P. Qua P. [from CITY OF AMATEURS]

photo by SG

P was British. Tall P, yellow-haired, green-eyed, slender and fit, was from the lovely resort town of B_____.  Nice thick 1970s-cut hair had P, and dimples and big white teeth. A fading bottle tan rendered her skin tone sweetly sallow. She looked good in white t-shirt, jeans and motorcycle boots and she was a little older than she appeared to be at first glance but that was a plus, in his opinion. All the wisdom of those five extra years without the apparent wear and tear;  forty years compressed into what looked like a thirty-five year old package. The wear and tear was on the inside. The wear and tear was in her skull.

“Excuse me,” she said, “Do you speak English? Where’s the next tube station? Will you walk me there?” In town for a Buddhist retreat or convention or something. Alright, okay: Buddhist. Better than Baptist, at least. What Salter liked most was the Eliza Doolittle accent that P would put on, pronouncing “lady” as “lie-dee” and even trotting out a few “blimeys” from time to time for laughs.

It only took about four hours, gallivanting around Berlin like backpacking teenagers, for P and Salter to develop a rudimentary system of inside jokes and catch-phrases and by the end of the day they were holding hands. When he put her on the train to Frankfurt (from where she’d be flying back to the U.K. the next day) they indulged in a lingering kiss goodbye. Walking home from the train station he was shadowed by an unexpected melancholy, but not because she was gone.

Salter did not, could not,  kid himself that he was falling in love. What Salter and P both seemed to be willing to settle for was a good-natured, no-sweat mimicry of passion as they remembered enjoying it in their twenties. They’d both hit 40 with an aversion to drama. No risk, no fun is a German saying but the Germans hate risk and rarely have fun and he was feeling the influence of his environment. When he was young he was into beginnings just as now he is into middles: middle-age, middle-class, middle-of-the-road, fair-to-middlin’, etc., and none of the taxing passions (each representing a beginning and an ending with no middle) of the bad old days…those brief ecstatic super-highs he invariably paid for with shattering dunks in the slough of despond. P felt much the same way but the trick was in not coming right out and saying it, or even being conscious of the fact…the trick was letting the subconscious hoard the truth as its terrible treasure. Salter liked P but if he had learned, the very next day, of her Discount Jet failing catastrophically to land without incident, he would not have been moved to shed a tear. Which may or may not be chilling. But that’s what growing up is all about: crying less and less over the fate of others and more and more over the fate of one’s self.

What did Salter like so much about P ? She had a good body, nice face, pleasant personality. The value of his body’s stock was not rising. Grab somebody while we still can, his body was pleading. The Germans call it Torschlusspanik, the panic of the closing door. The Americans call it musical chairs,  which is exactly the kind of passion-free calculation that the young abhor in the wise. He visualized, without pain, the possibility of ending up in B_____, patrolling the beach in a warm overcoat at dusk after a cozy dinner, white-haired and introspective and stripped of worrisome passions or options or that persistent nag, the Hope demon.

Over the following weeks they spoke on the phone every day, at exactly the same time. The aridity of the modern childhood creates that in us, a longing for rituals, for traditions. It was touching. She’d call him just as she was sitting down to eat her delicious microwave dinner while gazing out the big bay window upon the picturesque street angling down towards the brilliantined wrinkles of the sea. And all the bright bay windows across the street with none of their curtains drawn, either. Salter enjoyed the sound of her chewing in his ear. He’d had a lover once who couldn’t stand the sound of chewing. Mixed nuts would have her sticking her fingers in her ears in the next room and a bag of chips would have her out on the window ledge. It could very well be that P chewing in his ear on the telephone,  and not minding to hear Salter chewing in hers, won him over against certain perceived debits in her personality and her history. A man seriously considers spending the rest of his life with a woman because she chews in his ear during phone calls.

He considered marrying her. Even after learning over the phone that she’d spent ten years living as an expat lesbian in San Francisco, earning good money as a stripper. She earned “pots of cash” in one of the oldest tit joints in the city, the anti-erotically named LUVLEE LADY, with its red velvet draperies and uncle-spunk ambiance. Do they or do they not, wondered Salter, during the course of the conversation, turn tricks for quick cash backstage? Salter hadn’t seen her piercings but when she spoke of them, and the stripping, and the physically abusive lover who had driven her (with sisterly kicks and punches) back towards the plausibility of a relationship with a man (“Making up after a fistfight with your girlfriend is kind of an anticlimax,” as she put it)…he was intrigued and lightly revolted. She was good on the phone and revealed a streak of Celtic garrulity when touching upon the topics of her booze-addled father (“imagine an English Richard Pryor…from Yorkshire…whatever that means”), her job (“Don’t get me started…”), and her experience with black men (“None, but open to edification, Darlin’.”).

“I mean,” she said, “what’s it like?” Loik. “Is it fat and purple or long and black or…what? Is it positively elephantine, like they say? God, you must think me an awful slag to ask!”

“Not at all…how will you learn things if you never ask?”

“Well…” he could picture her smiling coyly, “…I can think of one way I could learn: you could show me.”

“Love to.”

“And I could show you.”

“Show me what?”

“Hmmm.” She smacked her lips. “I could show you…my naughty little party trick.”

He had never much cared for the word naughty. His inner-voice reacted strongly to the word “naughty” and urged him to forget it; to call it off over this one word, pronto. But rational elements of his mind complained, quite reasonably, that you can’t just drop a woman for having used one wrong word. There ought to be dozens of them first.

“Your naughty little party trick,” he repeated, with neutral inflection.

“Yep. My naughty little party trick.”

“How little?”

“Ever hear of a thing called female ejaculation?”

“Sure.” Salter cleared his throat. “Ever hear of the Loch Ness Monster?”

“Har har.”

“Tell me more about stripping.”

“What do you want to know?”

“Didn’t it make you hate men?”

“You’re putting the carriage before the horse, darlin’. And hate is too strong a word. I don’t hate anyone…I’m a Buddhist.”

“But you felt, shall we say, contempt for them.”

“My mum bought me a dehumidifier years ago. Right? I should probably warn you that I have mild asthma, by the way. Anyway, the dehumidifier sits unobtrusively in a corner of my living room, and it’s always just humming away. Naughty me, I’ve never changed the filter, if you can imagine…couldn’t be bothered, innit? I’m sure this dehumidifier is absolute shite at this point…good for nothing at all. But I’d rather not deal with it because of the thought of what’s going on under the lid…what with that grotty old filter and all…it gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it. But it’s too bleeding massive to chuck in the bin, see. So I just…you know…it just sits there, where it’s always been, plugged in but useless. I don’t even really look at it any more…I vacuum around it a few times a week and that’s the extent of it. See what I mean? It’s just…,” he could hear that she was looking over her shoulder at it, “…it’s just there.”

“So…”

“That’s how I saw those blokes in the strip joint. I mean, it’s not like I was stripping for them. I was stripping ‘cuz my boss told me to, and I got paid for it, and no, I never turned a trick for cash…and you haven’t answered my questions about your dick, by the way.”

“I haven’t?”

“Not very comfortable talking about old dickie, are you?”

“It’s not that I’m uncomfortable…more that the topic…offends me,” he surprised himself saying. “You know: black male. Big dick. Blah blah blah.”

“Oh God, I’ve been racially insensitive, haven’t I?”

“Believe me, you ain’t the first, Honey.”

“That was cute.”

“What?”

“The way you just said ain’t.”

When he didn’t respond to that she asked, “So then, how big is it?”

After chatting like this for almost a month they made plans for her to visit him in Berlin for a weekend, based on the grownup theory that three days in his flat together would be an accurate test of their compatibility. The morning she left for Stansted Airport (the cheapest route to that airport from B_____ took more than twice as long as the flight to Berlin) it was chilly in B_____, so P dressed accordingly. Which meant the baggy black running pants she’d painted her kitchen in, an old anorak and a ridiculous bobble hat.

Salter makes it to the airport quite early.

He doesn’t want to chance being late and having P get off the plane and walk through customs without him there to meet her. When he first finds the arrivals gate, no one else is waiting for the late flight from London. He is about thirty minutes early. This gives him plenty of time to think. One thing he keeps thinking about is how not excited he is to be awaiting  P’s arrival. He dwells on this. He’d much rather be in bed, alone, preparing to watch the Grammies.

A crowd eventually forms in front of Salter, a small-but-intense crowd of people more eager than he is to peer into the arrival lounge as loved-ones disembark the plane with the dazed gratitude of the living and line up to yank luggage off the sluggish conveyor. The crowd consists of the usual: girlfriends, grannies, grandchildren, wives, best friends, hotel-sent drivers holding signs saying ZIEGELDORF, etc. Directly in front of Salter paces a serious-looking middle-aged man in creased gray trousers, dress shoes and a leather jacket, nervous or anxious as hell, glancing at his watch incessantly and clutching a significant bouquet of roses. This guy’s been thinking about this moment for days and weeks, thinks Salter. This guy knows the score: life is short, find someone, buy her roses, pick her up at the airport. When the plane lands and his lover gets off it’ll be Christmas for them, Salter nods to himself, enviously. She might be plain or old or downright ugly but it won’t matter because he obviously cares for her and that’s what matters; I bet they’ve been together for twenty years; I wish I had someone to care for. He sighs audibly. I wish I had someone to wait at the airport for with a bouquet of roses.

But Salter is far from prepared for what happens when he sees the serious beau (not much younger than Salter himself) see his girl with creases of joy at his eyes and he gestures excitedly through the glass at her and she is the most unbearably beautiful girl in a Navy Peacoat, a fine-boned brunette with lustrous hair and exotic eyes and an incredible pre-Raphaelite profile and she hurries on her long legs without luggage through customs and practically pirouettes into the arms of the middle-aged guy who drops the bouquet to catch her: a fair trade, a lyric metaphor, and the crowd around them smiles, the people all smile, and Salter is flooded with feelings of …its just unfair, is all, and he’s hurt and he knows it’s ridiculous but still it’s unfair and it hurts.

And then P comes out in her bobble hat and baggy pants and anorak, red-nosed, walking with that foalish pigeon-toed gait; that asinine counterfeit of helpless youth she affects; looking befuddled and old nevertheless; mouth open…a caricature of dowdy British spinsterhood, dragging her wheeled plaid suitcase behind her…and it is all Salter can do not to slip through the crowd and run for the exit when she spots him and smiles and hugs herself and mouths its cold!

No doubt she realizes how awful her get-up looks; maybe it had hit her on the plane, half-way over the black face of the North Sea: the obvious self-sabotaging provocation of dressing this way for what was essentially a second date. Why did she do it? Why did she get on a plane for Berlin as though dressed for a weekend of D.I.Y. in a rustic cottage in Cornwall? She wouldn’t have wanted her mother to see her in a costume like this, more the less an attractive man she’s been courting (or been courted by) long-distance for a month. Was the bobble hat a subconscious Sapphic protest or simple self-destructiveness or even simpler fuck-it-all-edness at this late stage of the game or what? She knows she’ll have to hustle to save the weekend and she does…she hustles, going to work immediately. She grabs Salter’s hand and leads him off in an arm-swinging walk towards the escalator saying “Cor blimey, Guv!” or some such cutesy exaggeration. “I got sumfink for you,” she sing-songs, improvising a grin. Salter does his best to play along.

“You do? What?”

“Save it for later,” she says, coyly, Soivit fa lighter, but really she doesn’t have anything for him at all; nothing in the suitcase but three changes of clothing, a bottle of baby oil, some candles and her meditation mat. Save it for later is a stalling technique, and her teasing tone is so ambiguous that she might be referring to sex, and heaven knows she’s completely willing to offer her ass as a virgin sacrifice to propitiate the gods at this point. Stupid stupid stupid…with a little lipstick and her cat suit on and those thigh-high vinyl boots (somewhere in the back of the closet) she’d have been the master of this situation. As it is she will probably have to resort to letting him do something to her she’d never before let a man do and with a dick probably twice the size of the legal limit and pretend to like it, too. She can already hear herself saying it’s funny, but I could never understand why most women I know seem to hate doing this…and it makes her want to puke.

Most women hate doing this because it’s painful, unhealthy and perfectly degrading and they find themselves under constant pressure to do it, actually. She thinks of her pretty, tragically straight buddy Gladys back in ‘Frisco and accompanying Gladys one fine fall day under a sky of milk-smeared lapis to the free clinic in Haight over what turned out to be a cluster of rectal fistulas. Is that what P can look forward to, now, after her strategic fuck-up? Holes in her ass-hole? But it’s so trivial, the difference between what she did and what she should have done…mother-effing lipstick? This is how a man decides on a life-partner? A fucking bobble hat and no lipstick is a make-or-break? What about my brain, the quality of my affection, the depth of my experiences? And it makes her angry and rebellious all over again and now she remembers the space she was in about an hour before leaving her flat to catch the bus to the train to the tube to the train to Stansted. She’d ransacked her dresser drawers and the closet and tried on about ten different outfits, something she hadn’t done since the age of twenty, and yet in none of the outfits does she look twenty, or even thirty five…in all of the outfits she looks tarted-up and old and garish and desperate and first in despair but then in anger she’d thought: fuck it. This is me. Take it or leave it. Like it or lump it. This is me.

They manage to fill the long train ride from Schönefeld to Salter’s neighborhood with neutral chatter; that is, Salter, in no mood to pretend to be pretending not to be in love, is at least grateful that P is able to fill what would have been the uncomfortable silences. It is amazing to Salter that she has anything left to say after blabbing on the phone with him every day for a month; amazing that she can access this deep reservoir of emergency small talk; he gets away with nodding and smiling or nodding and frowning and the occasional interrogative grunt. It must look and sound hysterically funny to anyone in the seats behind them: this chatty animated white woman in the bobble hat and the all-but-mute brother beside her. From behind it must look like this has been going on for twenty years: she blabbing, he nodding. Not that his side of the trip isn’t full of rich interior monolog…covering everything from his first kiss to Dick van Dyke’s insufferable “Cockney” accent as the chimney sweep Bert in “Mary Poppins.”

The train passes through fifteen desolate stations in the blighted east before getting anywhere near where Salter usually hangs out in Berlin and he muses that the one single fucking advantage of sitting on this train with P as opposed to with his dreamgirl (that vivacious pre-Raphaelite at the airport, say) is that if Neo Nazis should suddenly hop on the S-Bahn they won’t be particularly enraged to catch Salter with this dowdy Brit…the bobble hat is a tool of invisibility like Wagner’s Tarnhelm, protecting them both.

The train finally reaches his station and they embark on the fifteen minute walk to his flat in a misty drizzle. Not another soul on the street do they encounter as P bumps the wheels of her wretchedly large suitcase over uneven concrete and cobblestones with a child’s passive-aggressive delight in unavoidable noise-making, the loudest thing for miles, he slightly ahead of her and grateful that it’s just cold enough outside to excuse his keeping both hands firmly in his pockets every inch of the way.

It’s better in his flat: at least it’s comfortable, cozy, a controlled environment. Salter opens the door and ushers P in and takes her coat and hat with what they both play as jokey, English-butler-like froideur and offers her something to drink and goes right to the television, switching it on and wheeling it to the center of the living room: just in time for the Nth-annual Grammies. P takes in the room with a furtive glance: high ceilings, immaculate parquet floor…minimal, roomy…some shelves, some gadgets, two tall silver floor lamps, two massive black faux-marble vases…nice…uncluttered but nice and it’s obvious that this boy is not averse to dusting. Men are far more likely to do the cooking than the dusting, usually…anything they can show off with they don’t mind doing.

They seem to have missed no more than the first third or so of the interminable award ceremony. There should be a Grammy given for Best Grammy Award Ceremony. The epic broadcast will give them something to talk about without forcing him to engage her directly on anything remotely personal …the television will be the third party, or buffer, or random arbiter for them that it is for most doomed, inarticulate marriages, no matter how brief or enduring. And the epic length of the show gives Salter some hope of putting P to sleep without even having to fuck her.

What Salter likes about watching the Grammies in Germany is that the broadcast isn’t sanitized for German audiences the way it is for all those sensitive, shockable, immaculate church-going virgins in the U.S…whatever happens on camera, the Germans will see. Same with “live” White House press conferences…if a reporter asks an embarrassing question, the television audience in Germany gets to watch the entire question being asked as well as its entire shaky and or furious response from the President. When Germans cover big political news in America, the German audience sometimes gets to see normally suave tepid Congressmen blurt words like “bullshit” or “fuck” (both translated as “Scheisse”) and once heard Strom Thurmond spit a super-dipthonged “Niggra” so close to “Nigger” that a mass spectrometer couldn’t have discriminated between epithets. In many cases, not only are Americans blissfully unaware of what’s happening in the world in general…they’re less aware of what’s happening in their own towns, or up their own streets, than the TV audience in Germany is. Who was Spiro T. Agnew and what did he do wrong? More Germans than Americans can answer that question. Not that the Germans are driven by any force more noble than pedantic Schadenfreude. The Germans are no more a nation of ethical bloodhounds driven towards the warm odor of All Truth than any other nation on earth. There are thousands of German school kids who couldn’t come up with more than a factual sentence or two about Adolf Hitler, and hundreds who haven’t even heard of him. Tens of thousands, at least, who still use the word Jew as a casual pejorative. But about American malfeasance they are all quite hip and plugged in…they are all media cynics, these kids, monitoring the TV and the Internet the way Weegee used to monitor his short wave police scanner…

Earlier that week, in fact, an American scandal, downplayed in the stateside press, had made front page in all the left-wing papers in Germany: two rookie cops in Baltimore, summoned to a mall to subdue a family of three accused of shoplifting, were caught on several amateur videos brutalizing the family…a 32 year old black mother and her two daughters (14 and 11)…to the extent that a 235 pound fourth-generation Italian-American cop is seen resting his massive knee on the fragile bones between the shoulder blades of a prostrate 75 pound 11-year-old while handcuffing her as the mother screams in the background that her daughter is asthmatic and won’t be able breathe with his weight on her. To exacerbate the blinding halo of absolute injustice around the incident it later comes out that the three weren’t shoplifting at all; the items found in the mother’s purse were returns, all of which she had receipts for…she had simply wanted to exchange the three Danskins in her possession for others that fit better. Security had only checked Mrs. Broder’s Gucci handbag in the first place, minutes after the three entered the store (in an upscale suburban mall), on a “hunch”. The final twist is that the very black Broder family is not from the ghetto at all: the mother is a veteran reporter at a local television station, married to an in-house lawyer at DOW Chemicals, and the punitive damages against the city of Baltimore are projected by their celebrity legal team to be in the tens of millions. The story is surprisingly (or not) muted on stateside media.

Salter busies himself in the kitchen while P sneaks the makeup kit out of her scuffed suitcase and does a quick, subtle job of rehabilitating her image before he returns with a big bowl of popcorn and two tall dark German beers. She has applied lipstick and blush and teased her short crop of gold-coin-colored hair with a switch-blade comb she stole from an ex-ex ex and checked her overall image pouting into the mirror of the bulging big screen of the television when the camera panned the Grammy audience and the screen went black segueing into a classy, Boomer-targeted car commercial. This is no time to make a political statement or prosecute mammal life on the planet for the way it should be as opposed to the way it is, to paraphrase her thoughts. Look pretty. Think of it as an investment in the future. Time is not exactly standing still. Commercial over, and The Rolling Stones’s live rendition of their bland new super-forgettable single gives Salter plenty to be funny about, and P makes sure to laugh. She laughs, takes a deep swallow of beer, and laughs harder. She’s reeling it all back in. Almost lost him. The beer is helping.

“Mick!” he shouts at the screen, “why the collagen? You should be donating that excess lip fat to needy starlets, man, not injecting more of it!”

Okay, thinks Salter: it’s true. I’m feeling better. Call me shallow. She took the opportunity to apply a little makeup while I was making the popcorn and it’s not just that she looks better again but it’s also the fact that she is doing her best to please me that somehow…breaks the ice. It’s almost turning me on. I know it’s creepy…it’s some kind of caveman trip, wired into my medulla oblongata, I guess. What can I do about it? Did I fucking design the human brain? Did I write the fucking program governing the reproductive hardware? Am I the perpetrator of my preferences or the victim of them?

“Holy shit, am I nuts or does Keith Richards look more and more like a Strat-playing hemorrhoid every day?”

P is meanwhile very stealthily scooting closer to him on the leather sectional. Not to touch him, necessarily, but close enough for him to touch her when he’s ready. She knows how to do this: to control through abasement. It’s the same strip-club principle behind getting a Kotex of Thomas Jeffersons in your g-string as opposed to a Kleenex of George Washington. All her post-pubescent life she has oscillated between fearing men and pitying them and the thing is you can love someone you pity. Yes you can. She could love Salter…she could see it being worth it to love him. It’s just not the other way around: you can’t love someone who pities you, and that’s what she is truly alert to, as she grows older…that’s what she is rawly vigilant about: not so much being objectified, as in the days of yore…about being objectified she no longer gives a shit…human beings are first and foremost objects…but being pitied. Being pitied by some paunchy dick with halitosis even older than her is what she could kill over. Okay: cards on the table. A black man can’t pity her, can he? That might be this poor guy’s greatest theoretical attribute as a life-partner.

When it comes time to announce the winner in the category Best Rap Solo Performance, there are two presenters: a gangling black feller with a steam-shovel jaw and owlish glasses in a sable-trimmed cap-and-gown get-up…and his co-presenter: a petite, top-loaded platinum blonde so skinny she looks like a Scandinavian hieroglyphic. Or the letter P when she stands in profile. The juxtaposition of the black male and the blonde female makes a good visual while at the same time spuriously implying a broadly integrated society, though in reality, of course, the only black men she associates with are her body guards and the only white females he’ll talk to are prostitutes. The blonde, Sabreena, is channeling her nervous energy into glittering glissandos of glib giggling as she waits for the applause elicited by the mere fact of her presence to die down. The brother, MC PhD, also beneficiary of a big hand for doing little more than finding the lectern with the help of a generically pretty escort, seems agitated, and keeps biting his upper lip and adjusting his mortar board. Two Grammy ceremonies ago, he was the Best Rap Solo Performance and his debut album, Matriculator, has sold 14 million copies to date. The son of militant West Coast “black intellectuals,” he embarked on a serious career in music only after graduating with a degree in communications from Howard University and is known to be incisive and fluent on record, if not quite so while reading from a teleprompter in front of a live audience.

We learn that there are five nominees in this category, four of which are men and one of which is a woman, and the audience already knows without being told that the only female nominee is also the only non-African-American. E-Rex, the fat blind paraplegic rapper from Georgia whose mother died in the Fourth of July drive-by shooting that put him in his customized wheel chair, is heavily favored to win. After reading off an inspirational statement explaining that Rap is valuable to American and even global culture not only for its sheer vitality but also for its ability to enrich so many other art forms with the irrepressible wisdom of the streets, MC PhD leans on the lectern and reads a scripted witticism haltingly, waits for Sabreena’s canned retort, steps on her mispronounced retort with his leaden comeback, and joins her with, “And the winner of Best Rap Solo Performance is…” as Sabreena tears open the envelope.

“White Krissmiss!” squeals Sabreena. Cue: the chorus from White Krissmiss’s breakthrough smash “Tales of the Pale” as the lady herself, tall and bald as a 100 watt bulb and dressed in the Wehrmacht’s winter camouflage ski-suit (or something just like it) po-facedly storms the stage to take her Grammy against the sustained approving roar of the audience, more and more of whom are seen to be rising with benign reluctance into a peer-pressured ovation after she pimp-walks down the aisle.

“Shameless!” whoops Salter, who can’t help being delighted. It’s the greatest Grammy travesty since the Anita Kerr Singers blind-sided The Beatles by triumphing over “Help!” with “We Dig Mancini” for Best Performance by a Vocal Group in 1966.

“My God,” gasps P “It’s Elvis all over again!”

But MC PhD isn’t having it. White Krissmiss, out of breath and smiling humbly, reaches for her Grammy but PhD, clutching it to the breast of his sable-trimmed gown, leans across the lectern again, taps the microphone thuddingly and says, “Whoa. Wait a minute. Wait up.”

He says, to the eight hundred and fifty formally-attired people in the audience at the Bob Hope Memorial Westinghouse Pavilion in Los Angeles, and the estimated 1.4 billion people (some of them in loin cloths) watching “at home”,

“Yo. This ain’t…that’s just…see, this ain’t the deal. You know what I’m sayin? Nuh-uh. It’s like, first Baltimore, now this? I don’t think so…and y’all…see, no disrespec to Krissmiss…okay? Know what I’m sayin? But we didn’t even…when I was growin up…I was hungry. Okay? I’m talkin’ ‘bout Oakland, okay? And we didn’t go stealin’ or robbin’ ‘cause my mama, she woulda…she woulda whupped our black asses with a belt. And that Sista and her family down in Baltimore, they coulda been…they wasn’t even shopliftin or nuthin…know what I’m sayin? …and that cop coulda killed that little sista with her asthma and now y’all wanna tell the other nominees…like, the brothas shouldna even bothered come down here tonight and y’all just…Y’all think y’all can even do that better…ya’ll don’t even want ya niggers black!”

And he goes on in this vein but the segue music swells up and it’s suddenly time for a commercial break and White Krissmiss herself has been standing to the side during the jagged verbal collage of MC PhD’s impressionistic sermon, head-bowed, hands clasped behind her back…nodding the whole time. And when she looks up and over at MC PhD she looks not as though she wants to throttle him, as well she should…she looks, instead, as though she wants to hug him and feel his pain and Salter thinks: are white people just smarter, or faker, or do they have ice-water in their veins, or what? Just like the android super-villain the hero can only hope to defeat through the miraculous intervention of sheer luck, he thinks. What would Isaac Asimov suggest? Every time a black somewhere loses control, flips out, gets loud…there’s a level-headed white somewhere waiting in the wings who not only benefits from the loss of control but benefits enormously…

“That was brilliant!” says P. She is by now pressed close beside Salter on the couch, with her hand between his shoulders, giving him a light, experimental, prefatory back-rub. “He really told it like it is; that took guts…I am so proud of him! Wow. That was inspiring!” She pats Salter on the back and repeats “I am so proud of him.”

If she could see Salter’s face at this moment she’d be shocked. Frightened even. On the television another classy car advert is playing out a Wagnerian scenario of soaring eagles and winding mountain roads bracketed between jump-cuts of black on the screen…black upon which the flickering white words elegance, then stature, then sensuality fade in and out…black like a mirror so P glimpses a fleeting, distorted reflection of…but that’s not possible. She hasn’t done anything wrong, has she? But she feels his back muscles go rigid as a tractor tire to her touch and she removes her hand without even being conscious of removing it and he leans forward and turns off the television and says, without facing her, “Proud of what?”

Salter looks over his shoulder and sees: the proverbial frozen smile. He turns away again, cracking his knuckles. He has no way of knowing that her abusive ex-girlfriend used to crack her knuckles in much the same manner. “You’re proud of what? That clown in his cap and gown didn’t make one ounce of fucking sense.”

“I thought what he said was quite powerful.”

“Gotta love the irony, though…he’s standing up there in his fur-trimmed cap and gown and he couldn’t speak one complete sentence in English! Hey, and please don’t try to tell me…”

“But I don’t understand what you’re getting so upset about.”

“Please don’t try to tell me that if it was some white dummy up there being incoherent, you would have been proud of him, too!”

“But that’s just the point…there won’t be any white dummies, as you call them, up there …reacting with grief…genuine human rage and grief…over an injustice done to them by the black majority…because there is no black majority. And most of the injustices…the kind we’re talking about… are against blacks. Or am I a dummy too?”

“Look, I know you mean well. I really do. But liberal condescension does not help people like that…”

“People like that. That’s a funny way to put it. People like that…”

Salter gets up and grabs a jacket where it’s dangling from a door knob. “Oh, I see…I’m not allowed to make a distinction! Gee, thanks for reminding me of my roots, Miss Daisy…I almost got uppity there for a second!” He slips the jacket on and zips it. “Don’t wait up.”

“Jesus.”

He leaves the room, marches down the hall, and exits the flat, closing the door quietly behind him. Down the stairs. He feels better already. It’s only when he’s about a block away from the building that it hits him that now he’s being over-emotional, rather than coldly analytical…he’s doing just what he’d excoriated MC PhD for doing…he’s flipping out. I guess flipping out is just my fucking heritage…flipping out is my culture. I come from a long line of last-straw niggers; for us…everything is the last straw…we are born to flip-out, Jack…we emerge from the womb with our fists clenched and our eyes bugging out, little black hand-grenades, packed with the DNA of exasperation. Well, he sighs, at least I flipped out articulately…at least I can say that. Fuck it.

He hugs himself.

There’s the moon again. Very small, very cold, astonishingly incurious up there in its track in the cold sky over its humanity-infested paramour the Earth. All the little details, every day and every night without end: wildfires, volcanoes, the silver needles of jets and the warped quilts of farmland and the intricate gray circuit boards of metropolises and hurricanes like vast toilets flushing all over the equator…and Las Vegas a smashed re-molded disco ball and rhizome-like lightning illuminating the soil-like-air over the rusted industrial hubs…and satellites like glittering insects and sweet green pollutions like intercontinental perfume…all this…of zero interest whatsoever. Maybe there was a time when the moon was a dedicated witness, even a loving one, recording the surge and recession and resurgence of humanity’s Dorian-Gray-like self-portrait on the face of the Earth…those soft-as-cookies Mayan, or Elizabethan, or Igbo motifs…but then came the 20th century and it was all just too fucking much to look at…the paparazzi fusillade of A-bombs going off on the red carpet of the world premier of the modern age… and the moon is now catatonic or hysterically blind, lashed to its gravity track forever, a white-eyed corpse on a merry-go-round. What a sick thought, thinks Salter; I need another beer. A nice black Weizenbier. There is a tankstelle about four blocks from his flat, on Leibniz Strasse

…the Tankstellen…the petrol stations…sell beer at night. In the old days, before the laws loosened, grocery stores could only be open between nine in the morning and six at night, and about four hours on Saturday and not at all on Sunday and that was the law. You’d end up doing most of your shopping in gas stations, especially if you fucking worked for a living. Every day at a quarter past five every grocery store in Berlin was packed with people dressed like businessmen and their secretaries…five or six check-outs in the bigger stores and aisles all jammed and the queues ridiculous. And if you couldn’t make it before six or you didn’t want to stand in a queue for twenty minutes or you wanted a snack, quite spontaneously, at three in the afternoon on Sunday…the petrol station. Beer, ice cream, road maps, porno magazines, wiener in jars, flour for baking, milk, wiper fluid, candy bars, and all kinds of beer. Weizenbier, translated literally, is wheat beer…he wants, he thinks, specifically: Hafer Weizenbier…yeast wheat beer. Buy it in a club or a café and they have to give you a very tall glass for it because of all the foam. The bartender rolls it on the bar to shake the yeast off the bottom of the bottle.

The Tankstelle on Leibniz Strasse is a grand one, a meeting place for night drivers, a small grocery store. Salter goes right to the corner behind the bottled water and grabs a big green and gold can of Pilsner (no more Hafer Weizenbier tonight) and gets in a line about six deep, guzzling from the can already, standing directly behind a very tall, very skinny, very blonde girl in a black vinyl raincoat and black vinyl cap and hair all the way down to the hem of her jacket, not quite reaching her ass, which is one of those asses where the jeans pull the cheeks apart under the coccyx causing a gap like the apex of a cathedral archway. Or an inverted saddle. She is drenched in a musky perfume that Salter guesses is an attempt to mask her own odor from herself…women like that are perpetually in heat or at least imagine themselves to be and ashamed of the condition, he thinks; they think everyone else can smell it. They are ashamed but also crazed by it…they are as easy to pick up as the bruised fruit in the shade around the base of the copious pear tree. The short-haired check-out girl (Peter Pan in her green jumpsuit) has a radio on behind the counter and Salter has heard, since getting in line behind Rapunzel, the very end of the Sid Vicious version of My Way, followed by Mr. Sandman by whoever did the original of that gem of Ike-era putrefaction and now it’s Golden Lady by Stevie Wonder… so of course Salter, very quietly but with great accuracy, sings along with Stevie. And of course Rapunzel turns around, glowing at him.

Oh, don’t stop, that is real entertainment, she says.

Her face is painted like a souvenir ashtray from Tijuana and she is no less than fifty five years old, with big red lips and blue eyes bleached of sanity, utterly free from any mood more moderate than lust or terror…she’s loony and sexual and fascinating, in fact, and Salter realizes: it’s The Moon herself. The Moon come down to visit after I invoked her spirit with boozy ruminations in my time of greatest need…it’s my Cherokee blood that enables me to call down The Moon. A talent my grandmother had. What was the Moon’s name again? What was her name? He used to know from reading all that Science Fiction. That’s it: Selene.

“I’m glad you like it, Selene,” Salter answers. Everyone in line ahead of them turns to stare because of the loud English but he doesn’t care…the beer has immunized him against self-consciousness. “I have to say, Selene…your hair is amazing.” Like ripped yellow silk. She reaches and touches his.

“Your hair also. It’s very unusual for a colored man. Where does it come from?”

“My grandfather. He was a…German Jew…” and here Salter shrugs with Yiddish resignation about a sentence he need not finish. A German Jew? Why not. This is how you flirt with old Germans.

She shrugs too. “Aha! My father was a very big officer. Ein Oberst. What is your word? General. So,” she smiles, “we have something in common.”

“No, nothing in common.”

“Ach.” She pouts. “You are very intelligent for a colored man.”

“Colored men are very intelligent, as a rule, but we have a weakness.”

“Blondes.”

“No: humanity. We’re too human. Colored men are far too human.”

“Yes. I have always thought the same. What was your…grandfather’s…profession before my father sent him like a carrier pigeon to his after-life, may I ask?”

Salter squints. “He was a sociologist. I don’t know the German word for it. Sozialoge? He studied people. Cultures.”

“And so his knowledge couldn’t save him.”

“He needed more proof.”

She laughs a smoker’s laugh and squeezes his arm and says “A long time ago I had a clever thought that I couldn’t tell anyone, a terrible waste, so I’ll tell you. Yes?”

“I’m all ears.”

“It is this. If we had said not that we are killing all the Jews, but rather that we’ve decided to be rid of six million of our fellow German citizens…like your American Civil War…there wouldn’t be so much for the Germans to feel guilty about now.” She squeezes his arm again. “Do you see? It’s just semantics. That’s why I can’t take this Jew business so seriously. Jew this, Jew that. Those Jews were first of all Germans, never forget. They would be the first to agree.”

She smiles and turns to pay for a liter of Diet Coke and a carton of Marlboros. She leaves in her caul of perfume and a creepily blank expression (dead eyes painted on) as Salter pays for his already empty beer can, handing it crushed to the cashier to please dispose of, and when he steps out to in front of the pumps he sees Selene in her silver Jaguar right there in front of him, sucking a flame through a cigarette while the engine revs, checking herself in the rearview mirror, the overhead light on, the bill of her cap shadowing dramatic cheek bones and sunken eyes. She sees Salter and her mouth opens, eyes jammed shut in a bowel-voiding ecstasy as if preparing to step forward bloodily and in a glistening slip of mucous from out of her own loose skin. Or maybe it’s just an old whore’s terrible yawn. He can see all the way down her throat…the rimey tonsils and her yellow teeth and a dozen gold fillings…and the pink and red and black plumbing…and the smoke rising out of her and filling the car like her guts are burning. Oh I would love to fuck that, he thinks. I would love to.

Salter hurries home like a paramedic delivering a vital organ on ice. At the front door of the old building with the moon at his back he shoulders the door open and crosses the courtyard and the moon peeks over the lindens. He slips into his hinterhof. Up the stairs. He’s hurrying as though he can apply the momentum directly to the intensity of a fuck, like the fuck is a wall he has to ram through. If she’s in his bedroom he’s going to fuck her without a word of apology or preamble. If she wants to be fucked, he’ll do it…if not, at the slightest hint of resistance he’ll abandon all efforts and sleep on the gold couch in the other room.

In the dark flat he listens. The significant silence not of sleep but of hold-her-breath listening. She listens for clues to his frame of mind. Listens for clues. She has learned to listen for clues. She can hear his breathing…the short stopped breaths of the surprisingly great physical effort of stripping. The awkward, quick, balanced contortions: try, just try, to do those slowly: that takes skill. First one shoe, then the other: already a rain-dance in and of itself. The roll and shimmy of his broad shoulders as he slips the confines of his jacket. Pants. Shirt. Socks. Briefs. All in a pile. We are so small in our words and our clothing. He imagines seeing his own image in the infrared as he pads down the hall, massive and dense with muscles but with this tip-toe delicacy that makes the image eerier. If he could but see himself it would be terrifying, he thinks. It’s not an implication of violence but the dawn-of-time shit that this would put him in mind of and make him leap out of his skin to see himself in his skin this way, two hundred pounds coming down that long white hall in the darkness. The missing link. He eases the bedroom door open and just a flimsy gray meringue of indirect moonlight gives faint shape to the bed on which he can just about make her out. The word is sejant: in repose like a sphinx or a lion. She’s breathing like a woman doing her best to stay calm. He can smell her; she has humidified the room. She moves…comes across the bed with a shift and rustle of the sheets…very good at this game. There will be no talking: finally, there will be no talking…

…after a few false starts at various awkward holds she is straddling him, pushing her sopping wet bush over his face like a sponge in rough scrubbing strokes… he has to hold her in place to keep her from crushing the bridge of his nose and banging his teeth with that asinine clit ring. That offensive ring in her clitoris: she goes oh every time she dings his front teeth with it like it’s a shared pleasure and he sees stars, green stars, every time she lands on his nose so he grips her pelvis and forces her down to a more congenial squat and keeps her still with great effort against her willful bucking and goes about the task of straining to eat a pussy he is manifestly not enamored of, spurred only by the desire to do a good job. He likes neither the way it smells nor how it tastes, her pussy. He reaches up to pull on her nipples and encounters hardware there, too: she has armor-plated her pussy and her tits. It’s not unhygienic or bad, her pussy smell, just alien. If he’d loved her then the pussy would appear to him as a big fat lovely dandelion to blow on with joy but not loving her it’s just very hard to resist the idea of abhorring this whole damn gig. It’s bad enough, that faint whiff of anus he’s getting, late in the game. Didn’t you even bathe before you got on the plane? So anal is totally out. This is too intimate. He feels a prissy resistance to ingesting her substance that borders on being a matter of civil rights… his… she’s violating his civil rights and maybe this is an angle she’d respond to if he called it off and framed it that way… it’s just all the horror of the word “juice” in this context that he can’t seem to force from his mind… so very not the way it had been when he was young and eagerly gulping a girl he’d dreamed of for months, because…

…sucking at the reddened base of a girl you love is one of the great unrefined body-joys of mortal existence but this is just drudgery. This is like being forced to eat floppy pounds of something on a wet toilet under fluorescent lights at gunpoint in February’s cold. And he does his best not to imagine the dozens of ugly frothing dicks she’s had jabbing around in there before, a whole history, a Decameron of gruesome hard-ons, straight, bent, curved, runty, skinny, fat, pointed, huge, soft, sore and blister-red on parade, tight little balls or hanging big loose ones or even those one-balled sacs with psoriasis though some are ginger-haired or mossy-black or with blonde curlicues or pelted sleek like otters. Or picture a fat lesbian tongue with a coat on it going slurp slurp slurp like a basset. He’s licking a wall full of wallpaper paste. He’s licking a seabed at ebb tide.

And the funniest thing happens. A miracle.

It thrums in thick hot jets up her pipes from the knot of stripped nerves at the root of that armored pussy and P tenses like a mare about to kick a big ol’ bucket of suds and Salter feels P kegel-brace for the big one squatting so deep down good down fused within herself and she grinds again in an apparent attempt to remove his features and something squirts! Holy fuck, thinks Salter, Holy fuck, I’ve slurped her so well the lady is shooting! Female ejaculation! ‘Tis no myth, Sir! The trumpet-tooting angels knew it all along! The opened lights of heaven knew it all along! P explodes in a triumphant convulsion, clutching hard at Salter’s face by handles he never knew he had and holding him there and pouring out, pouring on him, pouring her hot blessing, gushing her all, emptying all that simmered love on Salter’s face, incredible how she’s gushing. Even Salter can’t come like this, no man can, not this much, not cups of it, it’s too much, he’s choking on it, spitting it out, swallowing what he can’t spit out and coughing it out and he shoves her in a panicked epiphany and rolls from under the flushing haunch and crashes off the bed as she kneels on the bed with her hands clamped over her ears shouting loud as she possibly can…

“That is not piss, I assure you!”