— Braunschweig, West Germany
Between dances Angelika & I sat at the bar. The women’s hair glinted like newly minted copper coins. The men were just as beautiful. I caught the scene twice in her lenses, almost as if I were standing in a snow-drenched street in front of an appliance store that was going out of business. It was a matter of pride to me then to feel more deeply desperate than everybody else. So while I watched this reasonably attractive woman sip her wine, I sipped a Helles and tried to hide from myself what I was thinking. For a while it was always like this, walking from one bar to the next in the sempiternal rain & gloom like a character in some third-rate Euro-drama. If I’d had any sense I would’ve stayed in my little rented room and masturbated. You’re probably thinking I’m leaving out the good parts, and I am. Even when something good happened, it never seemed to be happening to me. And it was over so quickly. Like riding the streetcar home after too many beers and passing a brightly lit window with lace curtains and a desert plant on the sill. The walls would be covered with flowered paper and the room empty except for the attractive furniture. I was sure the people who lived there were hiding from me, standing in the kitchen until I’d ridden by. Like I said, I was miserable in an enjoyably self-contained sort of way. That’s why dancing was so dangerous, all that smoke & sweat. I tried to copy the other dancers’ moves. My hips were the problem. They wouldn’t flex or twist or pivot or tilt or yaw or any of those absently erotic motions that seemed to come so easily to others. And making it worse was the mirror covering one wall of the dance floor. I couldn’t tear my eyes from the horror — an Erector Set derrick veering wildly just before it topples. That night sitting at the bar watching my face advance & retreat in Angelika’s Coke-bottle specs, I realized something unpleasant about myself. I used to think I had, you know, aspirations, but at that moment in that crowd of numbingly perfect strangers, all I wanted from life was for this legally blind grade-school teacher to touch me. But after we touched, I wanted more. Which is why I followed her home and asked to be invited in and then declared myself too drunk to walk out the door and back through the rain-slick streets to my room. And why I demanded to sleep with her. Well, actually, I asked. Now, I know this sounds bad, but she was a friend of a friend and I’d known her a couple of weeks already and we’d even hung out once or twice (nobody called it dating), so it was more embarrassing than bad. But embarrassment is often as good for the soul as unmitigated wickedness. At least, I’d like to think so. So anyway I stayed; she didn’t kick me out. Which she could’ve — she was almost a married woman, her boyfriend was off working in a plant in the Ruhr — so I slept in their living room on their bright orange naugahyde couch. Or tried to. After half an hour squirming on that airport-ready convenience, I walked into her room and asked if I might lie beside her, so great was my longing and sadness, and she said yes, a gift of daring. So we lay, backs to one another in her narrow German bed, touching hips until my breathing eased and we both slept innocent as the long-married.