What took you so long?

Welcome. I've been waiting for you to show up.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Portable Skills

I wanted to start a business, something simple with a generous profit margin, and I decided to offer personal services to men with certain tastes. I named my business, "A Firm Hand."  Its first location was a small but pleasant two-bedroom apartment on Tammany Street, an easy walk from City Hall and the courthouse. By the end of our one-year lease, it had become evident that we would need more rooms. (When I say "we" I mean my sister Belle and I and, later, Francesco.) A very kind judge and his friend, an alderman, offered to fund a larger space for our enterprise, as long as we remained close to city hall.
It has long been my experience that men in positions of prominence and responsibility like to give over their power completely to obtain full relaxation and release. We did not go in for the ludicrous red-ball-in-the-mouth and stifling latex body suits you see in movies about discipline. Disciplined submission is entirely a state of mind, you see.  It's what they call 'operant conditioning.' Belle can walk into a room where her regular customer is lying on a bed and within a minute he will be fully erect and eager for her commands. She rarely uses the whip. Whispered insults of the most demeaning kind are her weapons.

One evening, I happened to meet the exquisite Francesco at a party and observed how longingly some men looked at him. I made him a business proposal before the party was over.
"You have a gift, the ability to torment with your beauty," I said. "Some people are wired to long for what they cannot have, and it is that longing which binds them to you. You will make a lot of money, and you will exert great power."

Francesco the narcissist, Belle the subtle dominatrix and I (my specialty must remain a secret, as it breaches some taboos that many would not forgive) agreed after the fourth year to dissolve the business. We were financially set for life; Francesco wanted to live on Majorca and Belle was restless. We planned our disappearance.
We booked no appointments over the Christmas-to-New Year week, as we had always done. During that time, I hired a cleaning crew to come in and remove all the evidence of our activities, especially scouring away traces of blood, bodily fluids, hair and handprints.
We three met for a delightful dinner at La Brasserie where we exchanged Christmas gifts and drank bottles of 1998 Petrus Pomerol. Then we went our separate ways. The last I saw of Belle, she was walking away with snowflakes on her hair and  collar, the snowy sidewalk glistening under streetlights.

A business is such a personal thing, really: It is like an affair. Most people talk happily about the beginning, but few have a happy ending to tell. It is best always to be the one who walks away. The clientele we left behind, who knows how long they grieved for us. In particular, the men who had fallen in love with Francesco -- obsessively so -- may have suffered broken hearts for a while.

It is good to know that these politicians, these men of power who sit in judgment of others, may have felt some pangs of loss when we disbanded. I would like to think that we moved them emotionally, the ones who had come to depend on us for pleasure and something more.
It is not often that such men reveal their most naked selves. They did, to us, as much as any man can who looks over his shoulder at all times for the hidden camera. Oh yes. The cameras. We took those with us, also.

I suppose s
ome day, if the money runs out, we three might get in touch with the good mayor of Tammany Street and a judge or two.
But probably not.
Certain skills are portable and always in demand. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Roadside Attraction

Breau came rolling in after midnight, stinking under the arms and covered in red clay. He'd rolled the four-wheeler in a ditch -- to avoid hitting a deer, he said. More likely he'd fallen asleep drunk and woken up when the quad landed in six inches of filthy water. I told him to whoa right there in the laundry room and strip before tracking up my kitchen. He showered with his ball cap still on, gripping the shower nozzle with one hand for balance and trying to distribute soap on his body with the other.
Breau liked the red wine, creature comforts, boiled shrimp and moonlight on the bayou, in that order. He loved his babies and me, and he always came home, no matter how late or how flavored his blood was with alcohol. When the circuit judge of Feliciana Parish took away his driver's license for the final time, Breau just bought a Yamaha 4-wheeler and drove off-road between home and Ti-Louis' roadhouse or home and the lumber yard left to him by his drunk of a Daddy. When he flipped the Yamaha the first time, I took the key away until he had roll bars installed. The second time, I rounded up the children and had them beg Breau to wear a helmet whenever he drove. He started to cry midway through the intervention. But he never did trade his ball cap for protection.
The women in my family have a talent for marrying mannish boys. We like them tall and strong, but we never check under the hood to see if they're fully grown up. I will teach my daughters not to mistake height for maturity.
You can love a man till death do you part, but never marry a shrimper, a drunk or a preacher.  You don't want to be the wife of anyone who wears white boots or kills himself young or tells other people they're going to hell. No good can come of it.

So Breau had flipped the quad for the third time. The next morning while he was sleeping it off, I drove toward Ti-Louis' in a borrowed truck with a winch, to find the crash site. I took our eldest, Jorge, along in case there was a chance we could right the vehicle and ride it home. What we found was a flattened mass of metal and ABS plastic, its roll bar reduced to tinsel by the force of the collision when the quad landed, top down. The fact that Breau was alive -- and not just alive but unharmed -- is theological proof of guardian angels. Me, I'm no believer. But this, this was as close to a miracle as I could conceive of. Jorge stared at the tangled mess in the ditch for several long minutes, his hands thrust into his jeans back pockets, his thin young face a question mark.
"We gonna leave this here?" he asked.

"I think so. We gonna let your Daddy come look at it."
"What if someone takes it away? For scrap?" Jorge asked.
"Let's put a note on it, “I said. “Get a pen and paper from my purse. Write, 'EVIDENCE. DO NOT TOUCH.’"

That evening, just at the start of sunset, I drove Breau down to see the 4-wheeler. He was feeling clear-headed after a long sleep and a meal. There is a certain stage of sobriety among men who drink every night. In that stage, they are their best selves -- reasonable and generous with affection. The need for alcohol has not kicked in, and during these few hours they can accomplish great things. They write chapters of their novels, fix cars, tutor their young ones. They also make promises. Oh, how they make promises.

It was in such a state of mind that Breau approached the remains of his off-road sport utility vehicle. He stood some distance away, at first, edgy as if it was a sow who might charge him for coming too close to her shoats. Then he took slow, careful steps toward the rim of the ditch, stopping again within 10 feet of the bank.
"It ain't a snake, Breau," I said. "It won't rear up and bite you."

Again he slowly stepped closer, but this time I saw his legs were shaking. He brought his hands up to his face and sank down on his knees in the damp red clay.

"Oh God oh Lord oh God oh shit!" he wailed. "Oh God how did this happen? Why don't I remember this happenin?"
"You were drunk, plain and simple," I said. 
There's no point in beating a man when he's down, and even if he's not, there's no point in acting the wine sheriff. All those women in my family who married callow men, they sure did try, though. But none of their nagging made a whit of difference. You can't save someone from himself.
But a man who sees the Miraculous in his own life and who feels what I like to call "mortality hits" at the side of a two-lane blacktop road -- that's a man who just might stand a chance. Not of being saved, but saving himself.  It could happen.



Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Parlor Games

Gallantry was his forte. That and a charming total recall of faces and small details that women confided while slow dancing at parties.
The second time he met a woman, he’d lean in and whisper, “You are wearing Obsession tonight. I thought White Diamonds was your scent,” or some version thereof.

The woman would be utterly captivated — and utterly sure he was smitten with her. Who else but a suitor would have memorized her perfume?
It was his favorite parlor trick.
One spring evening, at a party for the Italian ambassador, he was standing by a stunning Eurasian woman in teal blue taffeta. They had met once before (La Scalla-November- intermission-Puccini, his mental Rolodex informed him), and he opened with, “Have you been to the opera since we last spoke?”
She registered no surprise, saying, “I see you have given up horn-rimmed glasses.”
He bent to her beautiful shoulder and murmured, “And you are still wearing Fleurs-du-Rocaille.”
Brushing her lips over his ear she countered, “And you still drown your neck in Polo by Ralph Lauren.”

“Have you missed me?” he asked, feeling strangely heady. No woman had ever parried his thrusts so nimbly.

“Not at all,” she answered. “I keep quite busy.”
“So do I,” he said, “and quite enjoyably.”
“Do your lady friends take you to Monte Carlo for the season?”
“Well, no, that’s not how women relate to me.”
“Then,” she whispered deliciously again, “I get the better bargain. Now, as you have no fortune to spend on me,  do excuse me while I refresh my perfume. I have a wealthy Belgian banker to confuse.”