I still very much fancied myself a literary type, and when you fancy yourself a literary type you are obligated by law to seek out all nearby bookstores. My favorite bookstore was Barbara’s on Broadway. Barbara’s stocked all sorts of things that I couldn’t find elsewhere—the two volume set of the collected works of William Carlos Williams; Charles Simic’s Hotel Insomnia; even the obscure chapbooks of the writer Carolyn Forche. I had fallen madly in love with Carolyn Forche based on two things: her poems, which were pretty terrific; and on the postage stamp-sized photo of her on the back cover of Gathering The Tribes. Writers, particularly poets, were usually hideous by nature. The women all looked like men, and the men all looked like Robert Lowell—crazy-eyed with tufts of hair sprouting from the sides of their bald heads. “No poet worth his salt is going to be handsome; if he or she is beautiful, there’s no need to create the beautiful,” the poet and scholar John Berryman once said to his student, Philip Levine. “Beautiful people are special; they don’t experience life like the rest of us.” Then he added, “Don’t worry about it, Levine. You’re ugly enough to be a great poet.”
Carolyn Forche was the lone exception to Berryman’s rule. She was the most beautiful poet I had ever seen, and I was certain that one day I would meet her and she would recognize and appreciate the delicate poet’s soul that lived within my hulking, lumbering frame.
I was feeling lonelier by the day in Chicago. I knew that I couldn’t sit in my apartment and stare at the tiny photo of Carolyn Forche for the rest of my life. One of the reasons why I’d moved here, perhaps even the main reason why I’d moved here, was a reason that I hadn’t yet put into words: I was there to meet girls, damn it all.
I didn’t really know any women—Sam hadn’t returned my calls in more than a week—but I had to be prepared, in case one should come along. Which explains why I nervously walked into Barbara’s one day and spent money that I didn’t really have on a book titled The Joy Of Sex: A Gourmet Guide To Lovemaking. The book was textbook-heavy, and had a serious air about it. The author was a medical doctor with the curious name of Alex Comfort. I blushed like a schoolboy as the cashier rang up my purchase.
I figured that if the book taught me nothing, at the very least what I was purchasing was a piece of top-shelf pornography. Once I returned home, to my great disappointment, instead of the explicit photographs which I had anticipated, what I found on the pages within was a series of pen and ink drawings, showing two people—a man who was hirsute enough to be a distant relation of Chewbacca, and a woman with hairy armpits and a bush the size of Howard Cosell’s toupee—who seemed more interested in staring into one another’s eyes than doing anything that could be perceived as exciting or illicit. There were numerous drawings of the two of them resting their heads on each other’s butts, implying that the key to becoming a good lover was finding someone who was willing to let you use his or her butt as a makeshift pillow.
That was my ultimate goal: to turn myself into a quality lover. Pornography, I figured, would only get me so far. If I wanted to make a woman truly happy, if I wanted a woman to make the same face that Sharon Stone makes on the box cover of the movie Sliver (a movie I’d rented from my neighborhood video store based solely on the box cover), then I needed to educate myself. I needed to study up.
And study up I did. I read chapters titled “Tenderness,” “Nakedness,” and “Hormones.” I learned new terms like “mons venus,” “cassolette,” “soixante-neuf,” and “flanquette.” There were kneeling positions, sitting positions, and something called “the X position.” There was both blowing and biting to consider. And there was something terrifying involving a person’s big toe to consider. I memorized illustrations of The Wheelbarrow, and Birdsong At Morning, and The Viennese Oyster. I learned about aphrodisiacs, and ben-wa balls, trigger points, and feathers. Without a doubt there was not a lonelier, more knowledgeable unpracticed lover in the greater Chicago area at that time. I was nothing but potential.
Now, all I needed now was a woman upon whom I could unleash my new-found pleasuring skills. If only Carolyn Forche happened to be passing through town—boy, would I give her a time. I had no doubt that I could take her straight to the moon and back again.