I began what I hoped would be my adult life in the same year that President Kennedy urged Americans to “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” and then did us in with the Bay of Pigs fiasco. It was right after the summer that Ernest Hemingway committed suicide that I made my big move, in the September when 1010 WINS New York was constantly playing Patsy Cline singing “I fall to pieces.”
I left my family home in Canarsie Brooklyn and moved to Manhattan, to my first apartment on McDougal Street between Bleeker and W.4th. My grandmother, who lived with us, covered all the mirrors in the house and sat shiva for me as if I was dead in an attempt to shame me into moving back home but I vowed never to return.
Our family life was a shambles; my father had a mistress named Hortense. On the rare occasions he was at home evenings, he and my mother had screaming battles. My fourteen- year-old brother was always in his room, door closed, reading comics and masturbating to Playboy magazines. I don’t know how he got them but he kept them under his mattress. My grandmother, who was eighty-seven, spent all her time shopping for and cooking Kosher food for us because she believed good food would fix our fractured family. As a result the refrigerator was crowed with kasha varneskes, brisket and stuffed cabbage that no one in the house had the stomach to eat except for her.
I was entering my sophomore year at Brooklyn College and eager to take my life in my own hands. I found my apartment I had found through the New York Times, $32 a month for a forth floor walk-up with a toilet in the hall that was shared by the other 3 tenants on the floor. I used money I saved from my babysitting jobs for the first month’s rent and security deposit. Through the want ads I found a part time job afternoons as a file clerk at Capitol records on Forty-fourth Street in Manhattan. I could subway into Brooklyn for my classes in the mornings; go back into Manhattan for my job afternoons and then down to McDougal Street to do my homework in the evenings. I had it all planned out.
My boyfriend from the neighborhood, Ed Goldstein, drove me and my few cartons of possessions over on a Sunday evening. Later he became a Hare Krishna and an amphetamine addict. He wanted to stay over, and make it with me on the studio couch left by the former tenants that was to be my bed. We had been going together three months but I was already beginning to tire of him, especially the way he always pulled out of me always a minute too soon, peeled of the condom and said, “that was great, did you come too?”
I sent him home, unpacked, arranged my clothes in the closet, and packed my book bag for tomorrow’s classes. I fell asleep dreaming of Paul Newman. Eddie and I had just gone to see The Hustler. In the dream Paul Newman was inside me and his cock was as big as a pool cue.
The alarm clock woke me at 6:30 am. My first class was an early one, art history at 8 o’clock. After waiting ten minutes for hot water, I washed my face in the cold water from my sink. Then I dressed, grabbed my book bag and was out the door. I walked over to Seventh Avenue to catch the subway at 12th street.
On the downtown number 3 train, the only other people in my car were an old Orthodox Jewish couple. The bearded man was wearing a big, black hat, his long white prayer curls peeping out from either side. The woman had a kerchief on her head and a long wool skirt that fell below the tops of her shoes so that her ankles could not be seen. I took a seat at the opposite end of the car from them and got out Xeroxes my professor had given us at the end of last weeks class.
He was a famous artist named Ad Reinhardt. I had to take an art elective. I choose the class he taught, Oriental art, because of my mother. She had a small collection of Rose Medallion China, which she had brought piecemeal at flea markets. The china featured stately court scenes painted in shades of pink and green with accents of gold. I thought I’d spend the semester looking at images of pagodas and fine ladies in elegant kimonos drinking tea.
Ad Reinhardt had other ideas. Last week, during our first class of the semester; he announced the oriental art we would be studying would be the art of ancient Asia. He had spent some years in Asia and the xeroxes in front of me were color photos he had taken of the ruins of Ankor Vat in India; huge sculptural friezes filled with copulating couples. They were certainly more interesting then the ladies strolling in gardens on my mother’s ornamental plates. Reinhardt said we should study the photos for homework and we would talk about our impressions in class. I looked at the heaving buttocks, breasts big as watermelons, male members the size of baseball bats. As I gazed at these tableaux of passion, I felt a moistening between my thighs, a certain rising heat that I loved. I didn’t think I could talk about this heat in class. I was too shy. I glanced up from the page I was looking at, trying to distance myself from the source of my arousal.
Right in front of me was standing a huge, fat man wearing a red ski cap, his raincoat open. One hand was holding on to the pole next to his head, the other was grasping his thing, jerking it, pulling it up and down. It was so swollen he couldn’t get his big, meaty hand around it. It looked as big as the specimens at Ankor Vat and made Eddie’s little thing look like a toothpick.
On the purple tip there were a few glistening drops of white creamy stuff. I knew enough to know that this meant very, very soon a big jet of that goo might shoot out all over me. I grabbed my stuff and galloped wildly to the other end of the car. I plopped down in the seat next to the old couple.
They looked at me distinctly annoyed. I tried to explain but couldn’t get the words out.
“He, er, he….”I gasped, pointing to the end of the car, ‘He …” Their eyes followed the direction of my arm but the man was gone. He must have slipped into the next car. The couple continued their discussion in Yiddish, ignoring me. I tried to compose myself; I took long deep breaths like I was meditating. The conductor announced, “Atlantic Avenue, change here for the Long Island Railroad.” There were only a few stops left before Flatbush Avenue, the Brooklyn College stop. I had better look at the pictures and think about what I could say in class.
As I gazed at them again, all I could think was that the frenzied figures feeding on each other, sucking flesh into every orifice looked like they had gone mad and it was the end of the world. Suddenly, I was conscious of a silence next to me. The old couple were staring, their mouths open, at the papers spread out across my lap. He grabbed her hand and they ran as if the devil was chasing them to the other end of the subway car. They stood there, silently facing the door and got off at the next stop.
I got to class five minutes late. Reinhardt looked at me disapprovingly. He was a tall, dour man who wore a black suit and black shirt and no tie. Several semesters later he died of a heart attack. The rumor going around campus was that he suffered it while in the saddle with a female student. As if to punish me for my tardiness, he called on me first one to share my impressions of the pictures of the ruins.
I told him I thought that the frenzy of the colossal mating figures looked like they had gone crazy, driven out of their minds by their giant orgies of flesh and it was the end of the world. Then I added another idea that just popped into my head, “Angor Vat,” I said, “could also be seen as the beginning of the world, the carnal labors of the first creation.
“Sophisticated ideas,” he said, “Surprising in an undergraduate.” His lips curved up slightly in what might have been taken for a smile.
My next class was English literature and composition. The assignment from last week was to read The Catcher In The Rye. I had read the book but I was still shaky from the occurrence in the subway car and, I couldn’t remember all that much of what I had read. My adventure on the number 3 train was like the kind of thing that kept happening to Holden Caulfield, but I definitely didn’t want to talk about it.
When I got to the room I slumped in a seat at the back and pretended I was invisible, maybe it worked because my English professor didn’t call on me, not even once.
Tsaurah Litzky and I go back a ways. I enjoy her writing and friendship immensely. I've published her in almost every project I've done. In print Beet, Pink Pages. She's been anthologized in Susie Bright's Best American Erotica several times, and has been teaching writing at the New School for several years. She also has a longer piece published by Susie in "Three the Hard Way" a group of three longer pieces of fiction. Here's what you can buy on amazon.com