked on it, and he kneaded my chest with his paws and purred loudly, and I hugged him again, leaving him at my parents home, and then drove a hundred-and-ten miles an hour through the desert where all the Joshua trees grow and the spiny creatures hide in their corners of shade. The wind blew hard and burned my lips, and I went hiking and got lost amongst the huge swirling red rocks during the day, and huddled around my fire drinking box wine from a tin can. It was so cold, I couldn’t feel my fingers. Sometime that night, there in the middle of the desert, I received a text message from Lily. She wanted to meet up, sometime tomorrow evening, but I’d be out here a few more days in the desert before heading to Vegas before heading back to Los Angeles. So we wrote back and forth a while and made plans to meet up as soon as I returned. I set the phone down and stoked the florid embers until the flame returned.

Vegas on New Years Eve happened with the other beautiful girl who normally lives in Amsterdam. I could die just seeing her smile. We drank and danced and snuck into the parties, and did everything you’re meant to do in Vegas. I like strolling the casino floors early in the morning the best. Somehow you feel the same lonely confidence on the crowded casino floor as you do in the desert. The winds howl through the red canyons, biting you around your neck, and all the cacti shiver in the wind, and a pack of coyotes scream and convulse in the middle of the night, and you get a glimpse of Eternity, as if this here is the state of the Universe forever and everywhere—nothing but wind kicking sand into the overcast sky, and only you’re there to see it. Crowded casinos are much the same. Obese men hunched over their wheelchairs, pressing the buttons of slot machines again and again, trying to win back their happiness and youth, and the ubiquitous ringing of bells and chatter and coughing. Blonde women strutting around with cigarette trays, smiling at everyone, their panties sweating and aching from all that endless roaming around. Vietnamese ladies dressed in uniform, just standing there with unused aging faces behind their blackjack tables, waiting for any random half-drunken stranger to sit down and play cards with them. Every casino has its own distinct fragrance, but really they’re all the same miserable pheromone of a free America. A thousand bartenders pour their ten-thousandth drink at the same time, and a girl in a tight little white dress sips one from a miniature straw. I was with the beautiful girl, standing in line for a crepe at the Bellagio, staring at the chocolate fountain, staring at the parts that flow freely and the stagnant chocolate pool that had formed a thick film with a stray hair on top. A large Chinese lady in a long green and white striped penguin coat is behind me, and she smiles at me with big wide-open eyes.

“Helloo honey,” she says, “you having a fine time?”

“Very fine,” I reply. Her smile is contagious and honest, and I can’t stop grinning. “Sure is the happiest place I’ve ever been.”

“Oh yes honey. I’ve been coming here for twenty-nine years. My mother is waiting for me, she just loves it so much too. Oh you and your girlfriend are just so pretty. You are very lucky, you both are.”

“Ah, thank you. You been lucky tonight?”

“Oh yes, I started in the morning by losing thirty-two hundred. But I went to eat my lunch, and I came back, and I said, ‘Betty, you’re going to make it all back,’ and I’ve won everything back so far. Very lucky.”

We talked a while longer, and she told me of all her big winnings over the last three decades, and then told me not to eat the pastries in this front window. They are old and I will die if I eat them, she says. She eventually leaves without buying anything, and I never saw her again. But the beautiful girl and I danced more and drank many more Old Fashions, and kissed beautifully when the New Years exploded, and in the morning I dropped her off at the airport to fly back to Amsterdam, and I guess that was that.

Driving home I knew I would miss the desert—everything constantly roaring and exhausting inside your head is quieted when you are in the desert. The cities are just a perishing thunder. All that empty squalid paradise passing by—there was an abandoned hotel in the middle of nowhere with huge overgrown palm trees towering over its crumbling walls. I was writing a lot with Lily during my drive, and then she told me during “a photo shoot in Malibu” her car got broken into. Just terrible. “And now I have a lovely cardboard box on the window haha,” she wrote. I told her not to worry, that my front window has been stuck rolled up halfway for the last several months. That was the last I heard from her, she never wrote again. I wanted to tell her I didn’t like the window in the first place, or I can do eighteen pull-ups, or I can beat everybody else on the freeway. But I didn’t, I just turned up Giorgio’s From Here to Eternity as loud as I could, and drove with only one hand on the steering wheel.

From the road, I could see above me a flock of birds flying in formation. I pulled over and ate a hotdog at a remote dusty gas station, and watched the sun set across the enormous old desert. The wind had calmed, and everything was quiet once more. For the first time in months, I finally felt happy again.