Sunday, January 4, 2015

One Thousand and One Disco Nights

Part II

One Thousand and One Disco Nights

I’ve seen you look at strangers, too many times.
The love you want is of a different kind.

(All day, all day) Watch them all fall down.
(All day, all day) Domino dancing

I’ve watched you dance with danger, still wanting more,
Add another number to the score.

(All day, all day) Watch them all fall down.
(All day, all day) Domino dancing

Domino Dancing, Pet Shop Boys

What do you think it’s like to dance with the man you love, to captivate him, to charm and enchant him, but never be known to him as the woman you are? You think it strange? How much stranger, then, to do this a thousand times; a thousand times plus one. For now my deepest wish had been granted, and from that day on I donned the veil of deception, time after time creating myself after the images of the most desirable women he might ever see.  I created and recreated Beauty; I created and recreated Elegance and Femininity and Grace. I created and recreated Woman. Hundreds of images of Woman: I made them all, guessing at what his inner picture of Woman might be: imagining the tender images that guided his desires.

How did I know the nature of his desires? I watched him. Watched carefully. Watched him watching women. And as soon as he had given me a clue, and before he could be drawn to another, I made myself into a better, superior version of the woman he fancied. And time after time, he chose me––not the real me to be sure (and indeed, wrapped in all those veils of illusion, I began to wonder who the real me might be), but a splendid facsimile of me, a fabrication, an apparition, a cleverly wrought design.

He chose me as his dancing partner and he left the club with me, always for His Place now (for how could I possibly redecorate my apartment so many times?) And then I was his ideal, his prize, his conquest, always different, with a different body, but always the same. Sometimes languid, sometimes shy, at other times a firecracker, matching his energy and passion, I became his ever-changing but constant lover. Then, when our passion was spent, and I had fought off the temptation to fall asleep, there was time to talk. Just a little time. Precious moments in which I might come to know him better. For in the end I wanted to become his confidant, to win his trust so that I might win his heart.

*   *   *

The disco continues to draw me. I have never loved a woman, not in the way love is shown in the films or described in stories. As soon as my desire for one woman is gratified, I desire another. I have always been drawn to variety, to experience. But if I have not loved any women individually, I have loved Woman, deeply and passionately, and with utter devotion. In this way I bring happiness, I bring joy to the joyous and goodness to the good.

Last year there was a strange girl who rather haunted me. Long, curly dark hair. She obviously used heated curlers just before coming to the club. Always dressed in black––her one little black dress no doubt––she watched me in a way that I found disconcerting, as though she were planning to capture and confine me. I’m not saying she was a stalker. No, nothing like that. She kept her distance, never spoke to me. And she was attractive in an average sort of a way: the kind of girl I might pick up one night when things were slow. But I had a funny feeling about her, a feeling of unfreedom. She had marriage written all over her. Well, it wasn’t going to be with me!

And some time last year, just at the point when I was actually tempted to break the ice and talk to this girl, maybe dance with her, and who knows? maybe even leave the club with her––to find out what this was all about, or if nothing else to satisfy my curiosity: just when I reached that point, on the night after the night when she appeared for the last time in her little black dress, just when I had reached the point of genuine interest, she stopped coming to the club.

The really attractive women, the confident, stylish women, had stopped wearing these little black dresses over a year ago. The dress she wore, it was a dress no longer than a shirt really, and I imagined I’d glimpsed the lacy black panties she’d found to go with it more than once as she moved to the music, reaching up and bending over just ever so slightly awkwardly on the dance floor. And though she had a good body, small and compact, with tight buns and round little breasts, and a face that was pert, if not pretty, though she was really not bad looking, that sequined dress, and the four-inch heels she’d chosen to go with it––that dress, I noticed the night before she disappeared, instead of making her appear glamorous and sexy, somehow brought out the very average quality of her appearance that she had presumably been striving to conceal. And something about that: about her naive attempt to be sexy, and her failure really, her failure, piqued my interest, it really did, and for the first time, to my surprise, I felt more than curiosity. I felt an unwelcome stirring, an itch for the girl.

But the next night, when I actually looked around for her a little bit, she wasn’t there. Nor the next night nor the night after that. And oddly, that was the beginning, as it seemed to me, of a very strange year at the club: a year when the women I encountered were more beautiful than ever, extraordinarily so, in fact. And though I was invariably successful in taking home the most attractive among them––always a different woman, different every night––from that time on, from the time my little shadow, the girl in the black dress, disappeared––I felt a curious dissatisfaction, a kind of habituation about these women who danced with me and made love to me, as though my pleasant life of freedom had somehow been undermined, and I, no longer the free agent I had meant to be, was dancing to someone else’s tune. But how could that be, indeed? For all of my actions at the club, on the dance floor, and back at home, in bed, all of my actions and my choices were entirely my own.

*   *   *

As my time with the man I loved sped on, a time in which it could be said that I virtually controlled the progress of our encounters, since it was I who decided under what guise I would appear to him, and I who had the opportunity to piece together knowledge of him from one encounter to the next, while he had no corresponding knowledge of me––indeed, had no knowledge that I was one and the same person––I nevertheless became increasingly uncertain of my ability to win his heart. For truth to tell, I did not know how to make him love me in any of the disguises I embodied. So, fearing that he would never love me as I did him, I began to wish, and to expect, that I might discover some unworthiness in his character. But this was not to be so. For the better I got to know him––and under how many guises!– the kinder and more compassionate, the more generous and even magnanimous, the more intelligent and insightful––in short, the worthier, did he appear to be.

How I longed to call him boyfriend, fiancé, husband:  some title that would convey possession. For as it was, I had no rights over him. None. Every night I must exert myself to captivate him anew. Yet however I thrilled at our every encounter, underneath it all I longed to speak of him to the world, to use the possessive: “My–” My what? For as much as I had tricked him nightly into being my lover, he was not in any real sense mine.

So in those early days of discovering our affinity, our curious intimacy, in those first days and weeks of unpacking it from its foil wrapping, crackly and meretricious, a wrapping that had disguised its properties all: size, shape, color, weight, I fervently wished that he was mine, that he could become mine, simply mine, even in a trite and conventional way, like a Valentine’s Day candy heart with the word “mine” imprinted on it, like a Valentine’s candy that one could pop into one’s mouth and, sucking on it, feel it disintegrate against the tongue, without even thinking of the little heart that was disappearing inside of one, as one thought not about it but about other things, as one went cheerily about one’s business. 

And in the midterm of our intimacy, after the novelty of my latest disguise had worn off, and I fancied he could recognize me beneath my mask, when we seemed to fit together like two mechanical parts, newly minted, like a lock and the only, the correct key that fit it, I began to imagine that he, too, must recognize the perfect fit that we had become. 

But he was nothing if not honest, and he told me repeatedly, whether I was a long-legged blonde, fiery redhead, or dark, mysterious woman with splendid breasts, he told me: I am not constant, I am yours for this night only, beyond tomorrow I cannot accompany you.

*   *   *

How strange life is. I have worshiped Woman. I have knelt at the altar of the Goddess. I have been her tireless devotee. Yet the more I pursue these extraordinary women, the more ordinary they seem. It is as though they had all attended the same convent school, come from the same type of family in the same part of town, recited the same catechism, learnt the same languages, taken the same journeys, formed the same ambitions, dreamed the same dreams. Was it Flaubert who said that every time he encountered a beautiful woman, he saw the skull beneath her face, the skeleton beneath her fleshy body?

*   *   *

 Is it possible?

Is it possible that nearly three years have elapsed? Nearly three years in which I have pursued love unrelenting, refusing to believe that he would not one day be mine? Nearly three years in which time I luxuriated, happy and forgetful, glorying in the nightly embraces of an extraordinary being, experiencing his passion, his  tenderness, yet in the end, coming no closer to possessing him?

Can it be now that our time is drawing to a close? Will I face eternity without this love? Loss without remission? Can I do nothing? Nothing at all to redeem lost time?   

May it not be so!

O lente, lente currite, noctis equi.
Shall our nights of love be finally disbursed by the dawn’s early light?

Run slowly, slowly, ye horses of the night.
The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike!

For I feel that as much as we have enjoyed one another, we have grown no closer to becoming One. My time is nearly up, and I have failed to make him love me. In truth, he has not even recognized me: the lover with a thousand faces, the constancy beneath the change. Yet my effort has been great. I have pursued him with all my heart. Surely no one deserves this man's love more than I do! I who have spared no effort on his behalf! I who have worked so hard to win him.

I shall visit the Goddess and ask for more time. I must have more time!

*   *   *  

It’s been three years or so since my little shadow disappeared – that girl at the club who used to follow me around with her eyes. She was never high on my priority list – hey! Most of the time she wasn’t even on it. But funny the way the ones you don’t get to have stick in the mind. She was interested in me, and she watched me all the time quietly from a distance. What was it she saw? Why didn’t she just come up to me and say something? Why didn’t I go up to her? It’s as though we were all the time holding opposite ends of some invisible thread that connected us in some mysterious way – opposite ends of a thread that required us to remain at a distance, to regard one another across a crowded room.

A short girl. A girl with long curly hair. Small eyes. What were their color? Not exceptionally pretty either. In fact her hair, abundant and silky, may have been her best feature. And after she disappeared, I confess, I longed to run my hands through it, longed to let the silky curls cascade  through my fingers like water from the purest source. And at times, when I felt angry at her for having disappeared, I imagined – how uncharacteristic of me! – I imagined clutching that beautiful hair in my two hands and roughly jerking her head back, making her look up at me in amazement and surprise, making her look right into my eyes. And I thought fleetingly of Alexander the Great at Delphi, dragging the Pythia by the hair to force a prophecy. For I wanted to force this girl’s secrets from her, to know her innermost desires. Oh I would be proper, forbearing, I would woo her like I wooed all the rest. And indeed, it would be no trouble to woo her: anyone could see that she had quite a thing for me. No doubt she would fall right into my arms. The only challenge would be making sure she emerged from our encounter with some of her dignity intact.

Yes, I had my plans for her.  I imagined our first night together, so much like all of those other encounters that began at the club, except that I would give myself permission to touch her hair, to kiss it, to let it stream across my face like healing water. And then I would remove her shoes – those mildly ridiculous four-inch heels, too tarty for a girl like that – and I would massage her tiny feet, talking to her the while, until I felt her yielding to me in every fiber of her body. And then we would do all of the things that lovers do. But what I really wanted with her  – and curiously so, because I rarely wanted it with any woman, what I really wanted, was a second night, perhaps even a third, to find out what she had been thinking about all this time, to find out if she loved me, to hear her name the desire she felt for me, to discover what she was seeing all of the time she was looking at me.

But I never saw her again. And because of that, of course, her image became etched in my brain. And even those traits of hers about which I had felt somewhat disdainful: that average quality, her stature, her lack of style, became attractions simply because I couldn’t have her. In the meanwhile, I pursued Woman in all of her manifestations, pursued her, won her, reveled in her beauty and in her many sensuous ways. That odd year at the club turned into nearly three years in which, the more extraordinary the women, the more quickly I became bored with them.

Only occasionally did I feel, along with a moderately disorienting sense of déja vu, that some woman with whom I had been talking towards break of day was speaking to me on a deeper level, as though she knew me well, as though she had known me from childhood; for in that three years or so I had opened up, I had begun talking to the women about my hopes and fears. In a strange moment I even wished, once, that all of these many women would in the end resolve into One, become One, and become One with me. But for the most part, I began to feel horribly bored with the whole thing. And then I began to feel disgusted – with women, with myself, with life. Until, finally, I felt urgently the need to find some sort of guidance: a guru if you will. For my soul was filled with emptiness and lack. So I went to the place of the Goddess outside the City, to ask her how I might find a path that would lead me away from this confusion.

 *    *   *
“I have been expecting you. Your thousand and one nights are up.”

“Yes, Goddess: one thousand and one nights during which I tried every disguise, labored under every Appearance, twisted and tormented my soul into every possible image of Woman. And still he does not love me, I fear. I thought perhaps if you would simply grant me more time–––“

“Is that your third wish? How much time do you think you need to nail this man?”

“I don’t know. And no, it isn’t my third wish.”

“Then what can I do for you?”

“Give me more time.”

“Sorry. I go by the book. You only get more time if you make that your third wish.”

“But surely you see how I have toiled for his love?”

“Surely I do. But either make your third wish, or leave me – so that I can return to my resting place in the earth.”

“Hear it then! My third wish: give me the love I deserve.”

“Poor girl. You are a fool after all.”

“But you just said you saw how hard I strove to win his heart!”

“Yes indeed––to win his heart, when he did not wish to be won. I am the Great Goddess. Listen to me now. You do not deserve this love for which you have striven. For in pursuing this man you became a huntress, obsessed with your own success in captivating him, regardless of what he wanted. You spent a thousand nights with him––"

“A thousand and one––“

“And you did not care for his heart, nor learn his essence––“

“Oh let me try a little more––“

“Moreover you involved yourself so thoroughly in disguises, in manipulating appearances, that you no longer know who you are.”

“That much is true.”

“If you want some day to have the love you deserve––and I do not say it will be with this man––you must win back your true self, you must follow the path that to leads to knowledge of what love really is…”

“So I am to go on some type of pilgrimage?”

“Certainly you must seek the answers to the questions: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What is love?’ ”

“Where am I to find such wisdom? What shall I do?”

“That I cannot tell you. Now leave me.”

“A final word, Goddess…”

“But I’ll tell you one thing. You won’t find what you’re looking for at the disco.”

*   *   *

Ah! Here’s the place! To some a shrine, to others a playground. In any case lots of old stone and vegetation. There’s a flower in a crannied wall. Purple. And another! Mauve. I remember playing here as a boy. Let’s see if She will grant me an audience. I could pray but I’m not feeling very pious just now. This must be the altar. I see a pilgrim recently left some fruit, if not first fruits, and what looks like a libation. Was it the sojourner up ahead of me? Looked like a small person, but grown: a woman, young. Kept thinking I’d overtake her, even quickened my pace, but she always remained ahead of me, ahead of me by the exact same distance. Perhaps I’ll just write a message on the altar stone with this piece of rock. Leave my calling card…

“What now? Didn’t I just tell you to leave me in peace? I have nothing further to say––oh! It’s you!”

“Yes, Oh Goddess! I have come to say farewell. I am leaving this place…”

“And how many broken hearts do you leave behind this time?”

“Not a one, I imagine! I never spend more than one night with any one woman.”

“I think you can imagine a little better than that! It is your fate, is it not, that they fall in love with you?”

“What have I done to deserve this?”

“Isn’t that the name of a song by…?”

“The Pet Shop Boys. With Petulia Clark.”

“Yes, yes, I remember! It’s with Dusty Springfield, actually. How does it go?
Let me see:
‘You always wanted me to be something I wasn't
You always wanted too much,
Now I can do what I want to - forever
How’m I gonna get through?
How’m I gonna get through?'

A raw deal for somebody…then….
‘At night, the people come and go
They talk too fast, and walk too slow
Chasing time from hour to hour…’
I keep expecting Michelangelo. Channeling T.S. Eliot.”

“You’ve left out the best part:
‘I come here looking for money
(Got to have it)
And end up leaving with love,
Now you left me with nothing
(Can't take it)
How’m I gonna get through?
How’m I gonna get through?’

“Broke again?”

“I’ve spent a lot on drinks in the last few years.”

“Maybe you need a new hobby.”

“Hobby! Who has been more devoted than I?”

“Devoted to…?”

“To Woman, in all of her guises.”

“Ahh. But still you are leaving us. Fare thee well, then. And may you ponder these words of wisdom:

κα τόδε Δημοδόκου. Μιλήσιοι ξύνετοι μν
κ εσιν, δρσιν δ' οά περ ξύνετοι."

“What’s the take-away?”

“It's from Abbey Road:
‘And, In the End, the love you take
Is equal to the love you make.’

“Sounds about right."

" And:so does:
‘Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight a long time…’

“Guide me then, Great Goddess. For I would pursue the path that leads to
Universal love and understanding. Shall I follow that diminutive pilgrim up ahead?
(Even from a distance she looks disquietingly familiar).”

“That girl? Oh, she is one of my acolytes. In fact she has taken a vow of silence, so she would be unable to speak with you. Her path is unique: a path of  discovery and service.”

“Perhaps I shall follow her even though she may not speak. Unless, that is, she has taken a vow of celibacy as well…”

“No, no, my good man, you must take a different path entirely. For while your feet are planted firmly on the ground, you rise sometimes to the seventh sphere, where your mind is lofted far above the Earth; and there you see with full advisement the erratic stars; and from a great height you view our earthly travail: our little world and all its vanities. Your path must be different from the path of the acolyte, who serves at my request.”


“I see you started to write a message in my Guestbook. Please continue.”

“Where was that piece of rock?”

“I’ve got a blank space–”

“­­––and I’ll write my name. Why do I have the feeling that I’m being set up?”

“Perhaps you will visit my shrine again one day. I must leave you now.”

“What path do you recommend, then?”

“There are two paths at the base of that mountain, yonder. You saw the path that my servant took: the path to the East. Do you take the path to the West. Farewell.”

“Farewell, Goddess.”
*   *   *

Now am I arrived at the base of the mountain. What did She mean about my mind being lofted high above the Earth? She is a Goddess; her wisdom is infinite (and eclectic, too) but is She reliable? Both of these paths lead up the mountain. And I am curious about that acolyte. I am taking the path to the East.

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