Now we’re going to talk about love. Not because Valentine’s Day is practically upon us, squeezing our throats and hearts (come on, you know Hallmark cards make you tear up), forcing us to stare our sad little love lives square in the face. More like in spite of that. No, we’re going to talk about love—good, sure, but mostly bad, indifferent, or missed-the-mark-entirely—because, unless one of the two of you reading this strongly objects, I need to. This is my blog, it’s (still, for the moment) a free country, and I need to fling some idea-spaghetti against the wall. I will do my best to be entertaining about it, though I offer no guarantees: you might get exactly what you pay for.
The reason I need to talk about love is that I am currently—True Confession—wrestling with the fourth draft of a bear of a novel. A novel about love. It’s probably true that all novels—all poems, all short stories, all essays, all graffiti—are, in some way, about love, but this particular novel is *really* about love. Its protagonist is a ghost. It happens mostly in a hotel. In London. Where lovers meet. And do what lovers do when they meet. And I probably shouldn’t say more about that, or about the plot: I believe in the evil eye, particularly potent when self-inflicted.
How about Neruda? Those poems, those poems. Either of you guys love Neruda? That makes two of us, three if you both do. A club, almost. Or at least a triumvirate.
He ido marcando con cruces de fuego
El atlas blanco de tu cuerpo.
Mi boca era una araña que cruzaba escondiéndose.
En ti, detrás de ti, temerosa, sedienta…
There’s a lovely, facing-page English translation by W.S. Merwin in the book I just consulted to type those verses, but I’d rather produce my own:
I’ve been marking up the pale atlas of your body
With little crosses of fire.
My mouth was a spider, crossing, hiding
Inside you, behind you, timid and thirsty…
I once burst into tears while performing the Spanish version of “He ido marcando” to a candlelit room full of very genteelly drunk men seated around a dining table in an unbelievably luxurious and gob-smackingly huge Upper East Side apartment. They were a foodie-and-wino club with wads of cash to spend, so they met once a month in someone’s crazy-extravagant apartment, hired caterers (I was the cater-waiter), farmed their wives, husbands, and sundry S.O.’s out somewhere, and got down to the business of high-end eating and drinking for, literally, hours.
That night I uncorked bottles of wine worth more than my monthly rent check (and this was Manhattan). I know both of you are hoping I’m going to recite the menu, but I’m afraid I can’t do that. Because I don’t remember it—by the second bottle, I was being invited to sip along with them. And yes, obscenely expensive wine really *is* better than that $18 bottle you just picked up for your weekend at home. I know there were ingredients like foie gras (sorry, animal lover, I know you’re reading, and I feel you) and fried Jerusalem artichokes and jamón serrano (the real kind, so much more exclusive than prosciutto), and caviar and miniature dim sum and brie-en-croute (not in the same course, these guys were foodies), but I don’t remember how they got combined into dishes, I just know they elicited guttural and inarticulate moans of pleasure.
By the fourth bottle, they were pretty much chugging, I was still sipping, and they wanted to hear Neruda, and since I speak Spanish, well…
Problem I: if there are verses in the universe likely to make you cry, well, Neruda’s your man.
Problem II: I was head over heels in love (or maybe just in lust, but sometimes I think that hurts more) with the guy prep-cooking in the kitchen. And his girlfriend owned the catering company (so in a way, she paid my rent). Said prep-cook and Yours Truly had had one very drunken, very hot, very divine one-night stand. And then the girlfriend came back from her gurls’ weekend in Bermuda. And still I worked for the catering company, because I needed her to pay my rent.
That’s pretty much how I loved in Manhattan. And I never wanted anyone who wanted me. Where’s the misery in that?
Standing there in my cater-waiter tux, bow-tie askew and hair escaping from its waist-length braid, before those twelve men (not the Last Supper—there were 13 men on that holy occasion—and definitely not Jesus H. Christ’s disciples, these guys were hedonists with the $$ to do it up right), correctly pronouncing words they could not, I felt worshiped. I felt like a goddess. I was giving them what they wanted and they were eating it up. They were in love with me, even the two gay ones. And for the length of time it took me to read “He ido marcando,” proudly rolling my r’s, I loved them back. All of them. And then I started to sob.
Obbbbbbbbviously I couldn’t tell them why I was crying, but they drunkenly gathered round to comfort me, a couple even wiping tears from their own eyes. They refilled my glass, and then they refilled it again. And they tipped me one of those one-month’s-rent’s-worth bottles, in addition to a nice, fat wad of bills.
What did the prep-cook do while all this was going on? I honestly cannot remember, which must mean that he, like most of the men I bedded during that season of my misspent youth, was worth a whole lot less than the price tag I’d stuck on him.
I used a couple of the bills from the wad to take a cab home instead of the subway, wiping tears and snot as we sped down 2nd Avenue.
Neither of you will believe this, but I swear it’s true. As I stepped out of the cab, tipping the driver handsomely, lo, even as I had been tipped before him, the month’s-rent’s-worth bottle slid from my open backpack, bottom-heavy with pricelessness, and shattered against the curb. I watched (and sobbed) as its contents mingled promiscuously with cigarette butts and piss before disappearing through the gutter into the city’s dark bowels.
Perfect metaphor for a whole lot of things. Especially for how I loved in New York.