This is one of the drawbacks to communism that I hope will eventually pass, the belief that every comrade is supposed to behave like a noble peasant whose hard hoe is devoted only to farming. Under Asian communism, everything but sex is free, since the sexual revolution has not yet happened in the East. The reasoning is that if one has enough sex to produce six or eight or a dozen offspring, as is generally the case for families in Asian countries (according to Richard Hedd), one hardly needs a revolution for more sex. Meanwhile, Americans, vaccinated against one revolution and thus resistant to another, are interested only in free love’s tropical sizzle, not its political fuse. Under Ms. Mori’s patient tutelage, however, I began to realize that true revolution also involved sexual liberation. This insight was not so far off from Mr. Franklin’s. That sly old sybarite was well aware of the importance of the erotic to the political, wooing the ladies as much as the politicians in his bid for French assistance to the American Revolution. Therefore the gist of the First American’s letter to his young friend was correct: we should all have older mistresses. This is not as sexist as it sounds, for the implication was that older women should also bed younger studs. And if subtlety was not always present in the Old Goat’s missive, the randy truth was. Thus our fine man’s second point, namely that the gravity of age worked its way from the top downward with the years. This commenced with the facial features, then crept south to the neck, the breasts, the tummy, etc., so that an older mistress was plump and juicy where it counted long after her visage was dry and haggard, in which case one could simply put a basket on her head.
The only thing that could have made me happier was a companion for Bon, who, so far as I knew, was also practicing his solo stroke. Always a shy one, he swallowed his pill of Catholicism seriously. He was more embarrassed and discreet about sex than about things I thought more difficult, like killing people, which pretty much defined the history of Catholicism, where sex of the homo, hetero, or pederastic variety supposedly never happened, hidden underneath the Vatican’s cassocks. Popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, and monks carrying on with women, girls, boys, and each other? Hardly ever discussed! Not that there was anything wrong with carrying on—it’s hypocrisy that stinks, not sex. But the Church torturing, murdering, crusading against, or infecting with disease millions of people in the name of our Lord the Savior, from Arabia to the Americas? Acknowledged with useless, pious regret, if even that.
As for me, it was the reverse. Ever since my fevered adolescence I had enjoyed myself with athletic diligence, using the same hand with which I crossed myself in mock prayer. This seed of sexual rebellion one day matured into my political revolution, disregarding all my father’s sermons about how onanism inevitably led to blindness, hairy palms, and impotence (he forgot to mention subversion). If I was going to Hell, so be it! Having made my peace with sinning against myself, sometimes on an hourly basis, it was only due time before I sinned with others. So it was that I committed my first unnatural act at thirteen with a gutted squid purloined from my mother’s kitchen, where it awaited its proper fate along with its companions. Oh, you poor, innocent, mute squid! You were the length of my hand, and when stripped of head, tentacles, and guts possessed the comely shape of a condom, not that I knew what that was then. Inside, you had the smooth, viscous consistency of what I imagined to be a vagina, not that I had ever seen such a marvelous thing besides those exhibited by the toddlers and infants wandering around totally naked or naked from the waist down in my town’s lanes and yards. This sight scandalized our French overlords, who saw this childhood nudity as evidence of our barbarism, which then justified their raping, pillaging, and looting, all sanctioned in the holy name of getting our children to wear some clothes so they would not be so tempting to decent Christians whose spirit and flesh were both in question. But I digress! Back to you, soon-to-be-ravished squid: when I poked my index and then middle finger inside your tight orifice, just out of curiosity, the suction was such that my restless imagination could not help but make the connection with the verboten female body part that had obsessed me for the past few months. Without bidding, and utterly beyond my control, my maniacal manhood leaped to attention, luring me forward to you, inviting, bewitching, come-hither squid! Although my mother would return soon from her errand, and while at any moment a neighbor might have walked by the lean-to of our kitchen and caught me with my cephalopodic bride, I nevertheless dropped my trousers. Hypnotized by my squid’s call and my erection’s response, I inserted the latter into the former, which was, unfortunately, a perfect fit. Unfortunate because from then onward no squid was safe from me, not to say that this diluted form of bestiality—after all, hapless squid, you were dead, though I now see how that raises other moral questions—not to say this transgression occurred often, since squid was a rare treat in our landlocked town. My father had given my mother the squid as a gift, as he himself ate well. Priests always had much attention lavished on them by their starstruck fans, those devout housewives and wealthy congregants who treated them as if they were guardians of the velvet rope blocking entrance into that ever so exclusive nightclub, Heaven. These fans invited them to dinner, cleaned their chambers, cooked their food, and bribed them with gifts of various kinds, including delectable, expensive seafood not meant for the likes of a poor woman like my mother. While I felt no shame at all for my shuddering ejaculation, an enormous burden of guilt fell on me as soon as my senses returned, not because of any moral violation, but because I could hardly bear depriving my mother of even a morsel of squid. We had only a half dozen, and she would notice one missing. What to do? What to do? A plan instantly came to my devious mind as I stood with the befuddled, deflowered squid in hand, my blasphemy leaking from its molested vulva. First, rinse the evidence of crime from the inert, abused squid. Second, cut shallow scars onto the skin to identify the victim squid. Then wait for dinner. My innocent mother returned to our miserable hut, stuffed the squid with ground pork, bean thread noodle, diced mushroom, and chopped ginger, then fried and served them with a ginger-lime dipping sauce. There on the plate reclined my beloved, forlorn odalisque, marked by my hand, and when my mother said to help myself I seized it instantly with my chopsticks to forestall any chance of my mother doing so. I paused, my mother’s expectant, loving eyes upon me, and then I dipped the squid into the ginger-lime sauce and took the first bite. Well? she said. De-de-delicious, I stammered. Good, but you should chew it rather than swallow it whole, son. Take your time. It will taste better that way. Yes, Mama, I said. And, bravely smiling, this obedient son slowly chewed and savored the rest of his defiled squid, its salty flavor mixed with his mother’s sweet love.
Weddings often exacerbated the abuse, aggravated by the sight of a happy, innocent bride and groom. Their marriage might lead to alienation, adultery, misery, and divorce, but it might also lead to affection, loyalty, children, and contentment. While I had no desire to be married, weddings reminded me of what had been denied to me through no choice of my own. Thus, if I began every wedding as a pulp movie tough guy, mixing laughs with the occasional cynical comment, I ended each wedding as a watered-down cocktail, one-third singing, one-third sentimental, and one-third sorrowful. It was in this state that I took Ms. Mori to the dance floor after the wedding cake was cut, and it was then, near the stage, that I recognized one of the two female singers taking turns at the microphone with our gay blade. She was the General’s oldest daughter, safely ensconced in the Bay Area as a student while the country collapsed. Lana was nearly unrecognizable from the schoolgirl I had seen at the General’s villa during her lycée years and on summer vacations. In those days, her name was still Lan and she wore the most modest of clothing, the schoolgirl’s white ao dai that had sent many a Western writer into near-pederastic fantasies about the nubile bodies whose every curve was revealed without displaying an inch of flesh except above the neck and below the cuffs. This the writers apparently took as an implicit metaphor for our country as a whole, wanton and yet withdrawn, hinting at everything and giving away nothing in a dazzling display of demureness, a paradoxical incitement to temptation, a breathtakingly lewd exhibition of modesty. Hardly any male travel writer, journalist, or casual observer of our country’s life could restrain himself from writing about the young girls who rode their bicycles to and from school in those fluttering white ao dai, butterflies that every Western man dreamed of pinning to his collection.
The hardest thing to do in talking to a woman was taking the first step, but the most important thing to do was not to think. Not thinking is more difficult than it sounds, and yet, with women, one should never think. Never. It simply won’t do. The first few times in approaching girls, during my lycée years, I had thought too much, hesitated, and, as a result, flailed and failed. But even so, I discovered that all the childhood bullying directed at me had toughened me, making me believe that being rejected was better than not having the chance to be rejected at all. Thus it was that I approached girls, and now women, with such Zen negation of all doubt and fear the Buddha would approve.
I merely followed my instincts and my first three principles in talking to a woman: do not ask permission; do not say hello; and do not let her speak first…I leaned close to be heard over the music and to offer her a cigarette. Fourth principle: give a woman the chance to reject something else besides me. If she declined the cigarette, as any of our proper young women should, I had an excuse to take one myself, which gave me a few seconds to say something while she focused on my cigarette. But Lana unexpectedly accepted, giving me the chance to fire up her cigarette with a suggestive flame, as I had once lit up Ms. Mori.
I kept my gaze fixed on hers, an enormously difficult task given the gravitational pull exerted by her cleavage. While I was critical of many things when it came to so-called Western civilization, cleavage was not one of them. The Chinese might have invented gunpowder and the noodle, but the West had invented cleavage, with profound if underappreciated implications. A man gazing on semi-exposed breasts was not only engaging in simple lasciviousness, he was also meditating, even if unawares, on the visual embodiment of the verb “to cleave,” which meant both to cut apart and to put together. A woman’s cleavage perfectly illustrated this double and contradictory meaning, the breasts two separate entities with one identity. The double meaning was also present in how cleavage separated a woman from a man and yet drew him to her with the irresistible force of sliding down a slippery slope. Men had no equivalent, except, perhaps, for the only kind of male cleavage most women truly cared for, the opening and closing of a well-stuffed billfold. But whereas women could look at us as much as they wanted, and we would appreciate it, we were damned if we looked and hardly less damned if we didn’t. A woman with extraordinary cleavage would reasonably be insulted by a man whose eyes could resist the plunge, so, just to be polite, I cast a tasteful glance while reaching for another cigarette. In between those marvelous breasts bumped a gold crucifix on a gold chain, and for once I wished I were a true Christian so I could be nailed to that cross.
Care for another cigarette? I said, our gazes meeting once more as I offered her my pack. Neither of us acknowledged my expert appraisal of her cleavage
If a man survived the time taken to smoke the first cigarette, he had a fighting chance on the beachhead of a woman’s body
Let’s go to the bar. Principle five: statements, not questions, were less likely to lead to no. She shrugged and offered me her hand.