Uh Oh Sulfur
I couldn’t tell whether the sulfur smell was coming from the air conditioning of my car, or from her perfume. Then I thought maybe the smell wasn’t her perfume or the car. I thought maybe it was her sweat mixed sadistically like a witch’s brew with some God-awful women’s deodorant in her plump armpits. I suppose it didn’t make a difference. It was a doomed-by-God first date, and there was another problem, too: It is hard to be sociable when your tongue is lacerated by the herpes virus. Herpes was my initial diagnosis. I had been to the doc’s two times in the past 10 days. At the first visit, doc told me we should wait seven days, and if the gray, ugly lesions on either side of my tongue, which hurt real bad, didn’t get better, we would have to do a biopsy. I returned to doc’s seven days later, and the unsightly things were still there and still hurting bad, and I was convinced I had cancer, but doc took one look at my tongue and said, “Much better.” I didn’t think my God-damned diseased tongue was much better. I had motherfucking cancer. Then doc said, “I’ll see you in a month. I am sure glad to see that everything is okey dokey with your tongue.” So I started thinking that maybe it wasn’t the cancer. Three or four days after that last visit to doc’s, with my tongue lesions still hurting, I found myself driving in a car to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., on a Sunday afternoon at 2 with some God-damned girl who smelled bad.
The herpes, if that’s what it was, wasn’t genital. I was certain of that. I hadn’t kissed a girl in two years, and I hadn’t made love with one in 10. That one was a brief, ill-fated afternoon number with a flooz who wasn’t half bad looking. She spent her evenings following me around the bar I used to get drunk at every night, Clyde’s of Chevy Chase, Maryland. She was a married girl, too. I asked her about her husband, and she said she didn’t give a fuck about him. He wasn’t a beat freak or nothin’. He was just a plain old fuckhead asshole, and I didn’t enjoy coitus much with that girl. She had red hair by the way. She just lay there underneath me, unmoving without making any sex sounds, unlike the bobbling-tits, gyrating-bodies and spread-legged, moaning girls I see on the porn videos I watch each night. She just lay there without feeling, passively waiting for me to cum, and I cummed like a Mack truck. I always cum like a Mack truck. Some girls like it. Some don’t. Afterward she said, “Well, it didn’t take long to get you into the bedroom, did it?” I wished then that she would leave. That’s the way I felt about my date as we drove down to the National Gallery. I wished she would jump out the car door while we were doin’ 55 on North 395. I was married 10 years before I fucked the Clyde’s girl, and my wife in the half-year we were hitched never gave me head, good or bad. I in return never gave her cunnilingus, good or bad, either. It couldn’t be genital herpes. I hadn’t really had sex for about 14 years. Perhaps it was, in fact, a touch of the cancer.
I had met my date in a coffee café sort of place a couple days before. Her name was Hallelujah Juanita Jimenez Urata, and at first, I thought I might have a bonafide chance for a genuine heterosexual relationship. I noticed her at the half-and half table, where every morning I am tryin’ to pick up girls. I saw her in profile, and she didn’t look too bad: dark skin, like all the voluptuous Italian girls I had seen in Rome, Italy, during my honeymoon, which was a nearly suicidal disaster, and her lips were okay too, kinda chubby, kinda chunky, kinda plump, and I thought I might like to kiss them, even with my herpes or cancer tongue. I had been watching old movies on the TV for weeks, and the actors and actresses in these films were always makin’ out with each other. In fact, that’s about all they did: Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in “Casablanca,” Marlin Brando and Maria Schneider in “Last Tango in Paris” and lots of others who I forget: all of them sucking face and doin’ other dirty shit on the big screen. It hurt me when I watched them. It hurt me inside my little, frail chest. I was hurtin’ bad for sex, any sex, even mercy sex.
I got ready to sit in the corner of the coffee shop, in the shade where I could look at my computer screen without glare from the God-damned sun. Yeah, I could make my art photographs over there, photographs which not one God-damned art gallery in the world would show. The galleries were all too God-damned provincial to hang my work. I felt like Vincent fucking van Gogh or one of those other master genius artists who didn’t get recognized until they were dead and riding high in heaven. What a fucking fate. It didn’t matter much, though. I could deal with it. If I could deal with not getting’ laid in 10 fuckless, feckless, empty years, I could deal with anything, as they say. I sat at my table in the corner, hunched over my computer like Ebenezer Scrooge and checked my three email boxes. I always checked my emails first thing before I started making the art work.
I didn’t get any mail in the first box. In the second I got a bunch of spam—how to get easy cash from some scummy scumbag company which had the nerve to call themselves an honest business; vacuum cleaners at discount rates; a coupon for 47 cents off Crest toothpaste at Target; mortgages-even-if-you-have-bad-credit ads, Big People Singles for True Love teases, more discounts—that sort of shit. The third box was gonna be worthwhile. I knew it. I always got messages there from my buddy Allophonse Beauregard Federico Demetrius, and he was a real intelligent, interesting, unprovincial, nonconformist, unconventional type of guy, just like half the successful modern artists in art history. Fuck. In fact, he was a fucking anarchist, and who sees any of those types these days? Yeah, he was a real genuine human being, a genius if you ask me, and just like I thought, there was a message from Alphonse Beauregard. It linked to a series of black-and-white photographs of temptresses sirens, 23-year-old nymph girls in various stages of undress—tasteful, sexy stuff, nothin’ like pictures which stick shaved cunts in your face. These photographs were technical and aesthetic masterpieces, like old Greek sculptures. Alphonse Beauregard was always sending me cultural shit like this which, if you ask me, made life worth living. Even though I make fun of it, high art is the sort of shit we should strive for.
To my surprise, Hallelujah came over and sat near me, at a table cattycorner to mine. I looked up from my screen from time to time, to see if she would look at me. I wasn’t the bold John Wayne, Clint Eastwood type, and I was always lookin’ for the girls to give me some encouragement. Just a little encouragement would do. Hallelujah didn’t look at me. She just sat there, slirpin’ her coffee and gnarling her chocolate chip bagel which had creamed cheese on it. Fuck, I thought. This was normal. Girls never gave me encouragement. I figured this was due to my face, a 59-year-old face, a creased, wrinkled face, a face with some red splotches of dried skin on the forehead and temples, and to tell the truth, which all philosophers and presidents of all the liberal arts colleges in America are always talkin’ about, it was an ugly face, a face marred by cruel time like the face of an old 1700s Japanese mother I saw in some film in a repertoire theater once. Her son was sent to her to carry her up a mountain to burial grounds, where he had to carry out his filial duty. He would abandon his mother by some rocks in the middle of the grounds and let her die. He would leave her and let her get pecked to death by birds. The son had to do this shit. That’s just how they did things in Japan in those days. The mother herself insisted that her son do this, that he be brave and courageous, that he ferry her to her death. The mother and son were from a tribe of agrarians, and everybody in the tribe knew she was no use anymore. She was too old to work and make food, and like all old people she had become a liability, a drain on society. I consoled myself sometimes, though. My face wasn’t so bad to look at in dim light, when you couldn’t see the details. I knew, however, and tried to accept the fact, that my face was no longer the one I had when I was in my 20s and 30s. In those days, I had a handsome face. I had an intellectually challenging and demanding good job downtown at the big city paper, too—despite my psycho-sexual, chemically unbalanced, hereditary, dying for Prozac, nutritionally deficient, synapses-malfunctioning, Carl Jungian mental disabilities, and I was makin’ bundles of cash back then, too, thanks to the writers and editors union. In those days the girls were always returning my sex-eye glares and giving me encouragement.
Hallelujah did look up after she had finished swallowing her bagel. I motioned with an arm like a classical music conductor, inviting her to my table. I figured right then that I might not like her much, because I was always froze around the real good-lookin’ girls, the ones 20 and 30 years younger than me, the girls who made me all tingly inside, the girls I was in love with the instant I saw them, the girls I wanted to fuck, the girls who when I tried to hit on them said things like, “Sir, I can’t believe what you just said that to me, sir.”
Hallelujah grabbed her coffee, came over and sat next to me, and she was a talker. She told me she was crazy. She told me she was born in Lima, Peru, and had lived half her life in Tokyo, Japan. Her father was Peruvian, and her mother was a Nip Buddhist. I could see it in her face, half Hispano and half Nip. I can’t remember what all else she told me. She had a daughter who went to the same college as my 20-year-old girl. She said that when she—Hallelujah, not her daughter—first went to college, she started majoring in business, then she changed colleges and began to study law. She changed colleges again and started to study medicine. She changed colleges yet again, this time majoring in accounting. It was because of all these changes of mind that Hallelujah said she was crazy. I didn’t mind. I thought her story was different and funny and entertaining and interesting, and I thought it was a good sign that Hallelujah thought she was crazy. I certainly was. Seventeen psychiatrists who had been billing me $275 an hour every week for the past 48 years told me I was a retarded mental. They had been calling me a mental ever since I had my first nervous breakdown when I was 11. That was the first of 14 or so mental nervous breakdowns I’ve had in my God-damned life. Sometimes these millionaire bastard shrinks put it to me politely, saying things like, “Punkie, you have been acting crazy.” Other times the rich assholes in their fancy suits and ties and shiny shoes were harsh, labeling me with terms like “congenital, incurable schizophrenic” and “chronic, degenerate schizoid-affective.” They were always giving me heavy-duty psychotropic drugs which had side effects like cotton mouth, involuntary twitching of the cheeks, 50-pound weight gains and uncontrollable trembling hands. Despite my history of psychosises and myriad, manic, bizarre CIA delusions, I thought I might have a decent shot at a relationship with Hallelujah. It would probably make for one of those unfaithful, tormented love lifes, like Ernest Hemingway’s or Sylvia Plath’s or a hundred thousand other weird, eccentric, drunk writer-artist types, but it would be a relationship nonetheless.
When it was time for Hallelujah to go—she had a doctor’s appointment for a mammogram—she went first. She said she would give me her phone number, and this was before I asked for hers. I thought this was unique in America, and I was pleased. She was God-damned unconventional. Earlier, I had discreetly pulled my calling card out of my wallet. Some asshole, we’ll-help-you-get-a-job advisors referred to my calling card a business card, but I didn’t, and I put the thing in the pocket of my sports jacket, so I would have it at the ready for Hallelujah. I always wore my sports jacket, even though it was wrinkled and dirty and had not been to the cleaners in three years. Who the fuck has money to pay a dry cleaner? I thought the God-damned jacket made me look professorial or some shit, like Arthur Miller or T. S. Eliot; and I guess I liked that; maybe I liked it unconsciously. I took Hallelujah’s phone number and gave her my card, thinkin’ back a couple months when I first ordered the thing. I had half-heartedly taken a bunch of seminars on how to get a job, and they were always talkin’ about how you had to have business cards to get a job. It was so you looked professional, and it was for networking and shit like that, but I didn’t order the God damned cards to get a job. I didn’t really want to fucking work. I got the cards so I could give ’em to girls, after I had hit on them.
I told Hallelujah I would call her and asked when she would like me to phone. She said: “Let’s see. Today is Wednesday, yes? Call me in two days. That’s on Friday, yes?” That was all right with me. I wouldn’t have to wait a God-damned, face-saving week or two longing and obsessed with the idea that I might be getting laid soon. Just before Hallelujah left, she asked: “What your name, please, yes?” I told her: “Mooky the Punk Altman. Call me Punkie. Everybody calls me Punkie.”
“Oh,” said Hallelujah. I couldn’t figure out what the hell she was thinking.
She left, and I didn’t consider the fact that I hadn’t gotten a good look at her. Uncharacteristically, I didn’t even check out her ass as she walked away. I always check out girls’ asses. I could tell from the shape woman’s ass whether I wanted to fuck her or not. Then I started thinking about Hallelujah’s accent. It was heavy and mixed—Peruvian-Nip. I had a hard time understanding her; she didn’t speak real good English; and I thought this was most likely a good thing, too. Maybe we could keep our relationship to mostly fucking, maybe to only fucking, like the hero in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” movie. The hero of this film, which was not very popular in America, was a doc, like my tongue doc, and the Communist government in Prague, Czechoslovakia deemed him an undesirable, an enemy of the state, and they punished him by not letting him practice medicine anymore. He had to wash windows for a living, and he used to wash windows in apartments, and he fucked all the wives who were home in their apartments during the day, and he used to fuck a beautiful, sexy-like-Kim Novak, Sophia Lauren artist girl who always wore a bowler hat. She, as if by instinct, took her clothes off real quick for the doc when he came around to her place to fuck her, and she posed for him naked before they started fucking—all the women the doc fucked posed for him—and this artist girl kept her hat on her head when they were fucking. The doc always fucked her real good. The doc fucked all his women real good.
I called Hallelujah on Friday like I said I would, and after a few minutes of prerequisite small talk, we agreed on an art gallery date that Sunday. Nothin’ much happened between the time I called Hallelujah and Sunday. I didn’t even masturbate to my porn films, thinkin’ that I should save up my jizz, since I might be getting laid at the end of the date.
Sunday arrived, and Hallelujah showed up at my place at 2 sharp, just like we agreed. I live on the 14th floor of a high rise which has the cheapest rent in all of Alexandria, Virginia, where I humbly abide. I have lived in this stupid, fucking place for a whole fucking year now, and for the whole year I have felt like Quasimodo in the bell towers of Notre Dame, and since I haven’t been laid in 10 years, I sometimes think of myself as a Jesuit priest, too, and I sure pray to God like a Jesuit priest. I pray to God that I get laid. I prayed to God that I get laid real soon.
I met Hallelujah in the lobby, and I knew immediately that the date wasn’t gonna go too good. She was about 4-feet tall, like a midget. She look retarded like Toulouse Lautrec, and everybody who has read an art history book knows what an unfortunate, malformed, ugly fuck he was. The poor man was always payin’ francs to whores in Parisian whore houses to get laid. I myself had considered whores, but I couldn’t afford $180 an hour to get fucked. Hell, I thought. I wouldn’t need an hour. I could jizz all over a whore’s dirty stomach in two or three minutes, like I did in the front seat of my daddy’s car when I was on a date with my high school girlfriend 42 years ago. Hallelujah, however, wasn’t ugly in the face like Lautrec. Unfortunately she wore a polyester, fluorescent and probably carcinogenic outfit, which she must have bought at Zaire’s. She had on bell-bottom pants and a baggy blouse, showin’ some tit. Her pants were orange, and her blouse was red, and I didn’t think her colors were successful, like the Fauves’, and all this depressed me. I hoped that I wouldn’t fall into one of my real bad clinically depressed depressions. I thought her face would do, but she had one of these fireplug bodies, plump in the arms and bulging around the midriff and thighs, and she walked funny, too. She walked like a God-damned duck. I knew I could never fuck her, but I would go through with the date and act like a gentleman, not an asshole like some guys would. Yes, I would be a gentleman. Hallelujah deserved that. She like me was a human being, and I think every human deserves respect, and I gave her respect. That’s why I didn’t tell her on our way to the gallery that she smelled foul. That’s why I didn’t tell her that she stank like a rotting egg.
We parked four blocks from the gallery at my favorite spot. It was over there on 2nd Street, not far from the Capitol, where 20-somethings who worked on the Hill used to go and drink pitchers of beers and try to pick one another up and have sex after their pre-sex games of softball and Frisbee on the Mall. I went down to the National Gallery every Sunday to watch avant-garde movies. Hallelujah wanted to look in the East Wing at the paintings made by weird, demented painters, but I persuaded her to go to the 4 o’clock film with me. I knew I was on a most unfortunate date, but I didn’t want to ruin my whole day. A good old National Gallery of Art film might make most of the day all right with me.
There was a girl who introduced the 4 o’clock film, and she announced herself as the head of the whole National Gallery of Art film department. I was impressed. She said the movie was a classic, and I believed her, and I scrutinized her when she spoke at the podium at the front of the auditorium. She was not half bad lookin’, kinda skinny and frail, but not sickly’. I mean, she wasn’t anorexic or emaciated. She looked like the frigid type, too, like she hadn’t been laid in a year or two. I was thinkin’ this was the kind of girl I needed to have a truly meaningful relationship with, a girl who understood film masterpieces and probably great art and poetry, too, and a girl who was horny. Miss Film Director Girl, as I like to call her, was always introducing the Sunday films down there at the National. She was staid, confidant and succinct when she spoke, not tossin’ out highfalutin words like those asshole PhD professors who pretentiously referred to Freidrich Wilhelm Nietzsche’s posteriori dichotomy theory of man’s dual nature related to Picasso’s pink period or some shit like that, the cocky tenured professors who lectured down there at the National on Leonardo da Vinci and Henry Matisse and other fuckhead artists. No, she spoke the way veteran journalists speak, and I liked that. Journalists don’t talk shit, and they are the most articulate people in the world.
Just the week before, I saw my Miss Film Director Girl in the hallway outside the National Gallery’s bathrooms, right after I had watched a long, odd film by some Frog-Frenchman. I think his name was Robert Bresson. I had never heard of the stupid-fuck, sissy Frog before. Miss Film Director Girl was talking to a security guard who was wearing a fine, pressed blue blazer with pressed khakis and shined black leather shoes. I wanted to go up to her and introduce myself, but I thought about the holes in the souls of my 4-year-old shoes and hesitated. I didn’t think she would mind, though. She wouldn’t know I had holes in my shoes, and she might be flattered. I could compliment her on her educated, refined and coherent introductions to all her God-damned esoteric movies. Maybe I could swing a cup of coffee with her. Maybe this would lead to a date and a God-damned cherry milkshake. Maybe I could marry the fucking girl, and maybe she would understand my art and my poetry. Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention that I write poetry. One hip unpublished literary critic friend of mine likened my shit to the City Lights writers, and he was serious. He said I was as good as any of them. My poetry is full of fuck-words and mortally sinful, salacious, barbarian, Asian-pornographic, immature and irresponsible sex acts and sex images, so it is no wonder I can never get the fucking shit published. But maybe the National Gallery of Art Film Director Girl would get my art and poetry discovered, and maybe I would become famous. That is really what I wanted out of my art. I wanted to be famous. Fuck beauty and all that other college-art-history-professor crap and all the God-damned silly, stupid, insipid shit failed contemporary artists were writing on their blogs, their stupid fucking statements of artistic intent. But none of my hypo-manic glory dreams were going to come true. Maybe I was intimidated by the guard and the way he was dressed. Maybe he reminded me of all my 17, cock-sucking psychiatrists and how they used to flirt in the nurses stations with all their nubile, brimming, vivacious, of-child-rearing age, strumpet nurses dressed in their permissive, immodest white miniskirts with those fornication-provoking starched white hats in their Western civilized, freshly shampooed, alluring, Wella Balsam hair, but I don’t think so. I was just too God-damned scared to talk to the girl. I couldn’t find the confidence to go over and introduce myself to Miss Director Girl.
The film turned out to be an old Nip number made by some classic Nip director, the third most famous director in all of Japan’s movie history. I didn’t recognize his name. I knew only Kurosawa, Yamamoto and Ozu, but what the fuck?
The film started, and I got tired real quick. I fell asleep three minutes into the great work of art and stayed asleep for 15 minutes. When I woke up, I immediately understood that the story was taking place sometime far in Japan’s past. All the ancient Jap men were runnin’ around, wearing funny-lookin’ skirts made of strands of exceptionally dried-out straw. A mother and her two barely teenage children were getting sold into slavery. This was horrible, I thought, but still I wasn’t interested in the film. It was another in a tradition of works written and directed by some manically depressed, never-satisfied lost souls with Freudian mother’s complexes who, for what it is worth, were always men. The message was constant: Life was an incontrovertible, unbearable, unfair barrel of shit which was too heavy to move, and God sucks. It was predictable flotsam and jetsam. The film Hallelujah and I were watching said the same thing: Life was torment and torture, and I figured Hallelujah wouldn’t go for this stuff. After all, she was a provincial accountant for some stupid-assed, local, thieving bank which gives you .01 percent interest on your savings account and acts like it is doing you a service. I asked her twice if she wanted to leave, once when one of the people sold into slavery was getting sizzle branded by a scalding iron like a cow in the old West. All the poor slave had done was try to escape his imprisoned encampment, where the slaves were forced to do heavy or shitty, dull labor all day. But each time I asked, Hallelujah said no. She wanted to watch the whole God-damned depressing film. She even cried in a couple parts of the movie. I guess she got off on wathchin’ a bunch of abjectly miserable people wasting away to their pathetic deaths, while God did nothing. When the film was over and we were leaving, Hallelujah said she liked the God-damned flick, and she was happy to hear and comprehend Japanese again. She had understood all the words in the whole fucking movie.
I prayed on the way to the car that Hallelujah didn’t suggest that we go to dinner, and thanks to the gods who grant good fortune and mercy to mortal souls, she didn’t. She talked all the way home about her daughter, who was mischievous, rebellious, always in trouble, and she said that her daughter had gotten a full scholarship to her college, Mary Washington, down there in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I thought about my daughter and said Fuck to myself. My daughter didn’t get no scholarship, and she never caused no trouble. She was a straight-A student, a classical musician and shit like that. She was a junior now, studying in Beijing, China. In a year or two, she was probably going to be working in an impressive, high-paying job in in a billion-dollar corporation which was trading with China, or maybe she was going to be an agent for a U.S. intelligence agency, spying’ on all the God-damned Chinks in the Peoples’ Republic of China, for Christ’s sake. She’s the one who deserved the scholarship.
Hallelujah and I arrived back at my apartment, and for the first time in 4-and-a-half hours, I felt happy. I parked the God-damned car, which just so happened to be a Nip mobile from Tokyo, and I walked Hallelujah to her car, which also just so happened to be a Nip mobile from Tokyo, and as we walked, Hallelujah started talking about how she didn’t know the U.S. custom on how to act at the end of a date. I thought with dread for a second or two that I might have to kiss the God-damned fireplug girl. When we got to her car, she turned to me, and I thought: “Oh, motherfuck God,” but something possessed me. I felt like some dumb fucking animal in the woods somewhere who didn’t have free will and was ruled by an incomprehensible, invisible law of nature, or maybe I felt like some God-damned saint having an epiphanyanic religious conversion. I leaned—no, I jerked—toward Hallelujah, strapped my arms around her pudgy body and hugged her like a bear. I felt her right breast smush against my puny chest and worried that maybe the flabby tit was diseased, like my tongue. Maybe I was hugging a carcinogenic cancer girl. I let her go, turned and walked away, and Hallelujah called to me. She said: “I had real god time, yes?” I found her Peruvian-Nip accent and broken English becoming, and realized with all her yeses that she was pretty God-damned insecure, just like me. She continued, “I will call you, or you call me, yes? All right, goodbye.” She smiled. I kept walking. I didn’t say anything back. I felt uneasy in my stomach.
After I got in the elevator and was on my way to the 14th, I thought maybe Quasimodo didn’t have it bad after all. He was lucky enough to tote around a beautiful Hollywood star woman in his arms for a while, and he became a hero just like Hercules, and I thought maybe the life of a Jesuit priest wasn’t bad, either. When I studied under the holy Jesuits at good old prestigious Georgetwon Preparatory School and good old prestigious Georgetown University many years ago, they were always talking about one of their priest missionaries who got burned at the stake by some barbarian heathen Injuns along the Mississippi River. And the God’s Marines—who by the way were drunk half their lives—always asserted as fact that after their incinerated priest died, he ascended like Jesus Christ God Himself up into heaven on Easter Sunday. And the Jebbies always reminded us that after the unfortunate priest’s immolation, he was declared a year or two later to be a holy mother fucking saint by Holy Motherfucking Pope So and So Such and Such. That wasn’t such a bad fate, I thought. It ended happy.
I thought, too, that I had to come up with some kind of excuse for when Hallelujah called, and I was sure she was gonna. Maybe I would tell her I already had a girlfriend. Nah, that might hurt her feelings, and I didn’t want to do that. Maybe I would tell her that I was going to move to Europe, to Paris, France, to become an expatriate artist and an obscure, mentally ill poet in an exotic, erotic and esoteric artist colony on the Left Bank or in Montmartre, in a gang like the one which a lot of would-be, doggerel-poetic, artsy, bum-fuck hangers-on who believed they were important and significant because they hung out with Andy Warhol all the time in his immoral studio in New York City, New York. Maybe I would tell her I was studying to become a Jesuit priest, that I had broken my vows by going on a date with her in the first place. I mean, Jesuit priests aren’t allowed to fuck girls, are they? Shit. I didn’t know what the fuck to tell God-dammed Hallelujah. Maybe I would just pray to God that she wouldn’t call back.