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Latin Quarter – Paris 1995

Latin Quarter - Paris 1995

When I was in Paris in 1995, I walked around the city. I shot each day for a week. I came upon this window and inside the store were these elements: Mirror, antique statue, bedpost, etc. and behind me was a building and a bike on the street. It spoke of the medium given my being upside down in the mirror. The black and white spoke of timelessness. The age and articulation of Europe as the origins of my soul, that I could apprehend catharsis itself in an image meant that I could stop. I have never shot a better image than this. It represents me, my eye, and aesthetic capacity. I hope to continue this journey when I eventually get to London, another city with windows in an urban environment.

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“Pickles and Tarts” — Chapter 13

Chapter 13

There was a sense of compliance by the women in the book And Everyday It Was Overcast. Sexual favors were probably not even on their minds because they wanted drugs, distraction and excessiveness due to some greater or different need that seemed to have very little to do with sex. Frank could not imagine himself drugging a woman to get what he wanted. Such an action would destroy the relationship itself. Frank’s sexual experiences in the past weren’t romantic or intimate. They were sloppy and stressful. By morning, he was wracked with the possibility of having impregnated the woman or contracting some disease. In his sexual liaisons, he was irresponsible.

Frank also recalled that there was a Human Talk that was posted to Visage, called “What teens really want to know about sex,” where it said, “pleasure can’t be done in a vacuum.” What that reinforced for Frank was that relationships were contextualized by circumstances and the environment. Nicole’s interest in him, if there ever was any, had to come from something she was either compensating for or perhaps out of some dark interest she was following. The talk also asked why sex was so good? For Frank, he looked upon Nicole as sublime, her figure and face from what he could tell, aroused him. Beauty is powerful, he thought.

“Otherwise, writing a good short story considers the events and ideas in peoples’ minds,” Frank wrote to Nicole. He couldn’t get her out of his mind. “Readers aren’t going to believe something that isn’t steeped in contemporary culture. I am also interested in the age difference between us and how we might bridge that. I feel the coincidence of you taking the literature class constructed a bridge. Maybe you want to be a writer, too. I don’t know if you know about the television program Californication, but in it David Duchovny sleeps with an underage woman and he writes a novel about it and she ends up taking it and publishing it. He concedes it to her because she blackmails him. She gets famous for it and travels around doing book appearances. I would like to do a story that explores social media, Spark, etc. I need you to express yourself. How does all of this make you feel? What do you think? What do you want to say? It also explores the idea that a fifty four-year old man has your attention. Do I? Am I deluding myself? Do you want to work on the story as a submission to your writing class? As I was saying, perhaps we could write it together. Write your reactions down. I am thinking that we could write a novelette. See Bolaño’s new book at the bookstore or look for it on the Internet.”

“Writing is about telling the truth,” Frank said. “People want to know about us and what really goes on. What do you think of this?” he added.

“As for what I need from you, just the truth,” Frank said. “I looked back and saw that you like to write. You’ve also said that you had a boyfriend and that was all spontaneous. Tell me about that. What did you think when you saw me and when you pushed the green button? I think I mentioned what I would write about myself. I feel I am being completely open. I’ve told you that I liked you. What would you want to tell your boyfriend, your mother, your father, your friends?

“Now that I can look back at the whole conversation, it runs like a dialog between two people. What is missing are feelings we have that we aren’t putting down. That is what makes a short story. The dialog between characters and the context and what they are feeling. What are they feeling usually becomes the outcome, as it does in real life. People start to share themselves and take risks and the other person starts to care. There is a humanity that develops, as if they were treating themselves how they want to be treated, but is this intention always looming in the background that colors their conversation and actions? It is amazing what people do to achieve intimacy, to connect. That connection means something in the end. It is what we remember about life and what was most important.”

“To eat pickles and tarts, of course,” Nicole said.

This response startled Frank. The sexual innuendo was apparent. “Pickles” for men and “Tarts” for the young woman she was and to eat them implied a mutual phantasmagoric union, which of course was what he wanted and then for her to cooperate in the intention both tantalized him and made him nervous. Perhaps, she was just playing with him and so long as they were just doing this in cyberspace, it wasn’t real anyway. Apparently, the game was continuing.

The Parade

I met a man in a bar. He told me to come to meet Dr. Rudy.

I met Dr. Rudy again. He remembered me. Simon suggested I write him a letter. “A little step at a time. Make an appointment. Ask him if he can take a little time to hear one piece, and then ask him to make a suggestion about the next step.”

Then, I went to the lake.

I played staring across the water at a woman.

No one stopped.

They did smile. Everyone smiles when they see a man with a toy piano.

A man with a cane, one arm pulled in close, the leg on that side of his body dragged along for the ride. He wiped his nose with the hand that seemed to be freer and somewhat coordinated with his impulses. He stood halfway to the counter, then approached it like a body ready for a doctor.

The elderly woman with the large and thick 8 1/2″ x 11″ textbook ordered fruit and granola. She wore a hound’s tooth overcoat and a black dress with black nylons, black heels, with a black satchel. She picked at her skin while reading. Her head moved from side to side as if she were shivering. It was hot and sunny outside. It was Sunday. With whom did she interview? What was she studying?

I sense the end myself. The body parades all its grief eventually.

“Pickles and Tarts” — Chapter 12

Chapter 12

This struck Frank and it caused him to go back in time when he was a ten-year-old living in Hawaii. He told his friend Taki that he was attracted to a Filipino girl they were dancing with during the May Day Parade at Jefferson Elementary in Waikiki. The next thing he knew, Taki asked him to meet him outside class and Taki threatened him, that if Frank ever tried to date her, he would punch him. Frank was the smallest boy in class. Taki was the second smallest. Still, Taki greatly intimidated Frank. Then, in sixth grade, Kazu and the other boys would throw a hard plastic ball at him in a game called ‘Bean ’em and Run.’ Instead of chasing the other boys, they all kept throwing the ball at Frank. Eventually, he realized that as the Haole, the outsider, he wasn’t really their friend.

He went to Noelani Nishiki’s with Caitlin Watanabe, who was his “girlfriend” at the time. They held hands, walked home, and that was about it. A Samoan classmate escorted him outside near one of the only bushes between the classroom and the Ala Wai Canal and threatened to kill him if he ever saw him with Caitlin again. It turned out that the Samoan was later in jail for murder. What really upset him in these cases was that neither Taki nor the Samoan seemed to have any contact with the girls. Were they jealous? Frank wondered. Then in intermediate school, Frank managed to tell Taki that he liked Sara, then Taki and Kazu tricked him into meeting them by the tennis court. He can’t remember who punched him in the stomach first, but it made him cry mostly because of the injustice: It didn’t seem to matter what Sara thought, or if she even knew. He never sat with them on the bench again. He was fooled for the last time. He did however, dance with another Caitlin during a dance period at school. He, Caitlin, and another couple were the only people on the dance floor. The affect on Frank was to take away that part of his childhood. He reasoned that this may have been the cause for his attraction to Nicole. He also knew that he was attracted to types of women and that their ages didn’t matter. Nicole was beautiful to him despite that she was probably considered beautiful to anyone.

“Pickles and Tarts” — Chapter 11

Chapter 11

“Wow!” Nicole said, “You’ve got a rough draft.”

“I want to type it up and then think about what I need to do to flesh it out,” Frank responded, “I’m going to think about what I was feeling when I wrote you and about the things that are happening. Today, for example, I opened a book I bought in July called And Everyday It Was Overcast by Paul Kwiatkowski and this particular passage struck a chord with me:

He sold ecstasy, heroin, acid, and coke to punk high school kids. His house smelled like Vicks VapoRub. Over and over I watched him single out the sad loner girls, get them addicted to opiates, and make them his until absolutely no one wanted them.

Frank cited this section of the book, because the entire book appealed to him. He was interested in the young girls and those days of his own youth, where he remembered how easy it was to attract and seduce. He was also drawn to the pictures from the book, because they haunted him. The kids were clearly drugged and isolated in a backwoods area and these excursions into drug-taking and sexual frivolity saddened him for the advantage the boys and men were taking of the girls—how one older woman was indeed so awkward and thin in her pictures that it didn’t seem like she would ever survive.

Nicole said, “I would hate to have that happen to me. Although I am talking to you, for example, and I get that you are a normal person, I kind of understand how someone lost could be taken by someone they needed to trust. But, I also know when it starts to feel uncomfortable and I just know I could tell that guy was going to take advantage of me and it’s not cool!” She was looking down at the screen and she could feel the predicament that the “Sad, loner girls” were getting themselves into. It pissed her off. She looked up from her computer and looked around her bedroom. Everything was in its place. Her family was in the other rooms doing what they did. Her father was at work. She felt safe. She didn’t have to go outside of her home to find safety.

The computer made that sound like a door bell and Frank looked up at the red medallion at the top right with all the other icons and it made him smile.

Another bong rang out with another statement by Nicole: “When I was younger, I met this guy in our neighborhood. He was lanky, kinda cute, and we messed around. I can remember him lifting my shirt and putting his hands on my stomach and then moving under my bra. We kissed a lot and he also touched me, you know where. I don’t remember what happened after that. The next thing I knew, he was the kid in High School with the drugs. He had a lot of girls following him around and I think they used to party at his parent’s house. He and his group were popular, but they also seemed strung out and there was an edge to them. I thought, I never wanted to be like that. I didn’t see the point.”

“Pickles and Tarts” — Chapter 10

Chapter 10

When Nicole reminded him of this, he knew the stupidity of his attraction. Turning this into a short story was, in effect, a kind of fetishizing, what he finally realized he could never have. The short story represented the shoe that would never fit even though he may have come upon it. The fact that he was in his room some unknown distance from her should have told him that the relationship wasn’t real. She was playing with him, even though she might have sensed he was a real person and although completely not her type, she sensed his humanity and didn’t want nor feel the need to hurt him. She was curious about what was happening. Frank hoped she had some daddy issue to work out, but then his intentions would still not be aligned with hers, since missing a father does not correlate to wanting to have sex with an older man. She might have wanted to feel protected, but not engaged in intercourse, unless she had been, and that was another thing entirely. Molested women had come to him in the past and sex was on the menu, but so was their desire to control the sex, whereas Frank was only interested in having it.

Frank picked up a clear glass mug of hot fresh vegetable soup that he had just made to clear his congestion. He raised it to his mouth just as the neighbor across the way was walking with a shopping bag across the second floor balcony. She was too far away for Frank to get a sense of her figure or what she looked like. Neighbors from that unit and the other one to the right of it came and went at least every three months. He had only seen her about three or four times over the course of a month or two. She came out again wearing a black coat that went to her waist and a magenta T-shirt with white letters underneath. She seemed tall, and large-boned. She wore black-rimmed glasses. She left her door open and went down the steps again. She was returning with things in her arms. Each time, it would appear that she knew he was looking at her, but he couldn’t tell she knew he was there simply because it was dark inside his apartment, the window was shut, and there might have been a reflection on the sliding glass door. He couldn’t see into her apartment. Her door behind the screen door was open, although the overhang didn’t cast a shadow over the door, where in his case his balcony was covered by the roof.

Frank finished the broth and looked at the vegetables that remained. Nearly the entire mug was full. He went to the kitchen, poured more broth and vegetables into the cup and grabbed a small plate and spoon. He returned to his desk and the neighbor’s door was still open. It was cold outside. What was she saying? Or was he imagining her invitation? He returned to the short story and Nicole.

“A short story would set up the scene,” he added, “It would describe Spark and go from there. It would describe the two people. You would have to do this on your end because I don’t know you. What is happening in your life? Who are you? What do you dream about becoming, etc.? People would want to know. They like to relate to others with common threads. Then there is me. What was going through my head? Didn’t I know it would be awkward? Wasn’t it awkward? Until you responded, I didn’t realize I had nothing to say, and then by intellectualizing the conversation, I was able to shift all of it into this story. Perhaps it is just about me.

“Last night I kept thinking I should just cut this off. It was risky. Still, as a writer and in an attempt to garner some semblance of virtue, I am interested in getting to the truth—is it a simple attraction to beauty and youth? I am interested in your feelings. I know they aren’t romantic. How could they be? I can’t sleep with someone I am not attracted to. How could you?”

“Anyway,” Frank said, “the short story might start as:

“‘Glenn saw Alexis’ picture. He pressed the green button because he wanted to. Alexis was someone he wanted and didn’t consider the other information that might have given him more to think about. It was a dare. What would she think about him? He didn’t know. He just pressed the icon and her picture went right. He wanted. Then, and he can’t remember this, she matched him. She said later that she only did it spontaneously. She said she wanted to make friends with other people. For Glenn it posed a problem. What would he say to her? He was attracted but reality showed its face as he imagined her doing this on a whim and then laughing at the audacity. She was already in love with David who would find this ridiculous too. Maybe it would also anger him knowing what Glenn was up to. She was going to tell Gretchen and Mimi, but she hadn’t seen them yet. Maybe she could write this as a story for class – what she thought of him. What was he doing at this moment? Where was he? He thought of her too. They were having a conversation that meant that they had to think about what was being said and about themselves and it was risky, at least for Glenn. He felt embarrassed but also drawn to it, as it was mentioned, everything is about sex. For Glenn, it was more interesting than the sunlight over the neighborhood outside that seemed never to move except as the trees blew faintly. Perhaps, they would meet for coffee in some urban coffee shop or in the suburbs since they didn’t know where the other one lived. She imagined the awkwardness of his attraction and the hopelessness of that having to translate his dreams into intellectualization. She just looked back at him almost as awkwardly as he felt. They talked about themselves and the story that was moving forward. It turned out that he was very attracted to her and she was just thinking about the story for class, about her life, and the risks she would take for something to tell her friends.

“It was awkward Mimi,” Alexis told her friend. “He was wearing a pair of seersucker shorts and a blue and white striped shirt. He was so informal. I could feel his nervousness. I guess he realized how old I was and it made him feel evil. I thought it would be fine, but I felt bad for him. I had no intention for any of this to happen, but there I was looking back at him. He was fidgeting with a Starbuck’s cup.”

“Pickles and Tarts” — Chapter 9

Chapter 9

It was sunny outside and the sky was relatively blue, except Frank could see a light gray cloud cover and he knew having learned the lesson, after arriving from Honolulu in 1993, that just because the sun was out it didn’t mean that it was warm outside. Frank looked down at the words Nicole had sent and he looked up too at the reality that they both must be aware. In Frank’s mind he was hopeful.

“That’s fabulous,” Frank said, “I was talking about a short story built out of this experience. It felt weird, my being physically attracted to you, but it also appears that we both have an interest in writing, unless this is a class you have to take.”

“Well,” Nicole said, “if you were to write a short story about this meeting what would you say? And no, this class is an option. I decided to take it.”

Nicole, in Frank’s eyes, was flitting about the issue that most concerned him, but he was also either ignorant that she had answered the question about her sexual interest in that there wasn’t one, or he dismissed it and was feeding off the contact she was giving. His desires were stronger than his better judgment.

“I think” Frank said, “that we’ve already said a lot: The implication of your short responses and then your grand explosion of statements, where you could finally relate, you were spontaneous. What was on your mind when you took the leap? That is what is interesting. My pressing the green button when I saw you with perhaps the same spontaneity is not. The short story, or what I would say, is to put our words into quotes going back and forth and filling in the blanks that the conversation left. There were intentions on both sides of our conversation.”

“A short story,” Frank continued, “gets at those with the intent of informing. It’s been a theme with me of late. I told my friend Lani that I felt like a dirty old man now that I’ve gotten older but my tastes in women have remained the same. As an artist, perhaps as the son of a television model, I can’t help but find impossibly beautiful women attractive. That would be something I might explore. What about you? What would you want to say? I pictured you laughing at the absurdity of my trying to maintain a conversation. It must have felt trying. Was it uncomfortable? ‘Why is this guy writing?’ you may have thought? ‘Is he crazy? I was just kidding. I’ve got a boyfriend. Doesn’t he know this?’”

“Pickles and Tarts” — Chapter 8

Image by Mario Savioni

Chapter 8

Frank felt relieved. She opened a door to further their communication. The fact that she was taking a course on character development was a coincidence. She “Swiped right to do something spontaneous.” At least she was up for an interesting interaction, but she qualified her engagement: “I have a boyfriend, I am not looking for a romantic partner.”

Frank thought about this. Was he looking for a partner or someone to have sex with? He did not think beyond that simple, single transaction — the satisfaction of his baser needs, not realizing that his needs might go on given the possibility of this opportunity and mutual attraction. 

Nicole added innocently, “It’s fun to talk to different people sometimes.”

In this Frank thought that yes it was fun to talk to different people, but in doing so, there was also the question of underlying motivation. He was taking chances in communicating with someone he would otherwise be afraid to engage in person. The potential was a sandwich of rejection. He already knew that society would not support his interests. His unmet needs were defined as sex, but his attraction required someone beautiful. He couldn’t help this. Even with his beautiful past partners, he was not able to get satisfaction. This correlated to his sense of accomplishment in life, to the fact of his small dick, how she smelled, how he smelled, if he had a loss for words when they conversed. All of his lovers eventually left him. He could not hold on to them. He didn’t know what to say. He had no friends and he obsessed over his past lovers as if they were the works in a gallery, a series of lines connected to his longing. They were shapes, sounds, and ideas that he looked at and listened to and thought about. All of his relationships seemed like the affirmation of an agreement to allow obsession, which would eventually turn creepy. None of them were in his life at this time.

Frank went for years until he would eventually reel one in. These innocent birds looking for freedom, you might think, eventually he went for it. Cheating girlfriends, angry spouses who wanted out, even someone needing a green card, all seemed damaged in some way, but he had never thought about it. As he got older, these affairs grew less and less, and the last time he made love to someone he was interested in and thus not sickened by, was about 13 years ago. His reaching Nicole and continuing their conversation, without of course meeting, seemed hopeful. That’s where he was in his pathetic life. Yes, there was other evidence of a disinclination—the facts were strewn about the landscape of their discussion and he had even changed the conversation to one involving writing a short story together.

Frank worked on that part of it promising to get back to her so that she might grant him the response he wanted. He worked carefully and the days went by as he crafted the piece. He looked out of his sliding glass door onto the apartment complex approximately 50 yards from his balcony, which looked out over a pool. He had a cold. He was dressed in a gray top and bottom sweat suit with a hood. It was loose-fitting. He wore slippers. They were black Crocs-like in design with a soft black fur lining that came over the edges. Underneath the sweatsuit top were layers of black long-sleeved shirts, one of which was a female long john that he’d bought at REI on sale. Although it was a ladies large, it was tight on him and the cuffs never went all the way to  his wrists. He had to pull at them. The shirt had helped him during the winters in California when he was never quite warm enough and would always get sick, sometimes four times a year. He used to think that it was because he was allergic to wheat, but even when he wasn’t eating it, he still got a cold or a flu. He would submit easily and lay in bed for days. When he couldn’t, he was miserable. This embarrassed him. He wasn’t a man’s man. He took his body seriously, like a woman might, listening to every emotional nuance.

“Pickles and Tarts” — Chapter 7

Image by Mario Savioni

Chapter 7

The cafe had graphic paintings: reds, greens, pinks, yellows, triangles, lines, circles, a heart in the middle of one of the paintings, a movement toward the center were these forms, painted with thick lines. A brassy meringue came from the speakers. It was loud. You couldn’t help but be affected by the music. Before he realized it, Frank was tapping his foot. Then, he looked around the room to see if anyone noticed. He saw an Asian woman on her computer on the right. He wondered if she noticed him, just as it seemed to him that she was thinking about him, but maybe it was his imagination. She was attractive and young. She was sitting with a man, who was wearing ear buds connected to a phone. He was Asian too. They were wearing running shoes, three white stripes on his shoes and a black and gray background. They matched the stripes going down the length of his long-sleeved gray sweatshirt. His socks were red, black, and white. He scratched the back of his neck. Her shoes were hidden behind his from Frank’s point of view and her feet were together. She wore a dark, gray jacket with a fur-edged hood. Her black-brown hair poured over her hood. Her mouth was open and she wore earbuds too. It was a cold night. They sat sipping tea and looking at their respective computer screens. 

By this time, Frank conceded to the truth of his limited reading. He was only touching, not even reading the books he was referring to. This was his means to a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) education or at least to prepare for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), of which he was afraid. The GRE stood as a line that he would probably not cross in his lifetime. He was not good at standardized tests and he reasoned that studying for the GRE or Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) would require the altering of his personality just to do well enough to get into the school of his choice.

“Beyond that,” Frank wrote, “it feels weird contacting you because I saw your picture and as an artist, I thought you were a beauty.” This statement belied the fact that while Frank did indeed think Nicole was a beauty, and while he was an artist, what he thought of her was sexual. Her face was “perfect.” There was no noise with the issue of her complexion, which was clean. Other photos of her were of an innocent and kind person, one showed her with two men her age. He asked her why she chose him.

Frank was hoping she was attracted. He prefaced with “As a writer” to offer her an alternative, however, which would save his face in case she simply selected him accidentally. He figured if it had been an accident, he could fabricate the rest of her interaction for a short story. It had to be “true” and thus he hoped her response would be something more interesting than if she merely had made a mistake.

Frank had made many mistakes on the site and luckily at those times the other people weren’t interested. He never had to tell them that he wasn’t interested. He also asked her what she needed, because he had read this somewhere as a question one should ask a person. The word ‘need’ seemed to embody a direct question, it cut out the possibility for misunderstanding and the passage of emotional baggage. He hoped it would open a range of responses. He wanted to meet her in person to see if she existed. This would narrow the uncertainty.

“Hahaha, this is so unique!” she said. “You’re a writer then? I love to write. It’s funny you mention writing a short story. I am currently taking a class called ‘Short stories’ and it is focused on analyzing character development. I swiped right to do something spontaneous. I’m not looking for a romantic partner. I have a boyfriend. It’s fun to talk to different people sometimes. Right?”

“Pickles and Tarts” — Chapter 6

Chapter 6

“Hello again Nicole,” he wrote. “I haven’t read the books either.” He starts to think of this experience as an expression of truth and to see if he can make a connection with her based on the truth of himself and being open in all of his responses.

“I am currently reading The History of the Novel and I happened on the section,” Frank typed, “where Schmidt talks about the Brontes and their influence. Beyond that, it feels weird contacting you because I realize you are much younger.  I just saw your picture and as an artist, I thought you were beautiful. I wondered what you thought and was flattered that you would respond to me causing a match. Perhaps you made a mistake and accidentally moved my photo to the right instead of to the left.” 

Frank stopped and looked at his keyboard for a moment, giving his mind a chance to catch up.

“Also, as a writer,” Frank said, “I thought it might be interesting to flesh this out in the sense of exploring how we both feel and think about the other and turn it into a short story. I don’t know what your intentions are. What would you like to happen? Do you want to meet for coffee? Do you want to work on an article? What is on your mind? What do you need? I look forward to hearing from you again.”