Neil and the Soul of an Artist

(About a 5 minute read)

Neil was raised in a tiny settlement in the San Luis Valley by artists.  The San Luis — over a mile above sea level, and the largest alpine valley in the world — is Colorado’s poorest region.

Because it’s so poor, the cost of living is moderate, and maybe it’s the cost of living that attracts the artists.  More than 500 working artists make their homes in the Valley.

Yet, because artists are quirky people, it might be more than the cost of living that attracts so many of them to the San Luis.  It could be the miles of open space, for instance.  Or the huge elk herd, the bald eagles and the sandhill cranes.  Or perhaps even the stars — for at night, the sky above the San Luis explodes with the music of light.

Neil’s parents were not religious people but they sent their son to church each Sunday.  When he was 13 or 14, he rebelled.  He told his parents he hated church, didn’t believe a word of anything he heard there, and was a confirmed agnostic.  “Good”, said his mother and father, “You’ve learned everything a church can teach you about life: Nothing.  We could have told you that ourselves about churches, but we wanted you to figure it out.  You can stop going now.”

When Neil turned old enough for high school, his parents decided he needed a better school than the one in the settlement.  So they packed Neil off to live with his grandmother in Colorado Springs and to attend Palmer High.  There, in his first art class, he met Sarah and Beth.  The three shared an intense interest in art and quickly became best friends.

It was Sarah who introduced me to Neil.  Sarah was regular at the Coffee Shop, and the two of us now and then shared each other’s company.  At 16, she was poised, sophisticated, and self-confident.  She liked to flirt with older men, even though she knew, as she put it, that she “couldn’t let it go anywhere”, and she once told me how much I disappointed her because I wouldn’t flirt.  I felt like a killjoy, and wrote a poem about her to make amends.

Sarah, Beth, and Neil spent hours together each day.  They seemed more mature than many kids their age.  For one thing, both Neil and Sarah held themselves much like adults, and all three of them would look you right in the eye when listening or speaking to you.  For another thing, there were seldom conflicts between them, and the three friends were remarkably free from adolescent dramas.

Back in those days, I heard enough adolescent dramas to fill a social calendar.  I had somehow stumbled into the role of confident for many of the kids who hung out at the Coffee Shop.  Sometimes, up to a half-dozen kids a day would confess their woes to me — pretty much one kid after the other.  Yet, I understood their need to talk and never rejected them.

Most of their stories were about sex and relationships, and some of the stories were painful to hear, because there were kids who kept repeating the same mistakes over and over again.  Yet, even the kids who didn’t repeat their mistakes — kids like Sarah, for instance — still seemed determined to make an allotted number of foolish mistakes, for how else do people learn?  I quickly discovered the role of confident was often more depressing than rewarding.

Through-out high school, Sarah, Beth and Neil remained as best friends, but when it was time for college, they parted ways.  Each went to a different university, and while Sarah and Beth stayed in contact with each other, Neil dropped out of the group.

I recall Neil was 22 and back from college when I ran across him one evening at the Coffee Shop.  We chatted for a while and I suggested we go to a restaurant for something to eat.

We ordered beer with our food, and were soon rambling along from one topic to the next.  A few beers into the evening, Neil decided to tell me how he lost his virginity.  “Was it Sarah?”, I asked.  I knew she’d been sexually active from the age of 16, and given their close friendship, it seemed logical to suspect her of having been his first partner.

“Not at all”, Neil said, “I wasn’t ready for sex back then, and I knew it.”

“I’m curious how you knew that about yourself.”

“I don’t make really important decisions up here”, he said, pointing to his forehead, “Instead, I go with what my soul tells me.”  He looked at me quizzically.  “Do you believe we have a soul, Paul?”

I didn’t want to sidetrack us into metaphysics, so I said, “I believe I can understand what you’re getting at.  Do you mean something like your sense of yourself…of who you are…of what’s right for you?”

“Yes!  That’s close!  I knew I wasn’t ready for sex because the opportunities never felt right to me.  None of them passed the soul test.  I didn’t want my first time to feel wrong in any way.”

“Was it ever hard waiting?”

“Sometimes.  Everyone else was having sex, and I wanted to have sex.  I was always horny.  It’s not like I wasn’t.”

“So what happened?” At that point, I wanted him to cut to the chase.

“Last year, I finally met the person I knew was right for me.  We met in a bar, but we weren’t drunk, and everything just clicked.  I knew she was the one.”

“Did you have sex that night?”

“No.  I called her on Thursday, a few days later, and we got together that Saturday.  I wasn’t in a hurry.  I knew it was going to happen.  I took her to dinner, and we went to her place afterwards.  That’s when I lost my virginity.  And I was right to wait. I was vindicated.  It was beautiful, Paul.  It felt perfect and it was beautiful.”

“Was it her first time too?”

“Oh no!  She was 26 last year — an older woman, and experienced.”

“Are you two still together?”

“No”, he said, “We never got together as a couple.  That wasn’t something she wanted or I wanted, and we understood that about each other from the start.  We’re friends now, but we’ve only had sex that one time.”

“I’m very proud,” he went on, “that I waited until everything felt right…until I knew it was right.”

“Not many people do that, Neil.”, I remarked, “Did your parents raise you to consult your soul?”  I had a strong suspicion at this point that Neil’s parents, both artists, raised him to pay careful attention to his “soul”.  It seemed like something artists would do naturally — perhaps even do necessarily.

“Very much so.”, Neil said, and he went on about that for a while.  But I wasn’t really following him at that point.

I’d begun to feel the beer and my mind was wandering back to the days when Neil was in high school and I was something of the neighborhood confident for a third of the kids at the Coffee Shop.  Neil had made the decision that was right for him and come out shining.  All in all, his story was one of the best I’d heard then or now, and I felt grateful to him for sharing it with me.


This post was originally published July 7, 2008, and was last updated April 23, 2017 for clarity.

Suzanne and the Nature of Abuse

(About a 7 minute read)

I’ve heard models described as vacuous airheads, but that doesn’t describe Suzanne unless someone can be both a vacuous airhead and an intelligent, creative, buoyant, and artistic woman.

I believe she was all of 14 years old when she first modeled lingerie for Victoria’s Secrets, the catalog and store company. She couldn’t have been much older because I met her when she was 16 and she was no longer modeling by then.

Over the years, Suzanne has revealed a persistent talent for getting fired from employments, so I strongly suspect she was no longer modeling by the time we met because Secrets had refused anything more to do with her. She’s not a vacuous airhead, but she is dysfunctional.

The story I’m prepared to tell you today concerns Suzanne, Victoria’s Secrets, and her abusive boyfriend. I’ve already introduced Suzanne and Victoria’s Secrets, so I’ll turn now to the boyfriend.

Meet Jeff*.

He’s one of those males who prey on women much younger than themselves. Jeff is 20 years older than Suzanne, and very few women his own age have ever sustained an interest in him. Jeff can be charming. He can be witty. He can be exciting. He can sweep a naive and inexperienced girl off her feet. Yet, most women see the looser in him. So Jeff has learned to specialize in the young, naive and inexperienced women he has some chance of getting.

Once he gets them, he doesn’t know what to do with them. He turns the affair into a drama, the drama into a tragedy, the tragedy into a nightmare. When you take some fish out of the water, their colors at first fascinate, then fade. Latter, the fish begin to stink. Any girl who lands Jeff sooner or later learns that in a relationship, he’s a fish out of water.

Young people almost invariably overestimate the odds in their favor of significantly changing someone, and especially they overestimate their odds of changing a lover. Maybe that’s because they are always being told by their parents, preachers, and teachers to change themselves, and so they assume it actually works when you tell people to change themselves.

In truth, the only person likely to change someone is the person themselves. And even then, seldom, if ever, is a person capable of a fundamental change: It’s not in the nature of water to become stone, nor of stone to become air.

In the few years Jeff and Suzanne were together, Suzanne wanted two things, both absurd. She wanted to change Jeff against his nature. And she wanted her own nature to bloom. The latter was absurd because Jeff had her under his thumb and was abusing her emotionally, psychologically, and physically. No one blooms under those conditions. At best, they merely endure.

If you yourself have seen a few abusive relationships, you know they are all alike, except for the details. The only detail of the relationship between Jeff and Suzanne that surprised me was that Jeff apparently never tried to keep Suzanne from seeing me.

I’m clueless why he didn’t. It’s a classic pattern of abuse that the abuser tries to prevent his victim from having any friends who are outside of his influence or control. But through much of the time she was with Jeff, Suzanne saw me almost daily. It’s true she seldom associated with me in Jeff’s presence, but we spent hours together while he was at work or off somewhere else. That sort of thing normally doesn’t happen in an abusive relationship.

Suzanne would look me up almost every day. We’d then go to a coffee shop, a movie, the mall, “The Well” — which was her favorite nudist resort — or we’d go hiking, or drive around Colorado for a few hours. Whatever amused us.

Once, we even went to Victoria’s Secrets. That was three or so years into Suzanne’s relationship with Jeff. That day, we’d gone to the mall.

When we were passing the Victoria’s Secrets store, Suzanne wanted to go in. The racks, of course, were full of lingerie, and Suzanne excitedly asked me to choose three sets for her to try on. She then took me back to a dressing room where she stripped and modeled the sets for me.

Christmas was a month off, so I asked her a lot of questions about each of the three sets, including which one felt the most comfortable — if I’m going to give lingerie to a woman, it damn well better be comfortable, especially at Victoria’s prices.

Looking at a young nude woman is at least as fascinating to me as watching a beautiful sunrise. Yet, I’m not usually more than moderately attracted to most young women’s sexuality. Their sexuality is more likely to depress me than to stimulate me, although I’m not quite sure why. At any rate, I certainly do not make a point of telling young women they aren’t all that sexy to me — I have my life to protect! So that day I told Suzanne, “This is a lot of fun for me — watching you model that sexy lingerie. If I’m having so much fun, think of how much fun it would be for Jeff! Why don’t you bring him out here?”

Suzanne didn’t answer immediately. When she did answer, her voice had gone strange. There was a tone in it I’d never heard before. In a way, it was a little girl’s voice. But perhaps it only sounded like a little girl’s voice because she was having difficulty controlling it. She said, “Jeff wouldn’t like it. If I did this with him, he’d call me a slut.”

We fell into silence. Then she began taking off the last set of lingerie in order to get back into her own clothes, but she was trembling.

When you abuse a woman, you prevent her from being true to herself. At it’s core, that’s what abuse really is — it’s unnecessarily preventing someone from being true to themselves.

Sometimes it comes out in ways that are large enough and important enough to easily describe. Like the woman whose husband prevents her from developing her musical genius so that the world looses a classical pianist. But much more often, abuse comes out in ways that are harder to see, such as when a woman trembles in a dressing room because her lover will not, or cannot, accept her sexuality whole and complete, just as it is, without condemning it.

Those harder to see ways are as criminal as the other. You don’t need to beat a woman to abuse her. You can just as well kill a person’s sense of themselves, their self-esteem, their self direction — by a thousand tiny cuts.

By the time I met Suzanne I was too old and had seen too much wickedness to harbor any fantasy that I could reason with her into leaving Jeff. I knew she was confused beyond reason, frightened into uncertainty, blinded by her feelings, and emotionally dependent on him. So, I did the only things I thought I could do, which were never that great nor enough.

For the most part, that amounted to just accepting her for herself.


*The Jeff in this story should not be confused with the Jeff in 50 Shades of Jeff: Profile of a Promiscuous Man.  The two “Jeffs” were very different people in almost every way imaginable, although they knew each other.

Note: This story was last updated on April 20, 2017 for clarity.

The Gifts of AL Remington

(About a 4 minute read)

It was difficult to beat Al. I think I only did it once. Or, maybe, I didn’t. Maybe I just came close. He was strongest in the endgame.

If you let him get that far — and it was hard not to — he had you beat.

Al said he learned chess when he was in the army, stationed in Greenland, with nothing else to do but his job and learn chess. By the time I met him, he was in his 60s, still enthusiastic about the game, and the man to beat at the Coffee Shop. He was a gentle man, reserved, modest, but exuding an air of dignity and confidence, much like a good father or grandfather. In his 60s, he drove a dark blue Cadillac on wet days and rode a Harley when the sun was out.

One day I discovered the Coffee Shop didn’t purchase the chess sets it had on hand. It was Al who did that. He would search garage sales for abandoned sets, buy them, and bring them to the Shop. He had to do that over and over again because people would loose pieces. But he didn’t mind. It was his hobby.

I think it must have been Al who got “everyone” — at least a third of the regular customers — playing chess. There were always two or three games going back then. Half the regular customers were kids and most of the kids were taught the game by Al. That is, someone else would usually teach them the basic moves — then Al would teach them the art.

Not just the art of chess, but other things too. He taught kids how to win graciously, how to loose without animosity, how to be fair (he’d spot the less skilled players a piece or two), and even how to keep a poker face. He never lost his temper, he was always encouraging, and he taught values. For instance: There wasn’t a kid at the Coffee Shop Al disdained to play, nor one he disrespected.

Several of the adults who hung out at the Shop were uncertain characters, but not Al. One man, Tim, was only there to proselytize the kids for Christ and had no other point in befriending them. Another man, Jeff, in his mid-thirties, was obsessed with getting laid by teens. A third man, who called himself Attila, dressed immaculately, neatly trimmed his white beard, and pretended to have wealth and connections. He would come every day to the Shop with his son, who he’d named Khan, and who was 15 and had lost his spirit. Attila would speak about Khan as if Khan wasn’t present and sitting right next to him: I’ve never in my life heard a more verbally abusive father. Unlike those characters, Al cared for the kids.

Al never told you he liked kids, but he did. He’d surely raised enough of them: Four biological children, two or three adopted children, and a number of foster children. I figure teaching them chess was Al’s way of raising up the Coffee Shop kids. He spoke to me several times of his belief that playing chess developed good, solid thinking skills. But he never quite said he considered himself on a mission to help the Coffee Shop kids. Saying something like that wasn’t Al’s style.

Al died at his home a couple years ago at age 72. I read his obituary to discover he was a minister. He hadn’t spoken of that; had never proselytized me; nor — so far as I know — had he proselytized any of the kids. I guess that wasn’t his style, either. Instead, he just served others.

Nowadays, I drop by the Coffee Shop once or twice a month. The kids Al and I knew have grown up and moved on. No one today plays chess. The adults sit with adults and the kids sit with kids. Maybe that’s the way people feel it should be.

I was reminded of Al earlier today by a comment Ordinary Girl left on another post. She mentioned how adults stay away from kids for fear of being thought creepy. That got me to thinking of how Al, born in 1933, belonged to another generation — one that had a stronger sense of community and wasn’t so set against mixing the ages. Yet, I wonder how kids are supposed to grow up with few adults in their lives?

Are they supposed these days to learn what they need to be a functional adult from Hollywood, the entertainment industry, and advertising? It seems to me we too often leave kids these days to be raised by the media.

Somethings we can only learn from another person. Things we cannot learn from a book, a movie, the television, popular music, or a video game. Somethings we must learn through our interactions with others. And some of those things that can only be learned through our interactions with others are very important. I discovered when I hung out with teens that many teens had what struck me then as a thirst to hang out with adults. I suspect they needed encouragement, insight into themselves, support, and affirmation, among other things. Those are not things we easily get from a book or movie.

Yet, it’s not a one-way street. I believe there can be tremendous benefits for an adult to having kids in his or her life. For one thing, watching a new generation grow up, seeing it go through the same things you once went through, can give you an invaluable perspective on life and a profound acceptance of your own aging.

I’ve come to believe any society which separates the generations will sooner or later pay a price for it. It even seems to me unnatural. I doubt any previous society has headed as far in that direction as ours. And, to me, it is all part of the larger break down of genuine community. It seems our societies are becoming increasingly fragmented, and I am unsure where that will eventually leave us. I rather hope Al’s generation is not the last to mix ages.


Note: Al was a grand- or great grandnephew of Frederic Remington, the painter.

Marah’s Hidden Love

(About a 5 minute read)

I was disappointed, when I arrived at the coffee shop many years ago, to see Chris standing outside, talking with an impossibly beautiful young woman, for I wanted to visit with him, but I was reluctant to interrupt what looked like an easy-going, friendly conversation.

Nevertheless, Chris waved me over.

After he and I exchanged pleasantries, he introduced me, “This is my half-sister, Marah”.  Marah immediately burst into a smile as bright as the day was sunny, we briefly greeted each other, Chris spoke again, and so I turned back to him.  And that was almost the full extent of my introduction to Marah.

She disappeared from my consciousness almost at once after we’d exchanged pleasantries  — disappeared until a few minutes later when, for some reason I can no longer recall, I suddenly got to wondering how old she was.

I thought it would be awkward to straight-forward ask her because the question would most likely seem to her to come from out of the blue, so I asked Chris how old he was.

“By the way, Chris, I’ve forgotten how old you said you were.  I’m 39.”   He told me he was 19, and then, after a moment’s pause, Marah pitched in, “I’m 16.”

Mission accomplished.  And that was all of it, the whole introduction.  I didn’t see Marah again for about a year.  One day she showed up at the coffee shop again, and we soon began hanging out with each other daily.

“Hanging out” consisted almost entirely of sitting together at the shop, mostly in the afternoons, and usually at one of the sidewalk tables.  Typically, we’d engage each other in idle conversations.  The conversations were so idle in fact that it took me a fairly long time to realize Marah was just as bright as she was beautiful. Not only was she bright, but she was quite level-headed, too.  Not a bit of the drama queen about her.

Yet, just about the same moment I realized Marah was exceptionally bright, she suddenly quit coming to the coffee shop again.

I can no longer recall whether it was one, or two, years before she showed up after that, but we got to hanging out again, until — once again — she disappeared for a year or more.  And so it went with her and me for several years.

Then one night, when Marah was about 24 or so, and “back in town”, so to speak, she was visiting me at my place when something very strange happened.

It began this way: First, for some godawful reason, I spent a couple hours uncharacteristically holding back my need to pee until almost the last possible moment.  Finally, I rose up from chair, intending on making a straight path to the bathroom.  But at that moment, Marah suddenly shot up from the floor, where she’d been sitting, and intercepted me.

She wrapped her arms around me in a very tight embrace, and pressed her half-turned face into my chest.  In a slightly raised voice, she said very emphatically, “I love you, Paul!  I have always loved you!”

Her words were indeed so emphatic that, even though I was quite surprised, I instinctively believed her.

Then, the dumbest words came to my mind.  And perhaps because I was in a hurry, I didn’t waste time searching for any better ones.  “I know you do.  Please excuse me for a moment.”

When I got back, I added to the mess I was making of things by deciding to pretend nothing had happened between us.  Marah waited about 30 more minutes, then said her goodbyes and left.  Afterwards, we saw each other now and then, but Marah had put distance between us.

Why had I turned her down that night?  You might suppose it had something to do with our gap in ages, but that would not be the case.  I knew even then of more than one happy marriage between couples 20 years apart, including an exceptionally happy one. While I knew such marriages have their own unique difficulties, I also knew those difficulties were not always crucial.

Most likely, it wasn’t my celibacy, either.  My celibacy has never been a matter of having vowed to be celibate.  It’s always been a matter of having felt a need or desire to be celibate.  I can’t be sure, but I think it’s likely I would not have felt a need to be celibate with Marah — had I bothered to check my heart on the matter that evening.

Rather than any of that, it was that I simply thought I knew better than Marah what was best for Marah.

When she said, “I love you!”, she said it with such emotion that I instantly believed her.

Yet, by the time I returned from the bathroom, I was suspecting she didn’t know her own heart — an adult woman who was almost certainly smarter than me, and at least possibly more insightful — only because she was so much younger.

I don’t know whether to properly call that “arrogance”, but I think it might have been close to it.  It wasn’t like I made my decision based on my own feelings and desires in the matter; I didn’t even take a real moment to consult my own feelings and desires.  No, so far as I can still recall nowadays, I decided to reject Marah solely on the basis of feeling I knew her heart better than she did because I held myself to be older and wiser than her.

Were her words really sincere?  Of course, I’m unlikely to ever know a firm answer to that because it’s unlikely now that I’ll ever be in a position to ask her.  We haven’t seen each other in years, and even if we do meet again, it’s unlikely I’ll feel comfortable bringing up that evening again.

On the one hand, Marah had given me a few hints now and then that she could be interested in me as more than only a friend.  She’d once or twice passionately kissed me, for example.  But on the other hand, they weren’t great hints, and if her words really were true, then why had she stayed away from me for such long stretches of time?

If Marah really did love me, I have to conclude she hid it even better than she hid her exceptional intelligence.   Most of us have at one time or another in our lives hidden our love — or at least hidden our attraction — for someone.  It’s quite a common thing to do.  I can’t put it entirely past Marah to have done that.  And so, it must forever remain a mystery to me what was really going on with her that evening.

Which raises a question to my mind, “When, if ever, is it a good or necessary thing to hide one’s love for someone from them?”   Your thoughts, feelings, and insights are welcome.  Please weigh in!

 

50 Shades of Jeff: Profile of a Promiscuous Man

(About a 14 minute read) 

Jeff and I had an oddball relationship.  We were not truly friends, we certainly were not enemies, but we were more than casual acquaintances.

We met at a coffee shop where we were both daily customers.   Luke introduced us one afternoon.  I noted that Jeff was a handsome, rather short man, with a somewhat deep, slightly husky voice.

A few minutes later,  a couple of people walked up to Jeff with one of them saying something along the lines of,  “Jeff!  You’re back in town!  When?”  Luke promptly took advantage of Jeff being distracted to take me aside a few paces. He whispered, “He’s always carrying. Just so you know.”

“What does ‘carrying’ mean?”

Luke very briefly looked surprised and then whispered again, this time slowly, “He conceal carries a Beretta 9mm pistol in a holster strapped under his left arm.  You will never see it, but never forget about it, because it’s always there.”  I nodded and then we rejoined Jeff, who was no longer distracted.

About a quarter hour later, Jeff said something to Luke that I no longer recall, but in response to which Luke laughed loudly and said, “You’re a sick, sick man, Jeff.  But we all love you!”

It was the first time I ever heard that cliché and so I thought Luke was being witty but serious; and it stuck in my head as a first impression of Jeff: Something was wrong with the man, but he seemed well liked.

I soon enough learned that Jeff saw himself as some sort of pick up artist.  He had a little two or three sentence long speech that he told anyone at the coffee shop who’d listen.  The part I remember went, “I lost count of the number of women that I’ve slept with at 200 women.  When I reached 200, I thought, ‘Why should I count anymore?'”

One night during the summer I met Jeff, I was sitting on a park bench at two in the morning one night, enjoying my insomnia by savoring the night air,  when two teens jumped me without either one of them making even the least discernible effort to politely introduce themselves beforehand, an appalling lack of manners that I found rather alarming at the time.

I suppose they wanted money.  Unlucky for them, I miraculously mucked my way into somehow gaining the upper hand. They fled down the street, and I –without really thinking it through — instinctively chased them for a few yards like an idiot before realizing that they were both faster than me and — after all — still outnumbered me.  I decided not to tempt the Goddess of Luck, Spontaneous Erections in Men Over 80, and Durable Chinese Goods any further.  Besides, my usual policy is to back out of any confrontation unless I’m forced to fight, then I try to fight like a wildcat and just as dirty as river mud.

The next morning I woke up with a gorgeous black eye.  When Jeff saw it at the coffee shop later that day he asked for the particulars.  I told him the story and thought it would end with that.  But Jeff wasn’t content.  “Can you tell me anything, Paul, anything to identify them?”  I described the kids as best I could recall.  Jeff pressed for more.  I couldn’t recall anything more about their looks, so I speculated about their habits, “They’re most likely local kids and night owls, Jeff.  So I bet they hang out at the Denny’s”.   That seemed to satisfy him.

A day or two later, Jeff had some news for me.  He had decided to indulge himself a bit of good old-fashioned vigilantism.  Reminding me of my speculation that the teens were night owls, he gone to the Denny’s in the wee hours of the morning.  As it happened, he’d overheard two teens talking about encountering an “old man” [Author’s note:  “OLD man”? The nerve!]  in the park the night before.

Jeff waited until the teens left the restaurant then followed.  Presently, the two split up, most likely on their way to separate homes.  Jeff trailed the boy he’d overheard claim credit for “popping one right in the prick’s eye”.  He caught up with the unfortunate boy, attacked him, reduced him to the ground, and then jerked and twisted the boy’s right arm up and in way that Jeff knew was pretty sure to rip tendons.

“I want to make this clear Paul.  I didn’t do it for you.  I did it because this is my town.  My town, my home, and I take it personally when someone messes with the quality of life around here.

“By the way, I watched which hand he used to pick up his soda glass at Denny’s.  I wanted to make sure I tore up the correct arm — the arm he used in punching you.  He won’t be punching anyone else with that arm for a few weeks now.”

That night I myself went to the restaurant.  I wasn’t looking for the teens, I didn’t think they’d be around after what had happened.  But there he was: His arm raised up in a cast.  As I passed his table he looked up at me, “Is it over?” he asked.

“Yeah, it’s over”, I said, feeling an improbable empathy for him, “It’s done if you’re done.”  The boy nodded and assured me he was done.  I secretly hoped Jeff thought it was done, too.  If he didn’t, I aimed to have a word with him.

Jeff and I didn’t start hanging out daily with each other until a few weeks later.  It soon seemed to me that he had an opinion on nearly everything, and that he delivered his opinions authoritatively, as if thinking himself equally well-informed on all subjects.  I seldom more than half-listened to him.  Still, I wasn’t in the habit back then of avoiding people, and Jeff always came over to sit with me when he saw me at the coffee shop,  so we spent considerable time together for awhile.

His single most intense, sustained effort to get his opinions across to me came about due to a miscommunication.

A couple days before the incident, Becky had introduced me to her younger sister, Theresa, who was visiting from Los Angeles.  Theresa was an erotic dancer so drop-jaw, stop-in-your-tracks gorgeous that a bad night for her as a dancer was to earn only $1000 in tips.  She was also, I thought from the moment I met her, obnoxious.

I tried to hide my instant distaste for her, which was almost solely based on her use of the word “darling” when first addressing me.   But Theresa picked up on my feelings.  Instead of firing back at my momentary insanity, however,  she much more reasonably decided to simply change my mind.

The next day, she invited me to breakfast at Becky’s house.  I went, Theresa cooked a delicious breakfast for me, and I left in honest admiration of her clever “hash browns diplomacy”, and also feeling rightfully guilty for having put her to it.

Later that morning, I was sitting at a sidewalk table with Jeff and three other men when Theresa walked by, dressed for the summer weather in a tank top and tight pair of shorts.  When she saw me, she burst into a huge, friendly smile, waved, and called to me by name.  But she didn’t pause, and instead kept on walking.  Every eye at the table followed her receding figure raptly.  Then, once she was well down the street, every eye almost at once turned to me.

“How do you know her?”, someone demanded.  “Can you introduce me?”, someone else laughed.

Without thinking through the impression my words would make, I answered the first question, “That’s Theresa.  She’s a new friend, I just met her.  She made breakfast for me this morning.”  I looked around.  Everyone had knowing smiles on their faces, and some were nodding approvingly.

“She’s just a friend”, I said.  Someone mumbled, “Sure”, and there were a couple short laughs.  I decided to remain silent and thus dig no further down in the hole I’d made for myself.

Jeff had remained silent through all of it.  But the moment the last person at our table save him and me had left, Jeff stood up, removed all the chairs from the table except our own (“So we won’t be interrupted”, he mysteriously said), and then sat down opposite to me.  Leaning forward, he demanded with unusual intensity, “Truth!  Did you two fuck?”

“No!”, I was a bit pissed he’d even ask, but I added, politely enough, “I’m voluntarily celibate, Jeff.”

“Voluntarily. Celibate.”  He slowly repeated, while looking at me like I’d just then told him “roses make great lawnmowers”.

Jeff then launched himself into what can only be described as a two hour pitch directed at selling me on becoming a pick up artist.  I simple zoned out, leaving him to ramble on while I enjoyed the beautiful weather.  Today, I don’t recall a specific word of what he said, but I do remember the passionate intensity with which he spoke.

From the day forward, he seemed to feel a need to save me from my incomprehensible celibacy.  I sometimes thought he was behaving like an Evangelical preacher who can’t restrain himself from proselytizing atheists, and that I was the king of atheists to him.

One thing Jeff never did is tell anyone who he slept with.  Even if the woman herself openly claimed she’d slept with him  — and a few did — and Jeff knew she openly claimed it, he would refuse to confirm it.  I once, and once only witnessed Jeff “pick up” a woman.

I’ve come across websites that teach step-by-step methods for picking up women.  Jeff’s approach was nothing at all like theirs.  Sometimes those sites recommend that you attack a woman’s self-esteem in order to tear her down psychologically and thus make her vulnerable to your advances.  I think Jeff would have reacted to those sites like he once reacted to my telling him I preferred to be celibate.  What I witnessed  was Jeff doing the opposite of what those sites recommend.

Watching him was, to an extent, like watching a chameleon change colors.  I stated earlier that Jeff usually came across as opinionated and perhaps even arrogant.  Normally, he would talk to both men and women that way.  But all of that dropped like a mask the moment Jeff got serious about someone.

Suddenly, he was the woman’s favorite brother, or her most trusted confidante, or her most down to earth friend, or her oldest friend, as comfortable to be with as worn shoes.

Moreover, Jeff did nothing that came across to me as “making an effort to impress”.   He seem  to put his ego aside and was instead attentive to the woman.   He displayed unforced, effortless curiosity about the woman and an easy-going respect for her.

It was quite the tour de force, and it reminded me of an extraordinary salesman I once knew — a man who had broken 100 year sales records for a Fortune 500 company that he’d worked for — and who had mentored me when I was relatively new to sales.

Over the years, a small number of women  — maybe five or six — have either mentioned to me, or at least hinted to me, that they slept with Jeff.  Only one of those women had a wholly negative view of him, claiming that Jeff had gotten her pregnant.  Jeff himself claimed that he’d had a vasectomy, and he was rather proud that he’d “never left any unwanted bastards in this world”.  One woman spoke of him as if Jeff was some fondly remembered, but hopelessly crazy friend that she kept at arm’s length.  Another confessed to me that she thought herself “superficial” for wanting sex with him, but she loved it anyway.  The rest, so far as I can recall now, had wholly positive views of him.

Did Jeff really sleep with “hundreds of women”?  Naturally I don’t believe that for a moment.  But for various reasons, I suspect that Jeff slept with more than his fair share, as they say.  Yet, despite the women in his life, Jeff was a fundamentally unhappy man.

In addition to his little speech about the number of women he’d slept with, Jeff had another little speech he seemed to have memorized from repeating it so frequently to so many people.  “I’m giving myself until the day I turn 45 to get myself straightened out.  If I still cannot hack anything but a twisted, fucked-up life on that day, then I’m going to put an end to it.  One way or the other, the mess I’ve made of my life is going to be over.”

I never knew whether to take Jeff seriously or not when he’d say that.  I knew almost nothing at the time about the psychology of suicide.

What did Jeff mean by his “twisted, fucked-up life”?  I think it’s most likely he was referring to two things at once.  First, Jeff seemed unable to keep a steady job.  Mostly he did  piecework for people, such as painting their house.  There were often long periods between one job and the next.  I knew Jeff to now and then go for a few days without food, or to live in no more than his pickup truck for up to months at a time.  And I know from remarks he made to me that his instability bothered him.

The second thing you might find ironic.  In the time I knew him, Jeff fell in love with three or four women in widely spaced succession.  Each time, he tried to make a life together with her.  Get a place, keep a job, practice monogamy; that sort of thing.  It never worked out for him.  I think the longest relationship he ever had with someone he loved lasted less than six months.

Jeff took the breakups hard.  And whenever he spoke to me about them, he blamed himself.  The sad irony, of course, was that the guy who could get all the women he wanted could not keep even one.

Jeff hanged himself on his 45th birthday.  Either on that day or very near to it, so far as I can recall now. There was a memorial set up for him at the coffee shop, with a jar for donations that would go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.   For a couple weeks to a month afterwards, people brought him up in their conversations, saying for the most part the usual things that people say after someone kills themselves.  Then, the conversations about him dwindled in number, faded into time, and he became rarely spoken of.

 

Those Sexy Nudists Exposed! (But Safe For Most Work Environments)

If you have never spent much time at nudist resorts, it might seem counter-intuitive to you that people are sexiest when at least partly clothed, but it is true to at least my own experience.

I should have hundreds of memories of naked women from the times I’ve been to resorts.  And, there is both a way in which I do — and a way in which I don’t.

To illustrate: A young friend of mine is a former Victoria’s Secret’s model.  Over the years, she and I have been to nudist resorts somewhere between 20 and 40 times.  Out of all the times seeing her nude, I can only recall one image of her I associate with sexy, even despite her physical beauty.

That image comes from a late afternoon when I began wondering why I had so often been nude with Suzanne, but didn’t lump the memories I had of her nude in with my fondest memories of sexy women.  So I made a conscious effort to thing of her as sexy.  And it worked.  Even today, years later, if I reminiscence for awhile on the sexy looking women I’ve known, the image of her that afternoon is likely to pop up sooner or later.

I have at least three or four other images like that of women I’ve been to nudist resorts with.  Images I easily recall when I’m thinking of sexy women I’ve seen.  But in contrast to those images — perhaps less than half a dozen in all — I have seemingly endless memories of women walking down the street in tight shorts, short skirts, or flouncy dresses.

I imagine like most folks, I could spend a good hour or two — and probably have — just pulling up memories of sexy people I’ve seen in different venues — some from decades ago.  But so few are from nudist resorts.  I cannot be absolutely certain — memory is difficult to assess — but my guess is I have for the most part stored my nudist memories separately from my, “Wow! Look at her!” memories.

Now why is that?

Near as I can figure both from my own experience, and from talking with others about it,  nudists do not regard nudity as primarily a sexual experience, except perhaps when they are still novices at nudism.  Instead, nudity seems to be more an experience of openness, tolerance, and acceptance, than of sexuality.

That doesn’t mean the sexual feelings are entirely absent.  But those feelings are far from dominant. They are typically secondary — or perhaps even further down the ladder than secondary.  That is, in both my own experience, and — so far as I can tell — in the experience of many other nudists, you’re not oblivious to sex, but you usually become strangely insensitive to it.

I do not wish to give the impression I am against mixing sex with nudism.  For all I know, it would be mind-blowing to have sex at a nudist resort.  Nudity is a very emotionally intimate experience.  I can imagine adding to that physical intimacy.  And I know couples who do; I have yet to hear any of them complain.

Yet, so far as I can see, sex is not intrinsic to nudism.  I can see making it sexy.  But I don’t see it as necessarily sexy.  Indeed, it seems seeing someone on the street in tight pants is most often sexier than seeing them nude at a resort.

If that’s the case, why do you suppose that is?

Your Entertainment or Your Life?

Suppose — suppose just for the sake of supposing things — that one of the ancient goddesses descended from the mountain with the alarming news that you were to pick one dozen — and no more than one dozen — memories from life to take with you into the underworld.  If that were the case, then what dozen memories would you choose?

Specifically, would any of those memories be of movies, concerts, sporting events, books, and such like things?  Would you choose to remember in the underworld the events and things that entertained you in life?  Or would you be more inclined to reserve your one dozen slots for memories of, say, your friends and family?

Would you reserve any of those twelve slots for political events?  For kings and battles?  For things that happened on the job?  For moments when you made a discovery?  For  moments when something became clear to you?  Would you record births, marriages, and deaths?  What would you pick to recall later among the shades?

I got to wondering along those lines tonight.  Earlier, I was thinking about an almost entirely insignificant event that took place over a dozen years ago.  It suddenly occurred to me that silly little event might actually mean more to me than all the movies, concerts, sporting events, and books I’d seen or read in my life. But I have no idea why that is the case.

I was living at the time in Manitou, which is a small Colorado town that sometimes seems unable to decide whether it is perched among foothills or among mountains, whether it is a tourist trap or an artist’s colony, whether it is a town full of Christians or a town full of Pagans, whether it is a resort or a refuge.  In short, it could be all those things.

I was woken up one night by voices calling my name.  I think some part of me must have assumed only storm troopers would come for me in the middle of the night, so, before I was actually awake, I bolted up in bed and shouted out while three-quarters still asleep, “Are you from the IRS?”

As it turned out, it was past two in the morning, and the voices belonged to Brett, Steve, and the Spanish Woman.  The Spanish Woman has a birth name that is all but absolutely unique in this world — and that sounds a little bit like a struck match flaring to life.

However, if I wrote her name here, anyone on earth would be able to identify her through Google in less than an instant.  So, to honor and preserve her privacy, since she is the only woman in the world named, Fitzlestein, I will call her on this blog simply, “The Spanish Woman”.

“It’s us”, I heard, “Open the door, for we have with us a jug of whiskey.”  So, I got in a hurry from my bed to open the door, and — behold! — it was true: They had brought with them a plastic milk carton full of whiskey.  “Bring the jug in!”, I said, “And yourselves with it!”

Something about being woken up at that hour by those three people amused me.  I was perhaps 45 that year.  Brett, Steve, and the Spanish Woman were in their late teens or early twenties, and it seemed to me timeless and eternal that they should — at their ages — simply get it into their heads I might want to go drinking at past two in the morning.

Now, not a thing that happened that night is very important or significant, yet, I would still choose to take the memory of it with me into the underworld.

At some point, one of us — I don’t recall who — pointed out the moon was full.  Someone else then said, “The moon is full?  Let’s go fuck it then!”  And Brett responded, “Aye, that moon, that saucy moon deserves to get laid tonight.”

The Spanish Woman then suggested, “Let’s go to the creek, and fuck the moon from there.”  So, we went to the foot bridge over the creek in Manitou at about three in the morning, and lay down on the bridge with our jug of whiskey in order to that much better fuck the moon.

The rest of the night was as equally unimportant as the part of it that I’ve described here. I have no real idea why I would carry the memory of that night into Hades with me.  I just know the night seems more to me than all the kings and battles I’ve ever heard of, than all the concerts, sporting events, and movies I’ve attended, than all the books I’ve read and songs I’ve heard.

If you yourself were faced with the same choice of which dozen memories to take with you into the underworld, which memories would you decide to take, and how would you decide between the ones you carried with you and all the others?