Saturday, November 24, 2018
My evening started off innocently enough, and with good intentions. I planned to go straight home after work. But after I packed my bag and put on my jacket I was greeted by a group of coworkers who had already begun drinking. They motioned for me to come over and have one with them. Sure, I thought, one can't hurt. It's Friday. Before I knew it, I was showing female colleagues pictures of a pair of cows sucks a man's nipples and penis as he lie naked in an open field. Then, moments later, I found myself ensnared in a philosophical debate about whether it would be just or unjust to beat a pony to death to save 100,000 human lives. Things were going off the rails, and fast. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind a voice yelled out, urging me to go home like I had originally planned. But I didn't listen. Instead I proceeded to invite myself to a party. But I didn't stop there. I took it upon myself to change the destination of the party. Earlier in the day a dear friend had mentioned there would be a Thanksgiving party in a bookstore. Remembering this, and recognizing the bookstore wasn't too far from my job, it seemed like a fine location for us travel.
"Have you been to this place before?" someone asked.
"Well, how do you know if it's good?"
"Oh, well, in that case, let's go!"
It was a hard sell, that much was true. There are times when one must face seemingly insurmountable social adversity. This was one such occasion. More would follow. I struggled to think of what I might say to convince them, so I just replied in the affirmative and told them their reservations were well-founded, that I could make absolutely no guarantees about the quality of the party. The only thing I could assure them was that there would be food and alcohol, and possibly a good story.
"If we look in the window and it sucks, we can leave," I added.
And like a magic spell had been cast, we were off. Our crew consisted of a me, my friend L, a cheeky Austrian, an American I'd never met before, and his girlfriend who looked remarkably similar to an ex girlfriend of mine from New York. At first I was a bit dumbstruck by her, just because of how much she looked like Georgia. When she extended her hand and said her name, I missed it entirely.
"Hi," I said, not even bothering to introduce myself while I ignored her name. I thought about showing her the bovine bestiality video, but thought better of it after a moment's reflection. Instead I showed her a photo which had been sent to me earlier in the day, by a Croatian girl, of an 80-year-old woman sucking on a massive dingdong. The photo was taken from the perspective of the man, and was way too close to the woman's face, showing each and every wrinkle with terrifying clarity.
We boarded the bus and made our way to the bookstore. We arrived and something seemed amiss. No one was outside, which was odd for a party like this. Surely a few stragglers should have perched themselves outside by the stairs chatting idly and smoking cigarettes. Nothing. Perhaps it was too cold. From the window I could see stacks of books and the shape of a human torso jutting out from a desk.
"Is this the place," the Austrian asked.
"Yep, this is it."
"Well, then, let's go in."
"I don't see a party," L said.
It was true. There was no trace of a party.
"Maybe it's in the basement," the American said. We all bent at the knee and tried to catch a glimpse in through the small window, but all we could see was a large wooden table with nothing on it.
"Just go in," the Austrian repeated.
I will, I told him. So I did. The American and the Austrian followed. I opened the door and walked into the quietest room I'd ever been in. In general, rooms that hold books are expected to be quiet. Libraries have taught me as much. But this was too quiet. Way too quiet. It was so quiet I could have sworn that I was able to hear sounds from the distant past, a powdery fart from the Pleistocene. But maybe this was only because we were expecting a party, and the kind of sounds associated with one. As the door shut behind us it seemed to seal off the rest of the universe and leave us in the vacuum of space. A man sat across from me, squarely in the right corner of the room, surrounded by several haphazard stacks of books. He looked up at me with that muddled mix of apathy and irritation that only an employee at the DMV could muster, and said nothing. About three feet in front of me sat an old man with his back turned to me, holding a newspaper in one hand and what looked like a turkey baster in the other. To the left of him, at another counter full of loose books, was a child mindlessly playing a video game. His face was lit up like a blue jack-o-lantern from the glow of the screen.
"Uhh," I said, disturbing the silence. The man in the corner stared at me blankly.
"Is there a Thanksgiving party here tonight?" I asked, feeling like a fool.
"Yes," the man replied, "at nine o clock."
"Ah, okay," I started to say as I realized it was probably seven, "we're a bit too early."
"Six fifty," muttered the old man whose face I couldn't see. I looked at his lifeless body and wondered whether he might be an enormous ventriloquist's dummy. His hair was hurriedly combed over, and his sweater, from what little I could see of it, looked like it hadn't been changed for at least the last quarter-century.
"Six fifty?" I asked.
"Fully loaded," he replied.
"Yep!" he said, with forceful indifference. I felt like we had wandered into a bookstore somewhere in the deep south and we weren't welcome. All of that famous southern hospitality had been transformed into pure passive aggression. I turned to my comrades and they looked as confused as me.
"Ahhm, oh...okay," I said.
The old man smacked the turkey baster against his inner thigh and then spit on the floor. The child, without looking up, said, "das ist nicht gut."
The old man turned a page of his newspaper which made a sound so loud that it sizzled the air in a wash of static electricity. I could see his thinning hair stand on edge.
"I guess we'll...."
The spectacled man in the corner stared. He looked down at his book and then up again a moment later to see if we were still standing there. When he saw that we were, he blinked and looked back down at his book. I have to say I was even more curious to attend the party after this interaction. Part of me didn't want to leave the room in case there was something else we might miss. It was clear enough that they didn't care whether we left or not, so maybe we could just sit on a bunch of books for two hours in silence and watch. But behind me I heard the door open and the world outside began to rush in, blowing away the atmosphere like a pile of dead leaves. I followed my team back outside.
"Wow," the American said, laughing, "that was amazing!"
"What just happened?" the Austrian asked.
L and the lovely lady looked at us curiously, also asking what just happened.
"Fully loaded," the American muttered.
"Yeah, what is that?" that Austrian asked, never having heard the expression.
"He meant that for six euros and fifty cents you could have an all inclusive Thanksgiving dinner; turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, you name it. They've got it all."
"Okay, so why don't we do it?" L asked.
"It's not until 9:00."
"How hungry is everyone? Do you want to wait?" he asked.
"Nah, let's get food nearby, there's a good Asian place two blocks away," the Austrian said.
So we walked a couple of blocks to a restaurant decorated with countless hanging paper lanterns. During dinner I was powerless to stop myself from telling wildly inappropriate stories. In one such story, as I went on about having sex on LSD, I blurted out the phrase, paradoxical sex. Immediately, and almost unanimously, I was challenged to explain what I meant by that combination of words.
"Well," I started, just to gather some information, "everyone here has done acid before, right?"
All no's, except for L, who had done acid numerous times but had never had sex while tripping.
"Jesus," I said, "tough crowd. Maybe I should first start with normal sex then, so that I can make the difference more clear."
"Wait, wait," my Austrian friend interjected, "normal sex? You're saying sex without LSD is normal sex?"
"Do you want to have a semantic debate?" I asked. "Normal sex, standard sex, sober sex, whatever you want to call it. The name we use isn't important so much as you have a concept of what sex is. I know for you, since you haven't had much experience, it might require a lot of imagination, but stick with me. Normally, when you have sex, it's a deeply psychological experience in addition to being a deeply physical one."
"Wait, what do you mean psychological?" he asked.
"Maybe it'll just be easier to show you. Do you want to come to the bathroom?"
"Okay" I continued, "so by psychological I mean that sex feels better, a lot better, when you care about the person. When there's no emotional, psychological component to sex, certain body parts don't inflate or self lubricate and the entire thing becomes pretty hard."
"Or not pretty hard."
"Yeah, see, you're getting it. Now, the difference with sex on a psychedelic, is that you have moments where you transcend the ego. Your sense of self flickers in and out. One minute it's there and the next it's not. When this happens during intercourse you retreat into this primal sort of lizard-brain-self where you're gratifying the body with pure, unimpeded pleasure - there's no self processing or contextualizing things, so you're just experiencing raw sensation in real time without any filter. But - and here's the part where things start becoming paradoxical - because you're on a psychedelic, once you do flicker back into your sense of self a few moments or minutes later, you recognize you're having thoughts about sex and a new layer of dimensionality opens; you can see the narration in your head, you can contemplate the metaphysical, self-referential aspect of having sex. In the moment you're abstracting the experience to something intellectual that can be analyzed and described, mapped out in words. This process, of observing your thoughts while in a meditative trance state, while simultaneously tapping deeply into some primordial pleasure center that reaches further back into your DNA than what the modern human mind can make sense of, becomes really trippy and seemingly paradoxical because you're straddling two seemingly oppositional states."
Silence. Had I expressed myself clearly, or did I just ramble out some conversational diarrhea that wiped out the entire table in one massive convoluted mudslide? It wasn't clear.
"He's like a poet," L said, embarrassing me but breathing life back into the space.
"I need a coffee so I can think about what he just said," the American added.
"I'm going to the bathroom," said his girlfriend.
We shifted into safer topics after this. It didn't take long for the waiter to arrive at the table and tell us he had a new party that needed to be seated. We clawed our way out of the narrow Asian restaurant which had become surprisingly crowded. A line of people snaked down the stairs to the exit and it took a few minutes for people to make enough space to rearrange themselves so that we could open the door to get out. Outside of the door there was another maze of people standing on the remaining steps and the sidewalk in front of the restaurant.
After a quick smoke we got turned away from an exclusive cocktail bar and found ourselves at a nearby gay bar instead. Except there wasn't anything gay about it. The only reason we even knew it was a gay bar was because my friend L had told us. Actually, the only thing gay about it was that we had to sit outside in the cold because the inside was completely packed. It was here that I committed my biggest faux pas of the evening. Somehow the conversation had gravitated toward Louis CK and his controversial return to comedy. I felt the irresistible pull of conversational suicide tugging at my testes. I knew what was about to happen. I was about to defend him. Don't, please. But I couldn't stop myself.
"Okay, let's talk about this," I began, a little sheepishly, "a problem that I often have with these types of discussions is that they invariably hinge on the notion that women are these weak, helpless little creatures who, lacking any sort of agency or rational thought, have no choice in these matters but to be the victims of abuse at the hands of powerful men. I don't buy it: it's sexist and it's damaging to the notion of equality. Do abuses of power happen at the hands of men? Absolutely. Do we live in a male dominated society where we need to denounce these terrible motherfuckers and stand behind our wives, daughters, friends, lovers? Absolutely. That's not what I'm trying to get at though. I'm talking about stereotypes, and the language we use, the ideas we throw around without thinking. Because above her womanhood she is a person, just like any other person, regardless of sex; able to stand up for herself and lash out against injustice when she sees it. At the end of the day we're more similar than we are different, and to say otherwise is to take away a part of our humanity, of the thing that binds us. We all bleed, we hurt, we ache, we yearn for attention and happiness, we want to be adored and take care of those that we love, we want fairness and respect, to be treated kindly. Some of us have penises and some of us have vaginas - some of us even have both - but how reductionist (and also divisive) is it to take away someone's individuality by labeling them as just a man or just a woman. In this case, the story we tell ourselves about women shapes the entire dialogue and it becomes impossible to talk about the topic and question basic assumptions without being labeled as unsympathetic to the cause, or as somehow chauvinistic."
"You do sound chauvinistic," my Austrian associate replied,
"Oh shut up, Adolf. Hear me out. I'm trying to draw attention to that fact that language is powerful. It's self fulfilling. If we talk about women as victims, and we treat them like victims, then that's what they'll be. It is profoundly disempowering not only to feminist ideology, but to all women everywhere to perpetuate that narrative. That this mechanism can go unchallenged and unexamined by those in casual conversation is part of the problem. We need to look this thing in the face and call it what it is. It's the only way we can begin telling ourselves a new story."
"So you really believe that?" he said condescendingly, "you think that women aren't being oppressed by men who use their power against them? You think that it's not worth drawing attention to the fact that it's harder for women than men, that they have to worry about things that to us, because of our position of privilege, we don't even need to expend the energy on?"
"Yeah, that sounds so naive," the beautiful Swedish ex-lookalike said.
I was losing this argument. I had never said any of the things I was being accused of, but it was clear that I hadn't yet generated enough social capital to seem credible, and that by trying to ask deeper questions I was being seen as part of the problem. To them, I had minimized the female struggle and seemed to live in a fantasy land where the societal power imbalance between men and women didn't exit. I had effectively said, all lives matter. My point wasn't coming across.
"But it's not true! I'm on your side," I wanted to yell, "I studied sociology for fuck's sake." But saying this wouldn't have helped. It was too late for me.
"Listen," I replied, "all I'm saying, is that I don't think - in Louis CK's case - that these women were victimized. I just don't. This wasn't some Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby shit. One woman said she was traumatized, traumatized, because Louis was masturbating while he was on the phone with her. C'mon. Hang up the phone. What kind of argument is that?"
"That's not fair," the Swede said, "he was leveraging his power over these women."
"Were they his employees?" I asked, rhetorically. "If what you're saying is true, then these female comics were hoping - whether consciously or unconsciously - to use Louis' power to launch their careers. Were they not using him in the hopes of securing a more powerful position? They were putting themselves into a position of vulnerability and subservience. And perhaps because of this they allowed things to go a bit too far. Then, in hindsight, once they stopped and looked back on the events that happened fifteen years ago, they might have felt a kind of shame and self loathing that maybe they couldn't handle. What do people do when they have feelings about themselves that they don't want to confront? They project them onto someone else; they assign accountability so they don't have to take the blame. It's human."
"So you're blaming the victim now?" the Austrian asked.
"No, I asserted that they weren't victims at the start." Things were off the rails.
"How can you say that?" the Swede asked.
It was time to abandon ship. This wasn't going anywhere and I was digging a hole deeper and deeper. I was in violation of the first rule of comedy: know your audience. There were no allies for me. So, I did the only thing it made sense to do - it was time to show, not tell. To demonstrate my point, an experiment was to be conducted. The best way to illustrate my argument would be to show how intolerant of abuse people actually are. So, I leaned back in my cold plastic chair, undid my zipper, pulled out my fully loaded turkey baster, and started basting. Master basting. In front of everyone. Right away the Swede shrieked in horror and, a moment later, doused me with the remainder of her gin and tonic. The ice bounced off the bridge of my nose and the sliced cucumber slid slowly down my cheek. The Austrian suddenly sprouted a narrow mustache and began barking something at me in German, something about taking me to camp.
The American stood up and said, "I won't stand for this," which I found incredibly ironic.
Everyone rushed away in disgust, except for L, who, opening his mouth wide and taking my entire baster in his mouth, showed me - with a paradoxical blowjob - why it was called a gay bar.