It was an acorn.
If Mamma had ever found herself in such a situation (though I swear on Grandmother's opera pearls she never had the displeasure of such an off-color moment), she would have mitigated the unease, clapped her petite hands together in awe and exclaimed, "A Chinaman! It's a verah, verah smawl Chinaman!"
Yep, an impotent Chinaman, his cap firmly in place.
But it was his pecker. Lord. I sat there on the silk coverlet, heels tucked beneath my ample bottom, staring at the smallest, most flaccid pecker on the planet.
Dear God of all things great and small -- how did I get myself here?
Just moments ago Fritz and I had been standing on Sullivan Street, outside my apartment building, my keys firmly in my hand. I knew what I wanted and it wasn't him. But for some reason, I slid in the small jagged key (not the big, smooth one that I loved to run across my cheek) and pressed on the door. Why? I don't know why. I didn't want it to give. We crossed the threshold anyway.
My first Manhattan boyfriend. These are the things you are supposed to do, I tell myself, looking down at the hairs on my thigh, white as birch bark, standing at attention like toy soldiers from the static electricity. I moved my gaze up to his eyes, squeezed shut like a child's, trying to disappear into their own blackness and shame. Suddenly, I wanted to take back the words, dinners (so many dinners), forkfuls, mouthfuls, spoonfuls....
I was a twenty-five-year-old commodity who had to face facts: sex with a man his age would be fast, bland, uninspired -- I would always be the fresh catch of the day that had been flash-fried instead of slow-roasted. He reminded me of a fisherman out in the Gulf, fighting ten-foot swells and the merciless Florida sun to catch one prize snapper. It's finally on his hook, his aging cronies congratulate him -- a gleam of envy in their eyes -- he can almost taste the sweet, clean flesh. Problem is, by then, his forty-eight-year-old body is exhausted and just a touch resentful of the damn thing.
Mamma told me twenty-five was the best year of her life, I think, sitting naked on the bed, watching Fritz's body slowly relax after his defeat, his eyelids fluttering open.
"I'm gonna reload and then we'll try again in fifteen, hmmm?" he asked, staring up at me from his pillow with the reverence usually reserved for clergymen and neurosurgeons. His arm reached up for the comfort of my breast. "Three hundred and sixty-five days of glamorous livin'," I liked to tell myself. Since I was a girl, birthday candles served only two purposes -- as vehicles for licking Mamma's chocolate buttercream frosting and as a means to subtract from that magic age looming in the future. Twenty-five, twenty-five...there was something that made it the year of singular beauty and opportunity. It was supposed to be the time when my profession, my sentiments and my social circle formed a flawless sphere -- a shape as perfect as a hen's egg.
I deserved more.
"You know what?" I said, easing myself away from him and off the bed. "I'm hungry." I slipped into the silk kimono he had brought me back from one of his finance trips to Bangkok.
"Hungry? We just had dinner. My God, your appetites, Belle -- you always want more!"
He was right -- I was never satisfied. New York City had taught me well.
Copyright © 2008 by Brooke Parkhurst
I didn't like not being able to buy strawberries. Blackberries were, of course, totally out of the question. Avocados, peaches and blueberries -- never. I supposed that I could no longer afford to eat anything with seeds: the strangeness of it all, in New York City. The roofs somehow grew trees. Husbands and wives sat up there, in the sky, on their chaise longues and patio chairs, reading the daily papers and yellin' into their phones. Lower Fifth Avenue was the best place to gaze upon these rooftop dramas. The old brown-bricked buildings reached up to the sky like aging men trying to capture the importance they once possessed. Distinguished columns, arches and gargoyles garnished the ninth and fifteenth floors. I imagined that the building's inhabitants, like its gargoyles, had sloped foreheads and pointed ears. They must be the ones who could afford to buy iced pomegranate kernels at the corner deli. I certainly couldn't.
I wish I could say that my family had run me out of town or, better yet, that I had run away from something, someone -- a miserable engagement, a shrewish mother. That would be delicious and tragic. Who wouldn't want to whisper about that over a finger of whiskey? But the truth is, I moved from Alabama to New York City with notions of a journalism career and an appetite for downtown French bistros and charming, angular men. (Also, I refused to accept the path of least resistance for a well-bred Southern girl halfway into the third decade of her life: marriage and babies.)
I gave myself a deadline of one year. I would have New York City paying me for my personality on paper in twelve months' time. I'd be a star journalist of the above-the-fold, left-hand-column variety. I pictured myself as a hard-hitting (though more right-wing-leaning) Maureen Dowd, delivering bon mots, society news and the political beat to America. And if that didn't happen, I mused, I would leave when my Bounty drier sheets ran out. My dream of big-city life and a journalism career would be forgotten and I'd move back home and do something sensible -- join the Junior League, start a ladies tennis quadrant. Quite an exit strategy, don't you think? I rationalized that without the drier sheets, there'd be nothing left to soften the hard edges of my clothing, the seams of the city.
Southern families, along with private, Southern universities of the $35,000-a-year variety, don't exactly foster such flair and professional aspirations -- quite the opposite. They encourage excellence but only within the environs of our native soil, as my thesis advisor, Dr. Gibson, and our favorite Dixie scribe, Willie Morris, would say. Dr. Gibson saw me as a good, slow-livin' girl although I so terribly wanted to be fast. The Manhattan media whirl beckoned like the tinkling of a carousel's tune and I was enraptured by its sweet song.
At first, I forced myself to turn down the volume. I had to. Everyone was so dedicated to the idea of me and Mobile; I was pledged to the tales of Alabama. A lovely childhood was my promise ring and I had to return to my beau and its quiet heat so I could write about what I knew: the personalities, the routines, life on the Gulf Coast. I resigned myself to stepping into Mamma's well-worn Ferragamo pumps and writing for the only paper in town -- the Mobile Constitution. For a spell I enjoyed local fame. Doctors, shrimpers, cotillion chaperones -- they all loved the easy reading over their morning coffee. My "Eat the Tail, Suck the Head" feature was one of the paper's most popular pieces (mind you, the Interstate Crawdad Festival is big news in those parts). And let's not forget my travel article on the rustic, coastal beauties of Apalachicola. The oyster bed owners were so grateful for my coverage, they anointed me "Queen Bivalve, 2006." I'm not going to lie, small-town celebrity agreed with me. But, damn, I had my sights set on so much more.
Question: Why can't I write like Margaret Mitchell and lead the life of Katherine Mansfield? I, too, wanted to be a great Southern personality who wrote about the big things like love and death, all the while going to the most splendid balls in the most glamorous city in the world.
But no one -- including me -- had an answer, so I kept my pretenses and ambition tucked away while I continued writing about the little things. Small-town journalism was my birthright, I conceded. Anyway, holiday dinners would have been so difficult if I hadn't taken the job. Granddaddy owned everything in town -- including the newspaper.
And then, at age twenty-five, I shocked 'em all. Right when the Constitution offered me the position of columnist -- and a desk next to Mamma's with my own landline and everything -- I made up my mind to head North. Oh, they tried to keep me, all right -- they even flew in a man from Atlanta to draw up one of those Wall Street Journal pointillism-like sketches to accompany my byline. His rendition of my photo might have been the toughest thing to give up (after all, everyone below the Mason-Dixon line knows that for Southern women, self-love trumps good common sense). In the sketch, I resembled a Dixie Grace Kelly (plus a pound or twenty), what with my blond hair pinned back in a loose chignon, perhaps a bit too much blusher and my smile eager and accommodating. Dead Aunt Maybel's big sapphires sparkled on my earlobes. One moment with my editor, however, and I forgot the vanity project.
"What are you doing?" he asked, looking defeated, taking long, slow drags off his Newport Menthol. He stood just inside the paper's back shop, the door frame seeming to sag with his mood and the heat off the printing presses. "There's more to journalism than city council meetings and bottom feeder festivals. Get outta here. Go cover the real news."
I took the cigarette from his hand, raised it to my lips and took a good long pull. The mint tickled my throat. I'd heard his lines before but this time they stuck. That was it. Has something like that ever happened to you? A fleeting remark or repeated moment just happens to be the one that finally convinces you to follow your dreams. One pull off a Newport Menthol cigarette and I had made up my mind. New York City: it held more mystery than promise, but that was enough. A faceless foe always excites me more than an intimate friend -- that's just the way I am.
So, this is the story of how I -- a Southern girl from the Gulf Coast of nowhere -- set out to become part of it all, an elegant, colorful piece of the Manhattan media puzzle. How I tried to prove Granddadd...