The Gnarled Cane Resemblance Factorby Bart Plantenga
I walked across my shadow, past expectation, with a discreet limp and a gnarled cane. The shadow mocking me with the thought of the cane and the cane itself having sometimes failed to keep me erect.
You won’t believe how I came to possess this cane — or it me. Or how the cane inspired a limp sometimes described as intriguing. I was waiting as the one-legged guy took a deep breath of whiskey in the old Beowulf, circa I don’t remember exactly, probably mid-90s. Somewhere Tribeca. I asked him about mixing opiods and whiskey.
“I stop taking Oxy when I drink. I prefer pain, a clear head, and whiskey to the dullness of a mooring buoy.”
As he retold his many tales, I admired how he had so lovingly sanded and varnished his cane. He recalled serving his country in “Dag-Gum-istan” and saluting his leg before being stretchered off.
He’d walked into a trip wire setting off an anti-personnel mine. Blew him 15 feet into the air, as he watched his leg floating by at 20 feet. Flown by chopper …
I dashed into the toilet with its leaky pipes and faucet from a darker period. I splashed rusty water on my face, dashed out of the toilet ahead of him. I wore a conniving smile shaped like a rip in a shirt. I did not care, ambled up to the bar, swigged the rest of my beer, down it went, left an exorbitant tip and, spotting the cane hanging from the bar, walked out with it — head of Shiva knob in hand.
So now you know: I stole it from the one-legged vet in the Beowulf who remains nameless because to name him is to humanise him and to humanise is to empathise and to empathise leads irrevocably to remorse.
I was already beginning to acquire a hobble on this, my maiden voyage, anxious for the cane to bestow upon me the dignity of a limp. After all, didn’t Toulouse-Lautrec and Cole Porter both have limps?
I called her from the phone booth on her corner: “I downstairs.”
Her face a round and luminescent moon orbiting an unnamed planet in the doorway of the disappeared deli next door. And here I leaned against the sagging iron gate as she dressed me in women’s clothes from a Céline (not the writer) Soho bag.
In her disarming English she whispered, “You squeese, now hol’.” I untwisted my belt as she stuffed my previous incarnation’s rags into the bag. She’d developed these deceptions as a guarantee of getting me into her room — girls only. The 14th St. wig was just convincing enough in the sick light of the lobby.
I waddled across the scuffed marble hotel lobby of the Martha Washington Hotel for Women — as the teetering mirage of woman — past the glum bar where actress Veronica Lake, down on her luck, once worked as a barmaid; past reception where a glum woman of 45 who liked to glare at you from over her glasses, low on her nose, but never took her judgmental sneer beyond a facial twitch, past the inert security sentinel with his face of plaster.
I often played the part of English tutor, making her repeat, using my best female Jack Lemmon impersonation: “Please do not squeeze my fruits, madam.”
“Pries do no’ squeeze my flute, madding.”
The elevator doors closed and her appetite leaped upon its prey, eyes transforming into that of a predator’s — even if it was only a charade to intensify the little time we’d have together. Even if it was only a declaration of freedom from the circumscriptions of modesty and compliance imposed on her (and her body) by Japanese social norms.
By floor three her breath, plunging dramatically two octaves, marked by a mild glottal leap, reminding some of an inside-out yodel or inhaled yelp, seemingly imitating the wind howling through a bullethole in a cheap SRO. She licked my hands, my arms until — DING — sixth floor. Composed and stifling giggles, we wended down the threadbare-carpeted, psycho-ard-olive-green hallways that had absorbed much angst and loneliness, shadows, the poems of Sara Teasdale, the lubricious antics of Louise Brooks, stains, smells, and drunken religious mumblings behind drab doors — reminding one of late night radio when, at certain frequencies, one can pull down the rickety remnants of five alien radio signals simultaneously.
Her room smelled of an old potato sliced in two — musty and blank. Of transients who had gone here and there but had never arrived. Two chairs and a table covered with glossy, stiff beribboned bags from upscale brand stores. The bed too high, unmade, also covered in piles of recent purchases. Nothing on her walls except a picture of me ten years ago (a me that I preferred but don’t ever remember having been), a blurry photo booth shot dangling from the end of a lock of her hair like an outlaw on the end of a hangman’s noose, a John Lennon pic neatly cut from a 15-year-old People and the cut-out snippets of a NYC street map taped to the wall.
Each day she walked somewhere else, shopped there, and at night she’d cut out that portion of the Manhattan map and tape it to the wall. This was how her mind would conquer NYC. And that she ruled almost nothing else in her life made this daily activity all the more essential.
Rita truly defied definition; maybe she was not a Japanese woman, a woman, a human, just a figment, a rumor, elusive, unstuck in time, sans memory or nostalgia.
On the worn fake Persian rug I guided her hand through my gaping fly, like a boy pushing his toy plane through the air, beyond someone else’s lace panties that she tugged aside. I liked wearing them because they left their pattern (of Monet’s lilies) pressed into my skin like the ghost of a livestock brand. And there, on her raw, penitent knees, she naughtily rubbed the lace seam back and forth to make my balls dance. If they’d been Tibetan bells she couldn’t have handled them with more loving dexterity.
I grabbed my Shiva-headed cane. Politely wiped the cane’s tin point glimmering in the sunlight with a Japanese brand moist towelette.
She fell back sighful upon her bed, head full of combustible hormones; one beer and one whiff of my redolently precise pheromones could infiltrate her diminutive figure like cognac. She lay there spread out, infinite as a field of shimmering white poppies (a million petals about to lose their narcotic heads) and there I lifted her skirt with my elegantly gnarled cane.
I rubbed the cane along a scar on her knee, her tensed quadratus femoris (freshman anatomy) and tracked her glistening sighs up the fluttering inner-inner of her gracilis (rhymes with grace), following blue veins along her smooth, white legs, observing her eyes flicker back into the tilt of her brain. I pulled aside her moist panties and there inserted myself as a bee of the Hymenoptera order into the orchid.
I gathered her writhing torso, positioned her lovely pastry-engorged gluteus maximi on the windowsill. One leg pushed off against the wobbly radiator with her back pressed into the window jamb — leverage is the physics of arousal.
She could have easily fallen out of this window into the shimmering day, into the midst of the scurrying drama students and office workers huddled below around their cigarette smoke. How much weight will this window support?
“I love fuck you in sun middle weekday.” I had begun to admire the poetics of her broken English.
“Yes, I fuck to be happy by you.”
She pinned her other leg to the dresser to create of her wishbone a bow strung taut with me as pheromone-tipped arrow aimed right at her feverish quiver. A dynamic tension she’d learned from the Tao of Sex or Hen Sekushī Gēmusho [Strange Sexy Game Show]…
I kneel, licked along her inner thigh, strummed nerves until her body was one feverish symphony of readiness.
She comes and comes as she wails: “Eeeeealnha.” I imagine — I don’t know — this is the word for some Japanese god. “Eeeealnha.” Over and over until the sound is one effusive reverberation of joy, a mantra of disembodied soul skimming across amniotic fluids, the way skipping stones skim across water.
I jockeyed abruptly in behind her to share her with my glorious Shiva-knob cane at the ready. I rubbed the cane head into her vertical and vertiginous glistening moan, up against her vulnerable ketsu, and as I reach my inevitable crisis, she begins to howl like a dog being swung by its tail and her head SMASHES the windowpane. A small sliver of loose glass flickers down amidst the smokers huddle below.
And here is my dilemma: tightroping between true self and the self made cinematic by women. I have learned to perform beyond the limitations of my jangly frame, outlaw to self interest — evangelist of pleasure. but that is good, they say.
“I must go.”
“You nevah stay.” Her desire is ferocious, unquenchable. “You must be chikushoh, chikushoh to me always.”
I think she meant beast as a compliment here. As I gather my clothes, I try to distract her, make her repeat after me, “Thomas Alva Edison tried everything, even a strand of his adoring wife’s hair, as a potential long-lasting filament for his new incandescent lamp. Repeat after me: Thomas Alva Ed- …”
“No. No mo’e Engrish!” Her legs give way — head a blur. “No Go.” Her words are incantatory, botanical, soul as a blur of energy wrapped tightly around itself, as she collapsed into a squat, her knees serving as parentheses embracing her cheeks.
I wonder why I was here — three times a week. And remember how she’d spend her endless days (a mystery in itself), visiting galleries, shopping thrift stores and boutiques, guided by Vogue and sekushī oshare [Sexy Fashionable].
Rita had sworn off the security of tradition and now truly desired danger as her crack cocaine. Our liaisons continued to evolve: ever-riskier outfits, crazier heels, holes cut in pants exposing genitalia. Pantyless in bars, exhibitionism, asphyxiation, testing the nightguard’s observation skills – or maybe he could care less.
In her room, she’d strip me of my girlie outfit, dress me in her best John Lennon finds. We sang Plastic Ono Band songs. She plotted our coming out as John and Yoko to promenade around Tribeca, she dangling from my arm, reciting from Grapefruit.
How could she — or we — possibly go on living for these encounters and not much more. Some people have causes, jobs, schedules or hobbies; she filled her day by handling sculptures, pretending to be interested, buying glossy artbooks, Taschen on sale, Lennon-Ono collectibles, and granny glasses. She sat in near-empty theatres for the early shows where she could neither follow the English nor the action, but she went anyway.
She bought the best beer, stole videos from Kim’s, showed off tricks involving her double-jointedness, all to entice me to stay longer, overnight – eventually forever? Staring at the photo of me standing next to her Lennon pics, I wondered how far she’d go to make me look like him.
But Rita was no conniving, legacy-seeking, spoiled diplomat’s daughter using me to distract from the fact that she had never done anything of significance (that I knew of). She never mentioned volunteering to help refugees, save anything, not even money; she talked more about that one instant of her head crashing through the hotel window and two-thirds of her thrill-addicted body hanging over the ledge – smilies drawn on her breasts with lipstick, nipples as noses – scream-singing “‘You got to be free / Come together, right now / Over me’.” The glass splinters ready to be caught in the open mouths of the aghast passersby like a raven dropping worms into the mouths of hungry chicks. Naked. Legendary. New York Post. Scandal. Me in jail. My stories didn’t add up …