Friday, April 10, 2009

The Virgin of Crete

From an old notebook, Chania, Crete, May, 1996:

"Talk will save us."—Bitsy

"Bitsy"—that's the name she went by. A professor of English and history on leave from a U.S. Navy supply ship at port in Sondra. We'd been together less than an hour when I said, "Look, we're not going to get married. We're not even going to have an affair. We won't have sex, and most likely we'll never see each other again. So we can at least be totally honest with each other. Which may prove more interesting than all of the above."

And so we did it, we were completely honest, well, up to a point.

Until I got to know her better, I could have sworn that I had met a woman so virginal she made Doris Day look like Marilyn Chambers. She confessed to me—her first and biggest confession— that at twenty eight she was still a virgin. Then she went on to explain why she talked so much, which she did: an endless stream of banter and chatter, of rapid-fire puns and quips delivered with the relentlessly desperate zeal of a stand-up comic playing a dead crowd. Hyperverbal, and smart as all get up especially when it came to her principal subjects (Raoul Dahl and Faulkner her favorite authors).

She liked to season her talk with nautical jargon, none of which I can remember beyond "bilge" and "stow." I distinctly recall her using the word "loppertyjawed" to describe the crooked style in which the Toonerville Trolley was drawn. According to her, her Kentucky home life was a mix of "To Kill a Mockingbird" (with dad as Atticus Finch) and "Little House on the Prairie," but with a mother who quoted Keats and Eliot and dad taking her to watch the May Day parade, shaking every hand that passed by, and no hobbies or talents, none. "Shaking hands with everyone—that was dad's hobby."

But also art songs, opera, American musicals, the Navy, ships, torpedoes, Kentucky, and sex. At last we got around to discussing that. An interesting discourse, with Doris Day and me sitting on the dark quayside with a crescent moon peeking down at us through spongy appliqué clouds, and a rock 'n' roll band throbbing away behind the Naval museum, the green phallic lighthouse flashing its ("pulsating, hot") red light across the dark wet harbor. I wore my white linen shirt and freshly laundered blue Dockers and felt I looked quite handsome, with my deep suntan and brushed back hair. She wore dark glasses that made her look her age, almost, and not eighteen. A plain, healthy, American face, destined, I thought, to improve with age. She told me I looked like Maxmilian Schell.

It was funny how, when we finally got around to the subject, she relaxed, became more sincere, spoke more slowly, stopped quipping and punning. It was a good, honest talk. She said she wanted to save her virginity--if not for the perfect man, at least for one who might be worth marrying. Meanwhile, she told me, she contented herself with orgasms in storage rooms and under blankets ("You men can't get away with that!"). As for her fellow Navy boys, they would either use the shower stalls or "have themselves a sock date."

"What's a sock date?"

"A date with a sock."


The subject having turned to masturbation, we spoke of our preferences, our favorite strangest places (her: "aircraft carrier supply room," I: "a moss-lined craggy split in a rock in the woods behind my childhood home"). Then on to more elaborate topics, like the smells of both sexes (men: Clorox and mushrooms; women: vinegar and chips). Bitsy even brought up the caloric count of semen: three calories per teaspoon. ("Happy dieting!")

And then I walked her home, but not before remarking the literary symbolism of our lighthouse companion ("pulsing its red hot light," "green with envy," "hard and silent in its lonely vigil"). The last bus back to the Navy port left at one a.m.; it was only a quarter past eleven. But I was tired, eager to return to my lodging, to get showered, do some writing, jerk off and go to sleep. One the way to the bus stop we encountered a gang of her shipmates seated at a cafe. They eyed me suspiciously, as a father eyes the first boy to date his sixteen year old. We walked right past them. "Let's give them something to talk about," said Bitsy. Then I left her at the stop, saying, "Will you be all right here?" Foolishly, since she had the whole U.S. Navy looking after her.

I said we were completely honest "up to the point." The point was when I left her with a phony name and address. To this day I'm not sure why I did it, and to this day I regret it.

Sorry Bitsy, wherever you are.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like the candor and freshness of this. Few men talk so freely about their sexual lives, especially when it's outside the usual TV sitcom crap. I like that Peter's frank about jerking off to go to sleep. How many men talk about that so freely?

Perry Brass, author of Carnal Sacraments, A Historical Novel of the Future.