Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 25-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.
On our first date, we take his dog for a walk through Cates Park. Guy One tells me of the names of trees and plants, and he describes how rocks and cliffs and islands were formed. Basically, he explains the origin of the universe to me. At the end of the walk, he gives his dog a wash in the creek. I stand on the slippery plank bridge waiting for him. A group of elderly people from a nearby care facility shuffle across the bridge. Guy One spends an extra long time washing the dog’s genitals. The old people stop to watch; they see a tall man standing in the creek rubbing a dog’s penis.
The group leader says, “Who wants to play bingo before dinner?”
“Here, Bingo!” an old woman says, crooked fingers extending towards Guy One’s dog. The group leader claps her hands twice. “Chop chop,” she says and the old people move along.
Guy One looks disappointed to be losing his audience. He wanted to explain things to old people: springtime, dogs, penises.
We are in bed for the first time. You are lying on your back, eyes closed, after giving up on penetration. I am wondering if you are wondering how I feel about not turning you on. I am on my side, looking at you. You say, “You remind me of a woman I used to have sex with.”
“Not you as a person, but your body.”
In my mind, my body separates slightly away from me. Legs and hips, shoulders and breasts, are slightly less mine with this assessment. I’ve never wanted to be anyone else. A song pops into my head in a lonely way. I can see Tobi Vail singing in a San Francisco record store, “I don’t always want to be me and not her.” West Coast tour with Calvin and Tobi, who was probably still in high school.
Your eyes slowly open, you scratch your bare chest and say, “She was the most sexual person I’ve ever been with. We had our sex at work. She was incredible.”
My body extends through time and space to the office building where you and the incredible woman worked together. I am watching you have your memories of sex with her, wondering why you’re telling me this. I am assessing how it feels to hear about the sexiest woman ever, after failing to turn you on. I don’t feel pain because this is too ridiculous. It appears that you say things without considering their impact. Is that a lack of empathy? Can empathy, like an orgasm, be faked? I want to ask you right now, but I’d have to explain the nuances of my surrounding thoughts. Language would turn my thoughts into accusations, disrupting more than it would clarify.
I am a body, enough like the body of another woman that you have put me to use to stimulate sexy memories of her. I am free to have my thoughts while you do this. Nothing is required of me while you use me in this way. It appears that you have not made a connection between your words and my thinking. Absolutely fascinating.
“Once,” you continue, turning onto your side to look at my face, which possibly reminds you of a third woman’s face, “she took me to into an unused office and locked the door and pulled open a desk drawer. She put her foot in the drawer, pulled up her skirt for me to fuck her that way.”
I watch your face as you illuminate your detachment. My body melds into the actions of the sexiest woman you have ever been with. I see my body doing these things: my foot in a drawer. I am attempting to become a person who considers it your problem that you can’t get an erection. It has nothing to do with me. I am now the sexiest woman you have ever been with.
“Your breasts are almost too big,” you say. Bigger than hers, is what you mean. Pieces of me, parts of her. I’m a compilation, a compendium. You appear not to wonder about my thoughts or feelings. I am a connected dot, connected to the incredible woman with one foot in a desk drawer, skirt pulled up to reveal my genitalia. I’m alone next to a man with a soft penis who is using my body to fantasize about the greatest sex he ever had.
“Were you both in other relationships?” I ask, intending to get information while you’re in the mood to give it.
“Yes, I was living with someone and she was married.”
This is how people are. I must get tougher. I’m not tough enough yet; this is sad and scary and I don’t want to be hurt in this way. I look at your face carefully, looking for regret or pain. You told me that this is how you used to be—that was your past and now you are a one-woman-man and you would not cheat on a woman again. Yes, I know, I know. That’s right, you explained all this to me in email, before we met. You are a one-woman-man fantasizing about having sex with another woman while you are in bed with me for the first time. Did you want me because you hoped I’d be as sexy as the sexiest woman ever? I get up, grab my royal blue dressing gown and go into the bathroom to run water for a bath.
Sitting opposite each other in the tub you say, “We are going to be open and talk about any problems that come up.”
“OK,” I say, encouraged, even though you interrupted me to make this pronouncement. I continue with what I was saying, but your eyes drift around the bathroom in an intentional demonstration of disinterest. I continue talking and you cover your face with the orange washcloth.
“You aren’t listening to me,” I say.
“Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa,” you say, taking the washcloth off your face. “You can’t state that I’m not listening to you. You can’t make a statement like that. You have to say that you feel I’m not listening to you. Try it again.”
I stare at you not wanting to say anything, thinking, “I feel you are not listening. I feel you are condescending. I feel you aren’t interested in me. I feel you are a fucking asshole.”
We’re sitting on a no-leash and clothing-optional beach—which, I’m thinking, is perhaps not the best combination of concepts. “I’m not a restaurant guy,” he says. “It doesn’t work on my budget.” Dinners have been between $6 and $8 for two people. Pizza slices, salad rolls and a plate of noodles. We take turns paying. He’s out about $12 since we met.
At Guy One’s apartment for day-old bagels, he shows me a book about communism: black-and-white photos of unhappy workers in China and Russia, austere factory walls. I pick up his binoculars and look at the mountains. Guy One says, “I use those to watch the young people across the street having sex.”
“Nice,” I say, continuing to scan the hillside.
“The woman is a musician. She has various people come over to play music with her. Once she had awkward sex on the couch with one of them. I could tell they didn’t have much experience under their belts. The guy left and never came back.”
“Really? How do you know he never came back?” I say, setting the binoculars down.
“I never saw him again, that’s how I know,” Guy One says, on the verge of being annoyed with me. I freeze, unable to say anything. Guy One goes to the kitchen; I hear him putting water in the kettle. I step into the bathroom and look at my face in the mirror. Frowning, unhappy, tension around my mouth. “Breathe,” I tell my face. “Breathe in. And exhale.”
In the kitchen I pull a stool up to the counter and look out the window at the apartment building across the street—maybe he’s right, maybe the guy never visited the musician again. Maybe they had awful sex once and never spoke again.
“Once,” I say. “We were heading to Seattle to open for Fugazi and my car died at the border.”
“Once I was at the border between Mexico and the USA,” Guy One says. “I was crossing on foot and the customs guy turned my acoustic guitar upside down and a peyote button fell out, but it rolled under something and wasn’t found.”
I sip my tea, listening to his story. I feel less like finishing my story—it’s a good story, I tell it well. It says a lot about me. I want to tell Guy One that I bought a Grand Marquis from the tow-truck driver. How the stick-on tinted window would only go down two inches when we pulled up to talk to the customs guy. That we made it to sound check.
I am fiddling with tiny dried gourds in a lop-sided pottery bowl on the counter. Guy One appears to be thinking back to the peyote, Mexico, the guitar.
“You know what?” I say, selecting one gourd to inspect.
“I would like to be able to tell you about my experiences.” I suppose I appear to be addressing the gourd, but I don’t really give a shit.
“OK,” says Guy One, seeing that I’m upset.
“I want to be allowed to tell my stories without you re-processing everything I say or referring to something in your experience.” I drop the gourd back into the bowl. It barely makes a sound.
Guy One sticks out his chin. “You’re trying to change me. This is how I am and I’m not changing. This is who I am.” He taps his chest—an empty sound, like the dried gourd. I start to cry. I hate it that I am crying, unable to talk.
“Oh,” he says gently. “You’re having a bit of an emotional time aren’t you?”
I’m wondering if he wants me to cry so that he can do this comforting thing. He seems quite familiar with this part: this comforting thing. Odd guy.
“There there,” he says, putting one hand lightly on my shoulder. “I am a very loving and caring man.”
Deception in this case is a man deceiving himself. Not me.